The Reading(and TV) Reviewer

My thoughts and reviews on books, TV shows and whatever else may come up. I have a lot of hobbies and interests and they may come up from time to time, but this will mostly be book and TV reviews and discussions

Monday, September 21, 2009

Parks and Rec Season Two Episode 1

I got into Parks and Rec since it is by the people who did the Office, which is my favorite show. I thought the first season was decent and each episode seemed a little stronger than the previous. I wasn't sure if I would continue watching, but I decided to give season 2 a chance.

This episode was very good. They quickly wrapped up some dangling plot threads from season 1 and jumped in to this week's controversy. Leslie had a marriage ceremony for two penguins at the zoo. And she stated they mate for life. But it turns out these two penguins are both male.

She instantly becomes a celebrity in the gay community. But eventually the anti-gay people step up and want her to resign as well. And Leslie, well, she is liking the attention. The show is balanced out with some great character moments as well as we get to further know this crazy office.

There are several factors that make Parks and Rec a much different show than the Office. The Office has a bunch of minor characters or supporting characters like Kevin or Creed that provide some great comic relief, and Parks and Rec doesn't have that yet. Parks and Rec has a lot of funny moments, but hasn't hit the laugh out loud moments the Office has yet. And then Leslie is just as incompetent as Michael, but is lot more likable character in the long run. She actually means well and is not as mean as they have made Michael the last couple of seasons.

This will be the last review where I compare Parks to the Office. It deserves to stand on its own. Although not a must watch yet, it has definitely earned its place on my tivo.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Office Season 6 Episode 1

So season 6 of my absolute favorite kicked off tonight. And the night was all about gossip. Michael told a rumor that was true and to cover it up he told fake rumors about everyone else. Probably the funniest part of this was Andy trying to figure out if he was gay or not. But many of the rumors were typical office crazy.

Usually there is a funny subplot running through an episode or a great Dwight moment, but this episode was a little lacking. The best parts were the cold open and the ending before the credits. There were three interns who were serving on their last day, and when they say what they learned, they all realize they learned nothing.

All in all this was a weaker Office episode. After a weaker season 5 (although the Michael Scott Paper episodes were priceless) I hope the best ideas aren't behind them. It just seems the whole Dwight/Jim dynamic is off and Dwight and Michael moved from dumb and funny to just plain mean.

It is still my favorite show and a bad episode of the Office is many times better than the best show on other series, but I hope the show picks up again. Because the one thing missing tonight were a lot of laughs, and that is the whole point.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

John Adams by David McCullough

I don't usually read history/biography type books anymore, but after this amazing book by David McCullough I might need to start again.

I am a little ashamed of that actually, because I have a history degree and used to read them a lot, but as I have gotten older I have gravitated towards the fiction. This book though is amazing. It sometimes reads like a novel, and other times like a great history of the US, not just a story about Adams.

I always knew Adams was the second president since grade school, but I had no idea how involved he was during the revolutionary war up through his presidency. He pushed hard for independence. He worked hard to get the French involved. He not only signed the declaration of indepence, but also the Paris peace treaty that ended the war. He twice went to Europe in a time where a trip across the Ocean could take up to 8 weeks depending on the winds.

It is also amazing some of the inner workings, and the relationships that developed. For instance, Adams didn't particularly like Ben Franklin and thought Washington was somewhat aloof.

And everything is magically outlined because Adams was a tremendous writer. He wrote diaries. He wrote letters to friends. He wrote letters to his wife during their many separations. At one time they were separated for 4 years! This book covers almost his entire life, though a little sparse on the years before 40 all the way to his death at near 90.

Enough can't be said about this excellent book, but I don't have to. It run the Pulitzer Prize. It is a tough read, as the 650 pages are so crammed with information that it seems like each page is double a normal page. If you like history books or biographies this is a must read.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Franny and Zooey

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger came in 115 on the combined lists of the 100 greatest 20th Century novels. This is a very interesting book for several reasons that only have a little to do with the actual book.

Salinger, sometime after this book was published decided not to publish any other books. He of course also authored the Catcher and the Rye and sometime shortly after this he got fed up with the process. And Franny and Zooey was meant as a set of stories following the Glass family. Salinger even mentions there are more coming in the book notes, but it was not to be. Sometimes occasionally the story or history of a book becomes more interesting than the book, and that is almost the case here.

So what about the book? It is actually two stories in one the first following Franny, the youngest Glass child (although you don't find that out until reading Zooey). Basically the entire thing takes place in a diner and only involves two characters, Franny and her boyfriend Lane. Franny just returned from college and they are grabbing a bite to eat before going to the big game.

Only Franny is acting funny and doesn't want to eat. And she gets worse. She goes to the bathroom. She starts to sweat. And she tries to explain to Lane the book she is reading and the Jesus Prayer.

And that is about it. This goes on for about 50 pages before the Zooey story starts. And it is the much stronger of the two. It follows Zooey Glass, the second youngest child. The 150 pages is broken up into two main parts after an initial few pages of introduction. The first is Zooey conversing with his mother while he takes a bath. Zooey is a real sarcastic fellow, and there is quite a bit of humor in this section. His mother who all the kids call Bessie, is concerned about Franny. This seems to be a day or two after the first story.

After this lengthy piece Zooey goes to the living room to talk to Franny. There isn't a lot here, but just their conversations and Zooey's lectures on his beliefs and religion. There is a little brother and sister banter, but it is mostly just Zooey talking on and on and Franny crying.

I loved the Catcher in the Rye, but this was a bit of disappointment. Salinger is still an excellent write, and much like Holden in the Catcher in the Rye, he really captures the voice of Zooey. But this story just doesn't go anywhere. And after 200 pages, something should have happened. Maybe something did and I just missed it. Strong writing and some funny dialogue save it though, but barely. 3 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Monk Season 8 - Episode 3

So we are now 3 episodes in the final season of Monk. And this episode, along with last week's have been very solid. Monk must solve a case involving UFO's. He is stalked by true believers, some that think he is an alien. There are some great Monk moments and one liners.

Basically Natalie and Monk are returning from one of her friend' s weddings when they have car trouble. Monk insults the mechanic about every way possible and causes the repair bill to double and take longer.

That same night he spots a UFO, and later Natalie spots it too. Eventually a dead body is found near an alien landing site and Monk is brought in to help solve the case.

Although I have loved the last two episodes, I am kind of waiting for something grander to happen. It would be great if this final season had a little more connected feeling to each episode, but Monk has rarely done that before, so I doubt we will see it now. Also, although there was a big dose of Natalie, there was still no Julie, Doctor Bell, and since they were out of town very little of the Captain or Randy. The benefit of being out of town though, was a great guest spot by Daniel Stern. I hadn't seen him in awhile, and he fit in perfectly.

Hopefully Monk will continue with these strong episodes all the way through a memorable 8th and final season. I still can't believe there is only 13 episodes left.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

The Blade Itself is Joe Abercrombie's first full length published novel and is part one of a three part trilogy. While it is a solid debut for a rookie, you can tell it is written by a newer writer.

First of all, I must state I love fantasy fiction. Any time I am reading for fun, and it isn't on a book list I am reading, I stray towards the fantasy fiction. I like a little Science Fiction as well, but my heart lies in the fantasy.

So I was needing a break from my list, and when I do, I usually try a new fantasy author. After good reviews on Amazon and at Borders, I decided to dive into a newer author. And at first, it really drew me in. Each character is pretty unique with various problems and issues. There is an inquisitor who tortures confessions, but was once tortured himself. There is the rugged north man who is a killer but who no longer wants to be. There is a full of himself soldier and nobleman. There is a magician when no one really believes in magic. There are also some solid supporting characters.

Each character is flawed and has issues. And that is a nice change of pace. But so far what has most disappointed me is that no character has really surprised me. So they are flawed. They never seem to step out of character and do something that surprises me. I think the most rounded character so far is the north man Logen. Another annoying thing is that several of the supporting characters seem more well rounded and realistic than the main ones.

The other annoyance is the speech patterns. Every time a character gets flustered or doesn't know what to say we get an "Er" or an "Erm". Now if one character had this speech pattern fine. Two maybe. But everyone makes it very repetive. Especially the Inquisitor Glotka. He is the tough guy, the man who has been tortured and has the sarcastic smart whit. Yet if you stump him it will be a page and a half of "Er's" and "Erm's".

Even so, this book remains a page turner. The last few chapters I stayed up late to finish, which is really what a great book does, reguardless of the flaws. There is great action, great character development and a great set up for some solid sequels. I have read some reviews of the next books and they have only gotten more positive, so hopefully Mr. Abercrombie has continued to grow and improve his writing.

This book was a solid three stars through most of the book, but the exciting action, the strong ending, and the great set up for the next book has easily boosted this to 4 out of 5. If you like fantasy with a little edge to it, check this out. I don't think you would be disappointed.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Monk Season 8 - Episode 2

So if you read my review of the first episode, I was not a big fan. I was a little worried that season 8 would be a rudderless mess, with only a handful of wrap up episodes at the end and leave us with a very mediocre season.

Well the second episode of the 8th and final season have ended most of those fears. Although still nothing special or magical or advancing any of the major plots, this was a great stand alone episode. Monk meets a poor, distraught African man who has lost his poor wife to a hit and run driver. Monk was tired of his music and incense, but when he realizes they share a common bond of a dead spouse he takes him in.

One of the funnier running gags is Monk telling his new friend his is the American way, when it is really Monk's way. One of the funnier scenes involves Monk showing him the American way to do laundry. Basically every color gets its own wash including three colors of whites. He is taking up the entire laundry mat. You would think those his nice rented house would have a washer and dryer, but maybe the laundry mat is a little quicker.

The case as always is almost a backdrop to Monk's quirky ways and humor. Oddly for the second week in a row it is light on the Natalie, Captain, and Randy, and there is no Julie or Dr. Bell.

This second episode was a step up in both humor, story, and well everything. I hope we are back to classic Monk run. This show has had so few stinkers, that when one pops up it is really jarring.