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When the Movie is Better than the Book (REALLY!)

I do concede that it does not happen often; however, it does happen.

Sometimes the movie really is better than the book.

I can almost hear the high-pitched screams of my fellow book-lovers.  I can almost hear the gnashing of teeth.

Hear me out.

It can happen.  And when it does, the effect is almost magical.

And no, I’m not talking aboutThe Hunger Games.  I saw it Saturday but do not feel that the movie is better than Suzanne Collins’ novelization.  Certain scenes were done well, though, such as the Reaping…

But I digress.

I am a huge fan of Sideways (the movie, 2004).  With Thomas Haden Church, Sandra Oh, Virginia Madsen, and especially Paul Giamatti, Alexander Payne’s film was brilliant.  What made it stand out was the acting and the directing.

Sideways won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and this was well-deserved.

The cinematography in this film is particularly enjoyable for me.  I love the angles.  It’s a great movie.

But the novel by Rex Pickett was just mediocre.  It was only onscreen that I got a feel for the characters.  What was written on the pages of the book was simply rendered better on screen.

I feel the same way about another recent Alexander Payne-directed movie: The Descendants.  This surprises me, considering the fact that I’m no big fan of George Clooney.  Sure, he’s handsome, I admit to that.  But movies should be about more than eye-candy.  Clooney has made a career on playing himself.  He’s just George Clooney being George Clooney, with the exception of O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) and The Descendants (2011).

Yet Clooney shines in this film, as do his co-stars, Judy Greer and especially Shailene Woodley.

The panoramic, lush Hawaiian backdrop truly delivers on the big-screen.

I did not like Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel.  I thought the pacing was slow and the characterization could have been better.

I felt the movie, though, should have took home the Academy Award for Best Picture.  It had a terrific ensemble cast.  The setting came to life and so did Clooney.

My last choice may be controversial.  It’s actually a tough one for me, considering I loved the novel.  In fact, it’s a favorite of mine.  I even love to re-read it, and fellow booklovers know that a reader cannot say that about every novel.

It is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  This movie blew me away.  It was everything I hoped for, plus some.  Rooney Mara, a virtual unknown, stole the show and literally became Lisabeth Salander.

Stieg Larsson’s novel crossed many genres.  Larsson created unforgettable characters, some of the best we will ever see on a page.

But the film took my breath away.  Even the usual stiff Daniel Craig gave a wonderful performance.

It certainly does not happen every day.  These are actually the only instances I could come up with when the movie is better than the book.  Yet it clearly does happen.  And when it does, well, it’s pure magic.

I’d love to hear from you.  Have you ever enjoyed a movie more than you liked the book?  If so, please share!

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April Fiction–Lots of Books Blooming!

This is the start of something new.  Spring is new, and the time could not be more perfect.  From now on, at the beginning of each month, I am going to share with you the notable new releases for that month.  You’re in luck!  There’s much to talk about for April.

Before I begin, please note: If there is a book you’re keen on that is not listed here, let me know.  Perhaps I do not know about it and would like to read it.  I will try to limit myself to ten books.  Sometimes I may have more; sometimes I may have less.  It all depends.

Without further ado.  Here are the books I’m excited about for April.

1.  The Lifeboat Charlotte Rogan

The debut novel of Charlotte Rogan, The Lifeboat, is getting a lot of attention right now.  That is amazing, considering it was released on April 3.  The New York Times ran a review in which I learned Rogan was 57 when she got her book deal.  What an inspiration she is!  The Lifeboat is perfect for your book club and the main character, Grace, on trial for murder, will generate much discussion.

2.  The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen

This novel was released March 27, but Amazon has the title listed as one of its best of April.  Another debut, The Land of Decoration features a ten-year-old heroine named Judith.  It’s difficult to resist a story which Emma Donoghue, author of Room, said “grabbed me by the throat.”

3.  The Coldest Night by Robert Olmstead

Robert Olmstead’s The Coldest Night is another title you can pick up now.  Olmstead sets his story during the Korean War and after.  I am lucky because Olmstead will visit Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi, on April 19.  If your local bookstore features signings, check to see if Olmstead will be there.

4.  The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan

People Magazine loves this novel about four Harvard roommates who reunite after 20 years.  Their seemingly perfect lives are anything but.  The Red Book has been called The Big Chill meets The Group.”  This novel is out now.

5.  Calico Joe by John Grisham

John Grisham’s newest book, Calico Joe, is one of Amazon’s best books of the month and comes out April 10.  This time, Grisham turns to baseball and explores the themes of forgiveness and redemption.  Like all of Grisham’s previous novels, Calico Joe is sure to become a bestseller.

6.  The Cove by Ron Rash

The bestselling author of Serena returns with The Cove.  The novel is about a sister and brother and the cove, which may be cursed, where they live.  Rash will appear at Lemuria Books in Jackson, MS, on April 18.  Be sure to check in your area.  Your city may be a stop on his tour.  The Cove is an Amazon best book of the month.

7.  The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

I must confess that I have never read Anne Tyler, but The Beginner’s Goodbye intrigues me.  Tyler tells the story of a middle-aged widower who is having a difficult time dealing with the death of his wife.  Until he starts seeing her, that is.  Amazon has this listed as one of the best books of the month.

8.  A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash

I cannot wait to read Wiley Cash’s A Land More Kind Than Home, to be released April 17.  Cash’s debut has been compared to those of John Hart and Tom Franklin.  Amazon chose the novel as one of its best books of the month.  Cash will sign copies of his book on June 1, at Lemuria Books in Jackson, MS.  A Land More Kind Than Home is a “mesmerizing literary thriller about the bond between two brothers and the evil they face in a small western North Carolina town.”

9.  Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall

The author of The Absence of Nectar and The House of Gentle Men (two of my favorites) returns with Blue Asylum.  I would love to interview Hepinstall.  During the Civil War, a Virginia plantation mistress is put on trial and convicted of madness.  She is sent to Sanibel Asylum, where she meets many interesting people.  Hepinstall asks the questions what is madness and who decides in this gripping tale.

10.  Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd

On the cusp of World War I, a young English actor has an affair.  She later goes to the police and accuses her former lover of rape.  In a twist, the young man is saved from trial by two diplomats.  William Boyd’s upcoming book is already getting lots of buzz before its April 17 release.  This one could be a stunner!

 

Which books are you excited about this month?  What about for summer?  I’d love to hear all about them!

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Ah, The Power of Social Media

Writers increasingly turn to Twitter and Facebook to share their stories.  And sometimes they strike gold.  In 2009, Justin Halpern, semi-employed and living back home, used Twitter to post in 140 character increments the hilarious and potty-mouth things that came out of his father’s mouth.  Shit My Dad Says went on to be a bestseller and a TV show starring William Shatner.

Author Matt Stewart also used Twitter.  This Yale University graduate had written a book set in San Francisco with an unusual and memorable cast of characters.  He shopped around for a publisher but received rejection letter after rejection letter.  So he began tweeting his unpublished novel in 140 characters at a time.  Twitter users loved it!  Word of mouth spread, and Soft Skull Press released The French Revolution on July 14, 2010.

Now we have Lou Beach.  Instead of employing Twitter, though, Beach turned to Facebook, where he posted little vignettes in 420-character status updates.  That is the creation story for his new book 420 Characters.  Beach is not the first to use flash fiction, but he does it like he owns it.

Flash fiction has other names, such as microfiction or short shorts.  It is really short bursts of words, sometimes only 100 or so.  In a world where billions of stimuli constantly vie for our attention, its length is perfect.  However, flash fiction is not for everyone.  I like to connect with characters, and a reader just cannot do that in a short short.  I will say that Beach does use a few recurring characters, but I had to go back if I thought I recognized a place or a name I had seen before.  The recurring names and places did not jump out at me.

I will say some of the short shorts are unusual.  For example:

His chute failed to open and as he fell he struck a pigeon, pinning it against his chest as they rushed toward the ground in tandem.  He felt the pigeon’s heart beating against his own.  He closed his eyes and imagined he had two hearts, one outside his body and one inside, beating like a train.

Beach, as you can tell from reading the above vignette, is a very visual writer.  I love that about him.  Some of his pieces are beautiful.  Many of Beach’s shorts felt like free-verse poetry to me.  I want to share with you my favorite one:

I lay the book on the floor, open to the middle.  It’s a lovely volume, green leather covers, engraved endpapers.  I remove my shoes and step into it up to my ankles, knees, hips, chest, until only my head is showing and the pages spread around me and the words bob up and down and bump into my neck, and the punctuation sticks to my chin and cheeks so I look like I need a shave.

If you go to Beach’s website, you can listen to several recordings by Jeff Bridges, Ian McShane, and Dave Alvin. I loved hearing Bridges’ gruff voice give life to the words on the page.

I easily finished 420 Characters in one sitting.  It’s only 176 pages, and it keeps you reading.

 

Let’s not forget Beach’s talent as an illustrator.  The book is full of his original artwork.  My advice is to buy the hardcover edition because those images are amazing in color!

Is flash fiction the future?  I hope not.  It’s different, yes, but it should never replace the novel.

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The Great Lenore by J.M. Tohline

The Great Lenore by J.M. Tohline

            Just imagine.  You are an author who was once nominated for a National Book Award.  You are working on a new novel, but your life is crazy.  You yearn to get away, go to the seashore, and let the ocean inspire you.  On Nantucket, you can write as you please, watch the waves, and fill your head with your characters so that they come alive on the page.  Imagine you are Richard Parkland, the narrator of J.M. Tohline’s debut novel The Great Lenore.  Writing is the last thing you end up doing on your quiet beach vacation.

 

Tohline grew up near Boston and lives on the edge of the Great Plains with his cat called The Old Man And The Sea.  The Great Lenore is his first novel but definitely not his last.

 

A friend invites Parkland to stay at his Nantucket beach house over the holiday season, and Parkland readily accepts to work on a new novel.  He becomes friendly with the wealthy Montanas who own the mansion next door; he ends up having Thanksgiving with them.  The merriment of the holidays are cut short, though, when Lenore, married to one of the Montana sons, dies in a plane crash.  The family is devastated, and Parkland feels out of place.  After all, he did not know Lenore.  He is shocked when the ghost of Lenore ends up on his porch!  Lenore missed her plane, yet this character at the center of Tohline’s story, is so shallow that she will not even tell her husband she is alive.  Her husband has a mistress, you see, and they have been growing apart.  Yet, Lenore is in love with Jez, a man who works for the Montanas and who she has known for a very long time.  Lenore and Jez have a complicated and complex relationship.  I saw Lenore as a shallow young woman of privilege.  She does not care who she hurts.  She destroys people’s lives on a whim.  Just what is so great about Lenore?  I am afraid I cannot tell you.  Yet this novel is so “right now.”  Lenore and the Montanas represent the very rich who do what they please, while the little people, like you and me and Parkland get stepped on and used along the way.

 

Nantucket comes to life in The Great Lenore and becomes the perfect backdrop.  I can think of no other locale that would have done this novel justice.

 

The Great Lenore is a stylish novella.  His prose is clever and witty.  Tohline explores such themes as fate versus free will and second chances.  I believe readers will see themselves in Richard Parkland, an uncomplicated man who just cannot seem to process what he has witnessed.  The reader will root for Parkland, just as the reader will praise Tohline.  I predict we see great things from Tohline.

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