Book Reviews: Rush, Librarians, and Sports

Banged a knuckle and yelled “Son of a–” Then saw a woman glaring at me with a kid, so I finished with, “Preacher Man.” (It pays to know music.)

On This Date
After an intriguing and thought-provoking intro, the book moves to one usually-long-forgotten historical anecdote a day, much more interesting than any one-small-page calendar. Some are more or less expected, even if the particular date wasn’t known, but the fun is in the topics that would usually have no right being in a serious history tome.
Some of my faves. . . okay, a lot of my faves:
March of Dimes (Wow!); Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer; Tokyo Rose; Lou Hoover; Edmund G Ross; Oppenheimer; Massacre on the Tuscarawas; Sherman and Johnston; Columbine; Jingle Bells; the low-altitude barrel roll in a 707; the birth of the Smiley; We Shall Overcome; Marshall wins Nobel Peace Prize; Jack Robinson and Pee Wee Reese (“someone with the guts NOT to fight back.”); Carson McCullers, Karen Blixen, and Marilyn Monroe walk into a lunch; Theodore Geisel (“He was a political cartoonist all his life, meaning he managed the difficult task of being amusing to kids and adults.”); Princess Bride (even Mark Knopfler gets a mention!); and “Surf music is just the sound of the waves being played on a guitar.”
Did not expect the author of a non-fiction history book to go meta, but in one entry he writes about Philadelphians booing their cricket team as a reason the capital was moved to DC. . . then, “Well, no, I was just seeing if you were paying attention.”
4/5

Rush: Album by Album
The title tells you everything you need to know: a bunch of Rush fans got together to shoot the breeze about each of the many studio albums. . . except these guys are either incredibly familiar with the band from working with them, or are musicians—some in tribute bands—music journalists, or similar.
Intriguing forward by the author, but then I’d expect no less when it comes to my favorite band. Oddly, the book isn’t all that long, even with tons of photos, from album covers to concert fliers to pages from comic books! (As graphic novels were called back then, kiddies.)
Not a fan of Dream Theater, but Mike Portnoy seems like a fun guy to hang out with: “The way most kids my age were staring at a Playboy centerfold, I was looking at a Modern Drummer centerfold and salivating over the whole kit.”
The one downside for me was a lot of musical verbiage that went way beyond my understanding, especially about drumming. Was also surprised by how short the Moving Pictures section was, considering everyone calls it the band’s seminal album. As I’m sure every reader/fan will think, they spend too little time talking about my favorites and too much on those songs I hardly ever listen to, if at all. Still, there are nice things said about The Pass and Bravado—yes, among my faves—especially Geddy claiming the latter is his fave to play live. There’s also a great feeling when someone says something I’d already thought of, such as the addendum in Ghost of A Chance. Most of all, the agreement of The Wreckers being such a beautiful song made me smile.
The last 15 pages or so list the contributors, offer a bibliography, and end with a pretty thorough index.
3.5/5

This Is What a Librarian Looks Like
Subtitled: A Celebration of Libraries, Communities, and Access to Information
When I started this I thought it would be quick and easy; boy, was I wrong. The format is a photo of a librarian followed by a short quote, with some longer articles to break up what eventually becomes monotony, though once in a while a cute line appears, like “ultimate search ninjas.” For those who have a stereotypical view of what librarians do—or look like—this will change that completely. Very few of the women shown here, for example, wear glasses, and even though I’ve only seen one with a pierced nose in person, there’s plenty of oddly-painted hair and such in here.
But it’s the longer stories that are the highlights. The doll-lending program has to be the cutest thing ever. Amy Dickinson and Cory Doctorow chime in with great articles, but if I had to pick a best, it would be the Montana Bookmobile.
There’s also a fascinating intro, in which the author says: “What made the library of Alexandria great wasn’t just the collection of books, but rather its intellectual raison d’être: the insatiable pursuit, creation, and dissemination of knowledge as a force to drive civilization.” Nothing more to say after that. . .
4/5

Battle of Arnhem
In what might be too short to even be called a novella, a veteran of the battle recounts his experience, filled with death, destruction, stupidity, and black humor. There’s tons of tiny details, some of them incredibly interesting.
“It was explained that, when we arrived, we would most likely be disappointed as all the fun would be over.” Wonder how often soldiers have heard that.
For such a short story, there’s a ton of detail. There’s also more to it than just the battle, as after his capture the author was taken to Dresden, along with 500 other prisoners, and was there for the famous firebombing.
But more than anything it gives you the grit and emotion of being that close to an enemy who’s trying to kill you just as bad as you’re trying to kill them. This is exceedingly rare in modern warfare; even as a former Marine I find it hard to imagine what these soldiers went through.
But some things never change, like the incompetence of staff officers, whom he disses over and over.
3.5/5

Women In Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win
Though it clocks in at 128 pages, it felt a lot longer. Formatted in tiny chapters, each section of prose is accompanied by a cartoonish painting with hard-to-read words in tiny script floating around the outsides. It mostly just states facts in a boring manner; every chapter starts with “she was born on” and then “she started to play.” They are good intros to each person, but the lack of style is such that I doubt it would inspire anyone to find out more. I realize this is for kids, but it underestimates the intelligence of its young readers.
The only chapter that I found remotely interesting—not that the women weren’t interesting, it’s the presentation that lacks—was about the final game of the 1999 Women’s World Cup, where over 90,000 spectators packed the Rose Bowl to watch the United States beat China in penalties. Why did I find this interesting? Because I was there.
3/5

;o)

Two Disparate Music Experiences

Thursday
First up was a movie theater viewing of “Rush: Time Stand Still” which feels like a sequel to their “Beyond the Lighted Stage” documentary. This one ostensively covers their R40 tour, billed as their last one ever, but includes plenty of reminiscing about the old days, such as their time on the road with Kiss in the 70s, as well as the various vehicles they used to get around the country when they were playing 250 gigs a year.
Behind the scenes videos of people you like—not just their music, but as human beings—are always fun because they come across as “just like us.” Alex in particular is his usual hilarious self, but Geddy and Neil both get to show their funny side too. The best part for me was the first-person video from Neil’s motorcycle; over the years there’s been plenty of photographs, but never vids.
So while this wasn’t nearly as in-depth as “Lighted Stage,” that’s okay, it wasn’t meant to be. Think of it as an author adding a surprise chapter at the end of a book you loved.
Topped it off with a half hour walk home in the dark, something I haven’t been able to enjoy in a while. Just cool enough to feel like autumn. . .

Saturday
Going full disparate from Rush, Saturday featured a live performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, bookended by Copland’s Appalachian Spring Suite and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. This being my second time at this Pasadena Symphony series—the first time I didn’t know where the Ambassador Auditorium and got there way early—I wasn’t expecting anything as good as that first one, with the lovely Elena Urioste soloing on what’s probably my fave classical work, Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, but on the other hand I’ll listen to the Rhapsody anytime anywhere. As a matter of fact I tweeted: “If someone challenged me to listen to Rhapsody In Blue for 24 hours straight, I would take them up on it.” I also tweeted: “The start of Appalachian Spring always reminds me of sunrise on a misty morn,” which pretty much encapsulates how I feel about that work. Scheherazade didn’t do as much for me this time, other than the familiar parts, of course, but this day was about Rhapsody anyway.
I hadn’t given much thought as to who would be the piano soloist, so I was a bit surprised when conductor David Lockington introduced him as a fifteen-year-old who was as good on the violin as the piano. Ray Ushikubo indeed proved he was talented as well as a teen, for he brought a lot of drama and bombastic movement to the piano. . . although a lot of pianists older than him overdo it as well.
The fun part about this piece is in identifying the parts Gershwin mentioned inspired him, like being on a train or the bustle of traffic. The clarinet glissando that starts things off didn’t give me chills like it usually does, but the horns were extra rude to make up for it. This is the third time I’ve seen Rhapsody live in the past couple of years, but it’s tough to say which is better or more fun. This was the smallest orchestra I’ve seen performing it, but then Gershwin originally wrote it that way, and it didn’t suffer from lack of sound. The point is, this was well worth the walk in the surprisingly hot sun and the price of admission, though the fact that I have to take the elevator to get to the restrooms and water fountain got old in a hurry. . . though I did get to flirt with a pretty rainbow-dress-wearing frizzy redhead in the lobby beforehand, so all good. . .

Coming up:
Continuing the disparate theme, this Thursday gives us—me—what I’ve been waiting for ever since I treated myself to fifth row tickets and the meet-and-greet special: Lindsey Stirling!

;o)

Book Reviews: Geocaches, Rush Songs, and Wacky Animals

“What the eye don’t see, the heart don’t grieve.”
“What?”
“Ignorance is bliss. What you don’t know won’t hurt you. Out of sight, out of mind.”
“Gotcha,” she sighed.

The Advocate’s Geocache
A death certificate—dated to happen in the future—is found in a geocache. That’s an interesting premise right there.
I’ve done some geocaching, which is what got me to read this book. For those who don’t know, you go online to find some spots near you, then go out and find them in the real world, like a scavenger hunt. It can be fun, trust me. So can this book, with the funniest moment being the woman who named all her kids after country stars; that’s as hilarious as you’re gonna ever find, yet also so sad. Also sad is she got pregnant at 15, then 17, then 18. . . all different fathers.
There was a geocache code I solved before the characters did, but other than that I simply let it flow, as the characters were fun to get to know, the dialogue between them amusing. An enjoyable read, but with one huge problem, if you’re paying attention, which unfortunately I was. Trying my best not to spoil it, but it has to do with the date on the death certificate. . .
Wish I hadn’t started on the 7th book.
4/5

2113
In a nutshell, this is a collection of short stories supposedly based on songs by the rock group Rush.
My original thought was to base this review on two criteria: the usual “how good a book was it?” and “Do I recognize the song this story is based on?” But that took a big hit when I saw in the preface: “If you had read the stories in another publication, you probably wouldn’t even notice the Rush connection.” Sadly true, and I don’t understand it. Isn’t the connection with the songs the whole point of this book? Who are they expecting will buy this other than Rush fans?
So that part was a bust; on to the other part. A few stories in and I’m already feeling the dread. Not only does the first story bear little resemblance to the song, it has no payoff, no real ending. Huh? The second one wasn’t any better. Then the third. . .
I have to admit I almost gave up at this point. I remembered what the preface said about appearing in other publications, but at this point I didn’t think there was much possibility of that. For instance, with Rush’s most famous song, Tom Sawyer, there were so many places they could have gone, done honor to the original; instead we get a quasi-comical story about a Jewish filmmaker going to the Arab world to get funding for his next film. I’d like to think Tom Sawyer was smarter than that. . .
It wasn’t till we arrive at the story based on Losing It that there’s one that matches the song; not that the story was that great, but it actually made sense. On the other hand, there’s a fantastic story about a racing legend at a gathering of racers and cars in the future, though I have no idea how it pertains to Marathon. Another great story involves a serial killer in 1940s Hollywood obsessed with his hair; I’ll let you figure out which song that comes from. Then there’s a story with shades of Harrison Bergeron, 1984, Fahrenheit 451. . . but not The Trees. To my shock, the Fritz Leiber story that inspired Roll The Bones proves that I can dislike something written by such a master.
The one entry that made this entire book worthwhile for me was the story that came out of Mission, though at first I thought Countdown would be more appropriate. The tale of an injured astronaut and a kid with a dream was heartwarming, and even though I love the song this might have improved on it; it’s that good.
Mercedes Lackey has a nice story about magic in Chicago, inspired by Freeze. One of the highlights was the Red Sector A entry, given a sci-fi twist with lines directly from the song.
The last story, a novella by Kevin Anderson, is billed as a sequel to 2112, but it’s actually much more than that, going back to fill in a lot of the stuff that was left unsaid during the song. I can see why this was placed at the end, because it has a final twist that breaks your mind so hard you couldn’t read anything after it. All I can say about it is. . . damn you, you magnificent bastard!
Okay, the final tally. There’s too much here that’s not worthwhile to give it a good score, but the few gems still make it worth it.
2.5/5

Cheats and Deceits: How Animals and Plants Exploit and Mislead
I remember attending a seminar at the LA Zoo on this very subject, which is what got me to check this book out; otherwise I would have stayed far away from it, biology having been my worst subject ever. I particularly remember the gecko who looked the same from both ends, as well as why zebras have stripes. Unfortunately for me, most of this book is focused on bugs and birds, as can be readily seen from the many close-up photos of insects; yucky.
I soldiered on, and found some things of interest, particularly how birds use sound to trick; even humans can fall for it, as in the case of a drongo scaring a two-year-old into dropping a worm so the bird could fly down and snatch it up.
There’s a few points the author makes that are spot on, like how nature is not meant to be harmonious, with most animals genetically inclined toward survival and nothing else. One I particularly liked: If a predator loses the battle it goes hungry for a while, but if the prey loses, it dies. But the most important as far as this book is concerned—without this there would be no book—is that while it seems more logical to run away when something’s coming to eat you, a lot of animals don’t do this and resort to other means for survival, those covered here.
In the end this is a pretty comprehensive study of some of the tricks insects and birds use to survive, but it feels too scholarly for non-scientists. I imagine this book will go over very well in the scientific community, but since it seems to be geared toward the general public, I don’t think it hit the mark for which it was aiming.
2.5/5

This Is Your Destiny
A fantasy story with an intriguing premise, this is part of a much larger series, but you don’t need to have read anything else; it’s confusing on its own.
Basically some scheming gods/beings get locked away by magic hundreds of years ago, but there are humans who can open the portal to let them out. We follow one of them as he goes off in search of another, following the dictates of a mischievous ball of energy rather than his sage grandmother. Other characters are introduced who have no bearing on the story, which seems odd for a short novella-length story. The loan shark angle irritated me; wish the author would stick to the main storyline, but for all I know it plays a part in the rest of the series.
Ends at what is no doubt a jumping point to another story, enticing you to read on. That would have been irritating had I not known it coming in.
2.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Choppers, Drummers, Be Kind to Books

Garrison Keillor once said, “Sex is good, but not as good as fresh sweet corn.”
I love corn, but I wonder how he feels about bacon. . .

Airwolf: Airstrikes
I’m gonna try to come at this as simply a book, albeit a graphic novel, but the thing is I was a huge fan of the TV show as a kid—probably would not have bothered reading this otherwise—so I can’t help comparing it.
The first thing is getting used to the changes, as this is technically a “reimagining,” as in Battlestar Galactica, definitely not a continuation. Santini is now young and black rather than old and an Italian cliché; it takes them quite a while to explain it’s his son, and then go further to say he was adopted. Also different is Archangel, now a beautiful young woman rather than an older one-eyed guy. However, since that’s more of a position than a name, and the guy shows up later, it isn’t as jarring. At one point I wondered if it was really Stringfellow or his brother, but thankfully that didn’t last long.
One thing I enjoyed was that, unlike a lot of graphic novels, this isn’t one overreaching arc, but rather each of the collected comics is a separate episode. We get our heroes saving a Pakistani scientist from prison; taking out some Indonesian bad guys; battling an Arab warlord in what looks to be Somalia but could be Qatar or such; rescuing a supposed teen drug lord. . . okay, that one stretched things a bit much.
They’re even going up against a militia on home soil who’s gotten their hands on a stealth aircraft; too bad about that brave female agent. This was most likely the weakest entry, as it featured the stealth in a dogfight with Airwolf, which is completely impossible, as anyone familiar with stealth technology would know. The writers might have some knowledge of military operations, but the use of an obsolete Warthog—the plane, not the animal—in Indonesia is also a miss. The Indonesian military guy uses the phrase “Crispy critters,” and I really do hope it was intentionally funny. In fact, all the foreign officers speak Big Word English.
As one would expect of a woman drawn in what is essentially a comic meant for men—or more likely teenaged boys—Archangel is drawn hot, but there’s a good reason nobody likes her. The writing is pedestrian, the plots simple. . . but then I don’t remember the original winning any writing Emmys either. The best line had to be: “Queen of Deceit in a kingdom of liars.”
For this fan, a bit disappointing. As an objectionable objective observer, it’s okay.
3/5

Cultural Repercussions
First of all, great title for a study on a drummer (icymi, re-percussions).
And yet the emphasis here is not on Neil Peart’s drumming, but rather a chronological history of his life with an emphasis on his lyrics. The author is as much a fanboy as me and everyone else reading this, which is refreshing, but for the most part he still manages to make this sound somewhat scholarly. There’s a lot more philosophical ramblings than I think anyone has ever tried to make of the lyrics, especially the Stoic school, as he breaks the career of Rush into parts according to when one era of music stopped and another started; I do that too, but mine don’t quite mesh with his.
There’s quite a bit here that reminds me of the documentary made of the band, with special attention given to all the famous musicians they’ve inspired. I don’t think this broke any new ground other than the philosophical musings mentioned above, but it’s still an interesting addition for those who have to have everything Rush-ian.
3.5/5

Tips, Tools, and Tactics For Getting Your Book Reviewed
I’m not looking to be a published author, so I came into this with a different mindset. It amazed me how many suggestions mentioned here have been used on me, and I had no idea that listing a book on NetGalley could be so expensive.
As the title implies, this is more for authors than reviewers, but I nevertheless found some interesting things. The main body is about the different ways authors can get reviewed—again, there’s the title—and classifies them according to how much effort it’ll take, average results, potential results, and secondary benefits.
On the downside, especially at the beginning, there were small chapters with plenty of facing blank pages, no doubt in order to pad what is already a thin book anyway. It’s more probable the publisher did that, but annoying that they think readers won’t figure that out.
My favorite intriguing note is a direct quote: “I know when I was blogging, I was always hesitant to leave below a three-star review for an author I had interacted with directly. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings—but maybe I was being too Canadian about the whole thing.” Since I am a born and bred Southern Californian who thinks of himself as an honorary Canadian—just gotta ace the test—I could see where she was coming from, because the very same day I read this I went through the same thing.
The most important takeaway here is that the author is earnest and genuinely seems to want to help, which I found refreshing. This more than anything, as I wouldn’t be trying out the suggestions, is what sold me on this book.
4/5

Kindness on a Budget
A lady writes about all the encounters she has in a regular day and how easy it is to make even a stranger’s life a little brighter, if only momentarily.
It’s hard for me to say anything negative here, as I really believe in the message of this book and some of the ideas she puts forth. Still, I would be remiss if I did not mention she’s at least middle class if not upper middle-class; even though she rents her home, it has a pool and hot tub. Not everything done here is within the reach of a lot of people, and I don’t particularly mean monetarily. In addition, since she doesn’t have a regular job—yet manages to fly all over the place—she has a lot of time to do crafty things at home and run errands; people who have to deal with rush hour and then go to the market might be too tired and frazzled to pay attention to the niceties as she suggests.
Despite that caveat, there’s plenty here to like and emulate.
4/5

;o)

Book Reviews: A Trio

As always, got to read them early in exchange for telling you what I think about them. Doesn’t seem like an equitable exchange rate, but I’m not about to complain.
Finding that these three books didn’t generate enough words for me to blog about them individually, I came up with the idea of combining them into one writing. Amazing! I wonder why no one ever thought of that before!
Okay, fine. On with it. . .

Rodeo Red, by Marypat Perkins
Had no idea this would be a children’s book when I electronically picked it up; you know how I am with redheads, so I couldn’t resist taking a look. Glad I did, though. It’s told as a Western, with appropriate dialect, and has great drawings. The basic story is of a little girl who gets a baby brother who wants her favorite toy, and how she figures out how to compromise and live happily ever after. . . or at least till the baby gets to the terrible twos. Actually, the end is written as “happier than two freckles on a sunny cheek,” which is simply awesome.
My fave line: “I thought for sure anybody who hollered that much would be hauled to the edge of town and told to skedaddle. But the Sheriff and her Deputy seemed smitten.”
5/5

Battlestar Galactica 2: The Adama Gambit
{Note: this is original series, not “reimagining”}
A collection of comic books which were a bit tough to read on the computer screen, but I persevered. The first story was my fave, with Athena in command on the bridge. There’s also a bit on Adama losing his confidence before growing a pair, and an intriguing take on Baltar and how he became such an ass. {Spoiler: it was Daddy’s fault.}
4.5/5

Far and Near, by Neil Peart
I’m pretty sure that even if I wasn’t a Rush fan I would enjoy reading his books, be they fiction or travel, or even journals, as this is. What’s most interesting to me is that, even though I’ve already read all of these stories off his website—albeit with months in between each one—perusing them now, as chapters of a greater piece, made for a completely different experience. I’m reminded of something he said in one of his interviews, pertaining to music but also valid here: “What I want the listened (reader) to take away is that care has been taken here.” When I post a blog about one of my many trips I prefer to let it live as a stream of consciousness, straight from my memory to the page or computer screen. Not so with him; it is obvious care has been taken here. I’m particularly enamored for his reason for journaling, as he writes in the outro (which was never posted on his website): “When reviewing the stories to prepare this book, many times I came across a passage of description, action, or conversation, and thought, ‘I would have never remembered that.’ Sobering to reflect that if a time and place do not exist in memory or in art, they might as well have never happened.” Exactly.
4.5/5

;o)

It’s a RUSH Soundtrack Day

Luckily there’s so many Rush songs I like that I can go a long time without repeating, but right now there’s four that I’m listening to as I finally relax a little.
Since I already posted “The Garden” earlier this year, here’s “Bravado,” “Halo Effect,” and “The Pass.”

;o)

Four Songs on Repeat

After listening to Hilary Hahn playing the Neilsen Concerto yesterday, it occurred to me how often I listen to her playing the Mendelssohn, so I thought about other songs I’ve had on repeat recently.

Here we go. . .

The Foundation–Tiff Jimber

Storm–Lovers Electric

The Garden (live version)–Rush

Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto–Hilary Hahn

;o)