The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates (5 out of 5) 

•April 13, 2017 • Leave a Comment

There was no beautiful struggle to finish this book. Most know Coates because of his award-winning, best-selling book “Between The World And Me”. Until my former bookeague (book colleague) Greg recommended it, I hadn’t heard of it. I am way behind on reading books of actual beauty. I’m too busy reading all sorts of alarming literature, classics mirroring our current world state madness, celebrity memoirs, music biographies, idiosyncratic fiction, etc. “Between The World And Me” is a book I read two years ago and loved. It should have occurred to me to see if he had written anything else. Hindsight is 20/20 in a world of 60/40. 

Our primary focus here is Paul Coates, Vietnam vet, Black Panther, unequivocal vocalist of free love, publisher, and father (and hero) to his seven kids. He tries his best to carry on in the wayward inner city streets of Baltimore when the crack epidemic has begun to take over the area. His two boys, Ta-Nehisi and Big Bill, give him the biggest concerns of all. What follows in this slim volume of memories is his story of trying to make his boys adjust their very distinct and individual personalities to navigate life in a neighborhood once thought of as home and quickly eroding into a dark and unsafe haven. The language within and the love emanating from the pages, of a man trying to keep peace and light in this world while facing reality head on, is infectious. Paul Coates is a man more should know about. Now, thanks to his son, we are lucky enough to. 

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey (2 out of 5)

•April 9, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Sorry, that’s my fat meatball cat you see in the background there. I had such high hopes for this book, based on high praise and early buzz for it. And I love the cover! The love buzz was not to last, sadly. 

Prime Space (think NASA) is gearing up for its biggest space gig yet: Four years from now, it aims to put the first human beings on Mars! The crew in training for this ground-breaking journey are Helen, Yoshi, and Sergei. All have different reasons for wanting this to go smoothly. In preparation for the journey, they are sent into an incredibly realistic simulation. They are under 24-hours a day observation and are expected to remain stoic and in control. Any ideas how tough it might be to be in a virtual simulation, separated from family, friends, & life as you know it? You’ll have a pretty good idea after reading this. The families and friends on the outside must learn to cope with their feelings of desolation, isolation, and yes, even desire. Inside the simulation, fact begins to fight with fiction and nothing is quite as it seems. This was a book teeming with promise, but it really started to bug me a third of a way through. I was hoping for some real conflict; in fact, the premise of the book (not to mention the book jacket) kind of lends itself to the possibility of that sort happening. Not really delivering. It’s good that the astronauts are so stoic in the face of what most would be freaking out over, but they don’t emote. Ever. It’s very weird. I almost thought if a case of lemon Pledge were set up next to the 3 in the simulation, you would have a better reaction. Seriously! I was very disappointed in the retred, often listless astronauts. You can damn well bet if I were one of those astronauts, that simulation would be hopping. (Stop! Hammer time!). This book was not hopping. It was plopping. 

Disrupted: My Misadventure In the Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons (3 out of 5)

•April 8, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I remember this book coming in months ago and it immediately grabbed my attention. Look at that cover! This is out in paperback now. Anyone who wants to read a funny insider look at how the business world eats up and spits you out, this is a good place to start! 

Dan Lyons is a 50-something writer at Newsweek magazine when he is let go. There couldn’t be a worse time; Dan’s wife just recently left her job, and they have their twins to raise and the house to keep afloat. Dan gets a job offer from a start-up company, Hubspot. The money is decent, he has health insurance again, and also a ton of shares in the company that could earn him a pretty penny if the company ever went public. Dan knows he is in trouble when his boss isn’t there to greet him on his first day, no one seems to know where he is supposed to go, or even who he is. It gets progressively worse when Dan finds that the business resembles “Animal House” more than any business he’s ever worked for. Millennials rule the roost and treat Dan as if he’s an outsider due to his age. No actual work ever seems to get done. Yet the business continues to say that they’re turning a profit. Co-workers “graduate” (meaning they have been fired, in this sense) with no warning or recourse. The head bigwigs don’t communicate and some seemingly vanish into thin air, only names on a nameplate or emails (Cranium, the man who hires Dan, is a great example). Harassment and outright acerbic email correspondence leads to unprofessional behavior, largely accepted as commonplace, unless it’s Dan doing it, then it’s a strike against his work behavior and reputation. Dan tries his hardest to make the most of a nightmare situation, and the book and Hubspot’s shady business ethics leave the reader hooked until the end. I had wished for Dan to get the credit he deserved and for Hubspot to get their just desserts, but nothing in a start-up bubble is as it seems. He makes the most of it for the reader as well, with a healthy dose of sarcastic humor. Anyone who enjoyed “The Wolf Of Wall Street” and “Liar’s Poker” will enjoy this book. I did, but I was in a state of appalled fury most of it, so I think that demolished some of my enthusiasm for it, too. One thing I can tell you…I don’t look good hopping around with a unicorn mask on. Remember that as you read this. But read it, so you can consider yourself educated on the shenanigans behind a start-up business. Sad but true, these companies do exist. Dan Lyons did a great service enlightening all of us about them. 

The One-Eyed Man by Ron Currie (4 out of 5) 

•April 7, 2017 • Leave a Comment

If you expect a shiny, happy novel, you obviously haven’t read Ron Currie before. Have you ever met someone who takes everything so literally that you want to punch their lights out? Meet “K”, the guy at the center of the book. He’s lost in a protracted cloud of grief after losing his wife Sarah to breast cancer. His grief has taken the form of him taking every single thing or question posed to him TOO LITERALLY. One day he’s at his friend’s arguing over the wording on a bottle of antibacterial handsoap and breaking a window in the process, then taking the same bottle into a Total Foods store and asking a beleaguered clerk, a firebrand named Claire, a host of questions that get her fired. Then he’s stuck at a busy intersection when the “Don’t Cross” signal won’t flash “Walk” despite his pushing the button. He stands there for hours, happening to look up and see a girl at the coffee shop he was heading to being held up by a gunman. He goes against his inner voice, crosses the street, knocks on the window, gets shit, and saves the day. In the hospital, he’s visited by Claire, his friend from Total Foods, and Theodore,a strange, over-the-top flamboyant television producer who wants to make “K” the star of his new reality show. K decides to go along with it as long as Claire is hired along as his manager. What is the premise of this reality show? Theodore puts him in the middle of highly controversial and stress percolating situations and he just reacts by taking everything too literal. As predicted by anyone with a grain of sense, he ends up in some pretty serious situations. And as expected, the American viewing public eats it up. Remember, these are the people who made the Kardashians a runaway hit. A second season is ordered, K continues to court imminent disaster by letting Theodore book him into higher volatile situations, and Claire tags along for the ride, drinking herself into a new zip code while trying to be a voice of reason. Finally, the success train gets stalled on the tracks big time when K decides to go to a highly dangerous gun rally in Texas, despite Claire’s begging him not to. Things come to a head and the novel comes to a close which will leave the reader mad, sad, yet ultimately satisfied. Believe me, it’s one of those books. It makes you question how the human mind and soul processes grief, and how far one human being will take endurance to finally get back to the land of the living. So if you’re looking for a satirical, yet emotional book about life, love, death, Einstein and Besson, and chance, this is the book for you. 

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck (5 out of 5) 

•April 6, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Haha!! I have found this year’s OTHER WWII novel. Except it’s more centrally set at the END of and AFTER WWII, but I am calling it the same mindset because the event itself directly influences the novel. It’s out now in hardcover, published by the fine folks at William Morrow (Harper Collins). And yes, if you enjoyed “The Nightingale”, you’ll love this one too!

Marianne von Lingenfels returns to the fallen-far-from-glory castle of her dead husband’s ancestors, with steely determination to reunite and protect the wives of her husband’s co-conspirators; the resistance wives. She’s reunited first with 6-year Martin, her friend’s son. Together they trek through the ruins to Germany, to try to find his mother. Marianne then comes across Ania and her boys in a refugee camp. She tries to pull all of her wounded scribe’s into a semblance of a family that has survived an unbelievable time of death and terror, but she soon discovers that as much as they may have in common, her much more privileged past and her own secrets threaten to test and tear their newly created, makeshift family apart. The three women at the forefront must mend the tatters of their new lives and come to terms with life as it is now. An emotionally stunning and heartfelt novel of picking up and relearning how to cope with the remnants of tragedy while trying to glue together pieces of the foregone past. Highly recommended. 

The Most Beautiful: My Life With Prince by Mayte Garcia (5 out of 5)

•April 5, 2017 • Leave a Comment

This was a beautiful, heartbreaking surprise. When I heard about this book, I ordered it immediately, although I wasn’t sure what to think. I hadn’t kept up on the divorce, but I do remember seeing the sleazy tabloids having a field day when their son passed away. The fact that the book was coming out weeks before the anniversary of his passing? Even odder. Except, it really wasn’t. Not in a year of tributes from many. It made sense that his ex-wife would want to pay tribute. And that’s what this is. A poignant, beautiful, heartbreaking, and yes, at times, funny tribute to someone she loved- still loves- very much. The book is out now, in hardcover, from Hachette Book Group. I highly recommend it. 

Mayte’s story before Prince’s entering into her life, is quite a story in itself. An ambitious, tough kid who survived bullying and her parents’ divorce, she becomes enraptured with the art of belly dancing at a young age, and begins doing so professionally, even opening her own bank account at age 12. Seeing Prince for the first time in concert does quite a number on her. Her mother has her make a videotape of her dancing, and then brazenly gets the tape to him backstage at a show the family attends together. The love affair begins. But it’s more of a friendship. One that Mayte shared with her captive audience, and one that doesn’t take very long to develop into friendship with unavoidable chemistry, but Prince is nothing more than a gentleman, given her young age. She continues to dance overseas in Egypt and wherever she can, along with being invited into the hallowed halls of the New Power Generation, as a performer. That’s another thing I found refreshing; from the start of the book, you can sense her own strength and independent stance to be her own woman and her own provider. Even after she is with Prince, she continues to try to blaze her own path and keep her identity. Eventually, Mayte hits 18, and the relationship turns officially serious. It isn’t too long before the absences make the heart grow fonder for the Purple Prince, and he proposes. They marry and settle into wedded bliss. Shortly after, they are blessed with the news they are going to be parents, and that is where things start to take a turn in their love story. Most know the sad story of what happened to their first child, and she relives it in full detail. There are other very sad revelations that come the reader’s way as well, along with the loss of their child bringing about the fall of their marriage. They never recover, despite Mayte’s best efforts. She speaks movingly of letting him go, and reclaiming her life after Prince. His unexpected passing is addressed with loving aplomb. All in all, a most beautiful love story and a wonderful tribute to a man most of us think of as a legend. Mayte thought of him as friend, husband, father, and soulmate. Bring your Kleenex, friends. 

The Book of Mirrors by E.O. Chirovici (2 out of 5)

•April 4, 2017 • Leave a Comment

What the fuck did I just read? I still have no idea almost a day after I finished it. It started out promisingly enough, and I was hooked until about halfway through. The premise is a good hook. A man named Richard Flynn sends a manuscript into a publisher, about a secretive, enigmatic professor named Joseph Wieder. Richard’s narrative is the first part in the book. At Princeton in 1987, he tells of meeting and falling into an unspecified relationship with Laura Baines, a highly intelligent but emotionally distant assistant to the professor, who is working on a secretive manuscript. Richard is introduced to the professor by Laura, and immediately suspects the relationship between the two to be more than it appears. Richard puts his reservations into HIS manuscript, and forms a strange friendship with the Prof. When I say strange, I mean absolutely fucking strange. I would not go and have my intelligence insulted by someone who drinks more than Sam Kinison did, but that’s just me. Everything goes south between Richard and Laura when she tells him her ex is still stalking her and she needs space. Shortly after this, the Prof is brutally murdered. Flash forward to the next narrator- literary agent Peter Katz. He’s on the receiving end of Richard Flynn’s manuscript, talking about trying to uncover the Professor’s murder. He tries to contact Flynn, only to find out he has just passed away from complications from lung cancer. Flynn’s wife claims to know nothing, so Katz goes on what amounts to a wild goose chase, in pursuit of Laura Baines. The cold-hearted witch meets with him and denies Flynn’s written version of things, accusing him of being a psycho hose beast. Then she threatens to sue the pants off Katz if he publishes it with her in it. Katz’s search turns up the handyman who found Wieder’s body, and Katz tries, to no avail, to uncover more of the mystery, but growing more frustrated and shut down as the book goes along. This poor guy must have needed many college-lined notebooks to get through this muck. An old retired policeman comes into the book, as the third person to tell the story. Joe Keller is an old aquaintance of Katz’s and calls to tell him that a death row inmate up for execution very soon has confessed to Wieder’s murder (at this point, 25 years has gone by). Katz flies out to meet up with Keller, and they meet with the inmate, who has some very interesting details to share with them. Katz and Kellermake some connections, and Katz flies back while Keller decides to try to close the case once and for all. And he does…But what a convoluted, murky mess. Including several characters who were obviously thrown in to spice up an otherwise dull as dirt story. Did I mention a lot of this was an attempt to recover the Professor’s manuscript that vanished after his death? Yes. That’s THREE manuscripts the reader has to keep track of. And it gets old fast. The resolution, in my opinion, was wretched and those who died apparently did so in vain. All I can say is the entire book was the worst game of literary Tetris that I’ve had the misfortune of picking up. The book is out and available in hardcover, brought to us by the folks at Atria Books. Seriously, a frustrating merry-go-round round, minus the merry. Avoid at all costs.