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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

James Garfield Dies In The End

In Books on February 11, 2013 at 10:11 am

This past week I was perusing my Kindle looking for a decent book to read and came across Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President. I thought right from the get go, this sounded like a damn good story and boy was I not disappointed.

Destiny of the Republic, written by Candace Miller, tells the story of James Garfield the 20th President of the United States who was extremely reluctant to become President, so reluctant in fact that while he was being nominated for the Republican party he did not vote for himself and tried to get others to vote against him. Sweet Jesus this guy was modest. The novel connects the life and work of Alexander Graham Bell, Joseph Lister, the guy who pioneered antiseptics and created LISTERINE SWEET JESUS, and Charles J. Guiteau the psychotic assassin that would fire the bullet taking the life of President Garfield. All of these individuals come together in this gripping novel showing just how little we knew back then.

Miller’s writing is extremely well researched but not historically boring. Much like Erik Larson’s Thunderstruck or The Devil in the White City, Miller paints an amazing narrative linking the lives of the four aforementioned men. Describing the conviction that Bell had to his cause as well as describing just how well Garfield experienced his wound and his eventual death. It is very well written keeping me tuned in page after page until the very tragic ending.

This brings me to another point, I am an idiot. Knowing nothing of Garfield’s presidency, I thought he would get shot and get better with the help of modern medicine. Damn you Hollywood for making me yearn for amazing endings where everything ends up in a happy conclusion! Sadly, this does not happen, as many of you who know anything about history, Garfield became the second President to be assassinated. However, this is not the most tragic part of the story because it wouldn’t be a very good story if it was. The most tragic part concerns the relationship doctors had with modern medicine and some of the extremely awful beliefs that they had regarding the healing process. Pus? That’s great! Let’s  not wrap that gash in a nice clean cloth, let’s take that dirty one off the floor and just soak it. That should do the trick. Germs? They don’t exist! I knew medicine was bad, but I did not know that it was this bad.

Miller depicts the state of medicine with a vivid cringeworthyness. It will make you queasy at some points. But one thing it won’t do, is make you want to stop reading it. It is a damn good book and you will burn through it, especially if you like historical novels.

We Are Going to Play This One By The Book. The Silver Linings Playbook, That Is!

In Books on January 20, 2013 at 5:49 pm

Before I begin, this is a review concerning the book The Silver Linings Playbook and not the amazing movie, which, hopefully, I will be fortunate enough to watch tonight.

The Silver Linings Playbook was written by Matthew Quick and details the rough recovery of Pat Peoples, what a ridiculous name, and Tiffany who are both recovering from a severe mental health breakdown for both very different reasons. Pat returns home determined to reunite with his wife while living in the basement of his parent’s house doing a series of workouts involving a dizzying amount of pushups, pullups, situps, and chest press, all of which are covered in detail, but thankfully not too much detail. Pat eventually meets Tiffany at a dinner he attends at his friend’s Ronnie’s house. Right off the bat, Tiffany strikes Pat as odd but this does not stop him from going on silent runs with her or sharing a bowl of bran cereal. While at home, Pat tries to reconnect with his Eagle’s obsessed Father, his prodigal-son brother, and his crazed football obsessed friends,  all the while trying to recover from the incident that put him in the mental health facility. Pat tries to help his mother as much as he can while also supporting Tiffany with the issues that she is recovering from, sometimes so much so, that it puts Pat’s own mental health in danger.

The Silver Linings Playbook is well written depicting, what I care to believe, an accurate portrayal of mental health and the recovery from a serious traumatic event. Pat will often use the voice of a child to describe what is occurring, something that is not typical of a 3o year old man, but something that is very typical of an individual within the mental health system. Pat tries to understand what has happened to him without revealing too much, which would only result in pain. When these moments occur, Pat reacts realistically often exploding at those around him and himself as well. Tiffany also appears to act quite realistically to her own traumatic event, resorting to ways that are less aggressive but still very detrimental to her own well-being.

The home life for Pat is also worth mentioning because it is an aspect of this book that the author appears to have some experience with, because of how real it appears. As a mental health professional, I can say that the individual’s who need treatment the most, often do not have the familial social support that they deserve and many believe is readily available. The interaction between Pat and his parent’s displays this quite well, showing moments when Pat wishes to come closer to his father only to be pushed away by an ignorant imbecile who doesn’t understand what has happened. Tiffany’s relationship with her respective family is also quite rough, often using her mental health status to hurt her. I am here to tell you that this does happen more than you think and that this section of the book should not be considered fiction.

The relationship that Pat established with his therapist may have caught many readers off-guard, due to its liberalness. I believe that man individual’s think that a psychologist should have firm boundaries and they should abide by them. That is true, for specific cases. Pat’s therapist, Cliff Patel, knows that these boundaries do not need to be enforced and, given the state of Pat’s home, Cliff knows that Pat will often need a friend more than a doctor. I know plenty of therapists who believe that the relationship Cliff established with Pat is one of great value and should be one in which the standard is set.

So, this book is worth it. It is a quick read, keeps you entertained/on the edge of your seat till the very end, and it inspired the movie. So, before you see the film, read the book!

Jack Reacher Reaches and Shrugs A LOT

In Books on December 29, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Now I know that many of you might not know this but “Jack Reacher” starring Tom Cruise and recently reviewed, was based on the book One Shot written by Lee Child and the 9th book in the Jack Reacher series. Finding this out, I decided to give the first Jack Reacher book, Killing Floor, a shot and boy was I disappointed with this story.

Killing Floor introduces Jack Reacher as he arrives in Margrave Georgia in order to check out a town frequented by Blind Blake a blues guitarist from back in the day. While eating breakfast, Reacher is arrested for a murder that he did not commit but eventually becomes involved with, utilizing his homicide investigation techniques that he learned while serving in the military as an MP. Joining forces with Finlay, a Boston detectives whose divorce and bad choices led him to Margrave, and Roscoe, a buxom local police officer who Reacher feels an intimate connection with, to uncover a conspiracy involving counterfeiting, nailing people to walls, and air conditioning boxes. Reacher uncovers the plot using his experience, intelligence, dirty clothing, and his fists.

Let me begin by saying that Reacher shrugs his way through everything. Literally, he shrugs in response to just about everything within this book. Not only is it annoying to read, but I had a to of difficulty reading about a character and relating to a character who shrugged to nearly every bit of news he received.    Finlay shrugs a lot too and I just don’t get it. Child seems to think that cops investigate homicides by hard work and shrugging when asked a question.

Some of the lines in this book are atrocious, my personal favorite being, “Shotguns and children don’t mix.” Really? That’s something that needed to be stated. The best part about that line, is that it is repeated, as if Child didn’t think the reader understood it.

Also, this book contains A LOT of stretches. I have no problem stretching reality a bit, but this book takes the cake. I’ll explain more about this a bit later in the spoiler section.

So before I get into the nitty-gritty, let me just say, don’t read this book. It isn’t that well written and the main character, I found at least, is hardly relatable.

Alright now onto the nitty gritty spoiler filled review.

As I stated before, this book contained quite a few unrealistic instances, one blaring one being how Reacher located Paul Hubble. When I read this section in which he detailed this precise calculation of how to locate this guy, after only spending a day with him, I was dumbfounded. Not only was Reacher surprisingly accurate with where Paul Hubble was but he was also able to determine what name Hubble would be using. This part was a huge stretch and seemed completely unrealistic, especially when Reacher chalked it up to experience.

Picard’s death, or lack thereof, was a bit much for me as well. I understand that this guy was huge, 300 pounds and 6’8″ or something like that, but he got shot by a Desert Eagle, a gun that Jack Reacher describes as being able to blow a gaping hole in somebody, then is shot 6 more times, and then is finally shot another time in the head before he stops moving. I understand if Child wanted Picard to come back to have some awesome climatic fight scene, which didn’t happen, but that could have happened with Kliner, the man who killed Reacher’s brother and took his girlfriend hostage. Not only would that have been a lot more fun to read, but I would have been rooting for Reacher more.

All in all, I didn’t really enjoy the book, as if you couldn’t tell that already. It was fast paced, not necessarily a bad thing in other cases but in this case it was, the character was unrelatable, the storyline contained a lot of coincidences, and it just wasn’t compelling, I had to work to finish this book. I’m going to give the second book a try, because apparently this series is amazing, but this book was not worth it.

Shorty Got Sweet and Sweet and Low and Low

In Books on December 6, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Sweet and Low. Everyone knows this as the fake pink sugar that will give you cancer, right? That packet that is uber sweet and tastes so damn fake that it’s probably bad for you. Well, that’s not the truth, it is uber sweet but it doesn’t cause cancer. How did I learn this, you might ask! I read Sweet and Low by Rich Cohen.

Sweet and Low tells the story of Ben Eisenstadt who not only invented the sugar packet, before you either used a sugar bowl or those awful sugar containers which you poured into your coffee, but also invented fake sugar. Well not really invented it, but made it profitable. Grandpa Ben, Rich Cohen is actually related to this man, albeit disinherited from the family fortune allowing him to give an objective, if somewhat narcissistic synopsis,  who makes for a very interesting story, and his son Marvin created saccharine and marketed to diabetics as well as individuals on a health craze. Rich Cohen tells this hilarious and well researched tale of the rise of Sweet and Low, and the demise of it as well, interspersing his story with information about the health craze as well as the conflict between the Food and Drug Administration and fake sugar. This story is extremely interesting because it reads like a novel and discloses the many dirty secrets of Sweet and Low, like the mob infiltration that occurred within the company. It is also a book that was way off my radar and yet I loved it. It was simply sitting there on the library shelf just waiting to be read. If you like historical novels, cough cough Erik Larson, then you will love this book. While not as dark as Devil in the White City, Sweet and Low tells a story that nearly has to be fictional but yet is true.

What I especially liked about this book was that it revealed a lot about the problems within this family, without making me feel creepy. I hate celebrity gossip and the cover of National Enquirer disgusts me, but Rich Cohen tells the story of his family without making me feel like I’m reading gossip. It also appears to be too good. Like these people can’t actually exist because their personalities and quarks are too perfect.  It was a great interesting read.

So, in conclusion, you should read Sweet and Low, you won’t be disappointed.

Dune was DOOMED!

In Books on October 17, 2012 at 11:13 am

After burning through books like it was my job! I turned to Dune because it was deemed a science fiction classic and won the first Nebula award which is only given to the best science fiction books of that year, so one would think that it was a great book. Sidenote, after googling Nebula Award, I found a picture of the actual award and it looks awful. It looks like a dead eyeless octopus. But I digress! Dune was indeed a great book! I was hooked from the get go and felt that it was a science fiction version of Game of Thrones which I would classify as more fantasy then science fiction. It had the political intrigue, the fight scenes, and the awesome landscape. The problem that I had with Dune is that the author, Frank Herbert, kept on writing them. But before I get into that, let me offer a brief synopsis.

Dune takes place in the future on planet Arrakis which is nearly completely sand and has huge worms that eat people and produces this spice known as melange which allows people to see the future and extend their life. The reader comes into this world when there is a form of upheaval and House Atreides is being moved from Caladan to Arrakis. Duke Leto Attreides is unhappy about this move and suspects a plot to destroy him and his family which includes his wife Jessica, who is from the school of Bene Gesserit which teaches individuals how to think logically and conceal their reactions and their son Paul Atreides who is the protagonist and hero of this story. He has been trained as a Mentat, which is a male version of the Bene Gesserit, and learns the ways of Dune which involve wearing a still-suit, because moisture is so valuable that even your sweat is reused and how the dead’s water is sucked right from them.

Sounds pretty sweet right? Given that this novel was published in the 60s it makes it even more awesome because Herbert truly created this fantastical world when people did not have the knowledge that we have today regarding space and such. Like I said, I loved the first book but the book is one in a series of 6 and I read the second book, Dune Messiah, and I got about 30 pages into the third book before stopping. Now I don’t usually stop reading books unless they are awful and this book series was disappointing. It was like Game of Thrones if Game of Thrones utilized the same storyline with different characters.

I’ll delve into the book a wee bit more for a more informational review, so I warn you, SPOILERS!

So, in the first book, the reader sees Paul as the protagonist and hero. Similiar to Luke Skywalker we see and individual who rises up and begins to understand the power that they hold within the universe. Awesome, I love it! The second book, all of a sudden this person is bad and hated within the universe. Wait a second Herbert, no one hates Skywalker, why after showing the reading how awesome this person is you make us hate him now. Okay, so then he kills that character off, BOO, and then in the third book the reader follows the Paul’s twins who believe that their aunt, Paul’s sister Alia, is evil. Wait a second, where is all this flip flopping coming from. Alia was awesome in the first book and now she’s evil and possessed. I know people can change but sweet Jesus don’t make us love one character and hate them a book later.

Also the first book was intriguing and included some great fight scenes the second and third book, in the beginning and least, were slow and focused on the prescient ability that some people have when they use the melange. It was confusing to read about and extremely boring. I love political intrigue but not 200 pages of backdoor dealings and double crossing. I like some action intermixed with that and the first Dune book lead me to believe that this series would include some action along with trickery, but alas it did not.

So, in conclusion, read the first Dune book but for your own sake stop after the first one. The others just involve the same plot with different characters.

A Truly Towerful Book!

In Books on September 21, 2012 at 5:16 pm

Recently I finished the 7 part, Sweet Jesus soon to be 8 part, Dark Tower  series. First published in 1982 by Stephen King, the Dark Tower series tells the story of Eddie Dean, Susannah Detta Dean, Jake Chambers, Oy, a billy-bumbler,  and Roland Deschain as they make their way to the Dark Tower, the tower that holds all of the universes together, the Tower that is responsible for Ka, destiny, and guides people  throughout their entire life. Roland encounters his Ka-tet,  a group of individuals bound together by fate, throughout various parts of this epic chronicle and teaches them to become gunslingers. In Roland’s world, guns hardly work but the guns of a gunslinger always do and they are just as powerful as the sword from the stone and are viewed as such. Roland teaches his group to be strong, fast, courageous, and thoughtful during the time he spends with them.

This 7 part series is elegantly told without getting too boring. The characters are great and the roads they take are astounding, traveling through time and cities to help each other and reach the Tower. If you like westerns, epics, medieval stories, or The Stand you’ll love this book.

Alright so in order to truly review this book, I’m going to break it down into the things I liked and disliked. *Spoiler Alert*

I enjoyed the language that Stephen King created within this book and his use of language as well. He used the word palaver constantly which means to have a conversation but is so much more of an authentic western way to say it. He also used such words as Ka and ka-tet, which I utilized before, but they are just such interesting words. And such phrases as “Say thank-ye” rather then “thank you” and “Long days and pleasant nights”, meaning have a wonderful day, were used throughout this book and added an extra layer of integrity to this story, like he actually encountered the characters himself.

The characters seemed true to form, like they did actually exist. I could see Eddie Dean saying some of the snide comments that he sprinkled his conversations with. And Roland, GAH, Roland just seemed like every western character I ever wanted to meet. He knew nearly everything and when he didn’t know something he wasn’t afraid to say it, he just said he didn’t understand it.

I loved the post apocalyptic setting that the majority of the books took place in, and I may be speaking for everyone when I say this, but I think you will too. The reader doesn’t find out whether Roland’s world is the future but the story takes place after the fall of a regime and the use of atomic weapons, I can tell you that much. I just loved reading about what used to be and the machines and buildings that were falling apart.

I did not like the sixth book, Song of Susannah, at all. I didn’t like the story line, I didn’t like the verses of the song of Susannah that were printed at the end of each chapter. I most especially, did not like how meta it was. Stephen King wrote about himself interacting with the characters. He included himself in the book and it just seemed out-of-place and somewhat narcissistic because every time after that someone would mention a book he wrote and how good it was.  It seemed a bit out-of-place. He also included other characters within this book and that too seemed a bit much. Like cameos that didn’t really need to be there.

After awhile, you get used to the parts of the paragraphs you can skip in order to get to the actual point of the paragraph. Like I said, this collection consists, currently, of 7 books, and a lot of them are filled with useless description and redundancies. I didn’t need to know the entire train of thought for Eddie Dean and how he figured out how to beat Blaine the Mono, I just needed to know what he used to do so. My friend JJ has a hatred for the Harry Potter series because he believes that J.K. Rowling took a simple story and stretched out to a ridiculous amount of books all for profit. Whether or not this is true, the world may never know BUT I think King suffers a bit from Rowling-ism within this series. He adds a lot of ideas, thoughts, conversations, that just don’t need to be in there. They didn’t need to interact with King but for some reason, King thought it was great to have his characters judge him for how much he used to drink. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy these books but it is to say that once you get into it, you’ll know the parts to skip when you see em.

That being said, if you like King and figure yourself an aficionado, then give these books a try. They are lengthy but he makes them fast paced enough so you don’t find yourself getting bored and, well, if you do find yourself getting bored, then just move one.