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The Cosmopolitans
The Cosmopolitans

5.0 out of 5 stars Great to see Whit back, September 11, 2014
Great to see Whit back.

This is a combination of Woody Allen and 'Girls' (but without surreal behavior). Some very clever jokes in the pilot and it will be fun to see how this develops.

Dick Francis's Refusal (Sid Halley series Book 5)
Dick Francis's Refusal (Sid Halley series Book 5)
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $9.34

4.0 out of 5 stars Good read, May 21, 2014
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A problem in the modern horror movie is the ubiquitous presence of smart phones that takes away many of the old plot points of people being isolated, unaware of key information and oblivious to impending danger.

You sort of have the same issue in a mystery novel where we know in the first couple of chapters "Who Dunnit". "Refusal" plays out with Sid Halley trying to get enough evidence to convict the antagonist while simultaneously fending off murderous attacks on him and his family. That type of plot is a bit difficult to pull off credibly when reader is constantly thinking "why not just tell the police?" or "why not just get a gun and shoot him if he attacks your family?".

Felix Francis deals with this problem by having no guns available, except an old shotgun that has a totality of four shells. And the police are having "manpower issues" that leave them powerless to assist Halley's family with the various kidnappings, threats and beatings that are meted out. Not entirely without a strain to the reader's credulity.

Also the police are ready to cut a lot of slack for a known bad actor while being unsympathetic to someone who is a prominent and reputable citizen. Not my experience. In fact usually police like nothing better than to step on the toes of a nogoodnik even if they know they dont have enough for an arrest.

Felix does a good job of capturing that old Dick Francis magic of making the reader feel outraged at the trials the protagonists goes through. The just man treated unjustly who finally wins vindication at the end.

A satisfying story over all and an excellent continuation of the line.

President Me: The America That's in My Head
President Me: The America That's in My Head
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers
Price: $12.27

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars President Hmmmm, May 13, 2014
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If it fell out of the sky encased in the Chelyabinsk meteor, the Russian inhabitants who found it and allowed it to cool to room temperature would be delighted.

The other extreme is the daily Carolla listener, who will have been exposed to a good 75% of this material before. None of it is bad. The observations are good, its a fun book, and this may be the best version of the 'bits', but assuming you listen to 100% of audio Carolla, you will have heard a lot of these observations before.

The happy medium is someone who knows Carolla and is a casual fan. This would be a prefect gift for that target audience.

You can tell the premise of the book from the title- "here is a bunch of stuff I'd do with authoritarian powers". I am not usually a fan of this style of book because it usually just a bunch of arbitrary fiats without considering what the unintended consequences would be. For instance- Carolla declares that all hotels lamps must operate the same way. That certainly would solve the inconvenience of the traveler having to figure out new light controls at the end of a long day. But it also effectively removes the possibility for technological advancement. This is not a 'on the other hand...' type of book.

Taking the theme of a Carolla presidency to heart the book is laid out with chapters like Department of Commerce, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Labor and transcripts of Adam's addresses to the UN and his first year State of the Union. Each 'Department' gets riffs associated with it. For instance under "US Postal Service" we get the observation that if the USPS were good at their job they wouldnt consider getting rid of Saturday delivery, just as a successful restaurant wouldn't close on Saturday. "Department of Labor" contains Adam's advice about working hard and grit. Regarding Ozzy's extended lunch runs "Someone said, "Yeah, he was running a scam." I agreed. Yes, he was running a scam . . . on himself" making that point that while Ozzy thought he was getting away with two hour lunch runs he was really building a reputation for unemployability.

Even if you have heard these riffs before, these are all amusing and probably represent the 'best' tightened up version of the bits. Adam's specificity is funny- Michael Moore dresses like a "lesbian truck driver", he threatens to take a "crab comb" to the Commerce codes, unnecessary hotel door hangers that say BUILDING AWESOME PILLOW FORTS instead of just DO NOT DISTURB. When you spot a lone ant its the "Flint McCullough of ants.".His observational gaze falls upon things like....Why dont hotel rooms have dvrs? Plantains are just communist bananas.You ought to present a recent pay stub when you go to vote so we know who we are taking advice from.

Ultimately an amusing book and one that does have a correct diagnosis for what is wrong with America (American Girl dolls made in China and expecting the government to fix your life for you) but ultimately the suggestions arent implementable. Being President doesn't mean you get to tell people what to do, so if they want a Life of Julia country there isnt much you can do to change their minds.

That's the weakness of the book- it's complaints and funny observations but without a long range philosophy so it feels like it lack depth.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 14, 2014 1:31 PM PDT

Shrinkage: Manhood, Marriage, and the Tumor That Tried to Kill Me
Shrinkage: Manhood, Marriage, and the Tumor That Tried to Kill Me
Offered by Macmillan
Price: $12.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When bad Decepticons happen to good people, May 8, 2014
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Ok, its part
- behind the scenes for Adam Carolla and Love Line fans
- cancer memoir
- humor
- autobiography

You put that all together and you get a mishmash. NO! That not what you get. Somehow what everyone assumed was a quickly cash-in book to monetize a built in audience has turned into a genuinely humorous, fast-paced read for a general audience.

How did this happen? How does something by all rights should be book on an express train to mediocrity some how turn out to be very good? It would be like if Transformers 7 gets a Best Picture award.

Credit has to go to Bryan, who has manage to not only construct smooth flowing paragraphs, but manage the overall themes of his book in a very skilled, professional way. He gives effusive thanks to his college professor TC Boyle, and the best thanks is probably that this is so well written a book. This is really surprising, to me at least, since my impression of Bryan is entirely audio- his only expression sentence fragment "drops" and a few spoken sentences on pod casts. To find out that he can write this well is surprising, and it makes wonder why he hasn't had some sort of written expression all along [... costing Mike Lynch another job!]

I already knew the 'beats' of Bryan's life- "drops", movies, bald, frat, usc, cancer, former fatty, alleged felony smugness. There is a saying "You are as happy as you want to be", and it really proves out in this book. Here is one version of his life: born to blue collar barely 20 year old parents at the end of the '70's he grew up in near poverty and was often warehoused with grumpy grandparents; his only entertainment was vcr tapes on movies and tv game shows. He was a fat, unpopular kid who struggled to make even the JV team. He competed and fought with his more popular brother for his parents' attention. He was disorganized and inept at school and had a terrible GPA. He never graduated from college. He held a string of low paying jobs and a series of failed relationships. He finally became engaged to a woman who drank Miller Lite unironically, but then was crippled by an inoperable brain tumor.

While all those basic facts are true, Bryan meets every life event with cheer and humor. This isnt mere Pollyannaishness- he sees and acknowledges the bad times. And he is frank about his lowest points in dealing with chemotherapy and radiation treatment. But this book shows there is a giant difference to be made in people's lives in how you approach events. This isnt denial. And it isnt wallowing in pity. It's an outlook at finds humor in everything, discovers that founding a frat is better than joining a frat, revels in discount sushi and finds swim-up bars fun even when you have weakness in one side of your body. Being trapped by an exploding volcano is a chance for a side trip to the church where your parents renewed their vows.

So its a pretty inspiring story of how someone takes on life, not just cancer. This is no drippy "Listening to Prozac". Bryan has a meet-cute story with his wife and an engage cuter. And fun time telling about back stage stuff and discussing movies and songs he hates and likes. And the supposedly unpopular, fat indoor kid has a life full of friends, events and celebrations. He even has a reconciliation with his brother and comes clean about a cringeworthy snubbing of a 13 year old girl at a dance in summer camp.

One thing not to miss is the footnotes, where Bryan 'drops' many of his jokes. On the kindle version it looks like they are at the back of the book instead of the bottom of the page, which was a mistake by the publisher because it will discourage people from checking them out. A footnote next to Arizona State students goes to this quip "If you're a "student," shouldn't you technically be "studying" something at least part of the time?" and a reference to banana bread has the aside " Adding chocolate chips to almost anything aside from cookies-- pancakes, banana bread, etc.-- is just an apology for making an inferior product.". And this one "Pet peeve: people who pronounce it FOY-er It's foy-YAY, you unrefined rube." Ha ha! First entry for pronunciation in the Kindle dictionary is "FOIER". Take that you smug baldy!

This would make great reading for a high school student.

Charge of the Light Brigade (1936)
Charge of the Light Brigade (1936)
Price: $2.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Do not reason where or why, April 7, 2014
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Worth it for the last 15 minutes alone- which now would be unfilmable for a variety of PC reasons.

Yes, horses are killed, yes it is a historical, and yes it is war- but it is magnificent


The Consummata (Hard Case Crime Book 103)
The Consummata (Hard Case Crime Book 103)
Price: $7.19

4.0 out of 5 stars You take the good, you take the bad, and there you have the Consummata, April 7, 2014
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A follow up to the great book with a terrible name, "The Delta Factor", we get an ok book with an interesting name.

I wonder what Max Collins got in the will when it was read? Certainly the name, a crazy evocative title that gets played a few different ways here. That's the problem with Frankenstein ('s monster)- everyone is always looking for the stitching. Certainly it is not possible to read Robert Goldsborough's continuations of Nero Wolfe without some cringing and an occasional snort of derision. I have been known to hurl them aside with great force when there is a section either too out of character or too slavish to have verisimilitude. Jill Paton Walsh does a better job but it is impossible to avoid the clunker flat note, especially when the reader is aware that this has been stitched together.

So what was in the will for him to work with when Collins dumped out the envelope? The title, the hero, the estrangedish wife, and the MacGuffin. Probably most of the other characters. There was a setting. When he shook was there a plot? An outline?

If the Times reviewed the book, the headline would read "Characters Hit Hardest" as they take the brunt of the buffeting from reconstruction of the plot from whatever Spillane left. Gaita is a Cuban refugee prostitute leading Morgan through back alleys of little Havana. Except she is a l33t prostitute. Except she takes a side job as a bartender. Except that she has a understanding where she only takes clients that she likes, since hookers arent in it for the money at all. Its a super l33t bordello except the Cuban refugees are using it for information gathering. Except that it caters to the most powerful political/business dudes so why are there low level Cuban thugs frequenting the place. And if it is so discrete then why is the madam letting the Cubans use it for info gathering? And if the place is so upscale why is the impoverished inventor hanging out there? Why does the wealthy madam live in a dumpy apartment and drive a station wagon? The inventions work, dont work or never worked? Who knows.

We are looking for the stolen $75K. No we are not looking for the stolen $75K, that was never the motivation for the traitorous Jaimie. Jaimie will flee Miami and try to get to Cuba. Except he will change his motivation and stay around waiting to be tracked because after all the guy is a masochist. We know that the $40 mil was a CIA job because it was all common bills- nothing larger than a 50. Except in "Delta Factor" it was an important plot point that Kim identified three $500 bills from the robbery.

All signs that the character outlines had to be massaged to get a coherent plot going.

Another sign is that there is so much Source ex Machina going on. How do we get from A to B? A source shows up to supply the information and we have a few sources going on here to patch things together. Why Bunny is involved at all is a mystery (!) since it quickly becomes apparent that sheltering Morgan is disrupting her business and endangering her and her operation for no purpose. But she can "check her old files" and provide an important plot nudge at the right time. As long as you supply pie and say "work your sources" you'll get a tidbit, regardless of how much danger that put the source in asking blindly around about all these violent deaths that have been occurring.

And when you have a mysterious woman character who wears a mask, is it going to turn out to be someone the reader knows? Hmm.

We do have a good '60's mood going on. You do get a feeling that the Cuban refugees think the tide can be turned their way and relatively soon. Spillane must have supplied the retro female grooming descriptions. Its nice that there is some sense of Morgan being hunted- he cant just appear places; he has to borrow a car or take a cab. Who is responsible for the allegedly outre S&M party catering to rich and powerful politicians? Maybe a shocking detail if original to '60's Spillane, but cringe worthy hack-kneed if introduced by Collins in 2011. The word "handjob"?- OED doesnt have a reference but google n-gram search indicates its an anachronism to the '60's introduced by Collins.

It sounds like I am critical of the book, which I am, but I also liked it. There was a lot of restraint in not falling prey to an over the top boss fight. I did find myself rooting for these two crazy kids, Morgan and Kim, The action sequence were enjoyable and there was a palpable mood to the novel. Yes, the plot line, constructed by two different people 40 years apart did reverse field too many times.

But hey I want to see more of these characters. Max Collin- write another! After all, we still have the $40 million dollar MacGuffin in play.

3.5 stars and a decent read.

Delta Factor
Delta Factor
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $5.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tight, well paced, well written, April 7, 2014
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This review is from: Delta Factor (Kindle Edition)
The worst thing about this book is its title- "Delta Factor" is so generic it could fit almost any genre and it bring to mind Delta Force, Delta Airlines and Delta Faucet. Yeah, the rationale behind the concept of 'delta factor' is explained in the novel, but by then we are already stuck with a generic, boring title.

Allegedly Spillane was so disappointed with the outcome of the Delta Factor movie that he decided to the the plug on what was shaping up on a promising new character and series. I'd blame the title, which is odd since Spillane is known for titles that demand the browser's attention. Maybe in the '60 it was some sort on entendre...

Our protagonist is "Morgan the Raider" and we start in media res with him in the hospital being questioned by government types for a robbery of $40 million. Its the mid-60's. They claim they have him dead to rights, but suggest a little deal- play ball with the government in trying to bust a political prisoner out of jail on the fictional Caribbean island of Nuevo Cadiz run by strong man Carlos Ortega. Neuvo Cadiz is sort of a pre-Castro Cuba with casinos, poverty and the seedier elements of the international gambling set. Morgan is known for having planned a number of prison breaks and for espionage during the war (thats WWII in the Spillane universe) so they plan to send him in with a CIA agent as his wife, minder and backup, and see if he can work an escape plan. Carlos Ortega is not muy estúpido and knows about Morgan and the $40 million he stole. He sees Morgan showing up his island ostensibly on a honeymoon as a guy on the run with hot money, and why shouldn't that money fall into Ortega hands? But then that is what Morgan is counting on him thinking.

Also in the mix are an underground group of freedom fighters and the threat of a communist insurgency (called "the commies") who are waiting to see how things play out to make their move.

Spillane does an excellent job giving this seedy gambling haven a claustrophobic feeling as events tick forward. Morgan is getting closer to getting access to the prisoner, but Ortgea and his police chief are getting impatient to find out where Morgan's money is. Shouldnt he be making a deposit in their bank? Some of the jet set at the casino seem to be working their own games. And alarm bells start going off when people up in New York with a tangential connection to the $40M robbery start coming up dead and the path starts leading South. This has a feeling very reminiscent of Graham Greens 1958 "Our Man in Havana" with lots of people working their own games and a tone of law/lawlessness. For the last few chapters a hurricane moves in on the Caribbean and tourists flee, power is disrupted, escape plans are cut off and the climax occurs on an even more isolated stage.

Spillane make very effective use of his semi-omniscient first person narrator technique. Morgan's "spidey sense" tingles and he get warning of an impending danger or extrasensory feeling about something at work. And there are a lot of plans at work here. This isnt meant to be a Fairplay, locked room type of mystery, but there is a good amount of solid back reasoning going on here that a fan of those types of mysteries might find enjoyable. Things like X getting killed implies that someone must have anticipated that X would be doing something. Who would be the type to anticipate that....?

Is Morgan a full character? Is Morgan merely Hammer by another name? I think not. "Morgan the Raider" is inspired by Henry Morgan the pirate and that inspiration is meant to reflect that he works outside the law, but also gets used on again/off again by the government like Sir Henry Morgan. And Spillane cleverly installs his character's motivation of one of pirate like daring-do, willing to take on a dangerous assignment simply because of whimsey. That certainly solves the generic problem of why competent protagonists would let themselves be dragooned into dangerous situations. Sure Bond takes orders from M, but how many suicide missions can you reasonably motivate a government employee to take on? Like the story, we start in media res with the Morgan character, so there isnt a lot of description of who is he, or his background. And he doesnt spend time starting into a mirror thinking "a middle aged, still handsome former army boxer looked back at me. I recalled the time I was seconded from the Army to work in a special weapons lab where I got my initial chemistry training...". Spillane isnt playing those games. I think he was going for the long game with Morgan, opening him up as the series went on. We get bread crumbs dropped along the way about his back story, and had we made it to a third or fourth book the reader would probably have a good take on a very interesting character.

Overall a strong read that draws you forward, and you are unlikely to be able to put it aside for long. Evocative setting, good plot and clever motivations. 4.5 stars

Cartoon Wars 2
Cartoon Wars 2
Price: $0.00

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great game that uses elements from previous games to make this installment better, July 6, 2013
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This review is from: Cartoon Wars 2 (App)
As in the title of the review, the game combines the elements from the previous cartoon wars games to make this one better. Throw in an upgrade system and this game deserves its rating. Great job Gamevil.

Average Jones
Average Jones
Price: $0.00

3.0 out of 5 stars average stories, February 5, 2013
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This review is from: Average Jones (Kindle Edition)
The tone of the stories is about what you'd get if I.F. Stone wrote pulp detective fiction. Pretty transparent, one dimensional villains and repeated over and over. Usually Average Jones does something immoral to rip them off, so this feels like Lou Grant channeled through Tarantino.

The stories themselves vary in quality. Some have an ok twist to them and are readable as detective fictions. The bulk of them there really is no who/how dunnit although there is a "puzzle" the reader isnt given the clues to solve it. Nero Wolfe used the newspaper advertisement sparingly as a plot point. These stories use it obsessively- often with 4 or more classified ads being placed per short story. This become a deus ex machina as a reader of the Milk Delivery Journal, or some such, shows up at the right time with the incriminating bit of information.

My copy of the book didnt have any issues with the ad text not showing. I tried viewing on both a Fire and a HD and it looked fine with just a few OCR damages that dont effect readability. The writing style of Adam is of pretty fair quality and the stories bounce along well. They are very readable as throw-back entrainment even if Samuel Hopkins Adams is outclassed as a detective author by contemporaries like Jacques Futrelle.

Kindle Fire HD 8.9" 4G LTE Wireless, Dolby Audio, Dual-Band Wi-Fi, 32 GB - Includes Special Offers (Previous Generation - 2nd)
Kindle Fire HD 8.9" 4G LTE Wireless, Dolby Audio, Dual-Band Wi-Fi, 32 GB - Includes Special Offers (Previous Generation - 2nd)
Price: $299.00
17 used & new from $169.90

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good pdf and video, not so good books, November 26, 2012
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I have a few kindles- including a kindle with special offers for my kids. On the e-ink the ads look kind of classy- no point in not saving yourself the money. With the 8.9 color the ads are in your face all the time. Might as well plan on paying the $15 dollars to turn them off on a $500 device. Sigh.

These new HD kindles are snappy where the Fire bogged down. Netflix scrolls well without the occasional hesitation not uncommon on the browsing screen. The extra CPU really seems to be helping. However if you like to watch old tv shows on your kindle, the poor resolution of the source really stands out on the large high resolution screen in a way you will notice.

The extra processing power also seems to help the most problematic app on the Kindle plaform- the Wall Street Journal. For whatever reason, I was able to get through the entire paper without the WSJ crashing- which is a rarity. And it didnt have to think forever when I hit "Sections". The paper on the HD is a much improved experience.

Likewise pdf's are much improved. I tried out a scanned pdf of the book "On Horseback Through Asian Minor" and it a much better experience than it was on the regular fire. Likewise the HD didnt bog down on a large Cisco pdf manual. The 8.9 HD seems like a good alternative to an ipad or computer monitor for reading this material.

e-books are a more mixed bag. Frankly the 8.9" is too big to be comfortably held unlike the smaller form factors. The text readability is fine on the HD, and once again it feels snappier in highlighting and making notes. However I think the battery life is going to be prohibitive in "curling up in bed" for the afternoon and reading. IF you are a big reader you are probably better off with a paperback-sized kindle. At least you will need to plan for some kind of cover/stand for the 8.9 and keep a spare charger cable by your bed side.

I am interested in trying out a bluetooth keyboard, which was sorely lacking on the base Fire, as a way of adding more in depth notations to passages. I may update the review with how well that works out.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 28, 2012 7:03 PM PST

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