Tuesday, October 3, 2017

David Handler's The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes: A Book Review

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When TLC Book Tours sent me The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes by David Handler, I must admit that I was drawn in by the title. Despite the obvious Beatles reference and humming Lucy in the Sky while I started reading it, I went in cold. I didn’t know that this was the ninth book of a series that had been on hiatus for twenty odd years, nor did I need to honestly. While I must admit that I might have been privy to a few more of the book’s jokes had I past experiences with the Stewart Hoag series, the book was fine without them. In fact the book was a literary mystery in which the pages turned, the plot flowed, and the prose general surprised.

To start off, Handler lays the foundation of the mystery: an aloof writer might be coming in from the cold, the writer is planning a book, and he wants the narrator Stewart Hoag involved in the project. Digging deeper, Richard Aintree, our missing literary genius, has a pair of daughters with their own literary renown and celebrity problems. Thus Hoagy, our celebrity detective with a nose for mystery finds himself in Los Angles first exploring the mystery of the Aintrees before ending up in the throes of murder, drugs, and a series of unexplained events. All in all, the read is fast, pleasurable, and a good time. A welcome respite from many of the texts I’ve read as of late—both the pace and precision of language advances the plot and crafts a unique experience in the bygone era of the 1990’s (and an experience that has me scouring used bookstores for the first eight books).

Monday, October 2, 2017

Derek Thompson’s Hit Makers: A Book Review

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I first heard about Derek Thompson’s Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction while watching an episode of Vice News when the book was released. The quick news piece concentrated on movies and the elements that created success versus that which resulted in failure. Intrigued by the information and teaching a Film Theory class myself, I decided to dig deeper. The book itself offers so much more than a guide to making a successful horror flick. Starting with the spread of a simple lullaby, Thompson details the stories behind the rise and fall of fads within society. While some of these circumstances are pure luck, the story of Carly Rae Jepsen and her breakout hit Call Me Maybe through an Instagram post by Justin Bieber springs to mind, many hits are in fact crafted. What may scare the reader more is how such crafting has become easier, a fact that the 2016 US Presidential Elections put to show.

Ranging from the idea of Most Acceptable but Advanced to modern polling on new music in order to determine whether the song warrants radio play, Thompson tells the stories of pop culture, and doing so captivates at the combination of detail, planning, and luck comes into creating a breakout hit. He details the exhaustive work that went into George Lucas’ writing process, how the man tried to buy both Flash Gordon and The Hidden Fortress (which I teach in my film class) only to be denied and then create Star Wars in their image. To think what movies he would have made and what would have come out of it. Thompson explores ascetics, the music industry, publishing, and even social media. While some of his insights only needed aggregation, they still stand out, inspire, and push the reader on. If you’re interested in any of these areas, give the text a read.  

Simone Kelly’s Like a Fly on a Wall: A Book Review

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Simone Kelly’s Like a Fly on a Wall inspires a mixed set of thoughts. On one hand: this book is fun, the pages turn quickly, and while pumped full of adult themes and some steamy scenes, it has merit. Jacques, the central figure, is an attractive psychic of mixed race (French and Moroccan descent). His point of view is often series, and despite for some elongated sexual escapades that were given more page time than needed, his plotline tends to stay grounded. The reader learns about his family, his visions, his rough relationship with his mother and the untimely death of his father. These revelations build the character and send him between New York and Miami to investigate the circumstances behind the death of his father as well as his abilities. And in a way, this plotline is the only one resolved in the text.

Yet outside of Jacques, the author presents the reader with a litany of flat characters that serve more as plot devices than anything else. Kylie, who is by far the most developed of this group, ends up as a trail of loose ends. One man drops into her life and devastates it, yet Kelly never fully resolves the story or gives the reader a final direction. In another angle, Kylie dates an online love, but the final direction of the relationship is left open despite a multiple chapter focus earlier in the text. Kylie’s mother, True, suffers the same fate as do her bosses, men she stumbled on to in a mysterious Miami blackout.

While some of these plot need no resolution, the text itself suffers when a central figure like Jacques’ girlfriend Vicki vanishes without much more than passing glance for chapters on end only to play a pivotal plot role later on. Yes, Kelly entertains the reader with an interesting premise, but she fails to go far enough to fully captivate and entertain the reader on a full level.