Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"The Cocktail Party" by T. S. Eliot

This was one of my attempts at reading more "literary" works, and while I did read it, I have to say that I didn't enjoy it much. I waded my way thru Eliot's "The Wasteland" back in my college days, so I'm not sure why I thought a play by him would be any better. Luckily, it's short.

The whole thing is written in free verse, which I am not a fan of. And as to "what" the play is about, good luck with that, too. It starts off normally enough with a scene set in the drawing room of Edward and Lavinia Chamberlayne. Edward is attempting to entertain a group of friends as his wife, Lavinia, has left him. A strange man who prefers to remain anonymous is also there, and Edward confesses that his wife has left him. The stranger asks if Edward wants to see her again, to which Edward gives thought, then answers "yes", that despite everything, he believes he still loves her. The stranger indicates that Lavinia will appear on the morrow, but that Edward must not ask her any questions.

Some of the previous guests return and are in and out of the next few scenes, all set in the drawing room. When the second act begins, we are at the office of Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly, an advisor or psychiatrist of sorts. He meets with Edward, then Lavinia comes in, and there's lots of talk about what they want, but in a very existential way. After they agree to give their marriage another chance, the "advisor" meets with one of the party guests, Celia, and tells her that she has a choice about her life, too.

The third act is again in the Chamberlaynes' drawing room and again the same guests are there, all but Celia. Turns out she took one of the path's suggested by Sir Henry and was killed in a foreign country on a mission of mercy (or something like that, I'm still not sure). There's more existential talk about how life is strange, etc, then the play closes.

So what can I say about this? Well, if the reviews on Amazon are any indication, what I can say is that I just don't get this piece at all. It feels like it should be deep and thoughtful, but I mostly just found it boring and confusing, and I don't attribute all that to the free verse. Maybe in the time it was originally published it made more sense, but I just felt like I wasted my time.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

"Death Perception" by Victoria Laurie

It took a while for Abby's FBI agent boyfriend, Dutch Rivers, to accept her psychic gifts as the real deal. But these days he knows better than to question Abby's visions. So when his cousin Chase is kidnapped after a bloody shoot-out in a Vegas alleyway, he agrees that her clairvoyant skills could be invaluable, and they both catch the next flight to Sin City. Abby's inner eye insists that Chase is still alive, but nothing else about the case adds up - especially Dutch's reluctance to involve the FBI. On top of everything, Dutch is battling a mysterious illness, and Abby keeps having disturbing dreams that predict his death. Dutch wants Abby to promise that if the investigation goes south, she'll head home to safety, but when the chips are down, Abby won't fold without a fight.

This is the sixth book in Laurie's "Psychic Eye" series, and the first review I've done of any of the books. Basically, they fall under the "cute/cozy/slightly-paranormal mystery" category. They don't take long to read, and they don't take a lot of brain power, either. Yup, my "popcorn" books that I've referred to in past reviews.

This one really isn't any different, except that it is the first one I found myself being somewhat disappointed in, and that seems an odd thing to say, given that my expectations weren't that high in the first place. I've gotten used to Laurie repeating herself when she's giving exposition about how Abby's abilities work, her "crew", what goes through her mind when something is true/false, etc. While it's probably not nearly as noticeable when you have to wait a year between books, it would still be nice if authors could find a way to fill in that backstory in their series' entries without sounding like carbon copies all the time. But I digress....

I know that Abby's visions don't always make sense, and I know that she's not always the sharpest crayon in the box, but hello - the things she "misses" are so obvious, it's not even funny. Take Dutch's "mysterious illness"; I don't hold a medical degree but I knew within the first two scenes what was wrong with the guy! Then there's the issue of her new cellphone; Dutch gave her this gift in the previous book, and while she wasn't thrilled, she was grateful later on because said phone is equipped with a GPS device, meaning it could be used to track someone's location. Got that? Our girl Abby is desperately trying to find Dutch at one point in this book and remembers aha! the cellphone has GPS! But in the very next chapter (after she fails to find said boyfriend), she forgets that the cellphone can be used to track her and gives away her location to the bad FBI guy. Really? Really? I had a hard time buying that myself.

Then there's the issue of the casino. Yep, Abby's "crew" helps her win a sweepstakes, including money and two Mini-Coopers, pretty much the same way that they helped her pick lottery numbers for Dutch's ex-police-partner, Milo. Um, I don't know whether I believe in psychic abilities or not, but I sort of feel like if they are real, there would be a lot more lottery winners. Just saying.

By the time Abby, her sister Cat, and her PI-office-partner Candice, have won those prizes, the believablity factor has dropped several quotients. Honestly, I felt like I was reading about another hapless heroine, the one from New Jersey that's always blowing up cars. There was just too much "madcap adventure" feel about this book, and definitely not enough "plot". I'm hoping when I pick up the next one it's better, or that's the end of the series for me. Guess time will tell.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

"The New New Rules: A funny look at how everybody but me has their head up their ass" by Mill Maher

You have to say one thing for Bill Maher: the man speaks his mind and makes no apologies for doing so.

If you're not familiar with the sometimes-caustic, liberal host of HBO's Real Time, then you most likely picked up this book by mistake. I used to watch Maher when his show was still on "regular" television, before he spoke up about something, got everyone's panties in a twist, and had to go back to HBO. Yes, that should tell you something right there: he used to be on cable, moved to late-night TV, then went back to cable. Maher's guests were always an interesting bunch. I can remember one show that included Marilyn Manson, Florence Henderson, and two other guests. I don't remember who the other two were, but I do remember that one of them was a religious nut-job, and I say that in the nicest way possible. It was quite a sight to see Manson sitting there calmly trying to debate said nut-job and Mrs. Brady had to be the one to tell this lady to please be quiet and let the young man have a chance to speak. Surreal!

Anyway, Maher covers most of the same ground he did in his previous book and on his show. In fact, he admits in the foreword that the longer, more "philosophical" pieces are basically straight from the show, although not all made it to air. The short musings are funnier, in my humble opinion, and they are definitely short. This is the sort of book that you can pick up and digest little nuggets, akin to the evil McDonald's Chicken Nuggets that Maher likes to make you feel bad about eating.

Prime example (and one near & dear to my heart, as I am now a rebel at the ripe old age of almost 44!)
Tat Patrol: Now that everyone has a tattoo, it will now be considered rebellious to not have a tattoo. Seriously. I think the Jonas Brothers have tattoos now. I'm sure Mitt Romney is all inked up. Betty White has one across her back that says "F**k the Police" - that I know for sure.

Now, as funny as I found a lot of Maher's musings, I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed with him at times, too. He's turned into the "super-left" guy, just as Dennis Miller has turned into the "super-right", and I find that sad. Yes, the Republicans have screwed up things in this country - but so have the Democrats. Yes, there should be higher taxes to help get us out of the national debt, and definitely yes, corporations that manage to pay absolutely no taxes each and every year need to be stopped. But the Democrats went mad with power when they were in the majority, and rather than trying to help the country a little, they "helped" us a lot - and a lot of us really didn't deserve such help. I am all for lending a helping hand, but I grew a bit tired of watching the Democrats give us all handouts. I do agree with Maher when he asks what has happened to us as a country; he feels that we've become too accustomed to sitting around and waiting for the government to "save us". Well, guess what folks? Congress is nothing more right now than a huge daycare full of 2-year-olds that need a nap and refuse to agree on anything. It's going to be up to us, the citizens, to pull ourselves out of this mess - and that won't happen if we're squalling right along with the Big Boys.

All in all, a fun read. But I do wish we'd see a little more "middle" humor from our comedians, because I truly believe that's where most Americans stand - in the middle.