Christmas Shopping List

December 21, 2015

I’ve been so busy this year that I’ve left some of my Christmas shopping until practically the last minute. I have my immediate family taken care of (thank goodness), but still have a few items left to buy. Among them are:

  • Panera Bread Gift Cards for my cousin
  • Musician Friend’s dj headphones for my nephew
  • The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King for one of my co-workers
  • iTunes Gift Card for the Secret Santa gift exchange among my circle of friends

Fortunately all of these items can be ordered online and delivered via email or Next Day Air, so I think I can get everything done by Friday. I’ll have to pay a premium for sure, but it’s my own fault for letting everything slide for so long.

Off to order now!

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The Monkey’s Raincoat by Robert Crais

November 12, 2015

monkeys raincoat Plot summary (from the publisher): The novel that introduced Elvis Cole, L.A. Private Eye and his partner, Joe Pike.

Ellen Lang walks into Cole’s Disney-Deco office and hires Elvis to find her missing husband and son. Elvis and Joe’s search through Hollywood leads them to a world of drugs, sex, and murder.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • Joe Pike seems like a pretty cool character. Silent and strong taken to the extreme, for sure, but for some reason he came off as less of a caricature than Elvis. I think he’ll end up being the star in this partnership.
  • This was not a bad first entry for a series. From what I understand, the last Cole/Pike book was published in 2011 (this one hit the shelves in 1988), which is a good, long run for a series. I could definitely see the potential in this one.
  • The story was pretty straightforward and easy to follow. The author didn’t try to fill the book with twists and turns just for the sake of having a labyrinthine plot. Sometimes simple is better.
  • This was a very quick and mostly enjoyable read with only a few slow spots along the way.

Disliked:

  • It felt like the author was trying too hard to go for humor. Elvis’s near nonstop smart-ass act reminded me of Myron Bolitar, though I know Crais’s character predates Coben’s. All I mean here is that I’ve read too many books with these types of guys to be impressed by what a wit Elvis is.
  • What was the point of having Elvis sleep with both Ellen Lang AND her best friend Janet Simon? Was that just so readers could see that his “Hound Dog” nickname from Poitras was deserved? And of course there were zero ramifications for these actions, making the scenes even more pointless.
  • This book felt pretty dated, which I guess shouldn’t be a surprise given the fact that it was written 25 years ago. Still, the references to things like “finding a phone”, typing a document on a typewriter, and John Cassavetes were somewhat jarring.

Rating:

The Monkey’s Raincoat serves as a nice introduction to P.I. Elvis Cole and his partner Joe Pike. The characters were tolerable and the plot, though not very original, was a sufficiently interesting backdrop that allows the reader to observe Cole and Pike in their element. I give this book 3 stars out of 5.

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Music equipment for dorm rooms

November 3, 2015

My cousin lives in a typically tiny dorm room on campus (even though his parents’ house is only about 45 minutes away), and as a result, is in the process of ordering smaller versions of all his stuff. For example, instead of the big desktop computer he used all through high school, he went and bought a laptop. And instead of full-sized music equipment, he’s looking for more compact items.

This has led me to recommend the cheapest and smallest bass amp I could find online. It’s 50 watts and has two channels, which apparently is fairly unusual for an amp of this size at this price. Hope he likes it!

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Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns by Lauren Weisberger

November 1, 2015

Revenge Plot summary (from the publisher): Almost a decade has passed since Andy Sachs quit the job “a million girls would die for” working for Miranda Priestly at Runway magazine—a dream that turned out to be a nightmare. Andy and Emily, her former nemesis and co-assistant, have since joined forces to start a high-end bridal magazine. The Plunge has quickly become required reading for the young and stylish. Now they get to call all the shots: Andy writes and travels to her heart’s content; Emily plans parties and secures advertising like a seasoned pro. Even better, Andy has met the love of her life. Max Harrison, scion of a storied media family, is confident, successful, and drop-dead gorgeous. Their wedding will be splashed across all the society pages as their friends and family gather to toast the glowing couple.

Andy Sachs is on top of the world. But karma’s a bitch. The morning of her wedding, Andy can’t shake the past. And when she discovers a secret letter with crushing implications, her wedding-day jitters turn to cold dread. Andy realizes that nothing—not her husband, nor her beloved career—is as it seems. She never suspected that her efforts to build a bright new life would lead her back to the darkness she barely escaped ten years ago—and directly into the path of the devil herself…

Warning: Spoilers below!

Reaction:

I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had enough time to write about every book I read, but this one irked me so much that I couldn’t let it pass without taking a few jabs. This was soooo boring compared to the original, and occupied so little of the same space (characters, setting, etc.) that it didn’t feel like a sequel at all.

My biggest problem with the book is the same that so many others have pointed out: there’s simply not enough Miranda Priestly involvement at all! She turns up in person in maybe three short scenes; otherwise, her name is just used as some grisly specter that is supposed to prevent Andy from wanting to make a multimillion dollar deal. Yeah, whatever. And when Miranda did show, she wasn’t even any kind of “devil” this time around. She was hardly warm and fuzzy, but nor was she the cold, demanding, bitingly sarcastic (and wholly entertaining) taskmaster of the first book. To call this “The Devil Returns” was blatantly false advertising on Weisberger’s part, IMO.

My second problem with the book is that Andy was so unlikeable. She was whiny and insecure throughout the first half, and then turned into one of those annoying mothers who are ALL ABOUT their baby in the second half. For readers–like me–expecting the same kind of behind-the-scenes fashion world drama as the first book, this was quite a letdown. Just so, so dull and repetitive.

And finally, I just couldn’t get behind Andy’s total resistance to selling the Plunge. She objected to the clause that would require her and Emily (senior editorial staff) to remain in place for one year, saying that she couldn’t bear working for Miranda for that long. Well, guess what? She wasn’t a fresh out of college INTERN/ASSISTANT anymore!! She was a grown-ass woman and should have been able to handle Miranda’s crap. And if not? Look what happened to Emily! She got fired after 10 weeks (the first issue) which released her from Miranda’s clutches without breaching the contract. Um, hello…ANDY COULD HAVE DONE THE SAME THING!!! Same final result, minus the insipid, whiny melodrama that dragged on and on and on.

But that of course wouldn’t have let Max be the “bad guy” by siding with Emily on the sale. Then there wouldn’t have been a divorce (because, really, what else was wrong with Max?) and there wouldn’t have been the cringeworthy reunion with Alex. Gag.

Rating:

I actually liked The Devil Wears Prada (surprisingly enough) and was looking forward to another installment from this author. Revenge Wears Prada is not even in the same universe as the first book and should be avoided at all costs. I give it 1 star out of 5.

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LED Lights and Reading

October 12, 2015

I’ve been thinking about converting all the standard lightbulbs in my house to LEDs because of the environmental impact and long-term cost savings. I’m fairly certain it’s the right thing to do, and after browsing the MyLEDlightingguide led lighting canopy style options, I know I can get products that will look good in my house.

But my concern is about the effect of LEDs on my eyes. I read a lot (obviously), and do not want to harm my eyesight in any way. I don’t currently have any problems due to the LED screens on the various devices I work with daily, which I’m thankful for. And studies seem to lean towards LEDs being perfectly safe, so maybe I’m worrying over nothing.

At any rate, I want to begin the conversion process soon. I’ll probably start with the living room and family room, and move on to the kitchen and bathrooms next. I’ll save the bedrooms for last (as that’s where I read most often), just until I’m 100% certain the lights will be okay for me.

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The Road by Cormac McCarthy

September 9, 2015

the road Plot summary (from the publisher): A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • It’s blissfully short and the annoying father dies at the end.

Disliked:

  • This book was so damned REPETITIVE!!! The entire thing consists of the father and the boy aimlessly wandering around looking for food or shelter. They’re cold. They’re hungry. They find food. They build a fire. They hear a noise. They hide from other people. They come to an abandoned house. They bathe. They change clothes. They move on. Again and again and again. And again.
  • The Road was exactly like every other “post-apocalyptic” book, film, or TV I’ve ever seen. Different bands of survivors just try to avoid each other while looking for food and shelter. There are inevitable confrontations (with both sides being equally scared), food stores being raided, weapons fiercely guarded, etc. There was absolutely nothing new here.
  • I’ve read different reviews that call this book a “metaphor for parenthood” (the father sacrificing everything to protect his child) or a “thought experiment” about what would happen in a world without a biosphere (and thus a cautionary tale about safeguarding the environment). I’ve tried to experience the story from those points of view, but it doesn’t work for me. Even when considered in metaphorical terms, The Road fails to resonate.

Rating

The stunning number of positive reviews and lofty accolades (including the Pulitzer Prize) The Road has received baffles me to no end. I’ve done my best to read between the lines and think about what the author is trying to say, but I am completely at a loss as to why everyone is gaga over this book. I guess I’m just too stupid to “get it”. I give The Road 1 star out of 5.

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Zero Day by David Baldacci

August 23, 2015

zero-day Plot summary (from the publisher): John Puller is a combat veteran and the best military investigator in the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigation Division. His father was an Army fighting legend, and his brother is serving a life sentence for treason in a federal military prison. Puller has an indomitable spirit and an unstoppable drive to find the truth.

Now, Puller is called out on a case in a remote, rural area in West Virginia coal country far from any military outpost. Someone has stumbled onto a brutal crime scene, a family slaughtered. The local homicide detective, a headstrong woman with personal demons of her own, joins forces with Puller in the investigation. As Puller digs through deception after deception, he realizes that absolutely nothing he’s seen in this small town, and no one in it, are what they seem. Facing a potential conspiracy that reaches far beyond the hills of West Virginia, he is one man on the hunt for justice against an overwhelming force.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • The first murder scene was very grisly and intriguing. I was pulled into the story almost immediately after the description of that crime scene.
  • The pacing in this novel was mostly good. I can’t think of any truly boring stretches anywhere along the way.
  • I didn’t mind that Baldacci had Sam die in the explosion. I think there are never enough “good guy” casualties in these kinds of books, so I appreciate the author’s choice here.
  • I liked that Puller has a cat named AWOL. Keeping a pet shows a bit of a human side to him.

Disliked:

  • Since Puller was CID, I was hoping for a much bigger Army angle to the plot. But most of the investigation proceeded in a very ordinary/civilian way. Puller could have been a member of any law enforcement agency for this case.
  • Baldacci twice invoked a huge pet peeve of mine: when characters awkwardly call a sibling “Bro” or “Sis” just for the sake of exposition. This was done with Puller’s brother and Sam’s sister, and only done the first time the siblings were introduced. This bugs me so much!
  • This isn’t the fault of the author, but is nevertheless something I personally didn’t like about the book. I’m tired of these “lone wolf” LEOs like Harry Bosch, Jack Reacher, etc. who don’t play nice with others and irk their superiors, but are left to their own devices because they get results. Puller would be so much better (and more believable) if he had a partner (a CID partner, not Sam).
  • The case went way off the rails, IMO. As I said, it started out well enough, but when it devolved into some outlandish nuclear weapons plot with the “mastermind” being some 30-year Army vet who thought the military didn’t show him enough appreciation for his services…meh, I immediately lost any interest I might have had.
  • So Puller’s going to be another perfect, kick-ass, smart, and irresistible-to-the-opposite-sex protagonist, huh? Great.

Rating:

As far as thrillers go, Zero Day was an average book for the genre. The plot and characters were very familiar, which is not to Baldacci’s credit, but because Puller is CID, there’s the potential for some far more intriguing cases in the future. I’ll probably go ahead and read the next book in the series if/when I come across it, but I won’t go out of my way to get it. I give this one 3 stars out of 5.

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The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

August 16, 2015

nightingale Plot summary (from the publisher): In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gaetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.

Warning: Major spoilers below!

My Reaction:

To be honest, large portions of this book were a slog to get through. I kept checking ratings on GoodReads and Amazon to make sure I had the right title and to try to figure out (without reading spoilers) what everyone was raving about. I just didn’t understand the hype.

The characters were difficult to relate to, and there was something about the narrative style that kept me at arm’s length from them. I definitely liked Isabelle better than Vianne, but not to the point where I was dying to get back to her story whenever the author shifted to Vianne. Neither sister’s plight was all that…compelling.

But then the ending came and made up for nearly everything that went before it. Call me clueless, but when I realized the old woman narrator from the beginning was Vianne, not Isabelle (as I had presumed), I was caught completely off guard. When Vianne explained what happened, how Isabelle had died shortly after reuniting with her sister and Gaetan, I lost it. I very rarely cry over books, but I was shedding real tears here — for characters that I didn’t even think I cared about. That was the biggest shock of the reading experience by far.

Rating:

I doubt that The Nightingale is a book that I will be revisiting in the future. The plot simply failed to grab me, and the book was so long that I can’t envision plodding through the whole thing again. In that respect, this was a 3-star read for me. But the cumulative effect of the story and its characters, as well as the emotions produced by the ending must be taken into consideration here, which bumps the rating up to 4 stars out of 5.

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Book holder/stand

August 10, 2015

I spend most of my day at a standing workstation. This is great for my computer, but doesn’t translate so well for reading books. So now I’m in search of a separate stand to prop up my books.

The stand doesn’t have to be anything fancy. I just want something basic, preferably in all black to match the rest of my home office furniture. This cs67 digital piano stand is exactly the kind of thing I’m looking for… except smaller. Like the cs67, I want my bookstand to be sturdy and easy to assemble. It should also be affordable.

Now, off to search some other sites!

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Go Set a Watchman

July 23, 2015

GoSetAWatchman Plot summary (from the publisher): Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch—”Scout”—returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town, and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past—a journey that can only be guided by one’s own conscience.

Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humor, and effortless precision—a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times. It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context, and new meaning to an American classic.

Warning: Spoilers below!

My Reaction:

Go Set a Watchman is easily the most-hyped book of the past few years, so it was impossible to avoid all mention of it before the release. As a result, I knew the reception was mostly lukewarm at best, and didn’t have unrealistic expectations going in. Moreover, although I liked To Kill a Mockingbird when I read it in high school, I am not a rabid fan with multiple readings under my belt.

So…my feelings towards Go Set a Watchman turned out to be rather positive. Sure, I have the same problem with Atticus Finch’s characterization that everyone else does, but what can I do? He’s not my creation.

Besides Atticus, I really liked everything else about the book. Scout was recognizable despite being all grown up and dating. I was sad to learn that Jem died, but enjoyed Scout’s reminiscences about playing with him and Dill(!) as children. I also liked the scene with Calpurnia, even though it saddened me to see her treating Scout with such distance and coldness.

There wasn’t much “plot” to speak of, certainly no edge-of-your-seat courtroom scenes like in TKAM, so I chose to look at this simply as a character study. Scout’s childhood idol falls and she has to process this shocking information and decide how to reshape her own values. Would it have been as compelling if I’d never heard of TKAM? Of course not. But this work, despite being neither prequel nor sequel, is not a standalone either.

Rating:

While I can understand the low ratings and poor reviews Go Set a Watchman has received, I am opting not to judge it so harshly. I just felt lucky to have been given a glimpse of Harper Lee’s early vision of Scout’s story and to compare it to the more familiar–and more beloved–end result. Call me easy to please, but I enjoyed this one and give it 4 stars out of 5.

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