Thursday, July 05, 2018

Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut


(pb; 1961)

From the back cover

Mother Night is a daring challenge to our moral sense. American Howard W. Campbell, Jr., a spy during World War II, is now on trial in Israel as a Nazi war criminal. But is he really guilty?”


Review

Mother is one of my all-time favorite reads. It is a waste-no-words, fast-paced novel: specifically it is a dark, sly, twisty, hilarious and masterful satire about human nature, love, nationalism and war. Reading this in this current political slash global climate gave Mother a special, timely resonance. This is an excellent, blistering book, one worth owning.

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The resulting film was released stateside on November 1, 1996. Keith Gordon directed the film, from Robert B. Weide’s screenplay.

Nick Nolte played Howard Campbell. Brawley Nolte played Young Howard Campbell. Sheryl Lee played Helga and Resi Noth. Kirsten Dunst played Young Resi Noth.

John Goodman played Major John Wirtanen. David Strathairn played Bernard B. O’Hare. Arye Gross played Dr. Abraham Epstein. Anna Berger played Epstein’s Mother. 

Bernard Behrens played Dr. Lionel Jones. Gerard Parkes played Father Keeley. Frankie Faison played The Black Fuehrer. Author Kurt Vonnegut, billed as Kurt Vonnegut Jr., played Sad Man on Street.


Bye Bye Blondie by Virginie Despentes

(2004: translated from the French by Siãn Reynolds)

From the back cover

“Gloria has spent decades drinking, swearing, and determinedly lashing out at anyone that dares come close. But when finally given the chance to ‘make it,’ she finds herself unexpectedly vulnerable to the promises of fame and fortune. A biting satire of the naĩveté of both rebellion and conformity, Bye Bye Blondie looks at what happens when a woman decides to sell out─only to discover that the joke’s been played on her.”

Review

This is a rage-, violence- and comedy-fueled tale, one that takes on the notions of societal class, romantic comedy, the sense(s) of evolving selves, and other relatable, pertinent themes. Bye is an excellent, pedal-to-the-metal and punk-sensitive work, one worth reading.

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The resulting film, directed and scripted by the book’s author, was released in France on March 21, 2012.

Béatrice Dalle played Gloria. Emanuelle Béart played Frances. Soko played Gloria ado. Clara Ponsot played Frances ado. Jean-Marc Royon played Michel. Olivia Csiky Trnka played Hélène.

Lydia Lunch played La chanteuse. Coralie, billed as Coralie Trinh Thi, played La gothique.


Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Dune: House Corrino by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson


(pb; 2001: third book in the Prelude to Dune trilogy)

From the back cover

“Fearful of losing his precarious hold on the Golden Lion Throne, Shaddam IV, Emperor of a Million Worlds, has devised a radical scheme to develop an alternative to mélange, the addictive spice that binds the Imperium together and that can be found only on the deser world of Dune. In subterranean labs on the machine planet Ix, cruel Tleilaxu overlords use slaves and prisoners as part of a horric plan to manufacture a synthetic form of mélange known as amal. If amal can supplant the spice from Dune, it will give Shaddam what he seeks: absolute power. 

“But Duke Leto Atreides, grief-stricken yet unbowed by the tragic death of his son Victor and determined to restore the honor and prestige of his House, has his own plans for Ix. He will free the Ixians from their oppressive conquerors and restore his friend Prince Rhombur, injured scion of the disgraced House Vernius, to his rightful place as Ixian ruler. It is a bold and risky venture, for House Atreides has limited military resources and many ruthless enemies, including the sadistic Baron Harkonnen, despotic master of Dune.

“Meanwhile, Duke Leto’s consort, the beautiful Lady Jessica, obeying the orders of her superiors in the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood, has conceived a child that the Sisterhood intends to be the penultimate step in the creation of an all-powerful being. Yet what the Sisterhood doesn’t know is that the child Jessica is carrying not the girl they are expecting, but a boy. Jessica’s act of disobedience is an act of love ─ her attempt to provide her Duke with a male heir to House Atreides ─ but an act that, when discovered, could kill mother and baby.

“Like the Bene Gesserit, Shaddam Corrino is also concerned with making a plan for the future-securing his legacy. Blinded by his need for power, the Emperor will launch a plot against Dune, the only natural source of true spice. If he succeeds, his madness will result in a cataclysmic tragedy not even he foresees: the end of space travel, the Imperium, and civilization itself. With Duke Leto and other renegades and revolutionaries fighting to stem the tide of darkness that threatens to engulf their universe, the stage is set for a showdown unlike any seen before.”


Review

Corrino brings explosive, cinematic and brutal fruition to the schemes, characters and plot tendrils that have been building in House Atreides and House Harkonnen. It also sets up the tension and other plot/character situations that lead to the Frank Herbert’s original Dune novel. Like its prequels, this is an excellent, true-to-Dune-feel story, with its Godfather-esque structure and root-worthy or hissable characters: in short, this a book worth owning ─ especially if you are a fan of other books in the series.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago. . . Volume 4 by various artists and writers


(pb; 2011: graphic novel. Collects Star Wars issues #68─85, the King-Sized Annual #3 and the original four-issue adaptation of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi from the Marvel Comics Star Wars series from the 1980s)

From the back cover

“In this volume alone, there are nearly 500 pages of classic Star Wars adventures! Luke Skywalker and his rebel friends battle the oppressive Empire in stories set shortly before and after the galaxy’s restoration to a New Republic in Return of the Jedi. This volume collects Marvel Comics Star Wars #68─85, as well as the original four-issue adaptation of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.”


Overall review

 This eighteen-issue edition collects issues #68─85, King-Sized Annual #3 and the original four-issue adaptation of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, which were originally published in the early 1980s.

Vol. 4 is a fun, action-packed collection. Again, many of the stories are standard science fiction stories that could be applied to any series, but then the same could be said about the original Star Wars films. The artwork, again, varies from decent to god-awful, but between nostalgia and the general fun tone of the work, this volume is a worthwhile read for fans like myself. Followed by Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago. . . Volume 5.


Story arcs/issue #s

The Search Begins” [#68]: Leia, Threepio and R2-D2 seek out Denga, one of the bounty hunters who hunted Han Solo in Empire Strikes Back) on Mandalore, a distant planet. While there, they meet Fenn Shysa, an acquaintance of Boba Fett’s, who wears armor similar to Fett’s.


Death in the City of Bone!” [#69]: Leia, R2-D2, Threepio and Fenn Shysa take on a Mandalorian slave colony army.


The Stenax Shuffle” [#70]: En route to the plaent Stenos, Luke and Chewie to tell Lando about the last itme he, Han, Leia and the droids were there (prior to the events of Empire). Luke and Chewie also mention how they looked for an ancient artifact, one that may win the Rebels new allies. (This issue fetures the first appearance of Rik Duel, Dani and Chihdo, Han’s acquaintances and fellow mercenaries.)


Return to Stenos” [#71]: On Stenos, Luke and Lando are recognized, leading to a violent run of luck, mostly bad, as well as encounters with Bossk and IG-88 (Boba Fett’s bounty hunter partners in Empire).


Fool’s Bounty” [#72]: Luke and Lando, caught by IG-88 and Bossk, fight for their freedom ─ with help from unexpected, multiple friends and acquaintances.


Lahsbane” [#73]: While attempting to recover the ship tapes of a downed Rebel pilot (Tay Vanis) our heroes encounter silly ─ later hostile ─ aliens (Lashsbees) and an Imperial patrol, also looking the tapes.


The Iskalon Effect” [#74] ─ “Artoo-Detoo to the Rescue!” [#76]: On Iskalon ─ a peaceful planet of gilled, water-loving aliens ─ hope, sorrow, treachery and milestone tragedies play out.


Chanteuse of the Stars” [#77]: Back at the Rebel base on Arbra, an unexpected hologram of pre-Empire Han impels Luke and Leia ─ the latter still fervidly missing Han ─ to a mixed-alien ball that is sometimes screwball, sometimes terrifying. This is an especially fun, light issue.


Hoth Stuff” [#78]: Luke and Leia search a transport ship for Wedge Antilles, Luke’s longtime friend and Rebel pilot. They find a hologram made by the still-missing Antilles, whose fate appears to be grim.


The Apprentice” [King-Sized Annual #3]: On the planet Belderone, two young friends (Barney and Flint) are caught between the Empire and the Rebellion, setting them on their possibly-divergent paths.


The Big Con” [#79]: Lando and Chewie try to trick a gang of thieves into helping them find Han ─ and discover the thieves already know. (This knowledge paves the way for the certain events in Return of the Jedi.


Ellie” [#80]: Luke and Leia discover the probable location of Tay Vanis, the missing Rebel, and his Bothan tape. (Both were first mentioned in issue #73.) Their seeming victory does not come without a high cost, however.


Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” [#1─4 of the “four-issue limited series”]: This miniseries recounts the events of the 1983 film.


Jawas of Doom” [#81]: Leia and Han go to Tatooine to retrieve money han had stashed away. They encounter trouble in the form of bellicose Jawas, legal red tape and Boba Fett, who ─ amazingly ─ survived his descent into the sarlaac (a beast with a long, torturous digestive cycle).


Diplomacy” [#82]: Luke and a Plif (a hoojib, first mention in issue #55), fly to Iskalon ─ whose inhabitants’ serene society was destroyed in issue #74─76. Luke and Plif’s mission: to invite the Iskalions to join an interplanetary council. While there, Luke and Plif discover Dani, Rik Duel and Chihdo (last seen together in issue #72), as well as Kiro and Mone, Iskalions with notably different worldviews.


Sweetheart Contract” [#83]: On planet Dragheda, Lando gets caught between royal intrigue and explosive revolution.


Seoul Searching” [#84]: Han Solo and Chewie find and seek valuable crystals in a legendary city long thought destroyed. Of course, they encounter Imperial forces there,  also hoping to find the crystal to use as a devastating telepathic weapon.


The Hero” [#85]: On planet Keyorin, “the Hunter’s World”, Lando, Han and Chewie get tangled in a conflict between multiple criminal parties, two of whom are Bossk and IG-88. Also: one of Lando’s on-going jokes ─ identifying himself as one of his enemies ─ lands him in a difficult situation.

Kurt Vonnegut: The Last Interview and Other Conversations edited by Tom McCartan


(hb; 2011: nonfiction)

From the back cover

One of the great American iconoclasts holds forth on politics, war, books and writers, and his personal life in a series of conversations, including his last published interview.

“During his long career Kurt Vonnegut won international praise for his novels, plays, and essays. In this new anthology of conversations with Vonnegut—which collects interviews from throughout his career—we learn much about what drove Vonnegut to write and how he viewed his work at the end.


Review

This collection of magazine interviews, spanning from 1977 to 2007, is a good, witty and provocative read if you are a Kurt Vonnegut fan. If you read A Man Without a Country, some of what Vonnegut says will likely be familiar. My favorite interview is “The Joe & Kurt Show”, from Playboy, May 1992. It is especially fun to see Joseph Heller and Vonnegut, friends, colleagues and neighbors verbally play off and support each other, even as they make thoughtful points about war, politics, society and personal relationships.

Coco Butternut by Joe R. Lansdale


(hb; 2017: third novella in the Hap and Leonard series; sixteenth book in the overall series)

From the back cover

“Coco Butternut marks the always-welcome return of Joe R. Lansdale’s dysfunctional duo: Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. As usual, wherever Hap and Leonard go, trouble seems to already be there, awaiting their arrival. And in the case of this twisty, hilarious, and heartfelt new novella, Lansdale sends his heroes to Oak Rest mortuary and cemetery to grapple with the living and the dead—both canine and human.

"When the mummified corpse of a beloved prize-winning daschund named Coco Butternut is stolen from her final resting place, Hap and Leonard are hired by the owner to get her body back. The job is straightforward: they must simply exchange a bag full of cash for the missing pooch's mummy. But they can feel something is not on the up-and-up, and how right they are.

"With assistance from Hap's significant other, Brett, and his daughter, Chance, Hap and Leonard are soon embroiled in a gripping mystery tied to the dark secrets lurking beneath the hallowed ground of Oak Rest cemetery."


Review

Tone-wise, this is one of the lightest, if not the lightest, entries in the Hap and Leonard series. It also sports one of the slightest storylines in the series. That said, this is still an entertaining, light-on-quips-and-violence and semi-quirky read. Followed by Rusty Puppy.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

(pb; 2006)

From the back cover

“Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: she must return to her tiny hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. For years, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed in her old bedroom in her family's Victorian mansion, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Dogged by her own demons, she must unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past if she wants to get the story—and survive this homecoming.”


Review

Sharp is a hard-to-set-down, tightly-penned crime thriller whose female-centric energy is dark, cruel and sometimes shocking. Eagle-eyed readers may spot the villain ─ or villains ─ early on, but for this reader it is not a criticism. This is an excellent page-turner, a bleak-twist read for a lazy afternoon.

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The resulting eight-episode miniseries of the same name is scheduled to premiere on HBO on July 8, 2018. It was directed by miniseries creator Marti Noxon, from teleplays by various writers.

Amy Adams played Camille Preaker. Patricia Clarkson played Adora Crellin. Eliza Scanlen played Amma Crellin.  Henry Czerny played Alan Crellin.

Miguel Sandoval played Frank Curry. Barbara Eve Harris played Eileen Curry. Matt Craven played Vickery. Chris Messina played Det. Richard Willis.

Elizabeth Perkins played Jackie. April Brinson played Jodes. Violet Brinson played Kelsey. Taylor John Smith played John Keene. 


A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut



(hb; 2005: nonfiction)

From the inside flap

“In a volume that is penetrating, introspective, incisive, and laugh-out-loud funny, one of the great men of letters of this age–or any age–holds forth on life, art, sex, politics, and the state of America’s soul. From his coming of age in America, to his formative war experiences, to his life as an artist, this is Vonnegut doing what he does best: Being himself. Whimsically illustrated by the author, A Man Without a Country is intimate, tender, and brimming with the scope of Kurt Vonnegut’s passions.”



Review

This is an excellent and wise short collection of essays that touches on the subjects of politics, social interactions, relations with women, war and other timely subjects. It sometimes dark but it is also funny, tender, sad and, on occasion, there is a spark of hope, despite Vonnegut’s admission that he has mostly lost faith in humanity. A provocative, short and burn-through read, this: one worth owning and re-reading, on occasion.

Jackrabbit Smile by Joe R. Lansdale

(hb; 2018: eleventh novel in the Hap and Leonard series; twenty-first book in the overall series. Sequel to: Coco Butternut: A Hap and Leonard Novella; Cold Cotton; and Hoodoo Harry.)

From the inside flap


“Hap and Leonard are an unlikely pair ─ Hap, a self-proclaimed white trash rebel, and Leonard, a tough-as-nails black gay Vietnam vet and Republican ─ but they’re the closest friend either of them has in the world. Hap is celebrating his wedding to his longtime girlfriend, when their backyard barbecue is interrupted by a couple of Pentecostal white supremacists. They’re not too happy to see Leonard, and no one is happy to see them, but they have a problem and they want Hap and Leonard to solve it.


“Judith Mulhaney’s daughter, Jackrabbit, has been missing for five years. That is, she’s been missing from her family for five years, but she’s been missing from everyboy, including the local no-goods they knew ran with her, for a few months. Despite their misgivings, Hap and Leonard take the case. It isn’t long until they find themselves mied up in a revivialist cult believing that Jesus will return glanced by an army of lizard-men, and solving a murder to boot.”


Review

Like its prequel novel, Rusty Puppy, Jackrabbit is one of the lighter entries in the Hap and Leonard series. It is, as are the other related books, an engaging read, with its smart-aleck levity, intriguing characters, heart and violent darkness. Another great, scorch-through tale, this. Jackrabbit is, of course, worth owning.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Cats in Krasinski Square by Karen Hesse and Wendy Watson


(hb; 2004: children’s picture book. Illustrated by Wendy Watson.)

From the back cover

“Newbery medalist Karen Hesse tells a harrowing, true story about life in the Warsaw Ghetto during WWII.

“When Karen Hesse came upon a short article about cats out-foxing the Gestapo at the train station in Warsaw during WWII, she couldn't get the story out of her mind. The result is this stirring account of a Jewish girl's involvement in the Resistance. At once terrifying and soulful, this fictional account, borne of meticulous research, is a testament to history and to our passionate will to survive.


Review

This outstanding children’s picture book manages a rare feat: it deals with a dark, yet strangely inspiring historical event and manages to be child-friendly and entertaining at the same time. Its artwork is eloquent and simple, as spare as the emotionally resonant tale it accompanies. This is excellent, and ─ even for this adult ─ worth re-reading on occasion, for its humanity, grace and superb storytelling.

Just Tell Me When to Cry by Richard Fleischer


(hb; 1993: memoir)

From the back cover

“Richard Fleischer has directed almost fifty films. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, The Vikings, Compulsion, Doctor Dolittle, The Boston Strangler, Tora!Tora! Tora!, and The New Centurions are only a few of his hits. He first went to Hollywood in 1945 and over the years worked with and for John Wayne, Walt Disney, Howard Hughes, Robert Mitchum, Rex Harrison, James Mason, Kirk Douglas, Darryl Zanuck, Sidney Poitier, Charlton Heston, Jane Russell, Tony Curtis, Laurence Olivier, Akira Kurosawa, and Orson Welles, among others. Richard Fleischer tells of his forty-five plus years in the ego capital of the world by relating a series of the best stories you'll ever hear (and have never heard before) about legendary personalities and how they behaved (and misbehaved) during the course of making a movie.


Review


Fleischer’s informative account of his filmic dealings in Hollywood and Europe is entertaining, briskly told, hilarious, troubling (e.g., when he dealt with HUAC) and consistently excellent. His writing is reader-friendly with its succinct (line or two) filmmaking explanations, which do not disrupt Cry’s storytelling. This is a great read with a lot of laughs, especially if you are a fan of old-time Hollywood. It is also one of my favorite reads of 2018, one worth owning.

<em>Mother Night</em> by Kurt Vonnegut

(pb; 1961) From the back cover “ Mother Night is a daring challenge to our moral sense. American Howard W. Campbell, Jr., a spy du...