Sunday, January 31, 2010

Interesting film

Saw Up in the Air this past weekend. Pretty good movie. George Clooney plays a guy who travels around the country firing people (so the actual bosses of those people don't have to dirty their hands with that task). What was cool was that the character, even before he takes a good, hard look at his profession later in the movie, has a kind of integrity regarding his job right from the outset. In his mind, there are right ways and wrong ways to fire people, and he's developed several skills to- again, in his mind- minimize the trauma and stress on the part of the people getting fired. I thought that was an interesting touch, not having the character be a total reprehensible mess right from the start. I'll probably have a little more banter on the movie in a future post, but for now, I'll just report that I think it's definitely worth seeing.

Get it?

A dude with dyslexia walks into a bra...

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Poor sap

A man is sitting at a bar located on the top floor of the Sears Tower. He's drinking shots of tequila. He throws down a shot and goes over to a window and jumps out. The guy who was sitting next to him can't believe that the guy jumped out the window. He is even more surprised when, about two minutes later, the same man comes walking back into the bar and sits back down next to him.

The amazed guy asks," How did you do that? I just saw you jump out that window and we're hundreds of feet high above the ground!"

The man replies by saying, "Well, I don't get it either, my friend. I drink a shot of tequila and when I jump out the window, the tequila makes me slow down before I hit the ground. Watch."

He orders another shot, drinks it down, goes over to the window and jumps out. The other man runs to the window and watches as the guy falls. Sure enough, right before reaching the ground, the falling man slows down and lands softly on his feet. A few minutes go by and the guy walks back into the bar.

Still amazed at what he's seen, the other man wants to try it too, so he orders a shot of tequila, drinks it down, goes to the window, and jumps. As he reaches the bottom, he doesn't slow down, and- bam!- slams into the sidewalk.

Back at the bar, the first man chuckles, orders another shot of tequila, and the bartender says to him, "You're really a jerk when you drink, Superman."

More Sandford


Continuing our look at the first five or six books in John Sandford's series about sometimes-cop and sometimes-cop-consultant Lucas Davenport, our attention turns to Silent Prey, which I liked but didn't love. Here are some thoughts I recently filed on Amazon:

Silent Prey was a solid if unspectacular read. I guess I was a little disappointed that the complexity and richness promised by the set up, where two major plotlines are set in motion, didn't actually come about. Rather, you get a pretty good serial killer plotline (Lucas Davenport's rematch with the psychotic physician Michael Bekker) and a sketchy, not-often-mentioned secondary plot involving police vigilantes. This second plot was also a little gimmicky, relying on 11th hour "aha!" moments in Davenport's head as he pieces together the little details he's accumulated over the course of the story. Not bad stuff, mind you, but I guess I prefer more operatic, sweeping Davenport moments rather than the Sherlock Holmes-style deduction scenes on hand here.

Another quibble: The previous novel, Eyes of Prey, had a terrific final-page revelation about one of the series major supporting players, so I quickly picked up this next installment to see how Lucas would deal with this person in light of the information he now had about the character. But Silent Prey deals only briefly with the issue, and not in the meaty fashion I was waiting for. Oh well, there's always the next book.

To conclude with some of the story's strengths, I once again enjoyed the cop banter (though Lucas is technically only a consultant to the cops this time out), the action scenes, the clever surprises (especially in the Bekker storyline) and the big confrontations. And Lucas' passionate yet troubled interaction with the fairer sex remains compelling.

Perhaps I'll give Lucas Davenport and John Sandford a bit of a break before moving on in this series, as maybe it's a little unfair of me to dive right into each installment with big expectations. So I think I'll first let another thriller writer or two entertain me before heading back to this series to check out "Winter Prey". But I will be back.

Silent Prey is available on Kindle for $7.19.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Here's one for ya...

An Irishman walks into a bar in Dublin, orders three pints of Guinness and sits in the back of the room, drinking a sip out of each one in turn. When he finishes all three, he comes back to the bar and orders three more.

The bartender says to him, "You know, a pint goes flat after I draw it; it would taste better if you bought one at a time."

"Well, you see," the Irishmen replies, "I have two brothers. One is in America, the other in Australia, and I'm here in Dublin. When we all left home and went our separate ways, we promised that we'd drink this way to remember the days when we all drank together."

The bartender admits that this is a nice custom, and makes no further comment. The Irishman becomes a regular in the bar and always drinks the same way: he orders three pints and drinks the three pints by taking drinks from each of them in turn.

One day, he comes in and orders two pints. All the other regulars in the bar notice and fall silent. When he comes back to the bar for the second round, the bartender says, "I don't want to intrude on your grief, but I wanted to offer my condolences on your great loss."

The Irishman looks confused for a moment, then a light dawns in his eyes and he laughs. "Oh, no," he says, "Everyone is fine. I've just quit drinking!"

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Third book's the charm


Moving on with our examination of the early books in John Sandford's Prey series (all available on Kindle), today we'll talk a little about the third book in the series, Eyes of Prey...

As was the case with the first two books in the series- Rules of Prey and Shadow Prey- I just wanted the third entry, Eyes of Prey, to once again deliver solid police-thriller story and action with nothing fancy. And I got that. But slamming me to the ground at the last moment- on the final two pages, no less!- was a kickin' surprise ending worthy of The Sixth Sense.

I'm not saying the ending was supernatural (it wasn't), but it was the kind of ending that made you say "whoa!" and question every little thing you read before. And it was the best kind of surprise ending, in that it played fair and made sense yet was still completely surprising. And it made me rush out to get the next book in this series, Silent Prey, even though I'd planned to take a little break in the series before moving onto the next title.

Way to go, Mr. Sandford... it's great having an author who's truly interested in wowing his readers.

The accompanying photograph shows the cover art of the 1992 paperback edition of Eyes of Prey. The book is currently available on Kindle for $6.39.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hello, iPad


Well, it was indeed a new tablet-style computer that Apple unveiled today. Called the iPad, it's really neat (sorry to get all technical on you there). And it does have a wonderful e-book application, elegant in look and smooth in function (at least it seemed so in the demos). Of course, it won't have e-ink, but speaking for myself, I don't need to read every e-book via e-ink. A little backlit LCD provides variety, after all.

So yeah... though I still don't think I'll abandon my Kindle, I might want to occasionally read an e-book on the iPad, too, or alternate a single book between the two devices if that can be done. In any event, I'm going to want one of these things anyway, even if I don't end up using it much for e-books. What the Kindle brought about with e-books- enabling readers to actually feel comfortable curling up and reading a book on a device- the nicely compact iPad seems to be doing with other computer functions: enabling us to curl up and do regular computer stuff in truly comfortable fashion. The $499 entry-level price point doesn't hurt, either.

The accompanying photograph shows Apple CEO Steve Jobs showing off his new baby at today's press conference. Sales of the iPad will commence in about two months.

More prey


I enjoyed Rules of Prey, the first entry in Mr. Sandford's long-running Prey series, so I happily picked up Shadow Prey, the second book in the series. This was very good, too: lots of tension, good banter between the cops, a challenging case, and some interesting fringe stuff involving central character Lucas Davenport and the domestic challenges he's facing with his newest lady love.

Like the first book in the series, there's nothing really new here, but I think that's the point: Mr. Sandford knows what a good cop thriller should be and delivers it, not worrying about throwing in gimmicky plot contrivances to set it apart from other thrillers. The entertainment comes from solid craftmanship, Sandford's eye for detail, a dozen or so engaging characters, and a good thriller story.

I also liked the shades of grey that complicate the proceedings in several areas. For example, one can't really blame the criminal antagonists in the story for wanting to accomplish their goals, which is to draw attention to the injustices against American Indians and exact revenge for one particular injustice. But things quickly spiral out of control when the antagonists use new violence to respond to old violence. And things are further complicated because one of the antagonists really likes doing violence, with "the cause" only being a convenient excuse to undertake it.

Shadow Prey is available on Kindle for $6.39. The accompanying image shows the original hardback edition of the novel.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Interesting, but...


I just finished Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon. Though not yet available on Kindle, here are some thoughts on it:

Sometimes when a writer of straight-up dramas or literary works takes a crack at the mystery genre, the results can be interesting. I often reflect on Martin Amis' Night Train, for instance. Amis made use of the conventions of the mystery genre without allowing himself to be pulled along by them, ultimately delivering a gangbusters, heartbreaking story that delivered satisfaction by, well... not delivering satisfaction and clarity on every aspect of the story. The lingering mystery of "why...?" on certain character points can be just as resonant as an "Aha!" type explanation, as Amis ably demonstrated. But, just as importantly, he told a clear story along the way to his ambiguity-laced conclusion.

But we're talking about Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice, aren't we? Anyway, the thing starts out well, and throughout delivers much value: lots of well-drawn, imaginative scene setting, description, and characterizations (Doc, the central character, is both smart and ridiculous), but soon the story get so complicated and meandering that all one can really enjoy are individual scenes, which- to be fair- are often quite well-crafted. However, any momentum, novel-wide architectural craftsmanship, building on what has gone before, etc., occurs in minimal fashion. So, Pynchon doesn't even get to the point where he has to choose between haunting mysteriousness and total explanation in the resolution, because the hundreds of pages of story before the closing sections are muddled and unclear already. In other words, while the resolution in "Night Train" produced many questions to think about afterward, Amis' comprehensible, well-crafted story clearly laid out those questions beforehand... we easily followed what was going on up until the ultimate questions are laid at our feet. Pynchon doesn't do that; his whole story is all over the map.

To be clear (can't resist that), "Inherent Vice" offers some good banter, observation (especially of the cynical variety), humor, and the imaginative description I mentioned before, but, in the end, the book was a chore. Not as painful as other chores, but- with its muddled story and muddled final viewpoint- a chore nonetheless. The book does work as a kind of mood piece, I'll give it that. And if that's enough for you, give it a shot. For me, "Inherent Vice" fell into the trap of many literary works: it disregarded craft in favor of self-conscious artiness. And that can often result, as it did in my case, in frequent distraction and yawns.

Good police thriller


While not offering anything that's particularly groundbreaking, John Sandford's Rules of Prey (on Kindle for $6.39) does a good job delivering all the things thriller readers want to see in a serial killer novel: a scary murderer, an interesting central cop character chasing the killer, lots of colorful supporting characters, a good sub-plot or two, and a fast pace. While I wasn't crazy about the "gotta take the law into your own hands to get any justice" aspect of Lucas Davenport's character, I otherwise found him interesting and likable enough.

I also liked how Sandford didn't shy away from making his central character a little messy: Lucas Davenport isn't above using his murder investigation as a means to score women, even though he and his current girlfriend are expecting a baby.

Despite the fact that it originally appeared over fifteen years ago and undoubtedly hundreds of other serial killer thrillers have appeared since then, the book feels fresh and alive and keeps you turning the pages.

The accompanying image shows the original hardback edition of the novel.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Didja hear...?

Rumors can be fun, so here's one. Various technical websites are suggesting that Amazon with introduce the Kindle 3 in February. Yes, this February, as in next month. Again, just a rumor. Myself, I'm not sure if I'm ready for a Kindle 3 just yet. Though I upgraded almost immediately from a K1 to a K2 when the latter became available, I really do like my K2 just fine. Of course, I don't know what features a K3 might offer. I'll just have to wait and see. It's all fun to think about, though.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

You've heard worse

A snake slithers into a tavern and the barman says, "I'm sorry but I can't serve you."

"Why not?" asked the snake.

The barman says, "Because you can't hold your liquor."

Lazy Sunday post, and a recommendation

I was going to share some additional thoughts about the movie The Lovely Bones today, but you know what? A critic I enjoy reading, James Berardinelli, pretty much summed up my thoughts already. Check out his review of the film at www.reelviews.net. James' website is worth checking out in any event, as his opinions are always thoughtful and engaging. Give his site a whirl.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Dem bones


Just caught Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones at our local multiplex. In many ways it's a beautiful, satisfying film, though ultimately- at least at the moment- I have some issues with it. Whether those quibbles have to do with the film straying too far from the original novel by Alice Sebold, adhering too closely to it, or a combination of both, I don't know, not having read the book.

I'll have more to say about the movie later, but for now I will say that- unlike many critics- I had no problem with Mr. Jackson's dreamlike, CGI-rich view of the afterlife; I didn't think the imaginative afterlife scenes overpowered the earthbound scenes at all. But some of the story choices did bother me a little. Again, let me sleep on it, and I'll talk about the movie a little more tomorrow.

The original novel of The Lovely Bones is available on Kindle for $7.50.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday chuckle

An idiot called the airport for flight information.

"How long is your flight from Los Angeles to Denver?” he asked.

"Just a minute," the pleasant agent replied.

"Thank you," he said and hung up.

Apps are a comin'

Kindle owners are buzzing with the news that Amazon will begin working with 3rd party software interests in the development of a soon-to-open Kindle App store, to be available right on your Kindle. While specific applications haven't been announced, it's been strongly suggested by Amazon and those close to the initiative that soon you'll be able to buy games to play on your Kindle, choose your own screensavers, purchase a more sophisticated filing system for your books (in other words, folders!), and grab up all manner of other enhancements to improve your Kindle experience.

Many folks are already throwing suggestions Amazon's way about the kind of things that should be offered. One of my favorites is an app that would let you design a screensaver with all your personal contact information on it. That way, if you ever left your Kindle in an airport, in a bar, or wherever, the screensaver would conveniently show whoever finds your Kindle all the info they would need to return it to you. Neat, huh?

Keep watching the Kindle area of Amazon's web site for further news on the developing app front.

More Christie


Agatha Christie's 1934 classic, Murder on the Orient Express, is a clean, fast, invigorating reading experience, just as enjoyable as its most famous adaptation: the 1974 film by Sidney Lumet starring Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot. Interestingly, the elegance of the Orient Express was a thematic addition to the film; the now famous traveling experience is described in the book as little more than a long train ride laced with the usual inconveniences of an extended trip. Either the Orient Express wasn't in reality all that sumptuous, or such richness was taken for granted when Christie wrote her story.

The details and resolution more or less play out as they do in the movie, though the book has a few extra layers of detail and a few small differences in the murder's solution, though there's nothing hugely different in either case. Reading the book, in fact, makes one appreciate the movie even more, in that was it able to faithfully tell the book's story with only a minimum of simplification and consolidation.

As the years go by, the book has gained one added literary benefit beyond the pleasures of its mystery story: with its dozen or so characters who represent many nationalities and political positions, Murder on the Orient Express presents to the modern reader a sharp snapshot of the world stage just prior to the outbreak of World War II, in a much sharper fashion than the film does. Sometimes the best time capsules are those that never aspired to be such, and that's certainly the case here. So, while modern readers will certainly enjoy the mystery story on hand, I think many will also be fascinated with the journey back to a period when the clouds of war were still somewhat in the distance, but- as personified by the uneasy comments and offhand worries of one character about another- were nevertheless slowly creeping closer.

The accompanying graphic depicts the dust jacket illustration of the first UK edition of the novel. Murder on the Orient Express is currently available on Kindle for $4.79.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Nun and the bar

John was sitting outside his local pub one day, enjoying a quiet pint and generally feeling good about himself, when a nun suddenly appears at his table and starts decrying the evils of drink.

"You should be ashamed of yourself, young man!" shouts the nun. "Drinking is a Sin! Alcohol is the blood of the devil!"

Now John gets pretty annoyed about this, and goes on the offensive.

"How do you know this, Sister?"

"My Mother Superior told me so."

"But have you ever had a drink yourself? How can you be sure that what you are saying is true?"

"Don't be ridiculous," she says. "Of course I have never taken alcohol myself."

"Then let me buy you a drink," he retorts. "Afterwards, If you still believe that it's evil I will give up drinking for life."

"How could I, an obedient and humble nun, sit outside this public house drinking?!"

Thinking a moment, John says, "I'll get the barman to put it in a teacup for you, then no one will ever know."

The nun reluctantly agrees, so John goes inside to the bar.

"Another pint for me, and a triple vodka on the rocks", he says to the barman. Then, lowering his voice, he adds, "and could you put the vodka in a teacup?"

"Oh no! It's not that nun again, is it?

Your deal


I enjoy reading the occasional Agatha Christie title, though- nine times out of ten- there's just no way I have any chance of unraveling the undoubtedly complicated solution. Predictably, that was the case with Cards on the Table, an unusual entry in the Christie canon in that it features several of the author's notable detective characters appearing together. But also predictably, there's clean, no-nonsense writing; sharply drawn descriptions of individual crime scenes; skillful use of mood and flavor; and colorful, well drawn characterizations. In other words, it has all the things that are the true reasons I enjoy Agatha Christie.

Interestingly, though, once the murder or murders are solved in her little epics, Dame Christie apparently had no more use for her character-oriented, descriptive, and other storytelling skills, as all her books- this one included- immediately end once there isn't a crime left to unravel. You bought a mystery, you get a mystery-- end of story! Funny, then, that I always viewed the mystery plot in any given Christie title as a kind of bonus, picking up the books mainly for the writing qualities I described above, or put another way, the well-drawn journey.

And, once again, Christie's Cards on the Table delivers exactly that: an involving, well-drawn journey. And that's good enough for me. But I guess that also means that I'll really enjoy an Agatha Christie title if I find myself actually figuring out the solution on my own!

Cards on the Table is available on Kindle for $4.79.

Blondes, skip this

A blonde, wanting to earn some money, decided to hire herself out as a handyman-type and started canvassing a wealthy neighborhood. She went to the front door of the first house she came upon and asked the owner if he had any jobs for her to do.

"Well, you can paint my porch. How much will you charge?"

The blonde said, "How about 50 dollars?"

The man agreed and told her that the paint and ladders that she might need were in the garage. The man's wife, inside the house, heard the conversation and said to her husband, "Does she realize that the porch goes all the way around the house?"

The man replied, "She should. She was standing on the porch, after all."

A short time later, the blonde came to the door to collect her money. "You're finished already?" he asked.

"Yes," the blonde answered, "and I had paint left over, so I gave it two coats."

Impressed, the man reached in his pocket for the $50.

"And by the way," the blonde added, "that's not a Porch, it's a Ferrari."

Author spotlight


A quick heads-up about a writer I'm sure many of you read (I'm no exception): Currently being previewed on The New York Times' website is a huge feature, scheduled to appear in the publication's January 24 Sunday magazine, on the prolific James Patterson. It covers his books, his writing practices, his interactions with his publishers, etc., etc.

It really is a comprehensive piece, which I've only started reading (it's very long). As said, you can check it out now at the Times' website, or wait to read it in print on Sunday. The cool image accompanying this post was produced for the piece by Marcus Gaab (photo) and Stefan Beckman (set design).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Belkin Neoprene K2 case


I initially bought the official K2 leather cover, and it was generally fine. But I eventually decided that I'd like a cover/case that completely encloses and cushions the Kindle, as I tend to carry it around a lot, toss it in the car during trips, etc. So I bought the Belkin Neoprene Case after seeing and reading about it on Amazon. And, happily, it turned out to be a great purchase, handsome and functional. I especially like the way the cushioning inside isolates the Kindle from the zipper, so there's no danger (unless you're really, really careless, or maybe drunk) of scratching your Kindle while zipping or unzipping the case.

And even though this is a soft product, there's just enough stiffness to the Belkin Case to prevent the material from settling down and sitting on the Kindle screen when you place the covered device down somewhere. Though there's really no harm if that does occur, as the Kindle sits snugly in the case and won't move around and create friction between the inside surface and the screen.

Downsides? Well, unlike the stiff official K2 cover, this is still a soft case that won't allow you to safely place anything of weight on top of it, so the Kindle will always have to be on top of any pile of things you're carrying or placing in a carry-all bag. And I always have to take the extra, perhaps slightly inconvenient, step of making sure my grip is pressuring the keyboard area, not the more sensitive screen area, when I'm carrying the case around. But these are quibbles. There's yet to be a Kindle case or cover that perfectly addresses all concerns, and maybe it's not realistic to expect one.

So, for now, if you're looking for a cushioned case that completely protects the Kindle from weather, scratches, minor bumps, and other things along these lines, you can't go wrong with the Belkin Case. It currently goes for a shade under 25 bucks on Amazon.

Price drop!

A sincere thank you is sent to Amazon for apparently listening to my behind-the-scenes lobbying for a price reduction for the Kindle version of Kindle Taproom. While it was indeed a compliment that Amazon initially set the price of this blog at $1.99 per month for Kindle subscribers (Kindle blog prices are set by Amazon based on what it believes is the fair market value of a particular blog), I thought the amount was a little pricey.

I mean, as entertaining, fun, thoughtful, and informative (I could go on and on but I'll stop) Kindle Taproom might be, should it really cost the same as The New York Times Latest News blog? I, for one, didn't think so. And I'm glad that someone from Amazon apparently agrees. 99 cents a month is definitely more like it.

So, if you're currently enjoying Kindle Taproom on your Kindle but might have been on the fence about continuing it, I hope the roughly 50% price drop will encourage you stay a while longer. In other words, don't get up from that stool just yet... I'm about to pour you a nice cold Stella Artois. Well, at least a virtual one.

On the horizon

Apple is about to announce its new tablet-style computer. Here's my question, one Kindle-holic to another: If the new Apple Tablet (or whatever it ends up being called) has the size and portability of the Kindle, convenient apps to buy books, PLUS all the features of a decent laptop computer or I-Phone (minus the ability to make phone calls), would you consider moving your e-book habit- entirely or maybe just a little- away from Kindle and onto such a device? In the end, it really comes down to two questions: 1) how important is e-ink, and 2)how important is owning a device solely dedicated to reading e-books?

Myself, I'm not sure of the answers. Here's how I'm leaning, though: I definitely don't see myself giving up on the Kindle, as there's something elegant about a device that doesn't do a million things but instead performs a few tasks well. But... a portable tablet, that feels about the same as the Kindle in one's hand, lets you see a book's cover in color, sports excellent black/white contrast on a novel's pages of text (sometimes a challenge for the K2 to accomplish), all while presenting an array of booksellers, not just Amazon... I don't know. And I'm just talking about the tablet's e-book capabilities.

If I have to venture a prediction, I'd say that I'm probably going to buy one of these new Apple Tablets, enjoy it for a variety of uses, but when it comes to e-books, I'll alternate between that and the Kindle. Time will tell if my prediction is correct.

A good listen


Leslie Mendelson's Swan Feathers features eleven enjoyable songs reminiscent of the kind of music heard on adult contemporary stations (remember those?) in the 1970's. Her smooth, often playful voice reminded me a little of Karen Carpenter, though Ms. Mendelson's voice is more fun and bouncy than deep and rich.

I can't say I was floored by this album (two or three listens is enough for now), but it's definitely an enjoyable easy-listening experience. I paricularly liked the sassy first track, "I Know You Better Than That" and the singer's slow, moody cover of the golden oldie, "Be My Baby".

I'm betting that Leslie Mendelson's work will only improve, but for now this is a perfectly respectable debut.

Final gifts


From the obituary of writer Robert B. Parker that appeared in today's edition of The New York Times:

Mr. Parker’s editor, Chris Pepe, said that in addition to the new Jesse Stone novel, Putnam would publish a new western by Mr. Parker in the spring; two additional Spenser novels are in production but unscheduled, she said.

I was hoping for the small chance of at least one more Spenser novel, in addition to the Jesse Stone title we already knew was forthcoming, to ease the loss all us Parker fans are now feeling. But it looks like we'll be getting a good deal more than that. Two more Spensers and a western! Thank you, Mr. Parker, for these final gifts. Even though you're no longer with us, your great work ethic is still benefitting your readers.

Eight pages of novels by Robert B. Parker are currently available in the Kindle store, and more titles are regularly added. Do yourself a favor and treat yourself to 1973's The Godwulf Manuscript (Mr. Parker's first published novel and his first Spenser adventure), which is available for $6.39. Trust me, you'll read it and immediately click to buy the next title in the series.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

One last taste

We already know that one last Jesse Stone crime thriller by Robert B. Parker, Split Image, will be released this coming February, but here's hoping that we'll find out in the next couple of days that there's at least one more Spenser book on the way, too. The prolific author did tend to write far ahead of a book's actual release, so maybe there's hope. In any event, such news would somewhat ease the sadness of Mr. Parker's passing.

End of an era


I'm sorry to have to report some very sad news. It's been reported today that prolific and prolifically entertaining crime writer Robert B. Parker died yesterday at 77. Speaking for myself, but I'm sure for many others, too, he will be greatly missed. Among about dozen other things I could say about his work, Mr. Parker could always say more in a page and a half than other writers could impart in twenty pages. And he'd do that without seeming clipped or abbreviated or self-consciously uncommunicative. The same satisfying richness of character and plot would routinely come through in that brief page or two that other authors would need multiple pages to accomplish.

In other words, although Robert B. Parker's books were always 290 or 300 pages long, there were always, perhaps magically, around 500 or 600 pages of story and character and plot comfortably living in those fast-moving pages of economical count. I'm now going to have to get my quality crime writing and in-depth character sketches in much less economical fashion, because no one does it like Robert B. Parker did (and I hate having to write that past tense did).

Here's to you, Mr. Parker. I'm going to break out the excellent scotch this evening, and have at least two in your memory. Somehow I think you would appreciate that.

Update

Fair's fair... I shouldn't let my jokey previous post be the last word on the subject: my Kindle copy of The Philadelphia Inquirer arrived only a few minutes after that post, none the worse for wear. I guess the virtual paperboy finally got up to make his rounds. But does that mean he'll be late for school?

Kinda funny

When I turned on my Kindle this morning and flicked on Whispernet, instead of seeing the word new next to The Philadelphia Inquirer on my homescreen, indicating that my daily newspaper had arrived, the line where the name of the newspaper should have been instead sported the phrase, "Sorry, The Philadelphia Inquirer will be..."

Hmmmm. So I clicked on the truncated line and immediately saw the following friendly message:

January 19, 2010

Dear Joseph,

Thank you for subscribing to The Philadelphia Inquirer. Unfortunately, today's Kindle edition has been delayed. We are working with The Philadelphia Inquirer to solve the problem and deliver your newspaper as soon as possible.

Thank you for your patience.

The Amazon Kindle Team


Hah! Is this the Kindle version of the paperboy having the flu, or his bike getting a flat? I thought this was pretty funny. Sigh, still no paper, though.

Tuesday tip


I was in the mood for some short mystery fiction to alternate with the non-Kindle book I'm now reading (the crime thriller Blood Redeemed by Richard Sand), so I bought a single issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine for $3.49 on Kindle. The latest issue, the February 2010 edition, starts off with a moody mystery set in the murky past of Elizabethan England (very good so far), and if the cover is any indication, I'll be getting a Sherlock Holmes story sometime before the issue is over. Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine always has polished, engaging stories of various flavors (cozy, visceral, present day, historical, etc.) and is never a disappointment.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Hey, Joe...


1990's Joe Versus the Volcano is an interesting little film, light and silly on one level, yet infused with complex themes and more than a little darkness, too. Though much of the movie is set in a gritty, urban landscape, the story has a fable-like, "once upon a time..." quality throughout. But again, the darkness and complexity often gives that fable-like quality more of a Brothers Grimm flavor.

I finally watched this movie after having it sit on my shelves for several years, thinking it would probably be "just okay", so there was no rush in getting to it. But I was wrong. This combination love story and meditation on life turned out to be a thoughtful little bugger, with some memorable imagery and occurrences. I will say that the ending sequences could have benefitted from a bigger special effects budget, though nothing ever approached outright shoddy work.

Meg Ryan was very good in her three diverse roles, making me wonder why she only played cute and perky roles during most of her subsequent career, with a late career detour primarily comprised of unsavory, darkly sexual characters. This movie showed she could create interesting characters existing between those two poles. Tom Hanks was also good, displaying some early acting chops as he effectively communicated the vast range of reactions and emotions required of his character.

My standard DVD (a 2001 remastering, I believe) looked and sounded perfectly fine, and a few modest special features were included. Perhaps a better DVD of this film has been released since I bought this particular edition, but if not, this one is still quite serviceable.

By the way, the director of "Joe Versus the Volcano", John Patrick Shanley, also directed 1987's "Moonstruck" and 2008's "Doubt", all the while maintaining- even now- a prolific life in the theatre as a playwright/director. Not a bad little career.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Autism stories


Autism: the Musical is a well done film about autism, both about the children who have the condition and the parents who deal with it every day. My wife works in special education and was pleased by the comprehensive picture it presented of the challenges faced both by the kids and their parents, with the latter sometimes finding that their marriages simply can't survive those challenges.

Myself, I was a little disappointed that there wasn't more of "the musical" in a movie called Autism: The Musical. The musical is built up over the course of the movie with frequent title cards that say things like "three weeks before the performance", "two weeks before the performance", etc., yet when we get to the actual musical production performed by the autistic kids, it's just another seven-or-eight-minute vignette among a film comprised of seven-or-eight-minute vignettes. But that's more of a criticism based on the expectations created by the film's title, rather than a criticism of the film itself.

Autism: The Musical, which we rented via Netflix, looks and sounds great on DVD, and there are a variety of interesting extra features, mostly involving additional scenes of the kids.

Always wondered...

How did the fool and his money ever get together in the first place?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Here's one for you...

Two vampires walk into a bar and call for the bartender. "I'll have a glass of blood," says one vampire.

"I'll have a glass of plasma," says the other.

"Okay," replies the bartender, "that'll be one blood and one blood lite."

What we're watching


Your genial host (me) and his household enjoy DVDs. We watch films via a Netflix subscription and the occasional retail purchase, and watch several television series via the same methods. Right now we have a nice handful of DVD boxed sets of various television series in front of our set, which we are cycling through (one episode from one set on one evening, one episode from another set the next evening, etc.). These boxed sets were outright purchases- via Amazon, Best Buy, or Target- so there's no rush getting them returned to anyone. Here are the series that are amusing us at the moment:

Smallville, season 8. Good season-long arc as Clark Kent takes on the unstoppable Doomsday from the comics.

Dark Shadows, The Beginning, collection 2. The early, non-supernatural episodes of this 60's soap are still moody and engaging despite the lack of vampires and witches.

Enterprise, season 2. Enjoyable Star Trek series focusing on the early days of Starfleet.

Weeds, season 4. Naughty, subversive fun.

Teen Titans, season 3. Animated superheroes with a whimsical touch.

Justice League, The Complete Series. Animated heroes with a more straight-up dramatic approach.

Are you watching anything interesting on DVD these days?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Groan

A dog with his foot wrapped in a bandage hobbles into a saloon. He pushes up to the bar and announces: “I’m looking for the man that shot my paw."

Gotta try this


Here in the taproom when we're enjoying a nice sirloin or burger, a quality red is called for. Lately we've been enjoying Penfold's Rawson Retreat, a terrific Shiraz-Cabernet blend out of Southeastern Australia. Low key, somewhat fruity, with just the right level of dryness, it really goes well with a meat-oriented lunch or dinner.

The wine was recently profiled by The New York Times as one to look for when searching out a good wine at a non-premium price. Penfold's Rawson Retreat goes for well under $15.00 per bottle retail in most regions, and we've paid about $5.00 per glass during the rare occasions that we visit establishments that actually serve alcohol (if you knew me better you'd know that statement was decidedly sarcastic).

In any event, do yourself a favor and give this warm, friendly wine a try if you come across it. You'll be getting more than your money's worth.

Teen drama


As promised, here are some thoughts on Robert B. Parker's The Boxer and the Spy (available on Kindle for $7.19), which I just finished:

High school chums and almost boyfriend/girlfriend Terry and Abby suspect that their classmate's suicide was not a suicide at all, but foul play somehow tied in with some shady goings-on by their school principal and a local pol now running for governor. But what, they observe, could a couple of kids do about it? A lot, as we soon find out.

Robert B. Parker's third book for young adults (Edenville Owls and Chasing the Bear were the first two), doesn't talk down to kids, and in fact discusses Mr. Parker's usual themes with the same enthusiasm as they're approached in his adult thrillers. These include the importance of having a personal code, and being consciously aware of both the strengths and challenges of one's personal relationships, especially one's primary romantic relationship. Actually, in this book's case, it's more of a potential romantic relationship, as Terry and Abby are still somewhat circling each other and figuring everything out, even as each is clearly taken with the other.

The title of the book alludes to Terry's enthusiasm for boxing and Abby's plan to mobilize her and Terry's friends to spy on the adults they suspect of murdering their classmate and scamming the community. A decent plotline (maybe slightly simpler than a usual Parker plot, but not much), likable characters, and some good confrontation scenes result in a solid, entertaining effort. As I also said about the characters in Mr. Parker's other two stand-alone (so far) young adult titles, it would be nice to see Terry and Abby again sometime.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Another one...

A grasshopper walks into a bar. The barman says, “We’ve got a drink named after you.” The grasshopper says, “You’ve got a drink named Kevin?”

We got a million of 'em...

Hey, this blog has a bar theme, so sometimes you're gonna get a bar joke. Here's one for ya...

A cowboy walks into a bar and orders a drink. His hat is made of black wrapping paper. And so are his shirt, vest, chaps, and shoes. Pretty soon, the sheriff arrives and arrests him for rustling.

Angry heroes


Mystery/thriller writer Brad Meltzer has a nice handful of titles available on Kindle, including The Book of Lies ($6.39), Dead Even ($3.99), The Book of Fate ($7.99), and The Tenth Justice ($3.84). Right now I'm reading something by Mr. Meltzer that's a little off the beaten track: a graphic novel featuring the likes of Superman, Batman, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, etc., entitled Identity Crisis.

Only it's really not all that much off the author's beaten track, because it's a mystery story. When the wife of Ralph Dibny, better known as the second-tier but likable hero known as The Elongated Man, is found brutally murdered, Ralph and the other heroes leap into action to find the culprit. Colorful heroes notwithstanding, Identity Crisis is dark, visceral stuff (and I'm not just talking about the central murder), with a puzzling mystery at its heart. Written by Mr. Meltzer and nicely drawn by Rags Morales, Identity Crisis might be a good first leap into the world of graphic storytelling for those curious about the medium, or a decent title to use to get reacquainted with the world of comics if you've been away a while. The title is available as a thick trade paperback for about 14 bucks wherever graphic novels are sold, or easily available via Amazon.

Right now this is a real winner, though I'll check in one more time about the book when I'm completely through it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Cops and crosses


In the Bleak Midwinter, by Julia Spencer-Fleming (on Kindle for $6.99) is a solid, involving debut mystery with a minimum of first-book jitters. The hook here is that the two protagonists, female Episcopalian priest Clare Fergusson and small town police chief Russ Van Alstyne form an immediate bond upon Clare's arriving in town to take over the local parish, with said bond being awkward because Russ is married and, well, Clare's a priest, who's supposed to be above such emotional messiness. But Ms. Spencer-Fleming avoids obvious potboiler scenes and develops the situation, inelegant as it is, in an intelligent and realistic manner, really making us want to see where this relationship goes. Just be warned, for any real answers you'll have to move into the second book in the series, as things only just start to heat up here.

Oh, and the mystery story? Involving domestic abuse, child custody, and murder, it's very good, too, interesting in its own right and an effective vehicle to reveal the character traits of both Russ and Clare. Predictably, in most situations he's tough and she's more sympathetic, but there are less obvious and even surprising traits in both of them, too.

In the Bleak Midwinter is a fine, fast-reading tale of an instant emotional connection between two very different (at least, at first glance) individuals set against a backdrop of violence and greed. Can the warm but imperfect glow of Russ and Clare's relationship stand up to the darkness and danger of the crimes they confront? Jump in and find out.

In the window today...


Let me save you a trip to the Kindle Storefront, and maybe some Whispernet, by telling you the top ten sellers in the Kindle Store at the moment. Sellers may not be exactly the right word to use here, as there are a lot of freebies this fine day. Let's have a look...

1. Exposure, by Brandilyn Collins FREE

2. Dark Pursuit, by Brandilyn Collins FREE

3. Suite Scarlett, by Maureen Johnson FREE

4. Gypsy Legacy: The Marquis, by Denise Patrick FREE

5. Kindle Shortcuts, Hidden Features, etc., by Aaron Steinhardt, PhD $.25

6. The One Year Love Language Minute Devotional, by Gary Chapman $9.99

7. The Help, by Kathryn Stockett $8.55

8. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen FREE

9. The Shunning (The Heritage of Lancaster County #1), by Beverly Lewis FREE

10. Summer of the Midnight Sun (Alaskan Quest #1), by Tracie Peterson FREE

Glancing at the above, it's amazing but true: if you're open to reading anything of decent quality on your Kindle, and not particular titles, you could go indefinitely without actually paying money to read books on Kindle. I wonder how many Kindle owners actually do that.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Parker keeps 'em comin'


Split Image, the latest entry in Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone series, will be out on February 23, both in hardback and Kindle editions (the series began nine books ago with Night Passage). Here's a look at some thoughts I shared last year, on various online venues, about Night and Day, the previous installment of the series, currently available on Kindle for $9.99:

Robert B. Parker's many fans immediately perk up when the writer offers a new entry in one of his various crime thriller series, and this time we get to enjoy the newest adventures of the author's Jesse Stone character. Jesse is the police chief in the fictional seaside town of Paradise, Massachusetts, where he spends his days fearlessly fighting crime and imparting lessons to the citizenry. Sadly, however, Jesse still spends his after-hours free time torturing himself with thoughts of his ex-wife Jenn, who periodically flits into Jesse's life when she needs support, guidance, and affection, but then inevitably flits away because she can't make any true and lasting commitment to him. This fascinating formula- strong crimefighter by day, week-kneed, trod-upon lover by night, is once again firmly in place in Night and Day, the ninth entry in the series.

Incidentally, if you've seen any of the nicely done Jesse Stone television movies starring Tom Selleck as Jesse, you have a good idea of what the book series is all about, though Jesse is about 20 years younger on the printed page. However, both book and television versions of the character struggle with alcohol in the same way, often drinking too much but so far resisting full-blown alcoholism.

Mr. Parker's addictive novels almost always feature strong sexual subplots and/or subtexts in addition to the main plotlines. Here, though, the sex is front and center with three- count 'em, three- main sex plotines: 1) Paradise is in an uproar after a school principal insists on inspecting her female students' undergarments to make sure the little darlings aren't wearing anything too provocative; 2) a Peeping Tom is terrorizing the town's quiet streets, trying to catch women getting undressed or getting out of the shower as he peers through their windows; and 3) a young girl comes to Chief Stone (after meeting him during the case of the skimpy underwear) because she's disturbed by her parents' swinging/partner-swapping lifestyle. Jesse hops among the three cases, each heavy with obsessive behavior in some way, which in turn makes him think of his own near-obsession with his ex-wife Jenn. Clever, no?

With the story advancing mostly via short, rapid-fire dialogue sequences, Night and Day is an especially fast read, even by Mr. Parker's own well-established standard for lightning pacing. This didn't bother me, as Mr. Parker has never been about dense prose. He's always said a lot with a little. But if you're one of those readers who regularly complain that Mr. Parker's publishers disguise his essentially short novels as longer ones via thick paper and double-spacing, you'll probably complain again here.

Little treats abound. We get to see the author's blonde and perky, yet very dangerous, P.I. character Sunny Randall, who's actually been through a lot since we last saw Sunny in her own series entry. It's interesting, though, that we find out a few new developments in Sunny's life, including the passing of her beloved dog Rosie, via this book instead of a book in her own series. Happily, the book also features- just maybe- a final resolution to the Jesse/Jenn merry-go-round. But the jury is still out on that score... at least until the next Jesse Stone book. As said, Jesse's weakness when it comes to Jenn is an interesting contrast to his usual strength and confidence, but I can't argue with those who want to see- after nine books- some resolution to Jesse's romantic situation.

One thing in "Night and Day" was kind of strange, however. For a bunch of characters (Jesse, uniformed cops Molly Crane, Suitcase Simpson, and a few others)) who have consistently displayed high libidos, sexual adventurousness, and general openmindedness during the course of this series, they were suddenly moralistic, puritanical, and judgmental in their views and interaction with the Paradise Free Swingers, the swinging group that ties into a couple of the plotlines here. Mr. Parker's portrayals didn't help matters, either. Of the swingers we get to know a little, most are either weak women who were forced into the lifestyle by their husbands, or husbands who are creeps or worse. I'm not defending or promoting that particular way of life, but it would have been a little more interesting if there was at least one upbeat, positively-portrayed swinger character that Mr. Parker dared us to like a little.

I did enjoy the book overall, though. These characters are like old friends now, and it's always fun to see them. By now, they interact like parts of a well-oiled machine, drawing us right into the proceedings as efficiently as ever.

But I think I agree with many other readers who have weighed in on Jesse's latest tale: I'm ready for the seamy stuff to be put on the back burner for a while. Let's have Jesse take on a regular old murder mystery or bank heist plot next time. Seamy can be fun, but ultimately only in small doses.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Taproom Book Club

Right now I'm listening to Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice (read by the great Ron McLarty) on unabridged audio, via download from audible.com. I'm also finishing up The Boxer and the Spy by Robert B. Parker on Kindle. We'll be discussing both of these titles in the coming days here in the taproom, so why don't you read or listen to one or both and join our little discussion? As both are official Taproom Book Club selections (our first ones!), I'll try to do at least two or three posts for each. The Pynchon is unfortunately not available on Kindle at the moment.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Weeds we don't mind


Is it just me, or does the television series Weeds repeatedly try to be shocking and outrageous just for the sake of being shocking and outrageous? Not that there's anything wrong with that, especially if the results are entertaining. But I'm just wondering.

Anyway, when I'm not puttering around in the taproom, my wife and I have been lately watching season four of the show on DVD. Albert Brooks was a treat as a guest star in the first few episodes (hopefully he'll be back before the end of the set), and Mary-Louise Parker is as cute as ever as the formerly wholesome suburban mom who now sells pot to make ends meet.

The stories are the main act in the sideshow, though, regularly upstaging the already mischievous premise. The plots and subplots, four seasons in, still sport the same reliable mix of crazy, goofy, and offensive as they have from day one. And because it's all somehow working, as it always seems to, I guess I'll be perusing the shelves for season five.

Avatar marches on


With this weekend's earnings- just under $50 million according to estimates (and possibly over $50 million once final figures are reported)- James Cameron's Avatar now ranks as the 7th biggest movie of all time in this country, and it's still going strong. Though I still basically believe that the story isn't all that special or new, and that it's the 3D that's wowing people, maybe things are a little more complicated than that. Maybe the film's 3D, on the story level and not just the visual one, is making serviceable scenes in a serviceable story into exciting scenes in an exciting story.

In other words, because we're in there with the characters, we're more invested in what's happening to them, even if we saw it all before in countless other movies. Myself, as well as remembering the effectiveness of the big sweeping battle scenes, I particularly remember quiet scenes of Siguorney Weaver and her cohorts sitting around the lab looking at their interactive information screens, talking about the same things people in labs in these movies always talk about.

But because of the excellent 3D work, we were in the lab, too, leaning over those same screens evaluating the information about the planet along with the characters. Being there made what they were saying more important, in a way that the not terribly complicated scripting likely wouldn't accomplish on its own. And if the 3D makes mundanes scenes like that more vivid, imagine what it's doing for the big action moments, the money shots if you will.

I guess my point is that eventually we'll start missing a great story if all we're getting is great 3D. But not yet. Because, as media guru Marshall McLuhan famously said, the medium is the message. And maybe James Cameron knows that, knows that his innovative new 3D system is the message right now.

Earlier versions of his script reportedly featured a much more complicated story with more subtle nuances (Jake Sully apparently cried upon first experiencing his new, working avatar legs), but I can see Cameron reconsidering scenes like that and shaking his head. "Too much," he might have said, as he thought of his audience members. "Let's not overload them. This new 3D process is so immersive that that alone will shellshock them. We'll save the truly complicated emotional and plot stuff until next time, once they're more used to being in the movie." Of course, I'm just speculating here.

In any event, are you like me, and think that the movie's 3D makes Cameron's story better, doing what- in a regular movie- an extra revision or two of the script used to accomplish? It's all very interesting to consider.

I wish I may, I wish I might...

Do you use your Kindle wish list feature on your K1 or K2? Formerly called the save for later feature (I guess that didn't sound warm and fuzzy enough), it gives you the abilty to maintain a convenient little list of books that you may be interested in purchasing at some point.

It's so easy to use. When browsing the Kindle Store and a title looks interesting, but you're not ready to purchase it yet for whatever reason, simply hit the add to wish list button. The book's title will go right into your wish list file, which can be easily accessed anytime after that by visiting the Kindle storefront, bringing up the menu, and hitting the selection titled your wish list. I don't know about you, but I'd forget half the books that sounded interesting to me if I didn't compile them in my wish list file. Oh, when you're perusing your wish list and want to finally make a purchase from there, simply click on the book that you want to buy and you'll be sent to the book's description page where you can make your purchase.

In case you're curious, right now I have 14 books on my Kindle wish list. Here are the first five:

Enemies & Allies, by Kevin J. Anderson ($9.99). Superman and Batman form an unasy alliance in this cold-war era tale of the space race, nuclear stockpiles, and corporate greed. This should be fun.

1776, by David McCullough ($9.99). I'm really in the mood to read this after recently watching the John Adams mini-series on DVD. Friends have also raved.

The Birthing House, by Christopher Ransom ($14.84). Tale of a young couple taking on a fixer-upper that turns out to be haunted sounds edgy and interesting based on the reviews I've read online. However, I'll use the wish list to periodically monitor its price (another great ability of the feature!), as $14.84 seems a little high for a diverting horror novel.

The Walk, by Lee Goldberg ($1.99). Engaging mystery writer Goldberg offers one of his early, out-of-print books on Kindle, something a lot of authors are doing with their back lists these days. This one is more of a post-apocalyptic thriller rather than the breezy mysteries Goldberg usually writes.

The Boxer and the Spy, by Robert B. Parker ($7.19). I need to remove this from my wish list because I have since bought the book and am currently halfway through it! This is one of the author's periodic tales primarily aimed at young adults, though in the past they've been just as engaging for regular ol' adults, too. So far this one continues that trend.


What's on your Kindle wish list? And if you haven't started using the feature yet, get crackin'!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Priority alert from Starfleet


Good news for fans of the final frontier: Paramount Pictures has just announced that the next Star Trek film will hit theaters on May 29, 2012. Though J.J. Abrams may not return as director, he will definitely produce. While the movie is still a ways off, the announcement is great news for Trek fans, especially considering that the last movie was so entertaining.

To keep you busy in the meantime, did you know that close to 800 Star Trek books are currently available on Kindle? I've read several of these books over the years (most are original tales and not adaptations of episodes or movies) and many are quite good. Seen here is Howard Weinstein's excellent "The Covenant of the Crown", a current steal at $2.79 on Kindle.

A geek proposal


Marvel Comics various Essentials series collect issues of classic Marvel comics into thick, inexpensive volumes of about 500 pages each. The main thing keeping the price down is the fact that the original color comics are reproduced in the Essentials collections in black and white. This small downside is forgiven by most fans because, say, Essential X-Men Volume One will include around twenty-two consecutive issues of the X-Men comic book for something like 12 bucks, depending where you buy it. A steal, considering that individual back issues of the comic book could cost several dollars each or more.

Now here's my suggestion: while the many Essentials series out there wouldn't really work well on the standard Kindle, because the individual comic book panels on the original pages would be reproduced too small to read on the K1 or K2, the pages would reproduce fine, with no modification needed, on the much larger screen of the Kindle DX. One clean, complete page of a Spider-Man comic book story, for instance, would translate into one clean, complete page on the DX. Meaning, all of a sudden, the small downside of the comics being in black and white would now be a big upside, because it would allow the Kindle to reproduce them well.

Can't Marvel and Amazon put their heads together and get something going on this? If thousands of Marvel comics could suddenly be enjoyed on the Kindle DX, I bet sales of the DX would get a nice bump. And comics fans, especially those who have maybe gotten away from buying as many physical comic books and comics collections as they used to, could have some great fun getting re-acquainted with some great old comics.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Weekend movies


A handful of new releases will give moviegoers a bit of an eclectic selection this week, though Avatar is sure to get at least one more weekend at the top of the box-office heap. But if you're into seeing something new, you've got Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (featuring the final performance of Heath Ledger); the vampire tale Daybreakers, starring Ethan Hawke; Michael Cera poking fun at his usual geeky persona in Youth in Revolt; and the always charming Amy Adams in the romantic comedy Leap Year. Something for everyone, as they say.

Honestly not bad


Can't say I'm a subscriber, but I have picked up an occasional issue of Reader's Digest on the Kindle. It's a good mix of light feature pieces (an entertaining profile of actor Pierce Brosnan was a good read a while back) and long, detailed investigative articles (good one on the airline industry in the same issue). You also get the magazine's cute cartoons and other fun elements.

You also get another bonus. If there's one criticism I have of Kindle blogs and magazines, it's visual sameness. The New York Times looks like Newsweek which looks like The Philadelphia Inquirer, etc. But Reader's Digest on the Kindle looks like, well... Reader's Digest. You get the sharp, catchy graphics of the print edition (with the headline and sub-headlines of a story often embedded within the main photo just like in the regular magazine), and other pieces of visual flair- like the cartoons mentioned earlier- carried over from the magazine, too. I guess it's a small point (as content is really the most important thing), but it's nice seeing a Kindle magazine that looks truly different from other Kindle magazines. With luck this will be the beginning of a trend.

But, yeah, give an issue a shot. Even if you usually read weightier fare on your Kindle, you may just find the content and visual flair of Reader's Digest on the Kindle to be an occasional refreshing change.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Shaken not stirred


A fun, fast read, and a definite treat for fans of James Bond, Sebastian Faulks' 2008 Bond thriller Devil May Care (on Kindle for $7.99) nails Ian Fleming's unique, entertaining combination of sex, sadism, and civility. This one really feels like Fleming himself sat down to write one more Bond novel after "The Man With The Golden Gun", the original series' swan song (not counting a short-story compilation or two that appeared shortly after that final book). It's even the right length: not too short and not too long. Like Fleming's entries in the Bond series, it's the perfect quick-fix thriller read.

The main plot, involving an eccentric villain seeking to trick Western and Communist powers into starting a war with each other, will be either satisfyingly familiar or disappointingly familiar to Bond fans (myself, I felt a little of both sentiments), but everything moves along at a nice clip, with lots of danger, action, and women. And it's all laced with Bond's cynical yet ultimately optimistic take on things.

I will say that the long chapter featuring Bond playing tennis with the villain was a bit of a haul to get through. But then again, so was Fleming's chapter in Goldfinger featuring Bond's golf match with that villain. So, author Faulks was even good at emulating Fleming's occasional dry indulgences!

My favorite moment of Devil May Care was a passage involving Bond, a prisoner aboard an airliner at the time, reminiscing about how he usually enjoyed air travel: the quiet time to relax it afforded, the peaceful cloudscapes going by, how he would usually sip a Bloody Mary and eventually open an engaging adventure novel to pass the time, that sort of thing. It was a favorite moment because, as I read that passage- no lie- I was sitting on a plane, reading my Bond adventure on my Kindle, and sipping a Bloody Mary. I had to smile. I guess we all have a little bit of James Bond in us!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

They're making that again?

Word has it that director Pierre Morel (Taken) is now working on yet another adaptation of Frank Herbert's 1965 science-fiction classic, Dune. With two adaptations already under its belt (the 1984 David Lynch film and the 2000 cable TV mini-series) maybe it's time for me to finally read the original book and see what all the shouting's about.

As of today, Dune sells for $7.99 on Kindle and is ranked at a respectable #562 in the Kindle Store (not bad for a 45 year-old science fiction novel). Have any of you read Dune? I enjoyed the past adaptations (more or less), but suspect that the book has a lot more going for it.

No grim & gritty here


I mentioned the breezy, fun Antiques Roadkill (by Barbara Allan, on Kindle for $5.59) in passing in a previous post. Here's a longer look at this entertaining little mystery.

An entremely detailed review would probably do Antiques Roadkill a disservice, as the book clearly isn't meant to be scrutinized and analyzed, rather pleasantly enjoyed and passed to a friend... or, in my case, sent to the second Kindle on my account, so my wife can read it. In any event, Barbara Allan's first installment in her Trash & Treasures mystery series has all the elements any self-respecting cozy series needs. A cute heroine? Check. Quirky, eccentric, but ultimately likable supporting characters surrounding the heroine? Check. A picturesque small town setting? Check. A fascinating hobby or interest that's promoted by the characters and ties the whole book together? Check (in this case, it's antiques). Exasperated law enforcement officials who slowly lose patience for the heroine's amateur sleuthing efforts? Check. And finally, a credible mystery plot laced with enough danger to create adequate tension but not enough to torpedo the overall light, bouncy, tone of the story? Check.

In other words, Ms. Allan's Antiques Roadkill delivers everything fans of light, cozy mysteries expect, but does so in a fresh, invigorating way.

Okay, enough cute hedging about the book's authorship. Barbara Allan is, of course, the pen name for the husband-and-wife writing team of Max Allan Collins and Barbara Collins. I'm a big fan of Mr. Collins' solo mystery works, so I thought I'd try this collaboration out. It's not as tough or sexy as the stories Mr. Collins produces on his own, but then it's not supposed to be. What you get is banter, family craziness, a couple of tight spots, and yes, a cute pet (another cozy must). Nothing spectacular, but all fun. Though I don't know for sure, I suspect Mr. Collins' main contributions were the plot, fast pacing, and occasional dangerous situations, with Barbara Collins contributing the quirkiness, girlish banter, and neurotic internal monologues (as those elements don't often turn up in Mr. Collins' solo books).

If you're like me and dive into the occasional (or maybe more than occasional) lighter mystery as a change of pace from all the blood-and-guts mysteries and thrillers out there, you'll certainly enjoy Antiques Roadkill. I'm going to move on to the next book in the series before too long, and after reading this fun and feisty little tale, you'll probably want to, as well.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Lists, Part Three

Here are five more great movie experiences I had in 2009, with all of the movies mentioned now available on DVD. By the way, I hope you don't mind that I'm not doing official "top ten" lists here in the taproom, choosing instead to throw at you lots of enjoyable books and movies from the past year as they occur to me. It's more fun that way, isn't it?

The Soloist Amid playing bigtime screen characters Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes, Robert Downey Jr. took on a memorable, normal-sized role: newspaper columnist Steve Lopez (a real-life figure), who makes it his mission to give a hand to a genius-level homeless man effectively played by Jamie Foxx. The film is intelligently understated, shunning big movie moments in favor of quiet truths and shaded exchanges.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine A derivative, second-tier superhero adventure, but a damn good derivative, second-tier superhero adventure. I mean, how can you not love a movie that says the real cause of the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster was two Marvel Comics characters battling it out on top of one of the plant's cooling towers?

The Hangover Smart laughs, dumb laughs, decent story, lots of cleverness. Get this if you haven't seen it yet.

Whatever Works Woody Allen's latest showcases Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, and Patricia Clarkson in a fun little story about a naive girl who tries to make it in the big city, and the crazy family members who one by one follow her there. Funny and touching.

Shrink The always interesting Kevin Spacey stars as a Hollywood psychiatrist with more emotional challenges than his patients. Good drama laced with dark comedy came and went in theaters, but it's worth seeking out on DVD.

One or two more lists to come...

Monday, January 4, 2010

A gory film with a side of smarts

Like The Ruins, another horror film I recently enjoyed on DVD (and discussed in a recent post), The Midnight Meat Train is a horror movie that- gads!- isn't afraid to actually be horrifying. There's lots of visceral and disturbing stuff here. But it all serves a pretty good story, one that- due to its source material being a short story by the great Clive Barker- also has an energetic little "literary" vibe going on under the surface. So you get some metaphors and social commentary along with all the bloodletting by the crazed ex-butcher who hangs out in lonely subway cars. Other plusses: some naturalistic, easygoing acting by the central young couple in the early going, which gets our guard down, and a quirky supporting character or two. A small minus: some cartoony CGI among the otherwise painfully realistic gore effects.

Do yourself a favor and dip into the bonus features after taking in the movie. They include generous interview material with Clive Barker, who really is a fascinating guy. I never knew he had a passion for painting in addition to his writing career and frequent activities in film.

The Midnight Meat Train was adapted from the short story of the same name, which appeared in one of Mr. Barker's Books of Blood collections of short fiction. While none of the Books of Blood are currently on Kindle, plenty of other Barker titles are available, including The Great and Secret Show ($9.99), Imajica ($9.99), and The Hellbound Heart ($6.99).

Another day, another merlot

The warm, burnished, fruit-forward taste of Blackstone Merlot made an especially nice companion to my filet marsala last night. Blackstone produces a variety of excellent wines at its Sonoma County winery, but you can't go wrong by starting out with this basic merlot. Like most of your better merlots, this one walks a satisfying line between casual and complex, making it a good companion to entrees of similar character (like my simply-prepared filet mignon with a delicious, multi-faceted marsala sauce ladled over it prior to serving).

Blackstone Merlot costs a dollar or two more per glass in most restaurants compared to other selections offered, but doesn't quite go for premium prices. It's great for when you want something a little better than perfectly drinkable while trying to avoid emptying out your wallet completely.

The Lists, Part Two

I read a nice handful of books last year on Kindle. Here are five of the more enjoyable reading experiences I had during that time:

Sudden Prey, by John Sandford ($7.99 on Kindle). The seventh Lucas Davenport thriller will keep your next page buttons clicking. Slick, fast, but with layered characterizations and a nice sense of place (Lucas operates out of Minnesota, where he consults with the police).

The Goliath Bone, By Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins ($7.06 on Kindle). Top-notch mystery writer Collins wraps up an unfinished Spillane Mike Hammer thriller. Not gangbusters great, but it was fun reading a new Hammer tale.

Ur, by Stephen King ($2.99 on Kindle). A novella about a Kindle with mysterious, supernatural powers? What Kindle owner could resist that? Good fun all around.

Night and Day, by Robert B. Parker ($9.99 on Kindle). Police Chief Jesse Stone tackles a bunch of seedy goings-on in his town, making him reflect on his own morality. Usual lightning-fast yet thoughtful Parker read.

Antiques Roadkill, by Barbara Allan ($5.59 on Kindle) Cute heroine, recovering from a divorce, gets reacquainted with her mother in this satisfying, perky cozy mystery set in the world of antiques. First in a series. Barbara Allan is really Max Allan Collins and wife Barbara Collins, who write this series together.

Perhaps Taproom readers will find a little to enjoy from the preceding. More lists to come...

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Use your Kindle as a window to the old west

In Robert B. Parker's engaging western novel Brimstone (on Kindle for $9.99), on again/off again lawmen Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch put down stakes in the prosperous town of the title where, over the course of 300 or so pages (I glanced at the page count of the hardback edition), they mediate a dispute between a church pastor and the owner of the biggest saloon in town, address the problem of a revenge-seeking Indian, and work to bring Cole's troubled longtime love Allie back into the fold.

Only three books into this series (Appaloosa and Resolution are the first two entries), the whole enterprise is already a well-oiled machine, consistently delivering both what we expect (the cameraderie, the flavor of the setting, the sudden danger, etc.), as well as a few surprises. Who'd have thought Mr. Parker, mainly known for his Spenser and Jesse Stone crime thrillers, would help me find my inner Western fan?

Appaloosa was also made into a pretty good film starring Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris, who also directed.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Just sayin'...

Like all blogs, you can read Kindle Taproom for free on your PC. But I also made this blog available on Kindle, which means that there's a small charge to read it on your K1 or K2. What you may not know is that Amazon, not the producer of a particular blog, sets the price for all Kindle blogs. And Amazon set the price for Kindle Taproom at $1.99 per month, not- for some reason- at 99 cents per month like so many other Kindle blogs.

Maybe I should take that as a compliment, as Amazon policy is to set Kindle blogs prices based on "what we think they're worth." Myself, I think I have to do a little more work before Kindle Taproom can rightfully set you back just under $24.00 per year if you want to read it as a paid-for blog on your Kindle. But that's just me. Anyway, I just wanted to set the record straight on this little matter. More on this fascinating topic later, I'm sure.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Anecdotes from the final frontier...

The View From The Bridge (on Kindle for $14.27 as of this fine New Year's Day) is Nicholas Meyer's chatty, engaging memoir about his adventures writing and/or directing "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan", "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home", and "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" (he wrote and directed the second and sixth Trek films, and wrote the fourth). The book also includes many behind-the-scenes material about Paramount Pictures treatment of the Star Trek franchise in general, as well as interesting material about Mr. Meyer's other films and a little about his private life. All in all, Mr. Meyer delivers a very entertaining memoir, though of course it'll help matters if you're interested in the world of Star Trek.

The View From the Bridge read fine on my K2, though I do wish that the Kindle version included the many photographs that appeared in the print edition. As the photos were in black & white anyway, it probably wouldn't have been much of a chore to include them. But that's a minor nitpick, as the book itself is the important thing.

A quick fact: Did you know that Mr. Meyer, pre-Trek, wrote two very successful Sherlock Holmes books, The Seven-Percent Solution and The West End Horror (neither of which is on Kindle yet, alas) as well as helping to adapt (as screenwriter) the film version of the former? This book reminded me of those things, and will send me in search of the DVD of The Seven-Percent Solution, which sounds like a lot of fun.