Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Finished (E-Book) - "Revival" - Stephen King

I read a few Stephen King novels when I was younger (Cujo, Pet Sematary, The Shining, Carrie) and have sporadically read since ("11/22/63" being the most recent and best one in memory).
I picked up "Revival" after seeing it in the bookstores while Christmas shopping.

The story starts in the early '60's with a young boy in a small town playing in his yard when he meets the new town preacher, a young man on his first placement.  The story doesn't go in the necessarily obvious direction - the preacher isn't a child predator, but there are precursors to later weirdness.

The preacher has a wife and son, and has a hobby playing with electricity, which he uses to demonstrate lessons in his religious classes for the kids of the town.  He also uses electricity and placebo-psychology to cure a lost voice of the young boy's brother who was injured in a skiing incident.  A family accident and a loss of faith spell the end to the preacher's time in the small town.

All in all, the book builds across time - ends in the present time from the 1960's, with the young boy meeting the preacher in several different times and places over the next 40 years or so.

As with other King novels, you do get dragged into the story, and the characters are fleshed out enough to be interesting.

Unfortunately, I didn't find the climax of this book to be interesting enough to support the entire book - there is a few pages of occult-type action, but it doesn't explain the book incidents well enough to make the story cohesive.  What the "force" actually is, and why the narrator character is involved remains vague to me, partially to keep the force mysterious, but not in what I'd consider a consistent manner.

What I really found odd, was that the use of the "force" through the book was a cure for many ills (not all of them), with side-effects (depression and visions, enough to cause occasional suicides and incarcerations at mental institutions) in small numbers of the "cured".  The climax was using the "force" to bring someone back from the dead to see what was on the other side, which is substantially different.  It wasn't clear why this experiment caused the suicide-murder spree of the "cured" victims (except the narrator).

Maybe a more fleshed out explanation of the "banned" book might have helped, or some history of experiments in trying to bring back the dead would have rounded out the story (maybe some sub-plot of uncaught serial killer, all victims having terminal illnesses and bodies found with odd burns - a serial mercy-killer would have made great 24 hour news headlines).

Though I am not motivated to go back and look, it wasn't at all clear to me what the narrator's role was and why he was critical to the success of the experiment, not why (aside from greater understanding than the other "curees") he was able to survive.  I was quite disappointed in how "weak" the climax was and how relatively easy it was to stop.

Not high on my recommended list.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Finished (TV Series) - UK version of House of Cards (3 seasons, 12 episodes total)

I found the U.S. version of House of Cards a few months ago - liked it.  Looked for and found the BBC version (1990-1994) which was the first series based off a set of books.
Aside from the series being 20+ years old, the storyline is as compelling as the U.S. version, though, as some of the storylines are parallel, it is possible to guess some of the plot points.  The other issue is that the characters are, on the whole, older than the U.S. version, so it takes a little getting used to.

Definitely worth the watch, but you might want to wait until the conclusion of the U.S. series should there be other parallel outcomes.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Finished (Audiobook) - "Yes Please" - Amy Poehler

As a sucker for all things "SNL", I liked Amy Poehler's book.  Not that there were any huge relevations, but just a nice storyline about starting out and making SNL, and on to "Parks and Recreation".  The big bonus in the audiobook is that Amy reads it, but gets guest readers as well - Seth Meyers read a chapter that she coerced him to write for the book, her parents talked a bit, her producer from "Parks and Recreation" and random guests like Patrick Stewart and Kathleen Turner.
All in all, Amy comes across as a likeable person (no surprise) and provides a good role model for going after what you want.  Not much in the way of drug use (some passing use, and lots of opportunities given the world she lives in), but enough naughtiness to be and interesting and positive book for a late teenage girl as a keep trying story.
I did find it a very nice "listen" in the car - the last two books had bad Henry Kissinger impressionists, which grates after a while.  Amy was always easy to hear, interesting and relatively positive (even when she was re-visiting a poorly received SNL skit that caused her to feel guilty as it was a relatively low blow to a disabled young woman, though she didn't know it at the time of the sketch).
She referred to her ex husband as "Will", which I always thought of as Will Forte who was on SNL at the same time as Amy, though some really easy research shows it was Will Arnett, who I also find very entertaining ("Arrested Development" might be one of the all-time most excellent series).

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Reading (E-Reader): "Playboy Interviews - The Essentials" - Playboy Magazine

I'm quite enjoying "The Playboy Interviews" - Playboy magazine does have a history of doing topical, groundbreaking interviews.  Collecting them gives a nice in situ  peek at the life and times of various folks over the past 50 years or so.
I am not reading them in any particular order - I find an interesting interview, read it, and find another.

As of now, I've covered Martin Luther King Jr., which is right in the middle of his historic marches in the south, prior to the "I have a dream" speech in Washington.  Offers a nice reminder of how recently things were clearly race-divided in the U.S., and how strong the anti-integration movement was.

The Beatles, and John Lennon-Yoko Ono offer compelling reads as well.  The Beatles were pretty early in their fame, so much of the interview provides insight into how problematic "instant fame" is, and how long it takes to become "instantly famous".  The Lennon-Ono interview was very close to John's death (not sure of the interview date, but the publication date is 1 month post his murder by Chapman).  The interview was related to the John coming back to recording for "Double Fantasy".  It does talk about the Beatles years, the odds of getting back together (virtually nill by John), the fact that the individual Beatles members still kept in touch (i.e. weren't enemies) but had drifted as their lives diverged from the "always together" early days.  John expresses some resentment toward George, who he felt has slighted John's involvement in George's career growth in the Beatles years, and toward Paul who didn't seem to understand why John and Yoko were tied at the hips.

I am a big SNL fan, so there is an interview from the early years (late '70's) with the entire SNL staff, probably 2nd or 3rd year (Chevy had left, Bill Murray on staff, reference to their fight behind the scenes, which I believe was 2nd year of the show).  A later interview with Lorne Michaels is a nice read as well - he had just returned to SNL after leaving, and was dealing with cancellation (which was rescinded through begging) and was experiencing the highest ratings of their tenure up to that time.  He talked about how difficult it was to deal with the cast leaving, some lingering tension as SNL became a "star maker", a stop-point to better things, instead of a destination in and of itself. Steve Martin garnered two interviews, one as the stand-up guy and one as the later writer/director of movies and retired stand-up guy.  I find Steve Martin endlessly interesting as well - I remember him at his peak of stand-up fame (though didn't realize how odd and difficult making a stand-up career was before widespread local comedy clubs became the norm), I really liked his movies (particularly "the Jerk", "Roxanne" and "Parenthood").  I also like his banjo playing and music career.  I find him to be interesting because he is basically a "meta performer" - he designs his input by understanding the media in an academic manner, and he understands what he can bring to the table to make a unique contribution.  His plan from the early days was to use the stand-up to drive the movies, and use the initial movies to transition his stand-up to celluloid and use that experience to move toward different and complex (e.g. less one-dimensional) roles.  Tina Fey is interviewed on her own as well, in her post SNL 30 Rock period - also a very interesting person who discusses her transition from writer to SNL Update performer to star of a TV series (and the associated angst and discussion points of each).

Animation creators come into the fore as well - Seth McFarlane, Parker and Stone of South Park both captured at the height of their animated fame (just reading Seth now, Groening is next).

All in all, these interveiws are well done, and certainly lead to pick and choose reading - most are 20 min to 1/2 hour reads, though MLK seemed to take an hour or so.  I hope this comes out as an audiobook, as most seem to have been tape recorded at source - it would be intersting to hear John Lennon talk about the Beatles history, and MLK talk about the struggles in the south.

Finished (Audiobooks) - "Kissenger: A Biography"- Isaacson and "The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It" - John Dean

I must say, I'm finally glad to be done listening to both "Kissenger" and "The Nixon Defense" - both of which are fine if you are interested in the Nixon years (Kissenger goes a  little farther, through Ford, and then post-White House years), however, as both are long, listening to them back to back was a little too much "Kissenger".
I have a basic interest in this particular era, as I remember these events when I was a kid - I was 8 when the Watergate break-ins occurred in 1972, and 10 when Nixon resigned in 1974.  I certainly didn't know (or maybe even care) what the events were about, I remember thinking in 1974 that 1972 was "so long ago" that I was surprised anybody cared about it.  This sounds odd, but seems to be the window that Fox News operates in now - forget the past, blame the closest Democrat right now.

Though I'm far from the right politically, I do find the Nixon event such a loss - he did open China and the Soviet Union and did some really good international work.  The whole Watergate thing is so petty in comparison, though it did reveal the lack of respect for process and branches of gov't in the Nixon years (and I'd content in Reagan and Bush Jr. as many of the same background folks were operating).

Kissenger, who's still considered brilliant, really didn't do much in Vietnam, delaying an earlier solution for political reasons and extending the war unnecessarily.  I  think the handwriting was on the wall that the U.S. was leaving, it might have been done a year or two earlier, with fewer deaths.
The need to keep score and take credit for the international events, traits of both Nixon and Kissenger, demean both to a degree.  Seems childish in hindsight.  Kissenger's willingness to skip over the state department in making plans and large scale treaties seems to be a much bigger "issue" than the shoddy break-ins of Watergate.

All in all, I'm glad to be moving off this section of history.  I find it full of "what ifs" - what if Nixon was less paranoid - would that have avoided the "leftist media" image that is still pervasive in the U.S.?  Would a full-disclosure of Watergate before the 1972  election have provided the clean slate needed for a complete 2nd term?  If the Kissenger-Nixon deals with China and the U.S.S.R. had been handled "normally' thorough normal state department processes, could a more lasting set of treaties be in place, reductions in nuclear arms and maybe a more stable world here in the post 2000's?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Liking - "Gotham" - DC Comics TV Series (2014)

I find I'm quite liking Gotham, the DC Comics TV series about the early years of Batman, post the murder of his parents, but prior to becoming the Batman.  The primary character is a young Jim Gordon (Commissioner Gordon in the 1960's TV series and the comics) and his semi-corrupt partner Bullock, with Gordon new to a corrupt police force in Gotham City.
I was surprised how dark the series was, though - darker than Arrow, and much darker than the other new DC Comics series "The Flash".  I like it, but it might be a shocker to young viewers.

jokerThe show is great for those new to the Batman lore, and those versed in Batman history.  There are lots of glimpses into the future (e.g. Catwoman, Riddler, Penguin) that show up in major or minor ways (Penguin is certainly the most visible, and portrayed excellently by Robin Lord Taylor, who is nicknamed "Penguin" immediately, though hasn't adopted the name, or identity yet.

The Bruce Wayne/Batman storyline is always in the background and shows a serious and stoic Bruce studying documents and trying to understand what happened to his parents, Wayne Enterprises and Gotham.

I haven't been reading any of the "Behind the scenes" stuff, but I am suspecting that Bruce will not really show up as Batman until the series is done (like Superman in Smallville).  The power of the series comes from the stumbling along, learning what is going on and becoming who they are fated to be, not necessarily in the ascendance of Batman.  Part of Batman's success is the oddity of his rogues' gallery - that is what is being built here.

Finished (E-Reader) - "Edge of Eternity" - Ken Follett (3rd in Century Trilogy)


I have read all three books in Ken Follett's "Century Trilogy", the most recent being "Edge of Eternity".  These books are not typically what I seek out, but I thoroughly enjoyed all three of them.
I "accidentally" ran across Follett's "Pillars of the Earth" series, as I had known Follett from his WWII spy novels.  That was the first historical fiction-type book I ran across and I found it difficult to put down.

The Century Trilogy runs the gamut from the Russian Civil war () to WWII to the 1960's.  In each era, there are family members in several key countries, so their is a link backward through time (or forward, depending upon which book you are looking from), but the stories are independent, and no requirement to be up to date on each book is necessary to enjoy the others.

The "Edge of Eternity" is the most recent book in both publication and historical period.  The key storylines are East Germany during the building of the Wall,  Kennedy's White House and Kruschev's Kremlin during the Cuban missile crisis, the civil rights activities in both Washington and Alabama and the Vietnam war.

Follett's strengths is to portray the issues from the perspectives of both sides of the conflict(s), reminding the reader of what they would have known at that point in time and what their motivations were.  The issues come alive, almost as if they are being relived and maintain an appropriate sense of urgency.  As a novel, it is excellent, though I suppose as a true history it does slant in the Western direction (e.g. the Wall is evil, Communism is flawed...  the hardline East German police are portrayed as thugs - I don't disagree, but I suspect there is a viewpoint from that era that they were heroically protecting the motherland).

All in all, a captivating series, really worth the time to read.

7315573   12959233

Monday, September 22, 2014

Awaiting the new series - Gotham and The Flash

Going to be a nice fall - Gotham (watched the preview) and The Flash (watched the 1st episode online) both look interesting.  Add a renewed Arrow and Agents of SHIELD and there's lots of shows to watch at the moment.