Tag Archives: September book releases

My Man

James Dean 2

Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die: James Dean’s Final Hours by Keith Elliot Greenberg (Applause Theater & Cinema Books, $24.99, 286 pages)

“Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today.” James Dean

Some will be tempted to buy this book based on the subtitle, James Dean’s Final Hours. It’s not so much a minute-by-minute account of Dean’s last day as it is a short biography. The subtitle is a hook to draw the reader in.

If you’re interested in Dean, but not so much that you would want to read a 400, 500 or 600 page bio, this may serve your purposes. Yes, it does cover the circumstances and details of the actor’s death in September of 1955, but it’s told in a style that bounces all over, around and about Dean’s life. The reader who appreciates a chronological telling of a true story may find this somewhat frustrating.

Also frustrating is a high amount of repetition. For example, more times than I could count the writer makes a statement to the effect that, “Much of Jimmy’s inner torment came from the early demise of his mother.” Stating this once would have been sufficient. Greenberg is fixated with the notion that those close to Dean all died under untimely and strange circumstances. And like many Hollywood biographers, he’s a bit too caught up in his subject’s sex life.

A fascinating story told in a less than captivating manner.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on September 15, 2015.

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ABC

The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee


The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee by Barry Jonsberg (Chronicle Books, $16.99, 248 pages
)

Perhaps you’ve heard the comment, “He’s a bit of an odd duck.” Well, Candice Phee, a twelve-year-old who lives in a suburb of Brisbane, Australia is surely an odd duck. The inability to lie, even a kindly white lie, is but one of her many quirky behavioral traits. Overwhelming shyness has led her to use written communication in uncomfortable situations such as prolonged discussions with adults other than her parents and with kids at school. She is a devout reader of the dictionary, which provides her with a remarkably broad and specific vocabulary.

Candice’s world is full of adults who are alienated (not aliens). Her mom is plagued by depression and her dad won’t have anything to do with his brother, Rich Uncle Brian, who is his former partner in a software company. Miss Bamford, Candice’s all-time favorite teacher has a lazy eye that sets her apart and draws reactions from her students.

The other kids in Miss Bamford’s sixth grade class, especially the ultra cool Jen Marshall, mock Candice. The arrival of a new and similarly odd student, Douglas Benson, creates an opportunity for Candice to experience friendship for the first time in her life. Their interactions are hilarious.

Miss Bamford has assigned Candice’s class the task of writing a narrative/autobiography using each letter of the alphabet as the theme of a paragraph. Thus, the primary structure of the book is Candice’s take on the assignment. Interspersed are the poignant and intelligent letters she has sent to her pen pal in New York City who doesn’t reply to Candice.

The Categorical Universe black and white

The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee is intended for readers ten years of age and up. Clearly, the audience for the book is a wide one. Fans of The Westing Game, young, old and any age in between, will thoroughly enjoy this heartwarming, sometimes gut-wrenching and ultimately satisfying tale. Author Barry Jonsberg has won numerous Australian writing awards. He is a teacher and resides in Darwin, Australia. This reviewer visited Darwin over 45 years ago, well before Mr. Jonsberg moved there from England. I hope he enjoys the barramundi fish that are plentiful in Darwin! Barramundi is my all-time favorite.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher. This book was released on September 9, 2014.

You can read a sample of this book for free on your Kindle device or app:

http://www.amazon.com/Categorical-Universe-Candice-Sneak-Preview-ebook/dp/B00MF2CLKI/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1414437440&sr=1-2&keywords=the+categorical+universe+of+candice+phee

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For a Dancer

Five Days Left (nook book)

Five Days Left

Five Days Left: A Novel by Julie Lawson Timmer (Putnam, $26.95, 352 pages)

At first, it wasn’t a conscious decision, keeping her illness from them. She was in denial in the beginning, as loathe to admit to herself that everything was wrong as she was to admit it to them. But then, after her diagnosis, everyone around her became so overly concerned, so insufferably attentive that she started to regret anyone knew… (I)t was infuriating to watch herself deteriorate in the eyes of the people around her. Use the word “disease” and suddenly everyone will instantly treat you like you’re ill, Mara learned, even on days you feel fine.

Five Days Left is a close to perfect debut novel from Julie Lawson Timmer, whose background is in law. This is the story of Mara Nichols, a successful lawyer, wife and mother whose life is put on hold by a diagnosis of Huntington’s Disease. Mara fights to hide her symptoms from her co-workers and family members for months and years, but eventually realizes that her body is breaking down and out-of-control; the disease is going to take her life. So Mara decides that she will commit suicide on her next birthday. The narrative begins five days before the birthday on which Mara will end it all. Or will she?

(Her death by suicide) was a dreadful thing to do to a child, a husband, to such caring parents and friends, but really, who were any of them to judge? How could they ever truly know what she had gone through? Who were any of them to say they wouldn’t have at least considered the same thing?

Timmer does an excellent job of portraying how infirmity can make a coward out of the strongest individual. Mara goes from being a life-long workaholic to becoming a virtual invalid. Once proud, she eventually simply wants everything to be over with and no longer cares about how she’ll be judged upon her self-inflicted demise. It’s a timely, unique look at the mindset of a suicidal person.

Five Days Left (kindle edition)

There’s a secondary character and story that’s not as strong, and that story is a touch unrealistic. But all in all, this is a stunning work from Timmer.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

“…this impressive debut novel heralds the arrival of an extremely talented writer.” Jodi Picoult

Five Days Left is a heart-wrenching drama about a world in which there are no easy answers… This novel feels as true as life.” Christina Baker Kline

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Data Apocalypse

Dataclysm (nook book)

Dataclysm: Who We Are* (*When We Think No One’s Looking) by Christian Rudder (Crown, $28.00, 272 pages)

Dataclysm – an unprecedented deluge of digital information reshaping our view of the world.

Christian-Rudder-credit-Victor-G-Jeffreys-II

Christian Rudder is a co-founder and the analytics team leader of the dating site OkCupid. Rudder has made use of the massive amount of data collected by his website. He ventures beyond the two basic and common data use perceptions – government spying and commercial manipulation to encourage purchases. Rather, he has added a third use – an unprecedented look into the nature of human beings.

The OkCupid site data yields not only the responses to its in depth questionnaires but also the transactions and/or communications between the site’s users. Much is revealed regarding our prejudices and preferences through text and graphic depictions.

Data geeks and everyone else will benefit from reading this fascinating mainstream science book. It is definitely not a pop science product. Rudder’s smooth writing style is quite surprising for a data person. Perhaps his Harvard education included writing classes or he has the benefit of an excellent editor. The comfortable sentence structure provides a balance of tech data and human warmth.

Dataclysm (audio)

This is a book that should appeal to those readers interested in how often humans act like pack animals, versus how often they act independently. It’s only fair to add that Dataclysm requires an attentive reader who has a true commitment to the subject matter. The payoff is well worth the effort.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Photograph of Christian Rudder by Victor G. Jeffreys II.

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Coming Up Next…

Dataclysm

A review of Dataclysm: Who We Are* (*When We Think No One’s Looking) by Christian Rudder.

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A Nightmare on Elm Street

Mean Business (north book)

Mean Business on Ganson Street: A Novel by S. Craig Zahler (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, $25.99, 304 pages)

An opening chapter filled with violence is standard fare for writers such as Lisa Unger, Deborah Crombie and Lee Child. Thereafter, the story settles into an exploration of the characters and their motivations that eventually link back to that initial shock. The reader is provided red herring possibilities for the solution to the mystery – who dunnit?

Author S. Craig Zahler has penned a “novel” that is, in fact, a snuff movie on paper. Sadly, the Warner Brothers studio has optioned the book and the author is working on the screen adaptation. His vision may spring to life. My hope is that it will be X rated. Anything less will mean that the gore and violence splattered on most of its pages has been insinuated and a younger audience will be admitted for viewing.

The contrasts set up between Detective Jules Bettinger, formerly of Arizona, and the sworn officers in Victory, Missouri are punctuated by crude epithets hurled every which way. Bettinger is exiled after being less than helpful when the former son-in-law of the mayor comes to the police station to secure assistance in locating his missing would-be bride.

Bettinger is alternatively a well-spoken man with an education, a loving husband and father and a guy out for revenge. Regardless of his role, he’s only marginally likeable. Zahler is sadly lacking in his female character development. Each of the women in his tale is one-dimensional. Even Bettinger’s wife fails to experience authentic feelings.

If trash talk and gory, sadistic and gratuitous violence are your preferred criterion for selecting a book, have at it. Everyone else should steer clear! To be clear, this book is not recommended; far from it.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Coming Up Next…

Mean Business on North Ganson Street

A preview-review of Mean Business on North Ganson Street: A Novel by S. Craig Zahler, which will be released on September 30, 2014.

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