Summer's almost over... dive into a beer and a book

Summer's almost over... dive into a beer and a book

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"Holy vacation...!"


Two priests decided to go to Hawaii on vacation.

They were determined to make it a real vacation by not wearing anything that would identify them as clergy. To that end, as soon as their plane landed in Hawaii, they headed to a store and bought outrageous flowered shorts, along with equally gaudy shirts, sandals, and sunglasses.

The next morning they went to the beach in front of their hotel, dressed in their over-the-top tourist garb, and soon got comfortable on a couple of lounge chairs.

Shortly, as they were enjoying frozen drinks and the sunshine, a drop-dead gorgeous blonde in a string bikini came walking straight toward them, and they couldn't help but stare.

As she passed them by, she looked over her shoulder and said, "Hello, Father" to the one priest, then glanced at the other and repeated, "Hello, Father." With a smile, she then moved on down the beach.

The two men were both stunned. How had the woman known they were priests?

So, the next day, they went back to the tourist store and bought even more outrageous outfits. These outfits were so loud that you could hear them even before you saw them.

Attired in their new outfits, they returned to the beach to sit and enjoy the sun and the ocean. After a while, the same gorgeous blonde, wearing a different and particularly exotic string bikini, came sauntering toward them, taking her sweet time as she played with the sand with her toes. Again she nooded at the two priests and said, "Good morning, Father... Good morning, Father," before beginning to move off.

One of the priests couldn't stand it any longer and said, "Just a minute, young lady."

"Yes, Father?" she said.

"We are indeed priests, and proud of it," he said. "But I have to know, how in the world do you know we are priests, dressed as we are?"

She replied, "Father, it's me, Sister Kathleen."

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Cleaning up


Sunshine Cleaning stars Amy Adams and Emily Blunt as two sisters, Rose and Norah, who start up a cleaning service specializing in tidying up crime scenes. Cleverly, the remains of the violent crimes they are scrubbing away, as well as the shell-shocked survivors of those crimes (often, spouses of suicides who are hovering in the background as Rose and Norah clean up) remind the sisters of the tragedies and issues in their own lives.

If there's a small flaw in the film, it's that the sisters, and their father, played by the always engaging Alan Arkin, have too many issues in their lives that need confronting (as well one central tragedy tying them all together). This makes the film a bit too busy. Though not a fatal flaw, I almost felt that all the plot points and character issues could have used a whole season of television, or at least a mini-series, to properly examine them. Still, things never tip over into incoherence or sketchiness.

Sunshine Cleaning has some humor and sexiness that occasionally lighten the violence of the crime scenes and the trials and tribulations going on in everybody's lives. In the end, this decent little film with a quirky premise that you haven't seen a thousand times before makes for an amiable evening of home viewing.

The standard DVD of Sunshine Cleaning features sharp picture and sound, and a couple of cute extra features, including an interview with two ladies who actually run a company that cleans up after crime scenes, and who acted as consultants on the film.

Super choice


Here's some fun news out of Hollywood. The versatile and enchanting Amy Adams will lend some class and fun to director Zack Snyder's new Superman film, due in 2012. Ms. Adams will be taking on the iconic role of feisty reporter Lois Lane, in my view bringing to the film a nice dose of class and fun.

Joining the previously announced Kevin Costner and Diane Lane (portraying Clark Kent's earthly parents Jonathan and Martha Kent), Adams casting continues an overall high-quality casting effort on the film, which will star British actor Henry Cavill in the title role.

Looking at the casting, it almost seems like Mr. Snyder and his producers are trying to make a high-quality adventure/drama that only happens to be a superhero movie. If so, that could be an interesting take on the material.

Adventurous


Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart are appealing and fun in director Greg Mottola's semi-autobiographical Adventureland, an enjoyable little tale about a young guy's summer job at a local amusement park. Most people will be able to relate to this film... after all, haven't we all had that really crappy summer job where the only saving graces were the memorable people and after-work experiences that crossed our path because of the connections we made at the job?

While the film goes down easy, I appreciated its emotional complexity. In particular, there's a special effort in the film to keep the characters from being too predictable and one-note: Everyone seems to have good and less-than-good qualities, and act in both stable and not-so-stable ways. For the most part, the characters use their particular strengths to help out other characters who don't have those same strengths.

Adventureland is recommended to those who enjoy understated, indie-style dramas that aren't heavy on simple answers and broad set-pieces. It's a nice little tale with a handful of funny moments that should satisfy most people looking for a thoughtful, entertaining evening of home viewing. There's even a little romance.

The movie looked and sounded fine on the standard DVD I watched, which also featured a small handful of interesting extras.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Funny

Spotted recently on a bumper sticker:

The economy is worse than divorce: I lost half my money and I'm STILL MARRIED!

B is for beguiling


I just finished Sue Grafton's B Is For Burglar, and thought I'd take a second to tell you about it (with me having a blog that often discusses books and all).

In this terrific puzzler, Kinsey Millhone is hired by a woman to find her missing sister. The second of Ms. Grafton’s “Alphabet” mysteries, the emphasis is again on the methodical investigation of the case at hand, which soon grows complicated (though not frustratingly so).

Providing occasional respites from the case are Kinsey’s developing relationship with a new cop friend, Jonah, and a little introspection about how she feels about the burst of violence she undertook at the end of book one (the also terrific A Is For Alibi).

Only two books into the series, it’s already been a lot of fun getting to know Kinsey and watch her solve cases. I’m looking forward to more of both. So, yes, it won't be long before you hear something from me about C Is For Corpse.

I listened to an unabridged recording of the book that I downloaded onto my MP3 player from Audible.com. B Is For Burglar is also available on Kindle for $7.99.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Trivial trivia


On this slow news day (in other words, I haven't written any reviews for you to enjoy), here's a little trivia to keep you amused. Don't worry, more substantial posts will resume tomorrow. But until then, maybe you'll find some of this kinda fun...

Antarctica is the only continent without reptiles or snakes.

An eagle can kill a young deer and fly away with it.

In the Caribbean there are oysters that can climb trees.

Highly intelligent people have more zinc and copper in their hair than those who test as average intelligence.

The world's youngest parents were 8 and 9 and lived in China in 1910.

The youngest pope was 11 years old.

Mark Twain didn't graduate from elementary school.

Pilgrims ate popcorn at the first Thanksgiving dinner.

Special growing methods allow for the production of square watermelons in Japan... see the accompanying photo if you don't believe me! Why make them square? They stack better.

Iceland consumes more Coca-Cola per capita than any other nation.

Heinz Catsup leaving the bottle travels at 25 miles per year.

Armadillos can be housebroken.

A mole can dig a tunnel 300 feet long in just one night.

Peanuts are one of the ingredients in dynamite.

A quarter has 119 grooves on its edge; a dime has one less groove.

A hummingbird weighs less than a penny.

Every time you lick a stamp, you're consuming 1/10 of a calorie.

The average person has over 1,460 dreams a year.

One in every 4 Americans has appeared on television.

The average American will eat about 11.9 pounds of cereal per year.

The State of Florida is bigger than England.

The preceding was gathered from around the 'net, with your lazy host at least taking the time to remove typos, redundant words, bad grammar, and other annoyances. Now, fact verification? I can't say I went that far. So you might want to check into a particular "fact" a little further before you tell your kid to put it into a report. You've been warned.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Movie tip


As most of my regular readers know, I enjoy movies- both new and old- and think that I can trot out a colorful anecdote or entertaining opinion about a particular film with the best of them. To tell the truth, though, I know about 25% of what my friend Ray Smith knows about movies, and always enjoy what he has to say on the subject.

What follows is a heads up from Ray, laced with the usual fascinating background information for which he is famous among his friends, about a movie he says we shouldn't miss. I received the following via an e-mail blast from Ray; he periodically sends these blasts around to his friends when something good is coming on television that he feels we shouldn't miss. I thought I'd share this particular note, received earlier today, with Kindle Taproom readers. I don't think he'd mind. You have the floor, Mr. Smith...


This is a flat out, indisputable statement: For anyone who truly loves movies, 1942's Kings Row is required viewing.

I know this is the last minute, but yes, at 8:00 p.m. eastern tonight (Monday, March 21), Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will be offering a prime-time showing of the great Sam Wood-directed, Warner Brothers melodrama which gave our late President Ronald Reagan perhaps his greatest role (though, of course, it's not a crowded field).

King's Row, based on the infamous, "racy" best seller by Henry Bellamann about the hidden lives of people in a small town, had to be severely censored for the screen at the time, yet still runs 127 minutes. It is an example of studio-system movie making at the height of its powers. It features a cast you could not assemble today (and not just because they are all dead): Robert Cummings (about his best role, too), Ann Sheridan, Ronald Reagan (this is the film with his famous "where's the rest of me?" scene), Claude Raines, Charles Coburn, Betty Field, Judith Anderson, Harry Davenport, and the legendary Maria Ouspenskaya (who alone makes any movie worth seeing).

And wrapping everything in aural splendor is one of Eric Wolfgang Korngold's most magnificient scores. This is the score the equally legendary Bernard Hermann once confessed he wished he had written.

Oh, yes... because of the censorship, see if you can figure out what is really going on with several of the characters' back stories. It's a fun parlor game, the word parlor still being in use in the 1940's.

Thanks, Ray. I appreciated your tip today, and hope my readers did, too. I plan to pour a nice glass of Chardonnay tonight and check out "King's Row", which I'm embarrassed to say I've never seen before, at least not from beginning to end. And, dear readers, if you're seeing this post after the TCM showing, never fear: just rent the film from Netflix.

Classy deal


If you own an iPad, iPod, or iPhone, and occasionally enjoy classical music, I thought I'd tell you about a great bargain that's currently available. I just picked up a set of all nine Beethoven symphonies, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Josef Krips, for a mere $5.99 in the iTunes store.

Now, this set has been around for about a million years (well, since around 1960, anyway), and for whatever reason has always been priced very affordably, at least during the past 20 years or so. Maybe the recordings fell into the public domain some time ago, making them cheap to manufacture and release, I don't know. So why didn't I buy these performances before now?

Well, the set's always had a reputation for featuring, at best, marginal sound quality, which kept me from purchasing previous versions of the Krips recordings on cassette or CD in years past, despite the cheap prices always in evidence. However, I never saw the set priced as low as $5.99, the current iTunes price. So, what the heck, I took the plunge last week.

Any you know what? The recording quality is quite good. Maybe not the sonic perfection routinely delivered in this digial age, but solid and crisp with little or no background noise. Maybe Apple's engineers had something to do with that, making the sound quality better than it was in previous iterations of this set. But whatever the reason, I have no complaints on the aural front. And- oh, yes- the performances are just fine, too: sensitive, nuanced, dramatic... in short, everything you want in these symphonies.

So, anyway, for a lousy $5.99, I can't imagine passing up the chance to have all nine Beethoven symphonies sitting on your Apple device, as well as on your home computer, for whenever you're in the mood for a dose of the classics. So get to it! I don't know how long this $5.99 deal will last. Remember, complete sets of the Beethoven symphonies routinely cost $40 to $80.

The accompanying artwork (classy and elegant in my opinion) is the image Apple is using in the iTunes store to accompany its description of the set.

My poor buddy

Recently, my buddy and his wife were having some problems at home and were giving each other the silent treatment. However, my friend soon realized that he would need his wife to wake him up at 5.00 a.m. for an early morning business flight to Chicago. Not wanting to be the first to break the silence, he finally wrote on a piece of paper, "Please wake me at 5.00 a.m.", and left the note where she would see it.

Well, the next morning my buddy woke up, only to discover that it was 9.00 a.m., and that he had missed his flight. Furious, he was about to go and see why his wife hadn't woken him, when he noticed a piece of paper by the bed. Written on it was this: "Wake up, it's 5:00 a.m."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

No swooning here


Blood-sucking armies of the undead, anyone?

While sometimes a little sketchy and derivative, overall I enjoyed Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan's horror novel The Strain, appreciating the book's old-school approach to vampires. No sexy, seductive specimens who look good with their shirts off here: these vampires are scary, dangerous and gross. This horror fan appreciated that.

Also, I liked the way the story has it both ways: there's a scientific explanation for the vampires, but also a kind of evil vibe throughout the whole affair that suggests there likely was a supernatural curse somewhere in the distant past that got the whole vampire virus started.

With its handful of reluctant heroes operating on a near-apocalyptic battleground (the "near" may be gone by the second book in the trilogy), The Strain felt like one of those big Stephen King epics about the end of the world, but with a somewhat lighter, more comic-booky touch (but I'm talking good comic book here). There are even a couple of cliffhangers (including one involving a mysterious second strain of vampires) that felt like the cliffhangers in old Marvel comics from the 80's (but again, the good comics).

While I can't quite say that The Strain is a spectacular, entirely original, must-read horror novel, I can say it's a more-than-decent horror novel that's worth one's time. Heck, on the "originality" point, it's clear that the book isn't even trying to be super original, just a refreshing return to the kind of vampires horror fans used to enjoy before they became way too good-looking, stylish, and blow-dried (and played by teen idols in the movies). So kudos for that aspect of the story alone.

I'll definitely move onto The Fall, book two of the trilogy.

I listened to "The Strain" via an unabridged audio production (nicely read by Ron Perlman), that I acquired from Audible.com. Audible's prices vary, depending on your purchasing plan. You can also read "The Strain" on your Kindle for $8.99.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Move it, soldier!


I caught Battle: Los Angeles this past weekend (wife opted out). It turned out to be an agreeable, watchable alien invasion movie. To tell the truth, though, the battle action and war spectacle were pretty generic and didn't have much to do with the fact that the invaders were aliens from another world.

For the most part, with the exception of an occasional glance at an alien soldier or one of their flying drone ships, the invaders could just as well have been the Red Chinese. In short, during the course of the movie, the emphasis was pretty much on how cool and brave the U.S. Marines were. Which was fine. Just don't go looking for a long, detailed look at an imagined alien culture, and you might not be disappointed.

Further, a movie like this definitely goes to show you the value of a good actor. Aaron Eckhart (he was Harvey Dent, a.k.a. Two-Face in The Dark Knight) plays a battle-scarred sergeant who helps a group of Marines undertake a rescue mission. Eckhart's portrayal- earthy, tough, heartfelt- makes you forget you're watching a big special effects movie and gets you to genuinely care about his and his soldiers' fates.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Demonic fun


The decently entertaining Demon's Night is the first installment of Guido Henkel's supernatural adventure series starring his Jason Dark, Ghost Hunter creation. Though the writing in this self-published offering is sometimes a little repetitive and clunky, it never sinks to sloppy or slapdash levels. Besides, the scene setting and descriptions of Victorian London more than compensate: both aspects are moody and effective, nicely drawing the reader into Henkel's world of demons and supernatural investigation.

My other criticisms are basically quibbles. I would have liked to see more dialogue between Dark and his supporting cast members; it would have enabled us to get to know everyone a little better, as well as break up the large blocks of dense description (usually of streets and buildings) in the prose. Also, an occasional plot twist or dramatic revelation would have punched things up a little, especially at the end, where all we get is a long fight scene (though not a bad one). But, again, I liked the moody, creepy vibe Henkel delivers throughout, and more importantly, I cared about Jason Dark and the people around him.

From reading Mr. Henkel's book description on Amazon (as well as his recent blog postings), I learned that I apparently just missed a revised version of Demon's Night, which includes a new cover, a lower price, and a polishing of the prose. So the most recent version of this book might be better than I'm giving it credit for here. It's certainly cheaper.

Will I come back for more? Sure. While perhaps lacking the crispness and total polish of a novel one might pick up at your local book store, the sudden availability of interesting self-published offerings like Guido Henkel's Jason Dark books on the Kindle more than compensates for any slight shortcomings in the final product, at least in this case.

And, as we all well know, it's not like "officially" published books are perfect, either.

Demon's Night is currently bargain-priced at 99 cents on Kindle. It's to the book's credit that I paid $2.99 for the title and don't feel like I got ripped off. The accompanying illustration depicts the book's new cover.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wise words

The following tip, spotted on a bumper sticker, is good advice for Kindle owners and avid readers in general:

Always read stuff that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.

Esoteric gripe

While I'm generally pleased with the formatting of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine on my Kindle, I do have one complaint. The Kindle version of the anthology magazine routinely removes spaces intended to divide scene changes within a particular story. With the spaces removed, you'd be surprised how many spaces each story's author intended to include, and how awkward the reading experience can be without the space there to provide the intended beat or pause in your head before proceeding to the next scene in a story.

What kind of spaces am I talking about? The kind of space I just inserted between this paragraph and the preceding one, and are clearly in place in the print versions of the stories presented in Dell's family of short-story magazines.

C'mon, Dell, Amazon, or both of you... this is an easily-solved coding problem, and if fixed will bring about a smoother reading experience for your customers.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

K Is For Kinsey


With the late Robert B. Parker's Spenser series about to grind to a halt, I've been looking for another long-running mystery series to immerse myself into. Nothing too avant garde, too self-consciously "literary", or anything like that... I just wanted another no-nonsense, long-running series with a main character I can get to know as I move through each installment. So I decided to try out Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone Alphabet mysteries (at least the first one), that for one reason or another I've never dove into before.

So far, so good. A Is For Alibi is a straightforward mystery that doesn't try to re-invent the wheel, just taking us through a murder investigation in a methodical, compelling manner. It's basically 32 year-old P.I. Kinsey Millhone interviewing one person after another about an old murder, trying to see if the person originally convicted of the crime (Kinsey's client) actually did it or not.

It's not like a Spenser book where there's an occasional fistfight or shootout or scary threat by someone who doesn't want the murder investigated any further. No, there's really no danger or action at all until the closing pages, when Kinsey finally figures things out. But all that is okay. I found it refreshing that Sue Grafton doesn't try too hard to entertain us with flash and sizzle, and trusts that the cumulative facts of the investigation will keep us turning the pages. And they do. Hey, I like scenes of action and danger as much as the next person, but I liked the different approach taken here.

Is the book nothing but the investigation? No, we get a couple of quirky supporting characters, some humorous banter and observation, and even a romance for Kinsey. But, again, I liked that the story confidently kept these things as occasional supporting elements and let the case take precedence. It'll be interesting to see if future installments maintain that balance.

So, yes, B Is For Burglar is definitely on the horizon for me. Make no mistake, I'm still going to greatly miss new adventures in Robert Parker's Spenser, Jesse Stone, Sunny Randall, and Hitch & Cole series, but jumping aboard this (so far) interesting little series with its tough, not always likable, but ultimately sympathetic heroine will make things a little easier for this mystery fan.

A Is For Alibi is available on Kindle for $7.99.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Decent magazine


As most of you know, one can enjoy magazines, newspapers, and blogs on Kindle, not just books. Below is a review I originally wrote in 2008 for Amazon, describing an issue of "Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine" that I enjoyed on my new (at the time) first-generation Kindle. I've continued to enjoy occasional issues of the magazine on my various Kindles since then, and the review below, which 52 of 53 Amazon shoppers have found "helpful" since 2008, continues to sum up my feelings. Maybe you'll find it helpful, too...

As a mystery/thriller fan, it was a great treat to see Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine offered on the Kindle. My Kindle edition of the initial issue offered included 9 short stories, including a great Lawrence Block "Keller" story and a new English translation of a wonderful Japanese mystery set in the world of the Japanese police. There was also a short review column on mystery blogs and a meaty, interesting book review column. The issue was rounded out by a nice reproduction of the print edition's cover, two cute poems (crime-oriented, of course), and announcement of the magazine's 2007 Reader Awards.

At the end of each story, one is given the option to jump back to the table of contents to select another story, but I chose to just sail right through and read the whole edition "cover to cover". That's something I never did with the print edition for some reason. I guess just seeing one nicely presented page at a time on the Kindle versus seeing one big intimidating digest all at once makes all the difference for us readers who battle an occasional lazy streak.

I'll likely check out one or two other Dell magazines offered on the Kindle. It was a nice diversion from the regular reading of my Kindle novel and news blogs to enjoy a piece of short fiction every day or so (I made this first issue last about two weeks). But, whatever other Dell titles I end up trying out, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine is likely to be the one ongoing, regular visitor to my Kindle each month.

Note: Amazon frequently updates the presentation and functionality of Kindle blogs and periodicals, so as this review gets older, it may no longer accurately describe the current version of this product.

Back to 2011. I'm currently enjoying the March/April 2011 issue of the magazine, one of the publication's occasional double-sized issues, which don't cost any more than the normal-sized issues that appear most months of the year. Actually, this issue may no longer be available, because Amazon is currently showing a photograph of the May issue in the Kindle store. No matter, buy it anyway! You'll still get a generous amount of reading material.

"Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine" costs $2.99 per month on Kindle, if you subscribe. A single issue can be purchased for $3.49. The accompanying photograph shows the March/April 2011 issue on my Kindle 3.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The end nears


I'll keep this review of Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson's Towers of Midnight (Book 13 of The Wheel of Time) brief, because- if one thinks about it- there are a limited amount of people who will likely find it very useful. After all, if you've already read the previous twelve books in this series (the first 11 books written by the late Robert Jordan, with the last three being completed by Brandon Sanderson from Mr. Jordan's notes and outlines), you're probably going to read this one, and the concluding volume in 2012, no matter what people say. Conversely, if you haven't read any of the books yet, you'll most likely be interested in reviews of the first book or two, not discussions about an entry this close to the end.

So, I'll just file my (generally approving) thoughts and move on. Towers of Midnight is a fine, entertaining entry in the series, feeling a little more like a Jordan-penned installment than the last volume, mainly due to a slight return to the spotlighting of secondary characters and secondary plotlines. I didn't mind this, as part of the charm of the series has always been its high level of detail about characters and situations far out of the scope of the main plotlines, creating an immersive reading experience. Thankfully, though, Brandon Sanderson doesn't go "full Jordan" and emphasize downright obscure characters going on and on about downright obscure situations, a frequent Jordan indulgence that readers had to bear under, even those of us who generally enjoy the series' deep level of detail.

However, despite the richer array of characters and situations on display this time, the general emphasis is still on the main characters of Rand, Perrin, Matt, Egwene, and Elayne, all of whom are involved in entertaining set pieces high on action and/or intrigue. I particularly enjoyed the high level of satisfying (though not always completely happy) resolution to several plotlines during these scenes and set-pieces, which clears the way for the last book to emphasize the long-awaited final battle with the Dark One.

A small warning: there is a bit of timeline gymnastics going on this time out, but things shouldn't be too confusing. Just remember that Perrin's chapters take place weeks, and possibly months, before Rand's chapters, and you'll be fine. If you remember, Rand's father Tam helped Rand let go of his growing coldness and hate during the closing of the previous book, The Gathering Storm, but here we see Tam keeping company with Perrin and his followers during the weeks or months prior to that pivotal development. In any event, the timelines pretty much are all caught up with each other (well, mostly) by the end of this volume.

In the end, Towers of Midnight was a great read, but then again I've never been hard on this series, even enjoying the latter Jordan-penned volumes that many other fans felt moved too slowly. But, if you were a critic of the recent Jordan entries, you should definitely enjoy this book, as, for whatever reason (the new writer, the fact that the story was nearing its conclusion anyway, or a combination of both) lots happens, lots is resolved, and things are moving!

So, I guess that's it for my (alas, not so brief) thoughts. There's nothing left to say but bring on the last book! Is it 2012 yet?

Towers of Midnight is available on Kindle for $12.99, or as an unabridged audio download (the way I experienced this volume) from Audible.com. Audible's prices depend on your particular purchasing plan.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Book news


Making their way around the web today are a couple of fun book announcements, which we're happy to share here...

The next installment of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series finally has a release date: July 12. The title of the long-awaited fifth book in the popular series is A Dance With Dragons. As of this morning, no pre-order or pricing information is available at Amazon. Incidentally, HBO is currently adapting the Martin books into a weekly series that will shortly premiere on the pay channel.

Stephen King's 11/22/63 will be released on November 8 of this year, and will involve present-day time travelers attempting to prevent the Kennedy assassination. I have high hopes that King's take on this theme will be intriguing and compelling, and- most importantly- will rock with great storytelling. Amazon has the hardcover available for pre-ordering for $19.25, and the Kindle edition available for pre-order for $16.99. A little pricey, that Kindle edition, eh?

And to give credit where credit is due: both of the above news items seemed to first appear on the Entertainment Weekly web site (www.ew.com), over the past day or so. Kudos to the publication and site for showing enthusiasm for digging up literary scoops, or at least quickly releasing publishers' announcements, in this age of movie and TV entertainment primacy!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Modern life


Stalwart readers, you know that you are living in 2011 when...

1. You accidentally enter your bank PIN on the microvave oven.

2. You don't remember the last time you played solitaire with real cards.

3. You have a list of 15 phone numbers to reach the members of your family of three.

4. You e-mail the person at the desk next to you.

5. You find yourself staying in touch only with those friends and family members who have e-mail addresses.

6. You pull up in your own driveway and use your cell phone to see if anyone is home to help you carry in the groceries.

7. Every commercial you see on television now features a web site you can go to for further information.

8. Suddenly remembering that you've left the house without your cell phone, which you didn't even have during the first 20 or 30 (or 60) years of your life, is now a major cause for panic. Of course, you always turn right around to get it, thanking God that you didn't get all the way to work before remembering that you didn't have it.

9. You get up in the morning and go online before having your coffee.

10. You're laughing and nodding in agreement with the majority of things on this list.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Freebies


The reliably entertaining Max Allan Collins is offering, between today and Thursday, a couple of his mystery/thrillers for free on Kindle, Nook, and one or two other e-book platforms. Do yourself a favor and pick them up. Collins always tells a good story, and has been doing so for about four decades.

These particular books are actually Collins team-ups, as the chilling, dark-sounding You Can't Stop Me was written along with collaborator Matthew Clemens, and the much lighter "cozy" style mystery Antiques Roadkill was written by both Mr. Collins and his wife Barbara, under the pen name Barbara Allan. Both are initial chapters of their respective series. As Mr. Collins recently said on his engaging website, "I'm basically using the drug dealer trick: you get the first ones free."

I've already read Antiques Roadkill and the second book in that series, Antiques Maul (see reviews elsewhere on this blog), so I can recommend these quirky, funny books without reservation. Regarding You Can't Stop Me, I'll paraphrase horror host Count Floyd from the old SCTV comedy show (who routinely introduced horror movies he knew absolutely nothing about): "I'm not actually familiar with this one, kids, but I'm sure it's real scaaaaaaaary!"

Of course, in Count Floyd's case, the "scary" movies were usually anything but (hilariously, Whisper of the Wolf turned out to be an old Ingmar Bergman film with actors in profile spouting subtitled inanities in monotone Swedish). But I'm sure You Can't Stop Me will deliver just fine on the thrills and scares front. I'll let you know for sure in the near future when I dive into it, but for now, what's the harm in downloading your copy for free?

Speaking of that, the accompanying photograph shows my new graphite-colored Kindle 3, eagerly showing off one of the free Collins downloads now residing in its ample memory. Handsome little device, isn't it?

Full dark indeed


Stephen King's Full Dark, No Stars features four stories that take the normal attributes of marriage (the occasional disagreements, the small secrets, the overall desire to provide) and ratchets them up to horror-infused metaphors for the endless ways most "normal" married people relate to one another in these areas. Well, one story is about a single woman, but for me that functioned as a metaphor for the thinly-veiled prejudice single people often feel in a world of married couples.

A couple of the stories also function as simple warnings about what could happen if our darker emotions get the better of us, or if we're too trusting- or just plain dumb- to see what's happening right in front of our faces. Anyway, whatever else one can say about them, all four stories are, most importantly, great yarns: fast-paced, resonant, and involving. You can't go wrong here.

Full Dark, No Stars is available on Kindle for $14.99. Personally, I read the book on my iPad, via Apple's iBooks store. Though perfectly acceptable, that method didn't convert me and I will still read the great majority of my e-books on my Kindle. However, the iBooks version of the title was a couple of bucks cheaper than the Kindle version, I have to say.

Hail the King


Congratulations to The King's Speech, for being named Best Picture at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards on Sunday night. If you haven't seen the movie, by all means do so. It's smart, funny, moving, and just an all around great time at the movies.

If you do see the film, however, try to see the original R-rated cut, not the trimmed PG-13 version that will shortly be replacing it in theaters. The PG-13 version trims or eliminates (or something) the witty scene where Colin Firth's character uses a string of profanities in an exercise to reduce his stammering.

This good natured and mildly ribald scene should never have resulted in the original R rating in the first place, and it shouldn't be altered now in order to attain the more accessible PG-13 rating. I mean, if anyone under 17 actually shows enthusiasm for wanting to see a quality production like The King's Speech, wouldn't any parent enthusiastically accompany that youth to a screening, R rating or not?

My advice? If the original cut of the film is unavailable in theaters for the remainder of the film's theatrical run, just wait for the DVD, which I'm sure will offer the original version of the film. That's the version that received the accolades and that's the version people should see.