I'm sure many followers of this blog have noticed the lack of updates, in recent months. A new job and a health scare in my family forced me to focus my attention elsewhere. Yes, reading has remained an important part of my life, but, as I'm sure you can agree, there are some things that are just more important. 

Fortunately, I've settled into the new job, and my ill family member is on the road to recovery. Because of this, I intend on updating this blog on a more regular basis. I still believe that a book each week is a manageable goal, so I'll do my best to post reviews on a weekly basis. I appreciate all of the support of every follower, author, and blogger who has reached out to me. The new year has been great so far, and I look forward to all the exciting things that it brings into my life and to A Book A Week!


Author Q&A: Jason Sandberg

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Jason Sandberg is the author of the children's book, Candy and the Cankersaur. He was kind enough to answer a few questions on his book, ebooks, and the state of children's literature. 

In the literary world, successful children’s book authors can often fly under the radar. What made you decide that this genre was the one for you?

I’m principally a painter, so I’m usually depicting these frozen moments in time.  I had the desire to create narratives that flow through time, to depict a beginning, middle and end.  I was lured to Picture Books because they presented the opportunity to combine storytelling with illustration.  I already paint in a variety of styles, so the restless part of my personality enjoys the cartooning involved in Picture Books. 

With e-readers increasing in popularity and prominence, was it a conscious decision on your part to publish this book electronically? Additionally, have you found that parents are searching for quality material to share with their children, on these devices?

Excellent observation!  I foresee that tablets and e-readers will bring about a Renaissance in Picture Books.  Bedtime reading is a very different experience when you can turn off all the lights in the room and read to a child on a gently glowing screen.  Smart parents will also see the value in carrying a multitude of Picture Books on an e-reader, which will make car trips and doctor’s office waiting rooms more pleasant.  I expect this to yield a demand for quality content.  The e-reader/tablet should also help comics and manga flourish.

 On a related note, how do you feel that e-readers have both positively and negatively affected the literary world, and how will they determine the relationship that young readers have with books?

The technology will continue to divert revenue from brick and mortar retailers, reducing the number of bookstores.  But bookstores won’t disappear because they serve a socializing function and provide an opportunity to browse.  Having worked in a bookstore I know that under the old model a new book had a mere 90 days to prove itself before it was shipped back to the publisher.  Under the new model an eBook is “on the shelf” forever, it has plenty of time to find an audience and I believe that quality eventually wins out over hype.

Before reading Candy and the Cankersaur, I was unaware of the name, Syd Hoff. Upon a quick search of his name, I realized that he was responsible for some of my favorite childhood characters, especially Danny and the Dinosaur. Can you speak about the influence his work has had on your own, and give us a bit more insight into your process of creating a book?

I’m glad I helped bring back some fond memories!  I think that picture books can be the seed for a lifelong love of reading.  Syd Hoff always put a smile on my face, so I wanted to honor his classic Danny and the Dinosaur.  When I create a picture book I aim to make something that everyone can get a kick out of.  I try to slip in things to make adults/parents laugh.  Beginning readers often get attached to certain books and want them read over and over and over... I view quality as the ability of a book to hold up under multiple reads!

Beneath the surface of Candy and the Cankersaur, you manage to present topics that go a bit deeper than the story of a girl and her experience with a dinosaur. Particularly, there are lessons about the importance of strong relationships versus material possessions. How important is it to you, as an author, to ingrain your work with this deeper meaning, and how do you manage to make these topics accessible to a child?

Storytelling is a fundamental aspect of human nature.  Humans pass along knowledge and culture through story and myth.  Lessons and greater truths are memorable when they’re wrapped in a good story.  When crafting a children’s book the strategy is to show rather than tell. 

Finally, I always like to ask authors which books they’ve recently been enjoying. What are some of the books that you are currently reading or have recently read?

I’m currently reading “Antifragile” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.  The book is a multidisciplinary exploration of systems that gain from healthy stressors.  Antifragile systems thrive on trial and error because the harmful results from mistakes are discreet and contained.  I also enjoyed Grant Morrison’s recent run on Action Comics.  That was a fun roller coaster ride! 

 Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions! Please let the readers know how we can follow you and your work, and feel free to say anything else that you’d like to.

I’ll end with a quote from Aristotle, “Nature requires not only that we should be properly employed, but that we should be able to enjoy our leisure in an honorable way.”

Candy and the Cankersaur by Jason Sandberg

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I'll preface this review by saying that I don't really read children's books. I'm a single guy, in my twenties, and have no real reason to pick up a children's book. As part of my blog, I receive various requests to review books, many of which I simply don't have time to read and review. When I was contacted about reading Candy and the Cankersaur by author Jason Sandberg, I figured I would at least be able to read the book quickly. And so I agreed, read the book in a few minutes, and my review is as follows.

The story is of a young girl, Candy, who lives in a large mansion. She has lots of toys, which she generously shares with other, and lives a seemingly normal life. But beyond the toys and material objects, Candy mostly desires more attention from her rich, busy father. As fathers often do in these types of stories, Candy's dad tries to occupy the void in his daughter's life with more stuff. In this instance, he buys her a rare dinosaur, Cankersaurus Rex.

Despite her initial fear of the creature, Candy trains the dinosaur, nicknamed Cank, to be a pretty good pet. When Candy's neighbor Chucky see's the animal, he is immediately filled with jealousy. He has a longstanding rivalry with Candy, and realizes that his parents will never be able to top the gift of Candy's father. He decides that if he can't have a pet dinosaur, then neither can Candy. Chucky proceeds to steel Cank and sell him to the circus.

As all good children's books must, this story does end with a happy ending. Chucky sees how Cank's disappearance makes Candy sad, and realizes his mistake. The two then enlist the help of Candy's dad, who realizes his own paternal mistakes, to help bring Cank home.

Despite not having any real authority on the genre, I do feel that children, especially younger ones will enjoy this book. Even better, the adults who read it to them won't feel tortured while reading it! As far as a kid's book is concerned, this one has every element that is needed to keep a child's attention. The bright pictures, reminiscent of those by cartoonist Syd Hoff (do a quick search of his name and see if nostalgia doesn't kick in), are both visually vibrant and a great visual aid to the words. The text is large and easy to read. Better still, the story teaches a lesson about the intangible things in life that are more important than material possessions. And finally, there is a dinosaur! What six-year-old boy doesn't like dinosaurs? Overall, this is a quick read that both kids and parents should enjoy.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and GoodReads.

(2013: week 38, book 34)

Inferno by Dan Brown

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Dan Brown reached commercial and critical acclaim when he released his controversial and entertaining novel, The DaVinci Code. In the book, he combined combined a fast paced thriller with elements of ancient European history, making controversial conjectures about the Catholic church in the process. Brought together by his character, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, Brown gained an instant following and was regarded as an author at the top of his game.

But then the third novel in the Robert Langdon series, The Lost Symbol, was released, and Brown's star seemed to have faded. Gone was the tight pacing and seamless integration of historical details. The Lost Symbol, while commercially successful, seemed like an example of an author going through the motions. The convoluted plot and unnecessary tangents of American history, really fell flat, paling in comparison to the previous two installments.

With the memory of The Lost Symbol still fresh on my mind, I was cautiously optimistic that Inferno, the fourth and latest Robert Langdon novel, would be an improvement. The novel sees Langdon return to Europe, this time finding himself in Florence. There is only one problem . . . he has no idea what he is doing there!

As the novel begins, Robert finds himself in a Florentine hospital bed. Suffering from amnesia, Langdon has no recollection of the events leading up to his current situation, but he is haunted by the image of an elderly, white-haired lady who seems to be suffering in a fiery cave. The action is kicked into high gear when a menacing Goth woman, think Lisbeth Salander from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, breaks into Langdon's hospital room, killing his doctor and leaving Langdon and the beautiful Dr. Sienna Brooks running for their lives. Now, Langdon must rely on his unique intellect to rediscover his actions of the last day and to escape the assassins who threaten his life.

After the disappointment of The Lost Symbol, Inferno marks a return to form for author Dan Brown. Like the previous novels there are moments of unbelievability, but Brown deftly makes up for these narrative shortcomings by keeping the pace moving and the historical information flowing. Brown builds his story upon the classic Inferno by Dante Alighieri, taking Langdon and Brooks through his own modern circles of Hell. By returning his focus to Europe's rich and mystical history, Brown crafts another thriller that is as equally smart as it is entertaining.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and GoodReads.

(2013: week 38, book 33)

Friday Flicks: The Lincoln Lawyer

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A  review of a book to film adaptation.

Michael Connelly's 2005 novel, The Lincoln Lawyer, garnered critical and commercial success. The film adaptation stays loyal to the novel, and is very entertaining. 

Matthew McConaughey portrays the main character Mickey Haller as a kind of lovable, bad boy. Haller is a lawyer who has made a career of representing criminals and outcasts. He runs his practice out of his old Lincoln, and drives around town looking for his next case. Early on in the film, we are introduced to his ex-wife, played by Marisa Tomei, with whom he has a young daughters. It is in these moments that we get to see the softer side of Haller. 

The story really gets moving when Haller is called to represent Roulet, a high profile, Los Angeles playboy who is accused of murdering a prostitute. Despite a bad gut feeling, Haller knows that this case could be the high point of his career. With the help of his own investigator Frank Levin, played by a show-stealing William H. Macey, Haller soon finds a connection to a previous case that has haunted him for years. 

Overall, the film is a great mix of action, intrigue and comedy. McConaughey's everyman persona really helps Haller to be relatable and an effective protagonist. Ryan Phillippe is surprisingly effective at staying in the grey area as Roulet. The real star of the movie is Macey, who's appearance is cut short way too soon. This movie effectively captures the essence of Connelly's novel while still adjusting to the new medium. While this adaptation is pretty black and white, it is still very entertaining.  

Have you read the novel or seen the movie? If so, what did you think of it? What book adaptations would you like to see as a future Friday Flicks post?

The Wonder Bread Summer by Jessica Anya Blau

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From the start, this novel is unconventional. It begins in the back room of a dress shop where twenty-year-old Allie Dodgson is being coerced into snorting cocaine and taking of her top as her boss, Jonas, masturbates. I warned you.

The year is 1983 and, to be fair, Allie does attempt to avoid the situation. But Jonas insists that he will only pay her if she complies with his requests. On the heels of a recent breakup that left both her heart and wallet empty, she relents. Finally, Jonas is satisfied and allows Allie to leave, but does not hold up his end of the bargain. Enraged and high, she leaves the shop with something Jonas is sure to miss . . . a Wonder Bread bag full of raw cocaine.

She arrives at the home of her friend, Beth, and immediately recognizes the error in her actions. She knows that the dress shop is really a front for a large drug operation and that Jonas will try to recover the cocaine by any means. She decides that she will sell enough of the coke to earn the money that Jonas owes her, and then return the excess. But this plan is not meant to be. Jonas knows Allie is in possession of his property and has sent one bad dude, Vice Versa, to retrieve it. Caught in a crazy situation, Allie must come to terms with her actions before her whole life comes crashing down. 

It is nearly impossible to summarize the entire book without ruining the fun story that Blau has crafted. An homage to the drug filled California of the early 1980's, this novel includes all of the small and large details that made the era so fascinating. Yes, this is definitely an adult novel, full of drug use, foul language, and sexual situation. Despite these elements, the story remains a constant example of a character driven, coming of age story, crossed with a Tarantinoesque crime thriller. The characters each are well thought out and have varying layers of depth that is rare in the usual summer reading fare. Overall, this is a fast paced summer read that offers strong story, characters and, most importantly, entertainment. 

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and GoodReads.  

(2013: week 34, book 32)

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