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Update May 2018


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Book Review
 

May 26, 2018 - June 1, 2018

Jane Hawk continues quest in ‘The Crooked Staircase’

 

Jeff Ayers (AP)

Jane Hawk continues her quest to bring down a vast conspiracy in “The Crooked Staircase” by Dean Koontz, a follow-up to “The Silent Corner” and “The Whispering Room.”

Hawk is the most wanted woman in America and being on the run makes it hard to rest or trust anyone.  She can’t see her son, and the only people she can truly rely on are keeping him hidden and safe.  When her husband committed suicide, she knew it was murder.  Her investigation put a target on her back, and now she goes after the corrupt organization Arcadia, a giant octopus of a group that she pursues arm by arm until she brings the entire thing crashing down.  But every move she makes is met with a counter move by her enemies who have the resources and determination to eliminate her once and for all.

While she methodically goes after the next name on the list hoping it will lead to someone higher up in the group, the novel also focuses on a brother and sister who are young writers.  The material the writers have created potentially poses a threat to Arcadia and its ultimate goals.  This brings urgency to the story, showing that it is more than a personal vendetta for Hawk at this point.  Hawk is the one person who understands what Arcadia wants to accomplish, and the group wants to take her out while she wants to destroy the organization.

Koontz has written another stellar tale with Hawk.  She’s easy to root for, and “The Crooked Staircase” is a gripping read for almost 500 pages, though in retrospect, not much really happens to propel the story too far forward.  With at least two more novels coming with Hawk, hopefully Koontz will give this saga closure soon while pursuing other potential opportunities for her to shine under different circumstances.

The story line does veer a bit into the torture realm this time around, bringing up some disturbing images to go with her crusade.  Even with all of this in mind, “The Crooked Staircase” is a page-turner to dive into this summer.


May 19, 2018 - May 25, 2018

Author John Connolly reimagines comedian Stan Laurel in ‘he’

 

Oline H. Cogdill

Although never referred to by name, the he of the eponymous “he” is comedian Stan Laurel, who with Oliver Hardy, was half of Laurel and Hardy, one of the most successful and beloved comic teams in the early 20th century. With only the pronouns of he or him, author John Connolly reimagines Laurel in both abstract and three-dimensional ways, getting to the soul of Laurel, the comic, the multi-married, forever-in-debt-with-alimony and alcoholic.

“He” has no plot and is written as a memoir and with a stream-of-consciousness approach with short chapters, some only a couple of paragraphs long, as Connolly looks at Laurel’s life and career, showing the man’s flaws and foibles. “He” also is a story of Old Hollywood when the medium of movies was just gearing up, a story of gossip, of myth and of what makes a legend. “He” is gracefully written and maintains its lyrical look at the comic, despite being a bit too long.

“He” alternates between Laurel’s last days in a Santa Monica apartment to his career that began around 1906 when the 16-year-old made his first appearance at a London music hall. Those early years were tough, noted for long hours and little pay. Along the way, Laurel met Charlie Chaplin, who long before he became a Hollywood star showed his genius, inspiring awe and jealousy among his fellow comics. “Chaplin is different, touched by a god, but which god? There is discipline in Chaplin’s anarchy ...” Traveling on the same ship as Chaplin, Laurel finds the United States a series of cold flats and performances in sleazy theaters on the vaudeville circuit until he stumbles into the burgeoning movie industry.

Laurel and Oliver Hardy, affectionately known as Babe, both had careers in Hollywood before their accidental partnership. The Laurel and Hardy team was kismet for both comics, with more than 100 movies featuring their slapstick comedy from the late 1920s through the mid-1940s. The two men were genuinely fond of each other, and after Babe died, Laurel never again performed. Their careers were controlled by the early studio system, especially under manipulative producer Hal Roach, “a colorful man trapped in a black and white world” who staggered their contracts so neither could quit at the same time.

Connolly’s meticulous research touches on unfair contract negotiations, how sound changed the business and the treatment of actors and especially young actresses as disposable commodities. The unusual “He” also showcases Connolly’s varied talents. (AP)


May 12, 2018 - May 18, 2018

‘Miss Subways’ is a quirky novel by David Duchovny

Jeff Ayers

Though primarily known for his acting roles in TV series such as “The X-Files,” David Duchovny has the writing gene as well. “Miss Subways” is a quirky, wholly original — and at times baffling — novel that tackles an Irish myth and gives it a contemporary spin, mixing it with legends and stories from other worlds.

What starts as a simple story of a woman in love turns into a battle with fate.

Emer commutes every day on the New York subway to her job, and she daydreams of a better life. Her boyfriend, Con, lives with her and is a struggling writer. One night after a lecture, she waits for him to come home while he hangs out with a mysterious woman named Anansi. In the middle of the night, she gets a knock at the door expecting Con. But it’s a tiny doorman named Sid who tells her she must make a choice. Con is about to die, but she can save him by giving him up forever with no memory of them knowing each other. If she refuses, his life is over.

Her answer and the ramifications of her decision spin the story to an endearing conclusion.

Duchovny masters dialogue and various monsters and mythologies to weave this tale that’s probably not for everyone. While rooting for Emer and Con to find happiness, readers will also question fate and reality.

“Miss Subways” reads like a hybrid of the TV show “Twin Peaks” and the 1998 film “Sliding Doors” merged with a love letter to New York City. A wild and unpredictable journey from Duchovny’s bold imagination awaits readers. (AP)


May 5, 2018 - May 11, 2018

‘Space Odyssey’ robustly explores Kubrick’s ‘2001’

Douglass K. Daniel

Fifty years ago, moviegoers had their minds blown by director Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” To this day some of them still aren’t quite sure what it all means.

Was an alien intelligence behind the monolith? What went wrong with the computer known as HAL? Does the way station in the afterlife really look like a Louis XIV hotel suite? Did Dr. Floyd’s daughter get her bush baby?

Seriously, part of Kubrick’s genius — and that of his co-screenwriter, Arthur C. Clarke — was not to spell out everything, thus challenging people to ponder the futuristic mythology unspooling before them. “If anyone understands it on the first viewing,” Clarke said at the time, “we’ve failed in our intention.”

Failure? Not when many consider “2001” the greatest science-fiction movie ever made and one of the landmarks of cinema, period.

Whether you’ve not seen “2001” recently or not seen it at all, do so before tackling Michael Benson’s exhaustive account of its creation. “Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece” is a movie wonk’s dream, launching its rich narrative with the written invitation from Kubrick to Clarke in 1964 to create what Kubrick hoped would be the first “really good” science-fiction film. Scores of books and videos about “2001” and its director have appeared over the half-century since its premiere, yet it would be difficult to envision anything offering the abundance of telling anecdotes, technical detail and keen insight that fills Benson’s “Space Odyssey.”

The author explains in great detail the narrative hurdles Kubrick and Clarke faced as they tried to stay true to what might be possible in space exploration three-plus decades in the future. For example, they didn’t settle on astronaut Dave Bowman’s helmetless jump from spacecraft to spacecraft without assurances that a human being could actually survive several seconds in a deep-space vacuum.

While Benson gives Clarke, the movie’s cast and various members of the production team their well-deserved places in the creation of “2001,” the maddeningly brilliant, obsessed Kubrick remains its star. He is presented as a flawed genius, at least in the eyes of his collaborators, a man at times cold and cruel and at other moments empathetic and generous. Kubrick cultivated creative people, encouraged them and gave them room to come up with ideas, yet he was exceedingly stingy when it came to sharing credit.

Kubrick, who died in 1999 and never saw the actual year 2001, remains as enigmatic as his movie monolith, a cinematic touchstone for future generations of filmmakers. (AP)


April 28, 2018 - May 4, 2018

The man who cannot forget returns in Baldacci’s ‘The Fallen’

Jeff Ayers

In David Baldacci’s “The Fallen,” Amos Decker, who had a terrible head injury while playing football, can recall all of his memories to the slightest detail as if rewinding a recorded program.  He now works with the FBI.  He’s on vacation with his partner, Alex Jamison, who wants to visit her sister in a small town in Pennsylvania.  Things go wrong almost immediately.

The town of Baronville is like many other small towns, struggling to survive now that the mill has closed and mining has dried up.  Opiod addiction has almost crippled the town as well.  Alex’s sister and her family moved there due to a job promotion, but they are finding living in this new place is challenging.  The first evening of their visit, Amos witnesses something unusual in the house next door and ends up stumbling onto the site of a double homicide.

The police acknowledge that these murders are only the latest in a string of several, and now Amos and Alex’s plans for a relaxing vacation away from the job have vanished.  With his ability to remember everything, Amos looks over the clues and attempts to decipher a pattern.  When he and Alex are almost killed, Amos realizes that his memory is now somewhat fuzzy.

Baldacci is a wonderful storyteller, and he incorporates wonderful characters into baffling conspiracies.  Mimicking the style of his Camel Club series of novels, he takes on small-town America, capturing both good and bad elements.  He demonstrates why these small towns are worth saving.  It’s a theme he has explored before, but it still has potency and relevance. (AP)


DAILY UPDATE

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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Jane Hawk continues quest in ‘The Crooked Staircase’


Author John Connolly reimagines comedian Stan Laurel in ‘he’


‘Miss Subways’ is a quirky novel by David Duchovny


‘Space Odyssey’ robustly explores Kubrick’s ‘2001’


The man who cannot forget returns in Baldacci’s ‘The Fallen’


 



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