Look Me in The Eye: My Life with Aspberger’s by John Elder Robison(4 out of 5)

•February 19, 2017 • Leave a Comment

One of my friends from a galaxy far, far away went on and on about this book. It’s not a new title, but since the follow-up just came out, I felt I should read one before the other. I am very glad I did! Autism and all spectrum disorders are not new to the current world. But back when John Elder Robison was growing up, it wasn’t recognized as what it is today. Robison- and others- grew up being called names, branded as stupid, and even Robison called himself “defective” growing up. This is his story of how he made it through the brambles of abuse and triumphed. It wasn’t until many, many years later that a friend gave him the keys to discovery. Robison knew he was different, and there was some reason that computers, music, electronics, and pyrotechnics so captured him, while social situations made him uncomfortable, many times making him blurt out unacceptable responses. He used his gifts to get his biggest gig yet, as the guy who made Ace Frehley’s guitars fire up and perform amazing pyrotechnics while he was in KISS. His family situation left much to be desired- his mother was mentally ill, his father an abusive alcoholic, and his home life was an inferno of unpredictability. The family therapist dressed up like Santa Claus! For more of a detailed description of that childhood, check out Robison’s brother Augustan Burroughs’ excellent memoir “Running With Scissors”. If you end up digging Robison’s story(as I did), check out his brand new memoir, “Switched On”. This book was an inspirational and thought-provoking look at Aspberger’s and life with and around it. 

Shadowbahn by Steve Erickson (5 out of 5) 

•February 16, 2017 • Leave a Comment

In North Dakota, a man driving off steam from an argument with his girlfriend drives into the North Dakota desert and sees something he cannot believe. There, rising up from the majestic mountainside, are the Twin Towers. The very same Twin Towers that were destroyed in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. How is this even possible? Before long, thousands are lined up behind Aaron, the man in the truck and the first person to see the Towers. Everyone near the area of this odd happening hears music in their head…Music that doesn’t seem to stop. Meanwhile, a sheriff heads into the Towers to see what is going on, never to reappear with news. A brother and sister drive cross country, with a soundtrack playing that their Dad made eons ago. On the 93rd floor of the Tower, Jesse Garon Presley, stillborn twin of “The King”Elvis Presley, wakes up, unaware of why he is there, but unable to sing and plenty resentful of the shadow his long-drawn brother has cast on his life. His presence and all of the central characters are integral to this work of alternative history. Throw in some historical figures of significance (John F. Kennedy, RFK, and John Lennon, among others), and some introspection to an nth degree of all sorts of songs, and you truly have a mind-bending narrative. The format for this book is unlike anything I have read yet. Singular, two at most, pages of prose writing per chapter. It most definitely will warrant a second, third, and possibly fourth reading down the road to try to grasp any of the wayward hay that Erickson has thrown into the barn of this whopper. I have never read a thing by Erickson before, but I have to now! Holy cow. I didn’t know what the hell was going on through most of it, but it truly doesn’t matter.. you’re hooked! And not strange at all once you get trucking with it. And it’s instantaneous. The premise is so out there that you are pulled into it immediately. Then you wade through the characters and their memories and vagaries on what is going on at present. Then the world…In 2021…Of music as we have known it- is turned upside down when you realize what would have come to be without Elvis AND The Beatles. No Elvis? No Beatles? Sit quietly and contemplate that for a moment. And you keep reading. The pop culture references are multiple and the flip flop time machine that is the narrative really makes you scratch your head and wonder where the fuck this is going. Or if it’s going anywhere. Is it some sort of strange acid trip? One of Can’s long lost concept albums? Was Roger Waters playing golf with Jim Morrison in New Mexico? There’s no telling with Erickson! There’s a lot of Don DeLilloesque framework going on beneath the surface here, so if you like DeLillo, chances are you need to give Erickson a fair shake. Totally worth the time. This is out now, courtesy of the folks at Blue Rider Press. Thanks to my publisher homie Stefan for sending this to me. I am most appreciative of the gigantic mind trip this has had me on for the past 2 days. You, dear reader, need to take that same mind trip. 

Ones And Zeroes (Mirador #2) by Dan Wells (3 out of 5) 

•February 15, 2017 • Leave a Comment

This is the 2nd book in the Mirador series by Dan Wells. I loved the first book in the series, Bluescreen. He sure knows how to paint the future as the scary, edgy place it may very well be. The future, in this series, is LA in 2050. Our female lead, the ever Wiley and always edgy Marisa, is back with us again. The ridiculously popular sport of nations, the game Overworld, is still consuming everyone. Marisa is on the trail of a mysterious hacker when she finds out her Overworld team has been invited to an exclusive tournament. This is a huge opportunity for Marisa; not only her ticket to ride the hell out of there, but also her chance to help her parents and the rapidly disintegrating neighborhood they are in. The girls kick ass and take names once in the tournament, but as usual, things take a sinister turn when Marisa runs into an underground freedom fighter who reveals all sorts of not legit shit going on behind the scenes. Will Marisa be able to rise above this and save her keister, as well as the team, before more evil goes down? 

Here’s what I liked: a lot of the same things I loved about the first book; the setting and atmospheric energy that carries throughout the book. The world, as written, LA in 2050; thorough Wells’s eyes, you can imagine it happening like this. The girls team and involvement in the tournament; epic. And Alain; sexy as all forbidden fruit usually is.

What I didn’t like: Marisa is an edgy, seat-of-the-pants heroine is always umpredictable, but some of her schemes in this one fall a bit short. Like two or three feet. I find it hard to buy that she and Alain do not strike up a fancy of sorts, because the chemistry is off the charts. Maybe Wells felt it would derail the plot. Not being a fan of showmance either, usually I would agree, but I think it would have added to this story quite a bit. There wasn’t a feeling of urgency in this book, as in the other, and I felt like that was against the sort of series that Wells has set up for the reader. I really was exasperated at parts of this book, so it lost some appeal because of that. And Marisa Ants in her Pants. Overall, still digging on it, and there are parts where it is abundantly clear that the ending has left it wide open for book 3. I eagerly anticipate. This book was released yesterday, February 14, so you can go grab a copy now. 

We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, And Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie by Noah Isenberg (4 out of 5) 

•February 14, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I grew up a huge Bogie fan. You can blame my Dad for that one too. As far back as I remember, WGN-TV out of Chicago would do a Bogie retrospective on New Year’s Eve. I would sit in front of that crappy little purple TV the rents got me and be transfixed. Well, complete disclosure here… eating a pizza or two may also have been involved. Then, they stopped doing it. This was before DVD’s, DVR’s, TCM, etc. I ended up getting a VCR eventually, and started buying old Bogie movies from the video store in town. Problem was, I watched them so much I snapped the videotapes frequently. For many years, my take away from stress was cueing up a Bogie movie and turning my phone off. And reading anything I could get my hands on. I still do, so I was jumping for joy when I saw this book arrive in my bookstore last week. It only took a day to read it. Good stuff. It is available for purchase today, and brought to us by W.W. Norton & Company. Cinemaphiles should get a copy. 

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the release of “Casablanca”. This book is a celebration of the movie, the creators and stars of the picture, the fans and foes, the history contained around and within the movie, and the incredible legend of the movie that continues to this day-75 years later. Calling it beloved is not a stretch, especially when confronted with facts that Isenberg sets before the reader. To grasp an idea of the magnitude of the little play crafted by two friends after an inspirational trip years before, one has to pick up this time by Isenberg. I learned so many things that have never been published before, not limited to, but especially important to, that time. The effect that the war and the anti-censorship committee had on the movie is among the eye-oprning revelations delivered. The delicate balance between the many creators and producers and Bogart and cast is examined in great detail. No production still is unturned in this extensive study of everything you wanted to know about this iconic movie. Another thing I really enjoyed about the book is that the author went into great detail about the effects it had on sociological angles as well. It truly is the quintessential study of a legendary film. I highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the movie, of Bogie, or of classic Hollywood films. Things were a hell of a lot different then than they are now, and this book is a great footnote in the ongoing case study. Go pick up a copy at your closest bookstore. 

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak (5 out of 5) 

•February 13, 2017 • Leave a Comment

This is the advance cover.. the actual cover is different. Bright and nice, but I like this one better. Our author is also the brains behind Quirk Books, so he knows a bit about the publishing industry. This book is not put out by Quirk, but by the good folks at Simon & Schuster. It is already out; it came out February 7th. I read this sucker in 3 hours. It was an instant feel good read. I also think it would make a great movie. Reading my way through it, I felt an ease of good vibes that I haven’t felt since I read “Ready Player One”. It felt a lot like familiar ground. Good, 1980’s nostalgia filled familiar ground. Join in the fun by reading this book!

Anyone who knows me knows I am not a fan of technology. Except when I was a kid. I was obsessed with Atari. I also liked Commodore 64’s. I didn’t like them enough to write computer programs or try to create a video game on one, like our lead character Billy. Billy’s currently involved in a scheme with his friends Clark and Alf to buy the coveted Playboy featuring his sweetheart, Wheel of Fortune’s Vanna White. Shouldn’t be too hard, except that they are under 18 and Mr. Zelinsky, the owner of the shop on Market Street that has the prized periodicals, will not sell it to the boys. They come up with some crazy scheme to break in and steal copies, only to realize someone has to get close with Mary, the overweight computer programming wiz daughter of Zelinsky. Billy offers to do so, and ends up striking up an instant rapport with Mary. They discuss an upcoming contest by Rutgers, for the newest and most exciting video game created by high schoolers. Billy is astonished at how great Mary is with writing code, and he admits that he has a game that he needs help with; the game is The Impossible Fortress. They join forces and begin working on the game to get it ready by the time the contest rolls out (a few weeks time). In the meantime, Clark and Alf have been working the street side of the Vanna White Snatch & Grab Scheme, and Billy is supposed to be schmoozing Mary to get the security code to the alarm system at the store. They go out to the movies, hold hands, and share moments that have him hoping it is heading in a romantic direction. Suddenly, Alf and Clark jeopardize their part of the scheme by inviting Tyler, a roustabout motorcycle guy from town, into their scheme. At the same time, Billy makes his move on Mary, only to be rebuffed. His friends have given up on him, the school has given up on him pulling his distracted grades out of the academic basement, and his mom is furious and makes him sign over his summer to an unpaid internship at the local cosmetics factory, so he doesn’t have to repeat the ninth grade. Billy gets pissed, rejoins forces with his friends, and the heist is revived..because before Mary told him to buzz off, Billy saw her put in the security code. As you can imagine, things do NOT go according to plan. But that’s the beauty of this book. When you think things are at an end, there is still good karma around the corner. And lots of great pop culture references too. And a few surprises that turned things on their esar, but in the end, THIS is a quality read. If you want a light, fun, and heartwarming trip through the 80’s time warp, this is the way to go. 

And Then There Were Four by Nancy Werlin (3 out of 5)

•February 12, 2017 • Leave a Comment

This was a nice surprise. I had read other novels by Nancy Werlin and was just okay with them. This one actively engaged me in what was going to happen next. I am more into the dystopian books and unique premise teen titles than I am a mystery, but this was a nice exception. 

Five teens in a building that collapses. How did they get there? Why are they being detained? Who blew up the building? The five teens slowly put together one scenario after another, ending with what they believe to be the answer and also the most horrifying thing imaginable- that their parents are working together to kill them all! Will they get out alive? Who ordered this?! The minute that idea was introduced, the book took a turn that I didn’t anticipate. It also made me highly skeptical that the parents would do this to the kids. Highly implausible. I was expecting the kids to start going Hunger Games on one another, and that didn’t happen, but some other weird things happen. Not saying the book was bad, but I think the parents trying to kill the kids idea may ruffle some feathers in the target age group. Especially with all of the bad news out there in the world at present. But again, a pretty decent story. The characters are well written; just the slight hiccup I mentioned may be a bit of a turn off. This novel releases on June 6, 2017, courtesy of Dial Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. 

Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index by Julie Israel (4 out of 5)

•February 10, 2017 • Leave a Comment

This was quite a novel. Right off the bat, I have to say this…The advance cover (seen above) is terrible! I hope to Henry Winkler they change that shit before it goes to press. It’s not out until June 27, so they have time!!! But besides that, it was a pretty great book.

The number 65 has a lot of relevance here. On the 65th day after her big sister Camie has passed away, Juniper finds a letter that her sister wrote the day she died. It’s addressed to “you”, but Juniper has no clue who “you” might be. She sets out to uncover the secrets Camie had, and completely forgets where the 65th Happiness Card in The Happiness Index is, which mucks up everything that has been helping to hold a grieving Juniper together after Camie’s death. The Happiness Index is a ritual that Camie started, and got Juniper into being more positive. Without her sister there, it’s just NOT the same. Can Juniper figured out the secrets to her sister’s life, and pull her own together? This was a funny and sad at times story, with Juniper’s pain ultimately helping out several other classmates who are struggling with their own problems. A positive, coming of age with grief and growing pains, story that shows how to move on after losing someone you love dearly. So head out and get a copy when it comes out on June. But please, please, change that cover!!!!!