What are the elements of a bestselling novel? Professor and mystery writer James W. Hall shows how books excite an audience and become best sellers. Hall developed a Popular Literature course where he and his class explored a dozen best sellers to discover the key factors that resulted in the books selling millions of copies. If you’re interested in books and authors who climb to the top of the best sellers’ lists, Hit Lit has plenty of analysis and interesting facts to illustrate how the process works. Fascinating! For a more detailed review, click here. GRADE: A
Emily Blunt and Jason Segel star in this romantic comedy about a long-delayed wedding. Jason proposes to Emily, but event after event postpones their wedding. They move from San Francisco to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor where Emily gets a post-doc in psychology. Jason, a talented chef, finds himself reduced to making sandwiches in a local bistro. Plenty of predictable problems occur: job frustrations, romantic temptations, etc. And some unpredictable events pop up: Emily being shot with an arrow (or bolt, as Jason insists), Jason chasing a college professor who has ninja powers, etc. There are too many dull patches in this movie (Diane said she could have edited out 20 minutes of unnecessary or unfunny scenes). Too many people lose appendages. Too much use of the F-word. Yet, the on-screen chemistry between Emily Blunt and Jason Segel is compelling and believable. I wish The 5-Year Engagement turned out better. GRADE: B-
The Buffalo Bills chose corner back Stephon Gilmore (South Carolina) in the First Round. I love the pick! The Bills couldn’t stop anybody last year. Their defense ranked near the bottom of the League. With their Second Round pick, the Bills picked massive offensive lineman, Cordy Glenn (Georgia). Another great choice! Many draft gurus had Cordy Glenn going in the First Round on their mock drafts. In the Third Round, the Bills picked the best wide receiver left on the board: T. J. Graham (NC State). With these three picks, the Bills have address three big needs on their team. Today, the Bills have two picks in the Fourth Round, one Fifth Round pick, two Sixth Round picks, and two Seventh Round picks. Ten picks in all. Bills fans are hoping the 2012 Draft will provide the depth that was so lacking last season. How did your team do?
Once upon a time, the Library of America published canonical writers like Henry James and Edith Wharton. Then, a few years ago, the Library of America decided to venture into genre fiction by publishing H. P. Lovecraft and Philip K. Dick. Boffo sales! We readers of crime novels from the 1940s and 1950s know David Goodis was one of the noirish writers of that era. The Library of America has just published this omnibus edition of five of Goodis’ novels: Dark Passage, Nightfall, Moon in the Gutter, The Burglar, and Street of No Return. I really like the cover on this volume that reprints the original paperback covers. I hope the Library of America keeps this feature on their genre fiction collections. And I hope this is just the first volume of Goodis reprints from the Library of America.
Back in the Sixties, folk music was popular. Bob Dylan, before he went electric, exemplified the American youth movement. And, with the British invasion, a likable kid who called himself Donovan scored a hit with “Catch the Wind.” I remember several serious discussions with girls I was dating at the time who compared Dylan and Donovan, trying to decide who was “better.” Then Dylan went electric, and Donovan went hippy-dippy with songs like “Sunshine Superman” and “Wear Your Love Like Heaven.” Where Dylan went on to have a long career, Donovan vanished from the charts in the Seventies. I picked up this CD at Wal-Mart for $7.99. Great music at a great price! If you want more, there’s the recently released 2-CD set, Essential Donovan. GRADE: A-
One in seven Americans live alone and the number is climbing. Part of the phenomenon is caused by the decline of marriage and the pressure to “be a couple.” The other part occurs on the other end of the age cycle when spouses die and the survivor lives alone. Eric Klinenberg argues that the U.S. needs to look at what Sweden is doing for their elderly singles: providing safe, inexpensive single unit housing with “assisted care.” Klinenberg forecasts millions of elderly singles in the years ahead, but little available to them other than moving in with relatives or nursing homes. Better options need to be provided. GRADE: B
AMAZON is selling this 3-DVD st for $38.75. Imagine my astonishment when I found The Black Tower/Unnatural Causes, two of P. D. James’ better mysteries, at BJ’s Warehouse for $16.99! These films showed up on PBS years ago. If you missed them, here they are in a nice package: 390 minutes of mystery and suspense for a pittance. GRADE: A
I’ve read several histories of World War II. But Max Hastings’ Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945 goes to the top of my list of Best WWII Histories. Hastings astonished me with his control over the complicated narrative: the invasion of Poland, the blitzkrieg of France, the Japanese invasion of China and Southern Asia, Pearl Harbor, the Battle of Britain, the invasion of the Soviet Union, etc. Hastings manages to keep the narrative moving, never getting bogged down in detail, and also manages to put a face on the war by quoting from journals and memoirs. I had no idea Japan used biological weapons in China. Hastings also critiques the generals on all sides of the conflict showing the gaffs and the brilliant strategic strokes. I can’t recommend Inferno more highly. GRADE:A+
Emily Blunt melts my heart in just about every movie I’ve seen her in. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is no different. Emily plays a young woman who is working for a fabulously wealthy sheik who wants to introduce fly-fishing for trout in the Yemen River. Ewan McGregor plays a nerdy fish expert who initially considers the project as potentially feasible but insanely expensive. Later, McGregor embraces not only the sheik’s vision but also Emily Blunt. There are, of course, romantic complications as well as a few plot twists. All in all, a minor but enjoyable movie. GRADE: B
I’ve been a fan of Carole King’s music since I was a teenager in the Paleozoic Era. I loved her music with her husband, Gerry Goffin, especially “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” But Carole King’s life has not been a picnic. I was surprised to learn that Gerry Goffin suffered from mental problems that ended their marriage. Carole King suspects much of her husband’s problems were caused by LSD. Another new revelation to me was the physical abuse Carole King endured in a later relationship. Although she writes frankly about her life, Carole King is also more revealing about the record industry. If you’re a Carole King fan, there’s plenty in this book that will fascinate you. GRADE: A