Monthly Archives: November 2010
Being a big fan of the Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food, I bought the book with a minor fear that the book would be Adam Richman (the show’s host) rehashing things he’d discussed on the show – the four pounds of pancakes he ate in one episode, or where to find the spiciest wings in America. While that stuff is a delight on TV, I wasn’t sure how that would translate to paper and ink.
However, It gives me great pleasure to say that’s not at all what this book is about.
“America the Edible” is a surprisingly candid travelogue by a man who has traveled these United States and (in the way some people retain memories through photos) remembers the places he’s been according to the food he ate. More a memoir than a TV tie-in book, Richman writes breezily and comfortably about nine cities he’s visited and the great encounters with both people and food he’s had along the way.
The cities – Los Angeles, Honolulu, Brooklyn, St. Louis, Cleveland, Austin, San Francisco, Portland, and Savannah – offer a wide range of atmospheres and appetites, and a handful of eateries are showcased in each of them. The reader is whisked away to a diner in L.A., finds themselves searching for sushi in St. Louis, and gets to experience Halloween in wonderfully weird Austin, all through Richman’s recollections. Really, it’s a love letter to foodie cities, as every one of then comes off sounding appealing and appetizing.
The book made me want to go to Cleveland. No joke. (And not just because he calls out my beloved Great Lakes Brewing Company.)
Richman recounts stories of first dates, drunken nights, and the down days of his pre-Travel Channel career as a struggling actor. There’s lots of talk of the women he’s encountered in the cities he’s visited, and his honesty is one of the book’s strong points; This is a guy who’s honest enough to tell the stories of the disappointing times as well as the happy and golden times. Not every date pans out, just like not every meal is going to be epic.
The book is also peppered with a few recipes, including his Mom’s recipe for chicken soup. There are also a few lists. Though my beloved Chicago doesn’t get a lot of love from the book, seeing Lou Malnati’s ranked #2 on the “Ten More Great Places for Pizza Outside New York” list made me smile.
Personally, I haven’t had the good fortune to visit many of these cities, but having recently traveled to Honolulu, he nails the cuisine and the lifestyle perfectly – and made my mouth water as I remembered one of the best meals of my life, which came from a shrimp truck on the North Shore of Oahu.
I finished reading this book with one thought – when was I going to be able to squeeze in a trip to Portland to get a lobster roll of my very own?
For a book about travel and food, I’d say that constitutes a success.
I didn’t realize this (apparently I ignored the back cover) until I was a few pages into reading the book. Yet my enjoyment of the book was in no way lessened by not having read it’s prequel.
However, in order for me to talk about this sequel I do have to massively spoil the ending of the original novel, so be warned if you read beyond this point.
Lehane’s original 1998 novel, “Gone, Baby, Gone,” details two private investigators – Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro – as they search for a missing four year old girl named Amanda.
(Recently, it was turned into a film starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Ed Harris, and Morgan Freeman, which was directed by Ben Affleck. The film got great reviews, and even racked up an Oscar nomination for Amy Ryan, who played the hardened mother of the missing girl.)
In “Moonlight Mile,” it’s been twelve years since Patrick and Angela found little Amanda and returned her to her parents, which wasn’t as easy as it seemed. The result of the case left Patrick with lingering doubts and guilt. Amanda had actually been kidnapped by her uncle, who was attempting to rescue her from her disaster of a mother and the seedy lifestyle she was raising the child in. Amanda had been placed with a nice, stable, childless couple, and her life with them would have actually been great. Instead, she was returned to an unsafe lifestyle, and the nice loving couple went to jail.
Patrick, looking back, sums it up: “It was one of the more cutting ironies of the Amanda McCready case that I’d liked the bad guys a hell of a lot more than the good ones.”
Now, Amanda is sixteen, and has vanished again. Her estranged Aunt has called upon the two investigators (now married with their own precocious chatterbox of a child) to bring her home once again. Against his better judgment, Patrick finds himself back on the case – and Angela, unable to resist, jumps aboard the crazy train as well.
From there, everything goes to hell – There are Russian gangsters, stolen babies, an ancient cross, and no one is as innocent as they seem. (There’s also a wonderful section where Patrick interviews Amanda’s school mates. The dialogue, peppered with “likes” and other today-teen twitches, is spot on and mind-numbing in it’s perfection. Really, nothing is scarier than a teenage girl.)
Nothing is black and white – or easy.
The book crackles with jaunty dialogue, and fast-paced twists and turns. Patrick and Angela are a sexy and smart couple you follow happily through their adventures. You can tell Lehane has great affection for the duo, and it radiates from the pages. I couldn’t put this book down, and that’s saying something considering it was a sequel to a book I’ve never read and honestly had no interest in reading. Now, I think my eyes have been opened to a great writer, and I’m going to have to read “Gone, Baby, Gone.”
“There’s a wonderful video of Lehane talking about the book and his influences on his site.
“Moonlight Mile” is in stores now, and would make a great gift for that special crime-novel-reader in your life. Or just anyone with an appreciation for well-crafted storytelling.
1. Being a big fan of the wonder known as Groupon, I thought I’d post a quick note this chilly Sunday to let y’all know that Groupon is currently offering a “$20 for $40 worth of books” deal. Basically, you pay the $20 for the Groupon and then get $40 worth of books from Simon & Schuster’s online store – where you can get Stephen King’s new book, among many others. (However, it’s not valid until 12/1, but that’s only a few days away, so…) Check out Groupon’s book deal!
2. Hey Chicago! The Michigan Avenue Borders is closing, so everything in the store is 30-40% off. Granted, it’s super sad that a bookstore is closing, however the deals are great, so go in and stock up. I went yesterday, and though it’s a little like the apocalypse hit the store, there are still plenty of great books to be had if you’re willing to dig around a little. The deal also extends to movies, CDs, and games as well. (I think magazines are the only thing NOT discounted.)
Happy Sunday, friends!
Today’s poetry slam is brought to you by Eric Darby – “Scratch & Dent Dreams.”
Happy Saturday, friends!
My dear, darling, beloved, and wonderful Bob had a birthday last week, and I couldn’t decide what to get him.
Then, during a jaunt into Unabridged Bookstore in Chicago, my eye caught a new release I knew was just the ticket.
Bob hearts Amy Sedaris, and a book of her unique and twisted look at the craft craze could only be fun, right?
Yeah – He loved it.
We are absolutely going to be having a “Simple Times” craft party in the near future – and I promise to take pictures of all our.. creations.
In the spirit of a holiday all about remembering things you’re thankful for, I decided to make a (short)list of books I’m grateful/thankful for.
Some of these are among my all-time favorites, but some are books I’m thankful for for other reasons.
The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant
Otherwise known as “The book my Mom told me to read for years, and I ignored – then, after actually reading it, had to admit it’s genius.”
My Mom is probably my favorite booknerd in the world, she’s always reading something and most of the time her recommendations are fantastic. This time around, it was probably six or seven years she told me to read this book, and for various reasons I didn’t. However, when I did, I discovered one of the best-written books I’ve ever encountered in my life. Diamant is brilliant at detailing female relationships and lives, and it’s a book I will always suggest to other readers.
Matilda, by Roald Dahl
For giving little bitty me the idea that there were other booknerds in the world – and that loving “Dahrls Chickens” was perfectly fine.
(Also for making me wish I could move things with my mind, but thats a whole different list.)
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
Good books, like friendships, last forever. In college, I met a girl named Aleisha, and we’ll be friends forever. There are two things that define our friendship – Boybands and Jane Austen. I’m thankful for Aleisha for also being a big Bronte/Austen nerd, and particularly for getting every Elizabeth Bennett/Darcy/Colonel Brandon/Miss Dashwood reference I have ever made. She’s a gem, just like this book.
Valley of the Dolls, by Jacqueline Susann
Not only has this book (and it’s fantastic film version) provided more moments of sheer joy with my dear friend Bob than nearly anything else I can think of, but I’ve also been able to dazzle folks with my 60s Hollywood knowledge on more than one occasion. Loving “Valley of the Dolls” is not a guilty pleasure – it’s one I’m proud of.
A Dirty Job, by Christopher Moore
I’m thankful Christopher Moore exists in this world to write wonderful books, all of which have brought me joy throughout the years I’ve been a fan. I’ve never encountered a book of his that hasn’t absolutely delighted me. I’m most thankful for “A Dirty Job” because it’s the book that introduced me to Moore and his wacky world. Literally, I first picked up the book based on the cover, as I was darting through a train station getting ready to head home for the holidays and needed reading material. The cover made me laugh, I bought it, and one of the great literary loves of my life was born.
So, readers, what books are y’all thankful for?
They’re a typical family living in a village in England – Mom (Helen) belongs to a book club, the teenagers (Clara and Rowan) are bullied at school, and Dad(Peter) is a doctor with a crush on the neighbor lady.
They also happen to be vampires.
Except that Helen and Peter have been abstaining from vampirism since the children were born, and the kids have no idea what they really are. Rowan just knows he’s a pale, skinny, outcast with a penchant for Lord Byron’s poetry. Clara has recently gone vegan, and is feeling weak all the time.
All these domestic troubles change one night when Clara is attacked by a rude teenage boy while attempting to leave a party. Overcome by her lust for blood, she kills him, and the action takes off from there. Desperate to cover Clara’s kill, Peter calls on his still-active vampire brother Will, who arrives in town bringing all kinds of trouble along with him. Clara, meanwhile, has tasted blood and has suddenly gone from pale wallflower to bold hottie. Seeing his sister’s transformation, Rowan delves into drinking blood and soon finds himself potentially getting the girl of his dreams. Enter a police force dedicated to handling vampires, a douchey kid with a crush on Rowan’s dream girl, and a whole whirlwind of connections and interactions, and it all ends in a thrilling showdown that proves blood is thicker than…well, blood.
“The Radleys” is more “American Beauty” than “Dracula,” and actually could probably be classified more with other novels about families with difficulties than gothic horror lore. In fact, I was reminded of a recent read – Johnathan Franzen’s “The Corrections” – while I was reading it. (Except that, unlike “The Corrections,” I enjoyed this book.) The Radleys are a troubled, likable, family, and you root for them.
Haig keeps the flow/chapters brief and cinematic. At times, it feels like reading scenes from a play. He also wisely sprinkles passages from the book Helen and Peter live by – “The Abstainer’s Handbook” – throughout the book for the reader’s education as to what a daily chore it is to be an abstaining vampire.
“The Radleys” hits stores in December, and I hope it’s a book people pick up and enjoy. I found it charming, exciting, and full of characters I cared about.
And I have to say, I like any book that accuses Lord Byron, Vivien Leigh, and Jimi Hendrix of being vampires.
Ghosts, Dead bodies, Space – nothing is off limits for Ms. Roach.
Roach’s “Bonk” is a hyper-smart book about the scientists who work in the field most likely to elicit a red-faced whisper: sex research.
We’re a world with a weird relationship with sex – Though it fascinates us, it shames us. Roach understands this – and highlights the fact that our blushing at the very mention of sex have significantly held back research into sexual matters – particularly where women are concerned. For example, did you know that turn of the century doctors didn’t actually look at the vaginas of the women they were treating? Their training was done on cadavers, but when it came time for actual treatment, the doctor couldn’t gaze upon the body part he was treating.
Make no mistake, though the book obviously talks about some of the science of sex, it’s largely about the crazy things sex researchers have had to do in order to further their research – largely for fear of being dubbed a pervert or not getting funding for projects.
From an intriguing look into people who create sex machines, to the work of Alfred Kinsey, to ancient Chinese remedies for impotence (tiger penis, anyone?) “Bonk” doesn’t back down. When Roach visits a doctor noted for working on penis implants, she gets in on the action. She even convinces her husband to take part in some sexual research with her, which had me laughing out loud and re-reading the passage to my own husband.
Roach’s book about cadavers – “Stiff” – was easily one of the most fascinating books I’ve ever read. Literally, I couldn’t put it down. Her candor and intelligence, as well as her exemplary research and writing skills, put her on the list of authors who’s next work I’m excited for. (Her most recent book, “Packing for Mars,” was released in August and is on my short list of titles to tackle soon. It’s about space travelers, and I cannot wait.)
Mary Roach for the win.
I didn’t expect to leave the Chicago Toy & Game Fair with a new favorite board game.
Then again, I’d never really given the idea of book-based board games a thought. If such things existed, I was unaware of them. My scope of board games was limited to my beloved classics – Monopoly, Clue, Trivial Pursuit, and the like.
Then, in the middle of a convention on Navy Pier, I met “Liebrary.”
In the vein of games like “Balderdash,” which require some cunning, “Liebrary” is a game where you have to guess the first line of famous novels – and you have to bluff in order to get the other players to guess the wrong one. There are five categories of books – Classics, Children’s, Romance, Fiction/Nonfiction, and Horror/SciFi/Mystery – and one player acts as the librarian, who presides over the reading of the correct and incorrect first lines.
(Me, Presiding over my dominion as Librarian.)
Having bought the game, we headed home with our friends Brett and Amanda to test it out. (And also to test the other games we bought at the fair, too!) Wine and cheese were consumed, and games were played, and I’m delighted with “Liebrary.” I mean, there were questions about “1984,” “Breakfast of Champions,” and even a Nora Roberts book. I can’t even imagine what other books are featured in the stack of cards.
Yeah, it’s super-nerdy.
Of course, I adore it.
Randomly, the game was created by actresses Daryl Hannah (yep, that Daryl Hannah) and Hilary Shepherd, both board game fanatics. Somehow, the edition of the game I bought at the fair is autographed by both actresses, so you know – score!It’s distributed by Discovery Bay Games and is, honestly, a blast. (Side Note: Brett, a movie nerd, purchased Discovery Bay’s “Famous Last Lines” game, which is a lot like “Liebrary” and super fun, too!)
Need a gift for that special book nerd in your life? Look no further.
Booze, Pills, and Campy Dames – “Valley of the Dolls” at the Music Box Theater (with Patty Duke in person!)
I’m wildly open about my lifelong obsession with Jacqueline Susann’s trashy/fabulous bestselling novel, and the subsequent campy film it was turned into.
The movie, about three young women trying to make it in the bright lights/big city world of showbiz, was captivating to me as a child. Fortunately, I was too young to truly understand half the drugs and sex going on. All I knew was the acting was fierce, the music was catchy, and it was about showbiz!
My love for this film is still a thing, and I’m twenty eight. So, when Chicago’s lovely and clever Music Box Theatre announced a screening of the movie on their giant screen - with Patty Duke herself making an appearance, it was obvious where I needed to be.
The screening was kicked off by some campy wonderfulness from host Dick O’Day and the Hell in a Handbag players, such as a costume contest and numerous shots at the upcoming movie Burlesque. There was also a singalong of some songs from the movie which brought Ms. Duke to the stage for a few wonderful moments. (Yes there was a drag Helen Lawson, and yes Patty did tear off her/his wig.)
During the actual showing of the movie, I felt right at home. It quickly became obvious that this film is adored by tons of people – as the entrance of new characters was greeted by applause (or hisses, if you’re Helen Lawson) and key lines were applauded or booed or commented on. It was a bit like being at The Rocky Horror Picture Show, I’d imagine.
It’s a wonderfully bad movie, if you’ve never seen it. Hands down, Patty Duke is the star and steals every scene she steps into, but Barbara Parkins and (especially) the late Sharon Tate are absolutely gorgeous and deliver as well. Also, in addition to some unforgettable dialogue, some of the most fantastic costuming in cinematic history is going on all over the place. Witness the pantsuit worn by Helen Lawson during the big bathroom fight scene, and you’ll know what I mean.
Post-screening, Ms. Duke sat down with David Cerda (of Hell in a Handbag Productions, which produces camp shows in Chicago – including, on occasion, VOTD) and Richard Knight, Jr (President of the Queer Film Society) in which she talked candidly about her mostly negative experiences on the set, the shame she felt for years being a part of this movie, getting acting notes from her children, and her love of both Sharon Tate and Judy Garland.
The screening inspired me to re-read the novel that started it all, so don’t be surprised if a review of the book appears on this site in the coming weeks. I have a worn paperback copy that I’ve passed around over the years. At present – true story – the back of the book is covered with white paper. When I loaned it to Bob, he couldn’t deal with reading it on the train to work with the back cover looking the way it does. (I tried to find a picture, but it basically looks like a really tawdry romance novel.)
Those of you who like camp in your books and/or movies, if you haven’t read/seen “Valley of the Dolls,” you’re missing a milestone.