Moonhead and the Music Machine by Andrew Rae

 I’m a sucker for fantastic  artwork and, lucky for me, Moonhead and the Music Machine is packed to the gills with gorgeousness. I want to buy individual prints of various scenes in this story and put them on my walls. Author and illustrator, Andrew Rae, is a seriously talented graphic designer who also does animation in addition to illustrating a number of comic books, graphic novels, and zines. You can check out his work at Moonhead Studios here! Moonhead t-shirts, anyone? Sign me up yesterday.

In terms of storyline, Moonhead and the Music Machine is a classic underdog tale in which Joey Moonhead, the main protagonist, must defy his bullies and wear his uniqueness (his strength) like a badge of honor.  Early on in the book, Joey attempts to engage with his parents who are both aloof and neglectful. Subsequently, he spends a lot of time alone in his room and his mind begins to wander, quite literally. The thing about Joey’s head is that it’s a giant moon that can detach and float through space independent of his body. Naturally, I think about how perhaps Joey’s moonhead is allegorical with daydreaming or even escapism, hallmark characteristics of being a young person who is discovering his or her own dreams and ambitions but who also experiences a fair amount of alienation (from parents, authorities, peers, etc). Initially, Joey’s wandering head tends to get him into trouble with parents, teachers, and friends.

That is, of course, until he learns how, with the help of willing adults and friends, to channel and harness his creative energy and embrace his individuality. Sockets, his best friend, is a big part of helping him navigate the hallways and social terrain of high school where Joey posits that that the adults are “training us to conform…to be factory workers!” Of course, Socket’s response, which is the other side of an age-old argument about education, maintains that “getting good grades” is one ticket to being able to determine your own path without being self-sacrificial. Joey & Sockets share a playful and sweet friendship in which they respect but still challenge each other’s opinions.

Enter music. Like many teens, Joey stumbles upon music in an organic way after having a parent-teacher conference that results in Joey’s finding a record player and a set of headphones. Whereas Joey’s head once levitated just above his body, ready at any moment to float away, it now was tethered to his record player by way of his headphones. Music is very “grounding” and facilitates connectivity unlike any other medium due to its accessibility and transcendence of time/space and language boundaries. To boot, I was overly excited about how Rae re-imagined classic album artwork design for album covers by musicians like David Bowie, Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, and many others.

Once Joey is infected by the music bug, there is no going back. After taking interest in a music machine-building project, Joey meets the mysterious Ghost Boy and together they dazzle their classmates during a talent show after building a key-tar esque instrument (half-keyboard, half guitar) and bringing the house down. After their performance, Joey is overcome by the response of his peers who are inspired by the overall message Joey sends: to embrace and find strength in your individuality–in your moonhead. It may be important to note which of your friends stick by you even at your worst, when you don’t have anything of monetary or social value to offer aside from your friendship. They are the real deal, people. Read this graphic novel simply for the gorgeous artwork but find richness and multiple layers of meaning in its simplicity.

 

 

 

The Litigators by John Grisham

The Litigators by John Grisham is a legal thriller that revolves around lawyers, litigation, and what it takes to be the best. David Zinc is an associate at a Chicago firm that has paid him an immense sum over the last five years. He’s on the fast-track, along with thousands of other lawyers in this high-rise firm, to becoming a big name lawyer. Or at least that’s what they’re telling him. Going into work one day, David has a panic attack and dives back into the elevator to escape. Stumbling into a bar, David gets completely drunk and ends up at the law offices of Finley & Figg.

Oscar Finley and Wally Figg are law firm partners in a boutique legal firm who don’t particularly like each other. They bicker in the office over anything and everything, from advertising methods to who they take on as clients to when they come in to work. Add in some shady legal dealings and Finley & Figg find themselves in hot water over some of their cases quite frequently. Just barely making even financial wise, but not nearly making enough to be comfortable, the senior partner Oscar works to bring in some money while managing junior partner Wally comes up with crazy marketing schemes to bring in any and all clients. Neither lawyer is without fault and with the addition of a cantankerous secretary, who is actually a former client, it’s a minor miracle that the building is still standing, they’re still making some money, and no one has quit.

Wally’s latest scheme revolves around product liability and class action lawsuits dealing with medications. Wally sees dollar signs and a huge payday when he learns of a major pending class action lawsuit against the company that manufactures Krayoxx, a cholesterol-reducing drug that is suspected of causing heart attacks, death, and weakening of the heart. Oscar, and now David, are less than thrilled about this lawsuit, but once Wally gets an idea in his head, he’s going to see it through, no matter the consequences or what others think. A massive medical lawsuit ensues against the pharmaceutical company that owns the drug, Varrick Labs, with Oscar, Wally, and David quickly finding themselves in over their heads. The three join the class action and believe they are on their way to fame and fortune without ever having to set foot in a courtroom. Most of these class actions end up being settled anyway. This book is a suspenseful, entertaining read filled with courtroom drama and theatrics both inside and outside the legal system.


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Are You Anybody? by Jeffrey Tambor

I love reading autobiographies by funny people. I can see them in my head acting out each part of their life and I’m instantly amused. I feel like I’m being given a behind-the-scenes look into their daily lives every time I pick up the book. It’s fascinating. Finding new autobiographies by funny people, who also do their own audiobook narration, is one of my favorite things to do. I recently found another and decided to give it a go.

Are You Anybody? by Jeffrey Tambor popped up in my Rivershare OverDrive book list one day and I knew I needed it. I put the audiobook on hold and quickly forgot about it. When the email finally came that it was ready for me to check out, I downloaded it instantly and began listening.  Jeffrey Tambor is funny and spends equal amounts of time on each part of his life, which is a great plus.

Now, I must preface this blog by saying that I have never seen an episode of ‘Arrested Development’ or ‘Transparent,’ both shows that Jeffrey Tambor starred/stars in, respectively. Now you’re probably thinking , “Well then, how did you know he was funny? Why’d you check this book out?” I frequently see commercials for ‘Arrested Development’ on television late at night when I can’t sleep and decided to give his book a go. That was a good decision all around.

In this book, Tambor writes a series of autobiographical essays about topics all the way from his childhood to his current life. While some of the topics discussed are indeed humorous, most of his stories are more emotional. Every topic he writes about he labels as a ‘formative event’. Beginning at the start with the question ‘Are you anybody?’, Tambor moves the book right along by answering with a resounding ‘No’. His relationships with his Russian and Hungarian-Jewish parents and his childhood as a husky kid with a lisp shaped his years of work in repertoire theater which in turn led to his first film, ‘And Justice for All’, and then later led to fame in various television roles. Each defining moment in his life is hashed out in relation to what he had to do to get to that point. Tambor’s driving motivation throughout the book is his overwhelming desire to rise above his troubled upbringing and provide a better life/home for himself and, now, his family.

Reaching to the present, Tambor discusses how his ‘Are you anybody?’ question revolves around his family now. His creative process has expanded and Tambor finds that in his more than four decades of entertainment, he still has no idea who he is. That’s not a problem per se, more of a challenge to figure out how to balance the triumphs and pitfalls of the entertainment industry. Tambor also is quick to mention that even if you’re successful, that doesn’t mean you’re perfect. Failing, while disastrous, heart-breaking, and depressing at the time, may actually lead you down a better path to who you want to be.

Jeffrey Tambor may be a television legend, a Broadway star, and an accomplished screen actor, but he is still struggling to figure out just who he is and if he is anybody. I enjoyed that he swept between essays about famous people (check out his shout-outs to said people) and every day discussions of his family (his stories about his young children crack me up). The differentiation between those two types of essays lends a necessary balance to this book that allows readers to view Tambor as a normal person who just happens to be famous. He still gets up in the morning to make his kids’ lunches, takes them to all of their practices, and then makes sure they read every night. Just like the rest of us. If you have the chance to listen to or read this book, I recommend you give it a go. I enjoyed it and now I’m off to start ‘Arrested Development’!


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Escape by Barbara Delinsky

What would you do if one day you woke up and realized that the life you were living was not the life that you wanted for yourself? Walking into work and having that one bad day, that one interaction, that pushes you over the edge? How would you handle it? Would you try to work through it? Talk to your significant other? Would you take a much needed vacation? Quit your job? Start all over in another city with another job and another family? All of these are questions that Barbara Delinsky tackles in her novel, Escape.

Escape tells the story of Manhattan lawyer Emily Aulenbach. She is 32 years old and has been married to another lawyer, James, for the last seven years. Emily has become increasingly frustrated with her life, both professionally and personally. In law school, she dreamed of representing victims of corporate abuse and campaigning for the little guy. Always the idealist, she hoped to brighten the world. Now she sits in a cubicle alongside hundreds of other lawyers in their tiny cubicles, a headset plastered to her ear, talking to victims of tainted bottled water. You’d think that this would partly be Emily’s dream, except for the major fact that she is on the bottler’s side, NOT the victims.

After a particularly devastating interaction with a victim, Emily has had enough. She packs up, leaves town, and just drives. Looking for a purpose in her life and an escape, she meanders aimlessly and eventually ends up in the place that gave her great joy ten years ago. This small New Hampshire town is rife with good and bad memories. Emily has to find a way to deal with both, interact with the people from her past, and convince her husband and family that she’s okay and not crazy. By putting her happiness first, Emily’s selfishness reverberates throughout all the lives of the people that she knows. She must work to find her center and to decide what she actually wants. Add in an animal refuge, a former lover, and someone in desperate need of legal advice and Emily’s escape brings up some dilemmas that she cannot run away from.

This book did not go the direction that I thought that it would, for which I am very grateful. I have read too many novels where the main character decides that she needs a complete do-over and throws her entire life into shambles trying to find herself. Delinsky goes another route of self-discovery that still hits all of the necessary emotional highs and lows, but thankfully misses all of the predictable actions. This was my first Delinsky read and I am quite ready to pick up another! There was nothing that didn’t delight me within this novel.


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Inspiring Children’s Books: “I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsberg Makes Her Mark”

As shown in the fantastic children’s book I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsberg Makes Her Mark, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, loved visiting public libraries.  She “took to the library” because “on the shelves were stories of girls and women who did big things.” In 1940, when Ruth was growing up, “[B]oys were expected to grow up, go out in the world, and do big things. Girls? Girls were expected to find husbands”. But Ginsberg didn’t accept that short-sighted vision of what she was capable of. Time and time again, Ginsberg was told what she should and should not do: but she dissented on all accounts.

And thankfully so. Her initial public library education was revolutionary. Her strong and compassionate mother set an early example that women could, in fact, do anything that they set their minds to. Ginsberg learned at a young age what it felt like to be the recipient of discrimination. A young Jewish girl, she recalled a time when businesses would post signage that read “No Jews” and “Whites Only”. The pain and injustice of oppression profoundly changed her.

Ginsberg pursed social progress and social justice relentlessly. Despite efforts by her peers to diminish it, her inner strength shown brightly. She is and was true dynamo in every sense of the word: a Jewish Mother at the top of her class in law school working double-time to continue proving herself in a sexist society that viewed women as “timid”. She went on to fight for both men and women and to challenge the restrictive roles that were typical of the mid-century status quo.

For the reasons that Ginsberg was drawn to public libraries, I have always found them to be spaces of contemplation and possibility.  I spent days browsing library shelves and anticipating of all of the wonderful new things I could discover because I was fortunate enough to be able to read . Literacy enables you to change or improve your life or the lives of others. We don’t celebrate this realization nearly enough.  I brought home bags full of books, magazines, video, and music — and all for free. Today, I have the privilege of working in a library–a necessary and radical space for personal transformation available to anyone with a library card. I’m drawn to stories like the one told in I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsberg Makes Her Mark specifically because they feature people who refuse to have their humanity defined for them.  I’m so proud that Davenport Public Library provides access to such wonderful and inspiring children’s books.

Physical and virtual library spaces are chalk-full of stories of underdogs and of every day people who do extraordinary things, and access to these stories is gloriously free. All you need is a library card, and that won’t cost you a cent.

 

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Mistress by James Patterson

James Patterson is an author that I recently started listening to quite frequently. One of my favorite things about James Patterson’s books is that he partners with a lot of different authors. Those partnerships mean that all of his books have a distinct feel to them and are not formulaic. With every Patterson book I pick up, I know I’m going to get something unique. I really enjoy that.

 Mistress by both Patterson and David Ellis was my latest listen and I enjoyed it. When this book first started, it instantly reminded me of You by Caroline Kepnes, a book I blogged about back in March. Both books begin with a noticeable creep factor. Mistress starts with the main character Ben breaking into a woman’s apartment and rummaging through her belongings. My mind instantly went, “Oh no! We’ve got another obsessed kidnapper/stalker love story.” I braced myself for that inevitability and kept reading. Boy, was I wrong! This book may seem like a creepy stalker story, but Ben is way more complex than I initially thought.

Ben is consumed by his obsessions and his racing thoughts. He may seem like he’s got it all together, but once you’ve been around him for a while, you notice that he has four major obsessions: motorcycles, movies, presidential trivia(which he spouts out frequently thanks to his father) – and the beautiful woman whose apartment he was in named Diana Hotchkiss. When Diana is found dead outside of her apartment shortly after Ben leaves it, Ben’s obsession spirals out of control. He must find out what really happened to this beautiful woman who was the love of his life.

While Ben digs into Diana’s death, the truth of his life begins to leak out. The origins of his obsessions, how he makes his living, and his reasons for behaving the way that he does all start to be revealed.  Ben discovers that Diana has been leading a double life, something that he never expected and she never mentioned. He doesn’t know how to handle that information. The more secrets he uncovers, the more he realizes that he really didn’t know Diana. Someone doesn’t want Ben digging into Diana’s life and sets out to stop him. Ben has to decide what he’s willing to risk to find out the truth about Diana and what he is going to do to ensure that he and his sources stay safe and, most importantly, alive.

I’m glad I decided to stick with this book. I was tempted to give up at the beginning because I assumed I knew what the book was going to be about, but I was wrong. Part of my enjoyment of this book was the narrator. He did an excellent job describing Ben’s eccentricities and differentiating between the present and past. James Patterson has yet to let me down!


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Nevertheless: A Memoir by Alec Baldwin

I was operating under the Southpark-inspired misconception that the worst thing about being a Baldwin is….NOTHING! Quite the contrary. The story arc of Alec’s father is an arduous downhill path. Roughly the first half of the book is a serious downer, touching on all the travails of the working class poor. Marry this with the accompanying drug problems of Alec’s burgeoning fame, and wash it down with a healthy dose of painful romances.

Of interest is the inner machinations of his rise from Knots Landing to 30 Rock, with a sidetrip down a little film called The Hunt for the Red October.

No, Alec does not gloss over his sensational answering machine message. Yes, he does wrap up this work with a somewhat inspiring testimonial of what constitutes an empowered citizenry.

Of course, Alec reads the audiobook himself with his signature snarling whisper. Not surprisingly, Alec has an expansive vocabulary and repertoire of impressions of his fellow actors. That alone is worth the price of admission.

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

 Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith is a mysterious, suspicious, relentless page turner of a book. Leo Demidov is an officer in Moscow’s MGB, the organizational precursor to the KGB. Leo is also a decorated hero of WWII with his picture plastered all over the newspaper. Working for the MGB in 1950s Stalinist Russia means that Leo’s life, and the life of everyone around him, is rife with fear and paranoia. Leo has a tiny bit of protection since he works for the MGB, but he is more than aware of how quickly the security afforded to him by his job can be snatched away.

The Soviet Union under Stalin’s rule lives under the heading that there is no crime. That simply isn’t true. Crime that happens is quickly quelled by the MGB and is usually stopped before it happens by quick capture and interrogation. Leo handles a variety of cases and on one of his missions, he is assigned to talk to the family of a young boy who died. The family is convinced that the boy was murdered, a fact made worse by the fact that the boy’s father works for Leo at the MGB. Tasked with making sure the family understands the boy’s death was an accident, Leo tries to get them to understand the situation.

Another of Leo’s cases puts him at odds with a different subordinate, to the point that the man seeks revenge. Forces come to a head and Leo’s steady life is rocked. Faced with the decision of whether or not to denounce his wife as an enemy spy, Leo seeks advice from his parents and wrestles with his decision. Leo is a believer in his country with his work record and military history backing up his beliefs. Asking him to denounce his wife has the potential to push him over the edge.

Circumstances collude to destroy Leo’s life. He is dispatched out of Moscow and exiled to a country village. Leo finds the body of a child killed in the same way as the young boy in Moscow, a fact that puts his whole demeanor on edge. The death he was forced to cover up in Moscow cannot be a coincidence and Leo soon believes a serial killer is after Russia’s children. The official government standpoint is that these deaths are a coincidence. This rankles Leo and sets him down a path to find the real killer, while he also works to keep he and his wife safe.

This book was a riveting read. Tom Rob Smith conveys the melancholy and oppressiveness of Stalin’s Soviet Union very well. Add in murder, espionage, intrigue, and suspense, this piece of thrilling historical fiction comes to life as Leo works to solve crime in a country where crime simply doesn’t exist. This is also the first book in a trilogy, so you can keep reading about Leo’s adventures (The other two are on my list!).


This book was made into a movie starring Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman. It’s on my holds list! Hopefully they stayed somewhat true to the book.

 


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Playing Dead: A Journey through the World of Death Fraud

Finding herself in a standard thirtysomething situation, our intrepid author ponders the likelihood of faking her own death to escape student loan debt. And thus, was born the premise of Playing Dead: A Journey through the World of Death Fraud.

What an uplifting audiobook.

So, what is the best way? Awash at sea? Nope. Unless you’ve wronged the mob, people don’t sleep with the fishes as much as wash ashore.
Hiking is better. Those bears are ravenous.

How about staying gone? Olivia Newton John’s “drowned” boyfriend Patrick McDermott made it a decade before a website tracking his location saw repeated hits from his new home in Mexico.  Oops.

In 2017, the ability to vanish successfully with longevity is unlikely. To commit insurance fraud and get away with it? Nearly impossible. Enter the cloak and dagger world of the skiptracer. If you’ve used a ballpoint pen or a keyboard since 1988, you’re not exactly D.B. Cooper.

Do you already have an existing electronic footprint? How do you plan to pay for things until your last day?  What circuitous message bouncing technique will you employ to communicate with others in an untraceable manner?

How long before vanishing did you beef up that hefty life insurance policy?    Red flag.

This book skewed away from the grim and grisly to focus on the fascinating. Did you know there is a thriving marketplace in the Phillipines for unclaimed bodies? Private air conditioned storage facilities are happy to part with them to “next of kin” for a modest fee, providing of course you are, ya know, bereaved and such.  You wouldn’t believe it, but the purchasers always want them cremated.

African safari adventures offer a variety of packages a la Apple Vacations, complete with grainy VHS video recordings of third-tier thespian funeral mourners. Who knew I was such an avid naturalist and so popular on the savannas of Tanzania?  Yes, yes, I was, and the Masai were so sad to hear what happened with the warthog, Mr. Insurance Agent.

In the end, insurance companies have big pockets, they hire Liam Neeson Taken-types who’ve done this dance many times. These guys never fail, and they’re willing to hump it to a mountain in Kazakhstan with a spade to make sure your skeleton is there, not that of an unlucky goat.

Back to playing the lottery.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

 American Gods by Neil Gaiman is a twisted fantasy tale of gods come to life in modern-day America. There is a battle soon to rage between the ancient gods and the gods of today. The historic gods of European tales were brought to North America and other countries around the world in the minds of the people who believed in them. They grew stronger in those new places every time someone talked about them or thought of them. The old gods are coming up against a struggle now. The new gods (gods of media, television, Internet, etc) feel like the old gods have reached their limit. The old gods feel like they’re being usurped by gods that will vanish from the public’s minds in a few years, an idea that infuriates them. Spiritual warfare runs rampant through this book as readers discover that gods walk among us, hidden as humans or animals. These ancient divinities may struggle against the new trends and fads, but their struggle for survival is necessary in this new supernatural climate.

Thrown into this conflict, our antihero rises. He is a convict named Shadow, a man who has feelings that the world is going change drastically. Through Shadow, readers witness the behind-the-scenes relationship between the gods and humans. Humans and their faith play a very large part in this book with Shadow and the gods constantly struggling in this massive religious upheaval. Shadow soon finds himself thrust into the middle of this skirmish between the ancients: Odin, Anansi, Those, Loki One-Eye, etc, and the contemporary deities: geek-boy god Internet, the goddess Media, etc. It’s a fascinating journey as Shadow takes a job as a kind of bodyguard for Mr. Wednesday, a human representation of the Norse god Grimnir, as they travel across the country trying to recruit more gods to actively fight on their side. The magical and the mundane are, for the most part, evenly balanced throughout this book, a fact that I greatly appreciated since it helped me better understand what was happening.

I listened to this book through OverDrive and greatly enjoyed it because the author actually read the prologue! Getting to hear authors speak is one of my favorite things because you really get to hear their viewpoint and how their cadence influences the writing of the book. His discussion of the creation of this book was also invaluable knowledge. I greatly enjoyed this book.


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