Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Art of Fielding

The Art of Fielding
by Chad Harbach
2011 Little, Brown, and Company
Rating: 5/5

     I loved this book! Sometimes, timing can be everything and I am sure that affected my thoughts on the book. "The Art of Fielding" is a beautifully written book that loves baseball. Reading it while the Texas Rangers are making a run at the World Series just made me like it that much more. It has the feeling of a John Irving novel, which is always a good thing for me.
     It takes place at a small college in Northern Wisconsin that becomes as much of a character as the people in this story. The main character is Henry, the team's star shortstop and the descriptions of how he plays the game highlight what I love most about baseball. The ballet of a great fielder and the camaraderie and teamwork that makes the player work as one.
     One day in the middle of a game, Henry seriously injures his roommate and teammate with an errant throw to first. This destroys his confidence and damages both his personal life and his ability to play the game. As they book starts, you believe that it will just be the story of Henry, but as you get into it, other fascinating characters are introduced and I ended up caring about what happened to all of them as much as I did Henry.
     This book is so much more then just a baseball book. The New York Times says; "The Art of Fielding is not only a wonderful baseball novel--it zooms immediately into the pantheon of classics, alongside The Natural by Bernard Malamud and The Southpaw by Mark Harris--but it's also a magical, melancholy story about friendship and the coming of age that marks the debut of an immensely talented writer...Mr. Harbach has the rare abilities to write with earnest, deeply felt emotion without ever veering into sentimentality, and to create quirky, vulnerable and fully imagined characters who instantly take up residence in our hearts and minds."

Monday, October 24, 2011


by Charles Frazier
2011 Random House
Rating 4/5

     "Nightwoods" starts slow, just like the other Charles Frazier books I have read, but then the characters and plot just suck you in. Most of the book is set in the same bleak Appalachian landscape as "Cold Mountain" and the time frame of the story is hard to nail down - the late 50s or early 60s. Luce lives as a caretaker in an old hunting lodge, across the lake from a small town. She is a loner and not especially very likable at first. When her sister is murdered, she takes in her niece and nephew - two emotionally scarred children. "Nightwoods" is filled with strong supporting characters and a beautiful, yet brutal setting. And the dialogue is sparse, but hard hitting. "Cold Mountain" is one of my all time favorite books, but with "Thirteen Moons" and now "Nightwoods", Frazier has proved himself as a consistently great American writer.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Swamplandia To HBO

This could be interesting. From the Hollywood Reporter:

     HBO is going to Florida with Scott Rudin. The premium cable network has picked up Swamplandia, a half-hour comedy project from Rudin based on Karen Russell's book of the same name. Swamplandia revolves around Ava Bigtree, a 12-year-old alligator wrestler who embarks on an improbable journey through the mangrove wilderness of southwest Florida as she searches for her lost sister. A search is under way for a writer on the project, with Rudin attached to executive produce the comedy and author Russell consulting.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Death In the City of Light

Death In the City of Light
by David King
2011 Crown Publishing (Advance copy from Publisher)
Rating 3/5

     An interesting, but slow story or Marcel Petoit, a French doctor that killed 60+ people in Paris during World War II. David King tries to emulate "The Devil In the White City", but this story is just not as fascinating.
     Petoit was a doctor, a mayor, and even elected as a representative for his district before the war. Once the war started he lured in victims, many of them Jewish, by claiming he could help them escape the Nazi occupiers. He would get them alone, kill them, and take all their possessions. The book gives a good overview of Paris under the German, populated with stories of Picasso, Sartre, and Camus, but the story of Petoit himself moves rather slowly.


by Carl Hiaasen
2012 Knopf (Advance copy from Publisher)
Rating: 4/5

     Another wonderful kid's book from Carl Hiassen. I believe that Hiaasen's strength is that he doesn't write down to kids, these book can be read and enjoyed thoroughly by adults as well.  He won a Newberry Honor for his first children's book, "Hoot", and all his subsequent kid's titles have been great sellers. They all have a strong pro-environment theme without beating the reader over the head with it.
     "Chomp" reads a bit like a lighter version of the book "Swamplandia", one of my favorite reads this year.Wahoo lives with a huge collection of animals, his father is a Florida animal wrangler for TV and movies. They both end up working on a TV survival show starring a Bear Grylls like star. Wahoo ends up working as a calming influence between his tempermental father and the show's star. When things go wrong, it turns into a fight for survival in the Everglades. High adventure, lots of humor, and even a litle romance - I think kids will love this book, I know I did.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Ready Player One

Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline
2011 Crown Publishing
Rating: 5/5

     Ever read a book or seen a movie and thought, “Wow, that was made specifically for me!”? That is what “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline felt like to me. It is a perfect read for those of us that geeked out in the 80s. My wife and I formed our first real relationship over the controls of the Tron standup videogame at Chuck E. Cheese. Reading this book immediately made me flashback to those times.
     “Ready Player One” is part “Charlie & the Chocolate Factory”, part “WarGames”, part “The Last Starfighter”, and part your favorite Japanese giant robot series (and it references every one of those at some point). It is set in 2044 and the world is not a pretty place. Wade is a high school student who, like much of the rest of the world, escapes that reality by visiting OASIS, a huge virtual utopia that lets you be whoever you want to be. You can use OASIS to do your online shopping, go to school, take on dragons & orcs, watch movies, listen to music, captain the S.S. Heart of Gold and fall in love. However, when the creator of this virtual playground dies, he leaves behind a quest: find the 3 keys he has hidden in the virtual reality by completing challenges and you will inherit the company that runs it and his huge personal fortune. Wade and every other gamer start hunting for clues, not knowing the time it will take and the dangers they will face.
     The book is fast paced and I would have loved it just for the adventure, but what took it to the next level for me were all the pop culture references. The creator of OASIS grew up in the 80s and was obsessed with it. So the players in the adventure have to immerse themselves in the films, books, TV, music and especially the computer and video games of my favorite decade. You can’t turn more then a page or two without coming across a line from or a reference to classics (?) like “Family Ties”, Monty Python, “Buckaroo Banzai”, Rush, Gundam, Robotron, or “Brazil”. If you are a gamer, a science fiction/fantasy fan, can recite the Castle Anthrax scene, or just love a great adventure, I highly recommend “Ready Player One”.