Saturday, December 24, 2011

Social Distortion, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes

I saw Social Distortion in concert last November, 2010. They played most of this new album--and I liked what I heard immediately--but the album wasn't released until the following March. I downloaded two of the songs then, but never got around to getting the complete collection until now. I'm sorry I waited so long. Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes is a great album.

It kicks off with the short, charging instrumental "Road Zombie," then the catchy "California (Hustle and Flow), "Gimme the Sweet and Lowdown," and "Diamond in the Rough" follow. The hit "Machine Gun Blues" is next; that's five killers to start the album. Usually albums begin to peter out at this point, the further you get into it. Not so here. In fact, two of my favorite cuts are the last two songs, "Can't Take it With You," and "Still Alive."

I seriously love this album (if you couldn't tell by now). I can't stop playing it; it ends and I start at the beginning again. Thanks, Social D!

Here they are performing "Machine Gun Blues" on Conan:

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Sudden Flash Youth: 65 Short-Short Stories

I'm proud to have my short story "The Stoop" included in the fine new YA anthology, Sudden Flash Youth: 65 Short-Short Stories. Edited by Christine Perkins-Hazuka, Tom Hazuka, and Mark Budman and published by Persea Books, the book contains 65 stories of no more than 1,000 words. Among the contributors are Steve Almond, Dave Eggers, and Alice Walker. Visit Persea's website for more info.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Domestic Violets, reviewed

I loved this novel for many reasons. Written in first person, the writing is very engaging--and very funny. The lead character and narrator is Tom Violet. He brings you into all the different parts of his world with honesty and humor: trouble in the bedroom with the wife; possibility of more layoffs at work and a horrible co-worker; living with the legend that is his father, renowned novelist Curtis Violet. Author Matthew Norman does a great job of weaving all the parts together, seamlessly, as Tom moves from one life problem to the next. I hadn't realized there would be so much time devoted to the work side of Tom's life, but Norman nails the office dynamics as well as some of the recent books that come to mind (Slab Rat; And Then We Came to the End; Personal Days). The supporting cast, especially the ones closest to Tom in his life--his father, his wife, and his young co-worker Katie, whom he has a crush on--are strong characters and really pop off the page. This is because the writing is so strong, the dialogue sharp, and the characters believable. Tom's relationship with his father is explored well, and shows how it affects the way Tom lives (or doesn't live) his own life. Not to mention the novel that Tom wrote that he's afraid to show anyone because of the inevitable comparison to his father's writing. The problems Tom has with his wife also ring true, their arguments and disagreements realistic and not just skewed to the narrator's perspective. Domestic Violets is an impressive debut novel from a skilled author. Can't wait for the next one!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mostly Redneck, reviewed

Rusty Barnes makes it look easy. In this collection of eighteen short stories, Barnes is off and running practically from the very first sentence, launching the reader headlong into his characters' lives, conflicts, romances, and dilemmas. One of my favorites, "When Sylvester Dances," about a WWII veteran on his deathbed, begins like this:

Sylvester thinks it's 1942, and he wants to go see Glenn Miller at the Tropicana. Sylvester's heard the news Glenn has enlisted, and wants to catch him one more time. He watches from his hospital bed at the woman he ought to recognize as his granddaughter prepares for battle, applies lipstick, a broad stroke of purple, having already dressed herself in his old Navy blues to go out to a disco party.

This is a poignant story—sad, yet happy too, as the confused Sylvester's life plays out before his eyes (and the reader's). We get his history, we feel his confusion, we know he's a good man, and we also know how the story will end. But Barnes does it masterfully, and the end shows the author's heart coming through in the writing. And all of this in just four pages!

Barnes accomplishes a lot in a little space. The stories in Mostly Redneck range in length from four to thirteen pages. Other standouts include "O Saddam!" in which the dictator hides from US troops in plain sight, as a nut salesman in Boston, and the woman who falls in love with him; "Two of a Kind," in which two damaged people find each other; and "Rick's Song," which has the lead character, Jimmy, taking a job at a Chinese restaurant after a life-changing car accident. His boss Rick, a jerk on the surface, is actually an intriguing character that adds another level of depth to the story. The characters are so well drawn that they (Jimmy, Rick, and Rick's daughter Song) show up again in the story "Song & Jimmy: Four Scenes."

If you're looking for short fiction, put Mostly Redneck on your list.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

The Funny Man, reviewed

John Warner's debut novel begins with the title character (only ever known as the Funny Man) on trial for manslaughter. This is a celebrity trail, the trial of the year, maybe even the decade! Did this famous comedian who used to do that funny thing with his hand really shoot that guy dead in that alley? Why? And was he ever that funny, anyway?

Seamlessly moving back and forth between first person and third person narration, Warner does a good job of spoofing celebrity, and all its pitfalls, obsessiveness, loneliness, and general accepted eccentricities. We love 'em until we hate 'em. But how does the celebrity feel about it all? How does he rationalize his actions? Won't someone see his side of things? Is there a way out? Surely there is a way out.

People are disgusted by the funny man's actions—not just the manslaughter charge, but his slow public meltdown (sound familiar?). He knows he can't get a fair trial, since his lawyer's research has shown potential jurists see him as "untalented, successful, and a bad husband and father." Being successful is not a good thing (in the public's view) when coupled with "untalented." So his lawyer's initial defense is to put the funny man's life in context, elicit empathy from the jury (if not sympathy), put them in his shoes so they know why he did what he did. Tell them the whole story of his life, the how and why he got to this low point. Intimate that they would do the same thing under the same circumstances. And that's exactly what the author does—puts the reader into the funny man's shoes, cutting back and forth between the current trial and the past, showing how the comedian became so famous after struggling with his act in small clubs. His marriage, his fatherhood, his over-the-top lifestyle after fame and fortune were attained. Then the inevitable crash and burn. And manslaughter.

But the funny man may yet have an ace up his sleeve. Maybe there IS a way out, after all. Warner's writing is funny and sharp, and he keeps you turning the pages to see how it all turns out. The lead character is not always a sympathetic one, but you're along for the ride, through the good and bad, high points and low points until you reach the satisfying (for me) conclusion.

4 Stars

Thursday, October 06, 2011

R.I.P. Steve Jobs

Michelle and I are saddened to learn of the passing of Steve Jobs. Steve was among the greatest of American innovators - brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world, and talented enough to do it.

By building one of the planet's most successful companies from his garage, he exemplified the spirit of American ingenuity. By making computers personal and putting the internet in our pockets, he made the information revolution not only accessible, but intuitive and fun. And by turning his talents to storytelling, he has brought joy to millions of children and grownups alike. Steve was fond of saying that he lived every day like it was his last. Because he did, he transformed our lives, redefined entire industries, and achieved one of the rarest feats in human history: he changed the way each of us sees the world.

The world has lost a visionary. And there may be no greater tribute to Steve's success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented. Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to Steve's wife Laurene, his family, and all those who loved him.

—President Obama

Friday, September 02, 2011

"nineleven" free short story

Just wanted to let you know my 9/11 short story is now available for the Kindle or Kindle app on Amazon for FREE. I don't know how long this will last, so grab it while you can. nineleven.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Drama, An Actor's Education

I had the good luck of seeing John Lithgow give a reading from his memoir, Drama: An Actor's Education, at Book Expo 2011. Lithgow is a likable, popular performer, and the event was packed. He gave a great reading that I really enjoyed. I didn't stick around afterward to get a signed copy of the book (and regretted it later). When it showed up on my Amazon Vine list (Amazon's invitation-only review program) I grabbed it right away. I'm glad I did.

Lithgow's writing is clean, revealing, honest, and engaging. The bulk of this book covers his early years as a student of theater (his father was a theater director). It's a wonder Lithgow decided to become an actor after witnessing firsthand the hardships his father had to endure--the constant uprooting, insecurity, money concerns--but really, he had no other choice; this was the life he was born into. Lithgow spends a lot of time chronicling these early days of his childhood, the plays that he helped out on (mostly as a stagehand, then slowly but surely easing in as an actor), and his relationship with his father, Arthur. Lithgow's father was an eccentric character, and the (literal) cast of characters that made up Arthur's repertory theater gave me a peek into a world I'd never known. At times Litgow's early life reads like a John Irving novel, which is fitting since Irving actually wrote a blurb for the book.

The second half of the book deals with Lithgow striking out on his own, away from the warm embrace of his father's theater group (and the sure work John would've gotten there). Instead he and his first wife head to New York, and the competitive Broadway and commercial scene that awaits them. Here, despite his experience, it is hard to find work, and the young couple struggle to make ends meet. Of course the reader knows it all works out in the end, but it is fascinating to see all the steps along the way, as told to us by Lithgow's funny, friendly voice.

Drama: An Actor's Education covers up to 1980, when Lithgow successfully made the transition from Broadway stage actor to Hollywood TV and film star. There is just a quick summation of what came after, which opens the door to (hopefully) a second memoir. I look forward to reading it!

4 Stars

Friday, July 22, 2011

Flip Flop Fly Ball

What a fun book!

Author Craig Robinson combines his love for baseball with his artistic and writing skills to produce one fun, eminently readable hardcover book. An Englishman, Robinson came to baseball later in life, but when he did, he fell whole-heartedly in love with the game. He had a lot of catching up to do, but this also gave him the ability to see baseball from a slightly different, skewed angle than Americans.

Not only is the book illustrated with original works of art, like the painting "SkyDome" which has a big, white roof hovering above, cloud-like, or the abstract piece called "Pirates Fan," which resembles a man nodding off in his chair, but it also includes some wacky charts and graphs. Like the one that shows the distance of all the pitches thrown during the 2006 MLB season, if you added them all up (8,318.5 miles). Or, one of my favorites, the graph that shows ballpark elevations. Coors Field is WAY up there!

Robinson's sense of humor comes through not only in his charts (and their captions), but also in his text. Some of the essays are personal, and describe how he came to love the game of baseball. Some talk about the cross-country trip he took to see the different ballparks. But then he also throws in some quirky ones, like the imagined interview with the dove that met his end from a Randy Johnson fastball.

This really is a fun book. My only complaint is that it is too short! I wanted more, which is always a good way to leave a reader.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Misery Bay, reviewed

It's been a while since the last Alex McKnight novel, and it was worth the wait. Author Steve Hamilton (recent Edgar Award winner) does a good job of slipping back into the familiar characters and settings of the series, while still keeping it fresh. He feeds you just enough information from past books to refresh your memory, while also helping out first-time readers of the series. (So, you don't need to have read earlier novels to enjoy this one.) Some of the usual, secondary characters of past books just appear in minor roles here (like Leon, McKnight's ex PI partner), but their use is natural and not forced; their appearance fits and enhances the plot line.

And what is the plot? It starts with the suicide of a college student. Chief of Police Roy Maven, McKnight's occasional nemesis, asks McKnight to look into the suicide, who was the son of Maven's ex-partner, see if there is anything more to it. Of course, there is. When more suicides happen—along with the murders of the suicides' fathers (all ex or current cops)—Maven and McKnight begin to believe that Maven himself may be in danger, not to mention Maven's daughter. A race against time to find the killer begins.

In between some of the chapters are neat, one page movie directions, spoken by an unknown director that really gives the book a scary, intriguing mood. It's a good concept that works, and adds to the overall mystery and tension. As usual, the setting is Michigan's upper peninsula (UP), which, especially in winter, gives the story a bleak, desolate feel. Hamilton's writing is excellent, and moves along at a good, quick pace, no wasted words wasted here. A new, deeper relationship has developed between McKnight and Maven, and it will be interesting to see how Hamilton handles this in future novels.

Misery Bay is an excellent, fast-paced mystery. I wouldn't be surprised if another Edgar is in Hamilton's future.

4 Stars

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Wahoo Rhapsody, reviewed

In what will surely become a series, author Shaun Morey has written a fun first novel in Wahoo Rhapsody, full of many memorable characters, outrageous situations, and funny dialogue. The setting is Cabo San Lucas, off the coast of Mexico. The main character is the eccentric Atticus Fish, a filthy-rich American expatriate who owns a fishing boat left in the capable hands of old friend Captain Winston (who once saved Atticus's life). Unfortunately, the first mate (Weevil) decides he wants to secretly run marijuana for a Mexican drug lord. As if that's not bad enough, he then decides to rip off said drug dealer. Having a bumbling grad student on the crew isn't helping matters for Weevil, either. There are too many characters and plot lines to list here, but the chapters are short, the story barrels along at a fast pace, all the plots are entwined, and everything comes together for the big finale.

Other reviewers have compared Morey to Carl Hiaasen, and I agree, but fans of Tim Dorsey, Christopher Moore, Bill Fitzhugh should also give this novel a look. AmazonEncore (the program that identifies exceptional yet overlooked books and works with the authors to re-introduce their books to readers) has made a wise decision publishing this novel, as it looks like they can have a successful series on their hands. I'm definitely looking forward to the next one, and Morey has created a great pool of characters to draw from as needed.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Faith, reviewed

Faith, the new novel by Jennifer Haigh, deals with the molestation charge against a Boston priest, and how it affects him and his family. In the hands of a less-skilled author than Haigh, a "ripped from the headlines" novel like this can easily sink into cliches and rely on stereotypes. But the author does a great job of fleshing out the characters, the major ones and the minor ones, feeding the reader information as needed, building their characters and motivations through actions and well-written dialogue.

Unlike the film Doubt, this isn't necessarily a did-he-or-didn't-he story. It focuses on the interplay and history of characters more. Regardless of innocence or guilt, the story focuses on the faith people have in their family, and themselves (and their religion, of course). Not everything is always as it seems, Haigh keeps you guessing, and even has a few surprises along the way.

My only complaint is the author's choice of using the priest's sister Sheila as the narrator of the story. In the beginning it kept me, the reader, at a distance. Like I was hearing the story secondhand. I got used to it by the second half of the book, and I understand why she chose to do this. It was to make it more personal—someone from the family was telling the priest's story. So maybe I was okay with the author using this device to tell the story after all; I just didn't find the narrator's voice particularly compelling, or her character very interesting. In fact, out of all the well-drawn characters, hers was the least developed.

I had never read anything by Haigh before, but she is an excellent writer, and I will have to pick up her earlier novels.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bottom of the 33rd, reviewed

I just read a great baseball book. Check out my review over at At Home Plate.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Cool baseball site

If you're a baseball fan, you'll want to check out At Home Plate. They've got articles, book reviews, and a blog. You can read a special review of the Jeter biography I did for them here.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

2030, by Albert Brooks

I'm a fan of filmmaker Albert Brooks (his movie Lost in America is still one of my all-time favorite comedies). He's a writer, director, actor, and has done voice work for The Simpsons. So when I saw that he had written a novel--and I had the opportunity to get an advance reading copy from the Amazon Vine program--I jumped on it.

2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America takes a look at the problems America is facing now, and moves them forward nineteen years. Of course, most things are worse in the not-too-distant future. The country is deeper in debt, young people are more disillusioned, and a 9.0 earthquake has leveled L.A., for which America has to borrow money from China to rebuild. Even the seemingly good stuff--like the long awaited cure for cancer--has bad elements (old people are now living much longer, and draining the health care system).

From his filmmaking, I expected this novel to be a comedy. It's not, though Brooks's trademark humor is evident throughout, especially in some of the dialogue which, not surprisingly for a scriptwriter, is sharp and realistic.

Brooks does an excellent job of weaving the disparate story lines of his various main characters together. There is eighty year-old Brad Miller who loses everything in the earthquake; twenty year-old Kathy Bernard who is saddled with her father's exorbitant medical bills; and U.S. President Bernstein, who is frantically trying to plug all the holes that are appearing in the dam that is America--not to mention his personal life, and his looming re-election campaign.

Brooks keeps the action moving, and the chapters short. Each individual story line pushes the whole plot forward, but not predictably, so even though the reader has an idea of where it might be heading, Brooks still keeps you guessing, and takes some chances so as not to make the whole story feel pat.

This is a strong first novel by Albert Brooks; I hope there will be many more!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Captain, by Ian O'Connor

This advanced reader copy (ARC) was provided to me by the publisher through the Amazon Vine program, of which I am a member.


I'm a Yankee fan, and Derek Jeter is my favorite player. So maybe I was predisposed to like this book. On the other hand, if author Ian O'Connor didn't get his facts straight, I'd know, and call him on it. But O'Connor did an excellent job of research, and adding in quotes and stats and examples without ever getting wordy or boring or redundant. He gives us a peek behind the curtain of Jeter's life in chronological order and keeps it interesting throughout. This despite the fact that Jeter has not exactly led a controversial life.

We're used to the scandalous biography, the tell-all, the skeletons dragged out of the closet. This book doesn't have that. Because there are no skeletons in Jeter's closet. This is a book about one person's lifelong work to achieve a dream: to play shortstop for the New York Yankees. Okay, so maybe a lot of people have that dream. The difference is Jeter actually accomplished it--and in a big way. This is his story.

There are thirteen chapters, an introduction, and an epilogue. O'Connor covers all the bases (pardon the pun), and is such a good writer that the story flows along nicely, without getting bogged down with boring details, or unnecessary tangents. He even makes the second chapter, "The Draft," exciting (even though we already know the outcome), as he chronicles how Jeter lasted until the sixth pick of the 1992 draft, when the Yanks were finally able to nab him. Only once did O'Connor get a little off-track; that's when he spent too long on the Jeffrey Maier incident. Well, not such much the incident, as the fame and media tour Maier and his family went on afterward, and what led him to getting a ticket to the game to begin with (Maier was the 12 year-old fan who leaned over the wall and caught Jeter's homerun ball during the '96 ALCS).

The subtitle of this book is "The Journey of Derek Jeter," and that's exactly what it is. From his boyhood dream of playing for the Yankees, to the reality of leading the team to five championships, the most recent of which (2009) as the team's captain.

But this book isn't just about Jeter's journey--it's also about the journey of Jeter's Yankees, from his first season as a full-time player (1996), through the dynasty years, to his relationship with other Yankees (Joe Torre, Alex Rodriguez), to the new ballpark and World Series win in 2009, and on up to and including the 2010 season, and his contract negotiation afterward.

THE CAPTAIN is an inspirational book about hard work, family, and believing in yourself.

Friday, April 08, 2011

The Garner Files

Here's a book I'm really looking forward to reading. One of my all-time favorite actors, James Garner, best known as the star of the classic TV P.I. show The Rockford Files, has written a memoir. Simon & Schuster will publish THE GARNER FILES on November 8, 2011.

Here's a cool scene from The Rockford Files. Garner did a lot of his own stunt driving:

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) key dates

These are the key dates for the upcoming rounds of ABNA. There are two categories, General Fiction and YA. So when they say the next round is 100 Semifinalists, they mean 50 in General and 50 in YA. The finalists will be 3 General, 3 YA, Currently, Publisher's Weekly is reviewing the full manuscripts of the semifinalists (of which my novel is one). My excerpt can be read here.

April 26, 2011
Top 100 (Semifinalists) announced at
Penguin Editors reading Semi-Finalists' manuscripts to pick the 6 Finalists

Amazon customers continue to download, rate, and review Excerpts, and read Publishers Weekly reviews of Semi-Finalists' full Manuscripts

May 24, 2011
6 Finalists announced
Amazon customers vote to pick the Winners

June 13, 2011
Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Winners announced

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

ABNA-I made the Quarterfinals!

Amazon announced the quarter-finalists in their fourth annual Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) contest, and I am on the list! From the original batch of 5,000 entries, it was first narrowed down to 1,000 (this was the pitch/query stage), and now, after the excerpt stage, there are just 250 novels left standing. The results of the next round will be announced on April 26th, which will then narrow the field down to 50. The eventual winner gets their book published by Penguin and a $15K advance.

Congrats to all the authors who are moving forward!

My excerpt can be read here.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

I Love You More Than You Know

I'm a Jonathan Ames fan. I love his novels and his essays. The guy just flat-out cracks me up. I haven't read him in a while, so I really enjoyed this collection (Black Cat, Grove/Atlantic 2006). It was somehow comforting to know he is still obsessed with certain things about himself--his itchy ass, his baldness, his bathroom problems, his "cataloging of his ruination" as he moves into middle age. His self-deprecating humor is blunt, bawdy, outrageous, and hilarious. It appeals to my 12 year-old boy sense of humor. But mixed in with these funny essays are a few downright touching ones, like "Snowfall" which is about the death of a friend who Ames had lost touch with, and the two essays that discuss his close relationship with his great-aunt Doris. All in all a good, quick, engaging, satisfying read.

Into the Sunset entered in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. Again.

Amazon is holding their fourth annual Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) contest. The winners of the contest get published by Penguin USA and a $15,000 contract. There are two categories, general fiction and young adult.

I entered Into the Sunset (general fiction) last year, and it made it through the first round, but was eliminated in the second round (despite very favorable reviews from the two reviewers assigned my excerpts. They wrote how much they liked the book, and how they laughed out loud. Which is good, because the novel is a comedy).

Anyway, Sunset has made it through the first round again this year, so I'm back to where I was last time. I'll find out the results of Round Two on March 22.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Miracles, Inc. by T.J. Forrester

Vernon Oliver was the hottest, rocking-est, money-making televangelist going, the "biker preacher," riding onto the stage on his Harley, then grabbing his audience by their souls and giving them what they wanted—hope. Of course it was all a sham, the healings staged, but the people were getting what they wanted, they got a show—a rock show, really. They willingly handed over their money. Of course this whole carnival known as Miracles, Inc. eventually came crashing back down to earth.

The novel begins with the narrator, Vernon Oliver, telling his story from his cell on death row, the story of how and why he got there. The writing and voice of Vernon grabs you right from the get-go and doesn't let go. The structure of the novel cuts back and forth between his life as a rich and famous faith healer and his solitary jail cell, where he is working on his autobiography, as he marks down the time to his execution. The contrast between the two keeps the story and the tension moving forward. How did Vernon become the face of Miracles, Inc? How did he end up on death row? Is he really guilty? Will he really be put to death at the end?

A great cast of characters is along for the ride: His girlfriend Rickie; Miriam, the woman who runs Miracle, Inc.; Alton, the ex-preacher who is teaching Vernon everything he knows; and the cast of actors who are "healed" by Vernon on stage.

Miracles, Inc. (Simon & Schuster, 2011) is definitely a "page turner," the back and forth of the plot, along with Forrester's deft, clean, tight, well-edited, and engaging writing keeps your nose in the book until you find how it all turns out. This is one hot book, one that would translate into a film very well. Check it out!

Sunday, February 06, 2011

A Painted House, reviewed

I enjoyed A Painted House (2001), Grisham's first departure from his normal legal thrillers. He does a good job of bringing the reader into the world of a Southern (Arkansas) cotton farm during picking season, circa 1952, as seen through the eyes of the seven year-old narrator, Luke. The "hill people" and a team of migrant Mexican workers arrive and live at the farm for two months to pick the cotton. The many characters and different plot lines come together believably and naturally, and little Luke is exposed to human drama like he's never experienced before. At times the novel seemed a little slow (the book could have benefited from some editing), but as a reader you eventually settle in and experience another world, one that doesn't exist anymore. I also loved the baseball references, as Luke was a big fan of Stan Musial and the St. Louis Cardinals. My only real complaint is that the voice of the narrator sounded too adult.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ice on the Hudson River

We've had records amounts of snow this January in New York. Not only that, but it's been consistently below freezing, and the snow isn't melting. So when another storm comes along, it just dumps more snow on top of the old snow. When it stays this cold for this long, the Hudson River freezes. So I strapped on my new snowshoes today, and went down to the river to take some photos. (Click on the photo to enlarge.)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Catcher, Caught reviewed

Sixteen year-old narrator Daniel Landon has leukemia, and may only have a year to live—even if he does have the chemotherapy treatment his doctors suggest. But his hippie parents decide to give him alternative herbal treatment instead, and pull him out of school (too many germs being around other kids). Shouldn't he have a say in his own life, and what treatment he receives? Isn't it important, too, to be around his school friends and have a social life as his life winds down? Will his parents ever acknowledge his opinions? Even with the weight and worry of his own mortality on his mind, author Sarah Collins Honenberger does a good job of reminding the reader that young Daniel can still have plain old teenage worries. Like, does that new girl (Meredith) in the neighborhood actually like him? And what Halloween party should he attend, his best friend's or the rich kid's, who may have eyes for the same girl Daniel does.

Feeling more and more isolated—both because of his illness and his removal from school—Daniel turns to the voice of The Catcher in the Rye's Holden Caulfield for guidance. Holden, of course, is the unhappy, cynical sixteen year-old kicked out of his prep school, and trying to find himself in New York City before returning home to face the music. But Holden has his whole life to figure things out—Daniel has only a year. Honenberger's teenage protagonist never allows himself to become cynical like Caufield, even though he has every reason to. Daniel instead seeks to gain control over his life (or death), and wants the responsibility—whatever the result. He loves his parents, but what if they are making the wrong decision?

Written in the first person (as is Salinger's book), author Honenberger does a good job getting into the head of her lead character. Sometimes his music and film references may seem too old fashioned for him, and I wish an important, emotional phone call between Daniel and Meredith toward the end of the book (right before he sets out for New York City) had been shown, and not just mentioned in passing. But those are just nit picks, really. In the acknowledgments, Honenberger is thankful for the chance to honor J. D. Salinger and Holden Caulfield. And what better way to honor them than by inspiring a new generation to read The Catcher in the Rye, and an older generation to rediscover the classic?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Motel Life, by Willy Vlautin

If you're looking for a cool, different book to read, check out Willy Vlautin's The Motel Life. I stumbled upon this book in Border's fire sale budget bin a few days after Christmas. I read and liked the first two pages, so I took a chance. Only $2.99! Well, I have to say I loved this book.

I hate reviews that give the plot away, so I'll keep it simple. Two brothers in Reno, Nevada deal with the bad luck that life keeps throwing their way. The writing is sharp and clean, and I cared about the characters. The story pulled me right in and I just wanted to keep reading. So I did.

Friday, January 07, 2011


I cant stop watching this: