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Four Past Midnight
Four Past Midnight
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $7.69

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written...gripping characters...developed plotlines, May 8, 2012
Four Past Midnight includes...not surprisingly...four well written Stephen King stories of the macbre featuring gripping characters and very well developed plotlines.

Those stories are: The Langoliers (which was made into a television series), Secret Garden, Secret Window (a movie featuring Johnnie Depp), The Library Policeman and the Sun Dog.

Each of these stories makes for spine tingling reading:

In Langoliers we meet American Pride pilot Brian Angle just as he learns the news of his ex wife's death. Because he was on the west coast when he learned of her death he takes a Boston bound red eye to be there (for reasons we're never told). Unfortunately Angle's flight seems destined for the Twilight Zone instead of Boston because -- along the way -- he awakes to discover that most of the passengers have simply disappeared. The remainder of the story focuses on the exploits of the ten that remain.

Langoliers is an interesting story for how King manages to give dimension to so many characters as they encounter the same weird phenomenon. While this story will no doubt leave the discerning reader asking many questions about the particulars of the phenomenon encountered by Angle's flightmates, wiser readers will simply choose that wiser route of simply relaxing and just enjoying the ride.

In Secret Garden, Secret Window, we meet King's alter ego, a writer fresh from a divorce who encounters AN ODD STRANGER, Mr. Shooter. Shooter insists that King's writer has stolen a story from him and for a good part of the story we're drawn into the men's dispute, left with just enough evidence to wonder just who's telling us the truth. At this point the story takes a turn whose disclosure would require the words SPOILER ALERT.

Suffice it to say that discerning readers might find themselves scratching their heads a little over this one too! However, as before, I think the wiser advice would remain to just relax and enjoy the ride.

In Library Policeman we join a guy after he's just been recruited to give a speech. He's produced a rough draft but...because it's dry...he decides to visit his local public library to get a book or two to help liven it up. In King like fashion his library of course is A LITTLE DIFFERENT and its librarian is VERY DIFFERENT. The differences of course help move the story along its arc.

Experienced King readers probably won't be too surprised that no one ever tried to make this particular King work into a movie or television series like either Langoliers or Secret Garden, Secret Window. It's not because the piece is bad but rather just because...let's say...the piece isn't as competitive with other King works.

King's final story in this series is Sun Dog. Sun Dog starts with a little boy's birthday party. At that party, the kid gets a polaroid instamatic camera. King even names the specific model. Unlike other polaroids though this particular camera seems to take pictures of what's going on in another dimension. Like with the other stories in this book, King is at his best briefly bringing characters to life that seem to jump off the page and having them run their paces in stories that test them to the limits.

In this case, Sun Dog does double duty being the second to last story featuring King's mythical city of Castle Rock Maine (the last is Needfull Things wherein King just outright destroys the whole town). This story is kind of neat because King gives you many early glimpses of where he will all too gleefully later go.

I'm not going to lie. In terms of King short story collections I much preferred Different Seasons (which I would highly recommend if you haven't for some reason already read it) BUT it's still Stephen King. This book still does feature well written...gripping characters...with well developed plotlines. And most importantly...because it's penned by Stephen's still WELL WORTH THE READ.

Interview with the Vampire (The Vampire Chronicles)
Interview with the Vampire (The Vampire Chronicles)
by Anne Rice
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.43
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Immortal, April 29, 2012
How would the gift of immortality change you?

As can be seen in this book, the answer to that question would depend on learning more about just who you were when you were given that gift and just what price that gift came at.

In this book, we receive a thorough introduction to not just one but four characters who've been granted the gift of immortality:

Lestat the Vampire. Is he mysterious or just shallow? Is he callous or just hiding his own fears by his dismissive treatment of others?

Louis Ponte du Lac. Is he contemplative or just whiney? Is he principled or just anal and unwilling to invest himself fully in his new life?

Madeleine. For the first time we see a child vampire. It's perhaps in this character that author Ann Rice best teases out some of the hoarier implications of immortality.

And Armand. What does immortality mean if you don't spend caring about anything?

Wisely Ann Rice spends little time on the mechanics of becoming and being a vampire and more on its human implications. In nearly two centuries of travel, Louis recounts his experiences with Lestat, Madeleine and Armand in an extended monologue reported a to modern day journalist. This is done by means of a framing story where Louis' past exploits are being reported in the present day so that the journalist can, from time to time, ask questions as needed to bring readers up to speed with Rice's new vampire universe.

Part of this book's rightful appeal of course comes from Rice's ability to reach into vampire lore and extract such a novel interpretation on such an oft told tale. The rest of course, as does all good art, is in so adeptly connecting that tale with the human condition itself.

So much like us, these characters ask and answer our questions and in doing so take us to a world we'll of course never really see ourselves. It is in this way the characters truly become immortal.

Farenheit 451
Farenheit 451
by Ray Bradbury
Edition: Paperback
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5.0 out of 5 stars People's greatest enemy: themselves, April 26, 2012
This review is from: Farenheit 451 (Paperback)
CAUTION: Spoiler alert!

If you're still reading then you know this book begins and ends in flames.

The first flames are administered by the future's firemen, a group of civil servants who actaully go from home to home to start fires instead of putting them out. These firemen start fires in an effort to destroy what books remain long in this futuristic society long after they've been outlawed.

The second group of flames target people.

Along the way, Guy Montag is a reformed firemen, this book's St. Paul, who starts out being an eager accomplice to the destruction of the world's literature but in stages becomes one of its saviors. He makes this progress as the result of meeting an alluring 17 year old neighbor Clarisse McClellan. McClellan impetuously asks questions and wonders about life including just how Montag derives satisfaction through his chosen profession. Montag's doubts are also stirred by a call where he and his fellow firemen witness an older woman who chooses to die in flames rather than live a life without her books. Unlike the later (1966) Francois Trauffaut film Clarisse (where she lives and becomes Montag's love interest) in this book dies in an automobile accident a situation, along with the death of the older woman that further stirs Montag's discontentment with the whole venture of futuristic fire fighting.

Conveniently Montag revives a contact with a retired English professor (Faber) and the two set about trying to infiltrate the fire fighting organization of which Montag is a part. Faber does this through the use a seashell like device he created that much resembles a combination blue tooth and hearing aid where he can communicate with Faber even when the two are not physically connected. Montag also tries to recruit his erstwhile wife Mildred in his endeavors but he's unsuccessful because Mildred -- an avid television viewer -- actually prefers a world without books.

In fact it's with Mildred's assistance in part that Montag is discovered to possess a secret cache of books. In one of the book's more dramatic moments, Montag is called to the scene of a fire only to discover that the location is his own home. It's at this point Montag is directed to put his own home to flames. And it's at this point that Montag begins a run from authority where he tries to hide from the consequences of his activities.

After learning that an innocent man has been killed in his place to create the illusion that the search for him was successful Montag retreats to a separate location where people comit books to memory and then burn them so that the accumulated knowledge of mankind cannot be destroyed by flames. It's ironically at this point, a nuclear holocaust is launched in which the Mildreds of the world themselves are put to flame only to be replaced by Montag and his book savers who emerge from their hideaway to help rebuild after the conflagration.

As always, Bradbury writes with a steady concise hand. His characters -- despite his sparse descriptions -- leap off the page along with the story itself which -- also despite sparse description -- also manages to leap off the page. Like all dypstopian literature it's probably best not to take this book too litterally. And, viewed more metaphorically, this book is an important piece of literature for placing the blame for social ills in a democracy for where they actually belong...with the people. Although Bradbury's firemen do terrible things Bradbury himself is always careful to make clear that his firemen are but the cutting edge of a broader public mandate.

It's not the government but the people who've started the flames and in that way this book is sober food for thought for people living in democracies where the blame for what's basically wrong isn't with our government but ourselves as creators of that government.

The Island of Doctor Moreau
The Island of Doctor Moreau
by H. G. Wells
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.89
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5.0 out of 5 stars Beastly, April 24, 2012
Between 1895 and 1901 Wells produced not one but five "scientific romances" (the term science fiction didn't come into vogue until the 1920s) that would revolutionize the genre: Time Machine, Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man, War of the Worlds and First Men in the Moon.

In each case, Wells would either make or remake an icon.

While admittedly this book is not my favorite among the series, it is nonetheless an outstanding entry well worth its much deserved praise.

In it, Wells takes the familiar ship wreck story to catapult his protagonist Edward Prendick into a strange world where the infamous vivisectionist Doctor Moreau has plied his skills to create a menagerie of grotesques...all partly animal and partly human. Its Wells' skill as an author that he's able examine the most dramatic elements of both these qualities of Moreau's creations.

From my perspective this book exhibits its greatest dramatic strength when Wells assumes the voice of Moreau as he explains to Prendick the reason for his work. All the hubris that would later accompany science's complicity in the development of the atomic bomb and revolutionizing the war industry are amply put on display by Wells in service of that greater point that science without humanity is every bit as barbaric as Moreau's monstrosities.

Like his later Invisible Man this is Wells at his most dark when he permits himself not only to hold a mirror to cutting edge (if admittedly over extended) science but also to the worst in the human character itself.

Stranger in a Strange Land
Stranger in a Strange Land
by Robert Heinlein
Edition: Paperback
30 used & new from $2.09

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The "Barbarella" of science fiction classics, April 23, 2012
Because it was part of that greater pantheon of American science films, I actually rented the 1968 movie Barbarella one day.

For those of you who don't recall it Barbarella tells the story of a 41st century astronaut who lands on the planet Lythion and sets out to find the evil Durand Durand in the city of Sogo, where a new sin is invented every hour. There, she encounters such objects as the Exessive Machine, a genuine sex organ on which an accomplished artist of the keyboard, in this case, Durand Durand himself, can drive a victim to death by pleasure, a lesbian queen who, in her dream chamber, can make her fantasies take form, and a group of ladies smoking a giant hookah which, via a poor victim struggling in its glass globe, dispenses Essance of Man. You can't help but be impressed by the special effects crew and the various ways that were found to tear off what few clothes our heroine seemed to possess.

Oh and yeah...the movie also plays a lot of bad 60s music and uses more than its share of shag carpeting.

In other words Barbarella is a dated classic for anyone who wasn't deep frozen in 1968.

In much the same way, this book possesses that same dated quality. Ostensibly the story of the rescue of the man from Mars, Michael Valentin Smith, this book quickly becomes an extended lecture of Smith's views on Earth religion as it is and as it should be.

And just like on Bewitched everyone seems to have wet bar in every room of their house, they discuss their disillusionment with organizated religion as if such disillusionment was a novel concept and they resort to frequent use of catch phrases. But instead of words like "far out" and "right on" this book's catch phrases seem to "thou art God" and "grok" in all its various forms.

For the Stranger uninitiated, while "grok" (from the Martian) litterally means to drink as in the means for consuming a beverage the word as its used here means a more general application. "Grok"ing isn't just consuming the thing, it means understanding it in all its various ways.

Like its sister phrase "thou art God" the word "grok" is uttered with an intense seriousness that mirrors the seriousness with which author Heinlein viewed the views on religion and spirituality that he advanced in this book (which he was 12 years in the writing). And in fairness to Heinlein, whereas Barbarella featured its shag carpeting and dance boot clad heroine AFTER the 60s revolution, this book features its ideas of free love and universal understanding BEFORE the 60s revolution.

In that way, perhaps the comparison is to Barbarella in unfair. But because this book is and remains so much of that age, I still think it's probably a good way to introduce new readers to it.

Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?
Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?
by Patrick J. Buchanan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.43
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Agree or's food for thought, April 17, 2012
The greatest hallmark of political writing isn't found in its ability to win converts so much as in its ability to spur important discussion.

And...agree with him or not...this book does spur important discussion.

Using extensive references to empirical data, Buchanan builds several cases:

1) That non homogenous societies have a historical tendency to fracture. The balkanization of Yugoslavia is one example of this phenomenon.

2) That when societies fracture along ethnic lines, the losers can suffer dearly. Again, a look at what happened in Yugoslavia serves as a dramatic illustration where despot Slobadan Milosevich used his waning power as President of Serbia to attempt the ethnic cleansing of nearby Kosovo.

3) That societies that court ethnic fracture court suicide.

Here's where the "agree with him or not" language figures in because it's here where Buchanan makes the point that the United States is an has been courting national suicide by liberal immigration policies and a failure to maintain cultural homogeneity.

For those who agree with Buchanan they will be easily persuaded by statistics advanced by him showing that as church and traditional Christian observance have waned, America's standing abroad has fallen along with it.

For those who disagree, however, the question of course will be why and just what evidence supports the possible logical contrary assertions: either that observance has declined but that the decline is irrelevant to broader questions of American standing or that history is not as simple of a matter as outlining a downward arrow, that periodic rises and falls have occured and do occur as a matter of the passage of history.

Agree with him or not I do think this book is food for thought. In this way I think it's excellent political and current events material and great food for thought.

Speaking of food for thought...the hardest reviews here on seem to be the political ones where people pepper each other with negative votes but -- all too often -- not the insight behind those selfsame negative votes. If readers seeing this review are inclined to disagree, please kindly hold off on that negative vote at least until you've chimed in with your opinion.

If you can vote no, you can certainly say why.

Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson
Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson
by Jennifer Michael Hecht
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.89
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great doubt, great awakening..., April 17, 2012
"Great doubt, great awakening; little doubt, little awakening; no doubt, no awakening." Zen Maxim

Midway through this tour of world philosophy author Jennifer Hecht boils down her entire tour to its basic message and the Zen quote cited above.

To be sure, there are many books which have tried to cover parts of world philosophy. One recent example, cited by Hecht herself is Karen Armstrong's estimable History of God which is in reality a history of western philosophy pertaining to God.

By broadening her scope and capturing all major world philosophy Hecht does a wonderful job of providing readers with a one stop tour of all world philosophy. To be sure, in many cases this one stop tour is a blink and you'll miss experience where detail suffers but that small criticism is more than made up for by giving readers a general sense of where everyone fits in.

Armed with this forrest like view, curious readers can then go back and revisit the trees that might be of greater interest to them. To continue the metaphor, many of these trees might have otherwise escaped their study.

One prominent example is the Carvaka movement of early Hinduism. Little reported outside this book, Carvaka arose prior to Buddhaism and centered its focus not only on a denial of religion and related notions of the afterlife it also gave an early powerful voice to the materialist view that would so later come to dominate western philosophy.

Just like Hecht exells at providing readers with little reported doubt movements like Carvaka she also does an excellent job of showing how societal patterns in general and scientific developments helped spur changes in how philosophers went about viewing reality and expressing their particular doubts.

This book is not easy reading but it is important reading because, as Hecht so defty demonstrates, the story of doubt is a skeleton key to the story of humanity's effort to understand itself and its place in creation.

A Short History of Asia, Second Edition
A Short History of Asia, Second Edition
by Colin Mason
Edition: Paperback
Price: $34.52
37 used & new from $0.68

5.0 out of 5 stars Don't let your wheels stray from old ruts...Tao Te Ching, April 16, 2012
"Don't let your wheels stray from old ruts." So says the Tao Te Ching and interesting enough such explains much of Asian history.

It explains Asian history for the unique way in which inherited Asian tradition seems to effect so much of today's Asian life.

In this short accessible book, Colin Mason goes the extra mile to re visit the roots of Asian history and come forward, explaining just how the modern Asian world came to be as it is.

In accessible pericopes he subdivides Asia into its little worlds: India, Pakistan and Bangladesh; China; southeast Asia including Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand; Malaysia; Japan; and Phillipines, along with other Asian countries.

In religion Mason explains the origin of Hinduism and Buddhaism and just why Buddhaism came to spread beyond its point of origin. He also describes Chinese spirituality including Confuciusism and Taoism. He also touches on Shintuism.

In politics he shows how history has made the various Asian nations sometimes friends, sometimes enemies and sometimes in between.

To be sure, careful readers will emerge from this book with more questions but for an introductory work I think it's a pretty fair effort. Highly recommended.

Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies. Edited by Ted Mico, John Miller-Monzon, and David Rubel.
Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies. Edited by Ted Mico, John Miller-Monzon, and David Rubel.
by Mark C., ed. Carnes
Edition: Hardcover
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reel history, April 16, 2012
From Jurassic Park through All the President's Men, this book takes a sometimes irreverant look at Hollywood's take on history.

In some cases, the criticisms made by the reviewers are petty. One great case in point of this is with All the President's Men where the Robert Redford movie is criticized for focusing too much on the Woodward and Bernstein angle of Watergate. I think the criticism here was petty because the purpose of the movie was to talk about the Woodward and Bernstein angle. Where the reviewer had no other specific problems with the film, he probably should have just given the whole project a positive notice.

In other cases, the reviewer will give the film a huge pass. One big example of this is the 1964 Stanley Kubrick movie Dr. Strangelove. Here of course the events depicted in the movie didn't even happen. So the reviewer concentrated instead on those story elements that actually had historical precedence like for example where the movie recounts evidence that the Soviet premier was drunk. Amazingly enough then Soviet leader Nikita Kruschev actually was drunk during at least one night of the Cuban missile crisis.

Generally however, the treatments are pretty fair and serve not only to enlighten one about the history but about the movie as well. A great example of this is the review of Jurassic Park by Stephen Jay Gould. In his review he gave the most thorough explanation of why dinosaurs could not be brought back in the way depicted by Michael Crichton of any review I've ever read. Interestingly enough, the most credible modern suggestion on how to bring back the dinosaurs is one posited by Jack Horner wherein he suggests that chicken DNA be altered so as to activate turned off genes to create what he calls a chickenasaurus.

Another great example of a review which discusses both the Hollywood and the history is that contributed by Stephen Ambrose whose review of The Longest Day was enlighting both as to the movie (for example just where and why the director exercised artistic license) and the history itself.

This is a truly fun book and it's highly recommended.

Kuroneko (Criterion Collection)
Kuroneko (Criterion Collection)
DVD ~ Kichiemon Nakamura
Offered by American_Standard
Price: $19.25
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5.0 out of 5 stars In the shadow of our evil, April 8, 2012
In medieval Japan a young man is recruited to war. His absence leaves his mother and wife vulnerable and they are attacked, raped and killed by samurai.

Back from war, our young man -- now a hero -- is recruited to hunt down these women who are themselves hunting down our young man's fellow samurai.

From such meager offerings Director Kaneto Shindo creates this 1968 movie.

We can't outrun our misdeeds. This lesson is apparent not only impaled by the women but also our young hero himself. Is he not numbered among the guilty for what happened to his mother and wife? It is this film's answer to that question that in my humble opinion more than the movie's eerie graphics contributes to its powerful sense of mood and enduring appeal.

I recommend this movie to Japanese officiandos interested in moving past Kurosawa, in lovers of good ghost stories and of course those who just enjoy a genuinely good movie.

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