Al Franken: Giant of the Senate by Al Franken

alfranken  I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry…..  *****

With a sharp wit and a refreshing honesty, Al Franken reflects on his journey from comedian/writer to United States Senator. In the telling of his story, he also pulls back the curtain on the inner workings of our government. While his satire made me smile and occasionally laugh out loud, reading about our dysfunctional government was sad.

In the current political climate we all (or most of us) realize our government does not function as well as it could, one might say it is a disaster. The gap between Democrats and Republicans seems too large to bridge. But, Franken does offer a ray of hope. He purports that 64% of the things that have to be decided, both parties actually agree on. So if politicians focus on those, things can get better. I am not so sure I agree, but Franken is on the inside and I am not.

Franken does an excellent job of explaining the Republicans’ unwillingness to work with Obama when he was in office. He also has insight into why Republicans are so against climate change, whether they believe it or not. Hint: Koch brothers. He also has no qualms about dissing Ted Cruz or Trump.

This is a book that needs to be read more than once, marked up, and used to remind all of us that there is hope, as long as more politicians are willing to be as open as Al Franken.

This one gets five stars. Regardless of your politics, read it.

 

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

NeildeGrasse   Close is only good in horseshoes and hand grenades…..   ***

The intent of this book is to give a simple and quick understanding of the universe. Maybe that in itself says why this didn’t quite meet expectations. The stated intent is to be able to read a chapter, “While you wait for your morning coffee to brew, for the bus, the train, or a plane to arrive…”  This works if your coffee pot takes a while, or your bus is late, or the train is late, or you get to the airport two hours early.

The book is full of interesting information and is a good starting point for understanding our universe and its makeup. The problem is that it is not simple to absorb. DeGrasse suffers from the problem of knowing something so well, he has a hard time explaining things as simply as they could be.

On the positive side, deGrasse writes with wit and does pack a lot of information in just over two hundred pages. His passion for the subject comes through and is infectious. The last chapter, “Reflections on the Cosmic Perspective”, is worth the price of the book.

I am giving this one three stars only because it is marketed incorrectly. This is a book that should be read, read several times. But does take time to understand and digest. It is worth missing a flight over.

The Burial Hour by Jeffery Deaver

TheBurialHourUSA-220x334  Good to see Deaver back in good form……   ****

As a fan of Jeffery Deaver, and especially Lincoln Rhyme, this book did not disappoint.

Deaver does an excellent job keeping the truth of the who and why of strange kidnappings until near the end. Moving Rhyme and his team from New York to Italy made this a fresh read. Weaving politics, refugees, and nationalism into the story kept me turning the pages.

Although the outcome is predictable, the ride getting there was pleasurable. There was just enough of a twist to offset the knowledge that Rhyme would solve the case, as always.

The introduction of Ercole Benelli, an Italian forestry officer, who gets caught up in the story, was a nice touch.

Deaver seemed to be in his element, as the story is well written.  The only negative is near the end when Rhyme proves he is smarter than the “intelligence” service, the mistake he points out is one they would not have made.

This gets four stars.

 

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

ontyranny The second book every American should read…..   *****

The first “book” every American should read is the Constitution of the United States, the second would be Snyder’s On Tyranny. Fortunately, they both come in pocket size so are easy to carry around. Under the current political climate, this isn’t a bad idea.

The book begins with a quote from Leszek Kolakowski, “In politics, being deceived is no excuse.” With the current flood of “fake news”, that quote alone is worth the price of the book. But that is just the beginning of the lessons this treatise offers.

Snyder sets the tone in the prologue with these statements: “Americans today are no wiser than Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism in the twentieth century. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.” He then proceeds to give twenty lessons on just how to accomplish this.

Each lesson has an action item, an example of how it applies to the past, and what each of us can now do to prevent our future from becoming something other than democratic.

There is so much meat in this little book it needs to be read several times. Passages should be marked and committed to memory. The lessons here should be filters through which we view what is happening around us today.

Perhaps one of the best quotes comes at the end of lesson nineteen: “A nationalist will say that ‘it can’t happen here’, which is the first step toward disaster. A patriot says that it could happen here, but that we will stop it.”

Regardless of one’s political stance, this is a book for all Americans to read and digest.

This one gets a strong five stars.

 

Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

Gwendy's Stephen King actually put his name to this?……….    *

I am a Scotch drinker. I drink it neat. Neat means no water, no ice, nothing to dilute the nectar of the gods.  I have read all of Stephen King’s novels and short stories. I love his writing, except for Duma Key.  He is the god of horror.  So why would he dilute his great writing with someone else, in this case, Richard Chizmar, and produce what can only be labeled as an elongated short story not worthy of attaching his name?

This “novella” is a composite of The Monkey’s Paw (which, at least, King does admit in the story), The Black Box from the New Twilight Zone, with a hint of Carrie. King adds the character Mr. Farris who seems like he just stepped out of the Dark Tower series.

This story is listed as Horror/ Occult and Suspense. It should have been listed under Teen and Young Adult Fiction. It is a coming of age story with a bit of paranormal thrown in. The plot is weak, and the level of writing is juvenile. The ending is all roses and daffodils. The main character, Gwendy, is destined to become a famous writer. Really?

I can understand Stephen King wanting to help lesser known writers like Richard Chizmar. But this story does a disservice to both of you.

This one gets one star.

 

Bits and Pieces by Noa Aliha

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An amazing reflection from a young voice…  *****

There are many different types of poetry. Some that express a political thought, or a reflection on nature, or an observation of people or places. Then there is the poet that lays bare their soul, laying out their inner most thoughts and struggles. Noa Aliha is of this last category.
With a refreshing honesty and candor she expresses through her poems the feelings, the search for meaning, and the frustration of her life. While written from a female viewpoint, there is much all of us can learn and relate to in her work. Her words are at times melodic and each piece allows us into just a bit more of her thoughts.
This is a must read for any one who loves poems. This one gets five stars
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The Secret Place: A Novel by Tanya French

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An excellent read…..   ****

One of my favorite authors is John Connolly. Tanya French reminds me of his style, both are more literary than the likes of Child, Deaver, or Michael Connelly. Thus, this was an excellent read.

The story is intricate and moves back and forth in time in alternating chapters. A student was killed a year ago and as the detectives seek to solve this cold case, every other chapter tells the story of what actually happened as it was unfolding before the murder. Once into the rhythm of the back and forth, I settled into this page turner.

French does an excellent job of writing from the point of view of not only the detectives, but also from the minds of the young girls central to the story. While the reader knows from the beginning who was killed, the revelation of the murderer does come as a bit of a surprise.

My only negative comment is at times French over writes. There is a bit too much description in some parts. This was my first of her novels I have read, and will definitely be reading the rest.

This one gets four stars.