Sax musician Johnny Hodges

May 16, 2016

I came across an online profile of sax player Johnny Hodges the other day that I found to be extremely interesting. I don’t often read about musicians, but got caught up in a link chain that ultimately led to his bio. Apparently, Johnny was so good that Duke Ellington called him “irreplaceable”. Talk about a major compliment!

I then listened to some samples of his music and have to admit that I kind of liked what I heard. I even checked out a few alto saxs at musiciansfriend.com on a whim — though there’s no way I’m picking up an instrument this late in the game. Maybe one of my kids will be interested someday!

At any rate, I think the least I can do is order a Johnny Hodges album. So I’ll either get a Greatest Hits compilation or figure out which ones the jazz experts deem best and go from there.

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Napoleon: A Life by Andrew Roberts

April 7, 2016

napoleon a life (I’m going to just post quickie reviews from now on. I simply read way too many books (400+ per year) to review everything or to go in-depth on any titles.

This one-volume biography of Napoleon by Andrew Roberts has a couple things going for it. First, it’s very readable. For being as long as it is, the narrative never comes to a standstill, and I was always ready to keep moving on. Second, I thought there was a good mix between anecdotes of Napoleon’s personal life and details of his battlefield exploits (I was more interested in the former).

If there was one thing I could have changed, I would have liked to read more about the cultural significance of the Egyptian campaign. While there were several mentions made of artifacts and whatnot being brought back, Roberts didn’t talk about the Rosetta Stone or Champollion’s subsequent work with the piece. This warranted at least a single sentence!

Overall, I give this book 4 stars out of 5.

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Wild & Weird History of the Electric Guitar

March 24, 2016

I was browsing through some book recommendations on GoodReads today and for some reason The Wild & Weird History of the Electric Guitar came up in my feed. I have no idea why, since I rarely read anything to do with music. Still, I was a bit curious, so I went and checked the book out a little more.

Turns out the title is right on the nose, as the book talks about some of the most popular guitars in history. The authors (editors of Guitar World) cover Washburn, Marshall, Fender, Gretsch, and gibson electric guitars, and fill the pages with inside information about how these companies got started.

Interesting for guitar enthusiasts of all ages!

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Die Trying by Lee Child

March 24, 2016

die trying Plot summary (from the publisher): When a woman is kidnapped off a Chicago street in broad daylight, Jack Reacher’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’s kidnapped with her. Chained together and racing across America toward an unknown destination, they’re at the mercy of a group of men demanding an impossible ransom. Because Reacher’s female companion is worth more than he imagines. Now he has to save them both—from the inside out—or die trying….

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • One of the biggest problems I had with The Killing Floor (first Jack Reacher novel) was the way Child used very short, clipped sentences from beginning to end. The writing style made the book very hard to read. This time, I listened to the audiobook, so the short sentences were less noticeable and far less disturbing.
  • I liked Holly Johnson. I expected her to be either an annoying whiner or an incompetent idiot, like many secondary characters in action novels. But Child managed to strike a good balance between bad-assedness and vulnerability with this character, which made me enjoy her scenes a great deal.
  • It was fun having Reacher’s old C.O. join in on the action. That guy sounds pretty intriguing, so I wonder if he’ll be back in future installments. I hope so.

Disliked:

  • Holly and Reacher have been kidnapped and their lives are in peril, yet they still decide to take time out to have sex??? Are you fucking kidding me? This kind of shit just bothers me to no end.
  • There were a ton of ludicrous plot points and details along the way, from Reacher not being killed immediately by Beau to Jack convincing Ray that he had a tracking device implanted in his body and was taking orders from the “world army” to his shooting a “B” into a distant tree instead of aiming for the target in a shooting competition (when his life was at stake).
  • The novel was way, WAY too long. The “action” slowed way down when Holly and Reacher were stuck at the militia compound, and their escape took too long to get off the ground. A number of scenes could have been cut without losing the essence of the story. If I hadn’t been listening to the audiobook, I might have put this down at the 3/4 mark and never picked it up again.

Rating:

Though I’m not 100% sold on the Jack Reacher series yet, I do think Die Trying was better than the first one — if only because it was in an easier-to-digest audiobook format. The story was okay and I did get to like Reacher a bit more this time around. I’ve got the next two audiobooks in the series on tap from my library, and will likely listen to them in the near future. After four books, I should be in a better position to decide whether or not Jack is for me. Right now it’s a tossup. I give this book 3 stars out of 5.

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Patriotic jewelry

March 21, 2016

white gold flag pin In a presidential election year, people seem more inclined to show their patriotism than in other years. For example, I see so many different American flag lapel pins and military service cuff links or tie pins that it makes me feel odd not having similar pieces of my own.

I actually started searching for nice ones and found a lot of options at a site called Joy Jewelers. The selection of Joy Jewelers military jewelry and patriotic jewelry is great, and the prices are good too. I really, really like the 14k white gold American flag lapel pin pictured here, and will absolutely order it when I’m done paying off some more pressing bills. Also, there are a couple of other pieces that would be perfect as gifts for my friends that have served in the military, so I’m bookmarking the site and will go back for birthdays and holidays.

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The English Assassin by Daniel Silva

January 21, 2016

EnglishAssassin Plot summary (from the publisher): The Unlikely Spy, Daniel Silva’s extraordinary debut novel, was applauded by critics as it rocketed onto national bestseller lists. Now Silva has outdone himself, with a taut, lightning-paced thriller rooted assuredly in fact: Switzerland’s shameful WWII record of profiteering and collaboration with Nazi Germany.

When art restorer and occasional Israeli agent Gabriel Allon is sent to Zurich, Switzerland, to restore the painting of a reclusive millionaire banker, he arrives to find his would-be employer murdered at the foot of his Raphael. A secret collection of priceless, illicitly gained Impressionist masterpieces is missing. Gabriel’s handlers step out of the shadows to admit the truth-the collector had been silenced-and Gabriel is put back in the high-stakes spy game, battling wits with the rogue assassin he helped to train.

Tense, taut, expertly crafted, and brimming with unexpected reversals, The English Assassin is Daniel Silva at his storytelling best.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • I thought the English assassin was a worthy opponent for Gabriel Allon. He seemed smart, capable, and competent (even though he bugged out of the Anna hit at the last second). The fact that he was still around at the end of the novel gives me hope that he might turn up again sometime down the road.

Disliked:

  • I had a hard time believing Gabriel could survive the beating he was given at Gessler’s place. Remember, this guy is 50 years old! Would he really have been able to escape through an unfamiliar, mountainous area after sustaining so many injuries?
  • Speaking of being 50, did Silva make a mistake in creating such an “old” protagonist? Is this going to be Poirot all over again? As far as I know, the author is still churning out Allon novels. Are some of them prequels or made up mostly of flashbacks?
  • Peterson’s change of heart was an unexpected twist, which would have been enjoyable had there been more of a reason to believe the character’s motivation. He wanted to atone for what his father did during the war (turned over some Jewish people to the Nazis)? He wanted to restore his family’s honor? Meh, not buying it.
  • And what was the deal with Anna? Why would she suddenly and unquestioningly let Gabriel into her life after living pretty much as a hermit for so long? Then there was the whole love affair, which was totally unnecessary to the main story.
  • There wasn’t enough Isherwood in this book. His relative non-participation in these events made me realize he was a big part of why I liked the first Allon novel so much.

Rating:

After being blown away by how good The Kill Artist was, I came into the second Gabriel Allon novel with lofty expectations. But these were largely unmet. Despite being fairly well-written, this book suffered from credibility standpoint. The characters’ motivations were suspect (why did the English assassin change his mind about Anna? Why did Anna let Gabriel into her life? Why did Peterson pull a Sydney Carton?) and the lack of a face-to-face confrontation between protagonist and antagonist was a disappointment. I give this one 2 stars out of 5.

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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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