Sutton, MA | Member Since 2012
I was hesitant to purchase “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” (Ocean) as this was my first Neil Gaiman novel and my interest in the fantasy genre extends as far as George Martin. I was old-fashioned wrong! Ocean was terrific. Ocean was a simple and unpretentious story about a childhood experience. Similar to Martel’s “Life of Pi”, there’s much more happening here if the reader/listener bothers to delve underneath the surface.
Gaiman has an expert sense of the fears and anxieties that fuel the behaviors of a 7-year-old child. He also captures the magical thinking that children use to understand and negotiate their environments. Gaiman’s child has yet to be overtaken by the realities of science and logic. As a result, the reader is taken into imaginative situations only available through the mind of a child. The insights that come out of Ocean are refreshing and creative.
Ocean is very entertaining and never boring. The audiobook is also very manageable at roughly 5 hours in length and only a handful of characters to track. Ocean is well worth your investment in time and money.
Paul Robert's “The Impulse Society” is one of the most interesting and intellectually satisfying non-fiction books I have engaged in the last year. Roberts begins with the premise that modern day American society is built on the need for immediate gratification from our consumer behaviors, social interactions, business practices, and political preferences. These claims are backed up with data and astute cultural/political observations dating back from Reagan and ending with Obama. The author also provides a historical perspective relative to the times when America citizens made personal and business sacrifices for the public good. “The Impulse Society” is completely engaging with great narration. The book will challenge the reader's long established beliefs and hopefully open them up to new perspective.
I was fascinated and enthralled by the HBO series “The Leftovers.” The show is dark, cerebral, and deals with penultimate questions of life after death. When the 2014 season ended without total closure, I raced to the novel to have all my questions answered. However, the novel is superficial and intellectually disappointing aside the HBO series. The Leftovers novel provides only the basic outline which is expertly filled by the created of the television show “Lost” (Damon Lindelof). There is little to be gained in the novel for fans of the HBO series.
In 1987, at the height of Stephen King's cocaine and alcohol addiction, he wrote the Tommyknockers (TK). A quick unscientific online search reveals that many King fans rank the “TK” toward the very bottom of his 62 published works. In 1999 in an editorial for the Onion, King reported that he had almost no recollection of this novel about an alien spacecraft that slowly takes over the minds and bodies of the citizenry of Haven, Maine. Although “TK” cannot compare to The Stand, Salem’s Lot, or The Dome, it's surprisingly entertaining.
The TK has a strong start which allows for the development of the main characters: a writer, Bobbie Anderson, and poet, Jim Gardner. These recluses have the unique ability to tolerate each other. One day when running in the woods, Bobbie trips over a piece of metal protruding slightly from the ground. This seemingly inconsequential event starts off a series of changes that lead us through the “TK”. I love that King is willing and unafraid to uncover the world's greatest discovery in such a happenstance manner. It reminds me of King's time travel concept in “11-22-63”, where the time travel vehicle is a dirty cleaning closet at a local dinner. Only Stephen King can get away with this level of ludicrousness. With any other author most readers would throw down the book saying, “You expect me to buy this malarkey”.
If you can make the leap and accept the ridiculous manner in which the spacecraft is discovered, you can lock in and go on an exciting ride. It's amazing that King writes so clearly and fluidly for a man at the height of addiction. His writing is always clear and he vividly brings horrific scenes to the reader's consciousness. Overall, there are many King books better than the “TK”. A much better book about alien invasion mind control is “The Cell.” However, if you are a rabid King fan, like me, and want to study all the works, the “TK” is fun and revealing. Of the 87 books I have read over the last two years, TK is ranked 41.
Gary Taubes' “Why We Get Fat” (WWGF) is an engaging summary of the science related to human weight gain. Taubes cites numerous research articles, case studies, and social/cultural situations to support the hypothesis that obesity is a result of our bodies inability to effectively digest select carbohydrates. The more complex the carbohydrate (bread, rice, potatoes,...) the higher the probability an individual will gain weight. This carbohydrate digestive processing program is also idiosyncratic, effecting some while not others.
WWGF reads like a doctoral dissertation attempting to support the argument that excess carbohydrates are responsible for excess human weight gain and corresponding health problems. Taubes espouses that diets high in protein and fat with restricted intake of complex carbohydrates not only results in weight loss, but are the healthier for the body. WWGF also reports that although exercising is beneficial to the human body, it relationship to weight lose is inconclusive at best. At this moment many readers may be saying “What the What”? According to Taubes you have been brain washed by the dieting industry and he has the research to prove it.
The strength of WWGF is Taubes debunking many long established weight lose myths. For example, the myth that weight lose occurs when calories consumed are exceeded by calories expended (called the first law of thermodynamics). For Taubes, the solution to society's obesity problem is not reducing time sitting on couch, but the replacing complex carbohydrates with copious amounts fat/proteins. Does this make sense? To Taubes the research is clear and Americans have been mislead into thinking dieting is an excess calorie problem.
There are two major drawbacks to the WWGF. Taubes arguments and theories are not independently verified. He does not conduct the hard scientific experiment to justify his claims. As a reader you keep waiting for him to discuss that well controlled study that will allow you to start eating steak for three meals per day. That study never materializes. A second weakness is WWGF does not provide any guidance on the types of carbohydrates you should focus on relative to weight lose. His best advice is to replace high insulin producing carbs with green leafy carbs. WOW and Thank you!
WWGH is a great book for readers interested in a more than passing interest in weight lose. The book is very well written, flows, and the information is easily digestible.
Stephen King novels fall into two categories: Wide Scope or Intimate Character Studies. Wide scope King novels juggle multiple characters and story lines (The Stand, The Dome, It, and Salem's Lot..). The intimate charter studies are laser focused on no more than five characters, where the characters are a akin to the reader's family members by the end of the novel (Joyland, Duma Key...) . Mr. Mercedes is an intimate character study that locks the reader into experiencing an almost personal relationship with the main characters.
Mr. Mercedes is a terrific read! The prose of the main charter, retired detective Bill Hodges, is rough, funny, and indicative of a shrewd curmudgeon. Hodges is ready to be taken to the glue factory until the book's villain, Brady Hartsfield, decides to wake this sleeping dog out of pure narcissism. The interplay between the two characters creates numerous out loud laughable moments especially in the email exchanges. Mr. Mercedes is not scary, but creates a creepy tone throughout the novel through King's use of imagery and graphic detail.
Mr. Mercedes is never dull and moves at a surprisingly brisk pace despite the fact that there are few action sequences. The excitement of Mr. Mercedes occurs under the hood, being exposed to cognitions or mental problem solving of the two protagonists. King expertly gives the reader both sides of the coin relative to motives and motivations of the good guys and bad guys.
Obsessive Stephen King fans know that the master of the horror genre has more than a passing interest in gritty detective novels. In King's only nonfiction book, On Writing, he pays his respects to detective fiction by Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, and hardboiled pulp fiction stories from magazines. With Mr. Mercedes, King gets his opportunity to make his contribution to the detective genre, albeit Steve King style.
My only negative comment about Mr. Mercedes is relative to the narration. Will Patton (The Postman and Remember the Titians) has a gruff and graveled voices that does not personally appeal to me.
Overall, Mr. Mercedes is a must read for all who enjoy escaping reality. The main joy Mr. Mercedes is experiencing the development of the main characters as "better angles of our nature" that arise during trying circumstances. In my personal rank order rating system, Mr. Mercedes ranks 20th of the 75 books I have read/listened to over the last 2.5 years.
I have a fascination with the superhero/comic book genre, where I appreciate how superheroes represent the clear delineation of good versus evil. Traditional superheroes are unselfish humanitarians who possess a fatal flaw that can be exploited by an evil villain. By contrast, the villains are typically physically weaker than superheroes but possess a superior intellect that results in an obsession to achieve absolute power/control over others (see M. Night Shyamalan's film "Unbreakable" as a great example).
Given the long and rich history of the superhero genre, an author venturing into this field must bring something creative and unique to the story. Although Brandon Sanderson's "Steelheart" provides an entertaining story, it fails to offer a new perspective to the comic genre. Sanderson's story is faced paced and exciting, but his characters are paper thin relative to development. Steelheart is better suited for an adolescent male readership than a serious reader of fiction attempting to find a larger meaning about good/evil nestled in the novel.
Steelheart's ultimate failure is it lacks substance and depth. The characters quickly move from one action packed situation to another separated by brief interludes of group arguments over the best future course of action. I wish that Sanderson had slowed the pace of Steelheart to develop a storyline with greater context and stronger character background.
Steelheart's strength is the relentless pace of the action. Steelheart is never boring and the writing is crisp. Sanderson gives the reader dozens of close calls and exquisitely staged fight scenes. However, reading Steelheart is akin to going to a five star restaurant and getting a mediocre meal. You just expected more.
According to my rank order book rating system, I place Steelheart in the 45th position of the 73 books I have completed over the last two years. "Horns" by Joe Hill or "Enders Game" by Orson Scott Card are better and more original choices for this genre.
I have always respected the research of Charles Murray. He has a history of conducting socially important research, citing solid peer reviewed evidence to support his hypothesis, and fearlessly stating his points regardless of controversy. His books (The Bell Curve, Coming Apart, Real Education...) challenge conventional wisdom and social assumptions about our culture and behaviors.
Murray's "The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead" (2014) is meant to be a "how to" book for young adults relative to blending into an established corporate culture and engaging in behaviors associated with successful adult independence.
The big problem? The audience "Curmudgeon" is intended to help would probably never be interested reading this book. Murray hammers these young adults for their tattoos, casual use of profanity/obscenity, and faulty applications of English grammar. "Curmudgeon" is broken down into sequential chapters that permit Murray's to dispense his personal advice to young adults.
Personally, I enjoyed "Curmudgeon". However, I am 49 years old and may be defined by my employees as a curmudgeon. Overall, Murray has a interesting and engaging book that other curmudgeons will use to validate their perceptions of the younger generations. Reading "Curmudgeon" feels a little like preaching to the choir. On my rank order book rating system, I place "Curmudgeon" 40th of the 68 books I have read over the last two years.
I somehow neglected to read Frankenstein during my current 49 years of existence. All of the ideas and concepts I learned about the Frankenstein story originated with the 1931 film and the accompanying outlandish movie spinoffs (Bride of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Theory, and Abbot/Costello meet Frankenstein...) . If you are in my Frankenstein starting position, you will be delighted by this engaging and smart audio book that bears little resemblance to the Hollywood re-invented movies.
Mary Shelley's 1818 novel is still fresh and resonates with modern day concerns. Frankenstein is never boring and engages the reader from the get go. The prose and language used by Shelley to tell the Frankenstein story is exquisite. Shelley is a master wordsmith who make the Frankenstein story a piece of art rather than a mere horror story. The beauty of her writing is even more impressive when one considers that Shelley wrote this masterpiece at 18 years of age.
The major theme of Frankenstein contemplates the limits of science. Shelly's monster is a metaphor to examine the consequences of unrestricted scientific advancements without consideration for ethics or morality. The warnings to scientists laid out in the Frankenstein story can presently be applied to stem cell research or mapping the genome. Readers interested in this topic may want to check out the movie The Frankenstein Syndrome (2010).
Another fascinating aspect to Frankenstein are the descriptions of how the monster learns language and attempts to develop relationships with others. Shelly does not permit the reader to make absolute judgments about the evil or good nature of the monster or Dr. Frankenstein. The reader is constantly sympathizing and abhorring the behaviors of the main characters.
Overall, listening to Frankenstein was a pleasant surprise. If you have yet to read the book, you are in for a treat. In my rank order book evaluation system, Frankenstein ranks in 26 of 67.
Stephen King has written over 150 different stories, but his reported favorite of the bunch is"Salem's Lot" (1975). Salem's Lot (SL) was King's second book following Carrie (1974). In my opinion, King loved SL because it represented a transition between stories about unique individuals to stories about groups of characters interacting in social systems under duress. SL is ultimately about a group of small town folk dealing with a vampire crisis. When reading/listening to SL, true Stephen King fans will feel the rumblings of his more complex future works (IT, The Stand, and The Dome), where large groups of people form alliances to survive a supernatural calamity. With SL, King begins to lay out the formula that he will return to build some of his best novels.
Although SL has interesting historical significance for King fans, the book limps along for the first 40% of the story. King seems to struggle setting up the chess board for future play. His introduction of characters are often too long and their individual stories are often irrelevant to the plot. Considering the overall length of the book (it's a long one), it seems to meander pointlessly during several sections.
However, King kicks SL into high gear just before halftime. What follows is an exciting and well designed adventure that should not be missed. SL may be King's scariest book with so many wonderfully chilling scenes that you will certainly not sleep with your bedroom windows open despite the summer heat. I also admired King's complete knowledge of the Bram Stoker's "Dracula" and the vampire genre. King does his homework and does not reinvent vampires to sensationalize his story. There are no Stephanie Myer invented vampires here, King's vampires will eat your babies and poop out their remains.
Overall, I would recommend SL to all readers/listeners who enjoy SK or horror books in general. However, you cannot quit on this book until your more than halfway in. If you're not hooked by the halfway point your probably not going to be hooked at all.
On my book rank order evaluation system, SL ranks 37th of the 66 books I have read/listened to over the last 2 years.
I am so reassured after reading/listening to a Joe Hill novel. Reassured because he relatively young writing talent, age 41, who is on track to produce numerous future great book in the horror genre. I will always look forward to the next Joe Hill novel. Hill's writing is creative, exciting, in your face, and unpretentious. He is never boring and unafraid veer his stories in multiple directions within improbable situations.
Hill's best work to date is NOS4A2, but Horns (written 3 years before NOS4A2) is an absolute delight. This story of revenge is so inventive with multiple individual story lines that you need to wait for the last 20 pages to pull it all together. Horns also includes so many classic references to Lucifer and analyzes the ultimate role of the prince of darkness. Hill gives the reader a metamorphous of man into the devil with several interesting twists, ascribing him supernatural powers that would make most crime solvers jealous.
Having lauded Hill for the last two paragraphs, I must admit that with Horns, Hill is yet a fully matured writer. He is like a big-time home hitter who strikes out too much. There are few segments in Horns when the bottom drops out of the story. This most often occurs at the start of flashback scenes, where the action/drama abruptly stops and the author resets the story.
Many of friends criticize Joe Hill's writing as an identical copy as his father, Stephen King. I feel this the strength of Joe Hill! The resemblance of his famous father's writing style is something that almost every writer would wish for if they found a genie lamp. Overall, Horns is an exciting and creative audio book with excellent narration. Hill may have some pacing problems, but this book is fun. Using my personal rank order system of the best books I read over the last two years, Horns is 20th of 65.
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