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Summer Reading 2014

10 Jul

Time for another yearly post that is always popular: summer book recommendations. I’ve been tearing through a stack of novels the last few weeks and have come across some true finds. Hopefully there will be one or two you might find as enjoyable.

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some of the books I am reading this summer

MICHAEL KORTYA

I have two picks from Michael Kortya, whose two last novels, The Prophet and Those Who Wish Me Dead, are terrific. The Prophet, in fact, is one of the best books I’ve read in years.

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Michael Kortya signing copies of The Prophet

One critic described The Prophet as a cross between Friday Night Lights and In Cold Blood. I could not put it better myself so I’m stealing it here. The novel is a thriller about a killer stalking people in a small town. But the book is really about two estranged brothers, one the popular high school football coach, who warily come together in an attempt to solve the mystery. The book was very, very suspenseful and quite emotional as well. I found myself rather verklempt at the end. The guy can also write one hell of an exciting football game! This is a perfect summer read. It’s a great thriller but it’s much more than that, I found it a deep and emotionally resonant novel that goes way beyond the thriller genre. The Prophet is a great novel, period.

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Kortya’s next novel, the recently released Those Who Wish Me Dead, is an exemplary summer thriller, the kind the cliched phrase ‘Don’t start it unless you have time, you will not be able to put this down!” was made for. It starts off with a bang and never lets up. (I think that also is one of those cliched phrases.) Ignore the bad literary criticism and check this one out, I loved it. 

ORDINARY GRACE

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William Kent Krueger’s latest novel quietly blew me away. If you’ve read Peace Like A River (and if you haven’t, stop everything you are doing right now and read it, you must!) imagine Peace but with a mystery layered into the mix. “All the dying that summer began with the death of a child…” starts the novel and there is indeed a lot of death. Don’t let that deter you, Ordinary Grace is a beautifully written coming of age novel, written from the 1st person perspective of the son of the town pastor. Krueger grapples intelligently with God, faith and, yes, grace, but without a trace of sentimentality. It’s a tough novel but not tough to read, if that makes sense. The mystery keeps it driving forward and the richness of Krueger’s writing is continually surprising. To Kill A Mockingbird also kept coming to mind though here the narrator is a teen, not a child. Ordinary Grace is a wonderful novel that makes me excited for Krueger’s next. Oh and it just won the Edgar Award for Best Novel of the year. It’s that good.

REMEMBER ME LIKE THIS

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And here we have another ‘wow’. The most emotionally devastating novel of the bunch, Remember Me Like This is a gorgeously written, deeply nuanced novel about a family grappling with the disappearance of their teenage son. It’s not what you would anticipate from that pitch-line, however. One of the many twists is that the novel starts four years after the boy disappeared. Rather than watch the family implode when the boy cannot be found, we start well after the implosion: where most novels would end, this one begins as all hell once again breaks loose in a surprising way. Also a mystery of sorts, it’s an extremely involving narrative that keeps wrenching your heart with revelations and conflict. Set in Corpus Christi, Texas, I can heartily affirm the author nailed the milieu perfectly, given I myself grew up on the gulf coast of Texas. Bret Anthony Johnston’s first novel, Remember Me is the announcement of an extraordinary talent.

MR. MERCEDES

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And then there is Stephen King’s latest. I don’t know how the man does it over and over but this novel is so $#%* awesome, just like his last two novels, Sir King is getting his own entire blog post coming up next, The Grand Romances of Stephen King. That’s right, The Grand Romances of Stephen King is the title, I’ve already started it, but feel free to run get this novel as fast as you can. Mr. Mercedes is, ahem, a killer.

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Have you any books you’ve read this summer you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below. As always, thanks for reading!

My 2013 Review

30 Dec

I’m having a difficult time believing it is ‘that time of year’ again. Time seems to move so fast. 2013 may have zipped by much too quickly but not without encountering great food and film that deserves mention. Behold, my second annual ‘best of’ list, with the usual extras.

FILM

Movies first! 2013 was terrific for cinema. Sure there were a few absolute train wrecks, including one of the worst movies ever, ever, ever made. It’s about a lawyer everyone calls counselor and a drug deal and beheadings and sex with — not on — a car, and long rambling monologues that make you want to shoot yourself in the head. It’s so bad, like Lord V, it is the movie that must not be named.

Still, I’ve been blessed to see many terrific, often wildly original movies. My favorites:

PRISONERS

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Intense, brutal, devastating, demanding. Prisoners is not the feel good movie of the year, which is one the reasons, even though it received excellent reviews, it is being overlooked in many ‘best of’ lists. Don’t make a mistake and miss this methodical, intricate, morally complex mystery. Why is it so good? First there’s the script: rarely have I encountered a script so tightly woven. Each word and every plot point matters, there is nothing extraneous. The script also packs an emotional wallop and works on many levels. It’s a surprising mystery with red herrings galore, a very complex morality tale with no easy answers (it’s up to the audience to draw conclusions regarding the characters and their actions) and it is a piercing character study, with some of the best acting of the year. Hugh Jackman is astounding. The guy is of course insanely talented. I’ve seen him twice on stage singing his heart out, charming everyone in view. I’ve seen him dark and mysterious. But I never suspected he could go to the angry emotional depths of this film. His performance is ferocious and dangerous, keeping the movie on a trigger wire. He’s matched by Jake Gyllenhaal who has the less showy role but whose work is just as deep and profound. Prisoners had me so overwrought on first viewing I almost left the theatre towards the end, my stomach was in such knots over the possible outcomes of the story. When it was over, I left the theatre and went straight to a bar for a shot of whiskey to calm down. That may not be the most enticing recommendation, given we usually go to the movies for fun and frivolity. Trust me. If you have not yet seen it, check it out. Not only do the intricacies of the mystery hold up on repeated viewing, it will resonate deep into your soul.

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

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I didn’t think any movie could match Prisoners as ‘best of the year.’ And then I saw The Coen Brothers latest. Like most Coen Brothers movies, Inside Llewyn Davis is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. The movie focuses on one of the most dislikable characters ever to be seen in a motion picture, at least on paper. Llewyn Davis is a dick. The movie does little to redeem him. Which makes the lead performance of Oscar Issac that much more astounding. Issac somehow keeps us interested and engaged in Llewyn, as do the innumerable gifts of The Coens, two of the best filmmakers ever. Ever. Every scene is perfection. The movie is stunningly shot, the directing spot on. T-Bone Burnett supervised the music, so of course the music is incredible… and I don’t even like folk music! The acting across the board is as good as can be. (Is there anything better in life than John Goodman delivering Coen Bros. dialogue? I think not.) Somehow, even though the main character is an asshole and the plot a bit of a downer, the movie was joy to me. I laughed constantly, happy to watch such impeccable filmmaking. I also loved what the movie had to say about art, the struggle to be an artist and also the struggle to live. Beautifully crafted and surprisingly rich in meaning, this ranks with the Coen Brothers best. 

For an excellent, relatively spoiler free 7 minute video about the making of the film and the music, click here.

Click the link for many more picks!

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Summer Picks 2013

6 Jun

We are back! Thanks much for the patience, the Cinema Language seminar was such a success we are doing it yet again in November. In the meantime, I want to give you a few recommendations to get you through the summer. No food this time, as we have a lot of food upcoming, including a ‘Food on the 4th’ menu.

It’s been a great Spring for reading, at least for me. I’ve been blessed with one terrific novel after another. What better time to have a few good books to read than in the summer! Here are a few good reads to get you through:

THE FAULT IN OUR STARS

 I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”

                                                                                                                           Hazel Lancaster

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I am a little behind on this one. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green made a big splash last year and the film adaptation is in full swing. If you have not yet read it, Get. This. Book. It’s a stunner. Time Magazine’s #1 Fiction Pick for 2012, this book is frequently hilarious, wonderfully romantic and absolutely devastating, sometimes all at once. Yes, the novel is about a 17 year old girl, Hazel, who has cancer. But don’t let that deter you, it’s an easy, thoroughly enjoyable read. Easy as it is, the prose is beautiful and remarkably profound. The Fault In Our Stars was so good that when I finished it, I flipped back to page one and read it again. It’s that good.

A quick aside: this book makes me wonder who determines how books are classified. The Fault In Our Stars is marketed as a ‘young adult’ novel, yet it is one of the more adult and thematically mature books I’ve read in a long while. It’s not that teens shouldn’t be reading it! I’m thrilled they are reading it and that it was so popular. But the ‘young adult’ designation certainly deters some adult readers. It did me. Some people say the designation is because of the age of the main character. Hmph. Just because it’s about a 17 year old girl shouldn’t automatically make it a ‘teen novel’.  To Kill A Mockingbird isn’t a children’s novel just because Scout is a child. I’m curious about this, given so many ‘teen novels’ seem anything but. I said the same thing about the brilliant “Hunger Games” trilogy, a must read if you haven’t yet. That trilogy is one of the darkest and most morally complex stories in print. ‘Teen Novels’? No way. At any rate, do not let that designation cause you to stumble with Fault. Read this book!

NOS4A2

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NOS4A2, published in April, is also one of the most remarkable novels I’ve read in a long time. If I wasn’t so amazed at his talent, I would be green with envy over Joe Hill. This is his third novel: three novels in a row, each novel was one of the best of its year. Damn, can this guy write!

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Labor Day Food and Film

31 Aug

Another holiday weekend has arrived. Memorial Day weekend last, I drove through six national parks on the way from LA to Chicago with one of my best friends. This weekend? I’ll be marathoning… a Homeland marathon, a Sherlock Marathon and a Downton Abbey marathon. It’s couch potato city with what I am told are the three best TV shows currently available. I’ll keep you posted on the Facebook page.

I imagine many of you will be a little more active. Whatever the case, as with Memorial Day, I wanted to give you food and film and also some books to help you enjoy your weekend.

First, Food:

I’ve written once already about Suzanne Goin, an amazing chef and restaurateur who has created some of my favorite dishes in the world. The recipe below might be my top of the tops. No holiday weekend is complete without grilling and what could be better to grill but burgers? What also could be better than pork? Goin’s pork burgers are the best burgers I have ever had, bar none. And I’ve had, oh, one or two. These burgers take a little prep and work but trust me, the end result is worth a little extra effort. As Food Gal writes, (thank you to Food Gal for this link to the recipe) Goin’s pork burgers are “Heaven on A Bun”.

Click here for the recipe and the remaining choices!

Summer Reading 2012

21 Jun

Summer is upon us. For many this means an excuse to pick up some books. I pretty much throw books at anyone who breathes. There are few things better than discovering a book so good you find your own world disappearing as you lose yourself in the author’s world. As this happened to me just this week, I figured I would give you some choices: five (and a half) books I stand behind 100%, including one hot off the presses. I’ve tried to include something for everyone, there are a variety of genres represented here, but whatever your preferences, give any or all of them a chance. I lost myself in each of these novels and have read all but the new one more than once. (Click the underlined titles for links to the books)

THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU by Jonathan Tropper

Click here for all the recommendations

You Must Read This! Vol. 1

18 May

While my earliest memory as a child was watching a movie, memories of holding a book occur almost immediately after.  I grew up surrounded by books, everywhere. Both my parents were huge bibliophiles. It was rare that either didn’t have a book in hand or at least close by. Additionally, Mom was a teacher and taught my brother and me to read by the age of three. She often told us, “I never want to hear you say I’m bored.” Pointing at one of our house’s numerous bookshelves, she’d continue, “There’s a wonderful world for you right there. You never have to be bored.” Her advice definitely took hold and we became a family that read together all the time.

My brother David went off into non-fiction land, at one point reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica straight through. Yes, he is that smart and no, you never ever ever want to play Trivial Pursuit with him. Talk about trivial pursuits (rim shot!) 

I loved fiction myself and was devouring books early. Yes, that was me carrying Gone With The Wind into elementary school at the age of 9 and no, the consequences were not pleasant. I’m a stubborn SOB, though and it did not deter me. Few things are better in life than a good book.

I believe a lot of people don’t like to read because they were handed long boring books at an early age, the desire to read being mutilated before it could begin. Not that we shouldn’t be challenged. But before being challenged, we need to fall in love. Show me someone who doesn’t love to read and I bet they were handed Beowulf or a Thomas Hardy novel way too young. Mom was pretty adept at handing me books that caused me to fall in love with reading. I daresay if most young boys, for instance, were handed something like The Black Stallion, most would turn into avid readers. The Black Stallion has it all: a shipwreck, a kid living alone on a deserted island, no adults to boss him around, while taming a wild stallion, eventually riding that stallion in an exciting race. What else could you want?? After a number of books like that (Danger, Dinosaurs! Wow!) I spent hours reading and never turned back. As a family, when we went on vacation, we often went somewhere where the four of us could just lay in the sun and read for a week. We’d each bring 5 or 6 books and life was good. It’s still my favorite way to spend a vacation.

Click here for the big reveal!

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