A penny saved is ridiculous.

A penny saved is ridiculous.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Let's ruminate

Here are a few ponderables and general observations you may find interesting, courtesy of Aaron Karo's clever website, Ruminations.com...

You know you're getting old when you look outside, notice it's raining, and your first thought is, "That'll do the lawn some good."

My grandmother just asked me if you can send e-mail on Sundays.

I wish women came equipped with progress bars so I could see how close I am to scoring.

If that Harry Potter theme park doesn't have a souvenir shop called VoldeMart, that's just a crying shame.

Why has America dumbed down? Because smart people wear condoms.

Some people would consider me broke. I like to think of myself as immune to market fluctuations.

Kids today will never understand the precise skill it took to skip or rewind a song and stop right at the perfect spot on a cassette tape.

Wheaties: the breakfast of champions and the dinner of the unemployed.

When my toast gets stuck, I imagine I'm playing Operation.

Receipts are just short stories about how stupid you are with money.

Love conquers all?

The enjoyable, moving The Descendents (written and directed by Alexander Payne, based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings) smartly depicts how a major development in a family- in this case, a tragedy- immediately steamrolls and negates all petty drama and grievances, and quite efficiently illuminates everyone's true colors and true feelings.

George Clooney is terrific as Matt King, a marginal parent who all of a sudden is thrust into the role of central parent and responsibility bearer when a boating accident puts his wife Elizabeth into a coma. Things become more complicated when it becomes clear that Elizabeth isn't going to wake up, and that her legal wishes indicate that she doesn't want to be kept alive via artificial means if a situation like her current one ever arose.

Despite the subject matter, the film isn't relentlessly sad. It's nice to see the strong bond that immediately develops between Matt and his oldest daughter Alexandra (beautifully played by Shailene Woodley), who tosses aside the usual teen issues that drove a wedge between her and her parents in recent years, and starts helping her dad put her mother's affairs in order and prepare for her funeral.

And when I use the word "affairs" above, I don't just mean finances and legal stuff. Matt soon learns from his daughter that he wasn't the only imperfect spouse in their family, though he is shocked to learn exactly what his wife was up to during her last months.

With the help of his family, and one or two hangers-on, Matt puts things to rest during the course of the movie, resulting in situations that are funny, sad, moving, sometimes ridiculous, but always very human. It's interesting that Matt's forgiveness of his wife's infidelity comes fairly early on (though residual anger surfaces here and there), because there's work to be done. Despite what he's learned, he's determined to put his wife to rest with dignity and love, and to honor her memory properly with friends and family.

Filling out the movie are some beautiful locations in Hawaii, a quirky subplot involving Matt and Alexandra trying to locate Elizabeth's secret lover (despite their negative feelings about that part of her life, they want to give the guy the opportunity to properly say goodbye to her), and another subplot involving a major land deal being overseen my Matt, which ultimately ties into the movie's theme of identifying what's really important in life.

In the end, The Descendents is an involving family drama that honestly earns the emotions it brings forth. And, really, don't let the premise scare you off. You'll likely leave the film feeling upbeat and chatty, ready to discuss the film's humor and humanity.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Obligatory cat photo

I've said it before and I'll say it again: what good is a blog if you don't occasionally run a photo of a cute cat? So here's one for you. We took this little guy in on Monday, November 14, close to midnight.

What's his story, you ask? Through our front window, I first saw him wandering in front of a couple of stores across from our house earlier that night (about 8:00 p.m., if I remember), but didn't act because there were a few people out there and I figured he probably belonged to one of them. But then, near midnight, when I happened to look through the window again before going to bed, he was still there, this time alone, amusing himself by chasing pieces of paper that were blowing around.

To me, it was pretty obvious: as an older kitten, no longer tiny and cute (though he's still pretty cute, if you ask me), somebody or somebodies decided they didn't want him anymore and just dropped him in front of a strip mall, hoping (if they even thought about it that much) that someone would grab him up.

Anyway, long story short, within a few minutes he was safely in our house, eating away (we already have cats, so plenty of cat food was on hand), and shortly looked completely at ease. He's been here since, thanks to Alison not telling me to get rid of him when she saw him in our kitchen the morning after my late-night rescue. Even our other two cats kinda/sorta like him (well, at least one does).

Now, if only we can come up with a good name...

Here's the story...

After seeing news around the 'net (particularly at Amazon) that revealed the title and release date of the new Spenser novel, Lullaby, I immediately engaged in a little detective work to find an actual plot synopsis of the novel, which was written by mystery/thriller novelist Ace Atkins (pictured). In a brilliant piece of deductive reasoning based on obscure clues, I decided to, uh, check out Mr. Atkins' web site. And, sure enough, I saw that the writer had just posted a perfect little teaser (not too much info, nor too little) on what we can look forward to in May. Here's what Ace had to say:

"Lullaby" takes place the following spring after we last saw Spenser in "Sixkill". Spenser helps a tough 14-year-old girl from South Boston find justice for her mother, who was murdered four years ago. The girl, Mattie, believes the wrong man is doing life for the crime, because she saw two other toughs shove her mother in a car the night she died. Spenser finds those two toughs are connected to Gerry Broz, the screw-up son of infamous crime boss Joe Broz, a man who's been missing for more than a decade and on top of the FBI's most-wanted list.

Doesn't sound bad. I like the "familiar ground" aspects of the plot: Spenser taking on a loose-cannon gangster wannabe out to prove himself, and Spenser helping out a troubled kid. These tried and true, always fun to see Spenser elements will soothe and welcome readers, putting us at ease as we get used to a new writer's voice in this 40-book series, as well as make us more open to the new types of plot and character elements that Mr Atkins will almost undoubtedly also include.

So, yeah, bring on Lullaby!

Monday, November 28, 2011

New Spenser info!

The late and much missed Robert B. Parker's famous and beloved detective hero Spenser returns on May 1, 2012 in Lullaby, written by noted thriller/mystery novelist Ace Atkins. The new book's subtle and classy cover art accompanies this post.

I'll share basic plot information as I get it, but for now it's nice to know that we'll soon have Spenser back in our lives again. And I think Robert Parker would be glad to know that, too. During his lifetime, it pleased the author that his character was popular and loved, and now his creation will, one hopes, continue to be so in new adventures and cases.

Of course, on that last point, it'll help if Lullaby turns out to be a terrific, bang-up story worthy of the many great Spenser tales that preceded it. I just might have to check out an Ace Atkins title or two between now and May to give myself a bit of a glimpse of the kind of story that might be waiting for us this spring. But, for now, I have high hopes.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Enjoy the day

Kindle Taproom wishes all its readers a happy and healthy Thanksgiving, full of family, fun, and fantastic food!

Posting may be a little light during the next day or two as blogger Joe (me) enjoys the long weekend, but posts will resume in full force shortly. Until then, try to follow my example and enjoy a little relaxation and maybe hit a movie. I hear The Descendents is good.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Quarry stalks more prey

Sharp, fast, and fun, Quarry's Ex features Max Allan Collins' ex-hitman character- now a type of investigator, bodyguard, and counter hitman- this time hiring himself out to a low-budget film director targeted for termination by parties unknown. The director purchases Quarry's deluxe package, meaning our hero will eliminate the hitmen stalking the director AND identify and neutralize whoever hired them.

I use the term "hero" in a tongue-in-cheek manner. Though Quarry (aka "Jack", with no last name given to the reader) is not a hitman himself anymore, Collins doesn't set up bogus situations where 1) the only people Quarry now kills are murderous scum, or 2) Quarry is only killing in self defense (two of the scenarios embraced by lesser writers to make sure their "bad boy" characters don't appear too bad). Nope, while Quarry certainly doesn't kill Girl Scouts or little old ladies, some of the kills he performs in the service of his current assignments are a little wince-inducing (I'm thinking of a scene in the current book involving a car tire). And yet, he still remains likable. That's good writing.

The initial five or six Quarry books chronicle Quarry's, or "Jack's", career from its earliest days to its conclusion. The most recent entries, including this one, are basically untold stories that take place at various points during that career. This time out, as well as enjoying the story of the film director and whoever is stalking him, we also get to see Jack meet up with the wife (now "ex", hence the book's title) who had, at least in Jack's mind, a central role in his becoming a hitman in the first place way back when. In fact, maybe Quarry's ex-wife is somehow involved in the director's predicament, as she's now married to him.

Oh, and if you're curious how Quarry's hitman and counter-hitman career wound to a close, you'll have to read The Last Quarry, because I won't reveal things here. But feel free to read Quarry's Ex first. All the Quarry books, with their heady mix of mystery, action, sex, and violence, are self-contained gems that are guaranteed to happily take you away for a few hours.

Quarry's Ex is available on Kindle for $7.69.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sigh, got a crime to solve...

Content to spend his life buying vintage tee shirts featuring classic rock bands and fishing on quiet lakes, Virgil Flowers is a smart crime solver despite his passive demeanor. When a series of bombings threatens to de-rail the construction of a Walmart-style big box store in a small community, Virgil's aw-shucks personality initially appears inadequate to the task of stopping the violence, but the town's residents soon learn better. That's the basic gist of John Sandford's Shock Wave, the latest in his Virgil Flowers thriller series.

This easygoing yet immersive crime story does a capable, entertaining job juggling, contrasting, and playing off one another its many flavors: the strong glue of Virgil's placid exterior; the intensity and focus he's more than able to dredge up when called for; the drama generated by the bombings themselves; and the diverse characters with their many concerns and motivations. Along the lines of that last point, Mr. Sandford also makes the most of the several quirky small-town personalities that pepper his story, and the attendant humor they generate.

This was my first Virgil Flowers novel, and I enjoyed it more than enough to want to catch up on the previous entrees in the series, as well as to keep an eye out for new installments. After all, I have to see if Virgil indeed gets a new boat (as the Governor helped arrange), after the bomber in Shock Wave blew up his old one, much to Virgil's disappointment.

Shock Wave is available on Kindle for $14.99... and possibly for free with the Kindle's new borrow from your local library feature!

I'll just say this...

And now, on this not-so-glorious Monday, are some glorious insults from an era (several actually) when the artfully barbed witticism was routinely preferred over the current practice of simply yelling a bunch of four-letter words.

"He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp posts: for support rather than illumination"

Andrew Lang

* * *

A member of Parliament to Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli: "Sir, you will either die on the gallows or from some unspeakable disease!"

Disraeli, in response: "That depends, Sir, on whether I embrace your policies or your mistress."

* * *

"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary."

William Faulkner

* * *

"He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire."

Winston Churchill

* * *

I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it."

Mark Twain

* * *

"He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends."

Oscar Wilde

* * *

"I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play. Bring a friend, if you have one."

George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill

"Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second... if there is one."

Winston Churchill, in response

* * *

"I feel so miserable without you, it's almost like having you here."

Stephen Bishop

* * *

He has Van Gogh's ear for music."

Billy Wilder

* * *

"His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork."

Mae West

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Growing Up

Via Netflix and our cable system's "On Demand" service, we caught a couple of very funny yet smartly character-driven movies during the past week or so. Both were nicely written ensemble pieces that in some way touched on young couples dealing with the responsibilities of marriage and adulthood while still within shouting distance of their formerly carefree, irresponsible and open-minded college days.

In Away We Go, young couple Burt and Verona, played by John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph, travel around the U.S. and Canada trying to pick a place to raise their soon-to-arrive first child. As Burt and Verona visit friends and relatives all around the continent, trying to decide which family they want to live near (they're really trying to pick out who their emotional support system will be in the immediate years to come), they see eye-opening and often hilarious examples of how exactly they don't want to raise their own children. Sam Mendes directs a strong script by Dave Eggars and Vendela Vida.

In the low-budget but capably filmed Humpday (written and directed by Lynn Shelton) young marrieds Ben and Anna (Mark Duplass and Alycia Delmore) are thrown for a loop when Ben's old college buddy Andrew (Joshua Leonard) drops into their lives, still very much living the whatever-goes slacker life from the two buddies' school days. Don't get too distracted by the intentionally over-the-top central plotline involving Andrew and Ben's harebrained idea to shoot a very unusual erotic art film for a local film festival, and just enjoy all the great conversations (in turns sharp, funny, and heartbreaking) between Ben, Anna, and Andrew about responsibility, compromise, dreams, and life in general.

Away We Go and Humpday (both originally released in 2009) will provide strong doses of smarts and laughs when you're in the mood for an enjoyable evening of home viewing. Check 'em out.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

New Spenser!

Well, no, not exactly (sorry, Bish). But it is a new book about Spenser, the late Robert B. Parker's most famous detective hero. Edited by frequent mystery anthology editor Otto Penzler (who also runs the incredible Mysterious Bookshop in New York City), In Pursuit of Spenser: Mystery Writers on Robert B. Parker and the creation of an American Hero will be out on April 3, 2012.

Contributors to the book include Ace Atkins, Lawrence Block, Max Allan Collins, Matthew Clemens, Loren D. Estleman, Dennis Lehane, S.J. Rozan, and other notable mystery writers. Ace Atkins, of course, is the writer who's been selected by the Parker estate to continue Spenser's adventures.

It'll be interesting to see what Max Allan Collins has to say about Spenser, as his past observations about Robert B. Parker's writing pretty clearly indicates that he isn't much of a fan, except in a kind of "rising tides lift all boats" kind of way. Specifically, Collins has always acknowledged that Parker did a lot to popularize detective fiction with the public at large, which helped all mystery writers. Maybe his essay is an amplification of that idea.

Anyway, In Pursuit of Spenser sounds like an interesting book, and I'll look forward to getting it in April. A Kindle version hasn't yet been announced, but I bet that will soon change.

Oh, and if I remember correctly, Ace Atkins' first Spenser book should be out in May or June, just shortly after this book. So, this spring will weirdly feature two Robert B. Parker-centric releases that aren't actually by Robert B. Parker.

But, as they say, let's just take what we can get, right?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Welcome, Mr. Bond...

Attention, James Bond fans... Though we knew it was in the works, it was nevertheless exciting to hear, via a news conference earlier today in London, that the 23rd James Bond film is about to go into production!

Entitled SKYFALL, the film will star Daniel Craig as James Bond (returning for his third appearance as the suave secret agent), and will be directed by Academy Award winning director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition). The movie will be released in the United Kingdom and Ireland on October 26, 2012 and in North America on November 9, 2012.

Pictured above during today's news conference is Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris, Judi Dench, Daniel Craig, and Sam Mendes. Mr. Bardem will be a primary villain in the film, Ms. Harris will play a "field agent", and Judi Dench will return as "M". Ralph Fiennes and Albert Finney were also announced as participants in the film, though they didn't appear at the news conference. Wow, some cast, huh?

A tantalizing plot description was also communicated to the media at the event: In SKYFALL, Bond's loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.

Sounds intriguing... next November should be a lot of fun!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Scary humor

As a final farewell to Halloween, let's take a look at the top ten reasons that trick or treating is better than sex...

10) You are guaranteed to get at least a little something in the sack.

9) If you get tired, you can just wait ten minutes and go at it again.

8) The uglier you are, the easier it is to get some.

7) You don't have to compliment the person who gives you some.

6) It's okay when the person you're with fantasizes that you're someone else, because you are.

5) Twenty years from now, you'll still enjoy candy.

4) If you don't like what you get, you can always go next door.

3) It doesn't matter if the kids hear you moaning and groaning.

2) There's less guilt the morning after.

And the number one reason why trick or treating is better than sex...

1) You can do the whole neighborhood!

Hot stuff

Hot Pursuit is a sharp, entertaining police thriller, nicely mixing grittily realistic police activities with well-staged, larger-than-life set pieces that you might see in a James Bond, Die Hard, or Jerry Bruckheimer production. Holding it all together is a collection of well-drawn characters whose fates we come to care about.

The book, previously unavailable for many years, abounds with small touches, grace notes, and descriptive flourishes that place it several cuts above the many back list, formally unpublished, and direct-to Kindle titles that now flood the Kindle store. A favorite scene shows rookie cop Tina Tamiko, shotgun in hand, forcing herself into the car that her partner, veteran cop Jack Calico, is using for his illegal (and heavily wagered on) run to Las Vegas and back. A lesser writer would have wasted fifty pages having Calico being mad at Tamiko for shoehorning herself into his last-day-on-the-job adventure, before predictably having them make up. Paul Bishop totally avoids this, having them yell at each other for a page or two to deflate their tempers, then happily embrace one another's enthusiasm for the run.

Bishop's range is also impressive. He'll totally sell a frat house-style prank involving a tipped-over portable toilet in one scene, then totally engross us in an intensely serious conversation where two cops discuss their true feelings about the general public in another. And he makes diverse scenes like these comfortably coexist with each other, creating a coherent whole.

Pacing, plotting, and the unfolding of scenes are all top-notch (making me think the author wouldn't make a bad director), but for me the characters really make the book shine. While there are definitely heroes and villains in the story, the good guys have flaws, fears, and some unlikable qualities, and the bad guys have style, wit, and/or understandable motivations. There are no cartoon characters in Hot Pursuit. Which isn't to say that there aren't some very, very funny scenes (the toilet scene was only one of many).

Set in the late 1970's, and apparently written by Mr. Bishop around that time, too, Hot Pursuit still feels fresh, fun, and alive, and not dated in the least. If you like the rich characterizations of classic police shows like Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue, combined with a big-budget movie feel, you can't go wrong with the book.

People often complain that the new e-book market allows too many shoddy, amateurish titles to reach the reading public. I'm not sure if that's true or not, as I've read my share of traditionally published books that proved unimpressive over the years, long before e-books came along. But even if there is some truth to that way of thinking, if the new world of e-books gets titles like Hot Pursuit back in circulation for readers to enjoy, I'll happily wade through all the lesser e-books out there to find them.

Hot Pursuit is available on Kindle for $2.99.