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Like many of the songs that are described in the book, The Wrecking Crew may be worth listening to again. However, I think the next step is to see the film documentary. Though it may lack the detail of the book, it would have the added benefit of including snippets of the songs and showing us the faces of the musicians who are the subject of the book.
Actually, I found that it was the songs that held this true life story together, and the author must have felt so as well, organizing the chapters by song rather than my personality. When your subjects are anonymous studio musicians who are by necessity devoid of the egomania that drives their front men, their biographical back stories, while certainly interesting, do not burn down any barns.
But the songs they created -- the stories behind how these huge hits of the 60s and 70s came together in surprising ways -- is the real attraction here, especially for people like me who grew up on those songs.
If you consider my first name, one of the most interesting stories is how they came up with the coda to Strangers in the Night. I have had to live with that my whole life. I never knew until now how Frank Sinatra ended up improvising that fade out on the third take, and how the producer decided to include it in the version that was ultimately released.
And if you ever danced the limbo at a party, you might be surprised to hear the story of how the famous limbo song came to be -- how it was written, what the songwriter called it, and how it affected him. This book is full of those types of gems.
The book's tag line is "The Inside Story of Rock and Roll's Best Kept Secret". The poster for the movie version, made by the son of one of the musicians central to The Wrecking Crew, has a full paragraph backing up the title. But since the songs are the real stars of this story, I'd tag the movie with something like "The Inside Story Behind Your Favorite Songs." That doesn't shortchange the musicians who people that inside story, but it highlights the work product which is their lasting legacy.
Michael Smerconish knows talk radio. He has hosted his own political talk show for a decade and a half and now has his own show on CNN after years as a talking head on other political TV shows. And he knows something else that is central to the story contained in his first (and to date only) novel -- what it's like to abandon the lucrative field of right wing talk radio, as well as the Republican Party, to try to find a civil and sustainable independent middle ground.
Talk recounts the role played by a rising star in conservative talk radio, Stan Powers, during a contentious presidential campaign. I don't want to give anything away, but Powers battles a crisis of conscience from start to finish -- what he's willing to do to further his personal ambition vs. what he knows is the ethical alternative. In the process, Smerconish gives us an insider's view of talk radio, demolishing it -- not an expose per se, because all he is really doing is confirming what we already know about talk radio.
The beauty of his story is in the details -- the details of how Powers crafts his career as a talking head, how a talk show (and the talk radio industry) works, and most entertainingly, how his fictional presidential campaign unfolds. James Edward Thomas comes through for us in this first person narration by capturing Smerconish's well-known voice -- not in timbre, Thomas's voice being deeper and rougher, but in tone.
Two minor points of quibble that cost Smersh a star: he is a talking head, not a writer (his five nonfiction titles notwithstanding), so I should not expect him to be Hemingway, but I did long for a bit more show and little less tell -- there is too much exposition that could've been dramatized rather than narrated (great example: instead of telling us what each candidate stands for, let them do that themselves during the debate that Smerconish does in fact dramatize). His last chapter, while containing good stuff, is also too much tell and no show (and too preachy), especially since it comes after Stan has made his ethical decisions.
The other thing, more in terms of Smerconish's stance rather than in his story or writing, is his frequent fallback on false equivalency. He should know better, his story being Exhibit A -- most of the ills he describes, in talk radio and TV news, in political campaigning and policy setting, emanate from one side. False equivalency is the gratuitous assumption that both sides are equally complicit, but if you look at the facts and do the math, the ratio is in fact far from 50-50, skewed more like 70-30 or more.
Well, you can tell from that last paragraph which side I fall on. If you're coming from the other end of the spectrum, you are going to find that this story comes out of a different part of the horse than its mouth. I would still recommend you listen to it. You may end up taking the same road Smerconish took, restoring moderation in place of polarization. For everyone else, especially the silent majority of independent thinkers, this may be a case of preaching to the choir, but it is both entertaining and illuminating.
Vish Puri is a private detective in Delhi juggling several cases -- the missing servant girl of the title, a judge accused of murder, potential political corruption, and the suitability of a prospective groom, as well as an attempt on his own life. Helping him are an array of characters, including (under his perpetual protest) his mother. All set to the sights and sounds, tastes and smells, people and places, morals and mores, and social and religious diversity of modern India.
But what sets this IMFL (Indian-Made Foreign Literature) apart, especially in audio, is author Tarquin Hall's masterful use of Indian English. Though born in London to American and English parents, the former journalist now lives in Delhi with his Indian wife. Clearly reveling in the charming (as he calls it) way Indians have appropriated (malappropriated) the English language, Hall has created a series of novels that allow us to listen in.
"English is a mongrel language and the English themselves have had no qualms about looting tens of thousands of words from other languages (and often changed the meanings) so why shouldn’t others do the same," Hall writes in introducing his Indian-English glossary. We are the beneficiaries of his golden ear for how English has evolved in his adopted land in this first entry in the Vish Puri mystery series.
As much as I have come to appreciate audiobooks set in India or about Indians (far more than in print), as I have previously remarked in reviewing Q&A (Slumdog Millionaire), A Son of the Circus, Life of Pi, and The 100-Foot Journey, there has to be more to it than just their lilting present tense manner of speaking. There has to be a good story. Hall's story is in the mystery format, with a complex plot that has all the hallmarks of ultimately coming together in a manner essential to a good mystery -- at once anticipated and unanticipated.
But... it didn't come together in the way I anticipated, and the unanticipated elements were not satisfying (for me). I don't want to get into details that would be spoilers. Stylistically, the story rushes too hurriedly to its denouement, leaving a lot of plot potential on the table. My understanding is that the Puri series gets better with each entry, so I will definitely be giving it another go. Whether this works for you, however, depends on how interested you think you would be in the landscape and language -- without that, this is just another mystery novel.
Amid a pop-culture landscape awash in superheros, supernatural entities, magical beings, gods, abilities, etc. etc., there is only one way to rise above the mediocrity that eventually envelops such a glut -- create engaging characters. Making them funny helps a lot too. Jim Bernheimer succeeds with Confessions of a D-List Supervillain because his main character, Mechani-Cal, a low-rent bad guy who is not really a bad guy, is exactly that -- engaging, and funny.
Surprisingly, I can't think of many books or movies where the supervillain is the hero. The biggie is Despicable Me. In literature, the one I immediately think of even though it is not well known is Lee Martinez's Emperor Mollusk (a five-star audiobook). I'm sure there are others that are eluding me at the moment. Still, considering how many X-Men and Avengers and Batmen and Supermen and Spidermen there are, the percentage of works that flip the POV to that of the villain seems pretty low.
That's the route Bernheimer takes, even though it becomes instantly evident that Cal is a villain in name only and that the real supervillain is hiding in superhero clothing. But never mind -- it works because Cal is engaging and funny, not because of superpowers or techno gadgetry or anything else. This could have been a reality-based story of an unappreciated geek getting back at his boss and making good with the boss's beautiful girlfriend, and it would have worked just as well.
But not five stars worth, IMO. The first act, where Cal rescues Aphrodite and they save the world from mind-controlling insects, is excellent, the characters developing and interacting, the battle scenes not so totally out of control as to suffocate the life out of the story. But as things progress through Cal trying to play it straight and become a hero in his own right, the action does get too excessive, and the plot starts to slog into obviousness.
It ends up at 3 1/2 stars for me, but since I can't rate it with a 1/2 star, I'm giving it 4 overall, to account for the good characterization and humor, and 3 for story, which is where it bogs down over the latter half. Still, a good choice for audiobook, where humor can be captured by the narrator (good job of that, though only four stars because of the raspy voice, slightly grating and not exactly appropriate for Cal). And if I get the chance, I will listen to the D-List prequel.
Greg Sestero narrates the book he co-wrote about the cult movie The Room and its eccentric creator, Tommy Wiseau. With the help of journalist-novelist Tom Bissell, Sestero goes back and forth between two stories -- detailed descriptions of the shooting of The Room, and his own journey as an aspiring actor and longtime pre-Room friend of Wiseau.
I've been an aficionado of cult films since midnight movie became popular in the early 70s -- Pink Flamingos, El Topo, Eraserhead, and of course Rocky Horror, which still endures. And I remember the Golden Turkey awards and its companion film festival, celebrating movies that are so bad that they're good, Plan 9 and its auteur Ed Wood the perennial winners of worst movie and worst director ever.
So I was all over The Room once I heard about it. The Room stands apart from other cult films because of the, er, unusual personality of Tommy Wiseau, its writer-director-producer-financier-star. One requisite element of hilariously bad movies is their absolute earnestness -- you can't do this on purpose. As told by Sestero in this book, Tommy is as earnest as they come, in his fractured manner, and he is every bit the character in real life as his alter-ego Johnny is in the movie, even in the years before he conceived his misguided vanity film.
It is often the case that these movies are more fun to talk about, read about, hear about, than to actually sit through. That is certainly true of Ed Wood, the Johnny Depp movie about the director, which is a far more fascinating tale than the one he created. The Disaster Artist is likewise as much fun, if not more so, than the actual movie. Sestero totally nails Tommy's accent, his malapropisms, his totally warped world view, and the jaw-drop reactions of those who work with him.
And he is just as earnest in believing himself to be everything that Tommy is not, despite his own acting career being as much of a disaster. His condescending attitude and narration become an exercise in meta-humor, Sestero himself coming off as a hilariously bad actor and writer, as oblivious as Tommy. I usually bristle when I hear a narrator barely masking his laughter at his own subject, but in this case, it is as much of a reflection on Sestero as it is on his subject, his "friend" Tommy Wiseau.
You probably have to be at least somewhat familiar with The Room to appreciate this book. It really helps to have some idea in advance of what Tommy looks and sounds like and just how out there he is. There are some good clips on YouTube that highlight the best (worst) of The Room that you can watch quickly, and then you can savor this gem of an audiobook.
Jasper Fforde has proven his mastery of the alternate universe with his Thursday Next series (and the related Nursey Crime series), imagining a world where literature is intimately intertwined with reality (his alternate version of reality). With The Last Dragonslayer, Fforde creates an alternate universe where magic, dragons, kings and home improvement coexist uneasily in present-day England, hamstrung by government bureaucracy, an omnivorous media, corporate manipulation, and rising real estate prices.
As original as Thursday Next's world is, humorously applying the conventions of detective novels to a setting where the boundaries between literature and reality are blurred, the idea of placing magical beings in modern day society is hardly a new one -- way overdone, in fact. But Fforde pulls it off thanks to his impeccable sense of humor and comic timing. If you like Monty Python, you'll like Fforde -- he even has a short riff on the ethics of turning people into newts, an almost overt nod to MP and the Holy Grail.
If I have one minor bone to pick -- and why I stop short of going to five stars -- it's that once the plot kicks in, supplanting the detailed background on The Last Dragonslayer's alternate universe that occupies the first few hours, the joke quotient shrinks, and that's a shame, because the jokes are so good. The last few chapters wrap up way too quickly, which may only have been a problem because I wanted them to last longer -- but there are additional entries in the series, so that won't be a problem for very long.
I'm reminded when I listen to a book like this why I love listening to humorous fiction in audio -- why bother with any other genre? (Although of course I'll keep going back to the others.) This is certainly the one type of book where, indisputably, the voice in your earbuds has better comic timing and better dialects than the voice in your head. At least, if the narrator is doing a good job -- and Elizabeth Jasicki does an excellent job as the voice of Fforde's teenage heroine, Jennifer Strange.
Heft gets off to a promising start. Arthur Opp, an obese shut-in, begins to explain to us how he got so lonely that his only remaining relationship is with binge eating. That was me about 30 years ago, watching my waist line grow proportionally to my heartbreak after the bad end to an important relationship. So I was very interested in seeing how author Liz Moore would develop Arthur's character relative to my own experience.
Unfortunately, Arthur's narration is soon supplanted by that of a Westchester County high school boy, and Heft turns into a YA novel about dealing with an alcoholic mother, snobby schoolmates, and being an accomplished and popular multi-sport athlete. (Sound of loud record scratch!) Wait -- "dealing" with being a popular high school athlete? Yes. OK, Kel's single mother is a major problem, but everyone else around him loves him and supports him through that struggle, even when he acts out. What's the story here?
The narrative eventually shifts back to Arthur as he takes baby steps to address his situation, thanks in large part to the arrival of a perky pregnant teenage housekeeper, as well as a letter from his past. But his segments grow shorter as Kel's drone on and on. This is major missed opportunity number one, abandoning Arthur. Number two, there is the opportunity for a significant study of fatherhood that is never explored to the same depth as, say, what Arthur is eating or why Kel wants to pursue baseball instead of college.
Which leads to major missed opportunity number three. Moore does give us a couple of detailed listings of Arthur's binge meals, but she never really develops a compelling metaphor. Sure, he eats because he's lonely, but this is literature, please take it a little past the obvious. Or, being a former English teacher who has an enduring crush on one of his students, maybe expand on the brief mentions of literary works that the student got so wrong and how that affected Arthur's affection for her.
Which brings me to this: Writing reviews for Audible, I feel bad about having to recommend not listening to a book. I know, I have to just be honest, but still... So I will close this review by heartily recommending The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, which is also about a lonely man who has given up on life and love only to find it through an unlikely turn of events -- events similar to those in Heft. More than anything else, Zevin sticks with her protagonist, as Moore should have done with Arthur Opp, and makes the most of her central metaphor, the love of books.
I have to add a note about the narration. Both narrators (one doing Arthur, one doing Kel) are perfectly fine. But the book is written with frequent breaks, sometimes after one- or two-sentence paragraphs. There is a pause of a couple or three seconds at every break. This totally disrupts the flow of the narrative, annoyingly. There isn't even the need for these breaks, as the next paragraph often is a direct continuation of the preceding one. Bad choice, very bad choice, by both author and the director of the audio version.
I've been disappointed by a few books that start out well and then start dropping stars as they unfold. The Park Service goes in the other direction. It begins the same formula as other YA dystopian novels -- teenager living in a post-apocalyptic underground bunker (cf Wool, Mockingjay), insecure in his unique abilities (cf. Divergent, Hunger Games), faces a test that will determine his place in society (cf. Divergent, The Giver), places higher than expected because of his unique abilities.
Yawn! Been there, done that. But then Aubrey, as the boy is named, is released into the real world by accident and discovers the true nature of his world. And The Park Service starts to get progressively more interesting from there. Not because it suddenly takes an original turn, still adhering to the formula of this genre in which Aubrey becomes the unlikely hero who exposes and tries to correct the realities of his dystopian society.
No, what makes it work are the moral themes author Ryan Winfield introduces, some in the form of dilemmas that Aubrey faces -- social injustice, environmental injustice, the noble savage vs. hard science, social structures built on the promise of heaven, and humanism. I found myself wavering trying to grasp where Winfield was coming down on these issues, trying to discern if there was a hidden agenda here, but I couldn't find one -- he presents all sides of each issue, and ultimately allows humanism to win the day.
Having bought The Park Service from Audible's Hidden Gems sale, I'd have to agree in the end that this far less well known entry in the popular canon of YA dystopian fiction lives up that billing, despite its pedestrian first half. An interesting listen for old adults like me, a good thematically-based science fiction action adventure for young adults.
Gregg Hurwitz was 1-1 with me. I liked Tell No Lies for its group therapy setting, but I didn't care for The Survivor, just another Liam Neeson script. I said I'd give him another chance to prove which was the exception, which was the rule. Glad I did, because You're Next did not disappoint -- not quite as good as Tell No Lies, but way better than The Survivor in almost every way.
There's always a gimmick with Hurwitz, an opening gambit that kicks off the proceedings in a distinct way, establishing a springboard for plot, characterization, and themes. At least, that is the case given my sample size of three. In Tell No Lies, group therapy. In The Survivor, and man about to commit suicide is forced to save the lives of others, that conceit being the best part of a book that goes down hill from there.
You're Next sets the stage in the same straightforward way: four-year-old Mike is abandoned in a playground by his father, who has just apparently killed his mother, and he is forced to grow up in a sketchy foster home, bedeviled and befriended by ne'er-do-wells. This past continually comes back to haunt him, to the point where he even has to put his own daughter into foster care with the promise to do for her what his father failed to do for him -- come back to get him.
Now a family man himself, his past long suppressed, he suddenly finds himself the target of some seriously evil dudes, evil dudes smart enough to make the police think Mike is the seriously evil dude, hence launching your standard double chase. Problem is, Mike has not a clue what these dudes want from him, what they want him for -- in Hitchcockian terms, what the mcguffin is, which is important only to the point where the reader/viewer/listener believes that the bad guys are fully committed to the mcguffin, whatever it may be.
The main plot driver is the unfolding of that particular mystery. There are no surprise twists, only the one major reveal and some ancillary reveals that stem from it. Rather than a twisty turny road that careers and careens in different directions, this route is pretty much a straight line, but one with unexpected scenery along the way. And as always in a Hurwitz, some good action.
Hurwitz doesn't get sucked too far into his mcguffin or any of his red herring mcguffins, but there is nevertheless some interesting subtext within the foster home setting, his current job building green homes, political corruption, and in the context of the mystery (which I shall not reveal). Nothing overt, which is good. Maybe open to criticism for being to thin, but I felt he drew an appropriate line and stuck to it.
There also happens to be one great character here. Not the protagonist Mike, who is serviceable enough but not a franchise character, but his sidekick, Shep, a bullied foster brother who grows into a criminal savant, an expert safecracker who loves the challenge of thievery, and who lives by a code of loyalty and stamina which he has imparted to Mike.
Unfortunately, narrator Scott Brick gives Shep a comic book voice that detracts from the person he is, which shines through nevertheless on the strength of Hurwitz's characterization. Brick is his usual self, tolerable at 1.25x speed, overworked to a higher degree than that. He needs a break, so that we can get a break.
There's an old joke about a man taking a dog into a bar claiming his dog can talk. To prove it, he asks, "How is life?" Dog says, "Rough!" "What's over our head?" Dog says, 'Roof!" "Who's the greatest ballplayer ever?" Dog says, "Ruth!" The bartender throws them out. On the sidewalk, the dog turns to the man and says, "Should I have said Gehrig?" The joke works not only because we're surprised to learn the dog can really talk, but also because we know dogs respond to humans in other ways -- we buy into the the joke because it's perfectly reasonable for the dog to bark out answers that sound like "Ruff!" right on cue.
Paul Auster's stock in trade in language. He is (rightly) not concerned with scientific rigor. So his main character, a dog named Mr. Bones, has a fluent understanding of English (almost fluent -- for some bizarre reason, he mangles the word English itself -- and he can't speak, only comprehend English). It's not that I'm unwilling to buy into this metaphor (although I do resent being told to do so within the text -- I can get it on my own). But as a longtime dog owner and lover, I would have found it far more interesting for Mr. Bones's understanding of humans to be based on reality -- empathy, emotion, body language, social hierarchy.
Nevertheless, as a longtime dog owner and lover, I was thoroughly enjoying Auster's short novel through its midpoint, willing to suspend my disbelief over Mr. Bones's language skills. That's because the story, despite being told from the point of view of the dog, was about a man, his owner. It even made sense that he could understand what his owner was saying after lifelong companionship with him. Willy is an interesting character. I wanted to know more about how he came to be a lost soul, and I wanted to hear more of his rants, the high point of the book being the two extended rants Auster allows him to give us.
I was also looking forward with anticipation to Willy locating his mentor, an English teacher, whom he hoped would care for Mr. Bones after his imminent death. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the story takes a wrong turn when Willy dies, leaving Mr. Bones to seek new owners on his own. I fully understand what Auster was doing by having Mr. Bones find owners who are the opposite of Willy. I just found it overly facile, and not nearly as interesting as Willy himself or the prospect of Mr. Bones (and me) meeting the English teacher.
In short, like the talking dog who chose Ruth over Gehrig, Auster chose to pursue the wrong owners to take in Mr. Bones, abandoning Willy and his teacher.
I was drawn to this book because I was a fan of the TV show of the same name and premise (apparently the only fan in existence of the short-lived series, at least according to the show's creator, Marc Guggenheim, whom I met on the set of a later show). The book has little in common with the series other than that basic premise, but it has its own rewards nevertheless, not least of which is that Flash Forward the novel is more highly regarded as SF literature than the show is among TV sci-fi.
The basic premise, and I don't think I'm giving anything away here, is that all of humanity blacks out at the same moment, each person having a short vision of a moment or two in the future. The remainder of the book is about understanding the visions, reacting to them, debating them philosophically, scientifically, and spiritually. This works best in the context of individual story lines, the best of them a murder mystery where a man tries to solve his own murder. The concept of "show don't tell" is well exemplified here...
... exemplified as well when the author tells instead of shows, the story bogging down when the debate literally becomes a debate, the characters discussing and arguing the scientific or spiritual causes of the flash forward as well as its ramifications, especially in the second and third sections. Sawyer is known in his overall work for examining the point at which science intersects religion, and that is certainly a major theme in Flash Forward, especially the concept of free will vs. destiny, examined in both scientific and spiritual terms.
Thought provoking and worthwhile, even if it could have been better told.
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