Thursday, July 28, 2011

Listen to Madeleine Peyroux sing

Singer Madeeline Peyroux began her career in the Latin Quarter of Paris at age 15. Inspired by the early American blues and jazz repertoire, she honed her vocal and guitar skills in Europe. She developed an uncanny likeness in sound to Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf. The New York Times said she could "inhabit Holiday and Piaf, doing the tragic, pinched-voice thing perfectly." Her solo albums include Bare Bones, Half the Perfect World, Careless Love and Dreamland.
Her newest album, Standing on the Rooftop, explores American roots music. One of my favorite tracks, Jerome Kern's The Way You Look Tonight, is recorded on the album Got You on My Mind with William Gallison on harmonica. A somewhat overdone classic, Peyroux' version is well worth listening to - you will definitely sing along and put a smile on your face.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sue Recommends Smokin' Seventeen by Janet Evanovich

Stephanie Plum is back for Book 17, Smokin' Seventeen. The pressure is on to make a decision on which hunk in her life will be her only one--handsome Detective Joe Morelli or mysterious, muscle-bound Ranger. She continues to be in hilarious situations in New Jersey with her sidekick, Lula (a former prostitute), as she tracks down subjects who failed to appear in court for her bail bondsman cousin, Vinnie.

Lots of laughs are in store. Be ready to call your friends or wake your husband to read laugh out loud passages from the book. The humor is what keeps me waiting for the next book in the series--in this case, Explosive Eighteen (Nov. 22, 2011). For more fun, listen to the audiobook as the reader, Lorelei King, brings the characters to life.

Fans will also enjoy the One for the Money movie based on Evanovich's first book in the series. The cast includes Katherine Heigl as Stephanie, Sherri Shepherd as Lula, Jason O’Mara as Morelli, Daniel Sunjata as Ranger, and Debbie Reynolds as Grandma Mazur. Evanovich sold the rights to the movie so she had no control on changes made in the story. Hope it will be just as entertaining as her books.


Trailer from rhpub group

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Megan recommends: The Station Agent

The Station Agent

I went to college with Tom McCarthy and remember riding the elevator in our apartment building with him senior year. We both lived on the sixth floor. Little did I know that he would one day become a well-known actor and director. The Station Agent is the first movie he wrote and directed and it's a really great small film. What's it about? Many things and not much at all...relationships, solitude versus companionship. Best of all, A+ for an _actual_ positive portrayal of a public librarian in a movie.

Read these celebrity memoirs, not those other ones

As you may have noticed lately, celebrity memoirs are the newest rage in the publishing world. It seems as though everyone from Bill Clinton to Kanye West has published a memoir lately, which makes it hard to want to read any of them at all. I myself had a hard time believing that any of the newly minted “authors” would be able to turn out a good read. However, being a former dancer, film student and production assistant, as well as a current theater geek, I found that all I need for a good celebrity memoir is lots of backstage shenanigans, some Hollywood gossip, and a well spoken comedienne. These three were my recent favorites from the crop.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

I had heard about Bossypants through all of the various media channels, but dismissed it as just another celebrity memoir. I finally picked it up in an airport, waiting for my four hour flight delay. I read almost the entire book while waiting for my flight, and then finished it on the plane. Knowing that Fey is indeed a writer and has come up with some of the most creative stuff on recent television, I should not have been surprised at how much I enjoyed her book, yet I was. Through mock-instruction, silly diagrams, and just the right amount of comedic hyperbole, Fey tells us about her childhood, how she got her start in showbiz, her rise to writing fame, and her relationship with her husband and daughter.

Backstage shenanigans from SNL and 30 Rock abound, and fans of hers will be thrilled to learn about all of the famed SNL sketches she wrote, many of them springing from her time as a Second City cast member. One of my favorite stories involves Fey’s first job as a receptionist at the Y in Chicago, where she also met Amy Poehler. Another details Fey’s theory on why male writers are different from female writers, and the reason is hilarious (and true). She also talks a lot about being a working mom, balancing her work life and home life, and how she manages to do that while still working 16 hour days with the mostly male writing staff on 30 Rock.

I read the old fashioned paper version, but fair warning about the audio book: Fey herself reads it, which is entertaining, but if you’re listening in the car, for instance, you are not privy to the illustrations, photos and diagrams which enhance the content.

Official Book Club Selection by Kathy Griffin

Catapulting off the success of her wildly popular reality show My Life on the D List, Kathy Griffin writes about her childhood, how she got her start in Hollywood, where she learned how to save all that money, where she learned how to make fun of celebrities, and other juicy tidbits from her life. As her comedy suggests, she writes with a witty and sardonic sense of humor, but also captures the not so nice parts of life with a wisdom and wit that endears her to readers.

Comedic highlights include tales of her early days with the Groundlings comedy troupe, where she met the likes of Andy Dick and Lisa Kudrow, one of whom stayed her friend and other who found fame on a popular TV show; Backstage shenanigans involving Brooke Shields, from her time on Suddenly Susan; and bloopers from filming her reality show.

Griffin also gets serious at some points, recounting her experiences with her now deceased brother, her husband who stole large amounts of money from her, and her botched liposuction procedure. These serious moments serve to enrich the narrative, and by the end of the book, I wanted Kathy Griffin to be my best friend. She had interesting stories to tell, and you could tell there were a lot more where those came from. Unfortunately, her stand up specials on Bravo and the occasional live show I can afford will have to do, especially since she has decided to end her reality show, probably due to exhaustion – the woman never stops working, which is another thing we learn about her in the book.

A Little Bit Wicked by Kristin Chenoweth

In Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth’s memoir, readers learn that before she was the fabulous Cheno, she was Kristie, multiple times runner up at the Miss Oklahoma pageant. Although at first it seems like just another celebrity memoir, and one that includes God to boot, Chenoweth has some interesting and funny things to say about the depths of Broadway and Hollywood. Among other things, she describes her relationship with faith – she often wonders how a faith which has helped her so much in life can create such cruel people, and she also wonders how she sometimes gets lumped in with the extremists. Her story about her experience as a guest on the 700 Club is priceless, as she recounts how she disappointed thousands of her gay fans by appearing on a very right-wing Christian television show, unbeknownst to her.

There are also lots of backstage shenanigans in Chenoweth’s book, including her time as master’s student in Opera at the University of Oklahoma; her stint as a performer at the now defunct theme park Opryland; Her turn as Galinda in Wicked, opposite Idina Menzel, a relationship which was tabloid fodder; her role on the critically acclaimed but cancelled Pushing Daisies, and her on again-off again relationship with Aaron Sorkin, which inspired an entire character on one of his TV shows.

My only warning to readers is that it’s written by a (credited) ghost writer, and you can sometimes tell that the stories are not exclusively in Kristin’s voice. I listened to the audiobook version, and while it was entertaining to listen to Kristin read it in her own voice, I could tell that she herself hadn’t written it, as words were mispronounced and she often sounded as though she were reading fiction.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Mike bets you'd like to read about someone else's crummy vacation . . . .

A family--the matriarch Emily, recently widowed; Meg, her soon-to-be-divorced daughter with children; and Ken, her underemployed artist photographer son with wife and kids--travels from their disparate hometowns to spend a last week together at the family lake house that was their refuge for so many summers. The book drifts quickly into a prevailing melancholy as a four-day-long rain storm moves in and forces the family to begin confronting the uncomfortable realities of their lives. As the rains lift they see the inevitable conclusion to their stay, which is ultimately escape from each other and back into their lives, where nobody will be there to judge but themselves for the way their lives have turned out.

The language that the author uses is rich, much more rich than you may feel these unlikeable characters deserve, but it helps the reader to understand why these individuals deserve your attention. Let's face it, returning home isn't always easy, and even when we're adults we're faced with the prospect of assuming our childhood roles when we take cover under our parents' roof.

Emily is a character that is easy to dislike as she nitpicks her children and makes them feel guilty for the paths their lives have taken but when the author allows a glimpse of her interior monologue her intentions aren't always in alignment with the way she is perceived. Stuart O'Nan recently wrote the sequel to this titled "Emily, Alone" which perfectly summarizes my expectation of where she would be left after leaving the summer house.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Remember Science?

The Canon
by Natalie Angier

Natalie Angier draws on conversations with hundreds of the world's top scientists and on her own work as a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer for the New York Times to create a thoroughly entertaining guide to scientific literacy. The Canon is for every parent who has ever panicked when a child asked how the earth was formed or what electricity is. Angier's writing brings science to life, reigniting our own childhood delight in discovering how the world works. The Canon is a joyride through the major scientific disciplines: physics, chemistry, biology, geology, and astronomy. Along the way, we learn what is actually happening when our ice cream melts or our coffee gets cold, what our liver cells do when we eat a caramel, why the horse is an example of evolution at work, and how we're all really made of stardust.

Have you forgot all that science you had in school? This book will be a great choice for a quick and easy review. The Canon also covers the great science issues of the day - from stem cells and bird flu to evolution and global warming.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Easy A is surprisingly good!

At the beginning of Easy A, Olive Penderghast tells us that she would like her life to be like an 80’s movie. She wishes John Hughes directed her life, so she could ride off on a lawnmower with Patrick Dempsey or find John Cusack holding a boom box outside her window. It turns out that Olive’s life is similar to a John Hughes movie (and in a smart move by the writers, 80’s movie references abound in the dialogue). Her story starts when her English class is reading The Scarlet Letter, and in a feeble attempt to be noticed by her hilarious but self-absorbed best friend Rhee, Olive sarcastically tells her that she lost her virginity to a college guy. Rhee believes it, and soon Olive has a reputation she didn’t create, but might as well embrace, as it comes with a new found notoriety. Wackiness ensues when Olive decides she can make money off the deal and help her gay, unpopular, or unattractive friends by charging them money to tell people they slept with her.

The rest of the plot purposely resembles The Scarlet Letter, and slyly references its predecessors in the teen rom-com genre. I know you’re thinking that it sounds just like every other teen movie ever. But what sets Easy A apart from its counterparts is the witty dialogue, smart acting, and a sharp sense of humor. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, nor does the writer assume that the audience is made up of idiots. Teens will love the self referential humor, as well as the shrewd observations about life in high school. Adults will love the witty banter and the charming cast. Emma Stone is delightful as Olive, and Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci are hilarious as Olive’s hippie parents.

I was delighted that Easy A was so smart and funny, since I knew it would be an inevitable addition to my collection, which is already bursting at the seams with teen angst and romantic comedy. I can’t resist watching it every time it’s on TV, or even every time I see it on my DVD shelf.

Sisterhood Everlasting

In Sisterhood Everlasting, Ann Brashares returns to finish off the story of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series. For die-hard fans, Sisterhood Everlasting is a slightly shocking, but ultimately satisfying end to the series. For newcomers, the novel will serve as a stand-alone tear jerker.

When we last left the sisterhood, the girls were just finishing up their first year of college – Bridget spent some time on an archeological dig in Turkey, where she connected with the idea of finding your roots; Tibby had come off of a dramatic, on again, off again year with Brian; Lena reveled in new love while still hankering feelings for Kostos; and Carmen found her niche at a summer drama workshop. Now it’s ten years later, and the girls are just turning 30, all of them on the cusp of something they’re not sure of. As a long time fan of the series, it was riveting from the moment I opened it, just to find out what the girls are up to as adults.

The rest of the book, however, follows the untimely demise of a beloved character, so unlike the rest of the Sisterhood novels, this is not for the fainthearted. It gets into some pretty heavy stuff, but the story soon turns into a mystery of sorts, which turns out to be pretty entertaining to try to solve. Fans of the original series may be shocked and disappointed with some of the author’s choices, and though the novel is not as strong as its predecessors, the characters we know and love do show up from time to time in the new book. Sisterhood Everlasting was, if nothing else, an entertaining beach read, and an interesting way to say goodbye to the Sisterhood.

Rob Recommends American Savior

Jesus Christ returns to run for the presidency of the United States. Sound improbable? Well, maybe not. Most of the characters in American Savior were doubters and skeptics too. But there was something to the man (other than a couple of minor miracles), something that wiped out all your cynicism and made you believe that people could rebuild a world gone wrong. Something in the man's essence--his charisma, his authenticity and his ability to connect with anyone--finally wins over Russ Thomas, the TV reporter called upon to help pull together a last minute campaign for president.
American Savior is funny; at times, very funny. Having an all-knowing/all-seeing "person" in your life can lead to some embarrassing moments. And the author, Roland Merullo, exercises little restraint in lampooning such media celebrities as Hurry Linneament, Bull O'Malley, Jim Wearer, Roger Popopoffolous, Bulf Spritzer and Ann Canter.
While not exactly sympathetic toward established religions, Merullo is at the same time both irreverent and reverent in his treatment of Christ. If you can forgive the sacreligiousness, you'll enjoy this summer read at the intersection of religion, politics and humor.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Listen to Learning to Die in Miami

Carlos Eire, the National Book Award winner of Waiting for Snow in Havana, continues his memoir of exile from Cuba and arduous assimilation into American society in 1960's Miami in Learning to Die in Miami. Eire is sent To Florida with his older brother, Tony and
14,000 other Cuban children as part of Operation Pedro Pan. His parents' plan to join him in his relocation away from Castro eventually fails when the Cuban missile crisis intercedes and closes Cuba's borders permanently. His life in foster homes is painfully but humorously detailed. The challenges he faces living as an 11 year old 'orphan' in a strange country trying to learn a new language may be familiar to all immigrants thrust into unknown worlds, desperately wishing to fit in and belong. With excellent narration by Robert Fass, Learning to Die in Miami may give you a peek into the immigrant experience of a child struggling to survive in a foreign culture. Do you have your own story of assimilation to share? We welcome your comments!