Friday, December 31, 2010

"I'm Dreaming Of A Black Christmas" by Lewis Black

Usually New Years is the time of the year that we associate with personal reflection, but lucky for us Lewis Black doesn't wait until a specially sanctioned holiday to bitch, gripe, moan, and ultimately come to a sober and reasoned understanding (full of sound and fury) about just what the Hell is going on.  I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas proves this, and it proves it with style and substance in a neat and tidy 192 page package.  There is no ribbon, there is no bow, there isn't even wrapping paper to cover this gift.  Because Lewis Black saves all of his time and energy for his thought processes, and delivers us the gift we all could probably used at the end of this 2010 we've all had...the gift of rage.

I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas gives us not only Lewis Black's feelings on the holiday (less greed for ourselves, more charity to others) but a chronicle of his usual Christmas routine, as well as a lot of self reflection and self analyzing anecdotes that tie into his usual stops and actions during the Holiday Season.  I would even dare say that Black's writing shows us more of his personal psyche than any of his stand up bits ever have.  (Note: I have not read either Nothing's Sacred or Me of Little Faith, so I'm not sure how much of a better, more comprehensive job they've done encapsulating his life, but after this book I surely will find out.)  Married young, Lewis thought he was having a child with his wife...until it turned out she was carrying someone else's little bundle of joy.  For him though, it was a bundle that would explode into divorce, and a lifelong aversion to commitment and fatherhood.  However adverse he is though, he enjoys the fact that through his friends and their families, he has a brief moment where he can feel a party to the life he wished he could have had, if only he'd met the right girl.  It is with that penultimate realization that Black realizes the true joy of Christmas, which is gathering around those you love and those you care about, if only to enjoy a few hours of uninterrupted, unspoiled joy and love.  (Also, as a bonus section, Black recounts his USO tour with Robin Williams, Kid Rock, and Lance Armstrong.  Trust me, it's as good as it sounds.)

Lewis Black is the perfect example of the dichotomy people should embody:  through the love of family and friends, we enrich ourselves; but we must also enrich ourselves by scrutinizing things and demanding more than we are usually given by the world.  We have to be pickier, but more generous; more compassionate, but much more abrasive; a little kinder,  but a little crueler at the same time.  Ultimately, we must be peaceful people, but allow ourselves to fight the right battles for the right things and stop being the sheep we choose to be on a day in/day out basis.  Of course, I'm reading much more into the serious angle of the book and completely underselling its humorous elements.  Yes, Lewis Black rants in his trademark dark style.  Yes, he makes points and laughs at certain figures in our lives that we take as punching bags.  Most importantly, he makes us laugh in a way that inspires us to be better.  Not because we can, but because we must.

As the last book I've read in 2010, I can easily recommend Lewis Black as a cap off to 2010, as well as the perfect way to start 2011.  You're going to be looking back on the recently passed Holiday Season anyway, you may as well do it with the Host of Christmas Fury.  Happy New Year, everyone!  Good reading to you all!

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Twelve Days of Christmas - Library Edition

Well folks, it's Christmas time again.  As such, it's a perfect time to give (or receive) books that'll help you kill some time, should you ever be snowed in.  With that in mind, here's 12 books that you should be requesting from your local Library, or purchasing on  (*hint hint* Use the links I've provided in my Bookish Kind reviews to order your friends and family some quality reading material, and kick me back some money in the process.)

On the first day of Christmas, my Librarian gave to me... A vampire plague to wipe out NYC

On the second day of Christmas, my Librarian gave to me...2 Gentlemen of Lebowski

On the third day of Christmas, my Librarian gave to me... 3 Red Lobster glasses

On the fourth day of Christmas, my Librarian gave to me... 4 Spears of Destiny

On the fifth day of Christmas, my Librarian gave to me... 5 Brakebills Students

On the sixth day of Christmas, my Librarian gave to me... 6 Secret Successes

On the seventh day of Christmas, my Librarian gave to me... 7 radioactive golden ingots

On the eighth day of Christmas, my Librarian gave to me... 8 fearful patients

On the ninth day of Christmas, my Librarian gave to me... 9 nymphos clawing

On the tenth day of Christmas, my Librarian gave to me... 10 Bennett Children

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my Librarian gave to me... 11 Vamps for Lincoln

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my Librarian gave to me... 12 Katherines dumping

That said, Merry Christmas to all, and to all turn the page.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"Toys" by James Patterson & Neil McMahon

Full Disclosure: I was given this advanced review copy by Hachette Book Group.  I wasn't paid, unless you call giving me a free book paid.  I would like to thank Brad Parsons over at Hachette for providing me with this and two other Pattersons that will be reviewed in the near future.

This is not going to be a happy review, nor is this going to be one that I think will turn out all that positive.  Which saddens me because I love James Patterson's writing, and find him genuinely (and consistently) entertaining.  His detective novels are aces, and I'm eager to dig into his Maximum Ride series and some of his other stand alone works that span other genres.  The man has talent, he's a personable figure, and he's a stitch on Castle.  All of this ass kissing has a purpose kids, I promise you.  It's to soften the blow I'm about to partially strike against a favorite author of mine.  I'm mostly going to roast the other guy though, because I KNOW in my heart and mind that James Patterson couldn't deliver a book as disappointing, as derivative, and as weak tea as Toys on his own.  Someone else had to have frakked it up.  And that someone is Neil McMahon.

Toys takes us to the far flung future of 2061 where people are basically separated into two castes: Humans and Elites. Humans are just like you and me, born after a nine month incubation period, normal abilities and such.  Elites, however, are born after two years in an artificial womb and endowed with super strength, speed and mental abilities.  Basically, it's Gattica on steroids.  One such Elite, Hays Baker, is our protagonist who, (MILD SPOILER ALERT) as it turns out, is a Human cut to look like an Elite.  This "betrayal" busts him down from top cop at the Agency of Change to fugitive on the loose.  As he goes on a journey to clear his name and stop the Elites from killing himself and every human on the planet, he cuts through swaths of Sci Fi cliches, action sequences, and pre fabricated twists that make this book seem more Human than Elite in its own right.

This book may as well have been titled "Humans Are People Too", because we see Hays go through the "Disgraced Hero" story arc that some of you may have heard of before.  Ok, you DEFINITELY have heard this story before.  As a matter of fact, there's one such story that this whole book seems to recall in my own Human brain.  This little film/short story you may have heard of called...Minority Report.  Yes, they rip off that story, as well as Total Recall in this book; which is meta-humorous because they mention Philip K. Dick's name in the story, as if to absolve themselves of cribbing his past works.  (While we're at it, parts of this book has hints of A.I. (creepy kid dolls) and Children of Men (there's a sequence involving British hooligans and Molotov cocktails chasing a car) thrown into it as well.)

As if that weren't bad enough, the writing is littered with too many "Is that what they were called?" or "That was from back then, wasn't it?" references.  The constant recall of our modern times in this futuristic tome do not ground the story in legitimacy, but show us just how far fetched it really is.  They didn't look to the future for inspiration, they just took a couple tropes of future life (haves vs. have nots, over population and global warming, Fascist utopia on the decline) and they grafted modern faces onto them.  Basically, if they were to constantly refer to the the Converse sneaker scene from I, Robot throughout the whole picture, it would be similar to this book.  And be warned, there is some clumsy, teenage written smut in this book.  I enjoy literary sex as much as the next person, but there's a reason you don't read about that much sex outside of Harlequin's "distinguished"'s hard to write a sex scene without it being cringe worthy in its description.

I love, love, LOVE Patterson's work in the Cross and Bennett series; and I have several other collaborations of his on my shelves waiting to be read.  The key to picking the right collaboration is to pick the right collaborating author.  Patterson works well with Andrew Gross (Read "The Jester" if you haven't already!) and Patterson works well with Michael Ledwidge (I'm dying to read "Tick Tock").  But ultimately, Patterson works best on his own.  It's sad to say it, since I don't know much about the man's writing, but Neil McMahon is only further proof of that very point.

Get Toys from the library if you have to, simply because it feels like the Third Act picks up and the ending leaves it open for a franchise (which felt like equal parts blessing and curse), but the Third Act doesn't make up for the lame First Act and the weak Second Act.  I guess my thinking is too Human and not Elite enough to "get" this book, but if that's the case then Human I am, and Human I will be.