Tuesday, July 18, 2017

"Splatoon 2" Review


Nintendo is determined to keep feeding the beast, cranking out a head-turning first-party release for the Switch per month. Stacking along with an impressive slate that includes The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Arms, Splatoon 2 is the third among the four offerings of games either previously made for the Wii U or remade from releases on the system.

The strategy of bolstering the new system's library by drawing from the old well is working so far. Nintendo is using the mediocre reach of the Wii U to its benefit, building upon solid word of mouth and unbridled enthusiasm of hardcore fans who devoured the previous games to build a groundswell of anticipation for new-ish games on its hot-selling system.

More Splatoon 1.5 than a full-fledged sequel, the new game excels by refusing to tamper with what already works well.

A strong, competitive third-person shooter hindered only by the lack of multiplayer voice chat that dogs all Nintendo software, Splatoon 2 brings the thrills and entertainment factor of a usually adult genre to all ages. Replacing bullets with paint guns gives the action a harmless, laser-tag style feel.

Gyroscope-aided motion aiming makes the Switch feel like a window into a world you control with your wrists and button taps, and the fluid combination of wall-crawling and paint stream dodging makes for invigorating war games.

What you get is an expanded set of offerings of what the 2015 title offered. New weapons, skins, maps and modes expand naturally on what came before, matching and exceeding the original slate.

LAN play makes more sense than online multiplayer, as long as you happen to have Switch-equipped pals. Face-to-face competition makes the action more exciting, thanks to the smack-talk and facial expressions that come along with the intimacy of the setup.

The four-on-four team-based Turf War mode remains the main attraction, but the new Salmon Mode offering -- think Gears of War's Horde Mode, team you and a buddy to face off against increasingly difficult waves of oncomers.

Checking off another box in the Switch's slowly, steadily growing catalogue, Splatoon 2 helps Nintendo continue to have an unmatched 2017 in first-party production. If you're still satisfied with the Wii U and original Splatoon, rest comfortably that you aren't missing out on all that much new. But if you're looking for future-proof shooting you can take on the go, the sequel should be in your sights.

Publisher provided a review code.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

"Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age" Review

Eleven years ago, "Final Fantasy XII" pushed the PlayStation 2 to its limit, reaching what was then a high point for the famed RPG series and laying the groundwork for an awkward decade for the franchise that finally came to blossom last year with the spectacular "Final Fantasy XV."

Telling a sprawling, layered story with gorgeous visuals, deep writing and exhilarating combat that melded turn-based and action qualities, the game was ripe for an HD remaster. "The Zodiac Age" builds on everything that worked with the original -- enhancing the visuals and streamlining the rough, antiquated edges of the gameplay -- and minimizes what didn't work. The result is a gleaming gem that rivals "XV" and "VII" for the top spot among the series' pantheon.

Those who were wowed by "XV" but yearn for the series' roots will find much to love in "XII." Although the checkpoint-based saved system is a previous-gen relic -- hey, at least it does away with the ludicrous PS2 memory card system -- the structured, linear experience recalls the experience that most longtime fans of the franchise grew up loving. You can micromanage every attack or preset your party's emphasis and sit back and watch the mayhem unfold.

A new orchestral score helps give the action and story beats the cinematic resonance that the newer games have, while keeping a foot squarely planted in the past. Looking at the story through the 2017 lens gives the saga a decidedly "Game of Thrones" feel, with the tale of redemption unfolding through brutal setbacks and slivers of hope.

Weighing in at $50, "The Zodiac Age" is on the pricey side of previous-gen remasters, but the cost is well worth it based on the 100-plus hours of thrills it provides, as well as the loving care that went into nearly every aspect of the build. Easily the definitive way to experience "XII," this is as much a remake as it is a makeover.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

"Minecraft: Season 2, Episode 1" Review

Building of the momentum of the 2015 Telltale Games episodic adventure, the follow-up season reunites characters from the original game and takes your choices into account.

Nailing the blocky graphics and sing-song music of the famed sandbox builder game on which it's based, the storyline and dialogue capture Telltale's trademark humor and emotional resonance.

The new story takes a while to get going, with much of the time spent establishing characters and motivations. Intriguing choices come into play for the branching paths you decide to take, letting you establish your hero as egotistical, sarcastic or compassionate.

Mission directives are always clear and concise, reducing the amount of time you'll need to waste wandering around while looking for ways to advance the story. That's not to say the format is strictly linear. Staying true to the Minecraft spirit, there is plenty to distract you from the main path in the way of exploration and whimsy -- including, of course, opportunities to build stuff.

Like an expert Minecraft builder, the first episode of the new season lays a solid foundation for the heights that are sure to come.

Publisher provided a review code.

Book Report: The Zookeeper's Wife



This is hardcore history dressed up with fictional interludes to streamline the narrative. You know what you're getting into here. A tale of torture and inhumanity, with animals as well as people suffering the spirit-crushing reach of the Nazi regime. I wasn't familiar with the Polish resistance beforehand, and learning about how the people risked everything they had to turn the tide and take back their homes only to find physical devastation, imprisonment and slaughter waiting for them was difficult to handle. Ackerman is very much on the nose with her symbolism, relating animalistic qualities to her heroine, and could have made more of an impact with her theories had she scaled back a lot. But overall, this is a fascinating, well-researched and resonant record of a sad yet inspiring tale of survival.

Monday, July 10, 2017

New Nintendo 2DS XL Review


Sometimes progress means taking a step back.

That's the case for Nintendo's newest handheld, which further clouds the choices handheld gaming enthusiasts need to make when deciding which device to tote around.

The New Nintendo 2DS XL -- yep, quite a mouthful -- is a nominal advancement over the New 3DS XL, the current king of Nintendo's handheld-only products.

Smaller and lighter, with a longer-lasting battery, included charger -- the New 3DS XL lacks one -- the 2DS boasts the same size of display and resolution in both its screens.

Its slimmer form factor, endurance and game library gives it the edge over all other handhelds, including the Switch. The sacrifice is its lack of 3D capability, rendering the once wow-grabbing visuals that have now faded squarely into antiquated fad territory obsolete. You may not be able to get as much out of your 3DS library visually, but if you already have tired of handheld 3D, it's no big loss.

Still, depending on your preferences, there is a cornucopia of brethren systems to tempt you. Start with the tight, compact original 3DS, move on to its supersized big bro, the New 3DS XL, check out the kid-friendly, tablet-style 2DS and then consider the console/handheld hybrid system of the future the Switch, with its currently slim library.

If you want the best of all Nintnedo's offerings, the solutions is a trick question. You'll need both a Switch and a member of the "3DS Family." The New 2DS XL, being the newest of the bunch, makes the most sense for streamlined on-the-go gaming.

If you only have the budget for one system -- and if you plan on keeping the system in your pocket at all times -- your best bet is the newest system, which puts glasses-free 3D in the rear-view mirror, probably for good.

Publisher provided device for review.

Friday, June 30, 2017

"Baby Driver" Review

For my written review, click here.

HTC U11 Review

HTC has struggled to keep pace with Samsung and Apple -- usually playing catch-up on significant tech specs -- but that changes with the U11.

Introducing new tactile functionality along with an elegant two-sided glass form factor and shimmering 5.5-inch, 2K resolution display, this smartphone vies to be the center of attention rather than a wallflower.

Exemplary battery life -- intense use after a full work day will not deplete your power bar -- a staggeringly impressive 16/12 megapixel camera set and impressive multitasking and processing speeds make the U11 tough to put down.

The most intriguing new feature is the squeeze input. Rather than hunt for buttons, you squeeze the phone to launch the camera app and snap pics. While the functionality initially seems incongruous, it quickly becomes second nature, even going to the point of making it feel archaic to go back to another device and snap pics the traditional way.

If you dig the squeeze input, you can take a deep dive and set other apps for squeeze activation. If it doesn't work for you, you can ignore it and rely on the preset inputs.

The Pixel-style Google assistant fills the Siri/Bixby roll well -- riding high on a Snapdragon 835 processor -- and the dust-resistant surface keeps you from having to wipe it clean.

Most importantly, the U11 just feels right. Engineered for responsiveness, ease of use and an appealing ergonomical feel, this gem of a device puts HTC into the unfamiliar -- for the past few years -- spot at the head of the pack in the ever-evolving smartphone arms race.

While there's nothing here to make iPhone or Galaxy die-hards give up their cult-like devotion, fence-sitters looking to upgrade should give this one a long, hard look -- and not be shocked if it's love at first sight.

HTC provided a device for review.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Book Report: People Who Eat Darkness


Parry goes beyond nuts and bolts journalism to tear the cover off his murder story and dive deeply into the sociopolitical context and disturbing subculture that spawned Joji Obara's kidnapping and killing of Lucie Blackman.

Recounting a case he covered extensively for a British newspaper, Parry exposes the seductive repression of the hostess bar circuit that Obara used to hunt his prey and Blackman clung to as a means to use her charm and looks to get by in a foreign land. Shoving aside constraints of reporter neutrality, he shares the yearnings and frustrations of him and Blackman's family as the staggered Japanese justice system strains to shackle the monster.

Fascinatingly told and free of cliches or lazy true crime crutches, Parry creates a true masterwork that endures as the magnum opus of Blackman case coverage and sets a shining example for not only authors, but reporters, to follow.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

"Injustice 2: Ultimate Edition" Review


As excellent as "Injustice 2" was, the base game is sadly incomplete. Significant characters that appeared in the story mode were seemingly held back as paid DLC or to trick out the Ultimate Edition.

Shell out an extra $40 for the tricked-out edition of the spectacular D.C. universe fighting game and you get nine DLC fighters that significantly flesh out the roster of pugilists. Red Hood, Starfire, Sub-Zero and Tamaran are included, with the others yet to be announced.

You also get premiere skins, which give existing characters alternate voices and dialogue, as well as shader packs that trick out their gear in the manner of alternate jerseys in pro sports.

Oddly, Darkseid is not included in the package, and remains a pre-order exclusive. If you failed to order the game before release, expect to cough up $6 for the hilariously overpowered -- and arguably most fun -- fighter on the roster.

Whether the premium cost is worth all the additional characters depends on how much time you plan to invest in the versus mode, but there's little question that you need the add-on to complete the full game. Cheapskates can hold out hope that a version of the game with all DLC will eventually come along at a discount, as it did for the previous game in the series.

The publisher provided a review code.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Book Report: "The Prestige"


Christopher Nolan's flawed movie surpassed the strange, winding book, which takes an intriguing premise, strangles it to death midway through, then keeps on trucking long past when the curtain should have dropped on the plot.

The tale of rival magicians, told through dueling, conflicting journal entries found by their descendants, is at its best when it explores the psyches of the leads, pacing the escalation of the conflict from contentious professional conflict to blood feud and onward to mutually-destructive obsession.

Priest falters once he has to spill the secrets of each magician's special trick that they are hiding from one another. His explanation is a bizarre, supernatural copout that forces the story to wander off into the woods, never to return. Misdirection turns into directionlessness, and the story stops rather than ends.

The format, period detail and character voices are exquisite, but the botched execution fails to coalesce the moving parts into the masterpiece it could have been. The end result is a head-scratching magic trick that baffles rather than dazzles.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

LG X Venture Review

No matter how fast your phone's processor is or how tricked-out its apps are, it's worthless once you inevitably drop it and spiderweb the screen. Cases and screen protectors can help guard against the danger, but they can add bulk and mess with the look and form factor of your sexy device.

The LG X seeks to take the need for a case away, emphasizing toughness and endurance above all else. Built for those who like to live a life of hiking, mountain biking, DIY projects and kids running around with it, the Venture packs a tough casing, a shatter and water-resistant display and a beast of a battery. While the specs and benchmarking may not be quite up to the most cutting edge of competitors, the AT&T-exclusive device does give you all you need to thrive and survive in 2017 and beyond.

Built to compete with the Samsung S8 Active, even the software suite is designed for outdoorsy folks. The Outdoor Essentials app bundles a barometer, fitness tracker, compass and flashlight -- making it easy for campers to scrounge up what they need with minimal hassle. There's even a Glove Mode that allows the screen to sense your interactions while bundled up from the cold.

The Snapdragon 435 processor won't win many speed tests, but the 16mp rear camera and 5mp selfie cam will keep you cranking out adventurous Instagram posts. But even the underpowered processor and smallish display come with a purpose. The device is powered by a monstrous 4,100mAh battery, and the loaner unit lasted through two days of frequent use without needing a charge.

Sticking with micro USB charging rather than upgrading to USB C like most new Android phones comes with positives and negatives. The good news is that you won't have to replace your chargers, but the downside is you're stuck with slower recharging speeds and the annoyance of having to have the input lined up just right.

Overall, the LG X Venture is a solid pickup for those whose lives are tough on their phones, but offers little for the tech-savvy upgrader looking for the hottest new thing. It's meant to be brought on adventures rather than cooped up indoors.

LG provided a device for review.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Book Report: "Through the Looking Glass"


More artistic and less trippy and disturbing than the original, this feels like a commerce-driven cash-in. It's also an excuse for Carroll to wedge in some spectacular poems that otherwise would have been tough to publish. He abandons many of the twisted themes he tangled with in the original in favor of lighthearted whimsy. He generated some iconic characters here, including a definitive Humpty Dumpty, doofus twins Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum and the icy White Queen. This is, overall, the more accessible and better-written of the two Alice books, but less imaginative and safer.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Book Report: "Mafia Prince"


The writing is poor, and the storytelling is mediocre. Leonetti's memoir thrives on the pure grit of his honesty, humility, shamelessness and experience. He recounts his years in the mob, and what led to his betrayal of his entire crime family and willingness to risk his own life and those of everyone he loved just to stick it to his controlling uncle, never pretending that he became a government witness for altruistic, or even pragmatic, reasons. Leonetti and his gaggle of ghostwriters spin their yarn with the matter-of-fact sloppiness of a tired old man spilling his guts to no one in particular at a dive bar.

Because he was so deeply entrenched with his subject matter, he can't help but tell a more reliable history of the fall of La Cosa Nostra than any journalist could catalogue or any novelist could dream up. His scattered, choppy prose may be agonizing at times, but he manages to translate a convincing feel of what it was like to sell your soul to the seductive greed that mob life offered him.

That said, an editor who halfway paid attention could have done wonders for this mess. Characters are introduced and re-introduced over and over again in the exact same manner, nicknames and terms are given the same treatment and stories are rehashed for no apparent reason.

GoodFellas this is not, but "Mafia Prince" is still vital reason for anyone who can't get enough wiseguy tales.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

"Injustice 2" Review


s The publisher provided a copy of the game.

Like a costumed vigilante showing off a new uniform and powers, "Injustice 2" passes the "wow" test within the first few minutes. This is the superhero fighting game DC fans have long dreamed of, with heroes and villains squaring off with a full, dizzying set of background-shattering, enemy-splattering powers.

And just like every interesting comic book hero, there are flaws beneath the surface that keep the game from superhuman levels.

Just about everything has improved from the original game. Not only are the visuals sharper and more authentic, the standard moves are more fluid and the specials are easier to execute and more spectacular. It's a thrill, for instance, to use the Flash to pummel Superman through various dimensions.

Online lobbies are streamlined and efficient, pairing you with fighters of similar skill in order to make your experience more accessible and challenging than punishing.

The story mode also takes the mythos to new heights. While the previous version was little more than a flashy tutorial, the new story is a robust and worthy effort that is far more than a throwaway side mode. Ignore the campaign to dive into multiplayer without looking back and you're missing out on a thrilling, twist-filled journey.

The character selection is robust, with new additions such as Supergirl, Firestorm and Scarecrow, but those familiar with "Injustice: Gods Among Us" will miss the fighters who don't show up in the sequel, such as Doomsday, Lex Luthor, Lobo and Martian Manhunter. Even more disappointing is the way devs held back characters for premium editions of the game. If you want the likes of Reverse Flash, Power Girl or the John Stewart edition of Green Lantern, you are going to have to fork over more money upfront or wait for the inevitable rerelease.

Fighting game sequels should leave you no reason to return to the predecessor, and the lack of defining characters from the original makes the follow-up fail at that task. That said, this is a robust overall effort that will please fans of fighters and the DC mythos alike.

Geared as much for easy couch co-op while balanced enough for the e-sports circuit, "Injustice 2" is a game that has started off well and will likely only improve as players shake out its kinks and developers pump out updates, refinements and additional characters. Even if this year's slate of DC movies disappoint fans of the franchise, they'll be able to retreat to the game to take solace.

The publisher provided a digital copy of the game for review.

Three New Sets Revitalize 'Lego Dimensions'

Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment continues to pump out new characters and levels to refresh the original game, which came out in 2015. Here's what's new in May:

The Goonies Level Pack

In addition to a "Goonies"-themed level and battle arena, you get the One-Eyes Willie pirate ship -- rebuildable as the Fanged Fortune and Inferno Cannon -- a Sloth minifigure and a skeleton organ/jukebox/turkey 3-in-1.

Harry Potter Fun Pack

A Hermione minifigure and buildable Buckbeak/Giant OwlFierce Falcon three-in-one structure come along with the kit.

Lego City Fun Pack

Chase McCain, the star of "Lego City Undercover," shows up in minifig form. You also get a 3-in-1 police chopper/hovercraft/plane to patrol the game's levels.

Studio provided review samples.

LG G6 Review


With the G6, LG shows that it's no longer willing to settle for playing catch-up with the likes of market leaders Apple and Samsung. Instead, it's not afraid to take some chances and innovate.

It starts with the display, an oblong, extra-wide screen that presents you with a broad, 5.7-inch display that maintains a thin form factor while pumping out visuals at 2,880x1,440 pixels. This makes it so your field of view is comparable to that of a Galaxy S8+ or iPhone 7 Plus, while keeping the device easy to keep in one hand, allowing you to operate it without straining your thumb.

Judging from the durability of the loaner unit, the G6 seems built to last. Should it slip out of your hand, it handles tumbles with resilience. The tough, pragmatic design -- with rounded corners that make for better ergonomics -- negates the need for a case and handles drops on tile or concrete surfaces, as well as plops in puddles, thanks to water resistance that stacks up well to competitors.

The 32GB of onboard memory is expandable with a micro SD card -- which is key because pre-installed apps eat up close to half of the original storage.

A weak spot is the 3,300mAh cell battery, which struggles to keep up with heavy use throughout the workday -- especially if you plan on watching video or gaming on full brightness settings. Luckily, the USB-C charger juices the device back up in short order. As long as you pick up an extra charger for the car and juice up at your desk, you should be fine.

The dual, 13MP rear cameras are another highlight, allowing you to shoot absurdly wide panoramics -- up to 125 degrees. Included software allows you to preview pics without leaving the shooting app, or trick out pictures in such ways as combining a pair of similar shots to craft a hybrid.

The 821 2.35 GHz + 1.6 GHz Quad-Core Custom 64-bit Qualcomm Kryo processor can handle heavy lifting that keeps it on par with the iPhones, Galaxies and Pixels of the world. Whether you're juggling apps via multitasking work apps, pausing videos to get in some gametime while catching up on email or snapping and editing photos and videos to share on social media, the G6 has you covered. The included Google assistant keeps it on par with the Pixel, allowing you to use voice commands to look up facts, call up apps, maps or music.

The LG G6 is a phone for an iconoclast who makes it a point of avoiding following the crowds, and the device rewards those well who make the leap from the comfortable brands. What it lacks in name recognition it more than makes up for in performance.

LG provided a device for review.

Friday, May 12, 2017

"Snatched" Review

For my written review, click here.

Book Report: "Catch Me if You Can"


Abagnale pulls off a con job when it comes to the ending. Seemingly uninterested at giving his story any sort of resolution, he just stops and vanishes as abruptly as he did when he passed a bum check or tricked a prison guard into letting him free.

The story is amazing, if probably exaggerated to an absurd degree, and the momentum is overwhelming. Abagnale trips things up a bit by obsessively inserting lame similes into every other paragraph, awkwardly making him seem like he's trying to come off as a hillbilly rather than a sophisticated conman.

The movie is way better than the book, but could have incorporated more of his crazy scams. Abagnale was a chameleon who masqueraded as an airline pilot, doctor, college professor and prison inspector. The joy with which he recounts his capers is contagious, and the inner monologue with which he rationalizes the moral fortitude of his crimes is fascinating.

This seems more like the first half of a deeper, more profound book, but at least it's probably the more entertaining half.

Friday, May 05, 2017

"Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" Review

For my written view, click here.

Book Report: "If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer"


This is a disgusting yet mesmerizing look into a likely insane narcissist who has somehow convinced himself of his innocence of one of the most notorious crimes of the 20th century, while at the same time feeling guilt-ridden or braggadocious enough of committing the murders and getting away with them that he decided to write a book about how he did it.

As untrustworthy as O.J.'s perspective is, his scattershot narrative manages to fill in several gaps in the mystery -- plenty of which aren't even covered in the 8-hour, Oscar-winning ESPN documentary.

It's also fascinating to listen to O.J. rationalize the way he threw away his success and stardom. Every villain is the hero of his own story, and the way he saw it, he was an innocent man always trying to do his best in the face of impossible circumstances. It's intriguing to read between the lines to get the idea of what really happened in situations he shrugs off and explains away, such as the times in which police investigated him for domestic abuse.

The introduction is equally fascinating, about the way the Goldman family got legal custody of the manuscript, and why they chose to publish it. An addition from the ghostwriter is also insightful into O.J.'s character and demeanor. Equal parts trash and valuable historical document, it's a book well worth a look for those who are interested in the case.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Book Report: "Jaws"


It was a shocking discovery that as great as the movie was, it basically amounted to Steven Spielberg screwing up and cheapening one of the greatest novels of the 20th century.

Peter Benchley's book is disgustingly good, with vibrant storytelling that unfolds with the urgency of a police procedural, coupled with some powerful character development, mesmerizing dialogue and overwhelming pathos for its conflicting chess pieces in an unfolding disaster that no one wants to acknowledge.

The interplay between Brody, Quint and Hooper -- which is definitely the high point of the movie -- is about a thousand times better in the book, due to the stakes being much higher and the conflict far deeper among them. Hooper is a far more complex and nefarious character in the book than the movie, and Brody's heroism is more defnied and his self-sacrifice more profound.

The movie version of the shark is more powerful and meaner than the book version, but the latter is more frightening due to the realism with which he's treated. About the only improvement the film makes on the source material is the "we're gonna need a bigger boat" line.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Book Report: Zodiac


Graysmith translates his journalistic obsession with single-handedly solving the Zodiac mystery to the page with flamboyant zeal. He set the template for Dateline, 20/20 and ID shows by fusing an incredible amount of detail into a torpedo-driven narrative.

He gets in trouble by getting lost in the woods sometimes, focusing on minutiae such as which streets victims took, and adding throwaway flourishes such as conversation snippets that he surely made up. And then there is the ridiculous chapter where he tries to correlate every killing to a different lunar phase in a bizarre attempt to guess at the next Zodiac murder, which thankfully would never come.

Graysmith is most triumphant at translating his enthusiasm for the case to the reader. His skill at digging up facts that the Bay Area's law enforcement agencies lost track of or failed to share with one another to craft a cohesive portrait is mesmerizing. It's even more impressive that he doesn't hedge his bets under a guise of journalistic neutrality. He makes a case for proving the guilt of the most likely suspect, while also accepting the possibility that he could be wrong, and posing a possible alternative suspect. You come away from the book feeling like you knew all that Graysmith discovered and informed enough to form a hypothesis of your own.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Book Report: Wicked


Something that always bothered me about the musical was how artificial and forced the ending seemed to be. The book is much darker and sticks truer to the characters' fatalism, making the Elpheba-Fiyero more poignant and relevant to the traditional story than a nonsensical conspiracy to run off together. If there is one thing Maguire absolutely nails, it's the finish, which is haunting and resonant down to the ending phrase. It's the struggle to get to that point that gets the author in trouble.

Maguire is a consummate overthinker, which leads to over-writing and meandering in the dense forest of details that he and he alone finds relevant. There is way more time hacking through the weeds of Oz's history and political movements than serves the story. It is cruel to compare any writer to George R.R. Martin, but Maguire could learn a lot from his economy and forward momentum in crafting sprawling words with thick, dense lore that informs every scene. Maguire's characters and intrigues wither on the vine because he chokes away their momentum too often.

The Oz that Maguire crafts is handsome and rich, but also staggeringly dull. I want the Cliff's Notes of the rest of his Wicked Years saga, but lack the energy to plow through the full experience. Guess I'll wait for the musical adaptations, even if they have fake ubeat endings.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Book Report: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland


I experienced the story in a million ways before finally sitting down to read it, and it surpassed my expectations of just how weird it was. Lewis Carroll had no reservations about stifling speculation about his drug use or sanity. He wrote about whatever strange concept popped into his head, regardless of how it affected the flow of his story, his characters or the overall tone. He is out to traumatize children and adults alike, providing a flood of material for pscyh evaluations and armchair analysis. Silk-smooth, clear writing helps keep the unfocused brain dump not only readable, but consistently funny.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Book Report: Infinite Jest


David Foster Wallace was a visionary who prophesized HDTV, Skype, Netflix, On Demand cable viewing and reality TV with this incredibly long, ludicrously annotated brain dump of a book. He knows and cares an incredible amount about Tucson and tennis -- two topics you hardly ever see pop up in novels. He's also an authority on Boston AA, the ins and outs of addiction and Ivy League academic ennui.

If Wallace had a fault, it was that too many ideas were bursting out of his head and he had trouble organizing them in a cohesive manner. "Infinite Jest" is more a compilation of barely-connected short and long stories. In the literary equivalent of channel surfing, he shifts styles every few chapters, stopping for nearly 400 footnote asides just to cram in all the stuff he felt the need to slip between the endless lines.

You get the sense that Wallace was such a genius that he was smothered and tormented by the ideas swirling around his head, and that writing was one of he ways he coped with what amounted to an isolated existence. Drugs, crappy TV and copious reading were other outlets, and he managed to boomerang his obsessions with all of them into his great masterwork, which he managed to focus enough to crank out in order to justify a life well wasted.

He took his own life, but he remains immortal in these pages, as well as in the fabric of society he saw coming 20 years ago.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Book Report: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea


Jules Verne was the Michael Crichton of his time, writing well-reasoned and plausible near-future sci-fi stories that turned out to be prophetic. He is out to dazzle his readers with his knowledge and speculation of the mysteries of the deep, and makes the dry lecture material more palatable by wrapping it in a vivid, stirring story of adventurers taken as half-willing captives by a domineering genius. There's a parallel to Vernes himself as Captain Nemo, captivating readers on a journey they must accept on his megalomaniacal terms. Throughout the globe-circling adventures, Nemo's prisoners plot their escape, but their efforts are halfhearted because they can't fully commit to stop wanting to see what happens next if they stay aboard the submarine. Nemo is every author, and M. Arronax, Ned Land and Conseil are the warring factions of a reader's psyche, battling distraction and disagreement with the inevitable course governed by one person alone. To read is to give up your agency in return for knowledge and experience you'd never otherwise be able to find on your own. That's the punishing gift Vernes doles out.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Book Report: The Corrections


I read Freedom first, which spoiled me for this one. Franzen got better with time, developing his voice and narrative strength in the off years in between Great American Novels. By comparison, this one comes off as a grad school literary exercise, with Franzen finding laborious ways to insert the word "correction" in as many different tenses as possible every 5 pages or so.

But despite the formula, or maybe even because of it, Franzen squeezes out astounding insights into middle-age angst and the humiliating death march into old age. His most powerful passages pry open the mind of its saddest character, the family patriarch who tangles with dementia, losing more of himself in each bout with hallucinatory angst.

Franzen's penchant for giving overly cute names to law firms, corporations and pharmaceutical wonderdrugs is as distracting as his use of the title, but the trying-too-hard cuteness doesn't detract much from the heart of his meandering story of mismatched, dysfunctional siblings who orbit their rotting nuclear parental centers. The Corrections is a book about spectacularly creative failures that ambitions seek and find in life's dark corridors, and as depressing as it is, its ability to illuminate the grim shared experiences that await us all manages to grant the novel a slice of encouragement of the human spirit it mocks, twists, steps on and ... yes ... corrects.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

BBC Interview


Here is the clip from my BBC 5 interview I did Jan. 9. Eight years after Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel was released, this is probably the highest-profile media appearance I've had.