Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Neil Patrick Harris - Choose Your Own Autobiography

You are Neil Patrick Harris!  

Okay, you're not!  But Neil Patrick Harris takes you through his life in a format many of us know and love from when we were kids, choose your own adventure.  In Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography, Harris walks his readers through the adventure of his life.  The story takes the reader through his discovery of his love of acting, his first movie, his time on Doogie Howser M.D., and his adult career including How I Met Your Mother.  Along with acting he discusses his private life including coming out and finding love and becoming a parent.

I have to be honest.  I found Harris' style to be enjoyable.  And I found his story interesting.  But he always did not stop and linger over the parts I wanted to hear more about.  So for example, I really wish he had spent more time talking about Doogie because I am a child of the 1980s.  And sometimes the choose your own adventure format would become confusing  At a certain point it was simply easier for me to read straight through, mostly out of fear of missing something.  And that missing something fear includes some of his humorous fake endings.  

In the end, I found Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography fun and unique.  But really I wish Harris had lingered over some parts of his personal life just a little more for my own nostalgia. 

Review Copy Provided for Review

Sunday, August 23, 2015


I was completely surprised by how much I enjoyed Ernest Cline’s first book Ready Player One.  So when given a chance to review his second book Armada I had to jump at the chance.  I knew that there would be plenty of pop culture references and it seemed like a story I could have daydreamed about as a youngster.  But would I would I enjoy it as much as Cline’s earlier book.

Zack Lightman is a troubled angry young man.  As a baby his father died in a semi-embarrassing accident.  And he has spent his life studying the man he really never met but loved video games and pop culture.  His biggest joy in life is playing the space fighter style video game Armada where as a drone pilot he defends the Earth from alien invaders.  But Zack worries as he begins to consider his future that the video game is making him question reality as he sees an alien ship hovering near his school.  But in reality Zack discovers that the game is more fact than fiction.  And Zack’s skills playing the video game make him a top recruit to defend the Earth in a decades long war.  Is Zack daydreaming, crazy, or actually fighting for his life against an alien invader?

I’ll be blunt, Armada was a rough start for me.  I actually put it down for a week to read a book about Disneyland and lawsuits.  The slow part of me was Zack’s life before his “recruitment” as he went through his day-to-day routine and thought about the legacy of his father.  Zack is obsessed with this dad.  And as Zack’s reality begins to crumble he questions his own father as he discovers notes about a conspiracy from this father that is related to many of our favorite science fiction properties.  And this book does a good job setting the reader up for some tension.  Is Zack’s experience real or not?  Is Zack mentally unhinged and we are looking at a Dangerous Mind situation. What leads to a lot of doubt is at times this story begins to really feel like Ender’s Game, The Last Starfighter and Iron Eagle combined.  And this is a world that acknowledges those properties.  So when they begin to feel really close to those stories, it luckily does not feel like a story lift but instead makes you question what Zack is experiencing.  This is especially true since there is a lot of wish fulfillment that occurs.  Seriously, he was a lowly high schooler with no prospects who begins an elite fighter pilot with no pilot training!  How does one not question that?

Armada’s film rights were sold years ago.  So I did find myself asking how would this do as a movie?  I have mixed thoughts.  I think that pop culture references will sell tickets to nostalgic middle-aged dudes like me.  And you could really have fun with casting.  For example, one character is based on Tom Skerrit’s Viper from Top Gun.  And Skerrit even in his 80s could pull the role off today.  So you could own it and cast him.  Additionally, music is a huge part of this book, Iron Eagle styleIf Guardians of the Galaxy has proven anything, music can make a movie and a movie can make music.  So I think the “Raid the Arcade” mix has huge possibilities.  I do have concerns with the ending, because I think it is relatively quiet, again much like Guardians of the Galaxy, and I do not know how well it would translate in a movie. 

My final assessment of Armada is that it is a good book, but maybe not great.  It, likely unfairly, will be compared to Ready Player One which was truly unique and caught everyone by surprise.  Now Cline is a known and respected author, who has produced a great book and a good book now…with hopefully more to come!  

Review Copy Provided by Publisher

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Matheny Manifesto

In 2008, former baseball player Mike Matheny wrote a letter to parents who asked him to coach their sons on a youth baseball team.  The letter pulled no punches and questioned many of the excesses of youth sports.  He told parents that for their sons to be on his team he would require respectful parents, players willing to move around the diamond and persistence.  Later, the letter would become a sensation online.  And even later Matheny would move from youth coach to manager of the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Matheny Manifesto: A Young Manager's Old-School Views on Success in Sports and Life by Mike Matheny with Jerry B. Jenkins discusses how Matheny came to his sports philosophies and what they mean to him.  Matheny breaks down his own upbringing, youth career, college years and eventual break in Major League Baseball.  Likewise he discusses how he went from retired player to big-league manager.  He provides this story while breaking down the concepts that were found in his parent letter including leadership, confidence, teamwork, faith, class, toughness, character and humility.  All of this is told from his view.

I am a Chicago Cubs fan, and on this opening day of baseball all I really want is Mike Matheny to lose.  Sorry Mike!  Yet, I have been unable to dislike Matheny to the same extent as his predecessor  I think much of this has to do with the poise he has shown on the field and his character.  As a youth coach, in another sport, I did look to see what I could apply to my own style.  And I will not promise that I will not yell (I have some corny encouraging phrases) but I will continue to make clear to parents, following Mike's example, that I am more concerned with who our players are over how they play.  Matheny is right, we have let youth sports get out of control.  Recently a friend was thrown out of youth basketball game from the stands.  And we do need to take stock in the people we are helping to become adults and the lifetime skills they will earn.

Review Copy Provided by Publisher