What are your favorite types of books and beverages when you're in an autumnal mood?

What are your favorite types of books and beverages when you're in an autumnal mood?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Join the club


Without having read the previous entries, this reader easily got drawn into 10th Anniversary, the tenth installment in James Patterson's Women's Murder Club series. Though there's a little business from the previous installments (how could there not be?), Mr. Patterson and co-author Maxine Paetro mainly emphasize the handful of new crime plots devised for this particular book, which new readers can easily latch onto and immerse themselves.

Three main plotlines dominate the proceedings this time out: a classic "whodunit" involving a famed heart surgeon and her murdered husband (did the wife do it?); a disturbing missing child case; and a dangerous, edgy storyline about a serial rapist who is terrorizing local residents.

I thought all of the book's plotlines were involving and well done, and also appreciated that there were just the right amount of "chattering girlfriends" scenes and steamy romantic encounters to give us a break from the drama and danger. But not too much of a break!

I think I'm going to catch up on the previous titles in this popular series. After all, even though I knew nothing about these characters before I picked up the book, Mr. Patterson and Ms. Paetro in short order had me genuinely caring if prosecutor Yuki Castellano solved her murder case, detective Lindsay Boxer rescued the missing child, and too-curious-for-her-own good journalist Cindy Thomas found and stopped the rapist. Now I'm curious to see what came before, both personally and professionally, in the lives of the series' cast members.

The Women's Murder Club may just have me as a regular visitor from here on out. I hope men are welcome among its ranks!

As of this writing, the first thirty chapters of 10th Anniversary are being offered for free in the Kindle Store.

More sexy silliness


Boring morning? Well, this might help, because it's time for... celebrity sex quotes, part two! Let's dive in...

"Women need a reason to have sex. Men just need a place."

Comedian Billy Crystal

* * *

"Instead of getting married again, I'm just going to find a woman I don't like and give her a house."

Singer Rod Stewart

* * *

"Having sex at age 90 is like trying to shoot pool with a rope."

Comedian George Burns

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sexy time


Here's a little something to liven up your afternoon: celebrity sex quotes, part one! Let's take it away...

"I believe that sex is one of the most beautiful, natural, and wholesome things that money can buy."

Author Tom Clancy

* * *

"You know 'that look' women get when they want sex? Me, neither.

Actor and comedian Steve Martin

* * *

"My girlfriend always laughs during sex... no matter what she's reading."

Steve Jobs, Founder of Apple Computers

* * *

More on the way!

Lotsa stuff


The following are ten things on my mind that I'll likely be writing about at greater length in the days to come. But for now here's a little snippet on each topic. Hope you enjoy...

1) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two was a pleasing, well-crafted and satisfying conclusion to the eight-film Harry Potter saga. Bravo to Warner Brothers and director David Yates for a job well done.

2) Transformers: Dark of the Moon delivered an actual caper plot and not just mindless action. Also, when the action does come, it's truly epic. Yeah, the movie's ultimately kinda juvenile, but isn't there a little bit of kid in all of us?

3) Captain America: The First Avenger is sweeping and well made, with a lot of heart at its core. I do wish Cap squared off against more Nazis, but, hey, that's just me. And, yes, the musical number by Alan Menken is indeed one of the best things in the film!

4) My wife and I are now working our way through the awful but somehow wonderful films of Ed Wood on DVD. You haven't lived until you've seen Glen or Glenda, Wood's 1953 transvestite epic starring Bela Lugosi!

5) I'm really enjoying Jeffery Deaver's James Bond novel, Carte Blanche. The main villain's creepy obsession with death and decay was an imaginative and brave choice on Deaver's part, as the villain feels more like an element of a disturbing arthouse film rather than a slick Bond adventure. But the result is immersive fun.

6) Fellow blogger and career law enforcement officer Paul Bishop has been tapped to star in Take the Money & Run, a terrific sounding reality-style game show to appear Tuesdays on ABC starting this August. Read more about the show on Paul's blog, Bish's Beat. This show really sounds like a lot of fun.

7) I know, I know: I'm writing too often about Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone mysteries these days. Let me just throw in that G is for Gumshoe and H is for Homicide (both of which I recently completed) were smart, satisfying reads, as prior entries in the series have been. But I'll wait a while before filing full reviews of each.

8) Enjoy animated adventures? Check out the recent direct-to-DVD titles All Star Superman and Thor: Tales of Asgard. The former adapts the sharp and slightly storybook-ish DC comic book series and the latter is a nice companion piece to the recent Thor theatrical film. Both animated features are well-crafted and entertaining.

9) In The Garden of Beasts is Erik Larson's latest "non-fiction yet reads like a novel" offering, telling the story of Franklin D. Roosevelt's first American ambassador to Nazi Germany. What was it like for Ambassador Charles Dodd and his family to discover, first hand, the growing Nazi menace, before the Nazis were actually our enemies? A fascinating read.

10) I'm now in the midst of Ben Mezrich's Sex on the Moon, the true story about a young man's planned caper to make off with a large supply of moon rocks! So far I'm enjoying this unusual, quirky heist story, though I'm starting to have some issues with it (which I'll discuss in my eventual review).

As said, I'll be writing more about many of the above topics, but for now I hope you've enjoyed this glimpse of what's been stirring around in my mind these days.

Monday, July 25, 2011

More on Kinsey


Okay, I told you the other day about the newest Sue Grafton mystery on the horizon, so let me take a moment to jump back a little.

Though still undeniably in the early going, I'm now several books into Ms. Grafton's Kinsey Millhone "Alphabet" mystery series, and they continue to be great fun, in turns dramatic, funny, dangerous, and breezily relaxing. F Is For Fugitive, which I recently finished, is no exception.

The book involves involves a years-old murder, who many say was never properly solved, and lots of small-community secrets. We also get to see the tough yet winsome Kinsey wade neck deep into all of this, as well as enjoy a little dose of what's been going on in her life lately.

As in previous books, though, the main mystery story is strong and Ms. Grafton keeps the primary focus on that, to satisfying effect. A lot of talented writers rely on their ability to produce breezy, readable prose, but Ms. Grafton- at least so far- makes sure that a strong puzzler accompanies her smooth writing ability. I appreciate that effort, and hope it continues into later entries.

Latecomer or not to this long-running series, I'm really enjoying that I've finally joined the Kinsey Millhone party.

I happily experienced F Is For Fugitive via an unabridged audio download from Audible.com, but the title is also available on Kindle for $7.99.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Vengeance is mine


Sue Grafton's V is for Vengeance will be released on November 21 of this year. That's great news for fans of Grafton's long-running "Alphabet" mystery series starring the tough but winsome female private investigator Kinsey Millhone.

I've been enjoying the earlier entries of the series these past months (right now I'm immersed in H is for Homicide), so it's good to see that there's finally some action at the other end of the spectrum. It's been several years since the most recent entry, U is for Undertow, appeared.

I've actually been experiencing the early Kinsey Millhone stories on audio, via terrific unabridged performances by Mary Peiffer, easily available for download at Audible.com. Ms. Peiffer started recording the Graftons back when unabridged recordings were aimed at a niche market of crazies who refused to settle for the slick audio abridgements hawked in bookstores, and were willing to spend the extra bucks for mail-order purchases or rentals featuring complete readings of popular novels.

I'm not sure if Mary Peiffer kept reading the series once unabridged audiobooks became commonplace. I'll have to check. Broadway star Judy Kaye, who read the abridged versions of the early Graftons, may have eventually taken over the unabridged duties from the less famous Ms. Peiffer. If that's the case, I'll miss Ms. Peiffer's enjoyable, often playful readings.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Radio days

Last Thursday evening, July 14, I enjoyed the pleasure of an invitation to a reception that introduced Arcadia Publishing's newest volume in its ongoing Images of America series. The book is entitled Philadelphia Radio, and it was written by local radio historian Alan Boris. Alan actually wrote the book at the request of Arcadia Publishing, whose executives were impressed by Alan's popular Philadelphia Radio Archives website.



The first photo shows Alan signing copies of his book at his reception, which was hosted by my good friend Bob Boris (Alan's dad) and Bob's wife Linda, also a dear friend. The reception was held at the headquarters of WHYY, Philadelphia's public television and radio station. By the way, Bob and Linda send a special thanks to their longtime friend Bill Marrazzo, WHYY's President and CEO, for allowing the use of WHYY's ground-floor lobby for Alan's event.



The second photo shows Alan's book, a 128-page trade paperback that contains hundreds of photographs, promotional ads, historic behind-the-scenes images, and other compelling visual esoteria that immerse the reader in the world of Philadelphia radio from its dawn over a century ago to the present. And all the visuals are tied together by countless interesting and entertaining anecdotes and facts. I've only dove into the book a little so far, and can't wait until I officially start reading it from cover to cover, after wrapping up one or two current reading assignments.



The final photograph shows my friend Bob Boris standing next to artwork he and his wife Linda have loaned to WHYY to display in its lobby. I couldn't resist taking a short break from Alan's recepion to snap a photo of Bob and his art. Bob and Linda are renowned art collectors here in Philadelphia, and their loaned artwork graces many, many offices throughout the city.

Anyway, getting back to the topic at hand, if you're at all interested in the book's subject, I heartily recommend that you pick up a copy of Philadelphia Radio, which is officially priced at $21.99, but available for much less at many bookstores and history-oriented gift shops, as well as online. In fact, Amazon is currently offering the book for a mere $16.05.

And no, the book isn't yet available on Kindle or other e-book platforms, but don't let that stop you. The visual-heavy nature of Philadelphia Radio makes it a more natural fit for the nice paper and quality print job delivered by Arcadia.

So... great book, grab it up. You heard it here first!

Sad


Terrible news... Borders has just announced that all of its stores will be closed by September. That's this coming September, folks. As in no more Borders after that.

As much as I've enjoyed my Kindle and my e-books during the past several years, Borders has continued to be a regular stop, where my wife and I would browse books and magazines, enjoy a quality cup of coffee, and- yes- actually buy some of those same books and magazines (that the store graciously let us read without obligation while enjoying our hot beverages). But I guess not enough people have been doing the buying thing, as Borders just can't viably keep the doors open any longer.

I'll miss you, Borders. Though I pretty much saw the writing on the wall, it's still hard to believe that you'll shortly be gone forever.

R.I.P.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Serious stuff, continued


As promised, here’s part two of my friend Ray Smith’s list of great American films that no self-professed movie lover should miss.

Two For The Seesaw (1962)- Directed by Robert Wise. Starring Robert Mitchum, Shirley MacLaine, and Elizabeth Frasier. Not exactly a family drama, but a poignant study of two mismatched people (a Nebraska lawyer and a Bronx bohemian) who, by rights, should never have met. But Mitchum, in a wonderfully understated performance, is a perfect balance to MacLaine’s eternally hopeful screwball. The ending is one which, while you understand it, still breaks your heart.

A Raisin In The Sun (1961)- Directed by Daniel Petrie. Starring Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Diana Sands, Claudia McNeil, and Louis Gossett (in his film debut). Produced by Davis Susskind, this film’s funny and scathing examination of a struggling inner city black family was unique in its time. There had never been an American film like it. The acting is uniformly superb, yet the film received not a single nomination. And, at the risk of sounding overly dramatic, if you have ever wanted to truly experience the emotions of pity and terror associated with great drama, watch Claudia McNeil as Mama descend into fury and wailing sorrow at her son’s (Poitier) betrayal of the family. I promise you won’t forget it.

Marty (1955)- Directed by Delbert Mann. Starring Ernest Borgnine, Betsy Blair, Joe Mantello, Esther Minciotti, and Jerry Paris. Some will argue over this selection, and frankly, some of the comedic aspects of this Paddy Chayefsky Oscar winner for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay have dated badly. But Borgnine and Betsy Blair are so touching and so real, it's like you’re sitting across the table from members of your own family. And certainly, for anyone who only thinks of Borgnine for his roles in McHale’s Navy and The Poseidon Adventure, his Best Actor winning performance will be a revelation.

A Catered Affair (1956)- Directed by Richard Brooks. Starring Bette Davis, Ernest Borgnine, Debbie Reynolds, Barry Fitzgerald, and Rod Taylor. Again from a Paddy Chayefsky play, but this time Chayefsky's in a lighter comedy/drama mode that is the very essence of 1950's “Kitchen Sink” drama. Davis’ performance as a Bronx housewife, who insists her daughter must have the large wedding she never had, is still controversial, but I think she brings a spine and a ravaged naturalness to the role. And Borgnine matches her brilliantly. Also Debbie Reynolds is quite touching in one of her few dramatic roles.

The Children’s Hour (1961)- Directed by William Tyler. Starring Shirley MacLaine, Audrey Hepburn, Fay Banter, Miriam Hopkins, James Garner, and Veronica Cartwright. This was forbidden territory when I snuck in to see it as a boy in summer 1961. A vicious adolescent brat lies about her two teachers and causes a scandal. The lesbian theme, even in the muted form in the film, was highly controversial at the time. Interestingly, Wyler had directed the same story thirty years before as These Three (with Hopkins as one of the teachers) but made it a straight (pun intended) love triangle. This was supposed to get the story right. The film still fudges a bit (and contemporary gay film scholars tend to denigrate it), but the acting across the board is terrific.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)- Directed by Richard Brooks. Starring Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, Burl Ives, Judith Anderson, Jack Carson, and Madeline Sherwood. Essentially Tennessee Williams watered down for the screen, but the star power is so overwhelming, what’s up there on the screen is just fine. The gay theme, which was central to the Williams’ play, is completely diluted unless you are observant enough to pick up on it, but the themes of parent/child conflict and sibling rivalry are well handled. And to me, this is Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman at their most beautiful.

All My Sons (1948)- Directed by Irving Reis. Starring Edward G. Robinson, Burt Lancaster, Mady Christians, Howard Duff, Arlene Francis, and Harry Morgan. This Arthur Miller drama of a munitions factory owner who betrays his country and, inadvertently, his own family, is a great analysis of family delusions and the lack of personal responsibility. Made right after World War II, as many soldiers were returning home maimed for life, the film is a searing indictment of America doing business “at any cost.” And the scenes in the parlor and around the dinner table as all the illusions unravel are extremely fascinating.

Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts, Ray. Future lists will always be welcome here. For now, though, I have some movie watching to do!

Let's get serious


During our occasional lunches, my friend Ray Smith is always very patient with me when I go on and on about the latest big summer movies, genre-oriented television series, and other fantasy, science-fiction and adventure offerings on TV and the big screen. He even takes my advice sometimes and experiences some of the things I talk about, the latest examples including J.J. Abrams’ monster adventure Super 8 and the HBO series Game of Thrones. He enjoyed both.

He did ask me for a favor, though. As creative and fun many genre movies and television shows can be, he told me, it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the more subtle artistry of the serious American drama, the kinds of stories that don’t employ CGI, big special effects, casts of thousands, and bombastic scores. Ray asked that if he compiled a list of some of his favorite dramas of the American screen, would I seek them out and discover them for myself. Absolutely, I told him.

So, shortly after our talk, Ray forwarded to me a generous list of not-to-be-missed serious American films (a baker’s dozen plus a bonus, as he put it). As I suspected it would be, Ray’s list is compelling and exciting, and has sent me scurrying to my Netflix account to line up as many of these movies as I can for home viewing.

Also suspecting that the intelligent, well-read readers of Kindle Taproom might also enjoy Ray’s list, I’m including it here, split into two posts of seven movies each. I’m also including Ray’s extremely interesting capsule descriptions of the films he selected. Oh, one more thing: Ray said that all his selections are dramas that in some way involve the American family, and American family issues. All the better to ratchet up the dramatic tension! A future list of Ray’s will involve other themes. So, without further ado, here we go...

14 American dramas, involving families, that everyone should see (part one):

Picnic (1955)- Directed by Joshua Logan. Starring William Holden, Kim Novak, Rosalind Russell, Cliff Robertson (film debut), Arthur O’Connell, and Susan Strasburg. One of my top five favorite films. This is an adaptation of William Inge’s Pulitzer Prize winning play of small town family conflicts during a particular Labor Day. Great example of how to “open up” a basically intimate drama. Cast is uniformly great, with Russell and O’Connell being particular standouts. Novak never did anything better.

The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1960)- Directed by Delbert Mann. Starring Robert Preston, Dorothy Maguire, Shirley Knight, Eve Arden, and Angela Lansbury. Another Inge drama, this one set in the 1920s. Not too well known today, this drama of a couple trying to save their passionless marriage also embraces racial and religious bigotry. The great comedienne Eve Arden has a rare dramatic role.

All Fall Down (1962)- Directed by John Frankenheimer. Starring Warren Beatty, Eva Marie Saint, Angela Lansbury, Karl Malden, and Brandon DeWilde. From another William Inge play, this story involves a loving family who idolizes its narcissistic son and tries to remain oblivious to the emotional ruin he creates. This is the film Frankenheimer made Frank Sinatra watch in order to secure Lansbury for the mother’s role in The Manchurian Candidate. Sinatra wanted Lucille Ball!

Toys In The Attic (1963)- Directed by George Roy Hill. Starring Dean Martin, Geraldine Page, Wendy Hiller, Yvette Mimieux, and Gene Tierney. A bit watered down from the original play by Lillian Hellman, but still a powerful story of two sisters obsessed with supporting the dreams and illusions of their profligate brother. A mixed race relationship is toned down considerably, but it’s there. Tierney’s last film of consequence.

Come Back, Little Sheba (1952)- Directed by Daniel Mann. Starring Shirley Booth, Burt Lancaster, Terry Moore, and Richard Jeackel. Booth won both Broadway’s Tony and the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Lola Delaney, a slovenly, delusional middle-aged housewife who tries to cope with the loss of her husband’s love and his alcoholism. Lancaster is too young to play her husband “Doc”, but he is terrific, too. And Booth will, quite simply, break your heart.

Summer and Smoke (1961)- Directed by Peter Glenville. Starring Geraldine Page, Lawrence Harvey, Una Merkel, Pamela Tiffin, Rita Moreno, Thomas Gomez, and John McIntire. From the play by Tennessee Williams. An aging, uptight spinster, caring for her loveless, judgmental parents, carries a lifelong love for a shallow, rakish man-about-town doctor who was a childhood friend. Beautifully filmed, with one of Elmer Bernstein’s most haunting scores. After a life time of comedy roles Una Merkel was nominated for Supporting Actress as the deliciously vicious mother.

The Subject Was Roses (1968)- Directed by Ula Grosbard. Starring Patricia Neal, Jack Albertson, and Martin Sheen. From Frank D. Gilroy’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, this is the story of a young soldier who comes home from World War II to face the quiet wreckage of his parents’ marriage. This was Neal’s comeback film after her tragic strokes. Albertson won Best Supporting Actor. Another great example of opening up a play to good advantage.

The rest of Ray’s list will be posted shortly. In the meantime, get busy updating your Netflix queue or checking Turner Classic Movies' July and August listings!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Been there

Recently seen on a local restaurant's outside message board:

Don't you hate it when you have those confusing, disorienting moments of temporary sanity?