Thursday, March 23, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: 11/22/63 by Stephen King


I'm excited that I have finally finished my first Stephen King book (speed reading my sister's copy of Carrie when we were both teenagers doesn't count).

Anyway, I'm not a big fan of horror so I have generally stayed away from Mr. King's work previously.

However the premise of 11/22/63 fascinated me (someone goes back in time to try and stop the John F. Kennedy assassination) and even though I was a bit daunted by the size of the book I put it on my amazon wish list around Christmas time and was happy when it arrived.

11/22/63 is about a lot more than just time travel, but as a time travel novel it succeeds quite extraordinarily.

But 11/22/63 also succeeds as a love story, a thriller and as social commentary (about the 1950s and 1960s in America). I appreciated the fact that the protagonist gets sent back to 1958 and although there is a lot he likes, he also notices that for people who are not cis heterosexual white males like him, life in the 1950s was not so great (racism, antisemitism, homophobia, antediluvian attitudes about contraception and sexual activity are all brought up during the course of the novel). Maybe since a lot of the story takes place as the main character works as a teacher and I'm a teacher it strongly appealed to me, but I don't think so. I think this book has a pretty universal appeal.

It's definitely a bit slower than it needs to be but it also succeeds on its own terms and it totally deserves its excellent ratings by oodles and oodles of people on Goodreads. If someone understands the ending could they please explain it to me, especially the stuff about the various (Yellow, Red, Green and Ochre) card-carrying guys at the time portal. Even without that, I am glad that I read the book. I'm aware that Hulu has made a series based on the book starring James Franco but I don't feel like I need to see another version of the book.

This was the first Stephen King book I had read but is certainly not be my last! I don't think I'm going to run out and read The Dark Tower stuff (which is supposed to be a tale of epic fantasy). I have already read the Bill Hodges trilogy (Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers and End of Watch), which I enjoyed tremendously since it is in the mystery-thriller genre. I look forward to reading books by Mr. King in some of my other favorite genres.

Title: 11/22/63.
Author: 
Stephen King.
Paperback: 880 pages.
Publisher:
 Gallery Books.
Date Published: July 24, 2012.
Date Read: July 2, 2015.

GOODREADS RATING: **** (4.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).

PLOT: A-.
IMAGERY: B+.
IMPACT: A-.
WRITING: A

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: Most Religious Groups Oppose Anti-LGBT Discrimination

The PRRI (formerly known as the Public Religion Research Institute) has released research demonstrating that most religious groups oppose allowing a small business owner to refuse service to gay o lesbian people if doing so violates their religious belief. In fact, the only Christian denomination that supports such invidious discrimination is White evangelical Protestants.

PRRI summarizes:
White evangelical Protestants (56%) stand out as the only major religious group that favors allowing small business owners to refuse goods or services to gay and lesbian people on religious grounds. Fewer than one-third of white mainline Protestants (32%), Catholics (28%), black Protestants (24%), religiously unaffiliated Americans (21%), and members of non-Christian traditions (18%) support a religious exemption for small business owners. Notably, despite opposition to same-sex marriage, more than seven in ten (73%) black Protestants oppose allowing small business owners to refuse service to gay and lesbian people.
I would just note that the "unaffiliated" (which is the typical term used to describe the agnostic, atheist or "godless") oppose allowing anti-LGBT discrimination at a rate of 75% which is far above the 64% of all Americans that oppose this anti-LGBT discrimination based on religious belief.

This is another reason why I say it is very possible to be good without god.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

TENNIS TUESDAY: Federer Wins Title #90; Vesnina Shocks; Kerber Regains #1; Miami Draw Decimated


INDIAN WELLS ENDS WITH A BANG AS VESNINA AND FEDERER WIN TITLES 
The first important (non-major) tournament of the year is the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. Last year Novak Djokovic and Vika Azarenka won the title. This year Roger Federer defeated Stan Wawrinka and Elena Vesnina outlasted Svetlana Kuznetsova (in just over 3 hours) to win the titles.

FEDERER'S 90TH TITLE FUELS HIS RISE TO WORLD #6
35-year-old Roger Federer has reached his pre-Wimbledon goal of reaching the Top 8 in the world 3 months early by reaching World #6 this week. After a 6-month absence from the tour to recuperate after knee surgery, Federer has won 13 of his first 14 matches played in 2017. His only loss this year came to Evgeny Donskoy in a 3rd set tiebreak in Dubai. By winning Indian Wells for the 5th time, Federer won his 90th ATP tour title and record 49th "big title" of his career (18 Grand slams, 6 ATP Tour finals and 25 Masters shields).

MIAMI OPEN LOSES MURRAY, DJOKOVIC, SERENA
The "Sunshine Double" is a rare feat in tennis that occurs when a player wins the Indian Wells tournament and then the Miami tournament which follows it; last year both Azarenka and Djokovic completed the sunshine double. The draw at this year's Miami Open will have reduced firepower because 8-time champion Serena Williams, 6-time champion Novak Djokovic and 2-time champion Andy Murray all have withdrawn from the tournament.

KERBER REGAINS WORLD #1 RANKING 
 As expected, the World #1 ranking on the women's side changed from Serena Williams to Angelique Kerber due to Serena Williams' withdrawal from the Indian Wells and Key Biscayne tournaments.

Monday, March 20, 2017

EYE CANDY: Tyson Bettis





Tyson Bettis is a 6-foot-6 model from Los Angeles who I discovered thanks to Pop Glitz. He has tens of thousands of followers on social media, including Facebook and Instagram. His Model Mayhem profile lists him as 30 years old (and 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds).

He's today's Eye Candy model!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

2017 INDIAN WELLS: Federer-Wawrinka, Kuznetsova-Vesnina Finals



The finals of the 2017 BNP Paribas Open are now set. On the men's side it will be an all-Swiss affair, with Stan Wawrinka and Roger Federer. The two last met in the semifinals of the 2017 Australian Open, where Federer defeated the higher ranked Wawrinka in 5 tough sets on his way to winning his long-sought 18th major title. Federer is playing in his 43rd Masters final (now tied with Novak Djokovic) while Wawrinka is playing in his 4th. The two compatriots have played 22 times before and Federer has only lost 3 times, all on clay. I expect Federer will win this match tomorrow.

On the women's side the WTA tour has been devastated with World #1 Serena Williams' withdrawal from the Indian Wells and Miami tournaments. New World #1 Angelique Kerber lost early to Elena Vesnina, and although Venus Williams took the momentum from her first-round escape against Jelena Jankovic to reach the quarterfinals, she lost against Vesnina who is now playing the best tennis of her careers in her first Premier Mandatory final. The Russian will face another compatriot, 2-time major champion Sveta Kuznetsova, who last reached the final here twice before (2007 l. Daniela Hantuchova and 2008 l. Ana Ivanovic). For the second time this year, a final will be contested between two female players over age 30. Kuznetova is 31 and Vesnina is 30. The two are tied 1-all in their head-to-head. I'm rooting for Kuznetsova to win!

Back Home in Los Angeles

Got this pretty cool shot of downtown Los Angeles from the air.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Where Am I?


MadProfessah is in Berkeley, California for a workshop.


BOOK REVIEW: The Bill Hodges Trilogy by Stephen King


I enjoyed reading my first book by Stephen King last year, which was the time-travel thriller 11/22/63 about the  assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I decided then that I was interested in looking at reading other books by King if they fit into some of the genres that I regular read: science fiction, mystery/thriller. What I discovered was the Bill Hodges trilogy, consisting of Mr. MercedesFinders Keepers and End of Watch. The trilogy is being adapted for television by David E. Kelley (Big Little Lies, The Practice, Ally McBeal, L.A. Law) into a 10-episode series to air on the Audience Network. Below you can find my reviews of the entire trilogy, which I read earlier this year.


Mr. Mercedes is a mystery thriller and adventure caper all in one. The book begins with a horrific scene of a large Mercedes sedan deliberately plowing into a long line of people waiting to be considered for jobs in a financially distressed town.

I love the trio of  characters the story is built around: Holly Gibney, a emotionally disturbed 40-something loner, Bill Hodges, a 60-something retired ex-cop and Jerome Robinson, 17-year old 6-foot-5 African-American honors student, The three work as a team of sleuths trying to stop a mass murderer from graduating to historic levels of domestic terrorism and mayhem. The mass murderer is Brady Hartsfield, who we soon learn is maniac responsible for the Mercedes incident which killed about a dozen people and injured even more.

Parts of the book are definitely formulaic but since this is Stephen King one never is sure if ANY of his characters are safe. He kills off a fairly major character every 75 pages or so and this is only a 400-page book! This raises the level of suspense to heart-stopping levels in the denouement because who knows, King is such a horror writer that you suspect he might just blow up 4,000 screaming tweeny bop girls.

I believe Mr. Mercedes will make a heckuva movie and maybe win Tilda Swinton another Best Supporting Actress Oscar for playing Holly Gibney.

I'm very psyched that it looks like the three main characters (Holly, Jerome and Bill) will be in the second (and third?) book in this series, even though the trilogy as a whole is known as the Bill Hodges trilogy.

Definitely looking forward to reading the whole thing!

Title: Mr. Mercedes.
Author: 
Stephen King
Paperback: 448 pages.
Publisher:
 Scribner.
Date Published: June 3, 2014.
Date Read: February 13, 2017.

GOODREADS RATING: ***** (5.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A/A- (3.83/4.0).

PLOT: A.
IMAGERY: A.
IMPACT: A-.
WRITING: A-.



Finders Keepers is not as effective as the first book in the trilogy (Mr. Mercedes which was a clear five-star tour de force.) This sequel is at least as intensely suspenseful as the first book but suffers in comparison because our main characters (Bill Hodges, Jerome Robinson and Holly Gibney) from the first book play less of a role in the story here. The book begins with a horrific home invasion and torture kidnapping of a world-famous, reclusive author. (Hey, I guess Stephen King took the adage "write what you know" very seriously!

This time we still get to see the inner monologue and perspective of the main villain/antagonist but while in Finders Keepers the protagonist  was Bill Hodges, this time it is someone new, a 17 year-old boy named Peter Saubers who makes an astonishing discovery in the woods that allows him to help his troubled family survive a difficult period (which happened as a result of the actions of Brady Hartsfield from Mr. Mercedes).

I must admit the device of showing us the thoughts and actions of the perpetrators along with those hunting them heightens the suspense to dizzying levels and makes the entire trilogy very compelling.

King does an excellent job of putting us in the mind of a 17-year-old who is in a perilous and precarious situation way above his head.

However in the end I was disappointed by two particular aspects of the book. The first was the VERY problematic incorporation of supernatural events at the end of the book. Secondly, I also feel like Jerome and Holly got short shrift in the sequel since they were my favorite characters from the first book.

Clearly characterization is not a strong point of King's (to call Peter Saubers' parents ciphers is too kind) but the world-famous author is also obviously making some larger point about the dangers of excessive fandom with the way how fictional reclusive author John Rothstein is treated in the book.

Finders Keepers is almost impossible to put down once you're sucked in (basically from the thrilling prologue). At one point I gasped aloud so dramatically (I finished the book on a plane) that my seat mate stirred and asked me what was wrong. "Nothing," I replied "This book!"

Indeed.

Title: Finders Keepers.
Author: 
Stephen King.
Paperback: 448 pages.
Publisher:
 Orbit.
Date Published: June 2, 2015.
Date Read: February 17, 2017.

GOODREADS RATING: **** (4.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).

PLOT: A.
IMAGERY: A-.
IMPACT: B+.
WRITING: A-.



The third book End of Watch in the Bill Hodges trilogy is the weakest of the three books that began with Mr. Mercedes and continued in Finders Keepers. The first is probably 5-stars and the second was well over 4.5 stars. These first two books in the Bill Hodges series worked exceedingly well as both suspense/thrillers and mystery/police procedurals.

I'm not a fan of the horror genre that I assume is what Stephen King is most known for (Carrie,The Shining, Misery, etc). This is the fourth of his books that I have read in the last year or so and I am beginning to appreciate how lots of people are fans of his work. All the books I have read are well-crafted with propulsive plots and often-clever characterizations.

End of Watch suffers from King's reliance on a metaphysical (i.e. supernatural/or fantastical) plot device that completely changes the genre of the book from its predecessors. In my opinion, this is a bad authorial decision.

However the book still succeeds as a thriller (this is clearly the primary strength of all of King's wring) and it definitely engages the reader by continuing to follow the characters of Holly Gibney, Bill Hodges and Jerome Robinson whose well-being we have been invested in since the first book (Mr. Mercedes).

I do hope that Mr. King makes more forays into the mystery-thriller genre while resisting the urge to indulge in adding supernatural elements in the future. It would be great to spend more time with Holly and Jerome!

Title: End of Watch.
Author: 
Stephen King.
Paperback: 448 pages.
Publisher:
 Scribner.
Date Published: June 7, 2016.
Date Read: March 1, 2017.

GOODREADS RATING: **** (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A-/B+ (3.5/4.0).

PLOT: A-.
IMAGERY: B+.
IMPACT: B+.
WRITING: A-.

Monday, March 13, 2017

EYE CANDY: Hayden Monteleone





Hayden Monteleone (known as Hayden Sanchez on Instagram) is a model who has worked with top photographers. According to his Model Mayhem profile, he is 28-years-old, 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds.

Hat/tip to Pop Glitz

Saturday, March 11, 2017

2017 INDIAN WELLS: Venus Saves 3 MPs In 1st Win Since 2001


Venus Williams won her first match at Indian Wells in over 16 years the hard way. The former World #1 faced another former #1 in Jelena Jankovic. The two have a very close rivalry, with the Serb leading 7-6 in their first 13 meetings, in which all but four have gone to three sets.

Jankovic led this match 6-1 4-1 at the 40 minute mark and for all intents and purposes it looks like the match would be over in under an hour. Then somehow Venus started connecting with her serve and was able to break back and even the second set at 4-all. Then she broke and served for the set at 5-4 but lost serve. Jankovic went up 6-5 and when Venus was serving she went down 15-40 or double match point. Venus saved those match points and another on the way to reaching a tiebreak, in which Jankovic again took an early lead of 4-2 but then lost it on a forehand error 7-5. In the third set Venus went up 4-0 and then the two traded service breaks until Venus served out the win easily at 5-1 to win her first match at the BNP Paribas Open since 2001 1-6 7-6(5) 6-1. The two now have a tied career head-to-head.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Death's End by Cixin Liu


Wow. The sheer scope and scale of what Liu Cixin has accomplished here with the concluding book Death's End of the award-winning Three-Body Problem trilogy (officially known as Remembrance of Earth's Past) is truly awesome, in the original sense of the word.

It was hard to imagine how Liu could top himself with the wildly original ideas he displayed in the first two books (The Three-Body Problem and The Dark Forest) but I believe that he totally did. I remember sneaking peeks at other reviews of Death's End  which made the claim that the third book was even more original, intriguing and exciting than the first two and to be honest I was quite skeptical that could be true. If you are reading this before you have read the third book (and after you have read the first or second) trust me, you are in for a treat!

It's difficult to discuss the details of the conclusion of the series because I don't want to give away the ending. However, I will say that the conflict between the aliens (whom we now call Trisolarians because of the three stars that surround their home world, partially explaining the title of the first book) and the people of Earth is resolved, in a way that is ultimately quite satisfying (to me, at least).

It's interesting that each of the three books has a very different main character (protagonist) who is depicted in a very nuanced way, with real flaws. Of course, part of this is that the author puts his characters through extreme situations where they are often responsible for making decisions that can affect the survival of humanity itself and in many of these situations the "right" decision or course of action is not clear, but the story is never boring and it is VERY often quite surprising.

In the third book that main character is Cheng Xin, a female scientist trying to assist with the defense of Earth from attack by Trisolaris. I think it's great that such a great work of science fiction like Death's End  has a female protagonist.

And there's no question in my mind that this is a great work of science fiction. It's not an easy read (most worthwhile things are not easy!) but it is absolutely an enjoyable and engaging one.

Awesome!

Title: Death's End.
Author: 
Cixin Liu.
Paperback: 608 pages.
Publisher:
 Tor.
Date Published: September 20, 2016.
Date Read: February 10, 2017.

GOODREADS RATING: ***** (5.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A (4.08/4.0).

PLOT: A.
IMAGERY: A.
IMPACT: A+.
WRITING: A.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

POLL: 12% Of California Voters Are #LGBT

Equality California has released a poll which shows that 12% of California voters identify as LGBT. Interestingly, this number varied only slightly by geographical region in the state, from 10% in the Los Angeles area (11% in Los Angeles county) to 14% in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The poll discusses the margin of error:
The survey’s margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level. This means that 95 times out of 100, if a response to a given question to which all respondents answered was 50%, we could be 95% confident that the true percentage would fall within +/-4% of this percentage - or between 46% and 54%. As 12% of respondents in this survey answered “yes” when asked if they were a member of the LGBT community, we can infer that the sampling error specific to that response is +/- 2.4% or between 9.6% and 14.4%.
The poll's methodology of asking the question "Are you a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, also known as the LGBT community?" online may be an explanation for why they received such larger values than the more typical 2-4% number  that we have been more used to.


Monday, March 06, 2017

EYE CANDY: Fabrice Lemonnier (4th time!)





French hottie Fabrice Lemonnier has appeared as Eye Candy 3 times before (October 24, 2016, November 28, 2016, December 26, 2016). I think you can see why he has become the fastest model to ever make four appearances as eye candy at this blog!

Thursday, March 02, 2017

2017 NEBULA AWARDS: Nominations Announced


The Nebula awards are one of the most prestigious awards in the genre of speculative fiction. The winners are voted on by members of the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA), who are generally people who have published works of science fiction.

Last year's winner for Best Novel was Naomi Novik's Uprooted which was also nominated for the Hugo award, an award which is voted on by people who register for the World Science Fiction convention (WorldCon).

This year's nominees for best novel are:
Novel
Unfortunately I have only read one of these books N.K. Jemisin's The Obelisk Gate (which I quite enjoyed) and is the sequel to her Hugo award-winning The Fifth Season (which I liked even more).

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