This is the start of a new series. (Move over, Armchair Traveler).
I think I’m not that unusual in that I almost always have several books “in progress.” Depending on mood or location, I’ll pick up a mystery, non-fiction book, literary-to-not-so-very-literary novel.
This series will report on first and last impressions. Do you ever start a book and it’s great for the first chapter or two and then it just fizzles? It’ll get repetitive, the characters that seemed charming become unlikable, or it takes a turn into just plain boring. In this series, I’ll give you my first impression and then (after an undetermined and suspenseful wait), I’ll give you my final thumbs up or thumbs down.
Kicking it off, is To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal. My first impression is mixed. The writing style is so fluid and unforced, it’s compulsively readable. McNeal is the master of finely wrought “small” observations about life or relationships. The mood is one of quietness and serenity.
The book alternates between present-day Judith (married and a movie editor in L.A.) and young teen Judith who moves to Nebraska to be with her father. (I prefer these sections; both the 1970′s period and the character of Judith’s father – an English professor).
I’m less enthralled with the contemporary chapters – there is a feeling of cynicism and fading hope.
Daddy by Loup Durand was a bestseller in France but, amazingly, never a huge hit in the U.S.
Thomas, an 11-year-old genius, is being chased by Nazis, after they discover the boy’s grandfather has entrusted him with information about Jewish fortunes held in Swiss bank accounts.
American millionaire David Quartermain, the father Thomas has never known, is summoned by the child’s mother when she realizes her life is in danger. Not only an incredibly tense cat-and-mouse chase novel, this is also the story of how father and son learn to trust and love each other.
Intricately plotted, there are iconic characters (a sociopathic Nazi, a mysterious sniper/bodyguard and wealthy playboy turned patriot), mysteries, secrets, and the always-fascinating setting of World War II Europe. A great and satisfying page-turner.
In Laws of Our Fathers, Scott Turow alternates between a present day murder trial and the turbulent days of the ’60′s. The parties involved in the courtroom drama knew each other during their days as a radicals.
Seth, now a journalist, struggles to find common ground with his father, a Holocaust survivor, both as a college student and 25 years later. Turow brings up the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac, one of the first examples of a father facing conflicting responsibilities and loyalties
Never a standard thriller writer, Turow’s multilayered novel explores big ideas and themes such as morality, the law – and father-son relationships.
Ever discover a series and wonder in just what order to read the books? The books themselves often neglect to list them, or, they’ll list them, but in some random order.
The library catalog, alas, doesn’t always list the actual volume number. Author websites are often so cluttered and junked up with graphics, it takes several clicks to get where you want to go.
FictFact Track Your Series is a great website for finding a simple listing of the titles in a series. (It also seems more up to date than another standby, KDL’s What’s Next?)
You can register if you want to be notified when books are released. You can also add book ratings and then browse through lists of the most popular series (Young Adult, Science Fiction, Paranormal are some of the many categories). If you find something you like, recommendations for similar series are given. (One of my favorites is “Coffeehouse Mysteries.”)
You’ll find yourself losing track of time as you go from link to link and find more authors you want to check out.
Iconic movies about Los Angeles are:
L.A. Confidential, based on the book by James Ellroy. 1950′s Southern California in all it’s noir glory. Three cops are drawn into a complicated web of crime involving prostitutes and plastic surgery. Heavy hitters like Kevin Spacey, Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe are fun to watch, even as the plot gets more and more challenging to follow.
The Player, based on the book by Michael Tolkin. In typical Robert Altman fashion, the film is jam-packed with movie actors playing themselves (over 65 of them). Part of the fun is spotting them as they pop up in the background. Tim Robbins is “the player” – a movie executive who is in constant negotiations with screenwriters and actors.
L.A. Story, screenplay by Steve Martin. One of Sarah Jessica Parker’s breakthrough performances; she plays a bouncy, free-spirit named SanDeE*, who has a life-altering effect on weatherman Steve Martin. Like The Player, this is a satirical look at the L.A./Hollywood lifestyle, though more affectionate and celebratory.
Have you zipped through Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series? Are you looking for a heroine as tough and scarred as Lisbeth Salander? Well, look no further.
The titular Informationist, Munroe (aka Michael and Victoria) is a very high-priced gun-for-hire. Because of her facility with languages and insight into the politics and economics of other countries, she acts as a quasi-spy/private eye for governments and corporations. She grew up in Cameroon, the daughter of missionaries, and rebelled against their religion and neglectful parenting, by going to work for a local cartel of criminals. There she learns many survival skills, useful in her current line of work.
The most interesting aspect of the book are the settings of Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon. Munroe and her minder navigate the bureaucracy, politics and culture of these countries trying to find the daughter of a billionaire oilman.
Her job as an “informationist,” is to get the information her employer requests. In this case, whether the missing girl, Emily, is dead or alive. Such a remote part of the world is fascinatingly revealed – the climate, history, and customs are incorporated naturally into the story. The pages nearly drip with the heat and humidity.
The author herself grew up very non-traditionally, in a “communal apocalyptic cult,” as she says. It wasn’t till she was in her twenties that she escaped. The cult traveled all over the world, including West Central Africa, which accounts for her gifted depiction of this area.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a series of Victoria Munroe books in the near future.
Years ago, some Davenport Public librarians saved one of the last of the library’s typewriters from the auction pile. It has been in steady use ever since – for forms, envelopes and for those who apparently just like to type!
Library formats and databases have come and gone; but the little-typewriter-that-could remains in the corner of the Main library’s first floor.
A New York Times article, “Click, Clack, Ding! Sigh…” describes a movement of typewriter enthusiasts who “appreciate tangibility, the object-ness of things.” Advantages include the timelessness of the machine, “unlike laptops and smartphones, which become obsolete the moment they hit the market.” In contrast to these delicate devices,” old typewriters are built like battleships ” and are easy to repair.
They also serve to focus a writer on writing; there’s only one thing you can do on a typewriter. You can’t have several windows open - multitasking on Facebook, email and Twitter.
So, bring the kids and grandkids by the Main library to see an actual, working typewriter. They’ll be amazed.
Earthquake in the Heartland hits the closest to home. This History Channel show focuses on the New Madrid fault in Missouri that threatens the midwest and southeast. In 1811 and 12, an earthquake actually caused the Mississippi River to flow backwards. There were multiple tremors that probably reached 8 on the Richter scale.
Earthquake Storms is a Discovery Channel program that addresses the tendency toward multiple earthquakes occurring in a short period of time, in particular the effect this would have on a large city.
Nature Unleashed: Earthquake /Avalanche The first movie in this set turns out to be timely. An American engineer goes to Russia to inspect a nuclear power plant. While he’s there, a huge earthquake occurs that cripples the plant and threatens a meltdown. The engineer and his ex-wife who works at the facility race to save their daughter who is caught in a subway. As part of the disaster movie genre, it’s not bad.
Tornado Hunters Video footage of F4 tornados taken by amateur and professional storm chasers in Tornado Alley.
Twister The (modern) classic tornado flick starring Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton as the battling “storm-obsessed lunatics.” (All Movie Guide). There’s a complicated plot about “Dorothy,” a machine that will gather vital data about tornados as they pass over the device, and an evil competitor with a similar gizmo.
Which leads us to The Wizard of Oz , the (traditional) classic twister flick.
The tension of the brewing storm’s destruction is built up carefully – with everyday, realistic touches. Everyone who sees this as a child can imagine themselves in Dorothy’s shoes (ha) – worrying about the darkening skies but having to go about their business. Even after 72 years, this film holds up, IMHO, as the film best able to instill a lifelong fear of storms.
Want an idea of how bad floods can get in this area? Take a look at some of these dvds and videos….
Fighting the Floods WQAD’s coverage of the June 2008 floods has footage of the floods in Iowa and Illinois, including Davenport, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.
Illinois Valley, Historic Flood of 2008 footage of the September 16th flood along the Illinois River.
’93 Flood This video was aired live during the flood and aftermath; it contains aerial footage of the flooded Mississippi River.
Fatal Flood A 1927 Mississippi River flood killed more than a thousand people and destroyed the homes of millions from Cairo, Illinois on south to New Orleans. This a PBS American Experience program – which are uniformly excellent.