Monthly Archives

April 2010

Book Review: Jean Kwok’s GIRL IN TRANSLATION

Just as Jean Kwok is hesitant to reveal how similar her novel Girl in Translation is to her real story, I wondered if I could review it without getting too personal about why it moved me. Well, I could, but it’d be a vague, disconnected review. So, I decided to write this one.

The titular girl is eleven-year-old Kimberly Chang, who emigrates from Hong Kong to America with her mother. They land in Brooklyn where her aunt Paula gives them work in the sweatshop she owns with her American husband. Aunt Paula also puts them up in a squalid apartment in a condemned building with no central heat but plenty of roaches. Kimberly helps her mom at the factory after school every day, doing her homework late at night.

Luckily, as Kimberly says, “I’ve always had a knack for school.” Despite her lack of English skills, she excels in science and wins full scholarships, first to an exclusive prep school then Yale. But the road to success isn’t an easy one, as Kimberly struggles between feelings of duty towards her mother and feelings of a different kind for a boy at the factory. She eventually makes a difficult choice that leads to both love and loss.

Reading this book, I felt like someone had stolen some of my memories and spilled them out on the page. Kwok’s depiction of how Kimberly’s classmates and teacher (!) make fun of her took me right back to fourth grade when I’d just arrived in America and kids pushed me in hallways and laughed at my mismatched clothes. Kwok speaks from inside that feeling of alienation, of being treated as stupid even though you’re not. Immigrant or no, who hasn’t felt that way?

I could also relate to Kimberly’s confusion when encountering her classmates’ childhood games:

They were busy with cooties: catching them, getting rid of them and inoculating themselves against them…I had no idea what cooties were and often ended up as the recipient of all the cooties in the class.

I used to get all the cooties, too, and still don’t know what they are.

Kwok puts the reader in Kimberly’s head by using a voice that’s both innocent and too knowing for her age. The author doesn’t explain everything Kimberly sees, leaving it up to the reader to figure it out as Kim does, so we can discover her new world along with her. Her first lunch in the school cafeteria sounds almost identical to one of my first meals in America and her reaction also resembles mine at the time:

I wound up with this: minced meat in the form of a saucer, potatoes that were not round but had been crushed into a pastelike substance, a sauce similar to soy sauce but less dark and salty, a roll and milk. I had hardly ever drunk cow’s milk before and it gave me a stomachache. The rest of the food was interesting, although there was no rice and I felt as if I hadn’t really eaten.

But you don’t need to be an immigrant to appreciate this story. We can all use a reminder that even if we’ve got it tough, there’s always someone whose wildest dreams is to have what we have. If we’re unhappy with our lives, we have the freedom to change it. Sometimes perseverance isn’t enough; we must find a way to overcome. It may require great sacrifices but can result in even greater fulfillment.

Nerd verdict: Resonant Translation

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AMERICAN IDOL Top 6: You’re Still (Not) The One

After a week off to rest, recuperate and actively avoid the awful monolith that is Idol Gives Back, I return to find that nothing has changed, the season is still boring, Randy is still useless, Ellen is still unfunny, Simon is still bored out of his mind and Ryan is still trying too hard to make everyone happy (classic Seacrest!). We are in the death throes of a harpooned TV whale, slowly sinking to the bottom of the pop culture sea. If there is any karma in this world, you can bet Paula Abdul is that harpoon. Let’s go ahead and put the once majestic mammal out of its misery.

Here are the reviews of the performances, from best to worst.

Photo: FOX

Casey James – “Don’t”

Ooh, I do love to see the mentor sing along with the Idolist. Shania and Casey would make a dream performance in Hair Heaven. Just locks and locks for days. Casey was great tonight. Nice voice, beautiful control, smooth vocal. Good choice of stool. He sounded so good he could make this a radio hit tomorrow. Shania loved the performance. I, however, love Casey’s secret double chin and super girl face more.

Crystal Bowersox – “No One Needs to Know”

Either the producers told her to take a dive this week to make the next month appear 2% less completely predictable, or the judges huddled up before the show and picked Crystal out of a hat as the Idol to roundly hate on for no good reason. Was Crystal just all right? Yes. Was the song sort of lounge-y and lullaby-ish? Yes. But it wasn’t BAD. And the judges don’t need to uniformly agree not to LIKE her this week. What kind of gross collusion is that? Just let the hippie win already!

Lee DeWyze – “You’re Still the One”

Lee was the right Idolist to get the BIG Shania hit; he just didn’t do anything special with it. Crystal would have killed it. Like, whoa. Siobhan would have been too karaoke. Aaron would have been a joke. Big Mike would have dripped cornball juice on it. And Casey didn’t need the recognition juice from the song. This was the chance for Lee to write his ticket to the Top 3 and he biffed it with note-perfect mediocrity. Limp opening, serviceable middle, bland alt-rock ending. I wish Shania had sat him down and showed him the Kris Allen “Heartless” performance as a lesson on how to white-guy reevaluate and rock a hit. Instead, we got something forgettable. May I make a bad joke? Lee is still the (bland) one.

Michael Lynche – “It Only Hurts When I’m Breathing”

My Idol break did nothing to make Mike seem less corny. If anything, it’s worse. He certainly FEELS the song, which is all well and good, but his “sincerity” just comes off as totes cheeser balls. Nice falsetto at the end, though. While I’m here, it was nice to see Shania love Big Mike so much, always a joy to see the mentor enjoy their time. I did notice one thing, though. I was watching Shania gesticulate with Mike and it appeared to me as if…well, does Shania Twain have…frists?

Siobhan Magnus – “Any Man of Mine”

Boots?  Love. All the stage roaming? Hate. Dudechickbro, just chill the hell out at the mic stand and sing.  The movement is slowing her already tortoise-fast voice and the music is practically lapping her. And she gets no points for the glory note, because it was pandering. It was begging for votes. David Cook never begged. Carrie Underwood never begged. Taylor Hicks didn’t even beg. Because the first moment you beg is the first moment you start losing.

Aaron Kelly – “You’ve Got a Way”

Very cute watching Shania go into instant Mama-Bear mode the moment Aaron started to struggle. She looked liked she might try to adopt him right there. He could do worse for a stage mom. OK, let’s get real for a hot moment: This teen talent show shenanigan has gone on far too long. A nice Archuleta voice is fine and dandy, but Top 5 on American Idol? I don’t think so. No power or second level to his voice. No grit. No life experience. Just admirable determination and want. Which isn’t good enough to make it to May.

Is it time for Aaron to go back to school? Or will Siobhan give birth on stage to her Idol doom? Let me know in the comments.

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L.A. TIMES Festival of Books Slide Show

As promised, here’s a slide show of the good times I had at the book festival. This was done in fun so please don’t anyone sue me.

All kidding aside, I know how fortunate I am to have this festival in my backyard every year, even luckier that I have books to read. Thank you to the amazing authors and friends who made this weekend a memorable one for me.

(To read what I learned at the festival, click here. For Jen’s detailed recap of “The Kingpins” panel, go here.)

Photos by Jen Forbus, le0pard13, Brett Battles and me, but mostly them.

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L.A. TIMES Festival of Books Highlights, Part 1

This past weekend was the annual L.A. Times Festival of Books held on the UCLA campus. As usual, the Mystery Bookstore kicked off the festivities with their party Friday night, where authors and fans can schmooze and booze. Normally, I’d rather be thrown out of a speeding car than be subjected to large crowds, but I had a fantastic time because I got to meet some incredible people.

From L.: me, Christine, Jen. Photo by Brett Battles

I have to mention two in particular:  Jen Forbus and Christine, who regularly liven up this site with their insightful, witty comments and have become my cyber pals. They flew in from Ohio and Tennessee, respectively, and are even more spectacular in person. We officially met at the party but I felt like I’d known them for years. They’re the kind of people who make me want to be better.

It would take me 27 days to recap all the fun I had so I’ll just share a few things I found out this weekend (Jen has a more detailed report on the party here). I also put together a slide show here and for even more party photos, click on le0pard13’s post here.

Some tidbits I learned from the party and book festival:

  • Michael Connelly‘s next book, The Reversal, has defense attorney Mickey Haller in a prosecutorial role (Harry Bosch is also in it; the novel comes out this October).
  • Sophie Littlefield is 8′ 5″ in heels and owns it. You also have to stand in line to talk to her at parties because she’s so popular and has every reason to be.
  • Like me, Brett Battles hates it when characters repeatedly address each other by name in conversation.
  • T. Jefferson Parker’s fourth Charlie Hood novel, The Border Lords, is slated for release January 2011.
  • Juliet Blackwell speaks Vietnamese.
  • Reed Farrel Coleman says he writes good sex scenes.
  • Lisa Lutz‘s next book, a standalone, sounds really cool; the writing process she used is interesting (don’t know if I’m allowed to talk about it yet). Putnam’s releasing it next year.
  • According to Connelly, Robert Crais is only on his first station of manhood.
  • Dipping cheese cubes into dip is too much.
  • le0pard13‘s son, little le0pard, is going to be as awesome a man as his dad.
  • Gregg Hurwitz has an impressive eye for fashion accessories.
  • After The Sentry, another Joe Pike adventure (available early next year), Crais will write an Elvis Cole novel.

OK, my bed just called and my exhausted self said, “Coming!” Check out the slide show, featuring photographic evidence of rampant misbehavior, only some of which was mine.

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Winners of Scott Turow’s INNOCENT

I’ve been MIA the past few days because friends are in town for the L.A. Times book festival. I was also sacked by a two-day migraine that made me want to self-lobotomize with a melon scooper.

But enough excuses. Below are the 5 winners of Scott Turow’s Innocent (read my review here), his sequel to Presumed Innocent. The names were randomly selected by random.org and the first one on the list gets a copy of both books, courtesy Hachette Book Group.

  1. le0pard13
  2. Vicki
  3. WotV
  4. Sarah E
  5. Naomi Johnson

All winners must contact me by midnight PST, Tuesday April 27, with a mailing address or alternate name(s) will be chosen.

Thank you all for entering and sharing your stories about being falsely accused. They made me want to strap on a cape and slap some justice into this world.

Innocent comes out May 4 and you can buy it from Amazonor from an indie bookstore.

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What’s in a Name?

I recently asked Robert Crais fans in the Craisie Town part of my forum how their feelings about Elvis Cole would be affected if he’d been named something else, like Larry Jones. Blogger le0pard13 said he probably wouldn’t have started reading the books if that were the case, especially if Larry’s partner was named something like Lev Coen instead of Joe Pike.

This got me thinking about how character names play a large part in determining whether or not we want to read or watch something. Can you imagine Mark Twain’s tale about Huckleberry Finn being called The Adventures of Herbert Melton? Would 007 be as popular if he introduces himself as “Luftenhoser. Stan Luftenhoser”?

I think for the most part, authors put a lot of thought into character names, trying to make the moniker represent the personality. Crais has said he chose Elvis for his P.I. to let readers know they’re getting someone a little different, not your typical hard-drinking loner detective. Michael Connelly has made known Hieronymous (Harry) Bosch is named after the painter who created visions of chaos because Harry encounters chaos at every murder scene. And I think the last name of Sophie Littlefield‘s Stella Hardesty sounds like “hard as steel,” which she is.

So, have you ever picked up a book simply because you liked a protagonist’s name? Ever shunned a novel or movie because you didn’t? What if Harry Potter had been Harvey Scarsburn?

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AMERICAN IDOL & GLEE Mash-up Review

Our esteemed American Idol critic, Jason Matthews, is unavailable this week so I’m doing a mash-up review of Idol and the “Madge-ical” Glee. It was all music, all night long on Fox tonight.

Courtesy FOX

On Idol, Alicia Keys mentored the remaining seven hopefuls on inspirational songs, this week’s theme. I like how she repeatedly stressed connection to the lyrics because I think that’s what some of these kids don’t get. They think they can wow the judges by hitting high notes and with awesome guitar riffs but great singing for me has always been about the emotion behind the words. Bruce Springsteen may not be a technically perfect singer but man, when he sings about the working-class guy who dreams of bigger things beyond his small-town roots, his voice aches as if he’s pouring his guts out right onto the stage.

First up is Casey James. I like this dude; he’s cool, has a rocker’s voice and can really play the guitar. And I disagree with Simon that Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop” isn’t inspirational. It was the first song I heard on the radio after 9/11 and it made me weep. (“If you wake up and don’t want to smile/If it takes just a little while/Open your eyes and look at the day/You’ll see things in a different way/Don’t stop/Thinking about tomorrow/Don’t stop/It’ll soon be here…”) But I do agree Casey isn’t pushing himself and is showing us the same thing every week. He’s a competent performer but at this point needs to blow us away. Nerd verdict: Should be “Causing a Commotion,” not playing it safe.

Lee Dewyze went next with Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer.” I think the judges overpraised him. His voice has a built-in roughness that served him well on a song about a poor boy but the connection wasn’t all the way there. When he sang, “He cried out in his anger and his shame,” I felt neither. Lee was earnest, but not quite truthful. Nerd verdict: He needs to go “Deeper and Deeper.”

Tim Urban performed the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Better Days.” He’s definitely improving but I’ll have better days when he’s no longer on the show. Nerd verdict: “Borderline.”

Aaron Kelly followed Tim with R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly.” He’s a child so I don’t want to be too hard on him. I’ll just issue my Nerd verdict: “Take a Bow,” then pack your bags.

Siobhan Magnus was fifth, singing “When You Believe,” a duet between Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. The girl’s got nuts picking that song! And surprisingly, I liked it, butterfly outfit and all (she looked like a wood nymph). She had nice control, especially in the beginning. Her signature high note wasn’t annoying this time because she didn’t scream it. But while I enjoy seeing her come out with a different look and style each week, I still don’t get true emotion from her and don’t know what her musical personality is. Nerd verdict: “Who’s That Girl?”

Michael Lynche followed Siobhan with another snooze-inducing performance. His rendition of “Hero” was overwrought like all his other ones in past weeks. Even if the song had been inspirational, it was no longer by the time he hit us over the head with it. Nerd verdict: “Papa, Don’t Preach.”

Crystal Bowersox closed the show with “People Get Ready.” I already had goosebumps in anticipation because that song always rips me up. Then Crystal blew it sky high. It was like she was performing at the Grammys while everyone else was doing their high school talent show. I was half expecting Jeff Beck to come out and back her up. Then she cried, and I felt a lump in my chest. The competition is over. Just crown her now and everybody can start rehearsing for the tour. Nerd verdict: A “True Blue” star.

Photo by Art Streiber

After the uninspired Idol (except for Crystal), the fun kicked into gear with Glee. The Madonna songs took me back to when I was in school and I found myself singing along loudly to the whole show.

[SPOILERS]

We find out Sue has long idolized Madonna and wants her Cheerios to do routines to the singer’s music. The “Ray of Light” routine was one of my favorite numbers. Performers on stilts were swinging cheerleaders around by their legs! It was like when you were a kid and your dad swung you around like that. Remember how great that felt?

When Will saw this routine, he decided the glee club’s assignment would also be to put together a performance to a Madonna song. Rachel and Finn did a surprisingly successful mash-up of “Borderline” and “Open Your Heart,” feeling a little something for each other in the process but Rachel’s still seeing Jesse St. James, who decided to quit Vocal Adrenaline and move in with his uncle so he can attend McKinley High and be with Rachel.

As Madonna fever spreads, everyone at McKinley seems to want to lose their virginity: Emma with Will, Finn with Santana (well, she suggested it), and Rachel with Jesse. This resulted in “Like a Virgin” being sung by all six characters in a montage cutting back and forth between their respective bedrooms. I’ve heard this song a million times and there was nothing virginal about it even the first time I heard it. But having it sung by virgins on the show made it sensual for me. It gave the song an innocence Madonna never had.

But the showstopper for me was the group performance of “Like a Prayer” at the end. In music (and life), there are certain notes that will make you cry when you hear them. It’s different for everyone and most of us don’t even know what they are. During the “Prayer” number, the gang hit those notes for me and it was a little like finding religion.

Nerd verdict: Got me Into the Groove

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Inside an (Un)Blocked Mind

I sat down today to write a post and found myself blocked. Nothing interesting came out. I scratched whole paragraphs, started over multiple times. Got frustrated until I remembered what Juan José Campanella, the director/co-writer of the Oscar-winning El Secreto de Sus Ojos, said at a screening I attended: There’s no such thing as writer’s block. There’s always something in your head, he said, it just may not be any good.

But the trick is to keep writing, so I did. I recorded whatever random thoughts flitted through my brain. Then I looked at what I wrote and decided to post it as is.

Ever have days like this?

I don’t feel like writing right now. Who’s making me? I don’t have to write anything if I don’t want to. This sucks. It’s a nice day. Wish I were outside.

Hey, the dog next door is quiet today. Wonder if the cops came out to give the owner a warning. Wait a minute. It’s TOO quiet. What happened to the dog?

Why do my thighs hurt? Oh, yeah, those new squatting exercises. I need a new chair. Did I take my calcium supplement today? I want some cheese. My bones will be brittle when I’m old. I’ll drink a glass of milk with my cheese.

I’ll watch some TV. Maybe that will inspire a post. Oh, Friends! Chandler’s so thin! Why is Jennifer Aniston’s hair brown? Joey never should’ve happened. Courteney Cox looks even hotter now than she did then. Her hair sure is black for someone non-Asian.

This coffee tastes funny. Husband says we’re out of regular so it’s extra bold decaf. Isn’t that an oxymoron? Heh heh. Love the word “moron.” Definitely funnier than “idiot.”

OK, back to work. Why did I just lose a Twitter follower when I wasn’t even tweeting?

What the hell?! Michelle “Bombshell” McGee and a Tiger Woods mistress might get their own reality show? What is happening to America?? I can’t even deal with this.

Focus, focus. Blog post, need one. Maybe something will come to me if I take a break. Mmm…soup.

It’s 11 p.m.! Gotta hit the sack. But I still have no blog post! Hmm. What if I make up some lame excuse to run this BS as a post?

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Movie Review: THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES

When the end credits started rolling after a screening of Argentina’s El Secreto de Sus Ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes, in limited U.S. release), I muttered to myself, “Perfection.” Oscars may be occasionally given to undeserving recipients, but this year in the best foreign film category, I think the Academy got it right. (I did, too; I predicted its win!)

The movie centers around Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darín), a prosecution investigator haunted by a case from 1974 in which a beautiful young woman was raped and murdered. Now retired and attempting to write a book about it, Esposito reconnects with his former boss, Irene (the resplendent Soledad Villamil), to get feedback on his manuscript and discuss past events. It becomes clear very quickly, due to close-up shots of the actors’ expressive eyes, that their feelings for each other are just as unresolved as the case. The story smoothly transitions back and forth in time to show the investigation, how the victim’s husband deals with his grief, even briefly covering the political turmoil during Argentina’s Dirty War.

The description may make the film sound like heavy drama, but it’s also a love story that’s at once palpable and restrained. I imagined director/co-writer Juan José Campanella removing pages of dialogue from the script and telling Darín and Villamil’s to just say everything with their eyes. I also laughed out loud quite a few times, thanks to Guillermo Francella, who plays Esposito’s drunk friend and colleague with a droll delivery of zingers (pay special attention whenever he answers the phone). The combination of different genres isn’t surprising when you consider Campanella’s past work (the movie was adapted from a novel by Eduardo Sacheri, who also co-wrote the script). Not only has he mastered the police procedural with multiple episodes of Law & Order: SVU, he’s also directed episodes of 30 Rock and Strangers with Candy .

Campanella did Q & A after the screening I attended, which was sponsored by Creative Screenwriting magazine. He was witty and humble, despite being a newly minted Oscar winner. His publicist kept sending notes to the moderator to wrap up but Campanella repeatedly said, “It’s okay, I’m okay,” and stayed way past his allotted time.

Some things I learned from the session:

  • His NYU thesis film got him a William Morris agent but he couldn’t get a job for 10 years after that.
  • After his first feature bombed at the box office, he returned to Argentina “to be with Mommy” and find his voice.
  • He initially wanted to completely cut Pablo, the role Francella played, from the movie (the audience gasped at this since Pablo is so vital to the film).
  • In the novel, Irene is only a colleague in Esposito’s office and not involved in the case at all. In the film, she’s not only part of the investigation, she helps him expose the killer.
  • The final twist is different.

Nerd verdict: Captivating Eyes

Photos by Maria Antolini, courtesy Sony Pictures Classics

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Mysterious Allure of Greece and the Greek Detective

When Jen over at Jen’s Book Thoughts invited bloggers to participate in her Detectives Around the World theme week, I knew I wanted to write about someone from the Greek islands. Never mind that I’d never read or heard of any fictional detectives from there; I was determined to spotlight the most beautiful places I’d ever visited and I’ve been to Arkansas so that’s saying a lot.

My initial Internet research turned up several novels that took place in the years Before Christ. Pass. I wouldn’t know anything about Greek settings in those times and don’t have any pictures of ancient bath houses or the Parthenon when it was new.

Luckily, I finally discovered Anne Zouroudi‘s series about a mysterious Greek detective named Hermes Diaktoros, named after the Greek messenger god with the golden winged sandals (AKA the FTD logo). Though the first three books are already available in the U.K., with a fourth coming out this summer (Zouroudi plans seven books for the series, each covering one of the Deadly Sins), the first installment, The Messenger of Athens, doesn’t arrive in the U.S. until July from Reagan Arthur Books. It’s about time, because this unique series is a welcome addition to crime fiction.

Messenger takes place on the imaginary island of Thiminos and begins with a young woman’s battered body being found at the bottom of a cliff. The chief of police is quick to label it a suicide, but Diaktoros, an investigator from Athens who’s referred to as “the fat man,” arrives to dig more deeply into the case. No one knows who sent him, what his end game is, how he knows people’s secrets, or why he’s compulsive about keeping his tennis shoes pristinely white at all times. Though many try to avoid answering his questions, the fat man eventually unearths the real story behind the woman’s death—one which involves the Deadly Sin of lust—and administers his own brand of justice.

This novel satisfied many interests for me: mysteries, Greek mythology, and everyday life on a Greek island (more on that later). In mythology, Hermes is Zeus’s son, the messenger between the Olympian gods and humans. The fat man’s evasiveness whenever someone asks who he’s working for—coupled with other subtle clues—implies he’s not just a namesake of the god. Don’t worry if that sounds a little too mythological for you; Diaktoros is a stout, earthy presence, albeit one with slightly unusual methods of solving mysteries.

Zouroudi, who was nominated in 2008 for ITV3’s Crime Thriller Awards for Breakthrough Author of the Year, has a timeless style evocative of Agatha Christie’s, which is apropos for the setting. Thiminos is a remote island without modern trappings; life here is hard and the men are harder. Women are still considered as little more than baby producers and cooks. Irini, the victim, wanted more from life and instead ends up dead.

I mentioned earlier that this book addressed my curiosity about what it would be like to live on a Greek island. When I visited the islands in 2006, I was so overwhelmed by the beautiful vistas, I toyed with the idea of moving there (Zouroudi actually did this; she fell in love with the islands on vacation, relocated, married a Greek man and had a baby there before moving back to England). I chatted with locals about their lives and received candid answers about their struggles when tourist season is over. Zouroudi provides even more insight about the day-to-day existence, how being island-bound can breed despair in some people and fear of leaving it in others, how the landscape can be breathtaking yet harsh, how the old buildings I found gorgeous on the outside can be damp and drafty inside during the winter.

Reading Messenger of Athens (and about Greece’s recent bankruptcy troubles) may have deterred me from Greek-island living for now, but I still feel the pull of the splendor I found there. Since that beauty partly motivated Zouroudi to write this series, I thought I’d share some personal snapshots in the slideshow below to illustrate what captivated both my and Zouroudi’s heart. The book’s Thiminos isn’t real so my pictures are from Mykonos and Santorini, two of the prettier islands I visited. Maybe the photos will entice you to travel there someday or at least start reading the Greek Detective series.

For more on Detectives Around the World, be sure and visit Jen’s Book Thoughts.

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Buy The Messenger of Athens from Amazon

Buy from an indie bookstore

Disclosure: I only get a small commission if you buy from Amazon. The indie link is for those who would rather eat glass than buy from Amazon.

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Elvis Night on Shaky Legs: AMERICAN IDOL S9 TOP 9 Perform (Again)

by Jason Matthews

Photo: FOX

We already did this group of nine, and weren’t much happy with them the first time, so let’s not waste time with a second overly wordy and witty introduction. The faster we get to the results show, the sooner we can boot out all the kids we should have kicked off last week (ahem, Tim, Andrew, and Aaron) instead of making Big Mike grovel his way into getting an unnecessary save. Hopefully, we’ll get this awful season back on track (not likely).

Here are the reviews of the performances, from best to worst.

Crystal Bowersox – “Saved”

Another good performance. Expert singing, fine arrangement, thoroughly enjoyable. What else is there to say about Crystal? Oh yeah, that’s right, there’s this: It was safe. When will Crystal show us something NEW? Or anything shocking, interesting, scary or mindblowing? The answer is “never.” She’s just going to be good every week. And that’s fine. After all, being just good every week worked for Kris Allen. What’s that guy doing these days, car commercials? Yeah, that’s kinda like having an impactful singing career.

Michael Lynche – “In the Ghetto”

I can’t be mad at Michael for America’s stupidity in voting him off, causing the judges to use the save on him instead of keeping it for Siobhan, who needs it way more at this point. I’d sure like to be mad, though. I still don’t fully buy his act, but I can admit he sounded great, and came from the heart. He was good; for now at least, he was worth saving.

Lee Dewyze – “A Little Less Conversation”

Lee sang well, but his rough voice wasn’t suited for such a slick-sounding rock song. For such a fun song, his alt-rock growl was not Elvis-like fun. Maybe he needed to have a big, show-stopping stage number backing him up, taking the lead on the good times. A big band or a crazy light show, even. Just him up there with his growl was good, but not good enough.

Casey James – “Lawdy, Miss Clawdy”

If someone doesn’t start paying attention, Casey James is gonna sneak his way into the finale. Which will be a crime, because he isn’t actually doing anything of merit. He gives the same performance every week, never extends himself, and never challenges his artistry. But that hair and smile and voice are keeping him under the radar. A Crystal/Casey finale will be aurally nice, but utterly boring to actually listen to.

Siobhan Magnus – “Suspicious Minds”

Loved watching Siobhan and Adam crush on each other. Loved seeing Adam step up his mentoring game for Siobhan. Loved her starting the song with her back to the audience. Loved the outfit. And that’s all I loved. Her arrangement was all over the place. Her voice was weak to start, ragged during the glory note-heavy middle, and desperate in the climax. I’m not sure if she’s second-guessing what got her here or she’s running out of game. But Siobhan is fading, and fast.

Katie Stevens – “Baby, What Do You Want Me To Do”

Katie’s performance was missing the one thing she needed the most: actual emotion. Making the “frustrated,” “sassy,” and “bitchy” faces isn’t the same thing as actually feeling those emotions. I doubt there’s been anything in her life that gave her the emotional experience to pull from. She’s so the Veruca Salt of this Top 12. I’m not exactly sure what she’s so upset about, either; didn’t they love her last week? And the week before? Why rankle them now?

Tim Urban – “Can’t Help Falling In Love”

A malevolent masterstroke to play to the tween crowd and steal votes in the face of the double elimination, but a calculated error in thinking he had the voice for this song. He couldn’t keep up the falsetto, dropping his voice out at least once per verse. And the whole thing had a bad frat-guy-with-a-soul-patch-under-a-tree feel to it. The guy’s just not good enough. Saying this was the “best Tim Urban performance ever” is like saying Dukes of Hazzard has “the best Jessica Simpson performance ever”; it’s such a back-handed compliment it’s practically a forehand!

Aaron Kelly – “Blue Suede Shoes”

Did you see the look he gave at the end of his taped segment? After he confessed to picking the wrong song and suggested he would be a total trainwreck? He stopped talking and a look of pure terror came over his face. This kid knows he doesn’t belong here. Knows he isn’t capable of being the big shoulders in this competition. Why should we vote for him if he doesn’t think himself worthy of our votes? It’s time we let the weak ones go, to send Aaron back to school. Elementary school.

Andrew Garcia – “Hound Dog”

Sure, slow down the most fun Elvis song there is. Yeah, that’s a good idea. That’ll keep you on the show another week. NOT. As boring as it is to keep saying Crystal is “good,” it’s even more boring to continue to say how much Andrew misses the point. In the face of Adam TELLING him he was boring, he chose to be MORE boring. In the face of Simon saying he has no personality, Andrew chose to show LESS personality. Maybe if we predict he’ll stay on the show, Andrew will choose to leave?

At this point, which two Idolists do you want to see in the finals? Let us know in the comments.

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LOST: “Everybody Loves Hugo” Review

ABC/Mario Perez

by Sarah Carbiener

Finally!  They’re blowing up stuff (both characters and major set pieces)! We’re down to the final hours of this epic series, and there’s still an enormous cast to burn. Not every statue, Ajira passenger, mid-eighteenth-century shipping vessel and candidate can survive the last stretch of the last season.  Hurley (Jorge Garcia), always the wry voice of reason, knows that the body count is about to start climbing, and he’s the first character this season who seems to be truly concerned with keeping everyone alive.

Hurley has always been one of my favorites, and I’ve found his character arc to be one of the most satisfying in the entire series. An episode from one of the first few seasons had him on the verge of committing suicide, convinced the entire island is in his head. This came after weeks and months of seeing him play the funny guy with the great one-liners about polar bears, Others, and hatches. He’s still the guy with the greatest observations—his conversation with Miles about Back to the Future from last season comes to mind—but now he’s a leader and brave and just plain awesome.

One of the reasons Hurley came off so well this week was because there was a little less conversation and a little more action. Last week, with the notable exception of Charlie driving Desmond into a lake, we had a lot of characters talking about what was really going on, that there are these other lives they’re meant to be living. Hurley and Libby actually struggled with what that means.

Libby approaches him when he’s waiting for his blind date (did anyone else’s heart break when he asked for another basket of tortilla chips?) and she tries to explain to him how they’ve met before.  Even though he has no idea what she’s talking about and sees her dragged back to the mental hospital, he seeks her out anyway, writes one fat check to gain access to her just so they can talk, and finally shares a picnic with her on the beach. When they kiss and their lives on the island come flooding back to him, it was an amazing, touching moment because Hurley had worked hard to get there even though he didn’t believe.

But while this made for a pretty good episode, it would have been an amazing hour of television had it been episode three or four this season. If the season had started off with the Richard Alpert episode, which really got to the heart of what the series is about, and gotten to last week’s Desmond episode and this week’s Hurley story sooner, I really think we would have had a sixth season more worthy of the first five.

I’ll finish up with a theory of sorts that may not turn out to be literally true but was certainly true thematically and plot-wise this episode: Desmond is the new Jacob. In the side flash, he’s going around to other Oceanic passengers and touching their lives somehow. In a sense, he’s driving them to seek out the truth, bringing them together, and driving them to the island. Maybe this is why on the island, the Smoke Monster was so upset by Desmond that he had to shove him down a well.  Although, side flash Desmond more than returned the favor when he plowed his car into wheel-chair-bound Locke. A car has a much greater impact on a person than a candy bar, that’s for sure.

While everybody does love Hugo, who doesn’t love Ben as the history teacher who chases off potential pedophiles? And did anyone else feel like they blew up Ilana not simply because the island was done with her as Ben said, but because the writers were done with her and wanted to use her death for shock value rather than tie up her storyline in a meaningful way? I mean, she’s the one who helped Ben join the good guys. She deserved better than Arntz.

What did you think? Happy to see Libby again? What is Des up to?

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