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Full Dark, No Stars
Full Dark, No Stars
by Stephen King
Edition: Hardcover
567 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars King at his best: writing about the genuine darkness in human souls, January 3, 2011
This review is from: Full Dark, No Stars (Hardcover)
Off the bat, I have to admit that I'm not one for supernatural thrillers and gory, guts-fest horror pulp. To me, the world has more than its share of horror, evil, and real, honest-to-gods monsters to entertain the quaint imaginings of a writer's (or filmmaker's, for that matter) invented demons.

That being said, I've long felt that Stephen King is an exceptional writer who can "pull off" the overbloated genres of horror and fantasy when most of his contemporaries exhaust these genres and overstay their welcomes. Works such as "Full Dark, No Stars" are where King is at his best--when he writes about the very real capacity for doing unthinkable things to other humans that even (in his words, in the volume's Afterword) the most ordinary people can commit under extraordinary circumstances. The unimaginable ghouls, devils, monsters, aliens in the stories of "Full Dark, No Stars" aren't the constructs of some super-cool art genius at WETA, but the very human emotions such as anger, guilt, revenge, greed, and envy that motivate otherwise decent human beings to venture down dark paths and make irreversible, horrible choices with damning consequences.

"1922" is perhaps the most uneven and disjointed of the quartet of stories in this book. In narrating this intriguing yet drawn-out, first-person confessional, King's protagonist alternates between a stodgy patriarch whose understandable insistence (given the time period and setting in the American Bread Basket) that, as the man of the house, he wears the pants in the family--and an evolved, aware proto-feminist who sympathizes with the plight of a segment of society's women. Given that his misogyny is part of this character's motivation for the crime he commits, it seems inconsistent with his character to gain a soft spot for the plight of the oppressed females, in particular another central character in the story. Also, King fumbles awkwardly with what he must perceive as the folksy country-bumpkin dialogue of the era and Heartland region, initially starting out with the ridiculous use of an Elizabethan English "'twas" and "'twere" and sprinkling in some down-home truisms and folklore analogies, but then morphing into more contemporary dialogue, which gives the entire novella an uneven tone and is frankly distracting.

Despite its weaknesses, "1922" is an involving and tragic story of a man's demise into madness and loss of everything he loves following a horrible choice he makes to save something he will eventually lose. The story has subtle sociopolitical observations as well--of the conflict between genders and economic classes, of material want despite enormously difficult economic times--all of which are echoed throughout the latter three novellas in "Full Dark, No Stars" even though those stories, unlike "1922," take place in 21st-Century America rather than 90 years ago.

The three latter novellas are contemporary, and set in the Northern New England towns with which King is intimately familiar. Partially as a result, these are the stronger of the book's stories. Probably because they are set in the present, they also resonate well with the modern-day consciousness of American materialism and aspirations against a national credit-card maxed out, and with the ever-increasing scariness of the maniacal serial killers whose cruelty toward their victims knows no limit or mercy. As with "1922," King writes with a keen eye for the emotional and moral conflicts that exist within a person, whether he or she chooses right over wrong (or vice versa), courage over cowardice (or vice versa), or virtue over selfishness (or vice versa). These are the emotional and moral dilemmas that exist in all of us, if we're breathing, which is why King is able to connect so masterfully with his readers.

If I have a complaint about any of these three novellas--and it has been a bone to pick I've had since I started reading his works twenty years ago--it is the shallow and stereotypical way he often portrays women. He does such a masterful job of creating unique and multifaceted human characters with all of their intricacies and flaws, even female ones, but I am dismayed to see that, even in 2010 with his latest work, he still hasn't overcome his own hurdle in this regard. As a working mother of two who, like many women around her, holds a full-time job, I bristle at the fact that the women in the stories are either 1) single and spinster-like in their cat-loving solitude (even if they have solid careers with which to fulfill their lives), 2) tough and manly, so they *must* be lesbians! (This implication is especially offensive in "Big Driver), or 3) they're married with children only if they're housewives with no means to support the family income. It's that Draconian 1950s mentality that you're only allowed to get married and have children if you give up the job thing first. Perhaps there's a demographic disconnect somewhere, but King evidently didn't get the memo that being a full-time working mother in 21st Century America isn't a feminist initiative; it's most often (as in my family's case) a survival imperative. It's frankly insulting to me that a gifted writer like King, who can so astutely weave America's current events--including the U.S. recession--into his contemporary tales would not also be careful to reflect a more realistic picture of what it means to be a middle-class American--particularly a middle-class American woman--in his works. But I digress.

I do give King massive credit for demonstrating a comprehensive level of compassion and empathy for his protagonist and what she endures in "Big Driver." The poignancy and awareness of his protagonist's horrible, frightening experience at the hands of a rapist and would-be murderer only lends to the credibility of us readers cheering her on when she seeks her just revenge. His empathy manifests itself into a heartfelt softness for a very different female protagonist in "A Good Marriage," after she makes the terrible discovery of the monster she married and thought she knew.

Throughout all four of King's stories is a thread of coveting in its different forms: greed, yearning, craving, retribution, vindication, escape, catharsis. He conveys this human instinct well throughout, and explores how a person's will to covet can reward them for a time, but also have the potential to damage that person (and destroy others around him or her) for a lifetime. For all of their flaws, I found the stories and characters of "Full Dark, No Stars" to be engaging, entertaining, and immensely thought-provoking. Definitely worth the investment in the hardback. :)

The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics, and Religion
The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics, and Religion
by Matt Taibbi
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.68
112 used & new from $0.85

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read from one of today's best writers and investigative reporters, September 10, 2010
I highly recommend this intelligently-written, funny, and scathing yet compassionate book from Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi, who is arguably one of the best writers and investigative reporters in today's media. Normally full of sycophants and self-promotional egomaniacs, today's "journalists" are often a far cry from what their profession demands them to be, but Matt Taibbi is a precious exception.

In "The Great Derangement," he is often self-effacing as well as self-aware, and is open about his feelings of guilt and intrusiveness upon infiltrating a Texas megachurch's Fundamentalist community. He gives a jaundiced account of his experiences there, which he weaves into a montage of his critiques of America's political and religious systems at large, but he also comes to feel sympathy and compassion for his fellow parishioners at the church he infiltrates. A particularly moving chapter in which a churchgoer confides her insecurities and loneliness to Taibbi is wrenching, and we along with Taibbi feel heartbroken for her and for the emptiness she tries to fill with her religiousity.

"The Great Derangement" is one of the best non-fiction books I've read in a very long time. It is all at once depressing, eye-opening, and -- in an off-center way that only a writer like Taibbi can pull off -- inspiring, heartfelt, and hopeful.

Learning Resources Pop For Sight Words Game
Learning Resources Pop For Sight Words Game
Price: $9.99
29 used & new from $6.49

30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth a fun play or two, but my son lost interest afterward., August 17, 2010
= Durability:3.0 out of 5 stars  = Fun:3.0 out of 5 stars  = Educational:3.0 out of 5 stars 
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
When I first bought this game, I thought it would be an ingenious way to help my learning-disabled son, who struggles with reading, with his sight words. We had fun for a few games, but my son lost interest after awhile. It seems that the overly repetitive nature of the game can be a turnoff for kids, even though repetition can be a good quality to have in learning in general. The way the game is structured, in that a red POP! piece of "popcorn" means the player who draws it has to return all his/her "earned" pieces to the box, means that many sight words can be drawn numerous times, only to be put back and drawn again, even if the box's pieces are mixed. This may be helpful with some early learners (I'm guessing very young children around 4 or 5 years old would fare better with this game), but my son quickly tired of it and wanted to turn to something else after just a few plays. I have to admit that I didn't blame him; there isn't a large variety of new words to hold either a parent's or a child's interest.

Advantages are that the game is compact and portable, and the pieces are fairly durable and easy to clean. That being said, use caution if you have very small children (toddlers and younger) who are still prone to putting things in their mouths, as the "popcorn pieces" seem like they are small enough to cause a choking hazard.

American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin, and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right
American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin, and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right
by Markos Moulitsas Zúniga
Edition: Paperback
71 used & new from $0.01

132 of 176 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clearly-written, relevant, and eye-opening, August 17, 2010
I am normally a slow reader, but it took me but a mere weekend to finish this engaging and informative book. I hate to use that old clichè, "I just couldn't put it down," but it was so accurate in this case. Moulitsas has a clear, succinct, and intelligent writing style that is still very easy to read and understand in spite of its braininess. It's a short book that is packed with information and, yes, the author's opinions, but makes strong and lucid arguments against a group of Americans with a huge tendency to, well, not rely too much on making arguments to present its authoritarian belief system.

Moulitsas may indeed be "preaching to the choir" with a left-leaning reader like me, but even from a strictly aesthetic standpoint, I'm a fan. Moulitsas is a wonderful writer who makes his case vividly and with interesting detail to boot. Highly recommended for a weekend read.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 5, 2010 12:54 AM PDT

The Best Of Joe Pass
The Best Of Joe Pass
Price: $11.98
36 used & new from $2.49

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Joe Pass; great classic jazz, May 28, 2009
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Best Of Joe Pass (Audio CD)
Being the prolific jazz musician that he is, Joe Pass has a musical collection that is vast and diverse. It can thus be hard to find an appropriate sampling of his repertoire that is both fulfilling and indicitive of his range as one of the "jazz greats."

This CD is one such sampling. It is an essential collection of some of Pass's best works, and provides both a new and seasoned listener of Joe Pass and jazz music in general with a treat for the ears. For those bored with the "smooth" or trendy genre jazz formats that tend to dominate the airwaves these days, "The Best of Joe Pass" is a set of classics that sound amazingly fresh and new.

The Antidepressant Survival Program: How to Beat the Side Effects and Enhance the Benefits of Your Medication
The Antidepressant Survival Program: How to Beat the Side Effects and Enhance the Benefits of Your Medication
by Robert J. Hedaya
Edition: Hardcover
130 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Helpful, if a tad bit inconsistent, advice, May 28, 2009
This is a somewhat older book that my sister, who also takes an anti-depressant, recommended that I read recently. Given that I take a newer anti-depressant that is not mentioned in this book (published in 2000), it would be great if Dr. Hedaya were to publish a newer edition with updates considering the newer NRIs and other types of medications that are not SSRI-related. It would also be helpful to read his insights on findings about SSRIs since the book was originally published.

That being said, I found the information in the book to be sound, well-rounded, and healthy. I have made small, gradual changes to my diet and exercise routine as Dr. Hedaya recommends; and even now, I have to say my mood and energy level have improved quite a bit. His instructions are clear, direct, and easy to understand--in other words, he doesn't use a lot of medical jargon that everyday people can't understand.

The only problems I have with the book (hence its 4-star rating) is that its advice is inconsistent at times. For example, Dr. Hedaya advises not drinking decaf coffee or tea, and also recommends against artificial sweetners, because they are "one step too close to the real thing" and can trigger backslides. Yet, when advising against drinking alcohol, he cheerfully encourages readers to indulge in non-alcoholic beer as long as it has a sugar content equalling 8 grams or less. Wouldn't drinking non-alcoholic beer also be "one step too close to the real thing"?

Also, although he does mention secular alternatives to some of his spiritual suggestions, he seems to be a bit heavyhanded in his recommendations for people on anti-depressants to "get spiritual." That doesn't leave a lot of options for us atheists, and it would be good for him to acknowledge that not everyone who takes anti-depressants is going to believe in a god.

Overall, both of my complaints are minor gripes with an otherwise informative book. Dr. Hedaya's core message seems to be "everything in moderation and balance," and his aim with this book is to help people on anti-depressants like me--who arguably do have a hard time with "balance"--in finding that "middle ground" with some specific steps to get started.

Brokeback Mountain (Full Screen Edition)
Brokeback Mountain (Full Screen Edition)
DVD ~ Heath Ledger
Offered by Zugar
Price: $9.50
311 used & new from $0.01

37 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I'm a straight married woman, and I LOVED this movie!, April 2, 2006
Along with "Walk the Line" and "Constant Gardner," this movie tops my best-of list for last year's film offerings. It is a poignant love story sans the melodrama or political heavy-handedness often present in gay/lesbian-themed movies. Ang Lee is such a deft filmmaker that I forgot I was watching a quote-unquote "gay-themed" movie at all, but simply a story of two star-crossed lovers whose lives and families are devastated in the wake of their tragic affair.

For those reviewers who are dishing the "infidelity" of the movie's protagonists as a cover for their homophobia, that is a lame and rather transparent excuse. I don't see these same reviewers (AND pundits on TV, no less) raising holy hell about films such as "Fatal Attraction," "The English Patient," "Unfaithful," or even the more recent "Walk the Line"--all of which involve (heterosexual) infidelity. Tell me, where is the rage, you homophobes?

Anyhoo, whatever your prejudices may be, put them aside for two hours and prepare to lose yourself in "Brokeback". Everything about this film is first-rate: the script adaptation of Annie Proulx's short story is flawless and natural; the acting is exceptional (especially from real-life couple Michelle Williams and Heath Ledger in their portrayal of their characters' ill-fated marriage); and the cinematography and scenery are breathtaking. The musical score, like the film itself, is nuanced, subtle, and emotionally-charged in a quiet way without being over-the-top and gushing.

If you cannot put aside your tendencies to make people who are not like you "less than," then your refusal to watch this excellent movie is truly your loss.

Walk the Line (Two-Disc Special Edition)
Walk the Line (Two-Disc Special Edition)
DVD ~ Joaquin Phoenix
Offered by Phase 3, LLC
Price: $16.95
151 used & new from $0.01

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Easily one of the best movies (but not DVDs) of '06, April 2, 2006
By itself, "Walk the Line" is a 5-star infection of a movie that I just can't "quit." The day I saw this movie in the theatre, I bought the soundtrack to the film; and later, while on vacation with my husband, dragged him to a local theatre so we could see it together (he thanked me later).

"Walk the Line" is anything I could want in a movie--a blockbuster flick with an indie-film groove; downhome, oldtime C&W with the grittiness of rock-n-roll; a classic love story as well as a painful retelling of rebirth and redemption...and kick-ass music. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon give top-notch acting AND singing performances that are heartfelt and reverent; both actors do justice to the subject matter and the late musicians they portray. Post-Oscars, I heard a couple people unfairly badmouth Witherspoon for earning her Oscar; but IMO the award was well-deserved--Witherspoon's honest performance of the complex and spirited June Carter Cash was nothing short of magnificent.

After investing in the 2-disc collector's edition for its bonus materials, I was a bit disappointed. Although I loved watching the deleted scenes, audio commentary version, and full musical performances by Phoenix and Witherspoon, I thought the two "featurettes" chronicling the lives of Johnny and June Cash to be somewhat lacking. To be sure, the admiration of the friends and family commenting within the featurettes was genuine and heartening. However, making a featurette comprised almost solely of clips from the film itself with overdubs and cuts to friends and family left a lot to be desired--did Johnny and June never get their pictures taken or their performances recorded?

As a movie, "Walk the Line" is a gem. It is poignant that this film's exec. producer is Johnny and June Cash's son, John Carter Cash. I can only guess that his mom and dad would've been very proud of their son's tribute to them. However, consider saving some bucks and just get the "regular" DVD; the special edition DVD is no big shakes.

Diamonds on the Inside
Diamonds on the Inside
Price: $11.83
121 used & new from $0.01

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "When it's good, it's so, soooo good, but...", April 1, 2006
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Diamonds on the Inside (Audio CD)
I really enjoyed Ben Harper's last solo studio release before "Both Sides of the Gun"; but it has a couple of flops that merited the 4-star rather than 5-star rating.

For one thing, I'm Ben Harper's age, and thus old enough to remember Paul Simon's "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes." This is the song that Ben Harper used to rip off, errmm, bring Simon's influence into "Picture of Jesus," which is a dreadful tribute to Simon's "Diamonds"; yet nowhere in the CD liner notes does Harper credit or even thank Simon for this influence--which, as a musician, I thought was kind of classless.

The other "misstep," as the original reviewer succinctly called it, was "When She Believes." I'm not sure if Ben Harper wants us to envision that we're on a gondola in Venice while this song is playing, but the corny "That's Amore"-esque violins playing in the background sure made it feel that way.

Now for the good stuff--standouts on this CD include the opening track, "With My Own Two Hands," which is akin to a beautiful prayer-cum-traditional reggae celebration of a song. "When It's Good" is sultry, sexy, bluesy, and minimalist all at the same time; and the title track, "Diamonds on the Inside," is soulful and loving in its tone while being masterful in its guitar sounds. "Brown Eyed Blues" and "Bring the Funk" are danceable and, well, wonderfully funky; and the eloquent "Blessed to Be a Witness" is a fitting almost-bookend for the opening number. Perhaps the most introspective, yearning song with a masterful blend of both piano and acoustic guitar is "Amen Omen," a passionate ballad. The two rock numbers, "Temporary Remedy" and "So High So Low", also don't disappoint.

So if you don't let the two sloppy tracks I ranted about, as well as the mediocre "Everything" and "She's Only Happy in the Sun", bother you, this is well worth the investment.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 9, 2007 12:32 PM PST

Both Sides of the Gun
Both Sides of the Gun
59 used & new from $0.01

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Marvellous blend of love and war, April 1, 2006
This review is from: Both Sides of the Gun (Audio CD)
In especially the first of this double-CD set, Ben Harper's gotten back to his roots where folk meets blues. In a reverse from his "Live from Mars" live compilation with the Innocent Criminals, the first (rather than second) disc is softer, more reflective, and lovelorn set of tracks; whereas the second is angrier, louder, and more politically-charged.

Having been a fan of Harper's more energetic side for a long time, I personally enjoyed the 2nd disc more. On this disc is the title track, which is a commentary of the current self-indulgence of national jingoism, dogmatic religiosity, and the war in Iraq. Also notable are "Better Way," a call to activism with Far-East Indian and reggae influences, the driving rock number "Engraved Invitation," and the '70s rhythm-and-blues-infused "Black Rain," which discusses the very current topic of Hurricane Katrina and the victims who were left behind in her wake. "Gather 'Round the Stone" is a beautiful elegy to those lost in war, and "Please Don't Talk About Murder While I'm Eating" is a bitterly tongue-in-cheek ode to annoying objects of love--or endearing objects of hate--but that paradoxical love-hate relationship has always been something Harper has explored well, and he doesn't disappoint here.

All in all, I recommend this latest offering; but as I did with the 1st disc from "Live from Mars," I'm finding that I'm wearing out the 2nd one on "Both Sides of the Gun."

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