devil in the white cityA couple of months ago I heard on the radio that Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio were going to collaborate yet again on what will most definitely be another blockbuster hit. The two have previously collaborated on The Aviator, Shutter Island, Gangs of New York, The Departedand The Wolf of Wall StreetEach film was nominated by the Academy of Motion Pictures for Arts and Sciences (aka the best award in film you can attain) for Best Film and Directing with DiCaprio getting the Best Actor nomination for 3 out of the 5 films. Scorsese won the Oscar for Best Director and Best Film of the Year for The Departed. When these two get together, everyone turns out to see what they have created, especially me! This film is 2 years away from its release, and I am already gearing up for it.

This time they are bringing you a film based on the 2003 book The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Erik Larson’s work is the story of the true events surrounding the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. He tells this story in interweaving fashion, focusing on Architect Daniel Burnham and serial killer H.H. Holmes during the years leading up  to the World’s Fair. Both men shaped Chicago’s history in very different ways.

When I first heard about this novel, I wasn’t too excited to pick it up. My fear was that it would be too much about gruesome murders for me to enjoy. But it wasn’t. The book is about paramount history that happened just a few hours away from where we live. In fact, one of Holmes’ lovers and later victim was from Davenport, IA.

While there are a few murderous details, Holmes’ part of the book is more about how he was able to carry on his killings undetected for so long. Multiple accounts describe Holmes as an ideal individual that exuded charm and warmth. While I am eager to finish and read about Holmes’ inevitable demise, I have truly adored page after page of historical firsts. The World’s Fair was such a monumental occassion that everyone wanted to be part of it. Great inventions were first unveiled, historical figures rubbed elbows, heroes we have only read about preformed, and so..much..more.

I have no doubt that Scorsese will capture the essence of this time period and the innumerable historical particles sprinkled throughout the book. As for my all time favorite actor, Leonardo Dicaprio, I know he will deliver. It was a bit disheartening to learn that DiCaprio would encompass H. H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer, but then I realized one cannot always play the hero. And in fact, many actors do their best work when playing the villain. I wouldn’t be surprised if DiCaprio gives his best performance ever with this new film.

Photos from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

More about the World’s Columbian Exposition.

monopolistsThe Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game by Mary Pilon

Monopoly. Everyone is familiar with the board game.  The odd little tokens and the fight over who gets to be the racecar. Plastic green houses and plastic red hotels. The person that always insisted on being the banker. The seemingly endless trips around the board, passing “Go” and collecting $200. The agony of landing on Boardwalk when it had multiple hotels on it.

Surprisingly, the board game Monopoly has a long and interesting background.  According to the manufacturers of the game, Parker Brothers, the Monopoly game was created by Charles Darrow.  Parker Brothers even printed the story of how Charles Darrow had created the game Monopoly in 1935 in the instruction booklet for the game:

In 1934, Charles B. Darrow of Germantown, Pennsylvania, presented a game called MONOPOLY to the executives of Parker Brothers. Mr. Darrow, like many other Americans, was unemployed at the time and often played this game to amuse himself and pass the time. It was the game’s exciting promise of fame and fortune that initially prompted Darrow to produce this game on his own. With help from a friend who was a printer, Darrow sold 5,000 sets of the MONOPOLY game to a Philadelphia department store. As the demand for the game grew, Darrow could not keep up with the orders and arranged for Parker Brothers to take over the game. Since 1935, when Parker Brothers acquired the rights to the game, it has become the leading proprietary game not only in the United States but throughout the Western World”. 

However, this story of the creation of Monopoly is not true.  The Monopoly game can be traced back to the early 1900s.  In 1906, Lizzie Magie applied for a patent on a game that she invented called, The Landlord’s Game.  Lizzie Magie was a follower of Henry George and she created the game in order to help explain George’s single tax theory. She played The Landlord’s Game with her friends, who in turn, copied the board so they would have their own copy of the game. Her friends played the game with other friends who copied the game and in turn, shared it with other friends.  The game spread. In 1924, Lizzie Magie renewed her patent for The Landlord’s Game.

This audiobook goes into more detail about the origins of the Monopoly game and how it became the game we all recognize today. People might have always thought the game was created by Charles Darrow if it had not been for a lawsuit in 1973.  Ralph Anspach, an economic professor, created a game that he called, Anti-Monopoly and he was sued by Parker Brothers. The truth of the origins of the Monopoly game were revealed during this time. A fascinating look at America during the turn of the century and through the Great Depression, corporate greed, and the discovery of the truth, this audiobook is one that you don’t want to miss!

hooeyYou may recognize Bob Odenkirk as the character Saul Goodman from the AMC drama, Breaking Bad and its spin-off, Better Call Saul.  But Odenkirk has been a comedy writer for a long time and he has written many things that have made you laugh over the years.  He got his start at Chicago’s Second City and went to write at Saturday Night Live alongside Robert Smigel and Conan O’Brien.  Odenkirk is the creator of beloved SNL character, motivational speaker Matt Foley, portrayed by Chris Farley.  He also wrote for Late Night with Conan O’Brien, The Ben Stiller Show, Get a Life, The Dennis Miller Show, and Mr. Show with Bob and David.  A Load of Hooey is Odenkirk’s first book of sketch comedy.

A Load of Hooey is in print and on audiobook.  I listened to the audiobook and I’m glad that I did.  Bob Odenkirk is one of the voice actors, along with David Cross, Jay Johnston, Jerry Minor, Megan Amram and Paul F. Tompkins.  Listening to these talented actors made an already funny book even more delightfully funny to listen to.  Who knew that you could laugh at Hitler?  Bob Odenkirk made that happen.  I laughed at Adolph Hitler thanks to the talented writing of Bob Odenkirk.  And it is not just hated people that Odenkirk writes sketches of.  Nope. He even goes after beloved former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney.  And it’s funny.

So if you enjoy watching sketch comedy, need to listen to a book in the car, don’t have a lot of time, (this audiobook is 2.5 hours long) and you want to laugh, I recommend checking out the audiobook, A Load of Hooey by Bob Odenkirk.  Or you can read it.  But it’s funnier to listen to.  But you should check it out, either format.

live right and find happinessLive Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster) is read by the author, Dave Barry.  I used to read Dave Barry’s column in the newspaper and I always imagined as being this goofy guy with a squeaky voice.  I was pleasantly surprised at how nice his voice is to listen to.  This audiobook is three and a half hours long, so it is great to listen to for a short road trip or on your daily commute.  The book is full of different stories and musings by Barry that are easy to listen to and enjoy.

My favorite story in this book would have to be repairing things in your house.  Barry talks about how going to a hardware store is the most depressing experience.  Unlike commercials for Home Depot, people are not smiling and excited about the projects that they are going to do.  They walk around the store terrified and unsure of what to do.  And, no one is able to go home and magically transform their house in thirty seconds, looking proud and satisfied.  Instead, normal people have to hire contractors.  And contractors bring their headaches, even to a writer who works from home.

Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster) is full of humorous stories from Dave Barry’s life.  He discusses travelling to Brazil for the World Cup of soccer with his wife and daughter.  It turns out that the tour guide books lied; not every person in Brazil will try to rob you.  Barry talks about his childhood, growing up in the “Mad Men” era, watching his parents have cocktail parties and then how his generation turned out to be hover parents.  Barry even has a pair of Google Glass and he talks about how ridiculous he looks wearing it.

These are just a few examples of the stories that are in Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster).  Barry will have you laughing out loud with his relatable yet ridiculous stories.

 

boys challenged hitlerOn April 9, 1940, German forces invaded Norway and Denmark.  Knud Pedersen and his family raced outside their house and looked at the sky.  Above them, German warplanes were flying low and pieces of green paper fluttered to the ground.  The German military alerted the citizens of Denmark that they arrived and were taking over the country in order to “protect them”.

King Christian X of Denmark, surrendered almost immediately, convinced that his country’s troops were unable to defeat the Nazi German forces.  Norway resisted with counterattacks with help from Allied Forces and with an underground resistance movement.

Knud Pedersen, his older brother Jens and their friends were ashamed of how their government had reacted.  Denmark had no army to stand up to the Nazis.  “One thing had become very clear: now any resistance in Denmark would have to come from ordinary citizens, not from trained soldiers” -Knud Pedersen.  After reading the newspapers and listening to radio reports from the BBC, Knud and his brother Jens decided that if the adults were not going to act, then they would.  So in the summer of 1940, the first resistance movement began in Denmark.

Knud Pedersen, Jens Pedersen and six of their friends made up the Churchill Club.  The club operated in Aalborg, Denmark for a little over a year.  But during that time, the boys managed to sabotage a lot of German operations.  The Churchill Club started small and with each success, their actions grew bolder.  They stole German weapons, destroyed train cars full of German artillery and machinery and left their mark wherever they went.  More people joined the Churchill Club.  Others assisted them as best as they could.  Of course the Nazis were angry about the attacks against them and sought to find the persons responsible.  The members of the Churchill Club were arrested in May, 1942.

The courage these young men had to defy the Nazi army amazes me.  Knud Pedersen recounts different acts of sabotage that he and his friends committed.  At times, the stories are tense and you fear for the boys safety.  And the book does not end at their arrest.  Pedersen and his friends were still defiant in jail.  Some of them were able to escape nightly and create havoc; sneaking into their jail cell early in the morning.  The Danish and German governments could not agree on what to do with the boys or how to punish them.  But the actions of the Churchill Club inspired more people to rise up and resist the Nazis.

This books is available in print and in audiobook.

Johnny HellerMarley and meHorrible Harry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Local audiobook aficionados got an opportunity to hear a master narrator at work and to quiz him about his craft. Johnny Heller, award-winning narrator, actor and stand-up comic visited Bettendorf Public Library July 15th to read aloud and take questions from the audience.  A resident of Manhattan, he seemed genuinely interested in learning more about Iowa in general, and the Quad Cities specifically.

Heller is an interesting combination of  the highbrow (trained as a Shakespearean actor) and the low to middle brow (he delights in adolescent humor, which serves him well when narrating juvenile books). He read from several of his books (Marley and Me and  Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys).

He gave several insights into the process. Most fascinating was how he chooses someone (an actor or actress perhaps) to pair with a character, so he can instantly call up that persona. When asked how narrators can seamlessly and quickly move between male and female characters, he says, ideally, he’s in a zone where he doesn’t consciously have to make those decisions. He doesn’t try to do “female” voices. it’s more about their character. He softens his voice for females but doesn’t go several octaves higher.

Other tidbits, he gets paid by the hour – the finished hour of product, not what he puts into it, so as an experienced  narrator, he’s more efficient and the ratio of time spent and actual output is more equal.

His favorite part of the job, though, is to foster the love of books and reading. Mixing with the crowd before and after, Heller clearly enjoys the extensive traveling involved in the job, and doing whatever he can to promote the appreciation of story, in whatever format it may be.

 

 

 

Burning RoomThe audiobook of Michael Connelly’s latest (hopefully, not the last) Harry Bosch novel is brilliantly narrated by Titus Welliver. The Burning Room is enjoyable on multiple levels. First, there’s the evolving relationship between Harry and an assigned protegee, Detective Lucia Soto, as well as Harry’s internal monologues about the careerists in charge of the LAPD and the incredible talents of Welliver and, probably least of all, the actual plot.

Bosch grows into an ever more fascinating character; professional in that he cares first and foremost about solving cases, rather than the political implications of each and every action. He skewers the bureaucratic bluster in the guise of the bumptious Lieutenant Samuels, Bosch’s nemesis. As they investigate two entwined cold cases, Harry imparts his survival skills and hard-won knowledge to Lucy Soto, a smart and hard-working disciple. Will she carry the torch in future Connelly books?

There’s a fine balance in audiobooks when it comes to altering the reader’s voice between characters; they should be distinct enough that the listener can follow a conversation, but not so in-your-face that you’re brought out of the story. Welliver’s  gift is his ability to create, with consistent and subtle intonation, a conversation’s back and forth action. So much more efficient than “he said” and “Harry replied,” and “she shouted.”

His narrating work can be heard in several Robert B. Parker novels, while his acting can be seen in The Town, Gone Baby Gone, Twisted and Transformers. Age of Distinction. I’m sure acting is not easy, but reading aloud in such an intelligent and enjoyable manner must be even harder.

 

I have a love/hate relationship with movies that are based on books. Sometimes the movies are well put together and follow the plot lines and character development of the book almost perfectly. Other times, I can tell just by the preview that the movie has completely gone off the rails and does not follow the book. Depending on how attached I am to the book, I might be able to let go of the differences in the movie, but if I feel any deep connections to the book, I pity the people next to me in the theater because I will point out how the two differ. Thankfully, I have found a few book-based movies that have changes that enhance the book or even make more logical sense than the world created in the book.

With the recent upswing in popularity of post-apocalyptic dystopian literature, especially those marketed towards young adults, movie producers have seemingly been turning to these novels as fool-proof ways to draw people into the theaters. (Case in point: The Hunger Games movies based on books by Suzanne Collins, as well as the Divergent movies based on books by Veronica Roth.) A similar post-apocalyptic dystopian book/movie pair just made it to the top of my to-be-read/to-be-watched list and I must say that I actually enjoyed the two.


the maze runnerThis pairing is the book, The Maze Runner written by James Dashner published in 2009, as compared to the movie The Maze Runner released in 2014 by Twentieth Century Fox.

In the book, Dashner begins the story of the Maze by introducing Thomas, the newest Greenie who wakes up in the bottom of the Box not knowing anything about himself, not even his name. He is greeted by the other boys, the Gladers, and shown around his new home, the Glade, a large expanse of land surrounded and enclosed in huge stone walls. Each boy has to pull his own weight in order for them all to survive, leaving them all with jobs to make their enclosed community run smoothly.

As Thomas soon learns, the Gladers are sure of only a few things: every morning the stone doors open, every night the doors close, and you do not want to be stuck in the maze at night because that is when the Grievers, a weird mechanical, bulbous type of monster that, if they corner you, can sting you and make you go through the Changing, come out. Every night after the doors close, the maze changes, making it even harder for the boys as solving the maze is the only way they can escape. Every thirty days a new Greenie is delivered in the Box. These things have been consistent since the first group of boys woke up in the maze over two years ago. Until Thomas shows up… Then everything changes.


the maze runner dvdThe movie version deviates from the plot of the book, but in a good way, in a necessary cinematic way. Some of the plot points Dashner makes in the book would have been difficult and a little far-fetched to allow for on-screen time, but at the same time, the exclusion of those significant details changed the plot from what Dashner wrote in the book. (For example, the exclusion of the Cliff, the abyss that is mentioned throughout the book, allowed the movie producers to instead dive more into the mechanics of the Grievers and the interlocking technology aspects that WCKD, also known as the Creators, used to control the boys.) Many other changes were done to enhance the book, but the overall themes of the book are still present within the movie.

All in all, the movie allows viewers who have read the book a better understanding of the workings of the boys’ minds, to see in better detail the immensity and confusion of the maze, and the destruction that the Grievers, and therefore the Creators, run the boys through on a day-to-day basis.

In my opinion, the movie version did not detract from the book, but instead adds a necessary level of cinematic pop to keep viewers engaged in the Gladers’ lives and their struggle to get free.

The Maze Runner is also available as an e-book, an e-audiobook, a playaway audiobook, and a cd audiobook.

 

 


still aliceStill Alice by Lisa Genova has been on my list of books to read since it was published in 2009. Recently, the audiobook version of the book arrived at the Davenport Public Library and I eagerly checked it out.  I wanted to read it before I watched the movie version of Still Alice, which stars Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kate Bosworth and Kristen Stewart.  The DVD of Still Alice is available at the library too.

Still Alice is the story of a Harvard psychology professor named Alice Howland.  Alice specializes in linguistics.  She was a student at Harvard and has taught there for over two decades.  Alice met her husband John at Harvard where he is a professor of biology.  They have three grown children: Anna, Tom and Lydia.  Anna is a lawyer and Tom is a doctor which makes Alice very proud.  Lydia refuses to go to college and is pursuing an acting career.  Alice worries about Lydia’s future which causes tension between mother and daughter.

At a conference, Alice begins to have trouble remembering words.  She notices other problems with her memory and consults with her doctor.  Still uneasy after her doctor visit, she sees a neurologist.  Alice is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.

It is quickly apparent why this novel was a best seller.  This brilliant scholar slowly begins to lose her memory, her lifestyle and her sense of self.  I believe that listening to this book on audiobook was more powerful since I could hear the doctor diagnosis Alice with Alzheimer’s disease and I easily imagined what it would it would be like to be Alice.  The majority of the book is filled with conversations between Alice and those around her so this book made an excellent audiobook.  Alice and her family learn to make adjustments in their routine and adapt to Alice’s changing mind.  Even though this book is heartbreaking it is also a beautiful story of strength and the human spirit.

 

 

I love Robert B. Parker’s mysteries. I’m a big fan of both Spencer, his Boston boxer-detective, and Jesse Stone, his laconic small town police chief.

So when Mr. Parker passed away in 2010, I mourned not only one of my favorite authors, but Spencer and Jesse (and Hawk and Sally and Suitcase and Vinnie Morris, and . . .) as well.

And when I learned that Mr. Parker’s family had made to decision to allow other authors to continue these series, I had mixed feelings about it. On one hand: more Spencer and Jesse (and Hawk and Sally and Suitcase and Vinnie Morris, and . . .)! On the other: who could possibly write Robert B Parker’s characters as well as Mr. Parker himself?

Parker Lullaby AtkinsIn my opinion, Ace Atkins can. He picked up Spencer in Robert B. Parker’s Lullaby and ran with him through four more books, all of which have the snappy dialogue, moral quagmires, and occasional brute force that a reader could hope for. The style may not be identical, but it doesn’t have to be—Mr. Atkin’s isn’t ghostwriting for Robert B. Parker, he’s honoring him.

Fool Me Twice BrandmanI wish I could say I liked the Jesse Stone books as much, or at least the first one I’ve tried. Unlike the Spencer series, each of these new mysteries was written by a different author—I don’t know whether that was the publisher’s idea or the authors declined to pick up the series in favor of their own characters, or if the publisher hasn’t found the right fit yet.

Part of my troubles with Robert B. Parker’s Fool Me Twice, by Michael Brandman, might be because I listened to the audiobook first. No matter how talented a voice actor is (and James Naughton is very talented), if the reading doesn’t match how my beloved characters sound in my mind’s ear—and I’ve had years to fix these voices the way I want them—I have trouble getting past how things are said to pay enough attention to what things are being said.

This isn’t a fair assessment of Mr. Brandman’s writing, so I tried it in print . . . and still didn’t care for it.

I know that these books aren’t going to be perfect—every writer will bring a different style to the same story, even Ace Atkins. But while I think the styles of Mr. Atkins and Mr. Parker mesh well, the style that Mr. Brandman brings is too far off what I expect from a Jess Stone novel. The dialogue is excellent, but there’s too much omniscient narration and parts of it—particularly the sections that aren’t from Jesse’s point of view—read more like background notes than a story. The bare bones of the plot are intriguing . . . but that’s what the whole book seems like to me: bare bones.

Or maybe I just miss Mr. Parker too much to enjoy Jesse Stone’s adventures without him.

Will I give a different author’s Jesse book a try? Sure.

But this time, I’ll read it in print first.

Do you think a book series should outlive its author?

Do you enjoy the post-Parker Spencer or Jesse Stone novels?

Can you recommend a post-Parker Jesse Stone novel you really enjoyed?

Did you love Fool Me Twice?  Please let me know why in the comments—I’m willing to be convinced!