Monday, February 16, 2015

the 2014 book report part three

You can read the first part of this by clicking here... and then continue onto the second part by clicking here...

Alright, ten more books to go... let's do it!

Book 26 of 2014... "Glengarry Glen Ross", a play by David Mamet, also known for it's incredible movie adaptation.  It was short, it was thrilling, but the movie is even better. 

I started "Gone Girl" back in 2013 and got about an hour into it, and left it for something else.  Having seen the movie, I went back to the book, and was immediately sucked in for good... Gillian Flynn weaves an intricate, twisted tale where you find yourself not really liking anybody, yet rooting for at least one or two people... if you don't know the major twist in the middle, I won't tell you, but if you aren't familiar with it, it's one heckuva twist.

The book is a duel narrative, told first from Nick's point of view, then from Amy's, then back to Nick's, then back to Amy, telling us the story of a husband who has lost his wife, and a wife who's dealing with a cheating husband and more.  And the ending?  Whew. 

From major intensity to slow burn, next we picked up "Revival" by Stephen King... you meet Jamie Morton as a six year old who meets the new local pastor Charles Jacobs.  Things get a little strange not too long afterwards, with Rev. Jacobs obsession with electricity and his subsequent meltdown after a huge tragedy... we then follow Jamie through his life's ups and downs, randomly running into Charles Jacobs at various times.  It all leads to a climax that is both unexpected and insane, and it left me a little unsatisfied.  Good book, not great.

A little book called "Stuff Christians Life" by Jon Acuff was a good change of pace from the craziness of the previous two.  Back when he was Jonathan Acuff, he writes essays on everything churchy like how to not be judged when people don't see you put something in the offering plate (because you tithe online), the glory of side hugs vs full frontal hugs, hip youth pastors and metro worship leaders, and other takes on pop culture.  I enjoyed it quite a bit, but I'm also a fan of his blog--if you don't like his blog, then you probably won't care for this book as much.

Book 30 of 2014 was written by Leonard Kinsey, who has done a few adult-themed novels set around Walt Disney World.  This one is called "Habst & the Disney Saboteurs", where the main character, an unlovable loser named Reggie "Habst" Habstermeister finds himself in trouble when attractions in Walt Disney World begin to break down while he's in the vicinity.  His friend, or at least the only guy who can actually tolerate him, Charlie joins him to figure out what's happening in this situation--and it's a little crazy, I tell ya. 

Also, Charlie is a character in another book called "Hollow World", by Nick Pobursky, which makes me wonder if Leonard Kinsey and Nick Pobursky is the same guy?  Or just from the same publishing company?

My friend Writer Chris Holmes wrote a book called "Note to Myself: Thoughts to Challenge and Encourage", and its not only charming, but...well, challenging and encouraging.  He's so good at just writing one liners that make you think, that make you ponder and that motivate you.  You can shoot through this book in a half hour or less, but you want to come back a few times and really concentrate on many of the lines... personally, I would have called it "Note to Self" cause it flows better, but overall, it's an excellent book to read, to remember and to go back to.

I picked up a book that, before I even read it, I knew I was going to like, mostly because "The Princess Bride" is one of my top ten favorite films of all time.  Cary Elwes, who portrayed "Westley", wrote "As You Wish: Inconceivable Takes from the Making of the Princess Bride", a behind the scenes narrative of the iconic movie... not only is its a first person narrative from Cary, he also gets quips and stories from Billy Crystal (Miracle Max), Rob Reiner (the director), Robin Wright (Buttercup), Christopher Guest (Count Rugen) and several more--and in the audiobook, he has those people actually read many of their parts in the book.  It was funny, it was a love letter to the movie and its fans, and its full of Andre the Giant tales, including how Elwes broke his toe on Andre's oversized ATV 4-wheeler, then had to do the Dread Pirate Roberts confronting Buttercup on the mountaintop scene (notice the way Westley, aka, The Man in Black, sits down on the rock and how his leg is extended... that's because in real life, he's in extreme pain). 

If you are a fan of the movie, you should read this book... it's simply wonderful.

Book 33 of the year, "You Are a Writer (so start acting like one)" is by Jeff Goins, and is a simple pep talk to let people like myself know that yes, I'm a writer, so own it, so do it, so write it down.  It also goes through a few things you'll need to know, including platforms, passion for what you do, and is relatively short, so I breezed through it in an afternoon with a few notes here and there.

Book 34 was a last minute pickup, as I saw the end of the year approaching... on Tuesday nights, I always flip through the new releases and see what has just come out... lo and behold, Matthew Modine has written a behind-the-scenes account of "Full Metal Jacket" aptly titled "Full Metal Jacket Diaries".  The book goes through some of the trials and hardship it took for the movie to get made, directed by the ever eclectic and possibly insane late Stanley Kubrick.  And though you can tell Matthew Modine has a healthy amount of respect for Kubrick, it's pretty obvious that he feels Kubrick was a little insane and a lot intense.

The book is not very long, and seemed a fitting end to the year!  In fact, I went ahead and outdid myself by reading "Big Driver", by Stephen King, for 36 books for the year... it's a great little tale about a saleswoman who listens to the wrong person and ends up in a nightmare.  And gets some revenge for it later. 

But wait... on December 30th, I realized something... "Big Driver" and "A Good Marriage" (not mentioned yet, for the reasons I'm about to explain) which I read in July, are actually part of a larger book called "Full Dark, No Stars" by Stephen King.  They are novellas... so they don't count.  Meaning, I didn't read 36 books, I read 34.  And I had about 36 hours to finish the 35th, or miss the goal for the year.

So I downloaded the whole of King's "Full Dark, No Stars", and went to it... there are four novellas in this--the aforementioned (and best) of them, "Big Driver"... "A Good Marriage", a tense tale about a woman who discovers something a little terrifying about her husband (which pulls from a news story that was huge at the time of the writing, but I won't tell you what it is and spoil it for you)... "1922", a first person account about a man in Nebraska confessing to the murder of his wife, and how his family falls apart... and "Fair Extension", where a man has a run-in with a Devil-persona and gets more than he could ever wish for.

Thankfully, having read 2 of the 4 novellas, I only had to do 1/2 the book... and around 6pm on New Year's Eve, I finished it!  So, officially, 35 books in one single year, and I guarantee I'd never done that before.

So, here are my top ten books of the year...

The rest of my top ten first time reads in 2014, in order:
  1. "Moment Maker" by Carlos Whittaker... sticks with you, and I made notes.  So challenging to make every moment go unwasted.
  2. "I Don't Know What You Know Me From" by Judy Greer... love her as an actress, and the book is super funny.
  3. "As You Wish" by Cary Elwes... love the movie and love the behind the curtain stories, and the audio features cameos by Rob Reiner, Mandy Patinkin and more.
  4. "Shrinkage" by Bryan Bishop... funny and sad and happy all in the same book.  If you only know him from Carolla, there's a lot more to this guy.
  5. "Stuff Christians Like" by Jonathan Acuff... taken from his blog, with some new stuff too, and is laugh out loud funny.
  6. "Mr. Mercedes" by Stephen King... a whodunit thriller from King, with great characters and a crazy circus ending.
  7. "Lone Survivor" by Marcus Luttrell... tense and wrought, what he goes through is absolutely mortifying.
  8. "Rush Revere & the Brave Pilgrims" by Rush Limbaugh... I would take the history presented here over most schoolbooks nowadays.  Entertaining for kids and adults.
  9. "Note to Myself" by Writer Chris Holmes... line by line, page by page, words that make you smile, warm the fuzzies but also make you think you need to get up and do something.
  10. "Love Does" by Bob Goff... while slightly unrelatable, it's overall premise is wonderful.

And I'm almost five completed books in 2015, on the way to 40 total... do you have a book goal?  What was your favorite book of 2014?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

the 2014 book report part two

Picking up where we left off yesterday, here is the continued rundown of the books read (listened to) in 2014... the next ten are pretty amazing...

My 11th book of the year was one recommended immensely by so many people... "Love Does" by Bob Goff.  The whole premise of the book is that "Love does... everything".  It's about love when it comes to a relationship with God, how to share that love with everyone and anyone and Goff's life stories and lessons learned in life.  The only thing I didn't like was that sometimes, Bob is unrelatable.. in one story, albeit great, he talks about making his kids an offer that if they would write letters to leaders, he would take them to meet the leaders... so when a head of state from a Middle Eastern country writes back and invites the family for ice cream, they go.  Who does that?  Great story, but I know few people that could do that. 

The next 2 books were let downs... first, Daniel B. Kline and Jason Tomaszewski's "The Worst Ideas Ever" started fun, chronicling the worst public mistakes in history, like New Coke, Wendy's "Where's the Beef" fiasco and TV shows that jump the shark... but then it dives into politics and social affairs that derails the last third of the book.   Then, "Not a Match" by Brian Donovan, stories of the author's bad dates in a search of a relationship.  Good at times, boring at times, it was amusing but forgettable. 

Then, I picked up Carlos Whittaker's "Making Moments", and let me tell ya, it hit me.  This book resonated with me in a way that few books do.  I love this completely through, especially the one line that simply says:

I make moments on a daily basis, because I want to know that when life has decided it's had enough of me, it's gonna be because it's exhausted from trying to keep up.

Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  That.  That's exactly my goal for being.  It's not very long, and it's a quick read... could be my favorite book of the year?  Maybe?  We'll see.

The next one off the shelf was another winner... Judy Greer's hysterical memoir, "I Don't Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star".  She's one of my favorite actresses, and to me, one of the most beautiful women in the business, so when I heard she had something coming out, I actually had it on pre-order (she joins Stephen King and Jon Acuff as the only three that I've ever pre-ordered on Audible), and started it the day it was released (and finished it the next day).  It's a riot.  Judy tells stories about movies, her co-stars, anecdotes about blind dates and random happenings in and around Hollywood... and she also talks about doing her own laundry, cleaning her own house and cooking the family dinner.  If Hollywood and/or celebrity and/or funny lady stories interest you at all, pick this one up.

An older John Grisham novel, "The King of Torts" came next, telling the story of a young public defender who takes on the case of a homeless dude accused of a random street killing.  But we know there is more to it than this, there is always more to it than this, and so the story unfolds, involving Big Pharma, large settlements and suspense all around.  And unlike many of his more recent works, the ending of the book was quite satisfying.

Then we get to Bryan Bishop's "Shrinkage: Manhood, Marriage and the Tumor that Tried to Kill Me".  He's known as "Bald" Bryan on The Adam Carolla show, one of the most popular podcasts in the world (and one I listen to daily) and he's also the co-host for another great show, The Film Vault (which I also listen to)... Bryan was diagnosed with an inoperable brain cancer several years ago, and this memoir tells the story of his upbringing, his involvement with show business, radio, production and podcasting, his meeing of the love of his life, Christy, and then the discovery of, diagnosis of, and treatment of brain cancer.

On one hand, its a riot, as Bryan keeps it lighthearted, telling stories from his life, and on the other hand, its heart breaking as he and Christy spend hours, days in tears, unsure of the next step, as she--his fiance when diagnosed--loves him fiercely and takes care of him beautifully.  In many ways, its a love story as much as a biography of survival.  I listened to this while on the way to my hometown last year, to meet up with family and divide up my grandmother's (who helped raised me) belongings, so this story of life and love got me at just the right time. 

After three home runs (Whittaker, Judy, Bryan) and a double (Grisham), I was due for a strike out, and one came in the form of "Double Down" by Mark Halpern and John Heilemann, which is the recap of the 2012 elections.  They are the same guys who wrote the absolutely brilliant "Game Change", which was the 2008 elections, and though you can easily tell they are on the left wing side of the political aisle, "Game Change" was compelling story telling while not going too far left in its opinions.  Even a excoriating of Sarah Palin was permissable, as it also did a number on Hillary Clinton and especially John Edwards (full disclosure: I love Sarah Palin. Don't want her as my president, but love her still). 

"Double Down", however, is essentially one long love letter to Barack Obama.  Sure, it does give a little ding in the armor of The Big O, but it steamrolls Mitt Romney like crazy.  For every slightly negative remark on Obama--which it then makes up for by trying to explain it away--it blasts Mitt for any number of issues.  While it didn't surprise me, it was disappointing to have the book head south quickly, especially after "Game Change" was so great.

Book 19 of the year brought it back, with Stephen King's "Mr. Mercedes"... oh, so good.  While people line up at a job fair in the early morning hours, a driver plows a Mercedes Benz through the crowd, killing 8, injuring over a dozen more, especially after he backs up and charges again.  The car is found empty, the killer having gotten away.  He then sends a letter to retired cop Bill Hodges, taunting him with what has happened and promising more.  Bill pulls himself out of his depression and is determined to find the killer before more violence happens.  And unexpectedly, he's joined by a few people to help him do it.  It's not a horror story, its a good-vs-evil cat and mouse game, and it's well done. 

"American Me" is the name of Adam Carolla's third book,. and while I liked it, it's likely the least favorite of the three he's done so far.  It's his take on the American government, his rants against how stupid our country is right now, and how he'd fix it.  Obviously, its filled with language and insults, which is what makes him funny.  I enjoyed it, but "Not Taco Bell Material" is much better in my opinion. 

I was strangely drawn to "The Law of Superheroes", written by James Daily and Ryan Davidson, but I'm not sure why.  Perhaps it was the premise itself... taking comic book characters and some of their more popular storylines and see how they would fit in the American legal system.  Like, should Wolverine's adamantium claws be declared weapons when coming across the border?  Should Superman's X-Ray vision be banned as an invasion of privacy?  When Batman ties up a criminal and leaves him hanging, should that criminal be released immediately by the cops for unlawful capture?  How does Nick Fury get away with what he gets away with when leading S.H.I.E.L.D.?  When Captain America is killed, should his murderer be released from prison when Cap comes back to life? 

I know you have been thinking the same things... and I would tell you about it, but I don't remember how to.  It explains the legalese as it goes along, but it does get mired down in legal terms that had me struggling to keep up.  I loved this book as I was reading it, but forgot much of it after I finished it, because I'm not good at retaining the information. 

Not sure how I heard of Paige Rawl, but somehow I clued in on her biography "Positive".  She was born with HIV due to a bad father, and has had to live with that growing up.  She kept it a secret until early in middle school when she confided in her at-the-time best friend.  Somehow that best friend shared it with the wrong person, and it was then spread everywhere that Paige had AIDS.  She was then the subject of relentless taunting, teasing, bullying and so on, not only verbally, but through notes left in her locker, text messages she would get, phone calls and so on.  Worse yet, the school she attended would do nothing about it, almost considering it to be her fault. 

The book is heartbreaking and infuriating at the cruelness of kids (and especially teachers and people who could've helped) and sad when the low point involved a bottle of sleeping pills.  But when Paige emerges through the darkness... you knew she would... its cheer worthy and makes you smile.  Unfortunately, it's when the book turns really happy that the narrative itself drops off, so the last 1/4th of the book became a "gotta finish this", but the first 2/3rd of the book does make it worth it.

Book 23 of 2014 was a football book I found, called "The System: The Glory and Scandal of Bigtime College Football", by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian.  Each chapter takes another story and/or scandal from the world of college football and spells it out--from the hiring and firing of Mike Leach at Texas Tech for locking the player in a storage shed to how Alabama wrangled Nick Saban from the Miami Dolphins to the horrible way Lane Kiffen sold out his Tennessee hostesses when they (as the story goes) did exactly what the coaches asked them to do in recruiting to the horrible BYU rape scandal where (again, as the story goes) a few football players walked away unblemished while the girls were left to deal with it.

It does tell several great stories from BYU and other colleges as well, though, so it's not just a "football sucks!" book. I was thoroughly entertained.

After seeing the movie, I dove into "This is Where I Leave You" by Jonathan Tropper, and was delighted.  I don't read a ton of fiction, and even then, its either classic stuff I felt I should have read (I've been putting off Anne of Green Gables for two years), or by authors that I am very familiar with (King, Grisham, maybe now Gillian Flynn), so picking up a book by someone I'd never heard of was a little rare.  Of course, the movie helped, but still.

I loved this book all the way through.  Judd Foxman, his older sister Wendy, older brother Paul and younger brother Philip all come together for the first time in a long while to mourn their father who had just passed, all under the watchful eye of relationship author and over sexed mother.  Each of the siblings have their own issues, significant others, children and so on, and I found the characters to be rich and even while some are horrible people, they are still entertaining.  Great story.

My 25th book of 2014 was a quick read, as podcaster, author and speaker (and of course, Disneyphile) Lou Mongello released "102 Ways to Save Money For and At Walt Disney World", and being a Disney magic planner, I had to read it.  I actually read most of it while eating a solo lunch at the Ghengis Grill (the book was fun, the meal was meh), and for someone who has been involved in Disneyana for some time now, most of it was reminders.  For the newbies, its a lot of great information--and even has a bonus section of "40 Free Things To Enjoy, Eat, Do & Collect" which is fun and full of ideas.

Alrighty... tomorrow, just a few more to go.... PLUS, my top ten favorite books read in 2014...

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

the 2014 book report part one

Way back in the day, I did a Top 100 of everything of the previous year... I decided to drop that idea with 2011 being the final year of that list.  Last year, to review 2013, I kinda just did a Top 10 of things like movies, books and such, and that worked as well.

This year, as I evolve the way I want to remember the previous year (because a blog isn't just for others, it's also so I can remember, because I can't remember much of anything anymore... who am I?), I decided to do something a little different.. my goal was to read 35 books this year, nearly everything done on audiobook format--and yes, I contend that it's "reading", because when I do have a paper book in my hand, I tend to scan or read too fast, and sometimes skip ahead.  I knew the fate of George Weasley three chapters before I even got there because I looked ahead... sad, I know, but some things are too unimportant to change.

When I have an audiobook, however, I listen intently, I can't skip ahead--well, I could, but it would be really complicated, and a crapshoot as I would just scroll ahead in time and hope that something important popped up when I stopped.

I keep a list of movies watched for the first time (that's a post coming soon) and books read, and I managed to get through 35 books this year, plus three that I started and never came back to.

I had to teach myself that it's okay to NOT finish a book... and that was a hard lesson, because naturally, if I start it, I want to complete it, no matter how terrible it was.   Having said that, out of the three I didn't finish, I only found one to be something I likely won't go back to--that is "One More Thing: Stories & Other Stories" by BJ Novak

You might know Novak from "The Office", or as one of the "Inglorious Basterds" or perhaps as one of the Sherman Brothers in "Saving Mr. Banks" from 2013... the book is a collection of... well, short stories written by Novak.  Stories that go nowhere.  Stories that I just could not get into.  Stories that I cared nothing about... so I stopped it and went to something else.

The other two are books that I will go back too, both are well over 15 hours, so the longer I wait, I may have to re-start them--"Marvel Comics: The Untold Story" (more boring than I thought it would be) and "Jim Henson", the biography that is really thorough.  Great, but thorough.  So I'll come back to them hopefully this year.

First book of the year... I started to reread "Harry Potter & the Sorcerers Stone", intending on reading the entire series, but somehow got derailed within the first chapter of the next book.   Already in 2015, I've started "Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets" and have put it down to grab another new book.  Anyway, I love the Harry Potter books and will eventually get to all of them.

Next book was "My Story" by Elizabeth Smart.  She was the chick who was kidnapped out of her home in 2002 by a deranged psychopath named Brian Mitchell and his equally insane Wanda Barzee.  It gives a first hand chronicle of her ordeal in capture, her psychological and emotional response to being held captive and her eventual discovery, rescue and recovery--even though you know she turns out okay, her rescue is still nail biting and tense.  Really well written, and the audiobook is read by Smart herself, with a great delivery.

Wanting to get to a something a little more lighthearted, naturally I picked up Marcus Luttrell's "Lone Survivor".  Holy crap this book is brutal.  What Lutrell goes through in this ordeal is insane... stuck in a canyon wall crevasse for over 8 hours, barely moving, with his gun aimed, then crawling down and out, then crawling miles and miles and miles to get to what might be considered "safety".  The movie, starring Mark Wahlberg, was also very good, but doesn't come close to what Lutrell dealt with.  And with the emergence of "American Sniper", the story of the late Chris Kyle, coming out and having its validity called into question, it's comforting to know there is very little about Lutrell's book that has been disproven or refuted.

"Live from New York" was next, via audio, but unfortunately it was an abridged version.  I picked up the incomplete version against my better judgment and have decided I'll never do unabridged again on anything.  What's more, there is a newer, updated version of the book out now!

One of my favorite books of all time, "It" by Stephen King, was next on the list.  On audio, it tops out at about 42 hours or so, and this being the fourth reread lifetime, it was just as thrilling as I remember it.  Creepy, intricate, amazing. 

Rush Limbaugh, one of my favorite people, has written a series of books for children and young teens starring "Rush Revere", and this first one was called "Rush Revere & the Brave Pilgrims", the story of the founding and settling of America.  These books are known for their fun storytelling (including a talking horse named Liberty) and featuring bits of history that we have never heard due to his extensive historical research.  Loved this book.

I'm a fan of true crime fiction, especially when it comes to Dateline NBC and the Investigative Discovery channel, so it was fun to finally read the Truman Capote classic "In Cold Blood".  Written in the 60s, it takes a bit to adjust to it's style of investigation (as in, no DNA, no computers, etc), but its a serious, well written story of two brothers who massacred a family in Kansas.  Thankfully, it's a bajillionty times better than "Breakfast at Tiffany's", also by Capote, which I could barely get through.

Another Stephen King book, "The Long Walk", was on deck.  This was written under his famous pseudonym "Richard Bachman", and known as one of his first novels ever published.  The futuristic story of how teenage boys, once they reach a certain age, are forced to enter a walking style race... "race" is loosely defined, as essentially they have to walk on a marked highway, and the last one walking survives.  Move to slow, or stop and rest, and they kill you.  Good times had by all.  Very 70s sounding.

(this book would come back to haunt me on December 30th of 2014... see part three of the 2014 Book Report coming soon)

The 9th book of the year was "From Dreamer to Dreamfinder", written by the famous Dream Maker himself.  He's a legend at Epcot in Walt Disney World, in case all of this sounds vaguely familiar to Disney fans... or foreign to those who don't frequent the parks much.  He was the guy who walked around with Figment, greeted guests, granted wishes and so on.  He was a much loved character and figure, and Figment was a much loved Epcot icon.  I thought this book would have much more to do with Disney World, but his three or four years spent at Epcot was only a fraction of the book.  While his life is interesting enough, the book lost my attention at parts.

Book 10... it's chick lit.  Alice Clayton's "Unidentified Redhead".  Don't know how I got it, it might have been free on Audible, and the first few chapters were fun enough to pull me in.  Dig this--I don't mind a romantic comedy, which this seemed to be in book form... aging Hollywood star meets younger co-star, sparks fly, yada yada.  But about a 1/3 into the book, they started having themselves some relations.  Okay, I can deal with that.  The Lovely Steph Leann has been reading romance novels most of her life, so you know, whatevs.  But then a few pages later, the couple does it again.  and again.  And again and again and again.  I finished the book, because I just don't like to not finish a book, but yeesh.  There are two more in the trilogy, but I doubt I'll get to them anytime soon.

One of the few negatives about Audible is that when you grab a book such as "Unidentified Redhead", suddenly, Audible assumes you are now diving into the Chick Lit genre, so your "Based On This Purchase, We Recommend..." section is now filled with books you'll never read with covers that are too racy for daytime and titles that are filled with innuendos that you don't like.

Same goes for Netflix... as a co-host of "The Deucecast Movie Show", we sometimes watch crap movies... so my viewing of "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" has destroyed my "Since You Watched..." credibility.

Okay, we'll stop here and pick up tomrorow.... more of the 2014 book report to come, including a stretch of books that get better and better and my favorite book of the year already...