Collins and Crouch deliver the goods, as seen in our latest thriller reviews

Collins and Crouch deliver the goods, as seen in our latest thriller reviews

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Rough night

Last night, I was so depressed from thinking about the economy, wars, jobs, my savings, Social Security, shrinking retirement funds, and our generally bleak future, that I called the Suicide Hotline... and was connected to a call center in Pakistan. But that's not all. When I told them I was suicidal, they got all excited and asked if I could drive a truck.

Monday, August 23, 2010

That sounds familiar...


We saw Eat Pray Love this past weekend, and I kinda/sorta liked the movie well enough. In fact, I'll probably write a little something about the overall film in the next day or two.

But until then... am I the only one who noticed with amazement that Richard Jenkins' memorable rooftop "I almost hit a child with my car" speech in the movie was the same exact speech given by Captain Stubing in an old "very special episode" of The Love Boat way back when, where we learned why the good captain no longer drank? I mean, it was literally the same exact speech, right down to the cowardice of the writers for refusing to make the guy actually hit a kid with the car while he was drunk, but only almost (of course, Eat Pay Love is supposed to be true, so I guess I can't slam the screenwriters too much on that point).

I just thought it was a riot to see the same dialogue from a cheesy TV show delivered by the great Richard Jenkins, who of course, sells it ten times better than Gavin McLeod's boilerplate effort at the time.

Somebody's got to put the two speeches side by side on a YouTube video, maybe cut back and forth between them.

The things I notice to amuse myself when my wife picks the movie.

Tough times

The economy is so bad that...

...I got a pre-declined credit card in the mail.

...I ordered a burger at McDonald's, and the kid behind the counter asked, "Can you afford fries with that?"

...CEO's are now playing miniature golf.

...parents in Beverly Hills are firing their nannies and learning their children's names.

...a truckload of Americans was caught sneaking into Mexico.

...Dick Cheney took his stockbroker hunting.

...Motel 6 won't leave the light on anymore.

...the Mafia is laying off judges and BP Oil has laid off 25 congressmen.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Not exactly Kokomo


Duma Key and its story of construction mogul Edgar Freemantle and the new life he builds for himself following a terrible worksite accident and subsequent divorce is so immersive and moving that I almost wish the book didn't turn into a ghost story in its latter going. Following a lifetime in Minnesota constructing office buidings and strip malls, Edgar recuperates from his accident and shattered personal life on a lonely Florida key... lonely, that is, until he makes new, fascinating friends and discovers an amazing talent for sketching and painting that he was only dimly aware of before.

Thankfully, when the ghost story takes over the novel shortly past the halfway mark, it's a good one- mysterious, melancholy, and, finally, very scary- so I really didn't mind all that much that what felt like a really good, straight-up literary drama up to that point instead turned into another scary Stephen King novel. Because scary Stephen King novels when they're firing on all cylinders can still be quite somethnig, can't they? And it's not like the imagery and poetry and literary qualities disappeared in the latter going... they just served the creepy elements as well as Edgar's personal epiphanies.

If you haven't sampled Stephen King in a while, or haven't tried him at all yet, Duma Key is good one to dive into if you have any desire to check in with the author. It shows off his variety of skills quite well, especially his ability to create rich, living characters, wonderfully involving story situations, and, yes, big scares.

I listened to an unabridged audio production of Duma Key, beautifully read by the actor John Slattery (lately of the AMC series, Madmen), though I don't hesitate to recommend it on Kindle, where it's available for $8.99. Whether you get into this involving, scary story via your ears or your eyes, you'll get the full effect either way.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Always make a great exit


Over at the Entertainment Weekly web site (www.ew.com), there's now a featured piece about the best closing lines of novels. 20 Classic Last Words in Books brought back great memories of books I discovered in college and on my own, as well as reminding me of a few titles that I really ought to finally give my attention.

Here's a sampling of the titles and lines highlighted, with additional information added by me concerning each book's Kindle status:

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald (available on Kindle for various prices, depending on the edition you select)

* * *

The knife came down, missing him by inches, and he took off.

Catch-22, by Joseph Heller (not yet on Kindle)

* * *

"Yes," I said. "Isn't it pretty to think so."

The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway ($11.99 on Kindle)

* * *

I never saw any of them again- except the cops. No way has yet been invented to say goodbye to them.

The Long Goodbye, by Raymond Chandler ($7.70 on Kindle)

* * *

The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

Animal Farm, by George Orwell ($7.99 on Kindle)

* * *

It was a fine cry- long and loud- but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.

Sula, by Toni Morrison ($9.29 on Kindle)

* * *

While a few of the above lines probably require a little context in order to appreciate their resonance, all of these examples (including the additional fourteen listed at the EW site), make one want to go to the complete works to discover or re-discover some memorable stories and some memorable conclusions.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Old dogs, new tricks: My weight-loss adventures, part one

It's gratifying and fun when one discovers that he or she has a hidden talent, ability, or aptitude, especially years after any of those things last manifested themselves. Myself, in my mid-thirties I learned how to drive stick shift when an office colleague offered a great deal on a sharp-looking Eagle Talon with a manual transmission, because he wanted to upgrade to a Corvette. Taking a chance that I'd actually respond to the free lessons on driving stick that he was throwing in with the purchase, I went for the deal.

And you know what, I took to the whole driving stick thing almost immediately. I was driving the car to and from work the next day, driving fairly smoothly within a week, and driving perfectly smoothly within a month. It was a great ego boost: Wow, I picked up a major new skill with little difficulty!

Jump several years ahead to my late forties. After years of taking my tall, thin frame for granted, I started noticing... changes. I wasn't getting hugely fat all of a sudden, but for the first time in my life I had a belly, my collars were feeling tight, and I was developing- gulp- jowls! What was happening? Long story short, after about a year or so of putting up with people's mostly harmless but still annoying comments ("I guess we can't call you the Thin Man anymore!"), I decided to do something about it. And that's where I found my second post-youth talent or aptitude: weight control.

In the coming days, I'm going to share with you- in a post every day or so- the things I did and the approach I took to lose weight and keep it off. And I have kept it off. I started addressing my weight in June of 2009 and we're now in August of 2010. So we're not talking about a short burst of focus and enthusiasm that brought about some weight loss, followed by a loss of focus and enthusiasm and getting all the weight back. Nope, I lost my weight and have kept it off. In fact, on occasion it's actually been a challenge to keep from losing too much weight!

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Once I started my new approach to eating, I did an offical weigh-in once a week, every Monday morning. Here are the results of the first five times I officially weighed myself during the first month of my diet, the initial number below being the Monday morning when I woke up and started my new approach to eating:

Monday, June 1, 2009: 183 pounds

Monday, June 8, 2009: 177 pounds (yes, a six-pound loss in one week... I was amazed!)

Monday, June 15, 2009: 174 pounds

Monday, June 22, 2009: 173 pounds

Monday, June 29, 2009: 171 pounds

Pretty good start, huh? A dramatic beginning, followed by less radical but still steady subsequent reductions. By the end of my first month, the results were clearly visible to myself and others, and I was feeling better, too.

Subsequent posts on this topic will address your obvious question- what exactly did I do to lose the weight?- and offer other observations, insights, and tidbits on the whole process. I'll try to keep each post fairly short: I'll give you a month's worth of weigh-in reports, like I did today, and a few bits of information you may find helpful in your own weight loss efforts.

And don't worry, the book and movie reviews aren't going anywhere, and neither are the occasional dumb jokes. We're just going to add this topic to the mix for a little while.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Man's best friend, part two


Five more reasons why some men have dogs and not wives:

6) If a dog has babies, you can put an ad in the paper and give them away.

7) A dog will let you put a studded collar around its neck without calling you a pervert.

8) If your dog smells another dog on you when you come home, it won't get mad, just think it's kind of interesting.

9) Dogs actually like to ride in the bed of your truck.

And last but not least...

10) If your dog leaves, it won't take half your stuff.

Man's best friend, part one


Five reasons why some men have dogs and not wives:

1) The later you are, the more excited dogs are to see you.

2) Dogs don't notice if you call them by another dog's name.

3) Dogs like it if you leave a lot of things on the floor.

4) Dogs agree that you have to raise your voice to get your point across.

5) You never have to wait for a dog. They're at the door and ready to go out twenty-four hours a day.

More to come...

Warning, dumb joke to follow

Question: If ample-chested women work at Hooters, where do one-legged women work?

Answer: At IHOP.

Fun


Have you played Every Word on your Kindle yet? It's a great little word game now available with Amazon's recent 2.5 software update for the Kindle 2. Every Word gives you a handful of letters and you have to form as many words as you can from them. You can play the game in relaxed mode, which means you can take as much time as you need before giving up, or in timed mode, which gives you a strict three minutes to construct your words. In either case, your success level at finding words determines if you can advance to the higher levels, where you'll be required to produce longer words from the random letters given to you at the start of each game.

Like the best games, Every Word is simple to learn but addictive. I like to play in timed mode... there's more drama, and otherwise I'd be staring at the board all day. Oh, Every Word is currently free on the Kindle, though I don't think it's available at all on the first-generation Kindle. The game is offered right there on the Kindle Storefront (along with another free game, Shuffled Row, which I haven't tried yet), so it's easy to find if you want to give it a whirl.

While the Kindle wisely isn't trying to compete with the iPad on the versatility front (preferring to concentrate on performing a small handful of e-reader functions really well), it's nice that it isn't totally unreceptive to throwing in a few new value-added functions every now and then. Diverting little games like Every Word are a great little addition to the Kindle, for those times when you want a engaging time killer but conditions aren't quite right for reading a book.

The accompanying photo shows the simple yet elegant graphics for Every Word. Give the game a try and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

More Spenser


The last two Spenser novels by the late great Robert B. Parker will be Painted Ladies, available on October 5 of this year, and the just-announced Sixkill, out on May 3, 2011. If past practices are an indication, both will be available on Kindle.

I always enjoyed the understated drama and simple elegance of the Spenser novels' hardback cover artwork. That's one area where the iPad and other color-screen devices have an advantage over the Kindle: allowing us to see a book's cover art in all its glory, not in often-murky black and white. The Kindle is still the best way to read an e-book, though.

Topsy Turvy

California writer Mark Evanier recently observed the following: "My governor is a Republican. He supports Gay Marriage. My president is a Democrat. He does not. Life can be so confusing."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

At last

Finally... my Kindle 2.5 software update has mysteriously appeared on my Kindle 2, months after others have reported getting it. I refused to jump through hoops and do all that downloading/USB stuff to get it. I mean, it was supposed to be cleanly sent to me, right? And now it has been.

So far, the most obvious change is the availability of a couple of free Kindle games, which I haven't tried out yet. But I will. But first, I'm off to check out the folders/organization capability that I now supposedly have.

Hang tough, group. I'll be shortly checking in with my thoughts on all the great new funtions now at my disposal. Hey, all kidding aside, I'm looking forward to seeing all the new things I can do. And without having to buy a Kindle 3 (ahem, which I still may do).

Monday, August 9, 2010

Salt and Selleck


We caught a couple of interesting things this past weekend. On the going-to-the-movies front, we saw the Angelina Jolie thriller, Salt. It went down just fine: impressive action, some tense espionage, a little romance, and a clever mystery wending its way through everything, all delivered in an efficient hour and forty minutes or so. I did guess what Evelyn Salt used the exotic spider for before it was revealed to the audience, but other surprises- including the big ones near the end- well, surprised me just fine. Alison liked the movie, too, though she has less patience for long action sequences, well done or not.

We saw Salt on Saturday afternoon, and after going to a nice dinner at our local Carrabba's, we went home watched the TV film No Remorse on DVD. This is the latest story in the Jesse Stone series of television films, starring Tom Selleck as the small-town police chief featured in nine or ten Robert B. Parker detective thrillers (you can get 'em on Kindle). This is the second film in the series not to be based on a specific Robert B. Parker novel, only Mr. Parker's characters. Like the half dozen or so other films in the series, this one features a big case (involving a serial killer who shoots people in parking garages) and a smaller one (about a series of convenience store robberies), laced together by lots of character-based issues involving Jesse and his staff.

And yes, once again there are lots of introspective, moody piano notes on the soundtrack as Jesse sips many, many scotches. And I wouldn't have it any other way: the small, moody pleasures of No Remorse were an effective contrast to the bombastic thrills of Salt. It takes all kinds of entertainment to keep one sated.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Riddle me this, Kindle...

First, circa late 2007/early 2008, I had a first-generation Kindle, and Amazon asked me to name it. I called it Joe's Kindle. Easy enough, right?

But, then, I eventually purchased a Kindle 2. So, I called that one Joe's Kindle, and gave my Kindle 1 to my wife, renaming it Alison's Kindle. Still fairly smooth sailing.

But now, I'm seriously thinking of getting a third-generation Kindle. Shall I call that one Joe's Kindle now and give my old K2 to my wife and rename that one Alison's Kindle? But then, what do I call the still perfectly functional Kindle 1? Joe & Alison's extra Kindle? That's probably too long.

And, at just $139 each for the wifi-only versions, what if I decide to get his and hers Kindle 3's at one time, so my wife can get a new Kindle right away, too? That's even more naming I'll need to do!

And before you ask, yes, we have kids, two of them. But they really don't care about the quaint Kindle device, and think our affection for it is a cute parental quirk. So no giving the two oldest Kindles to the kids, renamed as Dave's Kindle and Samantha's Kindle. They're perfectly happy with their iPod devices and premium cable.

So, Kindles everywhere might soon be in store for us, and there's only one Joe and one Alison designation to spread among them. Frustrating, and a dilemma.

Hmmm, maybe I can sell naming rights.

An easy target, I know...

A prominent young lawyer was on his way to court to begin arguments on a complex lawsuit when he suddenly found himself at the gates of Heaven. St. Peter started to escort him inside, when he began to protest that his untimely death had to be some sort of mistake.

"I'm much too young to die!" the lawyer shrieked. "I'm only 35!"

St. Peter agreed that 35 did seem to be a bit young to be entering the pearly gates, and agreed to check on his case.

When St. Peter returned, he told the lawyer, "I'm afraid that the mistake must be yours, my son. We verified your age on the basis of the number of hours you've billed to your clients, and our findings say that you're at least 108."

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A warning

Drinking can lead to memory loss, and worse, it can lead to memory loss.