Revival by Stephen King




A revival needing revision…  ***


Stephen King is a master storyteller.  He has the ability to grip you and keep you anxious to turn the page to see where a story is headed.  Unfortunately, Revival is not one of them..

The story starts out well enough, setting the expectation that this will be one of King’s gems.  Using first person narration, the main character, Jamie Morton, takes us back to his childhood and reveals how he was introduced to the Reverend Charles Jacobs. King has a way of describing childhood experiences that invoke one’s own memory of  days gone by.

Sadly, once we leave Jamie’s early years, the story begins to drift with long narrations of events that at times can only be described as boring.  There is very little conflict to keep us interested and what does exist only makes the reader want to get to the end.

The end is where I had the biggest problem.  Having several options of how to bring the story to an end, King opts for one that left me shaking my head, asking what was his point.  He attempts to make it scary but fails, philosophical but fails. I heard Stephen King  in an interview say that he writes about the things that scare him.  Based on the ending, he must be terrified of death.

As I closed the book, my first thought was, is King just getting lazy.  This had the potential of being a good story, and with another revision or two, Revival could have been another gem from the master storyteller.

This one gets three stars.

True Freedom: How to Heal Your Anxiety by Amanda Rex




They say there are no free lunches… ****


There are no free lunches, but at $3.99 for the Kindle edition, this comes close.  By that I mean there is a great deal of information for very little outlay.

Usually self help books have two major flaws. One, they outline steps too complicated for most of us to take the time to follow.  Second, they spend too much time explaining the steps making the book a drudgery to read.  True Freedom does not suffer from either of these.

Amanda Rex lays out a very distinct, easy to read plan for dealing with anxiety. The steps she gives are practical, and would not be hard to implement.  Her understanding comes from her own experience and that gives her a unique perspective.  Her humor makes this an enjoyable read.  The advice is the kind that when you read it you say, “I can do that”.

While Amanda’s anxiety was paralyzing for her, anyone reading this book will identify with their own anxiety, no matter to what degree they may suffer.  We all have anxious moments of one kind or another, and her practical approach will be a benefit to any reader.

This is a book you don’t just read once.  My recommendation would be to read it through, then go back and reread it slowly, digesting the treasures of insight and then read it again, putting her advice into practice.  And then, maybe, read it every few months just to keep yourself grounded and anxious free.

This gets a solid four stars.

The Burning Room by Michael Connelly




Where, oh where, has the editor gone….  **


Wow! This could have been a good book.  The story was good, Harry Bosch was his old self, and the character of Soto as his partner was a good fit.

Maybe I have read too many detective novels, but Connelly felt compelled to describe, in detail, every police procedure used in the book.   He also gives us enough clues in the beginning to make the ending obvious.  When he tries to throw us a curve, it serves only as a temporary diversion from what we knew was coming.

The worst part is that after showing us what is happening through good dialog, Connelly proceeds to repeat the point just made by telling us what was said.  I had to keep taking deep breaths in order to not give up halfway through.  In addition, he repeats himself several times, saying the same thing twice if not more, he repeats himself several times.  It was as if he stopped writing, came back later to write some more, and had forgotten what he had already written.

So my question is, where was the editor?  Not only were there typos, but any editor would have caught the repetition and had it corrected.  Maybe a better question would be, what happened to the Michael Connelly that wrote great thrillers like “The Poet”?

This one, sadly, gets two stars.


four cigars

Four cigars


This film has been compared to 2001: A Space Odyssey. To say it is better, to me, is an exaggeration.  If you want to say it is the best space movie since then, okay, I might agree, as long as we don’t include Aliens.

Having said that, this is a good film on several levels.  The special effects are outstanding, supposedly no green screens were used.  The acting is superb, especially Mackenzie Foy, who plays Murphy (Matthew McConaughey’s daughter) as a child. The depiction of relativity is a bit mind boggling, as it should be.  But the real story here is the willingness of man to survive at any cost, even deception on a grand scale.

If there is one truth that the film leaves us with, it is that love, above all else, is the one thing that can conquer all.  Not a bad message for the world we find ourselves in today.

This one gets four cigars.

The Circle by Dave Eggers



1984 and then some…   ***


As technology encroaches into our lives more every day, it is not too hard to imagine the scenario Dave Eggers puts forth in this futuristic novel.  The thought of complete transparency of each of our lives seems just a few steps away from the current social media exposure most of us have.

This was a quick read, in spite of being just under 500 pages, and did hold my attention.  The ideas proposed by the company known as The Circle were fascinating in that on the surface, they sound like good ideas.  It is only after you think about all the implications that you realize the ideas might not be good. The suggestion of a complete democracy where every voice is heard on every issue is a good example.  The idea sounds good, but one has to wonder about the ability of the majority to make an informed decision.  Our forefathers thought this was not such a good idea, and I have to agree.

While putting forth an interesting view of where technology can take us, the problem with this novel is that is was predictable.  The story itself is simplistic and at times a little unbelievable.  The next to last scene reminded me of the song by Roy Orbison, “Running Scared”.  The main character, Mae, has to make a decision and the reader is not completely sure what she is going to do, “which one would it be?”.  Is she going to turn around and do as she was asked or something else? But since I don’t want to spoil the end, I won’t answer that.

This is worth the time to read it, and for that I give it three stars.


four cigars

Four cigars

Having grown up going to war movies I was curious about Fury.  In the 50’s we had war movies that were more about the heroes, depicted by actors like John Wayne or even Audie Murphy (who was an actual war hero).  While some of the old films dealt with the emotional aspects of the men fighting, and to some extent the gore of war, they did not measure up to films like Saving Private Ryan or this one, Fury.

This is a well acted, dramatic account of what it was like in a tank outfit during WWII.  It is a coming of age film showing how a young “clerk typist” can evolve into a man willing to kill.  The process he goes through makes this a good film.  Sargent York starring Gary Cooper dealt with this issue but with less depth.   It is disturbing, emotional, and depicts the degradation war brings to both sides.   The scenes in the apartment of two German women is a great study of trying to bring civility to a situation in the midst of chaos.

The film reminds us of the last war fought with a purpose.  There was a clear enemy, an obvious goal, an army backed by a nation, and a distinct end point with a visible outcome.

This one gets four cigars.


The Republic of Imagination by Azar Nafisi



An eye opener for more reasons than you might think…   ****


Every once in a while a book comes along that not only makes you think, but challenges you in ways you were not expecting.  This would be one of those books.

Azar Nafisi has the unique advantage of viewing this country and its attitude toward art and literature from the outside.  Originally from Iran, she has become an American citizen (in her words because she found herself grumbling about America so she knew she was an American).  But it is her heritage that gives her a different understanding of the meaning of fiction and how this country views it.

Using four writers, which she had narrowed from a list of twenty-four, Nafisi shows us how fiction is not only necessary but vital to the health of this nation.  She makes the point that imagination, defined as free thinking, is nurtured by fiction and without it a society will suffer and stagnate.  Beginning with Mark Twain, then Sinclair Lewis, followed by Carson McCullers, and ending with James Baldwin, Nafisi reinforces the idea that literature is as important to one’s education as science and technology.

Nafisi knows what it means to live in a country where imagination is stifled, books are banned, and people are imprisoned or killed for simply seeking an education.  This book challenges all of us to make sure literature and art do not disappear and to actively promote both in our schools and in our communities.

Her ideas can be summed into one question she asks in the book.  “Why do tyrants understand the dangers of a democratic imagination more than our policy makers appreciate its necessity?”  While I agree with almost all of what she says, the only negative aspect to the book is that she injects her opinions with a heavy hand.  Having said that, I also admire her passion which brings the book to life.

What I was not expecting, was my reaction to her vast knowledge of literature.  I am an avid reader but as Nafisi referred to author after author to make her point, most of whom I have not read, I questioned just what have I been reading.  My reading time has been spent with King, Koontz, Child, Kellerman, and Connelly to name a few, but little if nothing of Baldwin, Lewis, Fitzgerald, Hemingway or Tocqueville.  This book has inspired me to get back to reading literature, not just fiction.  I am not giving up on the others, they are too much fun to read, but I am expanding what I read.

This is a must read, and gets a solid four star review.