Category Archives: Reviews

Dining room dancing to Kat Parsons

This is a semi-regular guest post from my five month old grandson,  C, for whom I am now the full-time nanny. The initial is not an indication that C is average—he’s far from average in this humble grandpa’s opinion; how he manages those tiny little fingers at the keyboard is unbelievable. The “C” is just a way to grant him a little anonymity. When he runs for President in forty years, I don’t want his opponents to use these infant ramblings against him. :-)


Despite what Granddad thinks, I am a mostly normal five-month-old; I’m pretty close to the fiftieth percentile in weight, height … almost everything. I do think I talk a lot more than most infants, but Granddad doesn’t know many of my words. So I’ve had to revert to caveman coughs and grunts to get my point across some of the time. I’ve taught him that, when I start in with the loud barking coughs, I’m getting bored or frustrated and on the verge of a scream or two. I don’t have to do that too often, because he does pay pretty close attention to me. He better, after all, it’s his job.

Mommy works upstairs, which is cool, since that means I get to see her a few times a day, mostly at feeding time. But sometimes she’s on an important call or has an online presentation to do. When that happens, Granddad has to find ways to distract me from the fact that the dining room is temporarily closed.

His latest trick  is dining room dancing. We’ve only done it a few times, but it is pretty fun. Granddad is a klutz when it comes to dancing, but he’s managed not to drop me yet. He spins and dips and slides, and I’m pretty sure he thinks he looks suave. I heard him saying something about some Fred guy named after a stair, but Granddad can’t hold a candle to the kitchen dancing that Grandmom and Mommy do … still, I love him for trying.

Yesterday, he pulled up his iTunes and downloaded the new Counting Crows album.  The Counting Crows are his favorite group (proof he’s an old guy) and I’m not sure what he was expecting, but it put me right to sleep. Then today he loaded a new EP album called Talk to Me from an Indie artist named Kat Parsons. It was awesome! Seriously, it was way better than all my favorite nursery songs … put together! I think Granddad was worried it wouldn’t be as good as her first album, No Will Power, which he thought was fantastic, but I could tell he loved this one, too.

We danced around and around, and I was rocking! When we finished dancing through all the songs, we sat in front of the computer and listened to them again. They’re all amazing, but I think Fall For It” was the best of all. I couldn’t help but jabber away at the screen telling Kat how fantabulous she is. Granddad, of course, didn’t understand, but I bet Kat did.

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Review: Warm Bodies

Warm Bodies
Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In my opinion, this is one of the easiest and most enjoyable reads in the post-apocalyptic genre. The characters aren’t stiff, not even the dead ones. The story moves quickly, but still has lots of warm moments that help you relate to the many quirky characters. Marion makes this story work on every level and it deserves the accolades it has received. One reviewer compared “R”–the primary narrator of the novel– to Frankenstein’s monster. But, in “Warm Bodies”, we get a much clearer, real, and more humorous view of R’s quest for humanity and love than Shelley ever provided.

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Review: The Namesake

The Namesake
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book that allows the reader to gain an understanding of what it is like to immigrate from one culture to another that is dramatically different. As the father-in-law of an Indian-born naturalized citizen, I feel this book has given me a much better grasp of the large community people that have become related, through marriage, to my daughter.
In all honesty, I should give this book five stars. Lahiri is a masterful writer with a unique voice that pours her character’s conflicted emotions directly into the reader’s consciousness and makes it easy to view their life as each of those characters see it. Though a work of fiction, this story feels real and challenges the reader to examine his or her own life through just such a clear and honest lens. I did not give it a five because I found the book depressing. I’m too much of a romantic to accept that love is so easily gained and lost; that a real connection between two people can be cut completely and irretrievably. The main character finds and loses love many times and I could feel myself losing empathy for him–I didn’t want to be in position to feel the pain that is obviously coming. In many ways, it appears that this is what Gogol himself does.
In terms of the clarity of the writing, I count this among the novels that set the standard to which I aspire.

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Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Over the past few weeks I’ve found myself becoming hyper-critical of books I’ve been reading, even while I enjoyed the stories and admired the talent of the author. As a result of the editing process I’ve undergone with my own book, I have found it hard to “lose myself” in the narrative of a story. Early in “The Hunger Games” I struggled with the author’s habit of contracting “is” with a variety of nouns; I was searching for flaws. Thankfully, that didn’t last.

By the seventh chapter I was hooked and whatever quibbles I may have had disappeared as a fascinating, troubled future formed from the words in my Kindle. While the seeds of this story may have come from television’s “Survivor” and “American Idol”, combined with a variety of apocalyptic movies including “Thunderdome”, the real and gritty humanity that Collins draws from her characters makes any comparison worthless. The first book leaves me eager to get into the second and see how Kat, Gale, Peetna and the rest of the engrossing cast fare in a country that seems primed for revolution.

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Review: Claiming Ground

Claiming Ground
Claiming Ground by Laura Bell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is flea market in Laramie south of Interstate 80. Much of it is a warren of eight by eight cubicles some of which are filled with little more than yard sale cast-offs while others contain what would be considered treasure vaults by collectors of one type or another.

Meandering through this motley, colorful, bizarre microcosm of life where the strange and familiar sit side-by-side is similar to reading “Claiming Ground”, a memoir by Laurel Bell. Almost every page contains some trinket that draws your eye and forces you to pick it up and turn it over and over in your hands to discover what manner of treasure you have found.

And, every so often, you find so wondrous a gem that you cannot bear to set it back on the shelf.

“I want to stand in the moonlit shadow of Heart Mountain and claim something solid and enduring. I want to be this mountain, but my life feels more like a hall of trick mirrors with a different view in each one.”

At 242 pages, “Claiming Ground” is not a long book, but it took me a week to finish it, despite the fact that I enjoyed it immensely. As with a flea market, I found myself tarrying too long in one place.

My only small criticism of the book is that much of it, although full of captivating prose, felt disjointed, like a collection of wonderful knickknacks which seem unrelated one to another. You are not drawn forward through the book.

That is until the final sixty pages. Throughout the book, Bell’s honesty impresses. At the end, it transfixes and impales; moving one’s heart in ways both painful and comforting.

I have found yet another writer who challenges me to grow in my craft. Christmas was yesterday and it is too late to wish for another gift. At the top of my list for next year is a wish to learn the crafting of a sentence as strong and lyrical as the hundreds that Bell has spread through “Claiming Ground”.

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Review of “The Ruins”

The RuinsThe Ruins by Scott B. Smith

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have an immense amount of respect for Stephen King and that is the main reason I picked up this book. “The best horror novel of the new century.” said the master of horror. I’m sorry Mr. King, but I disagree. Yes, there were some elements of this book that were extraordinary. But they were not enough to balance an unnecessarily slow start during which I found I didn’t really care much about any of the six people who the story follows as they make one mistake after another on the way to disaster. There was a lot of character development, but none of it helped me invest any emotion to be spent when horrible things happen to them later in the story. And what happens to them does make one squirm, no doubt about it. Looking for blood and guts? Skip to the last 150 pages, you’ll get plenty.

The writing in parts of this novel is as good as you will find in this genre. But Mr. King would have had us caring about these characters in fewer words, and used the savings to torture us all the more in the meat of the story. The blurbs that Mr. Smith attracted almost seem to have been written about a different book entirely. Even the title leads the reader astray. “The Ruins” would indicate something elaborate, worthy of curiosity and exploration. Be warned… it is only a hole in the ground, and one that is scarcely described. A more honest title would have been “The Plant-Covered Hill”… boring, but true.

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Review: The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos

The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos
The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos by Brian Greene
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Hidden Reality represented my first attempt to get at the meat of the science behind the new advances in quantum physics and string theory; the theories that propose that there are parallel universes and extra dimensions that are, as yet, undetectable. For most of the book I had to stretch my intellectual abilities to gain a glimmer of understanding; for some of it, no stretching would be enough. But I learned enough to be thoroughly fascinated by the subject. I don’t believe the book is as “accessible” as its publisher claims, but it is still a masterful effort to explain things that even those formulating the theories don’t understand fully.

Beyond the review:

What fascinates me the most about this subject, is that there are strong mathematical theorems, recently proposed, that are similar to Einstein’s equations from the 1910’s in that they posit many radical new ideas about the structure of the universe. When Einstein’s theories and equations were first published, the technology did not exist to prove their validity. But subsequent decades showed that they were remarkably accurate. Will this happen again? Will the technology be developed – twenty, thirty, fifty years from now – that proves there truly are parallel universes, eleven dimensions and alternate realities? It is exciting to imagine, to say the least.

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