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

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.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Monk Season 8 - Episode 1

So the final season of Monk is here. What an underrated show this has been for all these years, being more like a 1 hour comedy than a drama. The cases are just a nice backdrop for our favorite OCD detective.

I wasn't expecting fireworks with 15 more episodes to go, but this has to be one of my top five least favorite episodes. The plot revolved around a childhood celebrity who was in Monk's favorite television show growing up which was a straight rip off of the Brady Bunch. And it appears someone is trying to kill her.

Monk stumbles in to being her bodyguard, but even this can't bring up some of the amazing Monk charm. It just seems this was a Monk resting on 7 solid years of great shows and this was just a cobbled together, typical Monk.

And many of his best OCD Monk moments were not present. And near the end there is a scene that will make My Name is Earl fans cringe as they are forced back to those terrible sitcom episodes when he was in a coma.

Not even the supporting cast could help much with no Dr. Bell, no Julie, a little less Natalie, and a lot less Captain and Randy.

But it is still Monk so even one of the worst episodes ever still has several laugh out loud moments and memorable one liners. When the assistant asks Monk if he can be the body guard for 1,000 dollars a week, Monk responds that is fine, but he can't pay all at once. After the assistant responds no they would pay him 1,000 a week, Monk agrees that is even better.

I am really happy Monk is back and sad this is the last episode. I just hope we will have a few classic episodes by season's end to go with all the other wonderful episodes of the past 7 seasons.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Stranger in a Strange Land

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein is another book from the book lists. The book comes in at #41 on the combined lists and was published originally in 1961.

This is a very unique book that ends up in some really bizarre areas by the end. Basically a team went to explore Mars and through events that are left relatively vague everyone is thought dead. It takes many years for Earth to return to Mars and when they do, they find there was actually one survivor.

Only Valentine Michael Smith was raised by Martians, and does not understand Earth culture in the least. It is a unique take on a stranger to a new culture. Instead of funny misunderstandings, although there are a few comic moments, there is a huge gap that lasts through a large portion of the book.

Once Valentine gets used to Earth he sort of becomes a cult or folk type hero, but in a mostly harmless way. He has strange mind powers that he gradually teaches his followers and it becomes more of a religion and a way of life for all of his followers. And his number of followers slowly grows and grows.

The book begins to to turn strange and is flat out bizarre by the end, but for the most part it is a fun ride. I thought some of the most interesting moments are the small details Heinlein gives out about what really happened on Mars. These sometimes seem more fascinating that what is actually happening in the stories. I have not done the research yet to see if the story of what actually happened on Mars is told in another story, but it would seem to be quite the read.

This book had a four to five star potential until about the last quarter of the book. For a book that really hadn't dragged, the ending does slow down quite a bit. Without giving too much away this book seems to veer away from the feel good ending it seemed to be heading to. This is one of those where I wish I had come up with a half star system for 3 1/2, but I think this deserves to round up to a solid 4. I think by the time I finish the entire list 41 will seem like a solid placement for this book.

Monday, August 3, 2009


1984 by George Orwell comes in at #2 on the combined lists of greatest 20th century fiction. The book was published in 1949 and is a look at 1984 in an Anti Utopian society. So does this book live up to being so high on the list?

The book follows Winston Smith. He has the glamorous job of going back and changing newspaper articles to make it look like his government is never wrong. Basically, 1984 centers around an Utopian society that has gone horribly wrong. All people are monitored at all times through television monitors. People who have an original thought vanish with no explanation. You aren't allowed to love or date who you want.

Basically every freedom is gone. The state is always at war with some other nation although it changes from time to time who the war is with. Many people just fall in line or don't know any different, but Winston tries to fight the system and even falls in love.

So does the book live up to the billing as the #2 book of the 20th century. It is solidly written with never a dull moment. Even though his vision of 1984 is long gone and has not come to pass, many of his concerns of privacy and freedom are still relevant today. The book does take an unusual turn towards the end, and almost becomes a different novel entirely. It is an important piece of the book, but is a little harder reading near the end, which is a shame because the rest of the book was just a treat to read. This book is definitely still important. I am not sure if it would rank as high as 2 on my list, but it definitely deserves a top 10 spot. 4 out of 5 stars. But remember, this could all just be from big brother!

Saturday, August 1, 2009


Just started watching Bones and we are about 12 episodes into season 1. Each summer when the reruns start I try to find a show the wife and I have missed so we have something to watch over the summer. I am not sure if we never tried Bones because of our CSI aversion. Maybe it just was on at the same time of another show we watched before we had the Tivo. For whatever reason, I had never seen an episode of Bones until this season.

And it is excellent. One thing I like in my shows is a little character development. I just can't do all story like a Law and Order (which is an excellent show, just not my cup of tea.) But the chemistry between agent Booth and Bones (anthropologist Temprance Brennan) is mesmerizing. They argue and bicker and fight and somehow still solve the case. The setup is pretty typical where there is one case per week that is usually wrapped up, but the character developments stories and themes trickle over from week to week. It is still too early to tell but it appears there will be some longer character story arcs that will work themselves through the show.

It seems most shows are falling into this format or the serial format where every show basically begins directly after or reasonably after the previous episode. So with every show basically doing the same thing, it is all about executing the formula and the characters. And Bones nails it.

So far some of the supporting characters around the two main leads seem a little weaker, but they could have potential. It really doesn't matter though, because the leads steal the show. And the cases aren't half bad either.

If you like police procedural 'sor are a CSI or Law and Order junkie, you really should give this show a try if you haven't already. And if you are like me and are now five seasons behind, with the crap that is on during the summer, this may be a great way to get a TV fix until the new seasons begin.