The Dark Tower (series)
by Stephen King
Follow the adventures of Roland the Last Gunslinger as he treks across a world that time has left behind in pursuit of the mysterious Dark Tower and the answers he hopes will lie within. Along the way he gains and loses friends and companions and battles with enemies nefarious and weird.
If you were unfamiliar with the series before now, you may have been fooled into thinking it is simply a Western--it's not. King's fantastical tale spans seven volumes, each of which is filled with equal parts horror, mystery, fantasy and adventure. The compact disc versions of King's novels are perfect for those fantastical (and long) treks of your own!
September 2007 Archives
The Dark Tower (series)
by Stephen King
The Mario Bava Collection Volume One
Film director Mario Bava (1914-1980) was responsible for some of the best horror and mystery films (as well as an occasional western or adventure thriller) to be released in the 60s & 70s. A former classical painter, Bava first entered the Italian film industry as a cinematographer and special effects technician. After doing second unit work as an assistant director, Bava was given his own films to direct starting in 1960. Anchor Bay Entertainment has now released this digitally remastered collection of five of his earliest films (in clor and black & white) beginning with Bava's first movie as official director, the haunting and atmospheric Black Sunday (1960) about a young woman (Barbara Steele) and her family tormented by an evil witch/vampire (also played by Steele).
The four other films included in this set are:
- Black Sabbath (1963): An anthology of short horror stories hosted by Boris Karloff, who also plays a vampire(!) in one of the stories. (NOTE: This is the original Italian version, with a slightly different running time and with the stories re-edited, not the dubbed American version that came out here in 1964. This version is in Italian with English subtitles.)
- The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963): A young woman visiting relatives accidently witnesses a murder...or does she? With the help of young doctor John Saxon, she tries to find out. (NOTE: Orginally released in the US as The Evil Eye in a dubbed & reedited version, the version presented here is in Italian, with English subtitles.)
- Kill, Baby...Kill! (1966): Despite the silly explotative title, this long-unavailable film about the homicidal ghost of a slain young girl terrorizing a small village is one of the scariest horror films ever made. Full of dark and brooding imagery with an unforgettable ending!
- Knives of the Avenger (1966): Think Alan Ladd's great western Shane remade as a Viking epic (albeit on a low budget)! The one non-horror/mystery film in this collection, this one finds the lone hero (Cameron Mitchell), who's really good with a knife, trying to save the king and his family from a disloyal and evil general. But what secret link does Mitchell's character share with the king's son? Fun and exciting, with terrific action scenes, and a nice break from the heaviness of the previous films in this collection (although Mitchell really is one moody Viking).
Zatōichi (movie series)
If you are at all a fan of samurai cinema and have never heard the name Zatōichi, then you're in for a real treat. Played by the controversial but undeniably talented Shintaro Katsu, Zatōichi is a blind masseur travelling about Japan during the Edo period who ekes out a living as a lowly Yakuza. In addition to his skills as a masseur and a gambler, however, Zatōichi has another, more unlikely, skill, one that simultaneously makes him the subject of both admiration and fear among his contemporaries: swordsmanship. Feats that the most skilled of his sighted samurai peers can only hope to accomplish with great difficulty (if at all), Zatōichi can usually perform with unnerving ease. Though he is blind, Zatōichi's other senses are as razor-sharp as his sword, to the point where his perception is preternaturally keen. His enhanced senses and his mastery of the sword combine to make Zatōichi an unstoppable killing machine when circumstances demand it.
But Zatōichi is more than just a dangerous swordsman. He is the "everyman" hero, defender of the meek, punisher of the unjust, and he will only reach for his sword when his opponents leave him no other choice, preferring instead to use his wits to resolve problems whenever possible. He is possessed of honor, humor and humility, contrasting sharply with the typical dour arrogance of the various self-important thugs and corrupt officials he encounters. In short, Zatōichi's qualities reflect the core ideals of Japanese martial culture, making him one of their most popular and enduring icons.
This 1950 film has been dismissed by some as one of Hitchcock's "minor works." It's not a masterpiece on par with Rear Window or Strangers on a Train. but there's much for the Hitchcock fan to appreciate; beginning with the much discussed and debated "false flashback" that starts the picture, to Hitch's usual stunning set pieces to all the great acting, from Jane Wyman to Richard Todd. But it's the masterful presence of the great Alastair Sim, however, that makes Stage Fright one of Hitchcock's most enjoyable to watch. Few actors have his ability of making the most average of dialogues sound like a powerful oration (I bet he sounded Shakespearean when reading his shopping list.) Marlene Dietrich also shows up as well.
Wyman plays the classic Hitchcockian character who unknowingly gets in over her heard when her ex-lover (Todd) is suspected of murder. She buys his story of innocence and helps him evade the police until eventually the truth gets revealed. It's true that the pacing at times can be a bit slow but the intricate, twisting story line needs time to play itself out. The careful viewer will be rewarded.
Okkervil River, The Stage Names
While steeped in the tradition of the FM rock record of the 1970's, there is an air of beautiful mystery to this record. At the core of that feeling are Will Sheff's lyrics, which hint at a feeling of despair but do so in a very literary way that most indie rock lyricists (and vocalists) could never muster. The subject terrain varies, but often touches upon the intersection of art and life. Take "Plus Ones," where Sheff takes titles of popular songs with numbers in the lyrics (adds one number to the original) and molds a story. The opener, "Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe" is a modern day Netflix hipster anthem - one of everyday life not living up to that of the big screen.
While the music is grounded by the usual guitar, bass and drums, one hears banjos, violins and pedal steel guitars throughout the record. In its quieter moments piano and organ find their way into the songs, to great effect. The record is abetted by thoughtful production and excellent use of the studio. It has the warm feeling of an analog recording.
Sky Blue Sky, Wilco
Halfway through "Either Way", the first song on Wilco's most recent release, Sky Blue Sky, new guitar slinger (ringer?) Nels Cline, unleashes a delicate, lyrical, yet technically impressive solo. The effect was to keep my attention focused for the balance of the recording as I marveled at Cline's imaginative and tasteful contributions throughout. Given my familiarity with some of his other work, I confess to being somewhat bemused when I heard he had joined Wilco. His trademark skronk seemed like a strange choice to complement the kind of song-craft deployed by leader, Jeff Tweedy. But here we have a different Cline; chameleon-like in his ability to provide varied and arresting accompaniment to Tweedy's idiosyncratic musings. Had I been familiar with Wilco's live CD from 2005, Kicking Television: Live in Chicago, on which Cline also plays before I heard SBS, I probably would have known what to expect. But Cline's guitar artistry is not the only attraction on Wilco's newest. The entire band and especially drummer Glen Kotche, play as though they have a personal investment in setting the appropriate tone for the somewhat obliquely expressed sentiments of the lyrics. Tweedy's singing remains an acquired taste, as he sounds like Jerry Garcia with (slightly) better pitch. But the songs cohere. For the most part, they seem to obey an internal logic in which the disparate ingredients combine to impart heft. One caveat: The album seems front loaded, with the final four songs falling a little short of the mark set by the earlier tunes.
Summer at Tiffany,
by Marjorie Hart
Summer at Tiffany, by Marjorie Hart is a delectable account about how two girls from the University of Iowa find jobs as pages at Tiffany & Company. Set in 1945, the books chronicles how Marjorie Jacobson and her best friend, Marty Garrett became the first women ever to work on the sales floor of the world-famous landmark. Not only were they blinded by the magnificent jewels, they were also caught up in the celebrity clientele, World War II, and all of the excitement of what New York City had to offer. While all of their friends envied them, Marjorie and Marty had to scrape by on a monthly budget of $65 per month while surrounded by opulent wealth. The book is a sensational journey through a fairy-tale summer that provided two young women with many life lessons, and memories for a lifetime.
The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty,
by Robert Mondavi
With a lifetime's effort, Robert Mondavi put Napa Valley on center stage in the $22 billion dollar U.S. wine industry. In The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty Wall Street Journal writer Julia Flynn uncorks the tale of four decades of dynastic family and wine business drama. The feuding Mondavis have been gossip fodder for the region and the wine trade at least since the 60s when Robert was banished from, and then sued, the company founded by his father. He triumphed, and started his own house. I guzzled this book down. Fascinating subplots about the visionary, dynamic and disparate personalities, their clashes in wine making and marketing philosophies, marathon legal proceedings, boardroom intrigue, sibling and cousin rivalry, and cases and cases of betrayal. All on a grand scale. The story starts one hundred years ago as immigrant Cesare Mondavi arrived at Ellis Island, and ends as third generation heirs waged a corporate control war yet again. The Mondavis were no match for powerful outside forces and, predictably, Mondavi is now part of an international conglomerate. The House of Mondavi. Cheers.
Uncle Bubba's Savannah Seafood,
by Earl Hiers
Uncle Bubba's Savannah Seafood, the first cookbook by Earl "Bubba" Hiers showcases some serious southern recipes that will have your mouth watering from cover to cover. One thing is clear from the start... as a native of southern Georgia, and Baby Brother to Food Network Star Paula Deen, Bubba knows Southern food. His cookbook offers more than 100 down home Southern recipes that are served at Uncle Bubba's Oyster House in Savannah, Georgia, and recipes that he and his sister Paula grew up on.
The recipes contained in this book are perfect for a casual summer cookout with friends. While most of the recipes showcase seafood, there are also additional recipes such as bread, rolls, seasonings, sauces, salad, soups, sides, and desserts that are terrific accompaniment to seafood. The recipes are not exactly figure-friendly. Be prepared for fried food, mayonnaise, and lots of butter.
Bubba also provides personal stories and photographs throughout the book, so that by the time you reach the desserts you feel like Bubba is an old childhood friend.
Democracy and Populism,
by John Lukacs
As a dispassionate observer of western democracy who also cares very deeply about its future, Mr. Lukacs recounts the devolution of democracy into populism and the serious dangers to humanity that this poses and that can already be seen in many things. The creation of publicity-celebrity-propaganda as a substitute for real knowledge, and ideology for truth, have largely been responsible for this state of affairs. He quotes Lord Salisbury : '"There is the freedom that makes every man free; and there is the freedom, so-called, which makes every man the slave of the majority."' A warning that needs to be given serious consideration by all thoughtful people.
In the Company of the Courtesan,
As Dunant states in her Author's Note, "the Venice of this novel is deeply rooted in research". She has done a masterful job of recreating 16th Century Venice and has given the reader a terrifically interesting and enjoyable reading experience. At the center of the story are two great characters, Fiammetta Bianchini and her dwarf companion Bucino. After Germanic tribes invade Rome, they flee that city for Venice, determined to set up a thriving business similar to the one the had built in Rome based on Fiammetta's skills as a much-sought-after Roman courtesan. As their adventure in Venice unfolds, so many interesting characters become a part of the story. Dunant features some based on real people, such as the painter Titian. Her writing of the Venetian setting is terrific, especially the vivid descriptions of the canals, churches, and other buildings. Venice becomes as much a part of the story as her characters and the reader can be richly rewarded by reading this terrific book.
Mr. Monk and the Two Assistants, by Lee Goldberg
For those people who love the TV series "Monk", Mr. Monk and the Two Assistants (2007) by Lee Goldberg is a must read. The obsessive-compulsive detective is reunited with his first assistant Sharona, whose husband has been accused of a murder she is certain he did not commit. Monk's current assistant, Natalie, finds herself threatened by Sharona's return, and is afraid she will lose her job, which she desperately needs to support herself and her daughter. Monk agrees to take the case, and he finds himself being annoyed by a mystery author, Ian Ludlow, who seems to have all the answers. Along the way, Monk solves some unrelated, smaller crimes. This is a very easy and entertaining read - just right for curling up in a chair in front of the fireplace on a cool autumn night!
The Scandal of Father Brown, by G. K. Chesterton
A book that if opened would make the person who opened it disappear and the murder of a millionaire are two of the problems solved by this nondescript priest detective. His faith enables him to see reality more clearly than most people and thus solve mysteries Each case offers the author the chance to impart a small gem of wisdom as well as an intriguing puzzle. Most enjoyable.
A Thousand Splendid Suns,
Hosseini won world-wide fame and readership with his first, highly-praised and wonderfully-received book The Kite Runner. In his second book, A Thousand Splendid Suns, set in Afghanistan like his previous book, he again succeeds admirably by creating a beautifully-written book with terrifically-drawn characters. While The Kite Runner's main characters were male, A Thousand Splendid Suns centers on two women. Mariam, born out-of-wedlock to a wealthy father and poor mother, struggles growing up and is married at 15 to Rasheed, an older, malicious husband. Enduring an emotionally brutal life with him, Mariam eventually is relegated to the "first wife" role after Rasheed marries Laila. Initially at odds with each other, Mariam and Laila become strangely connected as they grow dependent on each other for their survival. Hosseini's story covers the years of upheaval in Afghanistan - from its civil war through the Taliban and into current times. While sad in its depiction of the lives which Afghani women experience, A Thousand Splendid Suns is so well written that it becomes a terrifically moving and memorable book.
Crooked Little Vein,
Fans of Transmetropolitan will already be quite familiar with Warren Ellis's wild imagination and twisted sense of humor, and any true aficionado of comic books and graphic novels knows this prolific author's immense talent for story-telling. Crooked Little Vein is Ellis's debut foray into prose fiction, and, happily, it does not disappoint on any level--this is Ellis in full form. So, as is becoming typical of my reviews, be warned; this book is not for the squeamish.
The story begins with down-and-almost-out private detective Mike McGill being hired by the President's needle-popping Chief of Staff to track down a second, but lost, secret version of the Constitution bequeathed to future Presidents by the Founding Fathers. This is, however, a plot device, a MacGuffin to give the author an excuse to drop his characters into some truly bizarre situations.
Accompanying Mike on his surreal journey through the filthier back alleys of contemporary American culture is Trix, his new polyamorous assistant who serves mainly as a foil of open-mindedness for Mike's knee-jerk intolerance of the various deviant behaviours the duo encounter along the way. Think "Sam Spade" meets "The Jim Rose Circus" and you're half-way there.
Crooked Little Vein is a simultaneously disgusting and hilarious romp that will undoubtedly open your eyes to some of those dark little corners of contemporary sub-culture that you've only heard rumors of but never really quite felt up to investigating yourself. And that's okay--Mike and Trix do the legwork for you, and whether you find yourself flinching in revulsion or laughing out loud, Warren Ellis makes sure you've been thoroughly entertained.
Assuming you make it past the first sentence.
Dressed for Death, by Donna Leon
Originally published in 1994 and recently re-released in paperback, Dressed for Death is Leon's third book in her murder mystery series featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti, a contemporary Venetian police detective. After the body of a brutally-battered man is found in scandalous circumstances, Brunetti sets out to first discover the body's identity and then his killer. This process takes him along the canals of Venice and into the city's secretive banking world. The story moves quickly with some twists and turns along the way. At the center is Brunetti and his Venice, which is wonderfully brought to life by Leon. This should make readers want to read more of Leon's series and follow further adventures of the highly enjoyable Guido Brunetti.
Special Topics in Calamity Physics,
by Marisha Pessl
After about 50 pages I wasn't sure I was going to make it through this; Pessl's writing seemed too clever by half. Many of her analogies and metaphors (and there are quite a bit of them) seemed showy and unnatural. Throughout the book she references imaginary reference books (with parentheses, publishers, dates and everything.) There were times I could almost picture her patting herself on the back. She wears her erudition on her sleeve. I stuck with it however and I am glad I did.
Over its course it's really two different books, the first being the story of Blue Van Meer, precocious daughter of Gavin Van Meer, a college professor who moves he and his daughter to a series of backwater universities (like the University of Arkansas, Wilsonville, etc.) Her mother was killed in an automobile crash and Blue is ferociously devoted to her father.
Upon her senior year in high school her dad decides to settle down in North Carolina and Blue attends St. Gallway school. There she is quickly befriended by a mysterious teacher named Hannah Schneider and also falls in with a clique of fellow students nicknamed The Bluebloods.
It is at this point the story turns from a faux memoir to something more menacing and chilling. Her relationship with Hannah and the others leads her to a dark secret. Pessl's writing becomes less precious and she gets down to business. What follows makes the reader's head spin; there is a foreboding undercurrent of mystery that forces the reader to carry on. No one seems innocent; everyone seems to have emotional baggage. Things are not as they seem... or are they? There are moments of devastation but Blue carries on. She is a hero but that heroism comes at a huge personal cost.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much information put forth in this novel that, at times, it makes the head spin. There are twists but not in hackneyed cliff-hanger style. This is richly rewarding and amazing stuff for a first novel.
by Bill Evans and Marianna Jameson
In Category 7 (2007), someone is controlling the weather. Strong storms are popping up and intensifying at an alarming rate. One is even threatening New York City with the potential to knock down buildings and flood low-lying areas of Manhattan. Can anyone stop these ferocious storms? To complicate matters, several people end up dead! This is the main plot in Category 7 by local resident and meteorologist Bill Evans with coauthor and novelist Marianna Jameson. It's an intriguing mix of mystery and science. Part of the action even takes place in Greenwich and Old Greenwich. It's well-written and easy to read. You won't want to put it down. Ideal for those interested in weather science and intrigue.
The Full Cupboard of Life,
by Alexander McCall Smith
The Full Cupboard of Life is the fifth in Smith's series featuring the adventures of Precious Ramotswe and her No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency in Botswana. Smith has written yet another charming, fun-to-read tale with his delightful cast of characters. This reviewer recommends, if possible, to read the series in order of publication as the stories are, at times, built on events and character development that occurred in previous books. Here, Mma Ramotswe is still engaged to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, who operates his car repair business in the same building as her detective agency. Her client in this story hires Mma Ramotswe to get information about an individual for specific reasons. And, while she does succeed in so doing, Mma Ramotswe learns that not all clients are willing to accept the evidence she uncovers. Smith's love of the land and people of Botswana is very evident and adds greatly to the pleasures the reader finds in this book.