A penny saved is ridiculous.

A penny saved is ridiculous.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Brief Asides #6

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  Here are some tips, opinions, observations, and bits of news that might be good conversation starters around your Turkey Day dinner table...

Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies is an engrossing, beautifully shot and acted film about an intriguing period of American history.  The emphasis is mostly on people trying to act decently in tense situations, which doesn't negate the suspense one iota. Tom Hanks is great as, yes, a decent "every man" character.

Sue Grafton's X, which I recently enjoyed on audio, is another pleasing adventure about P.I. Kinsey Millhone. A main plot about a troubled killer and a couple of subplots (including a mostly funny one about Kinsey's terrible new neighbors) elegantly work together to provide a burnished, nuanced book that will pleasantly immerse you.

I enjoyed the film SPECTRE quite a bit, but the producers need to lighten up on the What makes Bond tick? and This time it's personal angles and just tell a compelling story about Bond trying to prevent an evil genius' big, clever caper.  They've started to do that here, and one hopes they will continue in that direction.

Finders Keepers is a very good Stephen King novel, the second in his proposed detective trilogy featuring retired cop Bill Hodges.  This time the ball gets rolling when a kid discovers valuable unpublished manuscripts by a J.D. Salinger-type writer, long since dead in an old shooting.  But now everyone wants those manuscripts.

I'll have more to say about the new James Bond novel Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz, but for now I'll just say that I liked it a lot.  Set in the 1950's immediately following the book Goldfinger, Bond takes on the Russians and a sadistic villain from Korea.  The villain's caper to thwart the U.S. space program was quite clever (Bond films, please take note).

The Martian was another movie I enjoyed a lot. It's basically a movie that celebrates individual ingenuity and the ability to work together to achieve a goal.  The movie demonstrates that a science-fiction movie doesn't need to be non-stop action and fireworks to be completely engrossing.  Worth seeing in 3D for all the Martian vistas.

I've since finished the seven books in Isaac Asimov's Foundation series (comprised of the classic trilogy and some later prequels and sequels) and am really glad I gave myself the project of reading them all in 2015. Stay tuned for a few more posts on what was an overall terrific and thoughtful reading experience. I'm looking forward to the upcoming TV adaptation more than ever.

The Peanuts Movie was cute and fun, a nice time for kids and adults alike.  It basically runs through all the vignettes and situations we love to see in a Peanuts story, but with a little more visual artistry and production value than we saw in the older cartoons.  It's never gets pretentious or too much, though.  Just lots of fun stuff involving Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the gang.

The detective characters created by the late Robert B. Parker are in good hands these days.  Both the new Spenser adventure by Ace Atkins, Robert B. Parker's Kickback, and especially the new Jesse Stone book, Robert B. Parker's The Devil Wins, are solid crime thrillers that honor Dr. Parker's creations and tell stories worthy of the beloved series he nurtured.  I'll have more to say on both of these soon.

Once again, have a wonderful Thanksgiving and thanks for visiting "Kindle Taproom".  There wouldn't be much of a point in keeping this blog going if you guys didn't stop in every now and then to check things out.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Now listen up, 007...

Here's some good news for both James Bond and audiobook enthusiasts.  John Gardner's Bond novels from the 1980's and early 1990's are finally available in new unabridged audio recordings at Audible.com.  While Kingsley Amis wrote a Bond novel- Colonel Sun- shortly following the death of Ian Fleming, it wasn't until the 80's that another writer was permitted to continue Bond's adventures, and that was Gardner.

John Gardner went on to write more than a dozen Bond novels during his run, and they did very well.  Myself, I enjoyed the five or six that I read, finding them to nicely combine the sexy, larger than life qualities of the movies with the attention to detail and occasional dark introspection of the Fleming novels.  I eventually drifted away from the novels as other elements of pop culture caught my attention, but now I'm looking forward to rediscovering the early ones and discovering for the first time Gardner's later entries in his Bond series.

Unfortunately, the one fly in the ointment is that Gardner's first two Bond novels, License Renewed and For Special Services, don't seem to be available on audio as of yet.  One hopes they're on the way.  They are currently available to read on Kindle, at least, as are all Gardner's Bond titles (the Gardner Bonds became available some time ago as e-books).

Anyway, if your reading time is limited like mine is, you might enjoy diving into these fun, engaging adventures during your morning and afternoon commutes, via these new audios.  I certainly plan to do so.  In a perfect world, I'd have enough down time to read all the new novels always coming out and past series like this one, but as I don't, audio is very helpful.  I always have one book going in print or Kindle form while enjoying another title via audio in my car at the same time. Of course, even if I did have a ton of time to read, I'd still do some books on audio, as audio is a lot of fun.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that these new audios are read by Simon Vance, a fine, crisp narrator who narrated the Fleming Bond titles, too.

Well there's your Bond tip of the day.  Hope it's useful.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Thick With Incident

The Shadow of Your Smile was the first Mary Higgins Clark book I ever read, and my main impression was that it was... exhausting! There were four or five ongoing plot lines that had to be resolved when two or three would have been fine. And, every one of the three or four (yes, that many) main characters had either A) a complicated backstory, B) a tragedy still haunting him or her, C) an unresolved romantic situation, or D) a combination of two or more of those things. Oh, and a couple of characters are secretly criminals, too. I kept saying to myself, "Wow, this author is working way too hard!" Any three books could have been produced with all the plots and characters in The Shadow of Your Smile.

Was it bad, though? No, despite all the density, the pacing was pretty good and things moved along. Some of the plotting was clever, and I cared enough about the characters to want to see how everything turned out. The hustle and bustle of New York City and its quieter environs were well described as we moved among offices, hospitals, ritzy mansions, and other locales, as the story advanced. I will say that the characters were a little simplistic and one-note for my taste, with most being either fine, admirable people or shady crooks. Some shades of grey in the characters would have been welcome.

In the end, this story of family secrets and a criminal cabal's attempt to divert a kindly doctor's inheritance into its own pockets was an acceptable, amiable diversion, and I'll give another Clark book a try before too long. I just hope the next one is a little more relaxed and less dense with material that I need to work hard to keep straight in my head!

"The Shadow of Your Smile", originally published a few years ago, is easily available in paperback, unabridged audio, and Kindle editions.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Question for the ages

Here's something I've always wondered about, and because of all the excitement about next month's new "Star Wars" movie, it feels like a good time to bring it up...

Why has George Lucas always been so concerned that Han Solo not be portrayed as someone who would shoot bounty hunter Greedo, unless he absolutely had to, in the original Star Wars (going so far as to alter the film to make it seem that Greedo shot first and missed), yet had no problem at all depicting Princess Leia brutally strangling Jabba the Hutt with a chain, simply out of anger and a desire for revenge, in Return of the Jedi?

I mean, once Leia escaped from her chains, she could have simply ran away to join her friends in battle.  But, no, she used those chains to, as Quentin Tarantino might put it, get medieval with ol' Jabba.

Interesting, huh?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Join the affair

Anybody out there watching The Affair on Showtime?  Now in its second season, I'm still really enjoying it.

It's great to have a show about adults talking to one another about adult things (and not just sexual things), with a good bit of subtlety, nuance, and metaphor thrown in.  It's like the TV equivalent of a John Updike or Philip Roth novel, with the spirit of Robert Altman hovering over it all.

But I don't want to make the show feel like homework.  As thoughtful and emotionally complex as it is, it's also engrossing and often fun.

Anyway, give this a look if you want a break from all the police and crime plots on television, though the The Affair covers its bases and gives us a little cops & crime, too.  But just a little.

The Affair airs Sundays at 10:00 p.m., but do yourself a favor and catch up on the earlier episodes via Showtime On Demand first.  If you're at all curious about the show, you should jump in from the beginning.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Bloody good idea

This blog is supposed celebrate books and beverages, specifically adult beverages when discussing that second category.  But I haven't done much lately on the beverage front, and it's time to fix that.

To kick off that new commitment, here is a photograph of a terrific Bloody Mary I recently enjoyed.  It was served at the Beacon Diner in Hometown, Pennsylvania (diners with a liquor license are one of life's true pleasures).  Hometown is a few miles away from our weekend place in Pennsylvania's Pocono mountains.

The nice thing about this Bloody Mary- aside from the variety of neat and complex spices that created a really savory drink- was the addition of several pieces of folded-over pepperoni that were speared through the little plastic sword.  The pepperoni really served the drink well, making what's usually a tasty and substantial drink even more, well, tasty and substantial.  Great little touch, guys!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Beaming back

Someone must have liked my September 30 post wishing for a new Star Trek series, as today CBS announced that the network will be bringing Star Trek back to television in 2017!  Special thanks to the CBS executive who read my post and got things moving.

There's not much news beyond that as yet, but we were told that the new show won't exactly be on traditional television, as it will primarily "air" on the CBS streaming service CBS All Access.  I'm told that the subscription fee for the service is currently $5.99 per month, and that all the other various Star Trek series are already available to view there (they're also on Netflix and Amazon Prime, too, at least for now).  There will be "some" broadcast airings of the show, too, but it really is meant to be a draw for the streaming service.  Fair enough.

It'll be interesting to see the eventual news about the new show's premise, the time frame where the show will be set, and whether a season's worth of shows will be dumped- Netflix style- onto the service all at once or doled out one episode per week. And of course there are lots of other burning questions, but for now it's fun to just wallow in the general announcement about the show.  Fun as the movies have been, Star Trek really belongs on television, and soon it will be there again.