Monthly Archives: October 2015

Review: It’s A Long Story: My Life by Willie Nelson

4.5 Stars

I love Willie Nelson and it’s a love affair that’s gone on for much of my 4 decades of life.  My earliest memories were of listening to his records on my dad’s old record player.  This was back in the heyday of vinyl and long before cassettes and CD’s.  My dad had a wonderful collection of records and my favorites were always Willie.  I’m sad to say I’ve never been able to see him in concert (yet!) but I find myself coming back to his music time and again because it’s music that speaks to you and tells a story.  It’s the song of the everyman and music for everyone regardless of what genre they relate most to.  So when I saw this book one day pop up on one of my feeds, I knew I had to read it.  And I am really glad that I did.  If you have ever wondered where the inspiration to some of his most memorable songs came from, this is the place to find it.  If you have ever wondered where Willie came from and what makes him the person he is today, read this book.  I recommend it not only to anyone who loves Willie Nelson, but to anyone who just wants to read a good story about a man and his music.

The most wonderful aspect of this book is how it’s told.  You feel like you’re sitting in a room with Willie and he’s just telling you his story.  It’s unvarnished and a bit rough around the edges, the language is a bit coarse, but the result is an authentic tale of a man, his guitar and the music that they make together.  Through the good times and the bad, the unfailing and unwavering faith and optimism are infectious.  If only everyone lived their life a little more like Willie, the world would be a much happier place.

Willie Nelson is a restless troubadour, wandering around this world spreading his music along the way.  He inherited his wanderlust from his parents who left Willie and his sister Bobbie with their grandparents to wander the open road.  But there is no bitterness toward his parents, quite the opposite.  He had a very loving relationship with both his parents throughout his life and they were always there for him in their own way.  His grandmother was his rock, that is easy to see.  Raised in a religious home and raised with music ever present, it’s not difficult to see why music is such an integral part of his life.  From small Abbott, Texas you follow Willie from coast to coast and back again as he tries to find his place in the world of record producers, songwriters, contracts and royalties.  Hoping that one of his songs will strike gold and he’ll be able to really make a living off his pickin’ and singin’.

Willie talks openly of his failures, his lean times, the times where he didn’t have two nickels to rub together but he had a song in his head and the open road ahead of him.  Somehow, he always found a way and it seems like the less he plans, the better it turns out to be!  He is unflinchingly honest about his failings as a husband but you can tell that he loved his wives deeply and even when it didn’t work out, he never had an unkind word to say about any of them.  How many of us can say that about our exes?  You can feel the deep love that he has for all of his children and he’s very honest about how difficult it probably was for his children growing up with him as a father.  He doesn’t go into detail about his family life other than to explain where he was at that particular time in his life and I think it was done out of respect to them.  He says as much about his children later in the book.  He respects them enough not to tell their story but wants to convey his never ending love for them.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It was amazing to watch his slow but steady rise to stardom and to see all of the bumps, hiccups, road-blocks and obstacles that were in his way and how he was able to overcome each and every one of them.  The man even took on the IRS!  I now have a greater appreciation for his music after having an opportunity to see where these songs came from and how intensely personal the lyrics are.  We all find our own meanings in his songs, but having this incredible opportunity to see how they came about was a true gift.

I think this is definitely required reading for any Willie Nelson fan.  I will put a caveat here for anyone who doesn’t like coarse language or cringes at the mention of alcohol or drugs.  Willie is a big proponent of pot and has been an activist in many causes, but you can tell that this one is near and dear to his heart.  But if you don’t like hearing about people talking about pot, well, just skip over those parts!

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Review: Worthy by Catherine Ryan Hyde

3 Stars

Worthy is the story of missed connections and surprising reconnections.  It’s ultimately one of those books that you read and you get warm fuzzies.  The story begins with Virginia, a waitress at a small diner in a small town.  The diner is being put up for sale and she’s devastated.  She’s begun a friendship with the hope for more with a local man, Aaron.  He comes into the diner regularly for lunch or dinner and they talk.  She’s fallen head over heels for him and for his 4 year old son, Buddy.  Virginia and Aaron share their first kiss behind the diner that evening and before they can explore where that kiss would lead, tragedy strikes and they are never given that chance.

Fast forward nineteen years and we meet Virginia again.  She’s recently engaged but has never forgotten Aaron or Buddy.  Her beloved dog, T-Rex, goes missing and unbeknownst to her, a young man who lives up in the hills has found him.  Jody sees a man dropping off a dog and turning him loose.  He knows that the dog will die if someone doesn’t help and after a short fight with his conscience, he brings the dog to the cabin he shares with his Grampa.  They begin to bond and he renames him Worthy.

Virginia and Jody soon meet when people put two and two together and realize that Worthy and T-Rex are the same dog.  Jody feels his conscience weigh on him and when he learns that Virginia never let him loose and it was her (now ex-) fiancée that did it, he feels the need to return the dog to its rightful owner.  Unfortunately they are caught in one of the worst ice storms that the area has ever seen and before he can just drop off the dog and leave, he finds himself stuck in the diner with Virginia.  A diner that makes him feel uncomfortable, thought he can’t say why.  Throughout their forced confinement, they begin to spark a friendship that opens up a surprising connection to their pasts.

I found myself wanting to continually reach through the pages and hug Jody.  He was a wonderful character.  You can painfully see how his losses as a young boy had such a profound effect on him.  He is awkward, direct, emotionally stunted but he’s incredibly inquisitive.  He’s protective and loyal.  I absolutely loved Jody and his story and his progression.  I liked the story too.  Was a good solid read and one I’d recommend for one of those cold days where you just want to curl up on the couch with a nice mug of tea and zone out for awhile.

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Review: Finders Keepers by Stephen King

3 Stars

Finders Keepers is the second in a series featuring Bill Hodges, the retired detective who first appeared in Mr. Mercedes.  But this book can really be read on its own, the references back to Mr. Mercedes aren’t too many in nature and the ones that are there are so well explained that you can probably get by without reading the predecessor.  But if you’re a Stephen King fan, you’ve probably read it anyway.

The book starts in the 1970’s with Morris Bellamy and his pals breaking into reclusive author, John Rothstein’s house.  The old man dropped out of the public eye decades before but was known to keep large amounts of cash in his home.  They’re there for the money, but Morris is there for more.  He doesn’t think that the author ever stopped writing and what he’s looking for are those notebooks, those writings that would take his beloved character Jimmy Gold from the literary graveyard back into the spotlight.  Because he just couldn’t have sold out and gone on to live a normal life!!  Because shit don’t mean shit, to quote Jimmy Gold.  Of course things go sideways and even though he finds the notebooks, he decides to kill John Rothstein.  Soon enough, Morris ends up in jail on a completely unrelated crime and all he thinks about are those notebooks and the money that he stole, but mostly the notebooks.  His fanboy attitude reminds you of a certain number one fan from King’s earlier work, Misery.

Jump ahead to 2009 where teenager, Peter Saubers and his family moves into Morris Bellamy’s old home.  His family has fallen on hard times after his father loses his job in the economic downturn and then his father was run down by Brad Hartsfield (Mr. Mercedes) while he was waiting in line for a job fair.  His parents are fighting and he’s pretty sure that they are going to split up if something doesn’t happen.  He happens to wander down to the vacant lot near the house and finds the trunk that Morris Bellamy buried decades before.  He finds money and the notebooks and realizes that he can save his family.  He starts sending the money to his family and it’s just enough to keep them floating until his dad can recover.  There is no divorce and the family slowly begins to heal.  Until the money runs out.

By this time Peter is a junior in high school and he’s read everything in those notebooks from John Rothstein.  He knows enough to realize that he’s sitting on a treasure.  He’s become desperate again for money because his little sister really wants to be able to go to the private school in town along with her friend Brenda.  So he approaches a book dealer and tries to sell some of the notebooks.  The problem with this is the book dealer knows about these notebooks.  He was friends with Morris Bellamy way back in the day and knows that there are more than just the few notebooks that Peter has offered.  Of course he blackmails Peter and demands that he get all the notebooks.  Unbeknownst to both of them, Morris is no longer in prison and he’s come back to retrieve what he believes he is due.  After all, he found the notebooks first and he needs to know what else John Rothstein wrote about Jimmy Gold.

Bill Hodges doesn’t come into the story until almost halfway through and by then he’s almost an afterthought.  It was nice to see Holly and Jerome again and to see them work together as a unit trying to solve the mystery of the notebooks before poor Peter meets with an accident or worse.  But they seem out of place and I think it really threw off the timing of the story when they were introduced.  The threads did finally come together and were woven into a coherent and cohesive narrative, but the introduction of these characters was jarring at first.  I guess I didn’t care so much to know that Hodges is now a repo man who has Holly as his office assistant.  I think the introduction to Hodges could have been better done with simply having Brenda and Tina Saubers (Peter’s little sister) show up at his office…which they did later…to serve as the string that brings him back into the story.

I enjoyed the two main characters, Morris and Peter.  I felt that they were well thought out and fleshed out.  Morris definitely had some of that creepy “I’m your biggest fan!” vibe to him and he was just the right amount of crazy to make him believable and would definitely keep some writers up at night with nightmares.  Peter is sympathetic, believable and it’s easy to empathize with him and very easy to put yourself into his shoes.  But the other characters weren’t as well done, most of them were just cardboard cutouts to me.  None of them were memorable other than Peter’s little sister, Tina and maybe Bradley Hartsfield.  The rest were just okay.

I did enjoy the end of the main story and I did appreciate how things wrapped up for the main characters.  I was a little dismayed at the very end.  It’s clear that we haven’t seen the last of Bill Hodges nor have we seen the end for Bradley Hartsfield.  I don’t like cliffhanger endings or books make it very obvious that there is going to be a sequel.  But I think that’s more personal preference, so my review is not taking this into account.  I would not recommend this book to anyone who reads Stephen King’s books to have the bejesus scared out of them.  This is nothing like The Shining, Misery or any of his other horror novels.  This is more a mystery with the old, crusty detective that everyone comes to love.  I still don’t love Bill Hodges, but I do love Stephen King.  While this was not his strongest novel, it was still pretty good.

Until next time…

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Review: Ruthless by John Rector

1 Star.

Nick White walks into a bar to have a drink, he’s down on his luck after losing his job and landing himself in a world of trouble due to poker.  Lost his job, lost his wife, poor sap.  In walks a blonde who sits down next to him and tells him that he’s early.  Bantering begins and then ends with her handing him an envelope telling him half now and the other half when the job is done.  She tells him one week and then leaves.  Who did she think he was?  An assassin for hire?  Of course he’s going to look inside the envelope where he finds a flash drive, a pile of cash and a picture of a young woman with an address on the back.  Who is she?  Why does this mysterious blonde want her dead?  Should he just call the police and be done with it?  Should he find the endangered woman and warn her?  Should he just take the money and run?  Talk about a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Suddenly Nick becomes the only hope for young Abigail Pierce, the woman in the photo.

I guess it starts out with an okay premise, if you can completely suspend belief and think that someone who is desperate enough to hire someone to assassinate another person is going to just hand the money over to the first person that they sit down next to in a bar.  What could have been an okay mystery turned into a quagmire that never fully explains itself.

There are twists, turns, crosses and double-crosses.  That’s all well and good, and in a good number of books works quite well.  In this case it just turned into a sloppy mess that the author seemed to have just given up on halfway through.  There could have been a pretty well developed backstory and a damn good explanation as to why it was happening, but he dropped the ball.  The only thing that was interesting about this entire story was what was contained on that flash drive.  I wish he would have spent more time with that aspect of the story.  As for being a mystery with lots of twists and turns?  You could see the plot twists a mile away, there was no surprise.  There was no shock.  It was a huge letdown.

The plot aside, none of the characters had any substance.  They were completely one dimensional and nothing about them was memorable.  Cardboard cutouts have more personality than practically everyone in this book.  I think the only character that I could connect with or have any kind of empathy to was Charlie.  The story was told first person and I think this backed the author into a corner, maybe?

The only reason I finished this book was to see how the heck he was going to tie everything together.  But he never did.  Everything was left empty and loose strings were flying all over the place.  I don’t know if this was some kind of attempt to hint at a sequel (and I didn’t care enough to research to see if there was one) or if he just stopped caring.  I was really disappointed in this because I’d heard nothing but good things about this author and I even have another of his books on my TBR pile.  I’m willing to give him another chance, but if you’re looking for a good mystery or a noir thriller, steer clear of Ruthless.

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Filed under Mystery/Suspense/Thriller

That silly thing called work…

…has once again pulled me away from my beloved books.  I am deep in the middle of two books but I know I won’t be able to meet my usual once a week review.  So my apologies to you, dear reader, but I will make sure I have a new review up as soon as possible! 🙂

If you have any books that I simply must read in the coming weeks and months, feel free to drop me a line and I’ll see if I can work them into my TBR pile!

Now to go try and make a dent in this ever-growing pile of work they keep giving me.  Sigh.

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Review: Killing Patton by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

4 1/2 Star Review…it was almost 5 stars…almost…

I may not always agree with his politics, but I can readily admit that Bill O’Reilly is one heck of a storyteller.  And what’s most impressive is that he and his co-writer take what could be an incredibly boring documentary about General George Patton and turn it into a rich narrative.  My only complaint came from the fact that the actually death almost ended up as being just a footnote.  But it is understandable.  When your source material no longer exists and you don’t want to go too far into the world of guessing and conspiracy theories, you have to keep it simple and stick to what is known and what could be proven.

This book is definitely a must for anyone who wants to know more about General Patton and who he was and how he was viewed by those who loved him, loathed him, feared him and tried to ignore him.  It’s easy to see why people on both sides of the line wanted him to disappear.  But who had the best motive?  Who could actually be blamed if it really wasn’t natural causes?  The Germans?  The Russians?  The precursor to the CIA?  His own beloved Army?  There is no smoking gun and there is no proof that it was other than complications from a car accident.

We follow General Patton through the waning days of the European theatre as he and the Allied forces march their way toward Germany.  Along the way we slowly begin to get a fuller picture.  We are taken to the front lines where horrible atrocities are committed on both sides.  We are given a harrowing account of the war and the toll that it takes on every side.  For those of us who were born in the generations following World War II, we’re given an unvarnished look at how hellish this war was.  There are no white-washed history lessons here.  There are many spots where you just want to weep at the horrific images of what this conflict did to everyone from the highest offices in the world to the lowliest peasants.

While the central question is never truly answered and never can be, I have to say this was an amazing book.  I was actually sad to have it end.  I definitely recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in General Patton or just an interest into World War II.  Not only is this a fantastic book about one of America’s best strategic generals, it’s an amazing account of the last days of the European conflict.  I only wish more had been dug up about the possible conspiracies and subterfuge that may have caused the death of General Patton.

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Filed under Biography/Memoir

Review: Twain’s End by Lynn Cullen

4 Stars

I received a copy of Twain’s End as an ARC from NetGalley.  This review is my own and was in no way influenced by the fact that it’s an ARC.

As you may have guessed, Twain’s End has something to do with the famous Mark Twain.  But this isn’t your typical tale about Samuel Clemens and his alter ego, Mark Twain.  This story focuses on his secretary, Isabel Lyons.  She was with him for 6 years and did practically everything for him and his family from taking his dictation, to being their bookkeeper, to taking care of his grown children.  The woman he fired one week after her wedding to his accountant, a wedding that he gave his blessing to.  The woman he decried and defamed with a nearly 500 page manifest going over everything she ever did to him and where he called her every name in the book.

The people in the book are real and many of the relationships are also real and can be historically proven, or at least there was enough speculation that the questions showed up in newspapers and magazines at the time.  Twain’s End is a work of fiction, but it’s a very well researched piece of fiction.  There was still a lot of speculation in the book and the author decided to expand on two of the main rumors that were going around the country and even the world at the time.  That Mark Twain and Isabel Lyons were romantically involved and he was going to marry her.  And also that Clara Clemens, his daughter, was having an affair with Will Wark, her accompanist.  These two stories intertwine through much of the book and each one seems to explain the animosity that they feel for one another later in life.

Those who see Mark Twain as a beloved author and place him up on a pedestal, may have some issues with this book.  He isn’t always the nice guy and in some ways, it’s almost as though he is the true Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  Mark is funny and warm and engaging.  Sam is a bit of a grumpy old man who tends to lash out at those who love him the most.

Isabel Lyons becomes the personal secretary to Mark Twain, but she never calls him that.  He’s always Mr. Clemens or the King or even just Sam.  But never Mark.  She causes a sensation because she begins living under the same roof as him and his family.  Rumors begin to fly.  Will Isabel become the next Mrs. Clemens?  The first Mrs. Clemens isn’t even dead yet!

It was easy to identify Mark Twain, mostly because he’s such a well known icon.  But the author does a very good job of giving you a picture of what he looked like and even what he probably smelled like.  The descriptions were rich and you always had a sense of who the characters were and each one had a depth to them, even Mrs. Lyons, Isabel’s mother.  You want to write her off as the overbearing mother worried about her spinster daughter, but she comes across as so hilariously lost that you can’t help but like her.  You go from like to dislike of a single character very quickly.  Each one of them has their own flaws and the more they begin to show their true colors, the more your skin crawls anytime they enter the scene.

The one person I didn’t like was Isabel.  I wished she had been given more of a backbone.  I wish she had stood up for herself more.  There are times where you just want to slap her silly.  In one scene she’s standing up to her King and telling him like it is, and in the next, she’s wilted like a cut flower.  I guess I just wanted more from her…not unlike Sam.

Overall, I really did enjoy this book and I think anyone who is interested in a good story with just enough truth to make it even more interesting.  I always like seeing historical figures in a different light, especially when it’s done outside of stuffy biographies and historical texts.  I really enjoy it when an author breathes new life into an old subject.

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