Category Archives: Reviews

The Outsider – Review…

51qwZb3c42L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_I recently finished reading Jimmy Connors’ autobiography, The Outsider, published in 2013. It was a great insight into a fiery and fascinating character – truly one of the biggest names in tennis in the seventies and eighties.

I started watching the sport when his career was winding down, but I still caught a lot of his matches before he hung up the sneakers for good. Even as a kid who had never picked up a racket at that time, I understood his passion for the game and I admired his full-throated desire to win at all costs. Like him or not, he really was an inspirational player.

True to his image Connors had a lot to say about a lot of people – from his ill-fated relationship with Chris Evert, to his respect for Bjorn Borg. Apart from some light-hearted jabs there was little vitriol – even for John McEnroe, a player he famously butted heads with constantly throughout their professional playing careers. There is also a heartfelt chapter towards the end about his friend and fellow player Vitas Gerulaitis, who tragically died at the too-young age of forty.

Even now, Connors has much love for the game, but what really comes across in his words is how close he was to both his mother and grandmother, both of whom had passed on when this biography was written.

I don’t read many biographies, but this is well-worth a read if you enjoy the sport, and if you appreciate the insight of someone who was at the top of the mountain for longer than most.

Skeleton Crew #4 – Cain Rose Up…

13440Word count – 1,900

Cain Rose Up is a very brief story about a school shooting, written in the late sixties – before school shootings, unfortunately, became far too commonplace in the real world. This would likely be a controversial story in these sensitive times, and King (who has mellowed somewhat in recent years) probably wouldn’t write this in 2020.

Curt is a troubled college student who decides to snipe his way out of his funk from his dorm room… and that’s all there is to it. As short as this piece is, I certainly can’t say that that it outstays its welcome.

Cain Rose Up is very brutal in its stripped-down nature. It doesn’t pull any punches, and it wouldn’t be any better if it did. You don’t get a happy ending here, and that is why it works.

Recommended ⇑

Skeleton Crew #3 – The Monkey…

13440Word count – 15,000

The Monkey is a fairly chunky short story about one of those old spooky looking mechanical monkeys with the cymbals, and how this particular one has a tendency to reappear in protagonist Hal’s life.

The Monkey is a basic horror story that has been stretched almost to the point where it is in danger of really losing me. I think King could have excised half of the words here and been left with a better story as a result.

Having said that, ultimately there is something worthwhile reading in here. I just wish that there was a little less fat in between all the good stuff. I’m just out of the blocks, but this the weakest entry I have read in Skeleton Crew thus far.

Recommended ⇑

The Last Dance – Review…

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I don’t get to play it or watch it these days, but I have always appreciated basketball, and the skill and energy that the game takes to play at the highest level.

For a couple of years, I played for my school as a teenager in Sydney. We were pretty good. I played centre, and was usually the leading scorer on the team. I enjoyed it immensely, but I never took it any further than that.

A few years later – as the Dream Team were taking the Barcelona Olympics by storm in 1992 – I got into watching the NBA on TV. For whatever reason, I gravitated towards the Utah Jazz, and my favourite player was their power forward, Karl Malone. But as the nineties tailed off, so too did my interest in following the sport in any depth.

Recently I watched The Last Dance on Netflix, a ten part documentary focusing on the 1997/98 NBA season of the Chicago Bulls. It tickled my nostalgia bone and reminded me why the game is so exciting to watch, especially when Michael Jordan has his hands on the ball.

Because as much as the documentary is about the whole cast of characters, it’s really primarily about Jordan’s rise to fame in the eighties and subsequent ascent to super stardom in the nineties. And there’s nothing wrong with that – the guy had a charmed career.

The narrative flips back and forth through Jordan’s timeline and intersperses it with features about the other important characters in the story – Pippin, Rodman, and coach Phil Jackson, amongst others. And it’s all done with great aplomb too.

So if you want a trip down memory lane, and go back to watch the circumstances surrounding the Bulls’ ‘repeat threepeat’, this is really as good as it gets. For fans of the sport, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

And even if you don’t like basketball, it’s still an interesting watch, if only to appreciate the genius, determination, and dedication of one of the greatest sportsmen the world has ever seen.

Skeleton Crew #2 – Here There Be Tygers…

13440Word count – 1,500

Here They Be Tygers is one of the earliest Stephen King stories that is available for the public at large – having been written when King was a teenager – and it’s also one of the shortest.

Charles is a child in class and he needs to go to the toilet. When he arrives at the bathroom, there is a tiger sitting on the foor. Because, of course there is.

There’s not much to this, but at this length that is expected. Here There Be Tygers is about one thing – one jolt – and it is laser focused on delivering that one thing. Maybe this was polished from it’s original state to how it appears in this collection – maybe not – but it’s easy to believe this was written by a teenage King.

Recommended ⇑

Skeleton Crew #1 – The Mist…

13440Word count – 50,500

All right, let’s get this out of the way up front: The Mist is not a short story. In fact, it strays into novel length, albeit a thin one with a singular thread. But I have included it here because it is the first story in Skeleton Crew.

A dense and strange mist creeps towards a small town and strands a group of people in a supermarket, after which it soon becomes clear that there are creatures in the gloom waiting to strike. For a long time we don’t know why they are there, but towards the end of the story King does throw us a bone. It’s a satisfactory reason, even if it is not really required to enjoy what’s here.

The Mist is a wholly enjoyable tale, and a good ol’ proper horror story from King as well. It’s a very good start for this second collection of stories, and a high bar is set early.

Recommended ⇑

Eagles, Chapter VII – Long Road Out of Eden (2007)

Members: Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Timothy B Schmit, Joe Walsh

Long Road Out Of Eden was released twenty-seven years after their last studio album, but even after such a long hiatus – when most bands would have lost any kind of musical relevance – this album shows the same four guys crowding the stage, sounding very much like the quartet that were seling out stadia in the seventies.

A little older, and a little wiser, Long Road Out of Eden is a double-helping of new (studio) material.

No More Walks in the Wood (Don Henley / Steuart Smith / John Hollander)
Lead – Frey & Henley & Schmit & Walsh
This haunting and sparse track is the only Eagles number where all band members share vocal duties. It’s also worth noting that the lyrics are lifted wholesale from a poem called An Old-Fashioned Song. 8
How Long (JD Souther)
Lead – Frey & Henley
This is a feelgood song from the early seventies that would have fit nicely into one of the Eagles first couple of albums. Frey and Henley are as good together here as they have ever been. 7
Busy Being Fabulous (Don Henley / Glenn Frey)
Lead – Henley
The first completely new track on the album sees Henley in a bit of a country mood, offering up a slice of thinly veiled bitterness. 7
What Do I Do With My Heart (Don Henley / Glenn Frey)
Lead – Frey
A fairly decent broken-heart tale with Frey at the helm. It plods along, then goes up a notch during the bridge when Henley sprinkles a little something into the mix. 6
Guilty of the Crime (Frankie Miller / Jerry Lynn Williams)
Lead – Walsh
Joe Walsh gets his first vocal on the album, and typically, it is the first time we really hear a guitar. Not his best work, but there is nobody else in the band who could have pulled this off. 7
I Don’t Want to Hear Anymore (Paul Carrack)
Lead – Schmit
Schmit has a voice like silk, and it’s all over this break-up ballad. It’s good, but – quality of the vocal aside – it’s just like a million other love songs out there.  7
Waiting in the Weeds (Don Henley / Steuart Smith)
Lead – Henley
This epic is the first really good track on the album. Henley has that anguished tone that helps to tell the story of loss and pain through a somewhat stuttering lyrical style. 8
No More Cloudy Days (Glenn Frey)
Lead – Frey
This one is an album highlight for Frey, proving again that sometimes the simplest collection of words makes for the better and more memorable songs. The saxophone outro is a nice touch. 7
Fast Company (Don Henley / Glenn Frey)
Lead – Henley
I’m not sure how comfortable I am with Henley’s fake falsetto throughout this track – it takes a little getting used to. Other than that, it feels like a throwback to what they did in the seventies. 7
Do Something (Don Henley / Timothy B Schmit / Steuart Smith)
Lead – Schmit
Schmit’s last lead on the album – like several others on here – has a lot of country sensibilities. It’s all right, but I can’t get too excited about it. Schmit deserves better than this. 6
You Are Not Alone (Glenn Frey)
Lead – Frey
Frey pulls out another ballad… not the Michael Jackson one. This is very simple and short, and not really one of his best either. 6
Long Road Out of Eden (Don Henley / Glenn Frey / Timothy B Schmit)
Lead – Henley
I get the feeling that Henley relishes these long, sweeping commentaries. This is like a modern retelling of The Last Resort from their Hotel California album. Big shoes to fill indeed. 8
I Dreamed There Was No War (Glenn Frey)
instrumental
From the longest track the Eagles ever committed to an album, to one of the shortest… a simple guitar number in the hands of Glenn Frey. 6
Somebody (Jack Tempchin / John Brannen)
Lead – Frey
An excursion into a more uptempo world for Frey. He doesn’t do it often, but this is a welcome change of pace for him. 7
Frail Grasp on the Big Picture (Don Henley / Glenn Frey)
Lead – Henley
I know this is credited to both of them, but both stylistically and lyrically, this has Henley’s fingerprints all over it. This is up there with the best songs on the album. 8
Last Good Time in Town (Joe Walsh / JD Souther)
Lead – Walsh
Joe Walsh gets his hands on another lead vocal, but this one is a more mellow effort by him. It reminds me (and probably nobody else) of Steely Dan. 7
I Love to Watch a Woman Dance (Larry John McNally)
Lead – Frey
Frey is back in comfortable territory, but I don’t like this one at all. Unfortunately, this is one of the worst Eagles songs on any album. 4
Business as Usual (Don Henley / Steuart Smith)
Lead – Henley
This is yet another cracking Henley vocal where he rages at the machine, but he does it so well… so who am I to tell him to spread his wings a little? 8
Center of the Universe (Don Henley / Glenn Frey / Steuart Smith)
Lead – Henley
Henley lets the pace slip a little for this love song. It’s not too bad, but he knows his niche, and I’m sure he knows this isn’t it. 6
It’s Your World Now (Glenn Frey / Jack Tempchin)
Lead – Frey
Frey’s finest moment on this album. This has a friendly flamenco sound that – despite the sadness of the story – gives the song a holiday vibe. 8
Hole in the World (Don Henley / Glenn Frey)
Lead – Henley
It’s impossible, when you know the history of this song, to disassociate it from 9/11. The chorus goes on a little too long at the end, but it’s a very poignant song for a very difficult moment in our history. 8

Overall: 69%
Long Road Out of Eden is a much safer collection of songs than their last couple of albums from the seventies would have suggested. There’s some rust,but I’ll cut them a little slack – they’ve been away longer than most.

Night Shift – Overview…

stephen king night shift nelNight Shift is the first collection of stories that Stephen King published, way back in 1978, and after reading it over the last six months I come away quite happy with the content. There are no blow-you-away fantastic stories here – although several are very good – but more importantly, there are none that really shit the bed either.

I recommended sixteen of the twenty short stories in Night Shift, and of the four that I gave a red arrow to, the only one I really struggled to get through was the first story in the collection – Jerusalem’s Lot. Others may get into this one more, but I just couldn’t stomach the language for the length of time King asked me to do so.

Although I recommended 80% of these stories, they are not all of the same high quality. The Last Rung on the Ladder is hands down the best story here – simple in execution, with a haunting and perfectly played pay-off. Just below it on the totem pole are Battleground and the serial killer tale, Strawberry Spring. Just below those I’d put vertigo-inducing The Ledge and The Man Who Loved Flowers. They are the five stories here that I would recommend to any fan of Stephen King.

Night Shift is a good collection, and crucially, most of the best stories in this anthology – with the exception of Battleground – are not in any way supernatural or out-of-this-world, whereas the stories I liked the least were not grounded in reality at all. Subjective, sure… but it is worth mentioning.

Night Shift #19 – One More For the Road…

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Word count – 6,300

The first story in this anthology, Jerusalem’s Lot, acts as a prelude to King’s second novel, ‘Salem’s Lot, and One More For the Road is somewhat of a suffix to that novel.

What this piece has going for it over Jerusalem’s Lot is that it takes a more modern approach to the storytelling, and that in itself is immediately a tick in the pro column. The narrative style of that first companion piece is one of the main reasons that I could not recommend it.

You don’t need to have read ‘Salem’s Lot (and certainly not the other short story in this collection) to get or enjoy this piece. Ultimately, this is a straightforward vampire tale, but familiarity does help to flesh out the world. One More For the Road gets a pass, but it’s a very thin recommendation.

Recommended ⇑

Night Shift #18 – The Man Who Loved Flowers…

619i-4slsfl645695221..jpgWord count – 2,300

The Man Who Loved Flowers follows a smiling young man as he walks the streets of New York carrying a bunch of flowers, and it focuses primarily on the reactions of those around him as he passes by.

This is a simple tale of misinterpretation, and how things are not always as they seem on the surface. The story does take a darker turn in the final third – putting this into more familiar King territory – but to say anything further would be to spoil it for those who have not read it.

Because The Man Who Loved Flowers is fairly brief, King doesn’t have the time to dilute it with his usual shenanigans – a trait he is unfortunately guilty of on many occasions – and this is one of the best things on offer in this collection.

Recommended ⇑