Friday, August 26, 2011

Mike's Hoping the Creeks Don't Rise . . . .

I wouldn't call it delicious irony, but it's pretty ironic that we're bracing for a hurricane to hit the East Coast and I've just finished Douglas Brinkley's The Great Deluge, a recounting of the horrors following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (today being just a few days shy of the six year anniversary of the event). Visiting New Orleans just this past month prompted my interest in the subject, where swaths of still-unoccupied or still-damaged row houses dominate the landscape in sections of the Treme, Marigny, and other neighborhoods.

Covering a week-long period that involves days before and after the Hurricane's landfall, Brinkley documents the ineptitude of government officials and inability of government institutions to take charge that led to the "federally-induced disaster" as locals have taken to describing it. The void of responsibility was filled by the man-on-the-street who took it upon themselves to help out those in need, with a myriad of examples provided by Brinkley. Told in a style that deftly balances finger-pointing with a recounting of compassionate deeds, Brinkley has written an immensely important contribution to the literature of natural and government-induced disasters.

image courtesy Flickr user News Muse

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Give my Regards to Broadway, Part 2

Without further ado, here are the rest of my picks for best Broadway soundtracks.

6. Gypsy

Sing out, Louise! This iconic musical based on the memoirs of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee has been popularly revived on Broadway many times, turned into a classic film with Natalie Wood and Rosalind Russell, and made into a TV movie starring Bette Midler. Gypsy tells the story of Lee’s rise to fame, no thanks to her Mama Rose, who is the ultimate stage mother. Though the backstage shenanigans are fun, it’s the heart-wrenching relationship between mother and daughter which gives this play its soul.

Check out the 2003 Broadway revival starring Bernadette Peters.

Or the TV version starring Bette Midler.

7. West Side Story

Pay no attention to the ill-conceived 2009 revival of this Shakespearean classic. West Side Story is an old standby, and it’s fantastic the way it was. It’s Romeo and Juliet set in 1950s New York, with rival gangs and ethnic groups instead of families. Though the amount of ballet dancing it contains renders it not realistic, it’s still an awesome musical with a memorable soundtrack.

8. Chicago

Chicago is Kander and Ebb’s classic, iconic musical, and it’s still a delight to listen to. This soundtrack contains classic songs such as “All That Jazz” and “Nowadays,” and just oozes Broadway and Fosse. Bebe Neuwirth and Ann Reinking put new faces and voices on the memorable Velma and Roxie, and their rendition remains my favorite.

9. Cabaret

Cabaret is another well known musical, set in the late 1930s, when Berlin was full of decadence and sex. The play chronicles the lives of the performers at the Kit Kat Klub, who are trying as hard as they can to avoid the fact that the world is falling apart around them. The songs Sally Bowles sings end up as parallels to the rise of the Third Reich and the impending war. The best part of the most recent revival is the addition of “Maybe This Time”, an import from the film version.

10. An honorable mention goes to the Book of Mormon, the newest and hottest ticket on Broadway. I haven’t heard or seen this 2011 Tony winner yet, but if it’s all it’s cracked up to be, it’s bound to be brilliant and hilarious. The music and lyrics are a collaboration between South Park’s Matt Stone and Trey Parker, and Avenue Q’s Robert Lopez, so I don’t see how it could go wrong! If you end up getting your hands on this before I do (I’m pretty far down on the holds list!), let me know what you think.

- GT

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rob the librarian recommends The Librarian by Larry Beinhart

Larry Beinhart has a knack for turning “vast right-wing conspiracies” into believable page-turners (see my review of American Hero, May 13, 2010). In The Librarian, we have an ordinary librarian (is there such a thing??), an unassuming, work-a-day librarian finding himself entwined in a conspiracy to steal the election of the United States president. In the process, he also finds himself jumping out of windows, dodging bullets, donning disguises and all sorts of other stuff rarely taught in Library School. The Machiavellian plot brings together a billionaire, a secretary of state and a sitting Supreme Court justice (with the assistance of an Oliver North stand-in and his crew of plumbers) all united in their belief that the country must not fall into the hands of the weak, unpatriotic liberals. Even if the voters choose the weak, unpatriotic liberals. Like in American Hero, the unlikely conspiracy in clever hands (and in today’s political world where no scheme seems impossibly low and dirty), is just plausible enough to get you thinking. And truly, where else will you find a trio of courageous, swashbuckling librarians saving the nation powerful evil-doers?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Megan recommends: The Cookbook Collector

The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman

Two sisters in Silicon Valley in the boom years of the 1990s. One is the CEO of a tech company about to go public, the other is a graduate student in philosophy working in an antiquarian book store. A novel about getting and spending, and the substitutes we find when we can't get what we're looking for.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Give my regards to Broadway... (part 1)

In honor of a recent trip to New York City where I spent much of my time seeing Broadway musicals, I decided to recommend Broadway soundtracks. Here’s a list of some tried and true favorites, as well as some new ones to check out. These are in no particular order, but read the first 5 here, and stay tuned to read the other 5 next week!

1. Rent

Rent is an update of the opera La Boheme, and chronicles the trials and tribulations of a group of bohemians, anarchists, artists, and friends in New York’s East Village. The score is upbeat and infectious, and it never fails to entertain. I blast this one in the car in traffic jams. If you like the soundtrack, you can check out the revival, currently running Off Broadway. (And if you do go, tell me how it is, because I’m dying for tickets!)

2. Avenue Q

In Avenue Q, Muppets which look an awful lot like those on Sesame Street, teach you valuable lessons. Such as, “the Internet is for porn,” “There is life outside your apartment” and “If you were gay, it’d be OK.” Even Gary Coleman makes an appearance in puppet form. I’m not sure I can really say much more about it – just give it a listen and prepare to laugh. Avenue Q is currently running Off Broadway.

3. In the Heights

Join this group of immigrants as they tell us all about their lives in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. Some have aspirations to leave the barrio which reach as far as California, and some would be happy just to move downtown. Some are trying fervently to save their little community, as the neighborhood cycles through different ethnicities and cultures. Composer Lin-Manuel Miranda borrows from different styles of music, such as rap and salsa, and also takes his influences from his Broadway predecessors like Jonathan Larson and Stephen Sondheim. It’s infectious, joyous and poignant. Definitely my favorite in recent Broadway history.

4. Wicked

This soundtrack boasts instant classic Broadway tunes such as “Defying Gravity,” “I’m Not that Girl,” and “For Good.” Tony winners Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth play the lead roles, and their renditions of these songs quickly became iconic. Give this a listen if you haven’t already.

5. Anything Goes

The revival of this Cole Porter classic, which stars Sutton Foster as Reno Sweeney, the evangelist turned nightclub singer, is one of the hottest tickets on Broadway right now, and for good reason. The upbeat soundtrack contains classic songs like the title track, “Blow Gabriel Blow,” and “I Get a Kick Out of You.” Until the current revival is available on CD (release date September 20, 2011), check out this 1987 version starring Broadway legend Patti Lupone.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Sue Recommends Eyes Wide Open by Andrew Gross

Andrew Gross is best known for his 5 best selling novels co-written with James Patterson, but he also is gaining a reputation internationally with his ability to weave a highly developed thriller on his own.

His novel The Dark Tide was nominated for Best Thriller of the Year by the International Thriller Writers.

The difference in his new mystery/thriller, Eyes Wide Open, is that he combines the true tragedy of the death of his bipolar nephew at the bottom of the 600 foot high Morrow Bay Rock (see with a suspenseful story of family secrets and a murdering cult leader.

This story line elicits memories (for those of you old enough in the 1960s) of the Sharon Tate and LaBianca murders by Charles Manson and his cult family, for which many of them are imprisoned to this day.

This author is one to watch and this book with its grisly murders is not for the weak of heart or stomach.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Summer Movie Tie-In's, Comic Book Style!

For those of you who are comic book fans or read comics as a kid, this summer might find you pale and pasty as you're spending the majority of your time indoors enjoying a movie rather than outdoors enjoying the sun. With both DC and Marvel in the game, as well as other comic-based movies like Cowboys & Aliens, you've got your plate full. So now that you've seen the movies, what comics should you read?

If you've been enjoying Marvel's blockbusters like Thor and Captain America, look no further than Ed Brubaker's run on Captain America and J. Michael Straczynski's Thor series. Brubaker has taken the Captain along some of the most groundbreaking storylines in comic history starting with the reintroduction of Bucky, his long-lost sidekick who was brainwashed into working as a Soviet assassin--and that's not to mention the widely publicized Death of Captain America that followed. Straczynski's run on Thor was unfortunately cut short when the author jumped ship for DC but was widely acclaimed as one of the strongest run on the mythological Thunder God's comic as he returned from the dead and the destruction of Ragnarok to engage with some of the century's most disastrous human- and nature-born events like Hurricane Katrina and genocide in Africa.

DC has begun unearthing some of their popular crime fighters and started with the intergalactic peace officer Green Lantern, and much like Brubaker with Captain America, Geoff Johns has taken the character of Hal Jordan and reinvented him to take on some of the events that have had the greatest impact on the DC Universe, like the Blackest Night/Brightest Day series. Even if you were underwhelmed by the movie you shouldn't hold it against Johns, trust me.