Monday, March 10, 2014

Another Grippping Story from Dennis Lehane

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

Live By Night tells a broad, sweeping tale that stretches from 1926 to 1935, and from Boston to Tampa, Florida and on to Cuba. It includes a number of historical figures as well as fictional characters and follows the story that Lehane began several years ago in The Given Day.

At the center of the story is Joe Coughlin, the youngest son of Boston police captain, Thomas Coughlin. The Coughlin home was not a happy one, at least not for young Joe, who early on amused himself by doping out the combinations to the household safes where his father squirreled away the payoffs and other money that accrued to a corrupt police official at the height of Prohibition.

As a boy, Joe reacted by joining a gang that committed minor crimes, including the arson-for-hire of competing newsstands. Then one night, in the midst of robbing a poker game that is allegedly protected by one of the city's most important mobsters, Joe has the bad luck to fall in love at first sight with the woman who just happens to be the girlfriend of the aforementioned mobster. The affair will launch young Joe on the journey of his lifetime, or at least the next nine years of it, which would seem like a lifetime to any normal person.

It would be unfair to say any more about the plot, but this is a captivating story, filled with memorable characters. Lehane captures brilliantly the spirit of the age and the settings are so well rendered that at times the reader feels as though he or she is actually circulating through Boston, Tampa or Cuba along with the characters.

This is a book that should appeal to a wide range of readers and not just to fans of crime fiction. It also makes a wonderful companion piece to White Shadow, a very good book by Ace Atkins that is set in the underworld of Tampa in the 1950s and which centers on Charlie Wall, the man who was then the city's mob boss.

Clapton Is...Not Very Godlike

ClaptonClapton by Eric Clapton
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It seems as if Eric Clapton wrote this tell-all autobiography in an attempt to debunk the oft-heard graffiti-fied slogan “Clapton is God”. If so, mission accomplished.

Although I’ve loved his music since I can remember, I always thought he was probably kind of a dick. This book proves it. Oh sure, he’s got his reasons: illegitimacy, abandonment and a bevy of the usual childhood dramas. But hey, there’s a lot of people who’ve had it rough and they didn’t turn out to be cocks. Even so, I've give him credit for owning up to his dickedness.

Clapton will always hold a place in my heart for the work he did in the '60s with such legendary bands as the Yardbirds, Cream, Blind Faith, Derek and the Dominos, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers.



I would've been oh-so happy to read an entire book dedicated to his work during those years, but this is not it. And that's understandable. This is after all an autobiography about his entire life thus far and it's always best if those don't bog down in any one era of a person's life.

But considering the work he did in the '60s and how huge a rockstar Clapton is now, can you even imagine the level he’d be on if he didn’t waste the following decades of his life drinking and doing drugs? I mean, this guy had serious addiction problems and once the book moves on to discuss his life during the '70s it turns almost entirely into a broken record, revolving around and around, detailing year after year how fucked up he was on coke and heroine. Then, once he finally kicked drugs, it became all about the booze. How he managed to live through the '70s and '80s, never mind actually put out albums and perform, is beyond me. Seriously, by all rights the man should be dead after all the shit he’s ingested.

I was fairly sure going in that I wasn’t going to enjoy the book after he was done discussing his career in the '60s, but I read on and I don’t regret it. It’s a decently written book laid out with a linear timeline, so it’s generally easy to follow. I did have one issue. Clapton is a name dropper…no, not the kind of name dropper that tries to make themselves seem more important by mentioning the names of all the famous people they know (even though Clapton does know quite a few), but rather he seems to name just about every person whomever ever came into his life. Hell, his local pub landlord even gets a mention! I don’t have a problem with giving shout-outs and props to people who mean something to you, but the problem is that it’s difficult to keep track of all the names of the many people who apparently have meant something to him. More than once I had to ask myself, “Who’s that now?”

Clapton bravely tackles an embarrassing aspect of his life, his unfortunate, ignorant racist comments. He also touches upon the death of his child and his efforts to sober up, so for those who need to see a dose of humble repentance and redemption, you get a measure of it. Is it enough to redeem him in my eyes? Not really. Does that matter? No. The point is, this is a decent book for those looking to learn more about its author. Just be prepared to learn a little more than you might care to.

View all my reviews

I Will Have Simon Pegg's Baby And There Is Nothing You Can Do About It!

Nerd Do WellNerd Do Well by Simon Pegg
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Simon Pegg wrote a book?! He narrates an audio version of it! I just piddled my pants!

Dear review readers, please realize you are looking at a five star rating of the most gratuitous kind. Because I don't have the womb capacity to physically bear Simon Pegg's babies, giving his book an extra star or two is the only way for me to proclaim my love. Perhaps you do not feel as deeply about him --NEY!-- Since you definitely don't feel as deeply about him as I do, consider Pegg's autobiography to be somewhere closer to the high threes, maybe a four starrer.

Nerd Do Well is Pegg's reluctant agreement with his publisher to put out a "tell-all" instead of the comicy, action-filled sci-fi book he would've rather have done. The compromise will confuse and maybe even annoy some, for Pegg's non-fiction life details are interspersed with a fictional and funny-as-fuck tale of his own penning, in which he casts himself as a futuristic James Bond character.

Though Pegg says he doesn't wish to divulge personal details, he does actually get more personal than one would expect. Being that his nerd persona is based on his childhood love of the sci-fi and horror genres, lots of time is spent discussing Pegg as a youth. Since boys are almost always also interested in sex, the reader is made privy to some of his more private triumphs and failures. It's nothing too graphic...well okay, some "bad language" is used...but he doesn't go overboard. I didn't tally it up, but I'll bet there's more sexual innuendo in the fictional tale than in the real-life section.

All that silly smut is balanced out by a large helping of insight into his acting career. He begins at the beginning and marches it right through to the release of the movie Paul. If you're familiar with his career you'll enjoy the tales of how he met friends like Nick Frost and how shows such as Spaced and Big Train came about. A fan such as myself might beg for more behind the scenes details of these seminal steps in his showbiz career, but all in all, this tightly packed autobiography does what it should: satiate satisfyingly without saturating.