Saturday, August 27, 2016

Making Michael by Mike Smallcombe

Making Michael takes readers into the studio with the King of Pop, charting the creation of record-breaking albums including Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad, Dangerous and HIStory, and the twists and turns that occurred along the way. Untold stories, revelations and secrets finally see the light of day as Jackson's career outside the studio is also examined, including his Hollywood dreams, life at Neverland and those mysterious, ill-fated preparations for the final tour, This Is It. Supported by the people who shared the journey with him, Making Michael takes readers behind the scenes, revealing Jackson at his best; and at his worst, relentlessly pursuing perfection and displaying a cutthroat shrewdness and competitiveness few knew existed.

Author Mike Smallcombe spent five years researching and interviewing to bring readers a look inside the music and videos that Michael Jackson created. Making Michael paints a story of each artistic endeavor from start to finish. It's a great read for those interested in the creative process of music, but doesn't go into much technical detail.

If you're hoping for a biography of the King of Pop, this isn't it. Smallcombe briefly mentions Michael's legal troubles and personal life, but for the most part he focuses on his career. I appreciated that about this book. There's no sensationalism here or tabloid-style writing.

That being said, Making Michael can be very tedious if you're expecting a story to be told. I enjoyed the anecdotes about Michael's playful behavior in the studio and especially every account of what a terrible driver he was. But those were sprinkled conservatively throughout the book. However, being that I have a performance background, I did appreciate the meticulous detail with which the author described the creative process.

Making Michael is definitely a book that any true Michael fan should have in their library.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Next Happiest Place on Earth by Greg Triggs

Frances is a divorced New Yorker looking for a new start. Without telling her ex-husband she takes a job in Orlando in the creative department of a fictitious theme park that rivals Walt Disney World.

I was happy to again find a story with character I could relate to. Frances is in her late thirties, childless, and divorced. And although I'm not under forty, not childless, and not divorced, I could still relate to her view of the world. Her cynical attitude made me laugh out loud, especially against the backdrop of the colorfully saturated tourist trap into which she's landed.

"I suppose on some level I knew that magicians marry, but I never expected to encounter the spouse of one."

The story was vivid from the beginning. Triggs' description of Planet Binger and its residents pulled me in immediately. The contrast of Frances to her surroundings was obvious but not forced. 

I did, however, feel that the story slowed down in the middle. The romance between Frances and her coworker lacked tension and there seemed to be a few more characters than there needed to be. I lost track of a few. 

But overall I felt that The Next Happiest Place on Earth was a good way to finish up my summer reading. It's a light and fun book which I recommend to anyone who's had to put on a brave face in a strange land. 

Thanks again to Greg Triggs for the lovely paperback as well as the postcards (one for me, one for a friend).

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Adventures of Gracie and Monkeybear by C.S. O'Kelly

We all know I love to get mail. I especially love getting a brand new advanced hardcover book wrapped in pretty paper. My kids were really excited to read The Adventures of Gracie and Monkeybear from the minute it came out of the box. The high-quality, textured cover caught their eyes immediately.

When it was time for bed, even my ten-year-old was riveted by this fun story. Gracie and her dog Monkeybear went straight from one adventure to another without skipping a beat or losing the reader. All of this imaginary fun took place in a single day in Gracie's backyard.

I love that the book encourages kids to get outside and play. It illustrates how a child can get so engrossed in pretend play that the sun is going down before they know it.

The Adventures of Gracie and Monkeybear is a wonderful book and apparently the first in a series which I'm looking forward to reading. The pictures are detailed and inspiring. The writing was great and I won't mind reading it to them again and again.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

FREE on Kindle: Promise me by Jack O. Daniel

Promise Me has it all. It's a romantic thriller with plenty of dramatic moments. Fast-paced and addictive. It is a must-read for those enjoy full-flavored story-telling.

It poses a question: What would you do if the life of the one you love hangs in the balance, and only you could save her?

Thomas 'Easy' Steel is an EOD with the New York State Police's Bomb Disposal Unit. An anonymous caller had demanded that he disarms a bomb strapped to a woman's chest. When he arrives at the scene, he discovers that the woman is his wife, Bianca.

It shouldn’t be a big deal. After all, his nickname, Easy, had been bestowed upon him at bomb school because he's so easy-going, even when disabling live bombs. This time, however, it's different. He might not survive it.

And, what of the woman he loves with all his heart, to whom he promised eternity?

The author:

Jack O. Daniel is an alter-ego. He prefers to be an enigma. Someone who lives in the shadow, observing how people live and interact; sometimes participating but mostly he stays in the background. 

Let's just call him, the Chronicler

Promise Me is free on Kindle today through August 27th. Get it here.  

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Monkees Archives Vol. 1
Monkees Archives Vol 1 contains articles, interviews, advertising, photos and other materials related to the band during their original run in the 1960s and their various later regrouping. Fans will love the variety of materials presented and travel backwards to the 1960s when the band was one of the most popular musical acts in the U.S. Read fan and teen magazine interviews with the band members! Long out of print and hard to find, you now can have them cheaper than searching down the original magazines or even getting photocopies, all bound into impressive book collections.

I purchased Monkees Archives Vol. 1 from Amazon. It popped up in my suggestions and I couldn't resist. and foremost, the book is very basic. Or I could say it's straightforward. There's no introduction or forward and no index. It's literally just a book of magazine articles and clippings in no particular order. This isn't a bad thing. The book basically speaks for itself.

Monkees Archives Vol. 1 is, for those of us obsessed with the band, a treasure trove of memorabilia. In addition to the articles, there are a few pictures of Monkees related items such as buttons, marbles and toys. When a group has been around as long as the Monkees has, it's extremely difficult for die-hard fans to find things they've never seen before. This book is full of those things.

My favorite thing about Monkees Archives is that it's like a time capsule of information. I love to read the old articles that were written as the phenomenon was happening. The early articles are great because they speculate on this new pop group while we have the advantage of knowing what's going to happen.

Behold my favorite page!
My only gripe about the book is that it seems hastily put together. There are two more volumes from White Lightning Publishing, and I think they could have used some organization. The articles aren't in chronological order and most of them don't mention the date or the source.

Overall, Monkees Archives Vol. 1 is a fun book for even a lukewarm Monkees fan.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

New Release: Bravo and Elphie by Hagit R. Oron

Bravo and Elphie is the second book from Hagit R. Oron and Or Oron, authors and illustrator of Elphie and Dad go on an Epic Adventure.

Elphie has a new pet. At first Elphie's shy and has trouble warming up to his new friend. When Mom takes them to the park, Bravo gets stuck at the top of the slide. Elphie has to put aside fear to get Bravo to come down and discovers he's braver than he thought.

As with the first book, Elphie's gender isn't revealed which makes the story relate-able for all kids. The pictures are fun and colorful and kept my daughter's attention.

It's a great interactive book for young children. Included at the end of the book is an online memory game with pictures from the story.

Friday, July 15, 2016

No Child Left Behind by Claudia Casser

“Weirdo” loner Geoff Moraine would rather die than spend high school in rural West Rock zonked on ADHD drugs or banished to Special Ed.

But then Lord Kemp, the leader of a band of meta-human refugees from a war-torn parallel universe, zaps Geoff’s attorney mom into becoming his “Retainer.”

Now all Mom thinks about is setting up a prep school on Lord Kemp’s estate to hide the “Fulgoran” refugees in plain sight. A school where Geoff and other neurodivergent West Rock kids could get custom-tailored courses. Which sounds like a great idea, if you don’t know Lord Kemp’s friendly tutors are brain-meddling mutants!

As Geoff fights to protect the Special Ed kids, armed only with a hat lined in foil and magnets, he finds allies—and actual friends—in the strangest places.


I'm a parent of a child with ADHD. That's the main reason I chose to review No Child Left Behind.

Geoff is a well-meaning teen who fully understands how his ADHD makes him different. But he finds that his unique brain is actually well-suited for this new experience with aliens living in plain sight. I love this idea that his "disability" actually makes him superior to other humans in dealing with an unbelievable situation.

The story is told from Geoff's point of view and from that of Lord Kemp, a visitor from an alternate universe. Multiple POVs can be difficult to write and sometimes even harder to follow. But the voices used here are distinct that the reader doesn't get confused. That's important and it takes skill.

Overall I enjoyed the story. Geoff is an endearing character. He made me laugh. He warmed my heart as I compared him to my own son and his way of looking at the world.

No Child Left Behind is over 400 pages which I think is too long. It could have been edited down quite a bit. There seemed to be a lot of nothing going on in the earlier chapters. But I wouldn't discount the book because of that. I recommend this book to teenagers with any kind of disability who feels frustrated with a world that doesn't understand them. I also recommend it to their parents because, as I've said before, books can be a powerful tool in understanding another person's journey.

Also, be sure to check out Claudia Casser's page Ethical Antics.