TEAM OF VIPERS: MY 500 EXTRAORDINARY DAYS IN THE TRUMP WHITE HOUSE By Cliff Sims


Cliff Sims, former Special Assistant to the President, worked in the hellhole that is the Trump White House for a year and a half–an eternity by current Trump HR standards. Sims writes, “Lincoln famously had his Team of Rivals. Trump had his Team of Vipers. We served. We fought. We brought our egos. We brought out personal agendas and vendettas. We were ruthless. And some of us, I assume, were good people.”

This is another insider’s story of Life inside the Trump White House with its daily chaos, treachery, and deceit. I found it sad and depressing. So much time and energy is being wasted with one clique warring against another clique in the West Wing. Staff pursues personal interests and ignore growing national problems. Meanwhile, the country–and the world–seems to be spiraling out of control. American leadership in International Affairs is nowhere to be found. Terrorists and crazies are emboldened by the Power Vacuum. From the grim picture of the Trump White House that Cliff Sims presents, we’ll be cleaning up this mess for decades. GRADE: B
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
AUTHOR’S NOTE xiii
Introduction: Election Night xiii
1. Slow Climb Aboard the Trump Train 1
2. The Deplorables 15
3. Fight or Flight 33
4. Size Matters 51
5. Early Days in the “Dump” 67
6. Twenty-one Days on Top of the World 91
7. The Professionals 107
8. Killers 126
9. The Mooch Is Loose 147
10. Better Angels 178
11. A Tale of Two Generals 204
12. Cut Cut Cut 227
13. Frenemies of the People 358
14. Black Eyes and Broken Glass 283
15. Disposable 307
Epilogue: Outside the Bubble 339
Acknowledgements 345
Index 347

THE REIGN OF THE SUPERMEN [Blu-ray]


With Superman “dead,” four contenders for the Protector of Metropolis appear: unflappable Eradicator, annoying Superboy, hammer-wielding Steel, and super smart Cyborg Superman. And, of course, Lex Luthor lurks in the background. Battles between these super beings are a delight to watch! What secrets do they hide? In addition to the 87-minute animated movie, this Blu-ray edition includes Lex Luthor: The Greatest Nemsis, two Bonus Cartoons from the DC Comics Vault, and a “sneak peak” at DC’s next animated adventure: Justice League Vs. The Fatal Five. GRADE: B+

THE WIDOW [Amazon Prime Video]


I’m a big fan of Kate Beckinsale, but she made a Bad Decision to get involved with The Widow. Kate Beckinsale plays a widow whose husband supposedly died in a plane crash in the Congo. But, Kate thinks she sees her husband in a scene of news footage on TV. She decides to fly to Africa to look for him. Then she goes into the jungle!

On top of the unlikely events in this series, the storyline jumps around a lot. I was able to follow the plot, but it seemed fractured and unnecessarily confusing at times. My advice is to forget about watching this mess and watch Kate Beckinsale in a vastly better AMAZON PRIME Video production, Love and Friendship (you can read my review here), based on Jane Austen’s Lady Susan. The Widow is eight episodes of video filler. GRADE: D

DRAGON PEARL By Yoon Ha Lee


Dragon Pearl, Yoon Ha Lee’s Young Adult adventure novel, introduces us to a 13-year-old girl with “powers.” Min, a resident of a back-water planet named Jinju, idolizes her brother Jun who joined the Space Forces. When Jun is reported “missing,” Min uses her powers to sneak aboard the battle cruiser her brother had been serving on, Pale Lightning. On board the warship, Min discovers plenty of suspicious activity. The Captain is searching for the Dragon Pearl, a powerful device that can terraform a planet…or reduce it to dust.

Consider Dragon Pearl a mashup of the Indiana Jones movies and Star Wars. There’s plenty of action. Min makes many mistakes, but shows how determined she is to find her missing brother. Mixing magic and SF might annoy some readers, but I found the entire adventure entertaining and fun. GRADE: B

HELLO HAPPINESS By Chaka Khan


I said goodbye to happiness as soon as I saw this new Chaka Khan had only seven songs–a mere 27 minutes of music. I violated one of my Rules of Buying Music CDs: “Always listen to the online samples of the music before you buy.” I read the The Wall Street Journal and New York Times interviews (not reviews!) with Chaka Khan. Hello Happiness is Chaka Khan’s first CD in 12 years. She’s been through bankruptcy and personal travails. I impulsively ordered her new CD.

Big Mistake!

The “music” on this CD is bland and meandering. This is a CD I will never listen to again. Don’t waste your time or money on this failure. If you want to listen to great Chaka Khan music, try The Essential Chaka Khan instead. GRADE: F
TRACK LIST:
Title Writer(s) Producer(s) Length
1. “Hello Happiness”
Yvette StevensDavid TaylorSarah Ruba TaylorThomas GillSamuel Wilkes SwitchSarah Ruba 3:56
2. “Like a Lady”
StevensD. TaylorS. TaylorSanford LivingstonAmy StroupTroydon MurisonLincoln Cleary LivingstonSwitchRubaMurison[b] 5:00
3. “Don’t Cha Know”
StevensD. TaylorS. TaylorGillEli Winderman SwitchRubaChaka Khan[a]Murison[a] 3:18
4. “Too Hot”
StevensD. TaylorS. TaylorAndrea FratangeloMurisonClearyEddie Lee Langolis BotSwitchRubaKhan[a] 3:45
5. “Like Sugar”
StevensD. TaylorS. TaylorWilliam CurtisJohn Flippin SwitchRuba 3:59
6. “Isn’t That Enough”
StevensD. TaylorS. Taylor SwitchRubaMurison[b] 3:31
7. “Ladylike”
StevensD. TaylorS. TaylorStroupRicardo RouseLivingston SwitchRubaMurison[b] 3:45
Total length: 27:14

CAPTAIN MARVEL


Captain Marvel is good…but not marvelous. Brie Larson plays a complicated role as a warrior trained by the alien civilization called the Kree who are led by an AI, “Supreme Intelligence.” On a space mission gone wrong, Brie Larson finds herself stranded in 1990s America, hunted by the shape-shifting Skrulls. Larson pairs up with a digitally youthful Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. Together, Larson and Fury try to unravel the mysteries of the Skrulls and the Kree…and Larson’s past.

Part of the problem with Captain Marvel centers around all the backstory. And the lies both the Skrulls and the Kree tell Larson. It takes a lot of time to unsort the falsehoods and unpack the Truth. Once Larson finally uses her awesome powers, the movie kicks into overdrive. I liked Brie Larson’s performance, but wish she had a better (and funnier) script to work with. Samuel L. Jackson might be digitally “younger” but every time he has to run, he shows his true age. I liked Ben Mendelsohn’s ironic performance as Talos, leader of the Skrulls. You’ll enjoy the “cat” named Goose. All in all, a fun movie! GRADE: B+

FRIDAY’S FORGOTTEN BOOKS #519: THE CENTURY’S BEST HORROR FICTION Edited by John Pelan



Cemetery Dance Publications published this massive 2-volume anthology in 2011. Somehow, this set slipped past my radar until I discovered it by accident about a month ago. Yes, it’s taken me about a month to read all 100 stories (as well as reading other stuff).

John Pelan, a gifted editor and horror aficionado, works under some self-imposed rules in structuring this anthology. First, he would choose only ONE story per writer. So, that means there’s only one Stephen King story in The Century’s Best Horror Fiction instead of a dozen. Second, Pelan chooses ONE story per year that he considers the best. Given those constraints, I think Pelan does a fabulous job selecting representatives stories. And, I appreciated Pelan’s introductions to each story where he identifies contending stories that didn’t quite make the cut.

In Volume 1, my favorite stories were “Thirteen at Table” by Lord Dunsany, “The Outsider” by H. P. Lovecraft, C. L. Moore’s classic “Shambleau,” Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Dark Eidolon,” Robert E. Howard’s “Pigeons from Hell,” C. M. Kornbluth’s “The Words of Guru,” Manly Wade Wellman’s “Shonokin Town,” Theodore Sturgeon’s “Bianca’s Hands,” Shirley Jackon’s classic “The Lottery,” and Richard Matheson’s “Born of Man & Woman.”

In Volume 2, my favorite stories were Russell Kirk’s “Uncle Isiah,” Robert Sheckley’s “The Altar,” Robert Bloch’s classic “That Hell-Bound Train,” Charles Beaumont’s “The Howling Man,” Ray Russell’s “Sardonicus,” Robert Arthur’s “The Mirror of Cagliostro,” Karl Edward Wagner’s classic “Sticks,” Bob Leman’s “The Pilgrimage of Clifford M.,” Joe R. Lansdale’s horrific “The Night They Missed the Horror Show,” Elizabeth Massie’s “Stephen,” and Thomas Ligotti’s “The Glamour.”

All in all, you’ll not find a better 1571-page anthology of the 20th Century’s best stories! GRADE: A
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
VOLUME ONE:
One Hundred Years of Horror By John Pelan 9
1901: Barry Pain — “The Undying Thing” 11
1902: W.W. Jacobs — “The Monkey’s Paw” 29
1903: H.G. Wells — “The Valley of the Spiders” 39
1904: Arthur Machen — “The White People” 49
1905: R. Murray Gilchrist — “The Lover’s Ordeal” 79
1906: Edward Lucas White — “House of the Nightmare” 87
1907: Algernon Blackwood — “The Willows” 95
1908: Perceval Landon — “Thurnley Abbey” 135
1909: Violet Hunt — “The Coach” 149
1910: Wm Hope Hodgson — “The Whistling Room” 165
1911: M.R. James — “Casting the Runes” 179
1912: E.F. Benson — “Caterpillars” 197
1913: Aleister Crowley — “The Testament of Magdalen Blair” 205
1914: M.P. Shiel — “The Place of Pain” 227
1915: Hanns Heinz Ewers — “The Spider” 237
1916: Lord Dunsany — “Thirteen at Table” 257
1917: Frederick Stuart Greene — “The Black Pool” 265
1918: H. De Vere Stacpoole — “The Middle Bedroom” 285
1919: Ulric Daubeny — “The Sumach” 291
1920: Maurice Level — “In the Light of the Red Lamp” 301
1921: Vincent O’Sullivan — “Master of Fallen Years” 305
1922: Walter de la Mare — “Seaton’s Aunt” 317
1923: George Allen England — “The Thing From—”Outside” ” 343
1924: C.M. Eddy, Jr. — “The Loved Dead” 361
1925: John Metcalfe — “The Smoking Leg” 371
1926: H.P. Lovecraft — “The Outsider” 383
1927: Donald Wandrei — “The Red Brain” 389
1928: H.R. Wakefield — “The Red Lodge” 397
1929: Eleanor Scott — “Celui-La” 409
1930: Rosalie Muspratt — “Spirit of Stonehenge” 423
1931: Henry S. Whitehead — “Cassius” 429
1932: David H. Keller — “The Thing in the Cellar” 459
1933: C.L. Moore — “Shambleau” . 465
1934: L.A. Lewis — “The Tower of Moab” 489
1935: Clark Ashton Smith — “The Dark Eidolon” 501
1936: Thorp McCluskey — “The Crawling Horror” 523
1937: Howard Wandrei — “The Eerie Mr Murphy” 539
1938: Robert E. Howard — “Pigeons from Hell” 549
1939: Robert Barbour Johnson — “Far Below” 573
1940: John Collier — “Evening Primrose” 585
1941: C.M. Kornbluth — “The Words of Guru” 595
1942: Jane Rice — “The Idol of the Flies” 603
1943: Anthony Boucher — “They Bite” 623
1944: Ray Bradbury — “The Jar” 633
1945: August Derleth — “Carousel” 647
1946: Manly Wade Wellman — “Shonokin Town” 657
1947: Theodore Sturgeon — “Bianca’s Hands” 679
1948: Shirley Jackson — “The Lottery” 687
1949: Nigel Kneale — “The Pond” 695
1950: Richard Matheson — “Born of Man & Woman” 701
VOLUME TWO:
1951: Russell Kirk — “Uncle Isiah” 9
1952: Eric Frank Russell — “I Am Nothing” 25
1953: Robert Sheckley — “The Altar” 45
1954: Everil Worrell — “Call Not Their Names” 53
1955: Robert Aickman — “Ringing the Changes” 89
1956: Richard Wilson — “Lonely Road” 115
1957: Clifford Simak — “Founding Father” 125
1958: Robert Bloch — “That Hell-Bound Train” 135
1959: Charles Beaumont — “The Howling Man” 149
1960: Fredric Brown — “The House” 163
1961: Ray Russell — “Sardonicus” 167
1962: Carl Jacobi — “The Aquarium” 197
1963: Robert Arthur — “The Mirror of Cagliostro” 207
1964: Charles Birkin — “A Lovely Bunch of Coconuts” 235
1965: Jean Ray — “The Shadowy Street” 247
1966: Arthur Porges — “The Mirror” 279
1967: Norman Spinrad — “Carcinoma Angels” 287
1968: Anna Hunger — “Come” 295
1969: Steffan Aletti — “The Last Work of Pietro Apono” 307
1970: David A. Riley — “The Lurkers in the Abyss” 315
1971: Dorothy K. Haynes — “The Derelict Track” 325
1972: Gary Brandner — “The Price of a Demon” 333
1973: Eddy C. Bertin — “Like Two White Spiders” 343
1974: Karl Edward Wagner — “Sticks” 353
1975: David Drake — “The Barrow Troll” 371
1976: Dennis Etchison — “It Only Comes Out at Night” 381
1977: Barry N. Malzberg — “The Man Who Loved the Midnight Lady” 393
1978: Michael Bishop — “Within the Walls of Tyre” 401
1979: Ramsey Campbell — “Mackintosh Willy” 425
1980: Michael Shea — “The Autopsy” 439
1981: Stephen King — “The Reach” 471
1982: Fritz Leiber — “Horrible Imaginings” 489
1983: David Schow — “One for the Horrors” 535
1984: Bob Leman — “The Unhappy Pilgrimage of Clifford M.” 545
1985: Michael Reaves — “The Night People” 567
1986: Tim Powers — “Night Moves” 579
1987: Ian Watson — “Evil Water” 599
1988: Joe R. Lansdale — “The Night They Missed the Horror Show” 635
1989: Joel Lane — “The Earth Wire” 649
1990: Elizabeth Massie — “Stephen” 659
1991: Thomas Ligotti — “The Glamour” 681
1992: Poppy Z. Brite — “Calcutta Lord of Nerves” 689
1993: Lucy Taylor — “The Family Underwater” 701
1994: Jack Ketchum — “The Box” 707
1995: Terry Lamsley — “The Toddler” 717
1996: Caitlín R. Kiernan — “Tears Seven Times Salt” 735
1997: Stephen Laws — “The Crawl” 747
1998: Brian Hodge — “As Above, So Below” 773
1999: Glen Hirshberg — “Mr. Dark’s Carnival” 825
2000: Tim Lebbon — “Reconstructing Amy” 857

RUSSAN DOLL [Netflix]


I like Natasha Lyonne in the role of a software engineer called Nadia who gets caught in a time-loop. Nadia starts out in a bathroom in an apartment of a friend who is hosting Nadia’s Birthday Party (she just turned 36). Nadia smokes too much and drinks too much and doesn’t turn down friendly drugs. She’s also ready to have sex with strangers. But what drives Russian Doll aren’t Nadia’s lifestyle choices, it’s the fact that Nadia keeps dying–hit by a NYC cab, falling down a flight of stairs, etc.–and awaking up in the bathroom at her Birthday Party. Over and over again.

By the 20th time Nadia died and woke up in that bathroom, I felt annoyed and impatient. The story stalled as Nadia kept trying to figure out what was happening. I’ve seen enough DOCTOR WHO episodes and read plenty of Time Travel SF so the concept of a time-loop isn’t new or strange to me. I wanted the story to gather momentum. But Russian Doll kept to its Groundhog Day template. Tedious.

The social/psychological subtext didn’t engage me, either. GRADE: C

THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY [Netflix]


The Post-Op drugs fog my brain so reading is impossible right now. So I decided to binge-watch some Netflix series. I read The Umbrella Academy graphic novels a few weeks ago (you can read my review here) so I was ready for the major storyline: the destruction of civilization in an apocalypse that only The Umbrella Academy can prevent.

The seven “gifted” children, raised by an eccentric wealthy father, an android mother, and simian advisor, all have problems. But the prospect of the end of the world seems to bring The Umbrella Academy together. Some have called The Umbrella Academy (both the graphic novels and the Netflix series) a case of a more dysfunctional group than the X-Men. Yes, there are changes; not everything in the plot follows the books. I’m annoyed that there’s so much “filler.” The original story could have be filmed in three episodes. But Netflix demanded more so we have 10 episodes with plenty of “diversions.”

The Umbrella Academy features plenty of background music. My favorite song is “Never Tear Us Apart,” a reinterpreted INXS hit from 1989 given new life by Poloma Faith. GRADE: B-

LIVE IN HOLLYWOOD By Linda Ronstadt


Linda Ronstadt produced two dozen albums, never recorded a “live” album. She did perform in front of a live studio audience for her HBO television special. LIVE IN HOLLYWOOD, recorded on April 24, 1980 at Television Center Studios in Hollywood, was produced by John Boylan. The concert footage was recently discovered and Rhino Records remastered the audio version to produce this CD. The concert shows Linda Ronstadt at the top of her game. For LIVE IN HOLLYWOOD, Rhino Records asked Linda Ronstadt to select 12 of her favorite performances from the original concert. The original concert was 80 minutes long so this new CD holds about two-thirds of Ronstadt’s performance which leads me to speculate there may be a followup CD and DVD.

On stage Linda Ronstadt was backed up by guitarists Kenny Edwards and Danny Kortchmar, drummer Russ Kunkel, bassist Bob Glaub, keyboardist Billy Payne (Little Feat), pedal steel guitarist Dan Dugmore, and backing vocalist Wendy Waldman. Peter Asher, Linda Ronstadt’s long-time producer and this concert’s executive producer, played percussion and sang background vocals.

Linda Ronstadt now suffers from Parkinson’s disease and can’t sing anymore. And, like many performers, she somehow went through most of her money. She lives modestly outside San Francisco. I bought LIVE IN HOLLYWOOD both for the love of listening to Ronstadt sing and in hopes that this “found” album will generate some money that can be used toward Ronstadt’s medical expenses. What’s your favorite Linda Ronstadt song? GRADE: A
Track Listings
1. I Can’t Let Go (Live at Television Center Studios, Hollywood, CA 4/24/1980) 3:06
2. It’s so Easy (Live at Television Center Studios, Hollywood, CA 4/24/1980) 2:38
3. Willin’ (Live at Television Center Studios, Hollywood, CA 4/24/1980) 3:36
4. Just One Look (Live at Television Center Studios, Hollywood, CA 4/24/1980) 3:06
5. Blue Bayou (Live at Television Center Studios, Hollywood, CA 4/24/1980) 4:18
6. Faithless Love (Live at Television Center Studios, Hollywood, CA 4/24/1980) 3:54
7. Hurt so Bad (Live at Television Center Studios, Hollywood, CA 4/24/1980) 3:25
8. Poor Poor Pitiful Me (Live at Television Center Studios, Hollywood, CA 4/24/1980) 3:53
9. You’re No Good (Live at Television Center Studios, Hollywood, CA 4/24/1980) 6:12
10. How Do I Make You (Live at Television Center Studios, Hollywood, CA 4/24/1980) 2:49
11. Back in the U.S.A. (Live at Television Center Studios, Hollywood, CA 4/24/1980) 2:58
12. Desperado (Live at Television Center Studios, Hollywood, CA 4/24/1980) 3:44
13. Band Introductions (Live at Television Center Studios, Hollywood, CA 4/24/1980) 2:16