#BookReview: Miss Memory Lane by Colton Haynes

Raw. Brutal. Not A Name-Dropping Hollywood Story. Like so many others, I first “met” Haynes when he showed up on my TV screen as Roy Harper in CW’s Arrow. A show which I didn’t want to like at first because it came *so* close to Smallville and Justin Hartley’s own excellent portrayal of the same (now titular) character, but whose grit and realism shined through and made me a fan (at least of its earlier seasons). But I never knew too much of the actual Colton Haynes other than knowing that he seemed to be friends with his female cast mates in particular and that he had previously been on the MTV version of Teen Wolf.

And while both of these shows are mentioned here (with more details about Teen Wolf than Arrow, though not a Hollywood-gossip type entry on either of them), the focus of this book is more about Haynes’ upbringing, from his earliest memories to his first sexual abuse at age six to his later sexual abuse throughout his teenage years, and his life as all of this was happening. Even when we get into the areas where he came into the public eye, beginning with modeling in New York and LA (after h

This review of Miss Memory Lane by Colton Haynes was originally written on June 9, 2022.

#BookReview: Just Dope by Allison Margolin

Current (420 Day 2022) Description Inaccurate. Read As Memoir. If you go into this book expecting what the current description claims the book is – a take down of all drug laws by a lawyer who knows them well – ummm…. you’re going to be severely disappointed. As pretty well every review earlier than my own notes. If you go into this more as a memoir with some generalized points about why legalization of all drugs would make for a more just world – with scant documentation, accounting for only 10% of the ARC text -… you’ll be more satisfied with this book than had you believed the current description. The text here is truly more about Margolin and her parents – her dad being one of the more famous/ infamous drug criminal defense lawyers in the US – than any other central issue, though the drugs Margolin uses and she and her dad defend others using in court are never far away. Overall, this is more of a primer text for those who may not be familiar with many of the complete legalization arguments to see how they play out in the life and mind of one particular LA-based drug lawyer. If you’re looking for a more detailed examination of the arguments and their pros and cons… this isn’t that text. Still, for what it is this is a worthy read that can at least add a degree of nuance to the overall conversation, and for this it is recommended.

This review of Just Dope by Allison Margolin was originally written on April 20, 2022.

#BookReview: Running With Purpose by James Weber

Cilantro Rub On A Perfectly Cooked Filet Mignon. Yes, the title of this review is an allusion to a particular meeting covered in this book, wherein Warren Buffett once invited James Weber to enjoy a steak with him in Omaha – and yet also describes this book to a T. Part memoir and part business leadership book, this is the story of James Weber pre-Brooks, and Brooks with James Weber at its head. And when the book is in either of these modes, it is truly tremendous. And I don’t just say this as a Millenial former runner (who needs to get back into that) who *loves* his Brooks Ravenna line shoes. I also note this as someone who has read and reviewed over 800 books in just the last 3 years alone across a wider range than most any other reader out there. Weber’s tale is remarkable, and his business insights and leadership principles are sound – and seem like they would be great guiding principles for those starting out or even those (like myself) in mid-career. The cilantro rub comes when Weber starts diving into political issues near the end of the text – though he *is* careful to come back to his own story and Brooks’ story after, in a classic sh*t sandwich layering approach. Why is there a cilantro rub on this great filet mignon? Well, like cilantro, the political discussion is going to be one you either love or you hate – there likely isn’t going to be any middle ground there, and there likely won’t be any convincing of those on the other side that they should change sides. So if you agree with the somewhere-left-of-center politics he describes… yay! You’re one of the ones that likes this cilantro! If not… read the book anyway. There really is a lot to be learned here. Very much recommended.

This review of Running With Purpose by James Weber was originally written on April 18, 2022.

Featured New Release Of The Week: Wholehearted Faith by Rachel Held Evans and Jeff Chu

This week we’re looking at the phenomenal final book from an author whose death shocked an entire subculture two and a half years ago. This week we’re looking at Wholehearted Faith by Rachel Held Evans and Jeff Chu.

A Return, But With Growth. This is one of the harder reviews I’ve ever written. Not because the book wasn’t amazing – this was easily Evans’ strongest book since Searching for Sunday, and thus the book that I’d always hoped she would be able to write again. But because of how it came about, and, perhaps, how it came to be in such strong form. Evans’ sudden illness and then death in the Spring of 2019 shocked any who had ever heard of her, and in fact on the day of her funeral I read Faith Unraveled as my own private funeral for this woman that had given voice to so many of my own thoughts in Searching For Sunday, thus gaining a fan, and yet who in subsequent books had strayed so far afield that even as a member of her “street team” for the last book she published before her death, Inspired, I couldn’t give it the glowing review expected of such members, and so felt I had to leave the group. This was something I actually discussed with both Evans and the PA that was leading the team, and neither one of them in any way suggested it – yet my own honor had demanded it.

With this book, finished from an unfinished manuscript by her friend Jeff Chu and clearly still in the research and pondering phases when Evans was suddenly cut from this reality, the commitments to her progressive ideals that ultimately derailed so much of Inspired still shine through, but the more humble, the more questioning nature of Searching For Sunday form much more of the substance of the book. Thus, for me, this book is truly both the best and the fullest representation of the Evans that I knew only through reading her books and occasionally speaking with her as a member of that street team. I’ve never read anything from Chu, so I don’t know his voice as an author, but there is truly nothing here that doesn’t sound as though Held herself wrote it – which actually speaks to just how much care Chu put into his own contributions, as there is truly no way to pull such seamlessness off without intense concentration and care.

I was tortured in writing my review of Inspired because Evans *was* someone I looked up to after Searching For Sunday. She was a contemporary, along with Jonathan Merritt, who grew up in a similar region and culture as I did and thus with whom I was able to identify so many similar experiences in similar times and places. (To be clear, if any of the three of us were ever in the same place – even the same evangelical Christian teen megaconference – at the same time growing up, I never knew of it.) And I am tortured now both because I of what I had to write in that review to maintain my sought-after as-close-to-objective-as-I-can-be standard of reviewing and because of what this particular book means in the face of her death over two years ago. But I do find solace in that even knowing all of this is going on in my head writing this review, there was truly nothing here that I could and would normally strike as objectively bad. There weren’t any claims of an absolute here – this went back to the more questioning and searching nature of Searching For Sunday rather than the more near-polemic nature of Inspired. There wasn’t even any real proof texting going on here – which is particularly great since it was Evans herself (along with some others) who actually started that particular war I wage every time I see the practice in a book. The writing was as beautiful as anything Evans has ever produced, and while the bibliography in this Advanced Review Copy was a bit scant at just 9% of the text, this also was a much more memoir-based book (yet again: more in the vein of Searching For Sunday) and thus scant bibliography is easily explained by specific genre.

And thus I feel that the 5* rating is objectively warranted, at least by my own standards, even as I fully understand that it could come across to some as any level of death-bias.

If this is truly the last book that will ever bear Rachel Held Evans’ name, I personally couldn’t have asked for a better one to be her finale. This is truly going out as strong as she possibly could, and thus it is absolutely very much recommended.

#BookReview: Audience-ology by Kevin Goetz

Intriguing Look At A Facet Of Hollywood Most Are Unaware Of. This is a memoir from someone committed to client confidentiality but who happens to be one of Hollywood’s foremost experts in gauging how audiences will react to a given film – and someone who manages to find a creative solution to be able to tell his story without violating his principles. It *also* has wide ranging applications, applications that don’t seem to be obvious to Mr. Goetz. Specifically, in describing how movie executives see anything less than “very good” (on what is essentially a 5 * rating system where “very good” is equivalent to 4*, with “excellent” being 5*) as “mediocre at best”, Goetz may as well be talking to so many people reviewing books, no matter the platform. This is because book executives (and algorithms) tend to have the same general opinion on the matter, as do many fellow consumers of the medium. But even beyond the rather obvious applications to book reception, Goetz’s explanations, pontifications, and examples show how utterly critical end-user/ consumer feedback is to making *any* product as strong as it can be. And yes, there are all kinds of Hollywood case stories sprinkled throughout, from the very beginnings of Hollywood through at least 2018, and yes, several of the bigger names throughout that period pop up. Including little films no one has ever heard of like Jaws, Star Wars, Forrest Gump, Titanic, The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, and Charlie’s Angels – among many, many others. Truly an outstanding book that project leaders of all stripes would do well to read professionally, and most everyone else would do well to read both for personal growth and entertainment. Very much recommended.

This review of Audience-ology by Kevin Goetz was originally written on October 7, 2021.

Featured New Release Of The Week: Make The Call by Mark Richt

This week we’re looking at a particularly well timed book by a legendary college football coach, FSU / UGA / Miami’s Mark Richt. This week we’re looking at Make The Call by Mark Richt.

God And Football. This is Mark Richt, and this book is being published by a publisher that is a division of Lifeway Christian Resources, which originated in the Southern Baptist Convention. (I am unsure at this time of Lifeway’s connection to the SBC. I know there has been news of it in the years since I left the SBC, I just haven’t followed it.) Which is to say, you gotta know up front that you’re getting a lot of talk of both football *and* God. In the 20 years I’ve been following the man, since his first games as Head Coach of the University of Georgia’s football team – when I was 18 and fresh out of high school, but attending another school just outside of Atlanta -, the man has never shied away from either topic, virtually any time you hear him speak away from the sidelines of a game.

Within that context, and particularly with the timing of this book’s release – the week of the traditional opening of the College Football season -, this book is almost a sure fired hit. *Particularly* within Georgia and UGA fans, but even with FSU fans,(since an equally large part of the book, maybe even slightly more, is dedicated to his time as an assistant at FSU under the legendary Bobby Bowden), Floridians, and even in Miami, where he ended his coaching career as the Head Coach of the University of Miami Hurricanes – the very team he had played on in college.

But really, even if you don’t *overly* like Football or God, this book has a lot of strong life lessons, lessons Richt learned along the way either from meetings or, sometimes, the hard way. Lessons that are strong enough that as long as your disdain for those two topics is only mild ish, you should read this book to see anyway. Granted, if you have an utter revulsion to either topic… eh, you’re not going to like this book. Pretty well literally every single page has both topics, and at *minimum* one or the other.

Fans of FSU in the 90s, you’re going to get to relive some of the best highlights of that era of FSU football with a man who was on the sidelines and even calling some of the very plays.

Fans of UGA from 2001 – 2015 – arguably its best 15 year run in the history of the program – you’re going to get to see a lot of the highlights – and some of the lowest of lows – here as well. From Hobnail Boot – and man, I still miss hearing Larry Munson’s voice on that play – to Blackout I (against Auburn, a W) and Blackout II (against Bama, a L where the “can’t win the big games” narrative that would ultimately get him fired from UGA really began) all the way through the meeting that made his departure from UGA at the end of the 2015 season official. (For the record, I *still* say UGA was insane for this move, though CMR himself, as expressed in this book, is at peace with it.)

Fans of Miami will get to see both his view of the program as a player in the late 70s and early 80s and as Head Coach in the late 2010s and how much had changed.

And along the way, Christians will get to see the growth and maturity of a Christian man many – many more than he will ever know himself – have respected and looked up to for many years.

Ultimately this book will play and sell better in certain circles and areas than others, but I suspect that it will do at least as good as similar books by other Christian football legends such as Tony Dungy and Tim Tebow. Which seems to be decently well indeed, given that both of those men are almost constantly on Christian bookstore shelves and often even on chain and sometimes independent bookstore shelves, period.

Very much recommended.

PS: The reason for only 4 stars after praising this book so heavily? Prooftexting. Unfortunately all too common in Christian books, including this one. And an automatic one star deduction every time I see it, no matter how strong the book may otherwise be, in my own war on the practice.

#BookReview: Fan Fiction by Brent Spiner

Fun Romp Through Star Trek: TNG In Its Heyday. This is a fictionalized loose autobiography featuring Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation – and more specifically, Brent Spiner, the human actor who portrayed him. As one of those Autistics that Spiner mentions during the course of this story as eventually being told so many of us looked up to that character, I can absolutely attest to that being true… and one of the reasons he became so legendary to me. But the story itself is pure light-noir Hollywood, with quite a bit of comedy tossed into a plot that is nominally about obsessive fans and the more serious aspects of how that can go a bit off the rails. Most of the rest of the cast of TNG comes through in various bits, with Jonathan Frakes and LeVar Burton getting the most “screen time” here but even Michael Dorf, Gates McFadden, and yes, Sir Patrick Stewart himself all getting at least one scene of direct interaction with Brent within these pages. Still, as a “fictionalized autobiography” / noir, these scenes aren’t meant as literal “this happened” so much as “this is true to who these people were in my experience, even as these exact interactions are fictionalized”. As such, it offers a great view “behind the scenes”… without *actually* going “behind the scenes”. Great use of the medium, and a quick ish read to boot- I read it in a single afternoon. Very much recommended.

This review of Fan Fiction by Brent Spiner was originally written on August 27, 2021.

BookReview: I Guarantee It by George Zimmer

Love > Fear. Growing up in the trailer parks of the 80’s, moving out of them in the 90s, and becoming the first person in my immediate family (and only the second person in my triple-digit-numbering extended family) to go to college at the turn of the Millenium, I was one of those kids that saw George Zimmer’s famous “You’re going to love the way you look. I guarantee it.” commercials all over Atlanta TV. (And I *think* they even ran on radio? Though Zimmer never mentions those campaigns in this text. So maybe I’m wrong there. 20+ yr old memories at this point. ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) But *being* that (even former) trailer park kid… Mens’ Wearhouse prices of $250 and up were a bit too rich for my blood, so I actually shopped at some of the competitors Zimmer mentions late in the text about buying out. ๐Ÿ™‚

With this background, I found this memoir from a man I recognized from TV in my childhood to be quite fascinating. In many ways quite honest – even at times brutally so – and astute, Zimmer openly admits to his luck, sometimes brilliance, and several of the key mistakes he made along the way. He also makes quite clear that he is still hurt by his 2013 ouster from the company he created – and its continual efforts to keep him from becoming a competitor. But in the end, this is a story about a truly remarkable “fortunate son”. A hippie who grew to become one of the titans of industry in America. (And who used his money to get the first Medical Marijuana legalization passed.) A progressive who is absolutely dedicated to capitalism. And a man who firmly believes that a paradigm shift from fear to love is what is needed in both industry and society as a whole.

An utterly fascinating read, and a shortish one to boot – I finished it in about 4 hours or so. Very much recommended.

This review of I Guarantee It by George Zimmer was originally written on August 12, 2021.

#BookReview: Trejo by Danny Trejo

A Hell Of A Life. Danny Trejo didn’t start acting – professionally – until he was almost 40 years old. Mostly because a large part of the rest of that time, he was high and/ or in prison, including some of California’s most notorious. Today, Trejo is known as one of the more prolific and high profile actors out there, with over 400 acting credits to his name + his line of Trejo’s Tacos restaurants.

Here, we see at least pieces of pretty much all of his 70+ years, from his early childhood as the only male in a house full of women and girls to his first time using various substances to his first robbery and the time he was worried he was about to face capital charges after a prison riot. Much of the front half of the story in particular focuses on his times in and around prisons during the first 2-3 decades of his life, and we see how he gained his “tough guy” persona. He lived it. It was either be tough or be dead.

Which actually makes the discussions of his confrontations with none other than (then *recent*) Oscar nominee Edward James Olmos over the movie American Me even more epic.

And yes, the back quarter ish is primarily about Trejo’s life in Hollywood and how that impacted him and his family. It is here that we see some of the things that will cause many of us to go “I remember that movie!” and “Oh Trejo was [insert opinion here] in that one!”.

In between, we get to see what Trejo was doing in between – which aside from a lot of personal mistakes, was saving a lot of lives and helping a lot of people recover from drug addiction – a passion he pursues to this day.

Serious yet hilarious throughout, this book doesn’t pull any punches. Trejo, an ex-con, openly admits to many things in this book that many would probably try to hide, including things that weren’t known world wide before now (at least to casual observers). And yet we also get to see behind the scenes of just how much good Trejo has been able to accomplish throughout his life.

Truly a remarkable man, and a memoir well written and told. Very much recommended.

This review of Trejo by Danny Trejo was originally written on June 30, 2021.

PS: Special thank you to the publicist at Simon & Schuster – they know who they are – who sent me the *hardback* version of this book! First one of those I’ve read in at *least* 2-3 years!

#BookReview: Nowhere Girl by Cheryl Diamond

Read The DTE (Dead Tree Edition). This was an interesting one, in more ways than one. I had seen it on NetGalley and forgot to request it there… and then the publisher out of the blue sends me the paperback (DTE) version thinking I might like it. And y’all, the book itself really is excellent. More detailed in the childhood/ teen years than the more adult period, which is perhaps more understandable as someone trying to maintain *some* sense of privacy over newer relationships.

But this book is also very disturbed. The is one truly dysfunctional family whose particular dysfunctions actually led to quite a few rare experiences that combine to make a truly unique life. For example, Diamond and her family were at the 15th Maccabiah Games in 1997 when the bridge collapsed – the very bridge her brother Frank was supposed to be marching across. But the reasons they were there, and the events in later years… they’re so sensational the reader almost can’t accept them as nonfiction!

And then there is the reason you need to read the DTE. If you look at the DTE side-on, you will notice that the front third (ish) of the pages are pure white while the back two thirds (ish) of the pages are more of a cream color. I noticed this about halfway into the book, and when I went back to look… yep. The colors change exactly at the point of a particularly devastating event – and any description would be a spoiler, so I’m only noting the overall position. This is just one of those minor print details that actually makes a *genuine* case to read the DTE over my (far preferred) eReader edition, as on the eReader edition this detail couldn’t happen. ๐Ÿ™‚

Overall an interesting and compelling story, if truly disturbed. Very much recommended.

This review of Nowhere Girl by Cheryl Diamond was originally written on June 27, 2021.