Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Last Five Books I Bought

I thought it might be interesting to give you guys a peek at my TBR pile. Though, two of these books I've already read and reviewed. Some books just have a habit of jumping the queue.

The Evil That Men Do
by Dave White

Having read White's first book, I was eagerly anticipating the release of this one. I picked it up the week it came out and it jumped to the top of the TBR pile. I reviewed it elsewhere, but I'll just say again that it's recommended.
The Blade Itself
by Marcus Sakey

I had heard a lot of great things about this book, so it had been on my radar for a bit. Reading Marcus's story in the Killer Year Anthology made it my next purchase. Like I said before, one of the best books I've read in a while.

Saving the Queen, Stained Glass, and Mongoose R.I.P.
by William F. Buckley, Jr.

After Buckley's recent death, family and National Review staff have been going through his personal effects. Among other things, they found boxes and boxes of paperback editions of WFB's books. National Review then decided to put these books on sale for the phenomenal price of $4 each - including shipping. I had long heard about Buckley's Blackford Oakes series, but hadn't read any. Since all except the last one are out of print, I couldn't pass up this great deal. I also get the added bonus of owning a book that was actually his. I haven't read any of them yet, so I can't add my two cents.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Tie-In Novel

It seems I misspoke the other day when I commented on Gerald's review of the Burn Notice tie-in book. I said I hadn't read a tie-in novel since all the old Star Trek ones. Walking past my bookshelf today, I noticed that I had read some: three of the 24 tie-in books.

Each novel is broken up into 24 chapters; one chapter for each hour. The stories take place prior to season 1 of the television series, so you can see the early days of CTU and Jack Bauer. As you can expect with tie-in novels written by multiple authors, you aren't entirely what kind of quality to expect.

The first one was written by Marc Cerasini and called Operation Hell Gate. The story opens with Jack Bauer transporting a prisoner to New York City. It doesn't take things long to go haywire and Jack is trapped 3000 miles away from CTU headquarters. Jack does what he does best and stops a terrorist attack by going lone wolf. It's fun to see all the characters of 24 (including some that have been killed off) working as a cohesive team. Cerasini does a good job of capturing the essence of Jack Bauer and the feel of the television show.

The second book is Veto Power by John Whitman. After a mission gone bad, Jack Bauer is in the doghouse with his superiors. He's assigned a relatively low-level task of infiltrating a local militia group, but ends up stumbling upon a sleeper cell of Middle Eastern terrorists. The only real characters from the series I can remember are Bauer and Ryan Chapelle. Whitman populates the rest of the book with his own characters who are paper-thin caricatures of real-life politicians. Most of the book reads like a tract against the powers (both real and perceived) of The Patriot Act.

The third is another by Cerasini: Trojan Horse. A Trojan horse virus embedded into a bootleg DVD is detected by CTU’s cyber unit and Jack Bauer is called in to stop the attack. He eventually uncovers that it’s just the first phase in an attack culminating in a planned massacre at a Hollywood awards ceremony. Cerasini puts in another good effort on this one. Jack acts as he should in this one, and Cerasini gives a lot of screen time to fan favorite Tony Almeida. Ryan Chapelle and CTU techies Jamey Farrell, Edgar Stiles, and Milo Pressman are given significant rolls as well as Bauer’s wife Teri (making her first appearance in the books).

There are five other books (so far) in the 24: Declassified series: two by Cerasini and three by Whitman. I didn’t care much for Whitman’s one entry, but I’m willing to give him another shot.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Blade Itself, by Marcus Sakey

“[Evan] loomed near the back wall, feet apart like a boxer. His gaze smashed through the cigarette smoke and gruff laughter to hit Danny with physical force…”

After some punk stuff as a young kid, Danny Carter had built a new life for himself. He’s got a good job, a long-term girlfriend, and a clean conscience. Until his old partner Evan McGann gets an early release from prison and comes calling. Marcus Sakey’s debut novel The Blade Itself is one of the best books I’ve read in a while.

The story is taut and Sakey does a good job adding layer upon layer without making the main drive opaque. His characters are multi-layered and his language is vivid. I could almost see the side of Chicago Sakey describes. I had a minor quibble with some of his dialog early on. One of the blurbs in the paperback edition compares it to something by Elmore Leonard. In a Leonard book, a character would drop a word or two in a sentence, but you would still get the gist of what he was saying (example. “I need a guy knows how to work” instead of “I need a guy who knows how to work.”). I noticed this a lot in the early going, but it seemed to either work its way out or at least become less jarring as the story progressed.

With Dave White and Marcus Sakey, two of the three Killer Year authors I’ve read have hooked me for every book they write for the rest of the careers.

Highly recommended.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Hidden Treasures: Tony DeSare

I came to know about Tony DeSare from my friend Jim who went to Ithaca with Tony. We were on the way back from Birdland and were talking about various jazz clubs we'd been to. I told him I'd never been to Shanghai in Madison, NJ. He and his wife had been there several times to see Tony and Jim started telling me about Tony's music. It sounded right up my alley - good piano, good vocals, good songwriting.

He's been profiled on Fox News, CBS's Early Show, appeared in an off-Broadway show about Frank Sinatra, and released two CDs. Tony's CDs are mix of the Great American Songbook and his own compositions. One of the great things is that while he plays some standards, a lot of the songs he doesn't haven't been covered to death by other musicians for the past 50 years. Some tunes I can't even tell if they're his or if they're a classic - that's how good a songwriter he is.

Both his CD's are fantastic. Personally, I like his first one, Want You, more than his second, Last First Kiss. Want You is more of a standard jazz vocal album. Lots of upbeat tunes and swinging trio work with a few guest spots by jazz legend Bucky Pizzarelli. I'd list the highlights, but I love almost every track on this disc. Last First Kiss is more of a slow ballad album. The highlights for me are "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To", "Last First Kiss", and the reworking of Prince's "Kiss".

So, I recommend that you pick up both his CDs and see when he’s coming to your area. Like the best performers, he does a great job of working a live crowd. The intimate atmosphere of a place like Shanghai really plays into this. I’ll leave you with the clip of his Fox News profile and a clip of him playing some stride piano.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Shield: Season Six

The seventh and final season starts this September 2nd. The penultimate season of The Shield is referred to many fans as the second half of season five. Picking up shortly after Shane’s murder of Lem, the main storyline of season six is Vic and crew trying to track down an punish those responsible for Lem’s murder.

The Strike Team investigation by Jon Kavanaugh (Forest Whitaker) is still open, and now Kavanaugh is convinced that Vic was behind Lem’s murder. He pleads for more time with the brass to continue his investigation and is granted a temporary continuance. Kavanugh is teamed with Dutch in the investigation, but he sends Dutch off on wild goose chases while he continues his vendetta against Vic. The first episode ends with Kavanaugh completing his transformation into a dirty copy by planting evidence linking Vic to Lem’s murder. In episode two, Dutch goes to his old partner Claudette (now captain of The Barn) with his concerns about Kavanaugh and his methods. The episode ends with Kavanaugh behind bars and Vic free to continue his search for Lem’s killers.

At first, Vic and team are on the trail of a Mexican banger named Guardo. They end up capturing him and torturing him, trying to get him to confess to Lem’s murder. Shane, for once, seems to be playing the voice of reason, trying to get his friends not to take it out on Guardo. In reality, Shane’s guilt over killing his friend is eating him alive. He confesses to his wife that he killed Lem by the end of the fifth episode and to Vic by the end of the sixth episode. Vic promises if he sees Shane again that he’ll kill him. Shane’s guilt is now gone and he takes a sanctimonious attitude toward Vic and the crap they’ve done in previous seasons. He tries to be smart and play the angles again, but like with Antwon Mitchell, he ends up creating more trouble than the eliminated. Shane lets slip to the Armenian mob that he and the Strike Team were behind the Money Train heist of season two. The Armenians send their best killers after the boys. Instead of trying to get help, Shane takes it upon himself to save Vic’s family. Of course, he doesn’t tell Vic the plan and ends up getting Vic more pissed at him.

Now that Claudette is The Barn’s captain, Dutch is partnered up with Steve Billings (David Marciano) on a murder house in San Marcos. At the end of the fifth season, Dutch stumbles across a house with eleven dead Mexican immigrants and a severed arm of a Mexican government official. Their investigation leads them to a developer, Cruz Pezuela, who happens to be a big financial backer of Councilman David Aceveda. Aceveda wants Pezuela’s backing for a mayoral run, but he also is still part cop and wants the murders solved.

In order to get himself out of trouble, Pezuela gives Vic a copy of the photo taken of Aceveda while he was being raped. Instead of using it to blackmail Aceveda, Vic gives it to him as a sign of good faith and tries to get Aceveda on his side for his upcoming review board hearing. Vic and Aceveda work together and figure out that Pezuela is working on a redistricting plan to manipulate the vote and get politicians loyal to him elected. That way he can get contracts easier and help launder money for the Mexican mafia. The season ends with Vic skipping his review board hearing to roust Pezuela’s Mexican mob contact who is carrying a large stash of documents and photographs. Blackmail material for every important politician and judge in and around Los Angeles. Vic and Aveceda agree to use the material to save Vic’s badge so they can take down Pezuela and the Mexican mafia.

After the stellar fifth season, something felt missing in the sixth season. Jon Kavanaugh was a perfect “big baddie” to play opposite Vic, so the faceless review board trying to force him into retirement is not quite as menacing. The show is still fantastic and multi-faceted as always. Great acting once again by Michael Chiklis (Vic Mackey) and Walton Goggins (Shane). All the crap the Strike Team did in previous seasons came back – even more so than during Kavanaugh’s investigation. The Mexican mob angle and the final showdown between Vic and Shane are set up nicely for season seven.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

More Shield

No book review this week because I haven't finished any recently. I'm currently reading Marcus Sakey's The Blade Itself, and I'm digging it so far.

At the risk of being all Shield all the time, I thought I'd point to FX's ongoing series of one-on-one interviews with the cast of The Shield. They're all great and the pairings are interesting. You can really tell how much the actors liked working with each other. Most of them show one actor in awe of another actor and heaping praise on something they've done. The most recent one of Jay Karnes (Dutch Wagenbach) and David Marciano (Billings) really shows the comedic chemistry between the two of them. I realized in my recaps that I haven't mentioned the Billings character at all. He first appeared in season four and becomes more prominent in the subsequent seasons. Billings is even captain of The Barn during the awesome run of season five. I really like the character and how Marciano plays him. I'll try to keep in mind some of the Billings antics when I do my recap of season six.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Shield: Season Five

The fifth season of The Shield starts off with the reconstituted Strike Team dealing with increased violence between the black and Latino gangs and the beginning of the Internal Affairs probe that was set up beautifully with the last scene of season four. Internal Affairs Detective Jon Kavanaugh (Forest Whitaker) starts off casting a wide net over all of the Strike Team’s deeds, but finds a strong case while looking into the murder of Detective Terry Crowley (in the series’ first episode). As the season progresses, Vic also faces early retirement forced on him by the top brass.

David Aceveda, still a city councilman, starts the season helping Kavanaugh out with his investigation. The animosity between Aceveda and Vic is still thick and Aceveda tries to do everything he can to get Vic out of The Barn and even out of uniform. He points Kavanaugh to Curtis Lemansky as the “conscience” of the Strike Team. He believes that if Kavanaugh can turn Lemanskey against Vic and the others, they can take the whole crew down.

Detectives Dutch Wagenbach and Claudette Wyms relationship becomes frayed this season. Wyms re-opens one of Dutch’s old cases and starts to become evasive when Dutch asks questions about her health. After finally getting a reappearing serial killer to confess to his crimes, Wyms collapses and falls down the stairs. After missing an episode or two, she comes back and confides in Dutch that she’s been suffering from Lupus for a number of years. The season ends with Dutch putting in for a transfer and Claudette being promoted to Captain of The Barn.

Kenneth Johnson’s Lemansky gets a chance to shine this season. He’s given more to do than in past seasons and he makes the most of the opportunity. Season five is all about Mackey vs. Kavanaugh, but it wouldn’t be as hard hitting without Lemansky in the middle. Even after learning Vic killed Terry Crowley (previously only Shane knew), Lemansky stayed loyal to his fellow Strike Team members. It caused him great emotional (and physical) pain, but he took the brunt of the hit and made sure nobody else would go down for their crimes.

While Vic and Ronnie believed Lemansky was loyal, the deep-seated resentment between Shane and him brought about another shocking moment in Shield history. Shane believed Lemansky flipped on his friends and took it upon himself to make sure they wouldn’t get caught. He makes Lemansky follow him alone to an underpass where he tries to figure out if they can still trust him or not. Unconvinced, Shane drops a grenade in Lemansky’s truck and walks away.

I can’t say enough about Forest Whitaker’s performance as Jon Kavanaugh. I’ve mentioned before that I had trouble with the big-name casting in season four, but Whitaker works. The character is fully fleshed out and there’s a definite arc to his story. At the beginning, Kavanaugh is a bit creepy and understated. His soft-spokenness and non-threatening mannerisms seem to be part of his game to get people to trust him. After being outmaneuvered several times by Vic, he starts to become unhinged. The descent from an upright IAD officer to someone who would consider planting evidence on a guilty suspect is truly a marvel to behold.

On a side note: while refreshing my memory on the previous seasons of The Shield, I found some pretty cool articles on This essay, in particular, I found really helpful.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Hidden Treasures: Chimney Rock

This is the beginning of what I hope is a regular feature on my blog. Every now and then, I'm going to talk about something (a restaurant, a band, a museum, etc) that is great but doesn't get a lot of recognition. I was planning to start with a great little restaurant in Madison, NJ, but I haven't been there in a while and would like to refresh my memory before I write about it.

The first installment is about the restaurant Chimney Rock Inn. I had never heard of Chimney Rock until I moved to Basking Ridge - even though I didn't live that far away before. But everyone in this area of New Jersey talks about it all the time. I have been to both the Gillette and Bridgewater locations, and they're both great.

For a first timer, I recommend getting one of their famous thin crust pizzas. They have the standard toppings for your pizza, the usual specialties (Margherita, White, etc) and their own specialties. The last time I got a pizza, I tried their Three Alarm pizza - pepperoni, onion, and sliced hot peppers. Yes, I do have a cast iron stomach!

Their marinara sauce is great too. I've had both the lasagna and chicken parmesan, and can whole heartedly recommend both. They supposedly have good burgers too, so I many have to check one out next time I'm there.

Chimney Rock also has private rooms for big parties. A friend of mine got married a year and a half ago in Indianapolis. Needless to say, not everyone from New Jersey could make it to the ceremony. So two months after the wedding, they had a big pseudo-reception at Chimney Rock in Gillette for the New Jersey friends and family. They had a little bit of everything: salads, small pizzas for appetizers, and family style pasta for the main course.

So if you're looking for a good place for dinner, come to Chimney Rock. And give me a buzz if you want....I'm ready to go any time!