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Posts Tagged ‘2016 Book Review’

Tripwire  (1999©) —  Book Review
Tripwire” is book three in the Jack Reacher novel series which I began reading earlier this year after seeing the movie starring Tom Cruise.  I enjoyed the flic, so I wanted to see what the books were about.  You can never be sure just from watching a movie if the character is “really” the same or simply an interpretation by the director or star actor.  Although this is the third book in the series, it’s actually the fourth book I’ve read.  I was looking at summaries and found one of the books was a throw-back to before the “series” began, so I wanted to “start” the series at the chronological beginning even if it wasn’t the first book in the series.  Since I haven’t read all of them, I’m not sure I have started in the right place, but I feel as if I made the effort anyway.
So, the book (and series) is written by Lee Child.  At this point, the series is beginning to follow a formula: Reacher is out minding his business, something happens, he goes to be a hero – because he’s the only one who can work outside the law and get “it” done, whatever “it” happens to be.  This book finds Reacher in Florida, but quickly moves to New York.  He meets a past acquaintance who becomes a lover.  She gets in danger.  Hero time!
The book is solidly entertaining.  It’s well paced and (of course) has a twist ending.  The author accomplishes this with two tricks, misdirected first person narration and then failing to tell the reader what the main character knows until the author is ready for the “twist” ending.  The problem is, this trick is blatantly obvious when the author does it and as a reader you just stop and say (to yourself) “just tell me what Reacher knows!”  Does it spoil the book?  No.  Does it make it less enjoyable…?  Yeah, for me, it did.
Final recommendation: strong recommendation.  I will continue to read the series and see what happens.  I don’t remember the earlier books having the problem discussed above and hopefully, it’s just a one off in this particular book.  Anyway, as I stated, I still enjoyed it.  Action.  Mystery / detective / procedural.  Heroics.  What’s not to like?
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On This Day In:
2015 I’d Settle For Interesting
2014 Old Math
2013 Adequate Explanation
2012 Superior Discovery
2011 Welcome Home And Thank You!!
Two Heritages

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This evening’s post is a book review and a movie review.
Book review: Edward R. Murrow: and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism  (2004©)
This book was written by Bob Edwards and chronicles the life of the famous radio and TV news journalist: Edward R Murrow.  A little background – I grew up listening to the famous record series “I Can Hear It Now (1933-1945)“.  I’m not sure why my mom bought them for me as a child, but I have distinct memories of listening to these albums (actually, 78rpm LPs, as in “Long Playing” for all you music streamers) along with my copy of “The Lone Ranger“.  Incidentally, anyone interested can hear much of, if not all of, the records on YouTube.  You can certainly hear enough of Murrow’s voice to appreciate what he sounded like to Americans who were just discovering radio.
The book is a fascinating account of the parallel track of radio and TV news journalism with early to mid-20th century world / American history.  The main body is 166 pages in my hardbound copy and I found it a VERY fast read.  If you have any interest in the history of broadcast journalism this is a terrific introduction.  Having grown up during the 1960’s, when many of the names in the book were faces on my TV every evening, the book really brought back memories.  Of particular interest, the “Afterword” runs about 13 pages and more or less precisely describes the news we see on TV (broadcast and 24-hour cable) today.  The book would be highly recommended based on the “Afterword” itself, but I found the whole book fascinating.  Final recommendation: Highly recommended!  Needless to say, there will be quotes to follow on my blog…
Movie review: “good night, and good luck.”  (2005)
This is my second review of this movie / DVD.  The original review can be found at:  Journalism And Fantasy  from back in 2012.  My first review pretty much stands as is.  This is an outstanding movie about a critical time in American history – 1953 to 1958 and covers the conflict between Senator Joseph McCarthy and Edward Murrow.  McCarthy was trying to fight communism in the U.S. government (and then within the U.S. as a whole) and over-reached by using government intimidation to restrict free speech and association and, ultimately, freedom of the press.  When Murrow used the power of television to confront McCarthy and his bullying tactics, McCarthy fell from public grace.  He was censored by the Senate and, ultimately, died in disgrace as a cautionary tale about the abuse of power in a democracy.  Ironically, some of the individuals he “exposed / persecuted” were later found to actually be Soviet agents when the U.S.S.R. fell and some of their spying records became public.  This has not, however, vindicated McCarthy in the eyes of history.  Rather, these instances seem to be the exceptions which proved the rule of innocent until proven guilty.
If I have one critique of the movie, it would be that it leaves you hanging.  There is the drama of Murrow’s (probably) most famous speech – to the Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) convention in Chicago (1958) – popularly known as the “Wires And Lights In A Box” speech (which can be found in its entirety here), which leads into and then ends the movie, but there is no summing up.  The viewer is left to do their own research on Murrow’s career and life, and the result / reaction to his speech.  The fact the speech is actually a prophecy of the type of radio and television news we are experiencing today is also left for the viewer.  This is the type of DVD I would pay more for to get the extras (but I NEVER do this).
Even with that single criticism, this is a terrific movie and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in American journalism, history or the rule of law in a free and open society.
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On This Day In:
2015 Not Mine, Anyway
2015 South By South East
2013 Don’tcha
2012 I Hear A Distant Thunder
2011 A Poison Tree

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Today’s reviews are of a movie I watched earlier in the week and a book I finished today…
Movie Review: Star Trek:  Beyond (2016)
This is the third movie in the Star Trek reboot series which stars Chris Pine (Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Karl Urban (Bones/McCoy) and Simon Pegg (Scotty).  All the main characters are well played as all the actors seem to have settled into their on-going roles.  Sadly, I never saw this movie in its original release.  To be honest, I just never made time.  As good as a 50-inch screen may be from three feet away, it’s still not the same as having to use your peripheral vision to absorb the spectacle of the big screen theater experience.  But, then again, there is much to be said for a pause button, having your own kitchen / food / fridge, and a toilet ten steps away.
Is the movie original, any good, plot, action, does it make sense, etc.?   No, not really.  Yes, very enjoyable.  The plot is okay.  The action is reasonable, but I found the special effects to be only so-so.  Does it make sense?  Does it have to?  It’s Star Trek!  Okay.  Yes!  It makes sense (as long as you don’t try to think about it too hard).  The “best” Star Trek has always been a commentary on its current times, with a sub-textual message that we can get through this if we work together (aka “the future is hopeful”).  I would only say I’m getting tired of the Enterprise getting destroyed.  This is like the fifth time in fifteen movies.  Enough already!  We’ve seen this Fx get worked to death, now.  All in all, I’d say this was the best of the three reboots.  Highly recommended, particularly if you are a Trekkie (like me).
Book ReviewJack Reacher Series #2:  Die Trying  (1998©)
This book is the second in the Jack Reacher series of “male / adventure / action” genre books which I enjoy reading.  The series is authored by Lee Child.  Although it is the second book in the series, it is actually the third book I’ve read.  I got out of sequence because I read the book which corresponds to the Tom Cruise movie which came out several years ago (2012).  I enjoyed the movie, so I read the book.  I enjoyed the book (#8 in the series), so I decided to go back and read the series in order.
In this book, Jack is kidnapped (with a female FBI agent) in Chicago and taken to a posse comitatus (aka right-wing crazies) encampment in Montana where he must foil an attempt to secede from the United States.  All in all, the book is pretty standard faire for this genre and for this series.  Having said that, you will either enjoy it or you won’t.  I did.  Again, nothing earth-shattering here, just a good action / adventure story.  Even though it’s over 500 pages, it’s a fast read.  Strong to highly recommended book recommendation.
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On This Day In:
2015 Tell Me…
2014 Live Forever (To Remember Me)
Orange October (VI) – Giants Win Game 4
2013 More Than Just Words
2012 Egotist, n.
2011 Good And Bad

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Book Review:
Last Thursday, I accompanied my wife downtown.  She likes to go to the Farmer’s Market and I like to go to the used bookstore.  While there, I picked up a copy of the book: “Inherit The Wind”  (1955©), written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, which I found on the $1 shelf.
The book is essentially the script of the play by the same name.  The story is a dramatization (fictionalized) of the Scopes “Monkey” Trial of 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee.  Although the book / play is arguably about the conflict between the theory of evolution and the creation of the universe as stated in the Book of Genesis, the authors claimed the play was actually about the conflict between freedom of speech / thought and “McCarthyism” in the United States in the 1950’s.  (McCarthyism is here defined as the practice of making accusations of subversion or treason without proper regard for evidence.  It also means “the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques, especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism.”  In this case, a law prohibiting the teaching of evolution without accounting for the substantial scientific evidence supporting evolution and an absolute dearth of evidence supporting Creationism / Genesis.)
The book is barely 100 pages and is a VERY fast read. It effectively points out the difficulties of trying to use a book of faith as a wall against scientific progress.  Essentially, you end up with a ridiculous speed bump instead of a barrier.  Although I found the book less powerful than the movie, it is still very engaging.  Final recommendation: highly recommended.
Movie Review:
Having read the book, I felt compelled to re-watch the movie: “Inherit The Wind” (1960).  The movie stars Spencer Tracy as Henry Drummond (Clarence Darrow) the defense attorney, Fredric March as Matthew Harrison Brady (William Jennings Bryan) the prosecutor and Gene Kelly as E. K. Hornbeck (H. L. Mencken) the out-of-town-journalist.
This is a “classic” black and white movie and one of my favorite works starring Tracy.  I have watched this movie well over a dozen times in my life and continue to watch it through to the end whenever I stumble on it playing on the TV.  Two other points bear mentioning…  This is my defining memory of March as an actor, which is both good and bad. Good because he is fantastic in the role.  Bad because he is SO good it has biased me against him in the few other roles I’ve seen him in.  March is so good, you almost think he is playing himself – much like John Wayne in “True Grit“.  It is only in seeing him in other roles that you realize it was all an act.  This is, I believe, the classic definition of a great actor.  As much as I love Tracy in this film, I am almost magnetically drawn to viewing and listening to (studying) March when I watch this film.  My second point is for those of you who think of Gene Kelly as purely a gifted “hoofer” (i.e. “Singing In The Rain” and many others), watch this film.  Kelly can act!  His face speaks a million lines and his sarcastic / comedic / cynical timing is impeccable.
Needless to say, the play the movie is based on is a fictionalized version of a real trial and the movie is a dramatized version of the play.  I first saw this movie as a youngster (probably pre-teens) and it had a profound impact on my life as I wanted to become a scientist and discover “Natural” law.  I wanted to be a “free” thinker.  Raised a Roman Catholic, this movie made me question at an early age – not my faith – but the Church and those who proposed an absolute belief in the Church (any church) and the Bible (any “holy” book).  It is only now, years later, that I realize the conflict between faith and science was not the basis for the movie.  As mentioned above, placing the film in historical context, it is actually about the fight against bullying and ostracism of those who are able to (and choose to) think for themselves and who wish to discuss their thoughts openly without fear of harassment (prison).
This is a powerful movie and is well worth watching and discussing with family and friends – at multiple levels.  This is particularly true in an age where there is a new law (wall) being discussed to protect us (America) from the threat of terrorists (“illegals” taking our jobs for lower wages).  As fundamentalists (Christian, Muslim or any other faith) cannot halt the progress of science, American reactionaries cannot halt the progress of macroeconomics.  Left to its own devices, corporate socialism / monopolistic capitalism will drive down the cost of labor just as water seeks its own level unless we, as a people decide as a matter of public policy that enough is enough.
Okay, climbing down from my high-horse, final recommendation: this is a very highly recommended movie.  An excellent story, told with great actors.
Movie Review:
My second movie review today is for: “Reign Of Fire” (2002).  This is a dragons destroy humanity movie starring: Christian Bale as Quinn Abercromby, Matthew McConaughey as Denton Van Zan, Izabella Scorupco as Alex Jensen and Gerard Butler as Creedy (Bale’s character’s best friend).  As a lad, Bale discovers a dragon buried under London.  Somehow, the single dragon begets a million other dragons and they, more or less, destroy human civilization.  There are a few pockets of survival and Bale and Butler are the bosses of one.  Along comes McConaughey, who proposes to destroy the dragons, not merely out-last them by hiding.  And, so, off we go to London to slay the dragon…
This is not a movie which bears much thinking about.  You either watch it and enjoy it, or you think about it and don’t.  I have chosen (frequently) to watch and enjoy.  It is what it is and it’s pretty good at being just that.  As an aside, the most interesting thing from my latest viewing is the way this movie presages “Batman Begins” with the fluttering birds and dragons in Reign being reminiscent of the fluttering bats in Batman and then the dark tunnel / the Bat Cave.  On the other hand, it could just be my recent marathon session of the “Dark Knight Trilogy” has me seeing things which really aren’t there.
Anyway, while it doesn’t stand much thought, it’s a surprisingly viewable movie.  Final recommendation: Strong.
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On This Day In:
2015 Natural Shapes
2014 Seeing The Light
2013 Requirements
2012 Tricked Again
2011 Liberty And Justice For Earth
2010 Home Again, Home Again, Jig-A-De, Jig…

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The Sun Also Rises  —  book review
Today’s review is for the quasi-autobiographical novel: “The Sun Also Rises” (1926© / 1954©), written by Ernest Hemingway.  The book has three main topics: expatriate life in Paris / Europe; fishing in Spain; and, bullfights in Spain.  The book follows Jake Barnes, an American newswriter living in Paris as he, in turn, parties, goes fishing, and then goes to see the running of the bulls in Pamplona and the subsequent bull-fights.  The story revolves around Jake, his love interest (Lady Brett Ashley), and a handful of other suitors as they go through the several weeks covered by the book.  I’m told (by Wikipedia) the book is based on a handful of trips Hemingway actually took with some of his “Lost Generation” friends in the early 1920’s.
My reason for reading “this” book was (again) my fear of dying illiterate, that is, without having read (and shared in) some of the great works (thoughts) of humanity.  (Yes, I know everything I read is in English, so I can’t possibly make the claim of sharing “thoughts”, but reading English translations is the closest I will ever come on that front.)  Back to my fear…  I avoided most of “great” literature when back in grammar and high school because I found what little exposure I did get to be incredibly boring.  I have come to feel that without a smattering of life experience, one (or at least I) could not appreciate the range of emotions and experiences the authors were trying to convey.  They simply were too far outside of my realm of experience and so meant nothing to me.  I interpreted this as “boring” and so I’ve avoided “great” literature as much as possible ever since.
Back in February, I quoted the poet Ezra Pound, who once said, “Men do not understand books until they have a certain amount of life, or at any rate no man understands a deep book, until he has seen and lived at least part of its contents.
And I think I mostly believed this.  Now, however, I’m sixty-one years old and it’s harder to use the same excuse.  And, yet, I’m finding it’s still true.
This IS another book which I’ve found boring and I think it’s simply because I can’t relate to it.  I’ve spent a few days visiting Paris.  I’ve done numerous dangerous (stupid) things in my life (not unlike bull-running).  I’ve been fishing.  And, in my early teens, I spent the better part of a whole summer watching bull-fighting on TV (both English and Spanish speaking channels).  Without actually having read the book, one would think I’d had enough common experience to be able to relate to the book.  But, in truth, I did not relate.  Or, at least, I didn’t feel like I did, which is probably the same thing.
So, all in all, I’ve now read a Hemingway, a Fitzgerald and a Steinbeck and found two of three uninteresting and a struggle to get through.  I guess it is possible I just don’t have the “socially literate” gene in me.  In any case, I will keep trying as occasionally I do enjoy one or another “classic”.
Final recommendation: tepid.  Who cares if a book is a “classic” if it’s such a struggle to get through.  My apologies to anyone who loves this book or who’s life was changed by reading it, but I’m just not feelin’ it.  If you’re one of these folks, drop me a comment, ’cause I’m not feelin’ it with you.
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On This Day In:
2015 About Character
2014 Your Gain
2013 Look Up
2012 Count Me In
2011 Pirates Four, Three Songs
Sir Charles
Look First, Not Last
2010 Par-a-diddle

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Jack Reacher Series #1: Killing Floor  —  book review
Every great book series has to start somewhere, and this is where the Jack Reacher series started…
Roughly two years ago, I reviewed the Tom Cruise movie: “Jack Reacher“.  I enjoyed the movie, found out it was based on a book series and put it down on my list of things to look into later.  Last month I finally got around to reading one of the novels in the series: (“The Enemy“).  That book was actually the eighth book in the series, but I decided to read it first because it was a prequel to his leaving the military and starting out his civilian career.  I was hoping to jump into the series with background from before the series.  As it turns out, this was probably a great idea.
The book I just finished: “Killing Floor” (1997©) written by Lee Child, is the first in the series and begins shortly after Reacher has left the Army and more or less relates the story of his becoming a Paladin (of sorts).  Although Reacher considers himself to be a fairly amoral person who doesn’t want to get involved with other people’s problems, in the end (actually, very early in each story) we see that, in fact, he chooses sides, and it’s usually for “right” as he understands it or for whomever he judges to be the underdog in any given situation.
Without giving too much of the book away, the death of someone close leads to the “decision” to help.  There are “very bad” bad guys.  There is murder.  There is money (the root of all evil).   There is an indifferent local populace and, of course, the beautiful damsel and the righteous hero.  There are twenty books in the series, so the hero always survives (ho-hum).
If I have one complaint (comment), it is the typical criminal mystery / drama / action story tendency to have the hero “intuitively” solve the mystery around 90% of the way through the book and then not tell us what (or how) he figured out the answer.  Instead, the hero spends the remainder of the book unraveling the proof for us so everyone else in the story (and us) are left to recognize how smart Reacher is.  Despite this minor fault, the movie and the two books I’ve read have all been very entertaining.  Final recommendation: strong to high.  A fast read with a good mystery, action, non-graphic sex and the bad guys get their just desserts in the end.  One other side comment, I now understand (and agree with) the folks who complained about Tom Cruise playing Reacher in the movie.  Cruise gets away with the role (adequately if you’ve not read any of the books), but he is NOT Jack Reacher.
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On This Day In:
2015 Avengers Assemble II
But If I Had To Perish Twice…
2014 Turning Pages
2013 We Are All Accountable
2012 American Sign Language
2011 Happy Disproof
2010 Book Review – Managing Your Government Career

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The Enemy (2004©)  —  book review
This book is #8 in the Jack Reacher series written by Lee Child.  Yes, I admit it.  I’m coming late to the party…  (More on this later.)
A couple of years ago, I borrowed the movie “Jack Reacher” from my brother (review here).  I enjoyed the movie so much I actually watched it several times in the weeks following and then looked up the character on Wikipedia.  There I “discovered” the movie was based on a series of books by Lee Child.  This book is the eighth book in the series, but it is the prequel to the entire series.  That is, the first book starts with Jack out of the Army and goes from there.  In this book, Jack is still in the Army.
The book is about a series of murders (duh!) and some missing papers which might lead to a “problem” for the Army.  To say more is to give away much of the book.  (Sorry…)  We also learn about Jack’s family.
I bought this book with a gift voucher my Hil gave me for my birthday back in March.  I also picked up the first volume in the series, so there will be a review of that in due time.  I was reading the book in the waiting room of my blood testing facility.  I have to give blood every month because I’m on blood-thinners for my AFib.  An older lady (I’d say seventies or early eighties) was sitting next to me and she was also reading.  She asked what I was reading and I showed her the spine and said: “One of the Jack Reacher series…”  She interrupted, “I’ve read them all.  They’re terrific!  If you like that series, I also recommend James Patterson (and she held up the paperback she was reading).  My reading club loves both authors and get them as soon as they come out.”  How’s that for a personal recommendation from a stranger?!?  (My wife got a chuckle out of this, too, because, as she says, I’ll talk to anyone…  Including random, little old ladies I sit down next to in a waiting room.)
Anyway, final recommendation: strong to high – a fast, fun read.  Because I’ve seen the movie and now read a prequel, it’ll be interesting to see how I like the series from the start.  For now, this book is very much like the movie – a fast experience (read), with lots of mystery / who-done-it, intermittent high-action and a sprinkling of non-graphic sex.
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On This Day In:
2015 Getting The Story Right
2014 Like Shells On The Shore
2013 More And Why
2012 How To Gain Effective Fire
2011 Patriot Act

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Of Mice And Men  (1937©)  —  book review
Continuing my efforts to die an educated man, over the weekend I finished one of the many “classics” I eluded in high school English class, “Of Mice And Men” by John Steinbeck.  The novel is the story of two friends who share a dream of owning a small farm of their own and “live offa the fatta the lan“.  The dream escapes them – and everyone else in the book too.
Written during the middle years of the Great Depression, the book is an ode to loneliness, the weakness of innocence, and the ultimate futility of tempting Fate by trying to make plans for the future.  The book “seems” full of characters who represent symbols of generalized Man in all of our various (yet very specific) facets: the competent and understanding “Slim”, the injured by work and beaten by age “Candy”, the broken, isolated, yet still proud “Crooks”, the un-named and objectified young beauty of Mrs. “Curley”, the foolish bullying of the Napoleonic “Curley”, and of course the simple, innocent strength of Lennie Small and the lost plan of George Milton.  I suppose it is too much to believe Steinbeck sat and created a “lion” (Leonard / Lennie) of a man with the intellect of a toddler (“small” child) and his best friend George (Greek for farmer) Milton (the author of “Paradise Lost“).   I suppose…
As I’ve stated in some of my other posts, there is a saying in the martial arts: “when the student is ready, the master will appear.”    I believe I am fortunate not to have read this book in high school.  Without the extra forty odd years of experience, this would have simply been a predictable story of accidental death and Karmic retribution.  It is that.  It is also a fine wine of subtle hope and deep friendship in the face of depressing reality and personal loneliness.  It is a man viewing a homeless mouse facing the coming of winter…  Coming for both of them.
Final recommendation: a “classic”.  Mildly to extremely depressing (be warned), but still highly recommended – if for nothing else, then so you’ll understand other people referencing the title.
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On This Day In (Leap Year):
2012 Stingray – TV Series Review (This is my most popular post since starting my blog – hands down! It still draws hits almost every week. The hits seem to come mostly from Central Europe. I guess the show must be in syndication there.)
A Single Thread

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Tales From The Secret Annex (1949©)  —  book review
Today’s book review is for the “other” Anne Frank book: “Tales From The Secret Annex“.  To be honest, reading this book was a mistake.  I picked it up because over the years I’d heard so much about Anne Frank’s Diary that I decided I wanted to finally get around to reading it.  I had no idea she even had a second book.  So, I saw the author and looked at the picture of the young girl on the cover and said, “Yup, this is it.”  And, I bought it.
I asked my wife if she’d read it and she replied everyone read it back in school.  We laughed a bit because I admitted I had not.  She cautioned me that it was quite sad and in fact she found it depressing.  (She knows what a cry-baby I can be.)  To make a longer story shorter, I asked her when it starts to get sad because I was finding it just kind of “girlish”.  She asked me to read her a few chapters and then said, “I don’t think you’re reading the right book“.  It’s been years since she read it, but she was confident she’d never heard these stories before.  So, the next day I looked up the book and lo and behold, this wasn’t the diary at all!  I was, in fact, reading the wrong book.
Okay.  Is this book any “good”?  To be honest, only so-so.  It’s a lovely little (150 pages) book, written by a teen-age girl, who makes some precocious observations about the world and about adults, but this is not a life-changing book.  The chapters are individual stories with no discernible arc.  Some of them are dreams and dream like.  Some are just stories.  They are pleasant enough, but there is not a lot there – for me anyway.  In any case, a book which should have taken me a couple of hours to read ended up taking almost two months, because it failed to capture and hold my imagination.  In the end, I was taking it to medical appointments to read while sitting in the waiting rooms.
Having said that, do I now recommend it?  Yes, I think I do.  I have already quoted the book in one of my postings on this blog and there are another five portions I’ve marked for posting later.  So, yes, I think I do.
If anything, without reading the primary work, I already feel like the world has lost the opportunity of sharing the life and writing of a kind and interesting young lady.  And her early passing is a lost opportunity for literature and for the world.
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On This Day In:
2015 Are You Listening Ladies?
2014 Practice, Practice, Practice
2013 A Fist Full Of Confusion
2012 Teaching Faith
2011 The Heart Of Terror
The Proportion Of Gravity And Probability

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