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Blind Speed: A Novel
Blind Speed: A Novel
by Josh Barkan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.85
54 used & new from $0.01

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Writing While Blind, May 3, 2008
This review is from: Blind Speed: A Novel (Hardcover)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
There are some intriguingly offbeat ideas behind this novel, but the storyline is inconsistent and cannot always maintain the reader's interest. The main character Paul is a washed up musician and professor, with a failed marriage and two much more accomplished brothers, and is convinced that he's cursed by an ominous palm reading he once got from a swami in Iowa. Paul has also suffered years of writer's block while trying to start a book that cheekily pokes fun at the self-help craze. That's exactly what THIS book is doing too, and that's a good use of irony by Josh Barkan, as Paul accepts that it's not cheesy or weak to help oneself. But all of Barkan's creativity and irony devolve into a cheesy and week self-help climax to a story that otherwise depends on wacky plot developments and sarcastic social commentary. Thus the novel is either over-ambitious or just plain unfocused.

Paul is a pretty well-drawn character, though he's often inconsistent - his usual world-weary cynicism and sarcastic misanthropy are occasionally pushed aside by deep thoughts on love and self-examination. The other characters are interesting but mostly stereotypical or narrowly conceived, including the heartless brother Cyrus and the vague wife Zoe. Barkan's subversive social commentary is usually enjoyable but often gets stuck in longwinded tangents - for example, a visit to a storage locker unleashes several paragraphs of quaint observations on American materialism. Barkan also has trouble keeping the surreal mood of the novel consistent, with wacky hi-jinks like a shooting at a Revolutionary War reenactment or a fake kidnapping by camera-hungry fake eco-terrorists sitting oddly among maudlin ruminations on destiny and happiness. This is a fairly interesting novel and Barkan has potential as a social satirist, but here he just bit off more than he can chew, leading to a rather unsatisfying experience for the reader. [~doomsdayer520~]

CrunchTime: Constitutional Law
CrunchTime: Constitutional Law
by Steven L. Emanuel
Edition: Paperback
58 used & new from $0.01

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Your Morning Constitution, May 1, 2008
The CrunchTime study guides are indispensible tools for the thinking student who hopes to transform the often interminable case reprints of a standard law school textbook into knowledge that can actually be useful in studying for an exam. This particular guide is a bit thicker than many of the other CrunchTime titles, because Constitutional Law is the most massive subject around. This one surely delivers on the established strengths of the CrunchTime series, though it may introduce some new sources of confusion for the student going through a panicky study session.

The procedural flowcharts, in general, are a brilliant device for illustrating how the legal decision process works. But here a few of them are too confusing and convoluted, particularly the monstrous six page-long chart introducing Con Law at large, which fails to deliver the simplicity and insight that is supposed to be the point of CrunchTime flowcharts. There are some terminology issues as well, including the use of "mere rationality" for the concept that I've seen called "rational basis" in most other legal education sources. There are also many typos in this book and frequent use of unprofessional terms like "flunk," thus damaging the educational quality of the book. This all makes this CrunchTime installment slightly weaker than its brothers, but the series is still my personal favorite for making sense out of obtuse and condescending casebooks. [~doomsdayer520~]

Addicted to Company
Addicted to Company
Offered by ExpressMedia
Price: $3.39
93 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Can You Hear Him, April 30, 2008
This review is from: Addicted to Company (Audio CD)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Paddy Casey is a dependable and creative singer-songwriter, and the fame he's gained in his native Ireland might just spread across the pond, at least among listeners looking for a sound that's quirky but not too far from the norm. Many reviewers are theorizing on what exactly Casey has added to basic singer-songwriter methods. The young Dylan is a fair comparison (especially in "It's Over Now"), but I for one detect a lot of 70s soft rock, particularly in "I Keep" and "Addicted to Company." Regardless, the reason for all the different reviewer theories is that this album has a surprising amount of variety in the songwriting, such as the Dixieland-ish "Not Out to Get You" and an inspiring sing-along in "U&I." The lyrics are also pretty well-written and Casey breaks out into some quite compelling emotion in places, culminating in the album's big winner "Become Apart."

Casey's also got some R&B and Soul mixed in, which is what most reviewers seem to be citing as the source of his uniqueness. But here is where the trouble starts, with the funk sounding forced and arbitrary, embodied in artificially loud drums and bass in "Fear" and "City" or the awkward wah-wah guitar in "Sound Barrier." Casey also has some difficulty keeping up his commitment level through the whole album, bottoming out with the wispy Donovan-isms of "Tonight" and the secret bonus track (which is apparently too embarrassing to have a title). But overall, while Casey's attempts to transcend his basic genre are not always believable, this album is occasionally enthralling and quite listenable throughout. [~doomsdayer520~]

Bears Discover Fire and Other Stories
Bears Discover Fire and Other Stories
by Terry Bisson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.21
63 used & new from $3.48

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars These Short Shorts Are All Story, April 28, 2008
The title of this review is Terry's Bisson's own description of his short stories (as found in this collection's Afterword). Many reviews of Bisson's works contend that he has a unique and unconventional outlook. While reviewers are hard-pressed to define such terms, it is certainly true that Bisson's stories are just a little off-kilter and intriguingly semi-surreal. But in the end, his strange settings and plot developments are all in service to solid stories of human relationships and universal struggles. A few of the stories in this collection stick with the unexpected simply for comic relief, most notably "The Coon Suit." But otherwise we get non-linear looks at social problems that Bisson sets up with bizarre near-future dystopias, taking on racism in "Next" and pollution in "By Permit Only" and "The Toxic Donut." In fact, Bisson tackles environmentalism in several tales here, with the most interesting being "Carl's Lawn and Garden" in which people somehow increase pollution, and its human costs, while surreally trying to save the natural world.

Meanwhile, Bisson uses weird sci-fi mishaps to study how very human characters would cope. For instance, in "England Underway" the absurd happenstance of England floating across the sea and crashing into America allows a separated family to reunite; while the spooky "Over Flat Mountain" does nearly the opposite as a severe environmental disaster tears human communities apart. To top off the collection we get the extended sci-fi novellas "Necronauts" and "The Shadow Knows" in which Bisson explores how people would really deal with contacting worlds beyond our own. It's true that Bisson has a unique and unconventional vision, and you can dispense with trying to figure out what exactly that means by experiencing this unique and unconventional collection for yourself. [~doomsdayer520~]

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
by Naomi Klein
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.43
284 used & new from $0.01

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Awe-ful Shock, April 26, 2008
There have been boatloads of books complaining about what's going wrong with economic equality and political power in the world today. This substantial and eye-opening investigation by Naomi Klein easily rises above the pack by constructing a robust political/economic thesis based on easily available sources and historical lessons learned. Klein's theoretical construction is sometimes a stretch (such as the supposed spiritual link between shock therapy in psychiatry and the imposition of economic liberalization on the Third World), and she occasionally lets polemics overtake her arguments.

Regardless, this book is a powerhouse of economic investigation and an analysis of deep-seated political trends, showing that economic neoliberalism is not a doctrine but an ideology that brings the same suffering and inequality that comes with all forcibly-imposed governmental systems. Free marketeers, inspired by the late and lionized Milton Friedman, are intellectually and politically unable to see their philosophy's weaknesses and automatically eliminate (politically, and sometimes physically) all who disagree. Just like any unyielding ideology, neoliberalism is self-reinforcing, closed to critique, and convinced of its own infallibility.

As Klein shows, there is absolutely no evidence that neoliberalism has been popularly welcomed by any nation's peoples. Instead it has been forced onto unwilling populations by foreign economic institutions and corporate leaders, usually in times of crisis. The result has been the financial and political ruination of several countries, accomplished with the rhetoric of spreading American-style "democracy" and "freedom." But what has really been spread is the right of multinational conglomerates to unregulated profits. This is a travesty of both democracy and capitalism, neither of which has been delivered to the populations that had so-called "free market" systems forced upon them by a network of extreme economic ideologues.

To this book's critics who can only see the world through black-and-white ideological frames: Klein is not condemning capitalism, which is no longer the American economic system, regardless of what pocket-stuffing politicians tell you. Here Klein delivers a devastating condemnation of what is more accurately called corporatism, the unequal and undemocratic mutation of pure capitalism that is now our lot in life, thanks to plutocratic ideologues who enrich themselves while trying to convince those left behind of how "free" they are. We're next. [~doomsdayer520~]

Constitutional Law (Casebook Series)
Constitutional Law (Casebook Series)
by Erwin Chemerinsky
Edition: Hardcover
334 used & new from $0.01

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Compelling Interest, April 25, 2008
Mr. Chemerinsky is surely one of the leaders in the education of constitutional law, and his casebook is well tailored for the beginning law school student. Instead of trying to impress other lawyers, or simply reprinting case text as-is with no synthesis (a criminally unpunished activity by many casebook creators), Chemerinsky states early on that this book is structured for the student. There is certainly plenty of supplemental information here, with Chemerinsky doing a fine job of synthesizing and categorizing the myriad dimensions of constitutional law, and usefully facilitating the student's learning experience through more than just reprinted cases. The only real problem with this book is its sheer size, which cannot be blamed only on the nature of the subject matter. In my three-credit, one-semester course we only got through about a quarter of the book. When creating a casebook that truly presents constitutional law for the student, which is Chemerinsky's goal, the editor should figure out a way to emphasize the bare fundamentals that should be mastered by the average student who has a limited amount of time available for doing so. [~doomsdayer520~]
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 9, 2011 11:13 AM PDT

Lapsing Into a Comma : A Curmudgeon's Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print--and How to Avoid Them
Lapsing Into a Comma : A Curmudgeon's Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print--and How to Avoid Them
by Bill Walsh
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.14
154 used & new from $0.01

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Stylebook That Makes You Skeptical of Stylebooks, April 21, 2008
In his first sentence of his first chapter, Bill Walsh quips that the point of his stylebook (style book?) is to make you skeptical of stylebooks. He's right that existing stylebooks are inconsistent and often ruinously outdated, but there's reason to be skeptical about this here guide as well. Walsh is a longtime (long-time?) copy editor (copyeditor?) in the newspaper business, so the reader certainly benefits from his practical experience. Walsh has plenty of entertaining anecdotes about mistakes and poor decisions made by writers and editors when they try to follow established stylebooks to the letter, and he also has plenty of useful pointers on how tricky matters of grammar and punctuation should be done correctly. Unfortunately, in the end this book does little to alleviate the ongoing style difficulties that Walsh brings to light, albeit in his usually engaging and curmudgeonly fashion.

While he admits that his examples of editing issues are arbitrary and merely meant to highlight his biggest pet peeves, one must wonder how such examples benefit the serious reader. Granted, some are entertaining, like the proper way to cite a Playboy Bunny vs. the Playmate of the Month. But some are too curmudgeonly for true usefulness - Walsh should probably get over his annoyance with improper pluralization of the Airborne Warning and Control System; and some are just plain bizarre - like Walsh's weird obsession with the use of "Star Wars" for films other than Episode IV. A more fundamental problem is Walsh's inconsistent opinions on the evolution of language over time. Sometimes he's for it, but other times he becomes the type of strict anti-change language snob that he cracks jokes about earlier in the book. And whenever Walsh comes across a situation in which there is no established style rule, he just gives what he freely admits is the solution that he prefers, as a matter of opinion. But how does this really solve the underlying problems with stylebooks that are the point of most of Walsh's endeavor?

This book is good for some laughs about weird mistakes and snooty editors in the newspaper biz, with some useful solutions to common difficulties. But Walsh's larger goal of instilling skepticism about stylebooks has worked a little too well for his own good. [~doomsdayer520~]

Men and Cartoons: Stories
Men and Cartoons: Stories
by Jonathan Lethem
Edition: Hardcover
139 used & new from $0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Not Enough Heroes, April 19, 2008
This little book is curiously insubstantial, both overall and within most of the short stories. Jonathan Lethem's works are usually fascinating, given his unique thematic insights on the big thoughts of average people, and plotlines that walk the precarious edge between the normal and the surreal. Many of Lethem's full novels are highly recommended, and maybe he needs entire book-length plots to really stretch out and realize the subversive points he obviously wishes to make about the human condition. But many of the short stories here seem like quick knock-offs that only introduce ideas that may or may not go anywhere if they were in longer form.

While hardcore literary theorists may find subtle insights in some of the more mundane entries here, you may find yourself asking "what's the point?" with 15-page stories about a guy having a dispute with his optician or another guy who lets his washed-up friend move in. The better tales here take a little more time to develop eccentric characters more fully or to delve into social satire, most notably the weirdly intriguing "Access Fantasy;" "The Dystopianist, Thinking of His Rival, Is Interrupted by a Knock on the Door;" and "Super Goat Man." But at just 160 pages of mostly half-baked themes, this book just doesn't offer a true taste of Lethem's talents. [~doomsdayer520~]

Tigers In Red Weather: A Quest for the Last Wild Tigers
Tigers In Red Weather: A Quest for the Last Wild Tigers
by Ruth Padel
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $23.31
137 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Red Weather Friends, April 18, 2008
Here Ruth Padel has created a unique work of conservationist literature, describing her non-scientific quest to see the world's few remaining wild tigers in their natural habitats. In the process we get an illuminating travelogue of less-trammeled regions in several exotic countries and their peoples' contradictory attitudes towards tigers and nature. Of special interest are the bizarre treatment of animals in Laos, where domestic animals are protected wealth and wild animals are exploited food; and the schizophrenic tiger obsession of China, which glamorizes fictional tigers as symbols of cultural strength while destroying rare real tigers for fetishes and false medicines. Padel is also willing to let the scientists and activists with whom she travels speak their minds, creating an insightful study of the travails and dangers faced by conservationists as they fight government corruption and harsh socioeconomic realities.

In terms of writing, Padel assembles beautiful prose and her sentences are often a joy to behold, creating verbal atmospheres that highlight the senses of excitement and melancholy felt by those who care about tigers the most. But beyond well-crafted sentences, the book tends to drift into wispy philosophical and literary explorations, with a lot of completely useless (and often quite annoying) ruminations from Padel on her personal life. But the book is still beneficial overall, as Padel ably illuminates the dangers faced by the world's last tigers while instilling a sense of hope that is brought by passionate activists. And in the end, what you'll remember most is the power of the tigers, which you'll feel in your heart whether or not you've ever seen one in the wild. [~doomsdayer520~]

Price: $8.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Amazons of Guinea, April 16, 2008
This review is from: Wamato (MP3 Music)
Apparently, this band of talented and insistent women from Guinea have been around for more than 40 years but have only had the opportunity to release two albums. This new release shows why the group is a real find for all world music fans with an interest in the authentic sounds of West Africa. The Guinea sound, at least as delivered by the Amazons, is quite similar to the rambunctious High Life of Nigeria, but adds an extra focus on lead vocals with an unconventional emotional force, and crisp multi-part guitar melodies. The troupe is also high on intricate and powerful percussion arrangements, which I believe are delivered by an affiliated touring ensemble that also operates under the name Les Amazones de Guinee (they're all women too).

The best examples of intertwining guitar, vocal, and percussion arrangements here are the starkly emotional "Reine Nyepou," and the joyously laidback "Dimembalou." Other highlights include the beautiful "Kania" which is somehow forceful and mellow at the same time, and watch out for the especially powerful vocal arrangements in "Deni Wana" and the swinging horns in the very funky "Zawi." The closer "Meres d'Afrique" offers an intriguing combination multiple African styles and shows a distant relationship with Afro-Cuban swing. Not too many Western listeners have probably heard of these Amazons, but if you're a fan of all that West African music has to offer, this group's joyous and experienced sounds are essential. [~doomsdayer520~]
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 3, 2008 5:46 PM PDT

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