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Title:   Don Henley Live: Inside Job
Rating (1 to 10):   10
Reviewer:   Jamie
Review/recommendation:  Don who? Though the name might not jump out at you, Don Henley is one of the Eagles band members, and arguably the best of them. Drummers are not usually the star attraction in a band (Ringo who?), but Henley is also a superb composer and lyricist — if you liked the Eagle's Hotel California, Desperado, or Life in the Fast Lane you like Don Henley. His raspy voice is not Frank Sinatra quality (though Cherie likes it), but his music, lyrics, and intensity are positively riveting.
This video of his 2000 concert in Texas is a great introduction to his work as a solo artist after the breakup of the Eagles. It covers the best work of four albums and is deeply absorbing. Henley is a cynical, passionate, liberal, thinking man's musician who addresses the environment, capitalism, materialism, and the media, but is also adept at plumbing the depths of the human heart.
This isn't a video for my conservative friends, but is a foot-tapping insight into where the '60's musical generation should have evolved to at the turn of 21st century.

Title:   The Ladykillers
Rating (1 to 10):   8
Reviewer:   Sal
Review/recommendation:   If you liked the movies "Raising Arizona", "Fargo", and "Brother, Where Art Thou?", then you'll like this flick. Off-beat role for Tom Hanks but he does well as always.

Title:   Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Rating (1 to 10):   10
Reviewer:   Jamie
Review/recommendation:   Here’s an intriguing story – what if your relationship with someone went sour, and you could wipe her out of your mind? No bad memories, no regrets. There’s a company that can do that. But in the process of deleting the memories of her (Clementine, played by Kate Winslet), what if you discovered that there were sweet times, early on, in which you felt connected, felt whole, felt alive? Whoa, turn off the machine, I want to keep those memories. In fact, I want to rekindle the feelings and the relationship.
That’s the dilemma of Joel, played by Jim Carrey. The machine keeps wiping out the memories over the course of a night, while Joel desperately strives to hide the good ones in unlikely corners of his mind, outrunning the electrons coursing through his brain while he’s asleep.
The film jumps between his memories and his real-time experiences without warning. It travels through time haphazardly, much as we live in the past and present though our thoughts and our senses simultaneously. The juxtapositions, the erasures, the walls and people peeling out of the scenery as memory cells are killed one by one – this is film art at its best.
Eternal Sunshine is a haunting movie. It’s more than entertainment, it’s an intriguing story well told, with clever twists, subplots, and rich acting. Though probably not everyone’s taste, it is worth a sampling, and you just might find it is one that you can’t get out of your mind. Available on DVD.
More info at the Internet Movie Database.

Title:   Billy Elliott
Rating (1 to 10):   10
Reviewer:   Jamie
Review/recommendation:   A working-class boy growing up in a strike-plagued coal-mining town has aspirations to become a ballet dancer. The movie shows the challenges his irrepressible spirit encounters in overcoming stereotyping and intolerance as he somewhat furtively pursues his dream. The movie is simultaneously gritty, warm, and humorous. A real gem. Available on DVD/videotape.

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Title:   Fatal Flaw
Author:   William Lashner
Rating:   9
Reviewer: Jamie
Review/recommendation:   The main character of this novel is sleezy enough to give a Philadelphia lawyer, which he is, a bad reputation. But he's also witty and insightful enough to win you to his side, and even win a case or two while he's anguishing over life and tracking down murderers.
In Fatal Flaw, Victor Carl, the protagonist, opines "Lust will make a fool of any man, but it is only love that can truly ruin him. What are we looking at when we are looking at love? Eskimos have like six billion different words for snow because they understand snow. (Don't ever try to snow an Eskimo.) But for six billion different permutations of emotional attachment we have just one word. Why? Because we don't have a clue."
Victor agrees to represent a law-school friend agaist a murder charge, with the twisted intent of bringing him to justice. Why? Because he thinks his friend actually murdered his financee, Hailey, who coincidentally is also Victor's lover. This unusual love triangle leads to motives within motives and mysteries within mysteries that are nicely wrapped up by the end of the novel. This is a good read from an intelligent mystery writer.
William Morrow, 2003, 437 pages, $24.95 hardcover, or $5.99 hardcover on Amazon.

Title:   Norwegian Wood
Author:   Haruki Murakami
Rating:   8
Reviewer: Jamie
Review/recommendation:  This novel by Japanese author Haruki Murakami captures the sad, wistful mood of the Beatles song — the uncertainty and pain of relationships formed in the volatile coming-of-age years. The story tracks the relationships of Toru Watanabe with his emotionably unattainable girlfriend, his college dorm roommates, and a free-spirited drama classmate. The novel demonstrates that human feelings are universal and reads every bit as contemporary as an American story. Nice intro to a good Japanese novelist.
Vintage , 2000, 304 pages, $13.95 paperback

Title: A Brillian Solution: Inventing the American Constitution
Author: Carol Berkin
Rating: 10
Reviewer: Sal
Review/recommendation:   Excellent book and personable author -- got a chance to have dinner with the author and hear her lecture on the book. It takes the Founding Fathers off the "demi-god" pedestal history has placed them on and give a personal touch via showing how their personalities and personal affairs impacted their role in shaping the Constitution. Who signed the Constitution and who didn't...and why ? Who showed up on-time, late, never, left early....and why ? Which ones had a combover, were drunks, pompous (most of them), or womanizers (and I thought that was a recent 20th century phenomenom?) ? It also revealed the ways in which the Founding Fathers held the convention in secrecy or at least their specific roles and compromises in secrecy. Easy to read and down-to-earth.
Harcourt, 2003, 320 pages, $14.00 paperback

Title: An Atomic Romance
Author: Bobbie Ann Mason
Rating: 8
Reviewer: Jamie
Review/recommendation:   I've always been fascinated by cross-dressing authors—women whose main character is a man, or vice versa. It seems it must be difficult to get into the mind of the other gender. But some authors do it well, and Bobbie Ann Mason does a fine job with her male protagonist. Reed Futrell is a maintenance worker at an atomic energy plant; twice married, living the sloppy life of a bachelor in a run-down house, devoted to his dog Clarence, and fascinated with astronomy. His mother has just had a stroke and he needs to shepherd her through a hospital stay and find a nursing home for her. Rumors are running rife about safety hazards at his workplace. His old high-school buddy friend Burl requires occasional bailing out of jail. And Reed can't get Julia out of his mind no matter who else he tries dating — theirs is an on-again, off-again romance that resembles the hazards of porcupine mating rituals.
The story has no adventures, little drama, no murders or hot steamy love scenes. In short, it doesn't aim for a mass audience. But it is a good read, with humorous insights and genuine emotion. And it isn't at all clear how that atomic romance will turn out until the ending.
Random House, 2005, 266 pages, $24.95 hardcover

Title: Crusader's Cross
Author: James Lee Burke
Rating: 9
Reviewer: Jamie
Review/recommendation:   This is the latest in a series of murder mysteries based in New Iberia, Louisiana, featuring Deputy Sheriff Dave Robicheaux. I'm hooked on this series, so much so that when we did a road trip to New Orleans a few years back, Cherie and I drove south of I-10 into rural bayou country to see New Iberia and take in the landscape that Burke paints so vividly. Burke's a gifted writer, able to evoke a time and place through creation of sights, smells, sounds and moods that bring creole country to life. In this series he plumbs the struggle between sobriety and drunkeness, gentility and violence, and good and evil that plague both Robicheax's inner self and the community in which he lives.

In this latest installment the nominal story is about a serial killer operating between Baton Rouge and New Orleans who preys on middle class women and has dumped a couple of his victims near New Iberia. A parallel story concerns the search for a prostitute Robicheaux's brother fell in love with in 1958, and who was believed abducted and murdered just as the brother was poised to take her out of "the life" back then.

But the real story is Robicheaux's continuing inner struggles and the people who support him—the reckless and violent beer drinking best friend Clete Purcel; the hard-nosed homosexual Sheriff and former colleague Helen Soileau; and the new love interest in his life, Molly Boyle, a Catholic nun.

Besides being a top-rate story teller, Burke masterfully explores the duplicity and duality of life in Louisiana. In the epilogue he concludes that

Capitalists are hanged by the rope they sell their enemies. Mystics who help forumlate great religious movements writhe in sexual torment over impure thoughts a shoe saleman leaves behind with adolescence. A Crusader knight in search of the True Cross returns to Marseilles from Palestine with a trunkful of Saracen robes, inside of which is a plague-infested mouse.

Such is the world explored by James Lee Burke.
Simon & Schuster, 2005, 325 pages, $25.95 hardcover

Title:   The Shipping News
Author:   E. Annie Proulx
Rating:   9
Reviewer: Jamie
Review/recommendation:  This book is not for everyone. It is imaginative and very well written but is admittedly a slow read. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature and the National Book Award—recommendation enough. And it was made into a movie good enough that I've seen it twice.
It's the story of a blundering man who tries to overcome his lack of self-confidence and his failed marriage by starting life anew with his aunt and two children in cold, unforgiving Newfoundland, where his aunt sets up residence in an ancestral home fastened on the rocky coast. Coyle grows into his new job as the local newspaper's shipping news reporter, and finds hard-won friendships and even a sputtering romance along the way. What makes the novel stand out is the lyrical writing, the capturing of Newfoundland dialect, the feeling of raw weather and the subtle exploration of Coyle's relationships with the local characters and his struggle to overcome his painful shortcomings.
If you can make it past the opening chapters where Coyle's pathetic life comes unravelled and if you have the patience to pick up the book time and again (no, this isn't a page turner that you cannot put down), you'll be rewarded with a fine, humorous story that slowly grows on you. It's great literature, but if you want the Reader's Digest version, rent the movie.
Scribner, 1994, 352 pages, $14.00 paperback

Title:   On the Road
Author:   Jack Kerouac
Rating (1 to 10):   3
Reviewer:   Jamie
Review/recommendation:   This 1957 novel is touted as a testament to the Beat Generation. It's Kerouac's almost stream-of-consciousness roman à clef of his road trips with Neal Cassady—an icon of the Beat, and later, the Hippie generation—a catalog of drunken nights, drug-addled conversations, nightclub jazz bands, used women, fast cars, hitchhikers, walk-up apartments, bus stations, Mexican laborers, and cross-country roads with their cites and towns.
Penguin Books includes it in its Great Books of the 20th Century collection. It doesn't seem to merit that distinction. If it had literary flair, or insight, or even a good story, then maybe one could get past the cast of drunken and drugged cads who populate the pages. But in the end it has no redeeming value—the meaningless conversations mirror the meaningless characters and the meaningless book.
Penguin Books, 1999, 293 pages, $15.00 softcover

Title:   The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World
Author:   Paul Roberts
Rating (1 to 10):   10
Reviewer:   Jamie
Review/recommendation:   As we head into the longer nights of autumn and winter, reading an engaging book can be a satisfying way to spend a chilly night on the couch. This book qualifies as engaging on several levels.
Paul Roberts brings an incredible depth of research and analysis to the subject of energy and its importance to the development of society and economic progress. Likewise he is exhaustive in his breadth of topics, from the history of energy and its impact on civilizations; the evolution of energy sources from wood, to coal, to oil and gas; the sciences of energy (geology, chemistry, and physics); the political, military and economic consequences of oil development, production and consumption; the benefits of conservation; the growing depletion of oil reserves worldwide; the looming threat of global warming caused by burning hydrocarbons; and alternative energy sources and technologies.
Amazingly enough, Mr. Roberts is able to tackle these complex subjects in layman's language and retain the reader's interest throughout. And if this book doesn't make you think twice about lowering the lamp by which you are reading it, or buying a more fuel-efficient car, you have a pretty high tolerance for risk.
This book will make you see politics, world affairs, and economics in a different light.
Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004, 400 pages, $26.00 hardcover
More information at Amazon.com

Title:   Plainsong
Author:   Kent Haruf
Rating (1 to 10):   8
Reviewer:   Jamie
Review/recommendation:  A Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation. Not really, but it has the same feel to it. A feel-good story of disconnected people who recover from life's tragedies by finding the warmth of human kindness in strangers.
    Holt, Colorado, a small, rural prarie town, is home to two young boys facing the loss of their mother, their father facing estrangement from his wife, a pregnant teenaged girl facing the scorn of her mother and friends, a pair of old brothers facing a lonely life on the farm, and a school teacher who weaves the lives of this disparate band together in a gentle healing way.
    Haruf writes in a slow-paced style that indirectly probes the sadness of the lives involved and reveals the glimmer of hope that connections to others can bring. It's well written and can be read in a few short sittings. A particularly good read for a cold winter night.
Vintage Books, 2000, 320 pages, $13.95 softcover
More information at Amazon.com

Title:   Blindness
Author:   Jose Saramago
Rating (1 to 10):   9
Reviewer:   Jamie
Review/recommendation:  In the tradition of Lord of the Flies, a Nobel Prize-winning novel by a Portuguese author explores what happens to a society that is inexplicably struck by blindness. One by one, the people of the community are suddenly blind. The government tries to contain the epidemic by sequestering the victims in government facilities – the first one being an abandoned mental hospital.
    Basic human behavior is quickly reduced to immediate needs in the asylum: food, defecation, sex, power and cruelty. The victims of blindness also become the victims of unbridled human instincts. There is only one among the throng who can see, but her vision becomes as much a burden as a blessing, as she witnesses her husband and other fellow inmates reduced to animal behavior and she herself becomes a victim of the pack mentality.
    The book is at times difficult to read. One would rather not be confronted with animal behavior among humans. But the story is compelling nevertheless, and one turns the pages for more insights and for resolution to this awful plague.
Unfortunately, the denouement isn’t as satisfying as the rest of the story, but overall the novel rates a read for its compelling story and glimpses into the nature of the human experience.
Harcourt, 1998, 304 pages, $25.00 hardcover
More info at Amazon.com

Title:   Resistance
Author:   Barry Lopez
Rating (1 to 10):   10
Reviewer:   Jamie
Review/recommendation:  Short, evocative, thought inspiring, moving. That's the essence of a slim book of short stories about expatriates searching for the meaning of life. They are writers, artists, and scientists who's life work has drawn the attention and threats of a repressive government. They are outsiders moving among tribes and civilizations that offer alternative values and perspectives to America's materialism.
    But the stories are not heavy philosophical fare -- rather, they are intesely personal quests for finding universal values, and they are told with a sparseness and lightness that makes them easy, yet engaging, reads.
    Highly recommended.
Alfred A. Knopf, 2004, 163 pages, $18.00 hardcover
More information at Amazon.com

Title:   The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill
Author:   Ron Suskind
Rating (1 to 10):   8
Reviewer:   Jamie
Review/recommendation:   Paul O'Neill was fired as George Bush's first Treasury Secretary two years after taking office. Is he bitter? Maybe. Is he critical? Yes. But he's also a Republican, so the criticism is not directed toward the party's philosphy, just the way it is being carried out by the Bush administration. And he's a detail man, so the arguments are backed by documents and meeting notes that carry the weight of hard evidence.
    His major criticism is that the administration is driven by ideology, not philosphy. The difference is that the latter is open to evidence and modification based on facts, whereas the former is not. Ideology leads to blind absolutism that drives government policies which are neither critically examined nor debated within the administration.
    O'Neill found that "The President was caught in an echo chamber of his own making, cut off from everyone other than a circle around him ... that keeps him away from the one thing he needs most: honest, disinterested perspectives about what's real and what he might do about it."
    But O'Neill also found Mr. Bush to be unlike presidents he'd served or advised before—Nixon, Ford, the elder Bush, and Clinton. In meetings, Bush doesn't ask the tough questions and rarely changes his facial expression. Cabinet members feel a lack of presidential engagement and frequently have to guess at his rationale for decisions, when or if rendered. O'Neill characterized meetings with the president: "The only way I can describe it is that, well, the President is like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people. There is no discernible connection."
    Being the former Treasury Secretary, O'Neill's story centers largely on government fiscal policy and his frustration at being unable to implement two of his key goals during his term: a trigger mechanism that would scale back the administration's proposed tax cuts if government revenue flagged or spending increased, and a $1 trillion set aside out of the budget surplus which would have allowed a conversion of Social Security to be funded by investments in the capital and stock markets. What he saw in his two-year term was a rapid dissipation of the surplus that killed the Social Security dream and quickly threatened budget deficits without the triggers he and Alan Greenspan wanted, but which the President's advisors opposed. He was even further concerned about the additional tax cuts pushed through after the 2002 mid-term elections and their effect on long-term deficits. "The government is moving toward a fiscal crisis," he told Dick Cheney, arguing against more tax cuts. He was shocked and disheartened when Cheney responded "Reagan proved deficits don't matter." Ideology again trumped reality.
    Let's face it, fiscal policy doesn't make for page-turning reading, but Suskind's book offers a rare inside look into the Bush administration: its isolation from reality, its management style, its fixation on Saddam, and its cast of key players. Give it a read before the election. Simon & Schuster, 2004, 348 pages, $26.00 hardcover

Title:   Up Country
Author:   Nelson DeMille
Rating (1 to 10):   8
Reviewer:   Jamie
Review/recommendation:   A combination spy thriller, romance, murder mystery, travelogue, and history...this book has a lot going for it. Written by one of the better novelists of our time–the same guy who wrote "The General's Daughter" and "Plum Island"–this one is fast moving and quickly pulls you in with characters you care about. Vietnam is brough to life today and in the 60's/70's through a convincing narrative of a former infantry soldier. The only thing that keeps this book from being a "must read" is the lack of an ending. I prefer stories in which issues are resolved before you close the back cover. Warner Books, 2002, 706 pages, $26.95 hardcover

Title:   Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal.
Author:   Eric Schlosser
Rating (1 to 10):   10
Reviewer:   Jamie
Review/recommendation:   For non-fiction, this is a fast read. In examining the history of fast food in America, Schlosser covers pop culture, economics, sociology, and globalization in one fell swoop. Some interesting take-aways from the book: the fast food pioneers were primarily high school dropouts; the phenomenon started in southern California (I liked that part); it's corporate character reflects the ills of much modern corporate ethics (or lack thereof); and the food it pushes is both unhealthy and potentially dangerous. If you read one non-fiction book this year, I'd recommend you make it this one. Perinnial (HarperCollins Publishers), 2002, 364 pages, $13.95 paperback

Title:   The Future of Success: Working and Living in the New Economy.
Author:   Robert B. Reich
Rating (1 to 10):   8
Reviewer:   Jamie
Review/recommendation:   The price of the great roaring economy at the turn of the century? Family, community, personal balance. The new economy, which replaced the stability of mass production with the speed of innovation and ease of consumer and investor switching, offers unprecedented opportunities for the consumer. But it also makes the worker more vulnerable and puts him in the position of having to continually market himself. The result is that workers are spending more time on the job and less in the home. Families are outsourcing their basic functions. Communities are stratifing into economic layers, with the gulf growing wider between rich and poor.
   Reich, a former Secretary of Labor, presents his analysis cleanly and convincingly, offering valuable insights into what forces drive this new age. He also provides a good analysis of the resulting problems in the family and community. What he doesn't provide is useful advise on how to restore balance to our lives, our families, and our communities. Bottom line: the book is thought provoking even if it doesn't offer concrete solutions. Highly recommended reading. Vintage Books, 2002, 250 pages, $14.00

Title:   HTML: Your visual blueprint for designing effective Web pages.
Author:   maranGraphics, Inc.
Rating (1 to 10):   9
Reviewer:   Jamie
Review/recommendation:   Though not a fireside or bedtime read, this book is great for someone who wants a quick and dirty primer on designing web pages. The information is well organized, has good depth, and is easy to absorb through simple explanatory language and step-by-step program code examples. The proof of a how-to book is in its results—all of the code on our family web pages was learned in this book. You can judge the book accordingly. 301 pages, $24.99

Title:   Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation
Author:   Joseph Ellis
Rating (1 to 10):   8
Reviewer:   Jamie
Review/recommendation:   American revolutionary history brought to life via vignettes of some of the major players and turning points in early American history. The book is entertaining as well as enlightening, but some chapters do drag on much longer than tolerable (which is the only reason it doesn't rate a 10). Major insights are provided on the long lineage of this country's political compromises and dirty politics (practised especially well by Thomas Jefferson) and on the inability of the founding fathers to deal with the issue of slavery, which of course, had major consequences for the subsequent generation. History seems to be making a comeback on the best seller lists. This book is one of the reasons. October, 2000, 288 pages, $26.00

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Title:   One of the Fortunate Few
Artist:   Delbert McClinton
Rating (1 to 10):   8
Reviewer:   Jamie
Review/recommendation: An upbeat blues record with country twang and humor. (Delbert's claim to fame is that he taught John Lennon to play the harmonica.) Delbert draws on the likes of B.B. King, Lee Roy Parnell, Vince Gill, Lyle Lovett, Patty Loveless and Pam Tillis to help on the album and the talent shines through. There is something about an artist who writes his own music—McClinton sings from the heart and his gravelly voice imbues the lyrics with genuine-osity. On one song he exuberantly hoots and warns his girlfriend that "You made a man into a monkey/Now that monkey's gonna monkey around." On another he wistfully pines:
    I saw someone again today
Who remembered me and you
They asked all the same old questions
I gave the same excuse
They said what a shame, what a shame
To lose a love so fine
But I never lost you, I never lost you
I never lost you, your were never mine.
       Sometimes deep in the night
When I hold you in my dreams
I get lost in your loving touch,
I can't believe how real it seems.
And I know, yes I know
I'll have you 'til the end of time
'Cause I never lost you, I never really lost you
I never lost you, 'cause you were never mine.


Wine:   Merlot
Vintner:   Frei Brothers
Rating (1 to 10):   10
Reviewer:   Jamie
Review/recommendation:   I confess: I didn't taste it. But Cherie did, and after each sip she made sounds like the gals in the organic shampoo commercials on TV. She was wild about it -- lots of smooth oak flavor. She knows her merlots, and she rates this one up at the top. Probably between $17 and $20 a bottle.
Merlot, Frei Brothers Reserve, North Coast Sonoma County, California, 1999

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