Monday, September 26, 2016

The Sound of Silence

Prepare to have your world rocked. I heard this version of The Sound of Silence by heavy metal band Disturbed this weekend, and what can I say? Goosebumps. I love Simon and Garfunkel, but this will forever be my favorite version of this song.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

With Malice

In today’s social media crazed world where gossip is news, drama sells, and every Tom, Dick and Harry posts or tweets their views as if experts, the court of public opinion rules and the idea that someone is innocent until proven guilty seems to have become a thing of the past. Eileen Cook’s YA thriller, With Malice, highlights the truth that in part nowadays “it doesn’t matter what’s true – what matters is what people believe.” Inspired by the real-life Amanda Knox trial, this engaging thriller keeps you guessing until the very end.

From the publisher: “Eighteen-year-old Jill Charron's senior trip to Italy was supposed to be the adventure of a lifetime. And then the accident happened. Waking up in a hospital room, her leg in a cast, stitches in her face, and a big blank canvas where the last 6 weeks should be, Jill comes to discover she was involved in a fatal accident in her travels abroad. She was jetted home by her affluent father in order to receive quality care. Care that includes a lawyer. And a press team. Because maybe the accident...wasn't an accident. Wondering not just what happened but what she did, Jill tries to piece together the events of the past six weeks before she loses her thin hold on her once-perfect life.”

With Malice was a relatively tame thriller insofar as action and adrenaline, but a no less enjoyable read for its more character-driven focus. Jill is a less than reliable narrator due to her traumatic brain injury and amnesia, a key factor that makes for some captivating reading, as you question her every thought and sense of self. Interspersed between chapters of Jill’s narrative, the author has shrewdly added police transcripts, Facebook comments, text messages and blog posts that offer numerous points of view and give the reader an array of perceived truths to parse through, making an already nebulous situation all the more murky and adding to the tale’s suspense.

While some may take issue with the use of amnesia as a plot device I found it to be pure genius on the author’s part, as it added such a suspenseful dynamic to the mystery. Angel or vixen, victim or villain, the truth of Jill depends on each person’s perception and adds another facet to the mystery given her own self-doubts. As Jill struggles through her recovery, both she and the reader labor with the question of how you grasp the truth when even your memories can’t be trusted? Are we editors of our own memories and truths, unable or unwilling to believe that we are the kind of person capable of unspeakable evil?

With Malice was a twisty and satisfying read with a compelling mystery, which on a more thought-provoking note raises the question of the link between truth and memory and our sense of self, and what remains of both when memory is lost.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Better Late Than Never

This post title could not be more apropos, as it pertains to both the title of the show about which I want to rave, ooh and aah, and heap well-deserved praise on and also the very poor timing of my share, since next Tuesday is its season finale (boo!).

Better Late Than Never on NBC is a reality-travel show featuring the epic adventure of a lifetime undertaken by four American icons: Henry Winkler (aka The Fonz from Happy Days), George Foreman (Olympic gold medalist and world champion boxer), Terry Bradshaw (Hall of Fame NFL quarterback) and William Shatner (aka Captain Kirk from Star Trek), and last but not least, comedian Jeff Dye, their gopher, tour guide and all-around comportment sensei as they travel the exotic sights of Asia. Let me tell you that while enjoying the beauty of Asia is cool, it is the incredible camaraderie, friendship and fish out of water hilarity captured on screen between these crotchety, yet lovable old farts that makes it worth its weight in gold. From eating some unexpected (to say the least) delicacies at a hole in the wall joint in Tokyo, to visiting a geisha house and samurai school in Kyoto, to nearly causing an international incident in Korea, you will be utterly charmed and enchanted by this unlikely bunch of travel buddies.

I love this show and I just know you will too. Honestly, this is easily the best show on TV right now and if you don’t agree, well, you’re just nuts. No really, it’s OK if you disagree with me; I can’t force you to be right, but do yourself a favor and hit up OnDemand, Hulu, NBC or wherever else you can find it. You will laugh like there’s no tomorrow, you’ll laugh like nobody’s watching; heck, you’ll laugh so hard, tears will run down your leg. (A little too much? Well, you get the idea. It's HILARIOUS!)

PS. On the off chance (like one in a million, Lotto winning odds chance) that NBC reads this post, please, please, please let there be a Season 2! I'm not ready to kiss my five new favorite men goodbye just yet; not with so much more of the world left which they can conquer.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

Humor is subjective; an art, not a science and one in which a joke that has me ROFL, makes you frown instead. It's a "you like potato and I like potahto, You like tomato and I like tomahto"-type a thing, much like what I think will be reader's reception to The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer. Schumer's brand of humor, bold and more than a little naughty, undoubtedly inspires a wide-ranging spectrum of sentiment from fans and non-fans alike, from hate to love to somewhere in between, so her collection of essays (not a memoir) on subjects as varied as her dad, being a stand-up comic, new money, and being an introvert, to name a few, will do the same.

As I said, the book isn't a memoir, as Schumer is quick to point out from the get-go, “I’ll write one of those when I’m ninety” she says, adding that at 35 she’s not memoir-worthy. I'll confess that other than a hilarious YouTube clip of her on Ellen where she mocked the size of her arms ("Like in LA, my arms register as legs.") and an equally funny appearance on the Golden Globes, I didn't know much about Amy Schumer before reading this book. I've never seen her stand-up or her movie Trainwreck, and since I don't have cable (I can hear your gasp from here), I've never seen her comedy show. So, with that said, what did The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo teach me? Well, Schumer adores her siblings, loves her dad who is battling MS, has a complicated yet loving relationship with her mom, loves her success and everything it entails including celebrity, fame, and money, is in an ever-evolving relationship with wine (or booze in general), and most importantly, for Amy no topic or four-letter word is taboo.

While personally I'm not much of a cusser, I'm not offended by it in comedy and I must admit my funny-bone can be easily tickled (and was in this book) by a well-placed four letter word or other form of potty or juvenile humor, but others might feel otherwise. My issue with the book wasn't the NSFW topics or language, it was that many of the essays or chapters just weren't THAT funny. The only chapter in which she made me literally laugh out loud was the one titled "dad." Poopy pants does it for me I guess. A smaller gripe with the book is that Schumer gets a little preachy on serious subjects such as gun control and body-shaming of women, and though I get they're important to her, given the construct of the book and the topics for the other essays (such as "An Open Letter to My Vagina" and "Times It's Okay for a Man to Not Make a Woman Come During Sex") these conversations seemed a little out of place in this book.

Long story short, if you're looking for a laugh out loud read this isn’t quite it. Books have a way of revealing hidden truths about authors though, hidden nuggets of insight they might not have even wanted to share and The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo does just that. Despite her plans to the contrary, Schumer’s debut is really more memoir than comedy book and more than chuckles it offers real insight into the person behind the public persona, like her or not.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Sausage Party

Breaking every law of nature, rule of common decency and political correctness, Seth Rogen has managed to do the impossible – transform a seemingly cute animated cartoon into a foul-mouthed, sex-crazed, raunch fest, that is – and here’s the most amazing feat of all – hilarious! As a simple word of warning before you buy your ticket, I’ll echo Winston’s “Brace yourself Effie” (obscure movie reference free for your pleasure). Yes, for all their look of wide-eyed innocence each one of Shopwell’s residents is as brash and offensive as Andrew Dice Clay during his prime and sure to shock even the most hardened cusser among you. This ain’t for the faint of heart. Pardon my grammar.

Sausage Party is the story of a sausage named Frank (Seth Rogen) and the love of his life, Brenda (Kristen Wiig), a hot dog bun, and a host of other foods that reside at Shopwell’s supermarket, who see human shoppers as gods, whom they hope will buy them and take them to “the great beyond.” Every day the foods start the day with a hymn to the gods; a song so embarrassingly irreverent and crass that you almost feel guilty laughing. To give you an idea of the hijinks in this song alone, well, a Hitler-like jar of sauerkraut hates the ‘juice.’ Are you still with me? Well, if the thought of racist jokes still hasn’t deterred you and I’ve piqued your curiosity, here’s a link to the entire song (The Great Beyond). You gotta admit, it’s catchy.

Back to the story, Frank and Brenda’s plans for happily ever after are spoiled when a jar of Honey Mustard (Danny McBride) is returned to the store and battling PTSD shares the truth of the horrors inflicted by humans on foods in The Great Beyond. After a Saving Private Ryan Omaha Beach-like scene where lives are lost during a shopping cart collision, Frank is determined to get to the truth and following the advice imparted by Honey Mustard before his death he visits the liquor aisle and the wise Firewater (Bill Hader) looking for answers that could ultimately save all of Shopwell’s residents.

While I blushed and cringed at countless parts of this movie, I confess that I chuckled, cackled, and downright laughed out loud at countless more; in all honesty, it was filthier than I expected, but also funnier. For all its lewdness, in moments it was sweet and moderately thought-provoking, but without a doubt clever and original – though definitely not a movie for everyone, and especially not the kiddies.

Monday, August 29, 2016

You Will Know Me

If the Rio Olympics non-stop coverage of the “Final Five” wasn’t enough and you’re still jonesing for more yurchenkos and floor exercises, you might want to check out You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott, the author’s latest mystery set amidst the cutthroat world of girl’s gymnastics.

From the publisher: "How far will you go to achieve a dream? That's the question a celebrated coach poses to Katie and Eric Knox after he sees their daughter Devon, a gymnastics prodigy and Olympic hopeful, compete. For the Knoxes there are no limits--until a violent death rocks their close-knit gymnastics community and everything they have worked so hard for is suddenly at risk. As rumors swirl among the other parents, Katie tries frantically to hold her family together while also finding herself irresistibly drawn to the crime itself. What she uncovers--about her daughter's fears, her own marriage, and herself--forces Katie to consider whether there's any price she isn't willing to pay to achieve Devon's dream."

While an engaging read, You Will Know Me didn’t quite live up to the hype for me. The plot was compelling, the characters well written, but though the writing was taut and the storyline fraught with a tension that early on kept me curious and turning the pages, the suspense never crescendoed and instead remained at a singular flat note; interesting but by no means ‘thrilling’. As for the mystery itself, well, it wasn’t much of one, especially given the heavy handed foreshadowing employed by the author at various points. In the interest of full disclosure, I will confess that that my lack of enthusiasm for the book is in part due to my dissatisfaction with the tale’s resolution. What can I say, the real world is far from perfect, so when it comes to literary fiction I want my romances to have happy endings and in mystery/thrillers, my bad guys to get their well-deserved comeuppance.

I'm 0 for 2 when it comes to this author, as I had a similar experience with her 2014 novel, The Fever; another edgy teen-focused mystery that was all the rage at the time. Though I can wholeheartedly concede that Abbott is a good author with novels featuring intriguing plots and nuanced three-dimensional characters (with a special gift for writing angsty teenage girls that are the perfect mix of wide-eyed innocence and lolita-esque menace), there's been just that little something (je ne sais quoi) missing in each story that's kept them at blah and shy of BLAM.

You Will Know Me’s window into the high-pressure, high-stakes world of gymnastics was definitely intriguing, but on the whole, I felt the author didn’t quite stick her landing.