Wednesday, August 31, 2016

plumbing the future and the past for thrills

I read these two books in close succession to one another.

James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge - Zoo

Zoo cover art
Patterson and friends' book are always a quick, fast, beach read, and Zoo was pretty entertaining in parts. Taking what humans have done to the world - pollution, deforestation, cell phone towers, etc. - and taking to the nth degree how all of that technology might affect the world's animal populations is a clever concept. But ... the overall book was a bit clunky. I felt like the some of the chapters might be out of order, and the main protagonist, Jackson Oz, and his ability to save the world (or not) didn't seem very plausible to me. Plus, he hooks up with a gorgeous and brilliant French scientist, Chloe, who in the latter part of the book is relegated to his baby mama while he runs off to high-level meetings with the heads of state. Really? The television series based on the book, which I just started to catch up with on Netflix, has done a much better job with Chloe all of its characters. There is supposed to be a Zoo sequel coming. Maybe if Patterson takes a cue from TV's Zoo I'll check it out.

Stephen King - 11.23.63

Stephen King, center, with 11.23.63 actor James Franco (L), and producer J.J. Abrams (R)
Stephen King's 11.23.63 was also a quick read, but a much more satisfying one. His characters and concept stayed with me days after I finished the behemoth of a book. King pulls out all the stops - time travel, political intrigue, and even romance. His protagonist, Jake Epping, is asked very early in the book, "What if you could go back in time and prevent President John F. Kennedy from being assassinated?" For many people who can remember that day, that world event still has sad echoes. King presents a time portal without too much complicated explanation -it's a way into a great story. Jake decides to do just that - and maybe right some other wrongs of the past along the way. He visits some familiar King territory - the town of Derry, Maine, in particular, the setting of his horror novel It. Some folks, like myself, may not be thrilled to find themselves back in the home town of Pennywise the clown. But Jake's main focus, and ultimate target is Lee Harvey Oswald. Will he be able to determine if Oswald acted alone, debunking future conspiracy theorists everywhere? It's a tense, gripping read, with a truly touching romance thrown in to boot. It's also a miniseries on Hulu, starring James Franco, so my viewing queue just got a little bit bigger.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

recent reads

I have been really busy with my own writing and art project this year, so haven't been posting regularly on my blog. But I did want to share some capsule book reviews of what I've been reading lately.

Agatha Christie, The Monogram Murders - billed as a "new" Hercule Poirot mystery, by British mystery author Sophie Hannah. It wasn't a bad read, but was it Poirot? For fans of Christie's most famous and famously fastidious detective, there were definite pleasant notes scored, with nods to his love of order and symmetry. Where the book fell flat for me was Poirot's "assistant" in the case, a young police officer named Catchpool, who seemed neither fit for the police force or for sharing Poirot's company. I didn't find the core mystery too compelling, either, I'm afraid. Hannah got permission from Christie's descendants to try her hand at Poirot, and apparently this book was successful enough to spawn a second, Closed Casket, which will be released in September. I will surely check it out from the library, but with expectations not too high.

The Murder House, by James Petterson (David Ellis) - a "collaboration," the book was a fast, if a bit disjointed, thriller. I usually like books that focus on a house as another character, especially a sinister one, so the title attracted me. It was actually the first book by the uber-prolific Patterson that I have read. The Murder House could have done with more house-centric scenes and less running around, but definitely the perfect beach read if you like this sort of thing.

I loved Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, and finally got around to reading her first two novels:

Dark Places follows Libby Day in the past and present as she tries to cope with being the only surviving member of an infamous Satanic cult massacre that took the lives of her mother and two sisters. Libby's seven year-old witness testimony implicates her teenage brother, and twenty five years later she begins to question what she thinks she heard and saw. Flynn deftly portrays the rural poverty of the Midwest and the desperate and dark forces that drive people to murder. It was a great and gripping read and Libby was a complex and compelling character.

Sharp Objects followed another female character. Camille, a reporter who must delve into her past while investigating a series of murders that have taken place in her childhood town of Wind Gap, Missouri. Flynn skillfully takes the reader through Camille's past and present, with scattered clues relating to the current crimes, as well as factors contributing to Camille's personal history of self-harm. At times scary and heartbreaking, Flynn's first novel is a great read.

Still in the mood for s thriller, I picked up The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins, at the library, and was not disappointed. The story follows a trio of female protagonists, who may or may not be reliable narrators: Rachel, Anna, and Megan. Rachel, an alcoholic who is still obsessed with her ex-husband Tom, sees a woman and a man from her window seat on the commuter train to London and proceeds to weave a fantasy narrative about their lives. This story begins to interweave with an actual case of missing woman and Rachel's own sad history with her ex. A twisted and turning but ultimately very satisfying mystery thriller. Highly recommended.

I also read another highly fictionalized account of the life of Marilyn Monroe, Marilyn Monroe Confidential, by Lena Pepitone, who worked as her maid while Marilyn was living in New York and married to Arthur Miller. Since Pepitone had very limited English (she was originally from Naples), the book, which came out in 1979, has been widely criticized for its supposed veracity. Pepitone reproduces long conversations with the star, which, years after her death, would have been hard for the most fluent speaker of English to recall. Even knowing that it is mostly balderdash, it is undeniably a fun, if trashy, read, with the dropping of many famous names from Marilyn's orbit, including Frank Sinatra and Joe DiMaggio.

Monday, January 11, 2016

the artist who fell to earth

I am in shock this morning to hear that one of the icons of my youth is gone. He did a little bit of everything - music, movies, painting - and did it well. RIP David Bowie, you will be missed. Here is an old post of mine with a memory of my "meeting" the golden man.

golden years

I've been thinking about why I blog lately. Mostly, because I want to share something that happens in the world and put my own spin on it. But maybe it's also a way to tell little stories from the past that might reflect on the present.

I upload current and not-so-current songs onto my iPhone and then shuffle through my taste in music, past and present, while I walk through town. A song can bring me right back to a particular time in my life, as music can do. Golden Years popped up in rotation the other day and zap - I was right back in high school gym class. For some reason the teachers decided we should be "dancing" instead of playing volleyball, so there we all were, learning a line-dance move to David Bowie.

That memory brought back another Bowie reference from my past, when I was an art student in NYC. I was heading to MoMA, hellbent on seeing Jasper John's Flagpainting. MoMA was undergoing a renovation and all the "greatest hits" were in the basement. I was so focused on my mission, that I barely noticed the other folks who stepped on the elevator to view the collection.

As we headed down, I heard two girls giggling in the corner of the elevator. I finally turned to see what was their problem, and there, looking straight ahead was David Bowie, wearing a shiny gold jacket, his hair the exact matching color of his jacket. He glowed.

As the doors opened, he exited and everyone followed him out of the elevator and followed him from painting to painting, staring in excitement, awe, and embarrassment. Except me. I went in the other direction, trying to find Jasper Johns. After a few stops at some other favorites, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. I was staring at Broadway Boogie Woogie, and David Bowie, who was in an adjacent gallery, appeared to be staring at me.

No way.

I moved on to an Ellsworth Kelley. So did Bowie, to Broadway Boogie Woogie, casually glancing over. Hmmm. This happened at a few more paintings and then wait - finally - there was Jasper Johns!

I headed over to the Flag, happy to reach my elusive quarry. A few moments later, someone was standing very close, on my left side, practically leaning into me. I don't have to tell you who. I looked up at him in disbelief and he just smiled. I stood there for a while, trying to pay some attention to the Johns, but I seemed to have lost interest in the painting. I started to feel uncomfortable. His crowd of admirers had disappeared. The hunted was now the hunter. And I got to taste , for a moment, what it must be like to be hounded.

I pretty much had my fill of art at that point, and ducked out of the gallery. As I sat on the subway home, writing down the event in my notebook (like I'd ever forget it), I wondered why he had chosen me to follow, and why I hadn't been able to say anything to him. Mostly, I guess, because I didn't have much to say - "You're David Bowie?" Not too impressive.

When I got home I looked in the mirror and saw that there were three streaks of different colored oil paint in my hair - alizarin crimson, pthalo green and cerulean blue. A clue! I had been in such a rush to get to the museum directly from painting class, to go after my target, as it were, I had never noticed the paint in my hair.

A little paint, a little stalking, a fun little memory.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

you're a mean one, mr. grinch

Maybe we never really get past our eight year-old selves, as my all-time favorite holiday song still has to be ...

It's the perfect combination of fabulous vocals and clever lyrics. "the tree words that describe you are, and I quote, 'Stink, stank, STUNK!'" Great song, great cartoon.

Merry Christmas!