Tag Archives: Penguin Audio

My Father’s Gun

Rules for Becoming a Legend (nook book)

Rules for Becoming a Legend: A Novel by Timothy S. Lane (Viking Adult, $26.95, 352 pages)

“The time is out of joint.” Hamlet, Act I, scene 5, line 188

Timothy S. Lane’s Rules for Becoming a Legend, released in March, is a strong debut novel. In the age of travel ball and the mistaken belief that every child is a Division 1 and/or professional prospect of some type, there are many not-so-subtle lessons contained in the pages of Rules. For those who truly do have the talent to excel at a chosen sport, the message is scarier.

In a basketball-crazed town, Jimmy “Kamikaze” Kirkus is even more talented at basketball than his father, Todd “Freight Train” Kirkus. “Freight Train,” a one-time sure thing star in the NBA, is known in his middle age as nothing more than a flop who loads trucks with Pepsi for a living.

One disaster after another descends upon the Kirkus family, creating something known to the locals as “The Kirkus Curse.” Only some of it can be traced to the actions of the characters themselves. While in life, the vicious cycle of misfortune that results from a single misdeed is all to real for many, in this novel it is taken to a close-to-unbelievable extreme.

In the midst of these sad circumstances, young Jimmy must decide for himself if it is worthwhile to pursue the path to becoming a sports legend; a journey which may lead to his ruination. In Rules, the joys of childhood are lost far too quickly.

Lane’s characters are interesting and the major themes resonate. There are high quality passages throughout the book such as, “The warmth around Genny (Todd’s wife) was delicious, and the moment he settled in next to her he was able to regain the just-below-the-surface sleepiness that was the best part of waking up….”; the end of a strong passage in which Genny suppresses her anger toward her husband, “Letting even just a little of that in would blow the hinges off the whole thing and she would suffocate…”; or, considering the meaning of Jimmy’s basketball throughout the book, the strong use of personification, “He (Todd) set the ball on the table and swept up the broken vase. The basketball watched him work.”

Lane tells the story in a sequence of never-ending flashbacks, which is understandable initially but unnecessary and/or irritating later on in the book. Despite the examples above and many other well-worded passages, the book is generally written in a fragmented manner – intentionally so it would seem, to accentuate the characters’ thoughts and circumstances. However, there are times when this is not stylistically necessary and, therefore, subject to question. Yet, neither criticism detracts from the general reader’s overall enjoyment of what is otherwise a very solid effort.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

Rules (audible audio)

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “A slam dunk of a debut… Rules has the authenticity and pathos of a great Springsteen song.” Jonathan Evison, author of The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving: A Novel.

Dave Moyer is an educator, a former college baseball player and coach, and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Days That Used to Be

Waging Heavy Peace (audio large)

‘Cause there are very few of us left my friend/ From the days that used to be Neil Young, “The Days That Used to Be” from 1990’s Ragged Glory album

Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream by Neil Young (Blue Rider Press, $30.00, 502 pages)

Where to begin. Let’s try with Neil’s own words. How about we work backward from page 409?

“About twenty years later, in the mid-nineties, Briggs and I were making an album. I still call it an album because that is what I make. I don’t make CDs or iTunes tracks. I make albums. That is just what I do. Call it what you like. I remember how I hated the shuffle feature on iTunes because it f—– up the running order I spent hours laboring over. Having tracks available independently and having the shuffle factor sucks as far as I am concerned. Call me old-fashioned. I make albums and I want the songs to go together to create a feeling. I do those things on purpose. I don’t want people cherry-picking the albums. I like to choose the singles. After all, it’s my s—.”

That, in a nutshell is Neil Young’s amazing autobiography, Waging Heavy Peace.

The title comes from a query directed at Neil in which he was asked if he was waging war with Apple. He replied, “No, I’m waging heavy peace.”

Neil has been working on starting a company (originally PureTone, now Pono due to an alleged copyright infringement) – Neil is always in the middle of some project or another – to restore digital music to something resembling its original sound. In what I will call a companion release, whether accurate or not, the album sans CD Psychedelic Pill, a project with Crazy Horse, now leads with the song “Driftin’ Back”. A key verse starts off, “When you hear my song now/You only get 5%”. His web page contains a message touting that in 2012 record companies will release High Resolution Audio. Neil is nothing if not passionate, and he is overtly committed to doing all he can to ensure the next generation does not forget what music is supposed to sound like.

This book is as close to honesty as one can get without it becoming too uncomfortable. Yes, Neil likes cars and trains. He loves his wife, Pegi. But, how about finding out he needs brain surgery only to go to Nashville to record one of his finest works, Prairie Wind, while waiting for surgery on the aneurysm because he can’t sit still? How about vacillating between being a young guy who strands a woman in New Mexico to find her own way home because she is grating on his nerves, matter-of-factly describing incidents and leaving compatriots dead in the manuscript due to various indiscretions, and describing incidents such as David Crosby visiting with a yacht disguised as a meth lab, and yet revisits such scenes with candor, honesty, tenderness, love, and loyalty, that he comes across as eminently noble and likeable?

This is some book. Neil has two children with handicaps. Many people know this. Throughout the book, he continues to refer to his son Ben as Ben Young. Always Ben Young. At first this seems as quirky as Neil himself, until the reader eventually discovers the respect behind the moniker.

Neil tells you he’s writing the book as he writes it. He confides that he is attempting to produce art sober for the first time in his life. He has tremendous allegiance and affinity for fellow musicians, explains why Buffalo Springfield could never continue in its burst of brilliance, and admires Jimmy Fallon for doing a better Neil than Neil.

Some have compared this book to Bob Dylan’s Chronicles. Understandable, I guess, but Bob is Bob, and Neil is Neil, and this book is so captivating and fascinating that I cannot compare it to anything.

I rarely lapse into first person in any formal writing, but this book moved me. It hit me in the gut and remains stuck with me somehow, like Neil’s music. I could refer to Neil as Young, or Mr. Young, like The Wall Street Journal would. But I cannot. Neil is too personal to me. I’ll never meet the man, but if he goes first, I’ll never forget him.

Thanks, Neil, for staying true to your art in good times and bad, and creating such moving and unique tales of humanity that will last forever – and for writing one helluva book.

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

Dave Moyer is an educator and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Desolation Row

All I Did Was Shoot My Man: A Leonid McGill Mystery by Walter Mosley (Riverhead Hardcover, $26.95, 336 pages)

“And the only sound that’s left/ After the ambulances go/ Is Cinderella sweeping up/ On Desolation Row.”   Bob Dylan

All I Did Was Shoot My Man is the fourth in a series of Leonid McGill mysteries by Walter Mosley.   This time an abrupt ending creeps up out of nowhere and doesn’t quite seem to relate to the closure of the rest of the plot – there are likely plans in place for a fifth book.

McGill introduces characters and events in a unique way that sometimes works and sometimes is frustrating.   Often plot twists are dropped on the reader as if they should know what’s going on, but these elements do not always come together or make total sense for a couple of pages or chapters.   Perhaps this may sometimes keep the reader’s interest level high, but it backfires at other times.

In this story, Zella Grisham murders her boyfriend for cheating on her, and McGill, a private investigator, allows himself to get pulled into proving her innocent of a crime for which she is falsely accused.   The proof involves a massive amount of money and a large international company.

The real perpetrators of the crime eventually come after McGill, threatening him and his family until McGill – who seems to have a love-hate relationship with just about every character in the book – manages to connect the dots.

McGill’s family is another story altogether.   Mosley uses the family by attempting to create some sense of normalcy within the chaos.   The characters have a rather bizarre definition of family, but they are one.   There are kids from multiple parties and partners, both married and otherwise, that form relationships built on varying combinations of love, convenience, and desperation.

Fortunately, the characters created by Mosley are interesting.   It is this fact that there are relationships and personalities, rather than just action and events, that makes this a better book than most of its kind.

Recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “If you like your crime snappy, hard-boiled and razor-edged, Walter Mosley is for you.”   Victoria Clark

Dave Moyer is an educator, and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Coming Up Next…

A review of All I Did Was Shoot My Man: A Leonid McGill Mystery by Walter Mosley.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Help Me

Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life: Train Your Brain to Get More Done in Less Time by Paul Hammerness, M.D., and Margaret Moore, with John Hanc (Harlequin, $16.95, 272 pages)

Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World by Sam Sommers (Riverhead Hardcover, $25.95, 304 pages)

Often the focus of self-help books is the reader’s feelings of discomfort, inadequacy or anger.   That said, the two books reviewed here are pragmatic and filled with specific science-based ideas formulated by well-respected professionals in their respective fields.

The first book, Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life: Train Your Brain to Get More Done in Less Time, was written by the team of Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Paul Hammerness, M.D., Margaret Moore, a certified wellness coach and cofounder of Harvard’s Institute of Coaching with assistance from John Hanc, an associate professor of journalism and communications at the New York Institute of Technology.   The premise of Organize Your Mind is that daily stress is produced by too much to do and this overload, in turn, produces a sense of helplessness.   The book looks at how your conscious actions can bring about a sense of mastery and control to daily life as well as assist in long-range planning.

Each area discussed is introduced by Dr. Hammerness in what he calls “The Rules of Order.”   Each of the rules is about brain functioning and how it relates to ones’ actions and feelings.   The six rules are followed by pragmatic action steps outlined by Coach Margaret.   Accompanying each rule are highlighted sidebars filled with explanations and contextual comments that enhance the reader’s experience.   Dr. Hammerness includes suggestions for readers whose issues extend beyond the scope of the book.   He takes a kindly attitude and suggests that there are situations where professional help beyond that offered in the book is indicated.

The chapters and rules are cumulative which allows the reader to follow along and build skills.   The tone of the authors’ writing is non-judgmental, realistic and yet not a buddy-buddy one.   There are really good puns scattered in the text.   Alas, this reviewer is not able to quote any of them as an advance uncorrected proof was provided by the publisher.

Highly recommended.

The second book, Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World was written by Sam Sommers, a remarkably young-looking psychology professor at Tufts University.   Sommers is also an expert witness who is called upon to testify as to whether actions and statements are racially motivated or merely meaningful descriptors that may be admitted as evidence in court proceedings.

This book is an excellent complement to Organize Your Mind that can be best appreciated if read as a follow-up in the reader’s self-improvement strategy.   Sommers makes good use of scientific findings to support his conclusions.   However, his assertion is that introspection will not bring someone to discover the means to the life they wish to have.   Rather, his focus is on the ways that environmental influences assert significant power over the decisions people make and the actions they take every day.   Watchfulness and awareness of the context (location, group or ethnic background) in which one finds one’s self can lead to a significantly different outcome, such as summoning police assistance, questioning odd behavior or just realizing that people mindlessly parrot what they think is true.   An excellent parallel can be made with reference to Malcolm Gladwell’s books, particularly Tipping Point.   Several of the studies he cites are common to both books.

The chapter structure of Situations Matter follows that of a survey book.   Sommers does tie back to his beginning hypothesis that we see the world as a “what you see is what you get” sort of place.   (The computer shorthand is WYSIWYG.)   He also makes good use of examples from his university classroom exercises.   The tone of the book is friendly and it reads like a transcript from the psychology class you wish you’d taken.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Simple Survival

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey: A Novel by Walter Mosley (Riverhead Hardcover, $25.95, 288 pages)

“Sometimes I wonder what it’s gonna take/To find dignity…”   Bob Dylan

When Robyn, a young woman of seventeen, rekindles in ninety-one year old Ptolemy Grey, either consciously or subconsciously, the will to actively engage in life, the phrase, “Be careful what you ask for,” comes to mind.

Ptolemy’s brain is a jumbled mess of neurons, and the fuzziness of his inner mind is adeptly reflected in Walter Mosley’s prose.   There are no chapters or definitive breaks in the storyline.   Rather, the book is 277-pages of a third person account of Ptolemy – an African-American man – trying to connect episodes of his past and present in a way that actually makes sense of them.

Ptolemy lives in squalor in a Los Angeles neighborhood where local characters threaten the old man in search of his pension checks.   The initial pages invite the reader to like, root for, and sympathize with Ptolemy, but as the story unfolds, the warts of all of the characters involved are revealed.   The moral high ground is a mass of gray in this violent world in which survival is the only reality that matters.

Reggie is Ptolemy’s caretaker.   He helps him cash his checks, buy groceries, and run errands.   When he doesn’t show up for a matter of weeks, the reader eventually learns that he has been murdered.   Through circumstance Ptolemy and Robyn forge a relationship.   She takes him to see Dr. Ruben, whom Ptolemy refers to as the Devil.   Ptolemy agrees to treatment with an experimental drug that will temporarily restore his clarity but ensure a rapid death.

In the weeks he has left, Ptolemy sets out on a quest to make sense of losses he endured throughout the various stages of his life:  his loves – successful, unsuccessful, and unrequited; and, as he becomes more cogent, seeks to put his finances in order to take care of those he considers deserving of a mysterious and surprisingly significant estate.

But defying Father Time comes at a cost.   Whatever the benefits for those that remain after Ptolemy departs, the reader is left at the end to wonder if the man who must inevitably slip back to his previous state is any better off than he was before and, for those inclined to consider such things, what might await him next.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Mosley’s depiction of the indignities of old age is heartbreaking, and Ptolemy’s grace and decency make for a wonderful character and a moving novel.”   Publisher’s Weekly

“Simple survival is the greatest victory.”   Bob Dylan

Note:   Some readers with a long memory will see some parallels between this story and the film Charly based on the novel Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

When the Ship Comes In

Between Shades of Gray: A Novel by Ruta Sepetys (Philomel; $17.99; 344 pages)

In the epilogue to Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, protagonist Lina speaks to us from a time capsule:  “It is my greatest hope that the pages in this jar…  prompt you to do something, to tell someone.   Only then can we ensure that this kind of evil is never allowed to repeat itself.”

The story that she has buried in that jar begins in 1941 in Lithuania.   Lina, who is fifteen, her younger brother Jonas, and her mother are at home one evening when the Soviet secret police come to the door.   Through her eyes we watch as the three are deported to Siberia.   Lina’s father, a professor who has aided relatives’ emigration to Germany has been arrested.   His actions were prompted by the hope that the relatives might, in turn, help his own family escape Stalin’s tyranny.

As the truth of their situation gradually unfolds for Lina, she draws images of horror and images of heroism, and tucks the sketches into the lining of her suitcase.   It’s an act of silent rebellion that she knows is both brave and foolish.   But she is an artist who is desperate to record the history of the ordinary people swept up in Stalin’s purges.   Through Lina’s eyes we see a portrait of true grace emerge in Mother, a woman whose calm, kindness, and humanity buoy the spirits of everyone else.   We see how memories have the power to sustain and what happens when hope is lost.

What we do not see is why Stalin shipped this trainload of slave labor all the way across Siberia and north to the Arctic Circle to do work that seems only to sustain the comfort of the soldiers who guard them.   Perhaps Sepetys intended the apparent illogic of the labor camp’s location to be yet another layer of punishment – another obstacle to hopefulness.

Sepety’s characters are fascinating, even those who are the verbal equivalent of pencil sketchesthe bald man, the man who wound his watch, the repeater.   Her spare prose is reminiscent of Pearl Buck’s.   Between Shades of Gray depicts the effects of a moral disaster rather than Buck’s natural ones, but both authors know their story is so intrinsically dramatic that it needs no melodrama.   Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, published the novel, Sepety’s first, in March of 2011.   Highly recommended – and not just for young readers.

Kimberly Caldwell Steffen

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

You Belong to Me

Matched by Ally Condie (Dutton Books, November 2010)

Matched, by Ally Condie, presents a world in which Society prescribes a life for each member and Officials stand in for God, evaluating strengths and weaknesses with scientific precision to enable optimal career paths and “matches.”   Although Condie never states it directly in this young adult novel, a match is a precursor to a breeding, which, presumably, will result in future generations of ever more perfect human products.

The story takes place in the not-too-distant future and opens on the eve of two milestone events in the life of the heroine: Cassia’s match on her seventeenth birthday and her beloved grandfather’s death on his eightieth.   Both events are planned and orchestrated by Officials to maximize the efficiency of their respective lives.   But grandfather is a bit of a rebel, and he either sees or hopes he sees a kindred spirit in Cassia.  His last gifts to her are an illicit poem that did not survive Society’s literature purge and the advice, “Do not go gentle into that good night.”

The premise is wonderful.   The setting is satisfyingly dystopian – humans wear plainclothes in colors designating their work status; the Officials manage people as though they were livestock; and prescribed recreation sometimes takes the form of walking in the woods, a pasttime as obsolete as typing on a manual typewriter or looking up a word in a hardbound dictionary.

Condie keeps us at arm’s length from the characters, however – Cassia cries, but we don’t cry with her.   That may be an intentional reflection of the sanitized Society in which they live.   Or it may be due to the fact that Matched is the first book in a trilogy and the author is growing the characters slowly.   Regardless, the cliffhanger on which Matched ends is more than enough reason to seek out the sequel in November of this year.   (Dutton will publish the third book in the series in November of 2012.)

Recommended.

Kimberly Caldwell

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott is one of our favorite authors and so we’re putting up this very nice photograph from the San Francisco Chronicle.   Note that we have posted two reviews on this site of her latest novel Imperfect Birds.   In order to find these reviews, just enter the terms Anne Lamott in the Search It! box (on the right) and hit enter.   The first review, Birds, was posted on February 14, 2010; the second, Imperfect Birds, on April 12, 2010.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Imperfect Birds

“Each has to enter the nest made by the other imperfect bird.”   Rumi

Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott is a fabulous book, one of those rare books that has you muttering “wow” to yourself once you finish it.   As soon as I read the novel’s first line, “There are so many evils that pull on our children,” I knew that I was in for a good read.   In Imperfect Birds, Lamott is telling the story of what can happen to a teenage daughter.   Having my own teenage (step) daughter, I’m constantly worried about her well-being, wondering what out there in her world is tempting her, despite the fact that she’s a good normal girl, and a scholar-athlete with a fantastic GPA.

Elizabeth Ferguson is raising her seventeen-year-old daughter Rose in a supposedly safe community in northern California, along with her second husband James.   Elizabeth is a worrier, and not without reason.   Kids die in her town from drinking and using drugs.   Her daughter has admitted to having sex, and to smoking pot, trying cocaine and drinking.   Most of this Elizabeth secretly reads in Rosie’s journals.   Elizabeth is a recovering alcoholic, suffers from mental illness, and lost her first husband many years before.

Elizabeth works and her husband James writes at home, and they’re loving parents who have very frank and honest conversations with Rosie.   Despite this, Rosie is hiding a secret.   During Rosie’s senior year she goes into a gradual slide – lying, having unprotected sex, and abusing drugs.   Yet she doesn’t think she has a problem.

Elizabeth and James struggle with Rosie as she becomes less trust-worthy and open.   Rosie is every typical teenager; she doesn’t want to hear her parents’ warnings.   She is in fact a wonderful girl – funny, bright and loving.   Yet Rosie has become a master manipulator.   While reading this novel you can actually feel the tension between Rosie and her parents.   Ms. Lamott does an excellent job reminding the reader of how hard the process of raising a daughter can be.

Imperfect Birds is a sequel to two of Anne Lamott’s prior novels, Rosie (1997) and Crooked Little Heart (1998).   Lamott does an excellent job of tapping into the teen drug culture that scares parents.   Rosie, Elizabeth and James are a family in crisis, like many other American families today.

You don’t need to be a parent or step-parent to read this book, because it appeals on so many levels.   It is a wonderful, wonderful book…   Read it, if only to feel that “ah, you too” moment.

This review was written by Ghetto Girl and used with her kind permission.   You can read more of her reviews at: http://thegirlfromtheghetto.wordpress.com/ .

 

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized