Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

 

Inspired by Twitter friend Alex Segura, I would like to list here all the books I’ve most enjoyed in 2015. I’m only listing the ones that were newly released this year, or we could be here a while.

 

sellout

 

BTW

 

TheClasp.indd

 

kji

 

gilliamesque

 

gutshot

 

shirley

 

sweetnothing

 

ParadiseSky

 

godloveshaiti

 

whites

 

burt

 

savage

 

Near+Enemy+Cover

 

Print

 

cartel

 

I’m not done yet, and this month is always the one where I race to catch up, so watch this space. It could grow!

 

When all else fails, find me here: @jonnyabomb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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FEVER

 

 

Megan Abbott’s new novel, The Fever, is in bookstores today. I just grabbed my copy — it’s rare I run out to find a book the day it’s released, but this is exactly like the excitement I feel when a long-awaited movie hits theaters.

Megan Abbott’s stories are dark in tone and subject, bolstered by psychological detail and impeccable prose. Her characters are unforgettable. This particular story is drawn from an actual case concerning an outbreak of mysterious seizures among a clique of high school girls in New York. To me, that sounds both refreshingly different from Dare Me, the previous book by the same author, but also of a piece with it. I’ll find out as soon as I start reading!

You can buy The Fever sight-unseen, in full confidence it will be excellent. And you can go get your copy signed this evening at the terrific bookstore Book Court, assuming you’re anywhere near Brooklyn.

 

Below is the brief appreciation I wrote for Daily Grindhouse about Megan Abbott’s 2012 masterwork, Dare Me.

 

 

 

Most writers dream of creating their own genre — Megan Abbott has actually done it.

Dare Me is best described as cheerleader-noir, and if that doesn’t sound immediately awesome and intriguing to you, then that’s my failure, not the book’s, and I should keep brainstorming genre names until I find one that justifies the brilliance of this darkly humorous and unforgivingly engrossing novel.

The story centers around a high school cheer squad, its queen bee and her second-in-command (the book’s narrator), whose accepted hierarchy is upended by a new coach. A power struggle, death and manipulation and paranoia ensue — if you’re thinking of teen comedies from the set-up, even the good ones, please don’t — this is black as pitch, unrelenting and upsetting.

If I had to choose a dream director for the upcoming film adaptation, it’d be Jacques Tourneur, but unfortunately he isn’t available. Natalie Portman is currently attached to the project (presumably in the role of the coach); let’s hope the movie does this unique and brilliant book justice.

 

Find out more at the official website for the book.

 

 


@JONNYABOMB

 

Angel Baby

 

“You’ve got to be ready for moments like these, ready to drown your ruined heart as soon as it starts beating again.”  — from ANGEL BABY.

 

In 2013, Elmore Leonard left us, and I took that pretty hard. If there is any silver lining to that loss, it’s that his influence reverberates through the work of several younger writers. I’ve read plenty and as much as it counts, my vote for the best of all of them is Richard Lange, whose book of short stories DEAD BOYS and first novel THIS WICKED WORLD I snapped up and can’t recommend any more highly.

 

DEAD BOYS  THIS WICKED WORLD

 

 

This new novel, ANGEL BABY, is about Luz, the beautiful wife of Rolando, a.k.a. El Principe, an abusive drug kingpin in Mexico who escapes across the border to California, helped by Malone, a doomed man who isn’t much of a lifeline. They’re pursued by a man named Jerónimo, a deadly assassin who won’t ever relent, because Rolando has his family’s lives under the trigger. There’s also a crooked American cop looking to get the money Luz swiped from Rolando, because there are a lot of different breeds of bad people in this world and therefore in this book also. Luz will walk right through the crossfire, because she has a daughter on the other side, the subject of the story’s title. 

Now, that’s not a far cry from an Elmore Leonard plot, though I’d halt the [favorable] comparisons there and emphasize the uniqueness of Richard Lange’s writing, which has a flavor and a legitimacy and a sadness all its own. Lange is more of a street-level poet.  His prose and dialogue feel real and believable, yet they resound with fatalistic import. There are lines in this book that can break your heart and the heartbreak aftershocks last long after the speedy read is done.

In a slight return to comparisons, Lange’s depictions of California and Mexico have a verisimilitude I’d venture to liken to John Fante, though Lange’s work is more readily cinematic. An Edward Hopper painting sprung to life, maybe. If there is a movie, which isn’t out of the realm of possibility, Michael Mann would knock it out of the park. The gut-punching romanticism of ANGEL BABY is right up that alley. Read if you like. Or if you don’t! It’s good enough to stand on its own merits, a unique blend of border noir, hard-boiled crime, and corrido music.

ANGEL BABY is everything you could want in a crime novel: protagonists who can frustrate and move you, villains who are scary as all hell, action that feels alive, and emotional impact that lingers. Richard Lange’s work is bruising and vital. I can’t wait for his next book.

 

SWEET NOTHING

 

This piece was expanded a little from my article on the best books of 2013. Find out more about ANGEL BABY on the book’s official site and on Richard Lange’s author page.

 

 

@jonnyabomb

 

 

TAMPA

 

Again, here I am catching up. This past month I got to choose the book for our book club podcast, so I chose the controversial TAMPA from 2013, the first novel by the indisputably gifted Alissa Nutting.

This is the summary from the author’s website:

In Alissa Nutting’s novel TAMPA, Celeste Price, a smoldering 26-year-old middle-school teacher in Florida, unrepentantly recounts her elaborate and sociopathically determined seduction of a 14-year-old student.

The subject matter couldn’t be more timely. Taking it on from the perspective of the perpetrator is remarkably bold, in my opinion. There are so many places to balk or to err, but this is a story told with determination, masterfully rendered and brilliantly uncomfortable. This book really needs to get under the skin to do what I think it’s intended to do, and boy, does the point get made. On the podcast you will hear me rave and rave and rave and rave. (By the way, sorry about my voice.)

[Find us here.]

That link will take you to a page where you can download the podcast, or else you can just listen directly online.

 

TAMPA

 

If you’ve already heard our take and you’d like to know more, here are a few links I compiled while reading about the novel:

Here’s a short review of TAMPA from the New York Times.

Three blogs relating to the topic of anxiety which Alissa Nutting wrote for the Times.

Alissa Nutting in conversation with fellow writer Lindsay Hunter.

A thorough interview with Alissa Nutting about the book with the Daily Beast.

A quick piece in the Guardian mentioning how the book was banned in Australia. (!)

TAMPA is an uneasy read, but a valuable document of a modern moment, a necessary moral corrective, and a prickly piece of impeccably-crafted art. This is an author whose next book should be eagerly anticipated by everyone who appreciates challenging subject matter and good storytelling.

 

Alissa Nutting

 

 

@jonnyabomb

 

 
Bert & Janelle Monae

I started out 2013 with lofty proclamations about all the writing and drawing I was going to do all year. I did more of the former than the latter, with highlights being taking a more central role on Daily Grindhouse and getting a piece published in Paracinema — but still, I feel like I underachieved.

My resolution for 2014 was simply this: Follow through. Do all the things I said I was going to do last year. Finish up some ongoing ideas I’m excited about and continue with all the things that are already working for me. Be realistically ambitious — and then surprise myself.

Meanwhile, I want to post here more often, and one way I resolved to do that is to more frequently mention the things I enjoy. There’s plenty enough negativity and bad vibes elsewhere on the internet. When people come to my page, I want them to encounter positivity, enthusiasm, or at the very least, trustworthy, educated opinions when those first two elements are less possible.  If you see a post with the heading ALL GOOD THINGS periodically, that will be my eager recommendation of art, music, movies, Blu-Rays, books, comics, podcasts, or whatever. Things I enjoy. Things you might enjoy too. If you do, please let me know!

 

MOVIES

Heat (1995)

HEAT.

One of my favorite movies of all time, I got to see HEAT on the big screen in 35mm again for only the second occasion in my life. The first time was when I saw it during its initial theatrical release in the mid-1990s. Back then, it was such a memorable moviegoing experience that I wondered if I’d ever need to see it again. Could it ever be as complete an experience as it was at first? A couple dozen viewings later, I’m still entranced. To me, this is one of the truest movies.

Her (2013)

Everyone else has long since released their Best Of 2013 lists, but I didn’t feel I could honestly put one out until I saw this movie. Now I can. Stay tuned!

anchorman2

ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES.

Loved the original; had a healthy fear of going back to the well. But I love what McKay and Ferrell do, Trojan-horsing some pretty emphatic politics into their broadly absurd epic comedies. ANCHORMAN 2 has a reason for being, a very definitive target that I think it hits. Plus, there’s great white shark humor and minotaur humor. That’s irresistible to me.

BOOKS

AVA GARDNER

I put this unusually-structured autobiography on my list of twelve great books from 2013 at Daily Grindhouse, but quite honestly I hadn’t finished it at the time. It’s great. Surprising, reverent, funny, and irreverent, it’s the record of the outspoken Ava Gardner, then in her mid-sixties, dictating her memoirs to the very British Peter Evans. She works hard to shock him and sometimes it works. Sometimes she only shocks the reader (and any of the family of her ex-husbands, most likely). When it was done, Ava didn’t want it published. She died in 1990. Peter Evans wrapped up the book, right before his own death, in 2012. Then, finally, this book appeared.

TAMPA

 

I’m reading TAMPA for my book club. It was my turn to choose, so I picked this pretty shocking (and topical) novel about a hot young teacher in Florida who pursues an adolescent boy. The writing is pretty unassailably terrific, I think; it’s the subject matter I expect to be a point of controversy. We’re recording our talk about it this weekend. Hopefully I can collect myself by then.

COMICS

Maximum Minimum Wage

 

Last week I picked up Maximum MINIMUM WAGE, the collection of the 1990s underground comic by Bob Fingerman. I haven’t dug into it yet but I can’t wait. Surely I’ll be mentioning it again here.

PODCASTS

WTF

The great WTF podcast doesn’t need any press from me, but the recent interview with Artie Lange was terrific. I’m a longtime fan of Artie and got to see him perform at the Comedy Cellar with Dave Attell in 2013. He’s promoting his latest book here, so a lot of this episode is painful personal stuff. That’s intense and brave, but I also like Artie when he’s speaking universal truths. One of my favorite insights he makes here, and I’m paraphrasing, is how you can’t count anyone out entirely. Everyone you meet in life, even if they’re an asshole, you can learn from. If they’re an asshole, discount their asshole side and look at what they do that’s successful. You can learn from everyone. He’s right about that, in my opinion. He just says it funnier.

 

Ice-T Final Level Podcast

Ice-T has a new podcast and it’s everything you’d want it to be. He talks about his love for Brad Pitt and the differences between men and women, and gives some behind-the-scenes description of Law & Order: SVU. I think his co-host Mick Benzo does a good job: He bounces off Ice-T well, giving him ammunition for rants, then steps out of the way when they come. Since I just started taking part in podcasts, I appreciate ones that are well done. I need to learn! So far there’s only been one episode of FINAL LEVEL but I’ll be subscribing.

 

DG LOGO

So this is a new development: I am currently the co-host, along with the much more eloquent Joe and Freeman, of the Daily Grindhouse podcast, for the time being at least. In our first episode as a team we talked about STREET WARS, which is hilarious and strange. Check out that conversation. They had me choose the next movie we discuss, so our next episode, which comes out tomorrow night, will be about VIGILANTE FORCE, which stars Kris Kristofferson, Bernadette Peters, and a bunch of explosions.

 

I’m planning to have a lot of fun in 2014, so please follow me here and on Twitter for updates!

 

 

@jonnyabomb

 

 

One of my very favorite writers ever has passed away.  If you are a person who loves reading as much as I do, you know that, while losing the person is solely the loss of his or her loved ones, losing the author can be devastating to the appreciative longtime reader.  Their voice is in your head.  You carry their influence with you, particularly if you are a reader who also writes.  That’s a loss, even if it’s nothing compared to what the family and friends must be going through.

 

If you’ve never read his stories, I urge you to change that pronto, for your own sake.  When you do, don’t thank me, thank him.  For a full list of everything he ever did, visit Elmore Leonard’s excellent personal website.

 

For my own meager tribute, please click over to Daily Grindhouse to read the few words I could muster.  Seriously, I hope that’s a little bit adequate, because it’s all the blood I could squeeze from the stone.  I’m really down about this.  Below I put together an appropriately sloppy and scrappy photo montage of moments from Elmore Leonard’s career, to match my state of mind.

 

The only two Elmore Leonard film adaptations I’ve written about at any length are 52 PICK-UP and KILLSHOT.  I wrote a little bit about JACKIE BROWN in my Pam Grier overview.

More is sure to come, eventually.

 

@jonnyabomb

 

 

 

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Out Of Sight

 

      

 

 

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Jackie Brown

 

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Vanity

 

Cloud Atlas (2012)

 

If you didn’t see this movie on the big screen, you missed out.  If you missed it entirely, you fucked up.  And if you were one of those who called it “the worst movie of the year” (whoever Mary Pols at Time magazine is; stupid stupid Peter Travers) – God help you.  When this movie comes to be seen as a lost classic in a few years, you may wish you weren’t so nasty.

I won’t be gloating though.  I choose the avenue of love.  This movie encouraged me to be that way.  This movie is about a lot of things I may or may not believe in – fate, true love, reincarnation of sorts – and it made me believe – strongly – in them all.  That’s the power of love, son.  That’s the power of cinema.  And I was skeptical too.  I’ve always liked the Wachowskis but I’m not as high on THE MATRIX as so many are (although, weirdly, I liked the sequels better than most), and I haven’t seen a Tom Tykwer move that really resonated with me since RUN LOLA RUN.  Most of all, without having read David Mitchell’s original novel it was hard to tell in advance what the hell this movie was going to be about.  Answer:  It’s kinda about everything.

It’s a 19th-century nautical drama involving slavery and other human cruelties.

It’s a period piece about the creation of classical music and an impossible romance.

It’s a 1970s political thriller about an intrepid reporter (co-starring THE THING‘s Keith David as SHAFT‘s Shaft!).

It’s a whimsical farce about an attempted escape from a nursing home.

It’s a science-fiction anime action-movie love-story.

It’s a post-apocalyptic future-tropical tribal-warfare-slash-horror-movie that turns into a campfire fable.

It’s like no other movie I’ve ever seen before, which for the record is exactly why I go to the movies:  To see things I haven’t seen before.  The performances are surprising and exhilarating, the score is clever and moving, the cinematography is colorful and absorbing, the scope is bold and ambitious.  Does it matter too much that some of the storylines are more affecting than others?  You think I care about anybody’s stupid little quibbles over some of the makeup effects?  This is a movie that shoots for the moon and more than once hits the stars.  This movie didn’t just surprise me with what it is – it surprised me about ME.  It’s sad that more people haven’t embraced it yet, but believe me, I’m happier loving this movie than you are disregarding or ignoring it.  Feel free to come over to this side anytime!

I wrote this for Daily Grindhouse and reposted it here because CLOUD ATLAS is out on DVD & Blu-Ray today. Now’s your chance to remedy the mistakes of the past…

@jonnyabomb