Monthly Archives: April 2014

Review: Hellraisers: The Inebriated Life and Times of Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole, Richard Harris & Oliver Reed

Hellraisers: The Inebriated Life and Times of Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole, Richard Harris & Oliver Reed
Hellraisers: The Inebriated Life and Times of Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole, Richard Harris & Oliver Reed by Robert Sellers
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was a bit disappointed by this book. As a fan of all of these actors, I’d hoped for some more insight into their behavior and the times they lived in, but there’s very little new or insightful here–just a litany of bad behavior.

The gentlemen in question lived large, no doubt about it, leaving bodies and relationships and hotel rooms smashed up in their wake; but the stories don’t gain much in the retelling. Hellraisers is a fun enough read, but clearly a document of a time gone by, and one can’t help but detect some regret on the part of the author that he was born too late to join in the shenanigans.

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Review: Murder in Mesopotamia

Murder in Mesopotamia
Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hercule Poirot appears only in the second half of this book, but it’s an interesting read nonetheless. A private nurse is hired to look after the nervous wife of an archaeologist on a dig in Iraq; when the wife ends up dead, everyone in the party is a suspect–including the nurse herself! The ending’s a bit far-fetched, but it’s a good time.

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Review: I’m Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-Up Comedy’s Golden Era

I'm Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-Up Comedy's Golden Era
I’m Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-Up Comedy’s Golden Era by William Knoedelseder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a fantastic oral history of stand-up in New York and L.A. in the 70s, particularly focused on the scene at the Improv and the Comedy Store. It is primarily concerned with the events leading up to the stand-up strike at the Comedy Store and the aftermath of the strike.

The author is a journalist who covered the comedy beat for the L.A. Times, so he had a great window into the times. During this time, he also developed a friendship with Richard Lewis, so Lewis’s experiences and circle of friends are featured.

I remember having seen the E! True Hollywood Story about the Comedy Store walkout, so this is a great supplement to that. If you love stand-up comedy, I highly recommend this book. (I am a fan of this author–I’ve also read and recommended his Stiffed and Bitter Brew.)

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Review: Three Act Tragedy

Three Act Tragedy
Three Act Tragedy by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As so often happens, Poirot happens upon a murder mystery among the acquaintances of a friend of his. A dressmaker, a doctor, a restless young girl and her mother, a playwright, an actor, and others–all of them are caught up in the case. With so many characters, how will Poirot keep them all straight?

This one kept me guessing right up until the end. Highly recommended, as usual.

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Review: The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements
The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Back in high school chemistry, I used to stare at the chart of the periodic table on the wall and wonder about how all of those elements were named and discovered. The Disappearing Spoon tells the stories of the fascinating men and women who dedicated (and in some cases, gave) their lives to solving these problems.

Perhaps the best thing about this book is that you don’t need to be well-versed in chemistry to understand it, although a basic understanding of atoms will help. Highly recommended to anyone who is interested in stories about science.

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Review: Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses

Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses
Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses by Bess Lovejoy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Did you know that there were plans to kidnap Lincoln’s corpse for ransom? What happened to Einstein’s brain? Who would keep a famous person’s preserved heart, eyes…or penis? The answers to these and other questions can be found in Bess Lovejoy’s Rest in Pieces.

Rest in Pieces is an entertaining, if superficial, look at the looting, relocating, and fetishizing of various famous corpses. At its best, it gives us a bit of insight into the need that some feel to continue their celebrity worship after death. A light, gently macabre, read.

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Review: Mockingjay

Mockingjay
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have enjoyed the “Hunger Games” trilogy much more than I expected to. In this final book, Katniss must come to terms with the way her image has become an inspiration to the rebels in the Districts. Her newfound fame doesn’t sit well with either her or Gale, and may be endangering Peeta’s life.

The best thing about the Hunger Games trilogy, and something that’s often overlooked, is its smart look at big questions that are broken down in the narrative. Who owns the image of rebellion that Katniss’s face has become? Who owns her body, which has been fussed over, painted and smoothed, maimed in the arena, and patched up numerous times during the trilogy? In a society like Panem’s that blurs the line between public and private life, in which remarkable technology and abject poverty exist side by side, what does it mean to be free?

There’s probably not much I can say about this book that you don’t already know, or that will convince you to read the trilogy if you haven’t yet. I think the Hunger Games trilogy is a fine addition to young adult fiction, and I look forward to recommending it to my daughter when she’s old enough.

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