Monthly Archives

August 2010

Your Musical Identity

I was in the car today listening to the “Top 5 at 5” feature on a local radio station. Listeners send in lists of five songs they want to hear and the DJ picks one list to play at 5 p.m. Today’s winner was someone named Adriana and her first 3 songs were:

  1. Adam Lambert’s “Whataya Want from Me”
  2. Taylor Swift’s “Love Story”
  3. The Black-eyed Peas’ “Let’s Get It Started”

I didn’t get a chance to hear her final two songs because I arrived at Trader Joe’s and had to begin the back-breaking process of grocery shopping (the bags I hauled outta there were heavier than my car). But I realized the songs I did hear gave me clues to who Adriana might be.

I’d say she’s in her early 20s because she’s a Taylor Swift fan and still young enough to want to get a party started. When you get to a certain age, you want to shut them down. She’s someone who would like to be a rebel like Adam Lambert but is really a sweet girl who’s still looking for the right guy and her own big love story. She probably works 9-5 as an assistant in an office somewhere and having her favorite songs played on the radio helps make her commute home a little more pleasant.

Of course, I could be waaayy off—Adriana could be a 58-year-old divorceé who owns a tattoo parlor—but it was fun to play this little game. I’d like to think Adriana offered up a glimpse of herself, intentionally or not, and I was saying, “I hear you, girl.” I then wondered what would be on my list.

Without thinking too much about it, here’s what I would request in no particular order:

  1. The Eagles’ “New Kid in Town”
  2. Israel “Iz” Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”/”What a Wonderful World” medley
  3. Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop”
  4. U2’s “One”
  5. Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours”

This list will most likely change tomorrow; heck, it might change in 20 minutes. But as it stands, what conclusions would you make from my choices (other than I’m old)? What would be your top 5 at 5?


It’s a Savage World: Don Winslow’s SAVAGES & Carl Hiaasen’s STAR ISLAND

We’ve had gorgeous weather here in SoCal so you’d think I’d be outside doing outdoorsy stuff, right? Wrong. OK, maybe I spent a couple days outside. Rest of the time, I’ve been a good little nerd, catching up on reading while sitting at my window seat, basking in some secondhand rays. Here’s a couple I finished:

Savages by Don Winslow

Ben, a “Baddhist” (bad Buddhist), and Chon, a vet of two tours in our current war, have gotten rich doing what they love: get high. Chon brought home premium seeds from “Stanland” (Afghanistan) which Ben cultivated into potent blends sold by happy dealers for whom the benevolent Ben even provides health care. Life is good until the Baja Cartel decides to muscle in on their business and kidnaps O, their mutual gal pal, to make sure the boys obey. Big mistake, because Ben and Chon, who suffers from PTLOSD (Post-Traumatic Lack of Stress Disorder), show they can be David to the Goliathan cartel, igniting an explosive series of events that leave more than a few people dead.

If you’re thinking “Drug dealers? No, thanks,” consider this: Winslow is expert at making you care for people you probably wouldn’t want to know in real life. A theme that pops up in many of his books is brotherhood, the unbreakable bond between friends. Ben, O (short for Ophelia), and Chon might do questionable things but what you do unto one, you do unto all. I like books that challenge my worldview and make me a little less judgmental, if only towards fictional characters and situations.

Winslow has a distinctive rhythmic style I find lean, mean, compelling. Here’s how he tells about a lesson Chon (Little Johnny) learned when he was three:

Big John lifted Little Johnny up to the living room fireplace mantel, held his arms out, and told him to jump. “I’ll catch you.”

Delighted, smiling, the little boy launched himself off the mantel, at which point Big John lowered his arms, did an ole, and Little Johnny crashed face-first on the floor. Dazed, hurt, bleeding from the mouth where a front tooth had gone into his lip, Chon learned the lesson his father had intended about trust:




Did I mention the book is also funny? It’s dark humor, sure, but there’s levity among the violence. And the dialogue is so hip, you feel a little more gangsta after reading.

It’s no surprise Oliver Stone snapped up the movie rights since the action is cinematic and some of the scenes are actually written in script format. Stone had better not eff it up or I’ll get all Chonny on his ass.

Nerd verdict: Fierce Savages

(For more on Winslow, including coverage of a recent SoCal appearance, check out my friend le0pard13’s three-part article here.)

Buy Savages from Amazon| B&N| Powell’s| IndieBound

Star Island by Carl Hiaasen

Cherry Pye is a spoiled pop star whose penchant for partying and drugs forces her management team, which includes her mother, to hire a double to make the public think Cherry is out and about whenever she’s actually unconscious or getting her stomach pumped at a hospital. A tenacious paparazzo, Bang Abbott, accidentally kidnaps Ann the stand-in then tries to negotiate her release in exchange for getting an exclusive one-on-one photo session with Cherry. When Cherry’s mom doesn’t call the cops, fearing her stunt-double scheme would be exposed, Ann calls a homeless man named Skink to come rescue her. A recurring character in Hiaasen’s books, Skink is a former Florida governor now determined to keep greedy developers from ruining the “cherished wild places of his childhood.” He’d also previously held Ann hostage for a short time but long enough to become smitten with her. He sets off to rescue Ann in Miami, Cherry continues her destructive ways, the hapless Bang thinks he’s getting what he wants but in the end, everyone gets what they pretty much deserve.

From that synopsis alone, you can probably tell this is an over-the-top story with wacky characters. Besides the aforementioned ones, there’s a bodyguard named Chemo with a weed whacker for a hand, a manager with a taste for jailbait, and chain-smoking twin publicists who have had so much plastic surgery their faces don’t move. None of these people have ethics or any other redeeming qualities; this book could have also been called Savages. But unlike Winslow’s characters, there’s no one here to really root for. Ann is probably the most relatable but considering the cast of crazies, she’s in that position by default. She seems decent enough but too passive and ambivalent to be the hero.

Hiassen is a gifted writer capable of combining wicked satire and topical issues. His previous novels have often provoked thought while making me laugh out loud. This time the targets of his parody—fame whores, their grubby hangers-on, greedy lying bastards, unethical politicians—have become so ridiculous in real life, the author can’t outdo them in outrageousness. As I read about Cherry’s sordid adventures involving pills, booze and impulsive tattoos, it felt like reading a tabloid about all of Paris/Lindsay/Britney’s bad behavior. It’s not funny or even satire when it’s too close to reality. I found Cherry’s life and much of the book sad, which was probably not Hiaasen’s intention.

Nerd verdict: Star lacks power

Buy Star Island from Amazon| B&N| Powell’s| IndieBound

What are you reading this weekend? Anything you recommend?


Winner of IN THE WOODS + Another Giveaway!

My randomly selected winner for a paperback copy of Tana French’s In the Woods is:

  • Paulette

Congrats! Please hit the contact button and let me know where I should send it. If I don’t hear from you by 7 p.m. Friday, August 6, I’ll choose another winner.

If you didn’t win, don’t despair because I’ve got another giveaway starting…now!

Thanks to Dana at Kaye Publicity, I get to give away THREE free copies of Marcus Sakey‘s recently released e-anthology called Scar Tissue: Seven Stories of Love and Wounds. Marcus is the accomplished author of four novels, three of which have been sold to Hollywood. Scar Tissue is a collection of his previously published short stories, a great way to sample his work if you haven’t already done so.

Here’s the product description:

Marcus Sakey has been called “the new reigning prince of crime fiction,” (Chicago Tribune) and “exactly the electric jolt American crime fiction needs” (Dennis Lehane). Now from the bestselling author of The Blade Itself and Good People comes an anthology of seven short stories:

* “The Desert Here and the Desert Far Away” (nominated for Thriller and Macavity awards)
* “The Days When You Were Anything Else”
* “No One”
* “Gravity and Need”
* “As Breathing”
* “Cobalt”
* “The Time Before the Last”

These stories of men and women pushed to—and beyond—the ragged edge demonstrate why National Public Radio declared Sakey writes “crime drama for the 21st century.” Includes excerpts of Sakey’s previously published novels, as well as an exclusive teaser of his next book, coming June 2011.

Sound good? You know you want it. Before I get to the giveaway rules, I want to reiterate this is an e-book. If you win, you’ll get a code for a free download. You don’t have to own an e-reader; the anthology can be downloaded onto your computer as a PDF file.

To enter:

  • be a subscriber or Twitter follower (tell me which if you’ve never left a comment before)
  • leave a comment telling me about a favorite scar of yours or someone else’s if you don’t have one (mine is on my right middle finger from being sliced by a razor blade used by someone cutting my hair)

That’s it. This is open to international readers!

Giveaway ends next Tuesday, August 10, 5 p.m. PST. Three winners will be randomly chosen via and only announced here and on Twitter. I won’t contact you personally so please check back to see if you win. Winners will have 48 hours to claim the prize before alternate name(s) are chosen.

Now, show me your badass scars!


Movie Review: FLIPPED

You know how I knew I really liked this movie? My eyes were often wet and I didn’t want it to end. Wished I could stay inside its golden glow for a while longer to see the lead characters grow up, making sure they turn out okay.

Young Bryce (Ryan Ketzner) and Young Juli (Morgan Lily)

Based on the book by Wendelin Van Draanen (how cool is that name?), Flipped (opening August 6) tells the story of two kids growing up on the same street who develop feelings for each other, but different kinds at different times. Juli Baker (Madeline Carroll) decides she has a crush on Bryce Loski (Callan McAuliffe) from the moment she sees his family move into the neighborhood. He thinks the tomboyish, chicken-raising Juli is strange and does all he can to discourage her swooning. Their relationship is also hampered by Bryce’s uptight dad’s (Anthony Edwards) condescending attitude towards Juli’s blue-collar family. Things change when Bryce’s grandfather (John Mahoney) comes to live with the Loskis and takes a shine to Juli. Grandpa makes Bryce see Juli in a different light and eventually Bryce can’t stop thinking about her. His Eureka moment may come too late, though, because after some offensive behavior on his part, Juli is beginning to think he’s no longer worth her devotion.

If you’ve ever experienced the painful sweetness of a childhood crush, you’ll love this movie. I know all about unrequited feelings and being considered the weird girl so relating to Juli was easy. I also found her, as played by the winning Carroll (Kevin Costner’s daughter in Swing Vote), the coolest kid in town, with a maturity way beyond her peers’. I have no doubt the actress will transition well into grown-up roles. The Aussie McAuliffe, with his blond curls and angel face, makes an appropriate puppy love object. His role is less demanding than Carroll’s but he nails the American accent and his screen presence hints at future heartthrob status.

The supporting roles are filled by an Eighties All-Star cast, including my own ’80s crush, Aidan Quinn, as Juli’s dad; Penelope Ann Miller as her mom; Rebecca De Mornay as Bryce’s mother and the aforementioned Edwards as his dad. Perhaps this is because director Rob Reiner’s greatest hits happened two decades ago and he’s indulging in nostalgia. I read in this L.A. Times interview that even though Van Draanen’s book is contemporary, Reiner set the movie in the ’50s to keep the central relationship pure, devoid of Facebook and texting. This was a wise move, allowing him to enhance the story’s emotional resonance with real feelings instead of emoticons. In a time when even kids’ movies are 3D and special effects laden, this simple love story reminds us what it’s like to be truly innocent.

Nerd verdict: Heartfelt Flipped

Photos: Warner Bros.