Saturday, April 25, 2009

Review: Miracle Ball by Brian Biegel

Title: Miracle Ball
Author: Brian Biegel
Copyright: 2009
Publisher: Crown
ISBN: 0307452689


CSI: MLB - 4 stars - a book review

The premise of MIRACLE BALL is irresistible: with only two grainy pictures from 1951, can a man track down the arguably most famous home run baseball of all time?

I really enjoyed Brian Biegel's account of his search for the missing Bobby Thompson home run ball from 1951. While I wouldn't call MIRACLE BALL compelling, it was certainly beyond fascinating, with numerous personal accounts of how that moment in history changed lives and how that crack of the bat was so pivotal to not only baseball, but also to the lives of so many fans.

While this book may disappoint some baseball fans for lack of hard core baseball fanaticism and statistics, it has enough emotion from people affected by "The Shot Heard 'Round The World" during the golden era of baseball to make it memorable.

Besides the evidence presented, the most compelling aspect of this book is the lore from a time when baseball truly was "America's Pastime."

Definitely a recommended read for baseball enthusiasts, New Yorkers, and anyone who might have been watching their black and white TV's on October 3, 1951.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Review: Pain Killers by Jerry Stahl

Title: Pain Killers
Author: Jerry Stahl
Copyright: 2009
Publisher: William Morrow
ISBN: 0060506652


Good But Disappointing - 3 stars - a book review

Brief Synopsis:
Manny Rupert is a former cop and sometimes former recovering drug addict. In the opening third of the book we see just how difficult life is for Rupert as we are introduced to his struggles with his ex-wife, drugs, money, and general poor decision making skills. He is "asked" to go undercover at San Quentin as a addiction instructor to determine if one of the inmates is a believed to be dead SS officer from the days of the Holocaust. With nothing to lose (and seemingly nothing to gain), Rupert agrees and is introduced to host of bizarre characters and situations.

General Impressions:
I love a good, dark, gritty story as much as anything. PAIN KILLERS certainly falls into that category as all the back stories are revealed of not only Rupert, but also his ex-wife, the inmates, and the correctional facility employees. Unfortunately, I just could not bring myself to love this story. Typically I tear through novels of a similar nature, but the slow pace and seemingly irrelevance of the situations was difficult for me to swallow. I had difficulty continuing to read PAINKILLERS at many times.

I think the biggest setback for PAIN KILLERS is the fact that situations arise out of nowhere, and Rupert is often presented with decisions that border on completely unbelievable (or with no relevance to the story). The plot also moves very slowly (at least in the opening half of the book). Since I have not read the first book with Manny Rupert, PLAINCLOTHES NAKED, this could be part of the problem (although PAIN KILLERS spends ample time recounting things I assume to have happened in the previous book).

PAIN KILLERS suffers from a lack of direction, and while the readers knows exactly what Rupert's mission is, it is difficult to determine where and how he he achieves this goal while reading the story. Obviously, more information comes out that is important to Rupert (and the other characters) that change the motivations and the resolve of the main characters, but the pacing is difficult to stay interested in these things.

Despite these opinions, PAIN KILLERS is most certainly a niche book. If you like dark and gritty books, this should certainly be on your "to read" pile and you might appreciate it more than I did. There are other books I would recommend first, including the Hank Thompson Trilogy by Charlie Huston:

Good Reading,

Plants and Books

Monday, April 6, 2009

Review: Orphan's Journey by Robert Buettner

Title: Orphan's Journey
Author: Robert Buettner
Copyright: 2008
Publisher: Orbit Books
ISBN: 0316001732

Notes: Third book in the Jason Wander series


The Hero We Deserve and the Hero We Need - 4 stars - a book review
"Patton, himself, pinned my Purple Heart on my pillow today. I told him our Shermans were coffins. Undergunned, underarmored. The gasoline engine makes them rolling bombs. Still, I took on a German Tiger. My boys burned alive. I cried, and I thought he'd slap me. But he patted my shoulder and whispered, "Son, the army's a big family. But command is an orphan's journey." Then that SOB cried with me."

-Tank Commander's letter from France, December 1944 (an excerpt from the beginning of Orphan's Journey)
Brief Synopsis:
The hero of Robert Buettner's military science fiction series returns in the fourth installment of the Jason Wander series. ORPHAN'S JOURNEY begins right where ORPHAN'S DESTINY ended: with the capture of a slug vessel. Jason Wander's godson appears to be the only human that might have the reflexes to pilot the alien craft. In a test run, everything goes wrong and Jason is once again thrust into a situation that is beyond his control; but not beyond his command. The vessel essentially goes on autopilot and crash lands on an alien planet that seems analogous to our own earth. As Jason and his small crew learn about the cultures and battles occurring on this planet, the slugs make yet another appearance and Jason must once again rally the troops in a battle that seems unlikely to be won.

Overall Impressions:
Out of all the Jason Wander books so far, ORPHAN'S JOURNEY is the weakest; however, it is still a worthwhile read and creates a beautiful story arc as to where the series is going. There is less internal struggle portrayed in the mind of Jason Wander, now that he lacks a Commanding Officer. Some of the best and most classic moments of the first couple of books were the commentary about the nature of command, and ORPHAN'S JOURNEY lacks this aspect. However, there are several comparisons drawn and examples from our history. Eisenhower is mentioned several times, and I view this as Jason Wander growing and maturing. The coming of age story is really starting to become much more prevalent. At the conclusion of the book it becomes obvious where the series is going and the impending war between man and slug.

Jason Wander is a hero in every sense of the word; and, one of the most thought provoking themes in this series is the price of heroism and the nature of being a hero. Jason often appears to despise his acts of heroism and almost attributes them to shear luck or to the units he commands.

ORPHAN'S JOURNEY is an authentic work of human compassion and it triumphs in the glimpse portrayed of the fundamental necessity to survive.

It is also impossible to deny the cover art by Calvin Chu.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Books For Sale

In the anticipation of possibly moving this summer we are starting to downsize. The first step was our boxes of books. We sorted through all the books visible on our shelves and in the boxes dedicated to books. I am positive that there are books stashed elsewhere through the apartment in various boxes, but those will be dealt with at another time.

I started weighing the books as I boxed them up. I was up to 180 pounds (and seeing the massive pile of nursing textbooks awaiting to be moved) before I gave up. My estimate of the total poundage was somewhere in the ballpark of 250 pounds. Here are a couple of pictures of the main stack of standard books (and a few nursing text books). There is a large box behind the back left stack filled to the brim with books and other nursing text books).



After almost throwing my back out on a number of occasions and ripping a massive hole in the back of my jeans, I took the books to Half Price Books, where I waited for 45 minutes for them to scan all my books. I received 121 dollars for all the books. Not too bad, I'd say.

Oh - and I must add if you see a book in the piles there that you gave me as a gift, the only thing I can tell you is that I probably read it and certainly loved it; and my selling it is just a way of sharing the wealth. The gift that keeps on giving, right?

Good reading (and selling),

Plants and Books
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