Tuesday, May 27, 2008
One Of The Coolest Ideas I've Seen With Books In A Long Time!
Minutes before she died Grace Cahill changed her will, leaving her decendants an impossible decision: "You have a choice - one million dollars or a clue."
Grace is the last matriarch of the Cahills, the world's most powerful family. Everyone from Napoleon to Houdini is related to the Cahills, yet the source of the family power is lost. 39 clues hidden around the world will reveal the family's secret, but no one has been able to assemble them. Now the clues race is on, and young Amy and Dan must decide what's important: hunting clues or uncovering what REALLY happened to their parents.
The 39 Clues is Scholastic's groundbreaking new series, spanning10 adrenaline-charged books, 350 trading cards, and an online game where readers play a part in the story and compete for over $100,000 in prizes.
The 39 Clues books set the story, and the cards, website and game allow kids to participate in it. Kids visit the website - the39clues.com - and discover they are lost members of the Cahill family. They set up online accounts where they can compete against other kids and against Cahill characters to find all 39 clues. Through the website, kids can track their points and clues, manage their card collections, dig through the Cahill archives for secrets, and "travel" the world to collect Cahill artifacts, interview characters, and hunt down clues. Collecting cards helps: Each card is a piece of evidence containing information on a Cahill, a clue, or a family secret.
Every kid is a winner - we'll give away prizes through the books, the website and the cards, including a grand prize of $10,000!
Friday, May 23, 2008
Indiana Jones Is Back!
After almost twenty years of waiting, Indiana Jones is back and once more on the trail of an elusive artifact. Harrison Ford reprises the character in the fourth movie, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
The time frame has been moved to 1957 and the movie opens up with Elvis Presley blasting “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog.” Ironically, the song was written with a female singer in mind who would be singing about her boyfriend. The singer didn’t quite fit the song, but it still made a big hit.
That’s kind of what’s happening with Indiana Jones this time. I think Indiana has a hard time fitting into the 1950s. I much preferred him in the 1930s and 1940s. The world was still so big and so raw during that time. By the Cold War, we’d become aware of how small the world was getting, and how everything seemed to be about the coming days instead of the past ones.
The pulp magazines and serial movies that Indiana Jones had more or less sprung from were dead by this time. It was the end of a fantastic era for heroes.
So, in a way, maybe it’s fitting that the last Harrison Ford/Indiana Jones movie would be set in this time frame.
Harrison Ford is simply an amazing actor. After twenty years, he swaggers back into the role and leaps into the saddle. My God, but it was fun watching him square off against the villains, against overwhelming odds, and figure out clues to archeological mysteries. No one could have ever done this role as well, nor will they ever do it again. Harrison Ford is the epitome of a down-to-earth hero rising to meet outlandish circumstance. His facial expressions alone are with the price of the ticket.
In previous movies, Ford did most of his own stunts. This time around, he didn’t have that luxury. But I was surprised at how lithe and spry he was as he performed the ones that didn’t risk significant injury. He leapt and climbed and ran with grim authority, if not with the alacrity of his younger years. The man is in fantastic shape. Again, the sheer beauty of the Indiana Jones character is that, like Batman, fans can aspire to do what he does. Even when he’s a senior citizen.
Ford still delivers the stalwart hero, the wisecracks, and the tough guy patter. When asked for final words while facing dozens of guns and certain death, Indiana says, “I like Ike.” Of course, I had to explain that Ike was President Eisenhower to my ten year old, but the sentiment fit the time period. The whip action, though not as much of it as I wanted, was in place. During one cool sequence, we see that Indy knows he’s not quite the man he used to be when he swings after a fleeing truck and ends up short of the leap.
One of the best bits about the movie was the nostalgia of seeing Indy toss bad guys from the vehicles he commandeers during the action sequences. The action is still over the top, and I’m still a sucker for it.
Shia LeBeouf stars at Mutt Williams and does an outstanding job of following in Indy’s shadow while at time stepping out and seizing a scene. I’ve constantly admired LeBeouf’s acting, and he gets better every year. (Now that trailers for Eagle Eye, his new film, are breaking, I’m even more interested to see what he can do in a serious thriller.) LeBeouf carries the role well, first as a greaser then as Indy’s progeny because they exhibit a lot of the same traits.
Cate Blanchett is terrific as the Russian villainess. She seems spooky and ethereal from the moment she steps into the scene, and she’s a definite challenge for Indy and company. I liked the look she had. The hair bob was a really nice touch, and the choice of a rapier as a personal weapon was great. She has outstanding stage presence in the movie and looks as relentless as a Terminator in her pursuit of Indiana and the ultimate goal.
The film plays fairly with the 1950s as well. There’s an atomic explosion, paranoia about Communism, and the rivalry between Joe College and the greasers, which I feel certain George Lucas wanted in for nostalgia of his own. But once America is left behind, the timelessness of foreign countries sets in.
The settings looked authentic. The sequence where Indy and Mutt find the final resting place of the “lost” Spanish explorers is well-done. Those scenes are eerie and scary at the same time, and the action is breath-taking. The river sequences were well done, even if though expected.
The special effects guys must have had a blast. Not only on the settings, but on the action as well. The army ants looked and sounded chilling as they took their victims, and the camera work that incorporated all of those elements was superb.
I was particularly enthralled by the “solution” of the puzzle at the hidden city at the end. I thought it was ingenious, but I wish I’d been given a little more time to study the puzzle, been offered more clues, and gotten to think onscreen with Indy. However, not even he solved this one, though I don’t doubt for a moment that he would have. I just wish I’d had a better chance at it.
A lot of people might not be happy with the film. I had some problems with it. Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) was given really short shrift in the movie. She doesn’t come on stage till really late, and by then the plot and story are moving so fast that she’s almost eclipsed except for some important reveals. We get no sense of how she’s spent the last twenty years. She was stunning in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark and I’d always wondered what it would have been like if she and Indy had hooked up for more adventures.
Another problem for some, me included, involves a spoiler (so here’s your warning) that seems to already be out there on the internet. Even before the film wrapped, there were several rumors that the fourth Indiana Jones film would involve out-of-this-world archeology. In short: aliens.
We got that message loud and clear when the movie beginning more or less starts in Area 51. In minutes, we learn that Indy assisted in the recovery of the alien bodies from the wreck back in 1947.
I personally don’t think aliens and Indy belong in the same movie. However, given Lucas and Spielberg’s affinity for aliens (Star Wars and E. T.), I can’t blame them for wanting to lead Indy that way to tie him into the other worlds they’ve created. But they lost me a little. I was suddenly reminded I was watching a movie, a cool movie, but a movie nonetheless. I ended up being outside of the film in a way that jarred me, and the final scene with the flying saucer taking off was almost anti-climatic at that point.
That being said, Spielberg once again proves himself to be the master of the action movie. The two-hour long film sprints unflinchingly across the screen. There’s hardly time to draw your breath before Indy is thrown pell-mell into some new danger. The motorcycle chase was great, the fight scenes were enthralling, and the scene in the library when a student asks Indy an archeological question after he and Mutt slide across the floor is priceless.
I loved the way Spielberg brought the scenes to the screen. Everything plays big, but we’re never far from the characters.
However, the lack of the whip in the last big fight scene is noticeable. And Mutt’s sudden shift to Tarzan of the Apes comes out of the blue. I don’t know why that was there, unless it was homage to the Johnny Weissmuller films of that hero.
There is one inconsistency that bothered me. In the beginning of the film, Indy is introduced to Cate Blanchett’s character, and even calls her by name, but later he says he doesn’t know who she is and gives a description of her.
But this was Indy 4, and we’ve been waiting almost twenty years for it. Most of the older fans, like me, have had plenty of time to concoct the perfect vehicle for Indy 4, with Nazi villains, obscure corners of the earth (I was wanting Angkor Wat and headhunters), and plenty of danger. This film might not have lived up to some fans’ expectations, or gone astray from where fans feel it should have gone, but it was Indy in the way that only Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas could have brought him to us.
Later in the film, Indy’s hat blows off a rack. We see Mutt pick it up and get seriously tempted to put it on. However, Indy snatches the hat from him and puts it on his own head. That’s an image and a message that I’ll keep forever. I don’t know if anyone will ever try to make another Indy movie, but there’ll never be anyone else able to wear that hat like Harrison Ford. He is, and will always be, the consummate adventurer of the unknown.
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian Roars Into Theaters!
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian hit theaters with a lot of expectation. The book series has been popular since they were first published nearly fifty years ago, and they’ve never gone out of print. Earlier movie versions, animated and live-action, have been made of them. But after the success of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, fans hoped for more and Hollywood banked on another success.
I had a good time with the first movie. Taking my son with me enhanced the experience, though. His innocent glee stripped years away from me and eased me right back into my own childhood. The sights and sounds of the world were amazing, as they would have to be in order to grab the audiences lying out there in wait now. And the pacing of the movie was well done.
However, Narnia purists are going to have a problem with this version of the novel. Hollywood has strayed far from the path in making this sequel. Yes, it’s true, Narnia has been Hollywoodized and given the big box office treatment. Which means that more has been left out of the book than was kept in, and even more new material was shoveled into the story. In fact, a whole rivalry sequence between Caspian (Ben Barnes) and Peter (William Moseley) has been tossed into the mix, as well as Susan (Anna Popplewell) “crushing” on Caspian.
Also, the battle scenes are definitely more hardcore than they are in the book. And protracted. The novel dealt with them in a straight-forward manner and moved into the characters and the spirituality of the book.
But I have to give Hollywood its due. I’d wager most of the people buying tickets haven’t ever read the books, just as they hadn’t read The Lord of the Rings. They’re there packing the seats because they want to see adventure, excitement, and royal battles between good and evil.
I’d even read Prince Caspian to my son shortly after we watched The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. We’d read that book before the movie and he knew everything that was going to happen. He kept throwing hints to his mom during the movie. This time he really believed we hadn’t read the book because so much was different.
Hollywood chose to change the story, and I accepted that within a few minutes and simply enjoyed what was on the screen without proprietary interest. The special effects are awesome, the mythical beings are amazing, and the landscape is lush and incredible. My son was bowled over as Narnia once again unfolded before us. I have to admit, I was too.
Despite the differences in character and motivations, and the way the final battle was staged when Peter undertook single combat against Miraz (Sergio Castellitto), I had a great time. Susan stepped into the battles and became an amazing warrior (okay, I had to swallow hard at that one when I saw her first shooting men with her bow then using it as a staff to battle again in the thick of the fighting while wearing no armor). Peter was even more courageous than before, and naturally stepped into a leadership role. Edmund (Skandar Keynes) was a fierce fighter as well, and the young actor has certainly grown into the role. There is a fantastic scene where Lucy (Georgie Henley) blocks the retreating Telmarin army that had the audience laughing and cheering at the same time. The kids have changed.
The assault on the castle at night was terrific. My son and I sat on the edges of our seat and watched as the battle progressed and finally turned deadly. And when Aslan (Liam Neeson) stepped onto the screen, we were in Narnia fighting the good fight at the sides of the Narnians.
Maybe this isn’t a faithful interpretation of the original novel, but you’re not going to be able to find a much better early summer offering. I question the rating a little, because I would have bumped it up a notch due to all the physical action, the evil intent, and the PG rating isn’t warning enough.
With all the fantasy and superhero movies hitting the screens this summer, finding one that stands out head and shoulders above the others is going to be hard. I’ve decided not to stress over figuring out which one is the best, and instead concentrate on enjoying the feast!
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Friday, May 16, 2008
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
A Great And Chilling Coming Of Age Novel!
Just read and reviewed this one (Bookhound Review). It's the first of Jeffrey Ford's books that I've read, but it won't be the last. He writes with a lot of emotional integrity and honesty that immediately pulls a read into a story and makes that borrowed world real.
If you're reading for pleasure, you'll probably enjoy this one if you like chills and nostalgia. But this is definitely a book writers can learn their craft from.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
Yep, It's About What You Think It's About!
Once upon a time, Dr. Isaac Asimov attempted to explain the world to everybody. When I was growing up, I devoured both his science fiction and his non-fiction, learning a lot about what had already happened in the world, what was happening at the present, and what yet might happen. I enjoyed his non-fiction books and thought he was really good at explaining science to the layman.
But these days my heart belongs to Mary Roach! I will never stray. She’s only written three books, but she’s already captured every inquisitive bone and impulse in my body. She’s written articles for Reader’s Digest and National Geographic and her curiosity and propensity for knowledge and instruction seem inexhaustible.
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers revealed what happened to a body after death. Granted, some stuff maybe I wasn’t too thrilled about learning – at first – but Roach took out (most) of the gross effect and totally turned the exercise into an instructional laughfest filled with history and fantastic errata. And the fascination of the subject, as well as her own passion for it, removed the stomach-churn of the experience
In Spook: Science Tackles The Afterlife, Roach brought the same kind of intelligent, informative wit to the study of the afterlife and the existence of souls. I knew people were interested in proving the existence of such one way or the other, but I’d never before known to what lengths scientists (and armchair enthusiasts) had gone.
Now Roach delivers, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, a hardcore – sorry, couldn’t resist – look at the mysteries and mismanagement of sex. When I first saw the plain white, almost virginal book cover, I was entranced. Could a book on that subject really be called by that title? I couldn’t help thinking how risqué everyone involved was being.
But I couldn’t expect anything less of Mary Roach. All (or at least more than I’d ever before guessed at) of the secrets of sex are revealed between the covers, so to speak. She details several of the curious minds that probed into the subject, and the test patients that laid themselves bare. (See? Even I can’t approach this subject with a straight face and the occasional ill-conceived giggle and pun.)
I also love history, and Mary Roach makes the most of the study of sex within those parameters as well. She left no rock unturned in her pursuit of this forbidden knowledge that civilization had invented. I knew that the scientists covered regularly in elementary and junior high science classes dug into the field of sex, but I’d never before known exactly to what degree. Nor did I know that some of them might even have murdered patients to gain knowledge. (I mean, how likely is it that a scientist would happen upon the body of a woman who’d died in the throes of orgasm so he could examine her corpse to better understand that function?)
Another thing I love about Mary Roach is that she’s apparently willing to go anywhere to seek out knowledge and report back to the armchair scientists who can’t afford to go and wouldn’t be caught dead asking such questions. (And that’s one of the reasons I like Mike Rowe on Dirty Jobs.)
For this book, Mary Roach interviewed dozens of people, examined dozens of secret documents, took a tour of a pig farm and watched sows get artificially inseminated, first hand (by hand!), and even enticed her own husband into having sex while being subjected to an MRI. I have to admit, that after seeing Roach in action – forgive me – I can’t help but believe that has to be one of the most interesting marriages in the world. I love my wife, but I’m not crawling up onto an MRI table to be watched by scientists for anybody.
Roach goes on to explore several other reconstructive surgery avenues physicians and surgeons have pursued over the year. Just when you think she can’t top the last chapter, all you have to do is turn the page.
If you haven’t discovered Mary Roach, if you think reading Masters and Johnson’s Human Sexual Response has made you an expert in the field, pick up Bonk and become truly educated and amazed. Her chapter on Master and Johns, and their peers, casts that research in a totally different light and I found myself alternately appalled and amused.
The science field has a new champion ready to educate and entertain the masses, and her name is Mary Roach. I can’t wait to see where she’s going next.
Friday, May 09, 2008
I gotta go for sinus surgery next month. Supposed to leave me with a two-month nosebleed. Not looking forward to it. As it turns out, I've had enough sinus pressure in my face to actually crack my cheekbone. So I gotta have that fixed. It's not a unique case, but it is definitely something no one sees very often.
In the meantime, I got to thinking today. That's always my best and worst thing. Since the surgeon is going to be changing a lot of things inside my nose, I think maybe I should ask him how he feels about Picasso. I gotta check his office.
Otherwise I may come out of there with both my eyes on the same side of my nose!
Monday, May 05, 2008
Jimmy Buffett Pens Another Novel!
When most folks think of Jimmy Buffett, they think of Parrotheads and familiar tunes a lot of people have grown up with. “Margaritaville,” “Come Monday,” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise” are among the songs fans always cry out for during concerts.
Buffett is also a noted pilot and collector of old airplanes. He’s even been involved in a one-side dogfight with Jamaican police, while carrying U2’s Bono as a passenger.
Someone who’s lived a large and adventurous life is a natural storyteller. But a lot of people don’t know about Jimmy Buffett the author. Three of his books, Tales From Margaritaville, Who Is Joe Merchant?, and A Pirate Looks At Fifty all spent months on the New York Times bestseller lists over the last few years. The first two were novels while the third was a nonfiction title. Buffett’s one of only seven authors who have ever achieved that, putting him in the prestigious company of authors like Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and others.
Evidently Buffett is a Renaissance man. He just can’t devote himself to one thing; he’s constantly got to be spreading his wings and trying new things. Which is probably only natural for the pilot in him.
His new book, Swine Not? is set for release on May 13, and is already pulling Parrotheads (the name his fans are known by) into bookstores. But it’s also pulling in readers who have read his previous bestselling titles and are hoping for more great fiction. His previous novel, A Salty Piece of Land also reached bestselling status.
In Swine Not?, Buffett writes about a small town woman and her twins who move to New York City. Ellie McBride is from Vertigo, Tennessee, and her kids have a hard time getting rid of their pet pig, Rumpy. So, naturally, the family has to hide the pig out in the hotel Ellie’s working at. Meanwhile, the hotel chef become determined to trap Rumpy and serve him up for dinner.
I’m really looking forward to this book. If anyone can pull off something so bizarre and twisted, Buffett can. One of his most memorable characters in Who Is Joe Merchant? was a hit man who had eyes tattooed on his eyelids so it looked like he was always awake. I mean, who would think of something like that?
The book is also supposed to be geared for the family and is illustrated by Helen Bransford, so I’m really looking forward to reading it to my ten-year-old while we’re camping. Buffett has a wry sense of humor and an eye for realistic characters dealing with real life that’s just on the other side of normal. If you’re looking for something fun and different, it’ll be here on May 13.
You Want I Should Read This Book To Youse?
Since Chicken Soup for the Soul came out (followed immediately by dozens more books), I’ve been intrigued by the various topics and phases of life you could give chicken soup for. I’ve been likewise intrigued why it always has to be chicken soup. But the self-help and motivational industry has been sparked into establishing a whole new wing (chicken, anyone?) of publishing.
I’ve watched these books roll out with regularity and fading interest. It seems that chicken soup can cure any ailment and passage of life. Who knew? Not to knock those books because they’re filled with wonderful stories.
However, there appeared to be nothing new under the sun. Until now.
Writer/editor Brian M. Thomsen throws the whole Chicken Soup franchise a hanging curve ball that catches the outside corner of the plate with an eagle-eyed umpire in attendance. Pasta Fazool for the Wiseguy’s Soul is an irreverent send up of the Godfather, home cooking, and the whole give-me-guidance fad. But Thomsen delivers his delightful concoction with tongue firmly planted in cheek and in a narrative that is just as believable as it is hilarious.
According to Thomsen, he met an elderly Italian gentleman in a small restaurant on a slow night and ended up sharing a table and a meal. During the quiet evening, the old man – call him Don Minestrone – served up a delectable cornucopia of tales, wisdom, colorful characters, street justice, and irony.
I loved the set-up and didn’t know if the author could pull off what he’d promised. I suspected that the entries might be heavy on the cheese (another specialty of Italian cooking). Instead, the stories sound just like they’d come from the Old Neighborhood where everyone knew what the Mafia was but no one ever mentioned it.
I settled in, expecting to read a few stories to relax for a bit after dinner, then ended up blazing through the whole book. I had to laugh out loud when Thomsen lampooned the Mafia and current crime TV when he relayed “Minestrone’s” thoughts on wives, mistresses, and girlfriends, and took shots (what else can you expect from a book about Mafia types?) at Mafia guys in the news. One of my favorite stories was about the movie script that got sold over and over again to New York Publishers. The punch line came out of left field and made perfect sense.
Other stories include how a long-time waiter at a favorite restaurant was given a retirement plan that worked out for everybody, how boosters (professional thieves) cut out middle man (fence), and started selling things on eBay, and how Mrs. Santini got a trip to the “old country.” Thomsen is a natural storyteller, the old don not withstanding, and the tales tumble off the page and into the reader’s mind with grace and guffaws.
I loved how Thomsen and Minestrone introduced characters, then pulled them back into other stories. They weren’t just throwaways. I got the feeling that all of these stories happened (incredibly!) at one time or another.
Pasta Fazool for the Wiseguy’s Soul is a perfect book for the airport, the beach, or while waiting in doctor’s offices. And with a title like that, you’re sure to attract the attention of people around you. Be warned, though. You might not put this one down until you finish it. However, this is definitely a book you’ll want to re-read and share.