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?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Kinda funny

A few bumper stickers that recently provided a bit of amusement on the highway:

Earth first!  We'll stripmine the other planets later.

The gene pool could use a little chlorine.

Make something idiot-proof and someone will just make a better idiot.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Holiday tips

I'll probably have more to say about the titles below at some point, but for now I thought you might appreciate a few quick reading suggestions for the upcoming long Memorial Day weekend.  The following are a few books I recently enjoyed.

Robert B. Parker's The Godwulf Manuscript, which I recently revisited on my Kindle, introduced the author's now famous Spenser private detective character to the masses back in 1973.  Close to forty more Spenser titles have followed, with Ace Atkins recently taking over the series following Dr. Parker's passing in 2010. 

See where it all began in this entertaining, immersive tale of murder, organized crime, infidelity (some induced by Spenser himself!), and general unsavory mayhem, set mostly on a college campus.   The author particularly has fun with all the pretentious, self-important officials that populate higher education, using Spenser to bring a bunch of them down a notch.

Finally, re-reading this old favorite for the first time in many years, I enjoyed being reminded that the Spenser of today was once young, brash, and quick-tempered... and constantly on the prowl for women.  Fun stuff!

The Godwulf Manuscript is available on Kindle for $7.99.

*     *     *

A recent enjoyable discovery, The Rook is Daniel O'Malley's offbeat tale of a woman who wakes up with amnesia in a London park, surrounded by a bunch of people that she killed, apparently in self defense.  How's that for a bang-up beginning?

Anyway, the woman eventually figures out that she helps run a government agency that oversees and monitors paranormal activity thoughout the U.K., kind of like the way the Men in Black guys monitor all those aliens secretly living in New York. 

In this cross between Hellboy, The X-Files, and the aforementioned Men in Black, our heroine Myfanwy (pronounced MIFF-an-ee) Thomas, attempts to reacquire her memories while trying to figure out who took them in the first place, and why.  Her strange situation also allows her a second chance at becoming the type of person she always wanted to be but never had the will or courage to pursue. 

Creative, funny, dark, and moving, The Rook looks to be the start of a great series.

The Rook is available on Kindle for $12.99.

*     *     *

Each installment in Max Allan Collins' Nate Heller series has the author's central detective character take on a real-world mystery, or a real-world event with lingering questions, with always fascinating results.  Past events investigated by Heller have included the Lindbergh kidnapping (Stolen Away) and the death of Marilyn Monroe (Bye Bye, Baby). 

In Flying Blind, Collins and Heller look into the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, with Collins' research, speculations, and storytelling grit again delivering terrific results.  I particularly enjoyed how Collins quickly got past the iconic stature of his subject, and- while still honoring her- showed us an Amelia Earhart who was a regular human being, not quite as perfect as the impressive P.R. machine generated by her husband would have the public believe.  

Another bonus of this immersive little thriller is that an obviously fictional romance between Heller and Earhart (who is somewhat estranged from her husband) is just as compelling as the hypothesis put forth about what may have happened to the famous pilot following her disappearance.

The entertaining, relentlessly interesting Flying Blind is a great way to brush up on a famous public figure who you proabably don't know as much about as you think.

Flying Blind is available on Kindle for $7.99.

*     *     *

It was great fun to forget about the iconic Stanley Kubrick movie and just sit back and read, with no pre-conceptions, Stephen King's early novel The Shining

Somehow I never read the book before now, and I really got into this tale of a man troubled by severe personal and professional demons, further fueled by his barely-under-control alcoholism, who soon meets up with real demons when he and his family agree to be caretakers in an old, grand hotel while it's closed for the winter. 

A scary tour-de-force follows, but one that contains more realistic elements than you might expect.  We quickly see that Jack Torrance is, like any of us, trying not to let personal doubt, weakness, or petty resentments keep him from performing his duties and responsibilities.  In Jack's sad case, however, a little too much of those things, coupled with a few too many bad decisions and judgements, leads to disaster.

Of course, to be fair to Jack, various evil entities living in the Overlook Hotel constantly nurture his growing instability.  In a different situation, would Jack have eventually gotten his resentments and anger under control?  We'll never know.

Anyway, not to be cold about it, but Jack's downfall is your gain, as the ever-building developments in The Shining will really keep you turning the pages.

The Shining is available on Kindle for $8.99.

*     *     *

Have a great Memorial Day weekend, infused- I hope- with some great reading!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Great hotel stay

My friend Bill and his wife Kathy recently caught a movie they enjoyed, and Bill sent around an e-mail about the experience.  I thought Bill's concise thoughts and entertaining opinion would be appreciated by "Kindle Taproom" readers, so I'm sharing Bill's e-mail below.

Kathy and I saw The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and loved it.  It is tender, touching, and very, very amusing.  It is also an illustration of how superb acting, writing, and direction can transform and elevate ordinary, even threadbare, material to something special.

The acting ensemble is extraordinary.  Standouts are Judi Dench and Tom Wilkinson.  The latter is particularly effective as a British High Court Judge who goes to India to settle some unfinished business.  His understated yet compelling performance is an example of art concealing art.  And Maggie Smith?  You will be happy to know that she contributes yet another eccentric but deeply lovable character to her glittering gallery of portrayals.

I should also tell you the film contains no violence, no explosions, no car chases, no kinky sex, no vampires, no robots, and no tie-in with a fast food chain.  All it has is intelligence, wit, and charm, and that proved quite enough for us.

Thank you, Bill!  This sounds like a winner to me.  Even though, like the rest of America, I really enjoyed "The Avengers", sometimes a movie a little less... bombastic, is in order.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Cute

Recently spotted on a message board outside a local restaurant:

We promise you the fastest service around, no matter how long it takes!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Mildly amusing

A few cute puns made their way into my inbox the other day, so I thought I'd share the best of them with you.  By the way, the picture of the pretty woman that accompanies this post has absolutely nothing to do with the topic, but I thought I'd include it anyway (it's good to be the boss).  Anyway, let's get started...

I changed my iPod's name to "Titanic".  It's syncing now.

When chemists die, they barium.

Jokes about German sausage are the wurst.

I know a guy who's addicted to brake fluid.  He says he can stop anytime.

How does Moses make his tea?  Hebrews it.

I stayed up all night to see where the sun went.  Then it dawned on me.

The girl said she recognized me from the vegetarian club, but I never met herbivore.

I'm reading a book about anti-gravity.  I just can't put it down.

I did a theatrical performance about puns.  It was a play on words.

They told me I had Type-A blood, but it was a Type-O.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Goodbye

 My grandmother, Mae Menta, passed away a few days ago on May 12, at the ripe age of 100 (she got her money’s worth, as my dad aptly put it). It’s funny, but reading the comments in the online guest book associated with her obituary, I had to grin to myself at all the references to her warm heart, kind smile, and the like. And, sure, my grandmother had all those things and more, in abundance. But that’s not the grandmom Menta I like to remember.

My favorite memories of my grandmother usually involve a no-nonsense woman dispensing sit-up-and-fly-right advice to the children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, who routinely (you better believe it) needed such straight talk. Yes, Mae Menta was warm and loving, but when you needed to hear something, boy, you heard it, straight no chaser.

She also had a biting sense of humor, and a sharp sense of when to use it. Once, about fifteen or twenty years ago (when she was a mere 80 or so), there was some family gathering or other at my grandmother’s home in South Philadelphia. One of my cousins, about 19 or 20 years old at the time, was sitting around the dinner table with us, and was in a foul mood over something (he was usually a nice young man, but you know how young people get sometimes). Anyway, at one point my cousin said something curt and disrespectful to my grandmother, which immediately silenced the table.

Did my grandmother act hurt and dejected, and wait for everybody to leap to her defense? Nope. Without missing a beat (a professional stage performer couldn’t have timed it better), she eyed him like a laser beam and said: “And what the Hell’s the matter with you? The girlfriend didn’t come across last night?”

There was shock, dropped jaws, and hear-a-pin-drop silence. But then, slowly, the laughter came, and then outright guffaws around the table, even from my cousin, who couldn’t believe his grandmother had actually said that. Of course, grandmom's little zinger was the exact thing needed in that situation, and my cousin and everybody else were fine and happy during the rest of the meal.

That’s the grandmom Menta I remember, a woman who could speak for herself, thank you, and knew how to take care of business. I’m sure I’ll come to miss the smiles and the warmth, too, but for now, I’m going to wrap myself in those memories of her sharp wit, biting intelligence, and no-nonsense attitude.

So, Salud, grandmom! Don’t let them give you any Hell up there. Not that I really need to worry.

A moment in time

Life is about the small, pleasurable moments, and here's one my wife Alison recently had: enjoying a caramel apple martini during a recent visit to Johnny's Steakhouse in Stevens, Pennsylvania.

While I'm more of a straight-up classic martini guy (if you're progressive enough to consider a vodka martini "classic"), Alison usually enjoys flavored cocktails, and she thought this one was a winner.

If you're curious about its ingredients (or maybe want to see if your local bartender can replicate the yummy end result), here is what's in Johnny's very popular caramel apple martini:

Absolut vodka, apple schnapps, butterscotch schnapps, cranberry juice, a maraschino cherry, and a squirt or two of butterscotch syrup inside the glass.

It's almost worth making the drink just to look at it. It looked really pretty sitting on the cherry table in subdued lighting, while we were enjoying our dinner.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Ruminations

I really enjoy the random thoughts that people post at the web site "Ruminations.com". Here's a sampling:

Why does there need to be an anti-bullying lobby? Is anyone pro-bully?

I just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance... by putting my car into reverse and leaving the scene of an accident!

Screw socks... where does all the Tupperware go?

I'm really excited for tomorrow, when I get to spend $100 buying all my clothes back from the dry cleaner.

Death is right around the coroner.

Check out the web site for yourself. It's fun.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Listen up

I just received an e-mail from Audible.com announcing that unabridged recordings of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee mysteries, all 21 of them, are now available for download. The availability of uncut readings of all the entries in this lauded series has always been the Holy Grail of audiobook enthusiasts, and now the anticipation is over.

Full disclosure: I've only read a few of these excellent mysteries before falling under the spell of Robert B. Parker's Spenser series way back when, but I really liked what I experienced. It'll be great to finally catch up with this series and all the great titles I missed, via the convenience of audio.

Someone named Robert Petkoff reads all 21 titles in these newly-released productions. The fine actor Darrin McGavin read a handful of the McGee mysteries years ago for audio, but he didn't do anywhere near all of them, and the titles he did were abridged. Mr. McGavin is sadly gone now, anyway, so here's hoping Mr. Petkoff is a worthy successor. I'm betting he's fine.

Every title in MacDonald's series has a color in its name, the first entry being 1964's The Deep Blue Good-By. Other titles include Nightmare in Pink and The Green Ripper. The series concluded with The Lonely Silver Rain in 1985, due to the passing of Mr. MacDonald after a long, productive career that encompassed scores of books.

So, all you audio enthusiasts, get cracking! I want you all up to speed when I start discussing this series from the beginning in a month or two. An added incentive to pick up these downloads is that the Travis McGee series is not yet available on Kindle!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Quoth the raven: wait for cable

The Raven, a fictional horror thriller featuring the non-fictional literary figure Edgar Allen Poe, was well crafted and never less than adequately watchable, but I really expected more. While calling the film cartoony and childish would be way too critical, I thought there was a broadness and simplicity to the proceedings that made the movie veer away from some potentially very interesting waters.

I'm just thinking aloud here, but I would have loved to see a fictional Poe film set in the months prior to his death in 1849, one that made a genuine attempt at showing viewers what Poe was like, what demons bedeviled him, that sort of thing. The device of the fictional detective story involving Poe could have illuminated the non-fictional aspects of his life, aspects that contributed to his tragic, premature death.

But, no, here we get a sanitized, generally likable Poe with only the barest nods to the man's excesses, depression, and hardships. To be fair here, the film at least mentions that Poe lost his young wife to tuberculosis and that the tragedy still haunted him. But not all that much, according to this movie. There also isn't much grittiness or realism in the depiction of Baltimore in 1849, even though numerous crime scenes in bad parts of town are depicted. There was more moody darkness in the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies.

Finally, worse than the broadness evident in the depictions of characters and locations, the movie didn't even give poor Poe the dignity of his inherent flaws when it came to his death. In other words, flattering or not, Poe's demons and weaknesses were part of who he was and why he died, and that should have been shown in the movie. But, no, here we are given a contraption-like plot development (I won't get more specific in case you're planning to see the film) that's responsible for Poe dying. I don't care that the plot contrivance paints Poe and his demise in a better light (to the point of making him downright heroic, in fact). In the end, the revisionist history seemed disrespectful. Let the poor man have his demons and weaknesses.

Plusses? The movie's production design was lavish; the death traps built by the mysterious killer were suitably creepy; there's generous discussion and quoting of Poe's work (especially his poetry); John Cusack did a good job (given the limitations of the script's approach to his character); and I strangely admired the film's willingness to present no-holds-barred gore and violence. On that last point, the ads were selling an adult-oriented horror thriller and we were given an adult-oriented horror thriller. I appreciated that.

I just wish the adult approach extended beyond the violent, intense aspects of the production. The Raven is an okay movie that could have been so much more.