Archive for the reviews Category

Three and Out

Posted in Non Fiction with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 8, 2016 by jaclemens

three and outKnowing Rich Rodriguez is a good guy who never lost his team – no matter how many games they lost – makes it more difficult to hold him in disdain. Plenty of the problems that dogged him at Michigan were outside of his control, and some he could have addressed were outside his perception. I admit I was one of those longtime fans who was glad to see him go, and pleased when he was replaced by a “real Michigan Man,” Brady Hoke. When Hoke was replaced by Jim Harbaugh – who is among the detractors named in this book – I was ecstatic to be present in the stadium for his debut, a loss to Utah, just like Rich Rod’s.

imageRodriguez is now coaching Arizona, so Utah has the opportunity to beat him annually (Arizona put Utah away in double overtime last year). He’s the guy on the opposite sideline, so it would be easy not to like him. But his players did, and I do like them. Mike Martin and Taylor Lewan were teammates on the Tennessee Titans for a couple of years; Martin is now lining up with Brandon Graham in Philadelphia. Denard Robinson and Patrick Omameh are playing together in Jacksonville along with Chad Henne, the quarterback that Rodriguez struggled to find a replacement for until Robinson emerged from backup to repeat Offensive Player of the Week and Heisman hopeful. Unlike some of the QBs before him (Ryan Mallett, Steve Threet), Robinson did not transfer from Michigan when there was a coaching change, although he did try to meet with athletic director Dave Brandon to voice his support of Rodriguez (he wasn’t given the chance).

Those players who remained loyal to Michigan produced for Hoke in 2011, beating Notre Dame and Ohio State to go 11-2 (they lost to Michigan State and Iowa), and beating Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. Greg Mattison returned as defensive coordinator under Hoke, and the defense improved from 107th to 6th in scoring defense. Same players giving their all, different scheme, better results. Hoke was Big Ten Coach of the Year, and Michigan was back. As the roster changed the results regressed each year of Hoke’s four year tenure, sliding back to a 5-7 season without a bowl game. Hoke was replaced, and now coaches in the PAC-12 as Oregon’s defensive coordinator.

Harbaugh was also a PAC-12 coach at Stanford before taking over the San Francisco 49ers. He returned to the college ranks and his alma mater after the 2014 season. Harbaugh retained Mattison as defensive line coach, but brought in D.J. Durkin as defensive coordinator. Tyrone Wheatley, a former star running back, joined the staff as running backs coach. Tyrone Wheatley, Jr. came along as a tight end recruit, and was coached by Harbaugh’s son Jay.

Michigan lost the opener at Utah, shut out BYU at home, suffered a fluke loss to Michigan State, and got thumped by Ohio State to finish the year 10-3. The only loss I accepted was the first one, but routing Florida in the Citrus Bowl helped the progression from 2015 to 2016. Harbaugh’s first quarterback, Jake Rudock, is now a Detroit Lion, along with his center, Graham Glasgow. Harbaugh has not yet named his starter for 2016, but it won’t be long now!

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By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them

Posted in Events, Fiction, New release, Young Adult with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 2, 2015 by jaclemens

IMG_0764“Babilar was starting to grow on me,” David comments in Firefight, a book that is growing on me. Babilar, short for Babylon Restored, is what they call Manhattan after it has been flooded by They Might Be Giants an Epic called Regalia. Only the tops of the skyscrapers now stick up above the waterline, and the denizens of Babilar live on the rooftops. They survive at the whim of Regalia, but they are sustained by the strange glowing fruit that inexplicably grows inside the upper floors of the buildings, courtesy of a mysterious force known as Dawnslight. A former judge, Regalia rules Babylon Restored with her own brand of law and order, just as Steelheart ruled Newcago. Now that Steelheart has been deposed, Regalia sends other Epics to draw the Reckoners out of Newcago. The Reckoners are accustomed to moving from one base of operations to the next, but David isn’t. He’s never been out of Newcago, and Babilar is completely outside his comfort zone. But Firefight is there, and she and David have unfinished business.

FullSizeRenderI was excited to find out how David and Firefight would resolve their differences; I was not expecting the introduction of Newton, Obliteration, and Regalia as the main threats (although I did manage to collect all three cards). Brandon Sanderson is a world builder at heart, so he takes us on a little journey to see another transfigured city, how another Epic despot does things, and how the residents react differently. The change of scenery is effective as progression for the characters, and introduces a new cell of Reckoners. Firefight is the titular character, but she’s not front and center in the story. She is deserving of the marquee, though. When she is Firefight she is spectacular, and, when she is content to be Megan around David, the interaction is authentic. My expectations were met in that regard, but Sanderson didn’t stop there! All of his foreshadowing was brought out by the eerie neon glow of Babilar as he continues to build toward Calamity, the conclusion to the Reckoners series.

In Person

Posted in Events, New release, Young Adult with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 20, 2014 by jaclemens

Rob (with therapy dog) and Dan (wearing Bavarian hat)

I recently watched the first season of Battlestar Galactica at my older brother’s insistence. He thought I would like it, and he was right! It’s an excellent series, and – although I came late to it – the timing was perfect for me.

At the end of March I went to see Dan and Robison Wells at Weller Book Works. Dan was back in the U.S. touring for Ruins, the finale of the Partials sequence, so I passed on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s appearance at the University of Utah the same night to meet the brothers Wells.

Partials was inspired in part by Battlestar Galactica, and Ruins examines many of the same ramifications: what if the Partials not only look human, but are programmed to think they are human? What would happen to the offspring of a Partial and a human mating pair? War between the two sides has decimated the human population, and a faction of humans consider using the nuclear option against the Partials, condemning their own kind in the process. Humans created the Partials and bio-engineered them with certain fail safes to make them dependent on humans, so all sentient life on the planet will be eradicated  if the two sides can’t work together.

Wells was aware of the disappointing conclusion to BSG (I haven’t gotten that far yet myself, but I’ve heard the reactions) and promised to deliver a more-satisfying ending to his series. There is a payoff to the conflict, but the resolution left more to be desired. If the two peoples are to be interdependent, why do the romantic pairings split neatly down the human/Partial divide? It is a YA series, so it has the requisite love triangles. It does not have a fitting demise to the villain of the first two books, however. Her arc gives way to other monstrosities with which Kira must reckon. Ultimately only one of the geneticists who had a hand in creating the Partials survives, and that too seems unbalanced.

EJOI have finished reading the Partials sequence, but I haven’t finished watching BSG. Some of the big reveals have already been spoiled for me, but my brother isn’t to blame. He tried to warn me, but it was unavoidable. I had to go see Edward James Olmos (Admiral Adama) when he came to the Salt Lake Comic Con’s Fan Xperience in April! If you’re going to get spoilers, you might as well get them from the show’s star! His panel was stellar, and I was able to shake his hand the next day at his table. My brother wanted me to ask him if Deckard was a replicant, and Olmos said “Of course he was a replicant! I was the only red-blooded American in the movie [Bladerunner]!”

After I told Olmos I admired him I realized I was wearing a silly Kermit hat!

I told EJO I admired him while wearing a silly Kermit hat!

Aaron Douglas (Chief Tyrol) was also a guest at FanX, but I missed his panel due to a scheduling conflict. Douglas didn’t miss Karl Urban watching BSG on their flight to Salt Lake City, however! Urban (Bones) claimed to be just like us as a fan, but I found that statement suspect. Urban has most recently appeared in the tv show Almost Human, in which he played a human detective with an android partner, after all.

SpinerAnd then there was Brent Spiner, who played Data, the greatest android of them all! He was pretty great at playing the crowd as well! Given the heavy emphasis on Star Trek actors at FanX, I wanted to go in a Khan costume from Star Trek Into Darkness.

Ultimately I had to settle for reading the graphic novel Star Trek: Khan, by Mike Johnson. It details how Khan came to be bio-engineered (twice) in addition to memory tampering. It reminded me of  Isolation, the point-five story in the Partials sequence. Both show how the genetically-modified warriors were trained and manipulated by their creators; both stories result in biological warfare that destroys the ecosystem and the population.

My FanX read was Infinity Blade: Redemption by Brandon Sanderson. He was a FanX guest, as was ChAIR Entertainment, the developer of the Infinity Blade games. An oversight scheduled their panels concurrently, so I only got to see Sanderson. This installment of the Infinity Blade lore tells of how the God King (Raidriar) and Siris (Ausar) came to be Deathless through – you guessed it! – the wonders of bio- engineering! I’m beginning to wonder if that isn’t the secret to Sanderson’s prolific writing!

The epilogue to my Fan Xperience took me back to the prologue; it was a final panel featuring Rob Wells, Brad R. Torgersen, and other local authors of dystopian literature. I read Blackout before FanX (and before Ruins, in fact). It explores what happens when a virus interacts with the developing brain of teenagers. Some of the teens (and only teens are susceptible) who have the virus manifest superhuman abilities. It’s the X-Men minus the mutated x gene! Most of the teens are unaware of their unique powers, and go about being typical teenagers. Others have been identified early and trained – as terrorists. All the typical teens are rounded up and screened for the virus, as the Army intends to fight virus-fueled fire with virus-fueled fire. It’s an interesting premise for X-Fans, and it features a fine diabolical mastermind. Establishing the story takes some of the energy out of the equation, leaving it incomplete. There will be a sequel, Dead Zone, coming this fall, and, like the Partials sequence, it has a point-five story called Going Dark. I’ve already ordered Dead Zone (war with Russia!), and may go on to download Going Dark for the additional world building. Come to our store to meet Robison Wells in person and get his new book signed when it comes out!

Knights Who Say

Posted in Fiction, New release, Promotions, Recommendations with tags , , on March 25, 2014 by jaclemens

Shattered Plains 2Words of Radiance! The second book in The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson was released on March 4th! We are featuring it in the store as our book of the month – and it made a fine birthday present for a certain Sanderson fan!

The Heralds have returned, the Knights Radiant have reformed, and the Voidbringers have summoned the Everstorm. As they converge on the Shattered Plains, so does Shallan and Szeth-son-son-Vallano. Words of Radiance wraps up a two book mini-arc (if two thousand pages can be deemed “mini”) establishing the series, and opens many more possibilities moving forward. It is a dazzling follow up to Way of Kings (which I re-read beforehand), and it bears some resemblance to Hero of Ages. Its’ ties to Warbreaker may be the strongest, however, resulting in an unplanned re-read of that supposed stand-alone novel.

In the final 60 pages there is an epic showdown that gave me such chills I had to give myself an extra day to finish my reading! I’ve read almost everything Sanderson has written, but this one blew my mind to such an extent that it has taken two weeks to form a review! I hope I get a book of The Stormlight Archive for every birthday!

At the Bar

Posted in Giveaways, New release, Non Fiction with tags , , , , on February 25, 2014 by jaclemens

Bosnia ListIt’s fitting that The Bosnia List begins at the bar with Kenan Trebinčević and his brother, Eldin.  Reading this memoir feels like taking a seat next to them at the bar and listening to their story.  It’s a riveting account of their escape from war-torn Bosnia, told in a conversational style by Kenan with journalist Susan Shapiro.  So pull up a chair and keep the drinks flowing, because you won’t want to walk away until you hear how it ends.

The escape from persecution is a necessary part, but it’s not the whole story.  Kenan’s friends, neighbors, favorite teacher, and idolized coach all turned against him and his family when the ethnic cleansing began.  Their survival and escape from the deadly conflict is remarkable, but it is the decision to return two decades later that is staggering.  Kenan and Eldin go along with their ailing father’s desire to visit their homeland, but Kenan goes with his own agenda.  He makes a list of a dozen redresses that begins with “Confront Petra about stealing from my mother” and “Stand at Pero’s grave to make sure he’s really dead.”  This is no social visit for Kenan, who has been having involuntary revenge fantasies.  How he reconciles the items on his list provides the resolution to this tragic tale.

I was in high school when Slobodan Milošević incited Yugoslavia to tear itself apart.  I was studying Russian at the time, so I followed the developments in the news, but only through American channels.  I didn’t have a sense of what it meant on an individual level until I read The Bosnia List.  I am grateful that Lindsay Prevette at Penguin Books directed my attention to it, and that Penguin is allowing me to giveaway a copy!  The Bosnia List goes on sale today, and the giveaway goes through Friday the 28th.  Leave a comment below to enter the random drawing!

Undertakings

Posted in Events, New release, Non Fiction, Reading List with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 29, 2013 by jaclemens

Election Day 2013November has been a big month for author events at the University of Utah.  For the second straight year, I spent Election Night listening to a prominent author.  In 2012, it was Brandon Sanderson at Weller Book Works; in 2013, it was Malcolm Gladwell at Abravanel Hall.  Mr. Gladwell was the esteemed guest for the inaugural Sam Rich Speaking Series presented by the Hinckley Institute of Politics.  Fortunately for the University Campus Store, the Hinckley Institute chose us to provide copies of Mr. Gladwell’s latest book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants for his first appearance in Salt Lake City.  It was easily the largest event I have worked in my bookselling career, and I didn’t do it all on my own.  Fortunately for me, one of our student supervisors volunteered to assist me in this undertaking. Lucy LaPutka’s involvement was an integral part of making this large event a success.  Lucy wanted to learn how events run, and she hoped to meet Mr. Gladwell.  We were able to listen to the closed-circuit telecast of his presentation – he handles his audience with exceptional skill – but we did not get the chance to meet him afterward.  Mr. Gladwell signed as many books as he could before he had to leave for his flight.  It still proved to be a late night, but I didn’t have much time to recover.

Sam Daley-HarrisTwo days later, the Hinckley Institute hosted Sam Daley-Harris, and invited me back to sell copies of the 20th anniversary edition of Reclaiming Our Democracy: Healing the Break Between People and Government. Daley-Harris is the founder of RESULTS, and spoke about his experience in harnessing the enthusiasm of volunteers and directing it into meaningful channels of change. This was a smaller scale event, which is befitting the author’s approach.  He was able to poll the students in the audience about their belief in the efficacy of implementing change, and explained why he remains firmly in the hopeful camp.  It was an uplifting message for those who heard it in person or via radio broadcast.

I was surprised to learn of another event the following Tuesday.  A shipment of books arrived at our store without an order.  I contacted the publisher and was informed of an event that evening!  When I arrived at the venue on campus both the organizers and the authors said they weren’t aware I would be there.  Nor was I!  The topic of discussion was “The Loud Absence: Where is God in Suffering?”, sponsored by the Veritas Forum.  Margaret Battin, a professor of philosophy at the University of Utah, and John Lennox, a professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford, led the discussion.  I was on hand to sell Lennox’s books, such as God and Stephen Hawking: Whose Design is it Anyway? and God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?.   For an unanticipated event the sales were decent, but it made for a long bus ride late at night.

A week later I had a fourth event on campus.  I knew about it in advance, but I was one of the few who did.  A miscommunication in publicity resulted in a small audience for Tim Cope, who had spoken to 800 people the night before in Santa Barbara.  Cope is an adventurous Australian traveler, who has cycled through Siberia, rowed a river boat to the Arctic Ocean, and ridden horses from Mongolia to Hungary.  His book On the Trail of Genghis Khan: an Epic Journey through the Land of the Nomads recounts the daring 10,000 kilometer ride through five countries.  In October it won the Grand Prize at the Banff Book Festival.  The title of the book didn’t grab me, but Cope’s personal presentation certainly did.  He sat on the front of the stage and spoke to our intimate group over a slideshow of still shots and video footage from his immense journey.  It was an incredible presentation, and I urge you to visit his website, timcopejourneys.com, to learn more.

David and Goliath has been on my to read list for some time, but On the Trail of Genghis Khan is the book I’m reading right now!

Strikes Again

Posted in New release, Recommendations, Young Adult with tags , , on September 24, 2013 by jaclemens

15704458Sanderson strikes again in Steelheart, released today! It’s his second YA book this year, and like The Rithmatist it features a non-powered protagonist who gets ahead by meticulous attention to detail. David also lost his father, but, unlike Joel, he witnessed his father’s death. He watched as Steelheart brutally murdered an ordinary man who thought Steelheart was the hero they needed. They need a hero because every Epic who gained superpowers at the advent of Calamity became a villain. There are no heroes save for the Reckoners, a shadow ops group of humans that take down the Epics within their reach. They choose their battles carefully, picking the Epics who appear unbeatable yet possess hidden weaknesses. Not even the Reckoners will stand up to Steelheart, however. His rule of Chicago is uncontested until David alters the already altered landscape. He saw Steelheart bleed the day his father died, and will stop at nothing to strike again.

That is the premise of Reckoners #1, but it’s not what makes Steelheart so gripping. Sanderson’s take on the superhero genre is full of great characters who don’t need to wear spandex suits to be colorful. That’s how he succeeds in taking something familiar and reinventing it – by creating characters with motivations and secrets in addition to special abilities. I should point out that I’m describing the Reckoners and not the Epics. It’s their series, and they make it work. The Epics may have impressive powers – Nightwielder is the Epic version of the Darkling – but the Reckoners have impressive personalities. It’s David’s heart, not Steelheart’s immunity, that makes the difference!

It’s worth noting that both Sanderson and Wells – friends who share a writing group – use alternate versions of Chicago. In Steelheart much of Newcago has been turned to steel (including part of the lake), and in Fragments the lake has flooded the low-lying part of the city (including Soldier Field, site of an important scene in Steelheart).