Monthly Archives: January 2012

More Chick Lit Greatness from Jennifer Weiner

Jennifer Weiner is one of the many chick lit princesses out there nowadays, often throwing women into laughing fits followed by sobbing in only the way chick lit and chick flicks can.

Best known for her novel — which was then turned into the movie starring Cameron Diaz and Shirley MacLaine — In Her Shoes, Weiner is set to publish another book this coming July, according to this article by Chicklit Club.

This one, called The Next Best Thing, takes her typically funny, awkward female heroine to a new level. It tells the story of a girl who gets the green light for a TV series she’s been writing. She then heads out to LA to make it happen, as the synopsis explains.

At 23, Ruth Saunders headed west with her 70-year-old grandma in tow, hoping to be hired as a television writer. Four years later, she’s hit the jackpot when she gets The Call: the sitcom she wrote, The Next Best Thing, has gotten the green light, and Ruthie’s going to be the show-runner. But her dreams of Hollywood happiness are threatened by demanding actors, number-crunching executives, an unrequited crush on a boss, and her grandmother’s impending nuptials. Set against the fascinating backdrop of Los Angeles show business culture, with an insider’s ear and eye for writer’s rooms, bad behaviour backstage and set politics, Jennifer Weiner’s new novel is a rollicking ride on the Hollywood rollercoaster and a heartfelt story about what it’s like for a young woman to love, and lose, in the land where dreams come true.

With Weiner’s experience making In Her Shoes into a movie and debuting her series State of Georgia last fall, it’s fitting and understandable that Weiner would want to write a book about the Hollywood production process. I’ve been in the mood to read another Weiner novel lately, so with the new one coming out, maybe it’s time I dig into some of her other goodies. Have any of you read her books? Which is your favorite?
Pre-order The Next Best Thing in hardcover for just $17.

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Review: The Imperfectionists

Recap: In a dying profession, only the strongest survive, but the weaklings still manage to squeak by. The Imperfectionists tells the intertwining stories of 10 newspaper employees and one very dedicated reader. They’re American transplants, reporting (and reading) the news overseas in Rome for an international paper. And as boring as some may find newspapers to be, the lives of those who produce them are far from it.

The novel, which smartly connects a series of short stories within each chapter, gives the reader an inside look at the life of a newspaper reporter: from the daily trials and tribulations of meeting deadlines to finding creative ways of writing a headline you’ve written a thousand times and dealing with curmudgeonly co-workers. At the end of each character-focused chapter is an italicized bit that tells the history of the paper up to the present-day; telling a subplot which ultimately becomes the main focus.

But this is by no means a story just about journalism. With each chapter, we get a glimpse into the lives of the paper’s employees — reporters, editors, and publishers. Most have sad stories to tell about lost love, crushed dreams, and a long life of misery. But they all have surprising twist endings, endings that will make you laugh, cry, and think about your own life.

Analysis: The best way to describe The Imperfectionists is that it’s like the Crash or Love Actually in literature form. Tom Rachman brilliantly weaves each character together from chapter to chapter. Some are friends. Some are co-workers. Some are former roommates. But they’re all connected in their literary world. And rather than telling one broad story, which could have been boring, Rachman gives each character their own chapter — their own 15 minutes of fame for their story to be heard. It really does feel like a book of short stories….but then it’s not, and that’s what makes it so smart.

As mentioned above, most of the characters’ stories are sad; hence the title The Imperfectionists. Most journalists are perfectionists. Every fact must be checked. Every sentence must make sense. Every page must be perfectly laid out. This novel shows how these people are perfectionists in their work, but not in their lives.

I may partial to the journalism focus of the novel because after all, I’m a journalist in “real life.” But the overall arc of the novel is a statement on what is happening to newspapers worldwide. Sadly, it’s a dying industry. Budget cuts and the move to online media are forcing papers to shut down, and Rachman explores that issue with The Imperfectionists.

MVP: Rich Snyder. Easily the most unlikable character in the novel, he’s also the most fun to read about. His role sticks mostly to one character’s story. But his attitude is completely ridiculous. He’s a 40+ man who reports as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East. He knows how to do his job — and do it well — but not without a complete “frat boy” attitude, one that had me laughing out loud. Quote of note: “Dude, let’s commit some journalism.”

Get The Imperfectionists for $10.

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Harry Potter Director To Pen His Own Series

For Harry Potter fans, the bestselling fantasy series was a way to trigger a love for reading, imagination, and adventure. For parents, it was a way to bond with their children. But for film director Chris Columbus, it was a source of inspiration.

Columbus, who directed the first two Potter films — Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, is now writing a young adult fantasy series of his own.

According to this article by Entertainment Weekly, House of Secrets will tell the story of a few siblings whose father moves the family for a new job. But their new house used to be that of a troubled fantasy writer, and suddenly their lives are full of secrets, powerful books, and the responsibility of saving their parents and the world.

Columbus explains to EW how he came up with the idea.

At one point, I started it as a screenplay, so there were about fifty pages of a screenplay that would become the first seven or eight chapters of the book. Then I thought, “Maybe it’d work as a television pilot,” and I immediately discarded that idea because this is something that would be prohibitively expensive for television. Then I put it away and I didn’t think about it, but it was always coming back to me at some point or another. Finally, I thought maybe this would work as a young adult novel for no other reason except I really wanted to see it to its conclusion.

HarperCollins acquired the rights. House of Lies will be a 3-book series, co-written by young adult author Ned Vizzini. It’s aimed at middle-school children. The first book will be released in the spring of 2013.

With Columbus’s ideas and imagination and Vizzini’s writing, the series is sure to be a hit. But it would take magic for him to outsell Harry Potter.


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Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Tiny Book

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is mostly an actor, really an Internet enthusiast, but also kind of an author. Confused yet? Well the Hollywood actor — best known for his work in 500 Days of Summer and Inception — has recently released a book, based on a collection of short stories developed on his web site.

Gordon-Levitt started the online production company hitRECord within the last few years. The company is collection of people’s thoughts and personal works of art meshed together. It’s made up of a movies, stories, art, and music. And now Gordon-Levitt has combined the works of his production company into one tiny book, The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories: Volume 1.

Entertainment Weekly recently sat down with Gordon-Levitt to talk about the new book. From the conversation, one can tell Gordon-Levitt is a dreamer, who both loves all forms of art and has a special appreciation for physical books. Go ahead and read the entire interview. I don’t know about you, but it certainly makes me want to grab a copy of this clever, little book.

Get The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories in hardcover for only $9.

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Children’s Book Parody Has Us Saying ‘Goodnight’ To Electronics

Try to think back to some of the books you read growing up. There was Green Eggs and Ham, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Runaway Bunny, and of course Goodnight Moon. But Goodnight Moon will never be the same.

The book has gotten an update, thanks to children’s author David Milgrim. Milgrim recently published a new, modernized version of the famous children’s book. It’s called Goodnight iPad. According to this article by The New York Times, Milgrim — who cleverly wrote the book under the pseudonym, Ann Droyd — says it’s a satirical look at the way electronics have changed the way we live our lives. He explains.

“The thing that really inspired me about the idea was my fascination with how much things have changed since the world depicted in ‘Goodnight Moon,’ ” Mr. Milgrim said. “Our homes are really nothing like that anymore. The contrast between that quiet book and our noisy, buzzing lives seemed ripe for exploration and humor.”

The book was released in October 2011, and more than 120,000 have been published so far. It’s a sleeper hit, and I’m not surprised. What a smart, funny way to freshen up an old classic. What do you guys think?
Get Goodnight iPad in hardcover for just $10.

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Review: Damned

Contributed by: Samantha Holle

Recap: Madison Spencer has been pronounced dead; the cause of death being an apparent overdose of marijuana. Spencer, 13, leaves behind a billionaire movie star mother, a billionaire movie producer father and countless siblings adopted from impoverished countries, living in boarding schools around the world. Services will be held, but thatʼs not what matters.

What matters is what Madison is doing now that sheʼs dead. Sheʼs that telemarketer calling your house during dinner, and sheʼs doing her bidding from Hell. What exactly did Madison do to arrive in Hell? Was her death really an overdose? And will there be any retribution for her demise?

Analysis: Every story that Chuck Palahniuk has published in recent years has had undertones of his other novels beneath it. Damned is no exception. It reads much like his other books. The narrator is cynical, obnoxious, and difficult to like. But this time, instead of a haughty supermodel or a religious cult member or a porn movie director, sheʼs a 13 year old girl. Despite the age difference, Madisonʼs tone is a less-than-stellar reboot of The Narrator in Fight Club.

In Hell, Madison meets a character — think Judd Nelson circa The Breakfast Club — who shows her the way to freedom; in this case, freedom is ripping off Hitlerʼs mustache and banishing him to the Swamp of Partial-birth Abortions. (Yes, this actually happens.)

In addition to his narrator being a rerun, Palahniuk also reruns quite a few of the same sentence styles. In fact, I tallied some of the most commonly used phrases in the 247-page book. Here is the breakdown:

Slutty McSlutski/Whorey Vanderwhore/Pervy McPervert/any other variation on this name for a person of ill repute or questionable sexual practices: 55 times.

“Yes, I know the word _____… but I am NOT _____.”: 18 times.

“Yes, I ____, but _____”: 22 times.

“___ is ___. ___ is ___.” followed by a plea to stop whining: 5 times.

“No, itʼs not fair, but…” 17 times.

But Palahniuk’s poor writing comes across in his characterization of Madison, as well. She’s portrayed as a literate young lady, with a beautiful vocabulary. She often argues in defense of English literature with college-level flair. But any time Palahniuk makes her sound remotely intelligent, she uses one of the repeated phrases from above or declares a book to be “way-cool.” Itʼs like he couldnʼt decide if he wanted her to be brilliant or a stereotypically dumb teenage girl.

Ultimately, Madison begins to create a new life for herself in Hell that differed greatly from her life on earth. In the midst of her transformation from fat spoiled Hollywood kid to ass-kicking hellraiser, she vows to “revise my story, reinvent myself.” But her story is just like all of Palahniukʼs other works, making the reader question Palahniukʼs own reinvention.

I understand that the point of Palahniukʼs works is to be cynical; he is a satirical writer. But do all of his books have to have the same malevolent tone? Do all of his characters have to be under-developed and irritating? If Hell is repetition, Iʼm glad I didnʼt buy this book. I hope I never have to re-read it.

MVP: The reader, if they actually made it through the entire book.

Get Damned in hardcover for $16.

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Nook Considers Spinoff, Stock Tumbles

Investors are on edge after Barnes and Noble announced last week it was considering spinning off its Nook business.

Nook has been a beacon of hope for the company, whose physical book sales are otherwise plummeting, much like Borders before it went under. But according to this article by The Street, Barnes and Noble officials are hoping that a spinoff would allow the Nook to expand further, both nationally and internationally. B&N CEO William Lynch explains.

“We see substantial value in what we’ve built with our Nook business in only two years, and we believe it’s the right time to investigate our options to unlock that value,” said CEO William Lynch. “In Nook, we’ve established one of the world’s best retail platforms for the sale of digital copyright content. We have a large and growing installed base of millions of satisfied customers buying digital content from us, and we have a Nook business that’s growing rapidly year-over-year and should be approximately $1.5 billion in comparable sales this fiscal year. Between continued projected growth in the U.S., and the opportunity for Nook internationally in the next 12 months, we expect the business to continue to scale rapidly for the foreseeable future.”

The company says there’s no guarantee that the Nook will branch off from B&N and won’t say anything further until a decision is made.

That being said, stocks plummeted when the news broke, which does not bode well should Barnes and Noble decide to spin off the Nook.

As far as  I’m concerned, the Nook will do well no matter where it sells or who owns it. But it’s a matter of how it will affect B&N. Should it spin off, B&N might suffer the same fate Borders did, and that would be a huge loss for readers everywhere.


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James Franco Adds “Novelist” to Actor, Producer, Student Title

The 34-year-old stud is no longer just an actor, producer, Oscar host, and grad student. Now James Franco is entering “novelist” to the list.

Franco — who has studied creative writing at Columbia and English at Yale — has signed a published deal with Amazon Publishing.

According to this article by the L.A. Times, Franco’s first novel will be semi-autobiographical and titled Actors Anonymous. That might not be the best title as Carolyn Kellogg explains.

Franco has been nominated for one Oscar, two Emmys, three MTV Movie Awards, three SAG awards and a couple of Golden Globes. He’s won one Golden Globe and two Independent Spirit awards. He co-hosted the 2011 Academy Awards, which were watched by millions of people worldwide. Maybe he should consider taking the “anonymous” out of the title.

There are a few things I wonder here: a) is Franco really that smart and creative or does he just enjoy taking classes and acquiring as many degrees as possible? b) how is the novel going to sell under the new Amazon publishing company? and c) when he says it’s “loosely based on his life,” are we talking about Lauren Conrad a la L.A. Candy or are we talking about Jack Kerouac a la On the Road?

What do you guys think? How will it do? Will you read it?

**Note: Franco has already published a collection of short stories, titled Palo Alto, as seen in the photo above.

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Review: Lethal Circuit

Recap: Michael Chase is on a hunt for his father. He was told his father had died about 6 months ago, but with no body and no evidence, it was pretty hard to believe. So when he’s told that his father is still alive somewhere in China, he’s determined to find him, whatever the cost. Upon his arrival in Asia, he learns his father worked for the CIA and was deeply involved in a case involving a Nazi-related aircraft.

Meanwhile, across the Pacific Ocean, scientists are tracking a satellite that has been launched into space, has spiraled out of control, and is now heading directly for America’s West Coast.

How are these two things related? And how does Michael Chase find his father and save millions of people in California without getting himself killed? He meets up with Kate Shaw, another agent on a mission and together they work to uncover some of his father’s secrets. But she’s not the only one lending Michael Chase a helping hand.

Analysis: I’ll admit, when I first began reading Lethal Circuit, I had trouble getting into it. I couldn’t keep track of all the characters that were so suddenly introduced — many of them with Chinese and Japanese names. I had trouble determining who was “good” and who was “bad,” and I didn’t understand how the two seemingly separate plots were connected. Not to mention, the beginning felt like any thriller I’d ever read before. Nothing new here.

But as the story continued, the relationship between Michael and Kate grows stronger, and they become closer to locating the Nazi aircraft. That’s when I couldn’t put the book down. In retrospect, I realize that my frustrations with keeping track of who was a “good” and who was “bad” were not accidental. That was the point of the story — to keep the reader guessing, questioning who to trust. Initially, I thought obvious foreshadowing about the “bad guys” gave the whole story away. But in the end, I realized it was a huge set-up for a major twist ending. Lars Guignard makes us realize there are so few people we can honestly trust, and perception is everything.

Upon finishing the novel, I’m excited to see what comes next. Lethal Circuit is meant to be the first in a series of Michael Chase spy thrillers by Guignard. The major storyline was left wide open — a perfect setup for more books to come. But how will Michael Chase grow? How will Guignard keep us guessing? It’s hard to say, but I have every intention of reading on and finding out.

MVP: Michael Chase’s father. Throughout the novel, we get a glimpse of some flashbacks between Michael and his father. We learn where Michael came from, what his father taught him, and how Michael parlays that into everyday life. A father-son bond is a special one, and that much is evident here. Even though Michael’s father plays a small active role in the story, he’s there in every decision Michael makes, and that makes him commendable.

Get Lethal Circuit on your Kindle for free.

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Rob Lowe to Pen Second Book

Rob Lowe is an actor, certified “hottie” and now a bestselling author. His memoir, Stories I Only Tell My Friends, debuted in 2011 and quickly became one of the year’s biggest bestsellers.

Now just a few months later, Lowe is setting out to write another book. This one, called Love Life, will focus on “sex, marriage, money, work, fatherhood and sports, drawing upon Mr. Lowe’s own experiences and observations,” according to this New York Times article.

Publishers hope that a second hit book will mark Lowe as a resonating storyteller, rather than some actor whose book was a one-off hit.

As far as I’m concerned, I’ll read anything that Rob Lowe writes about his sex life. What do you guys think? Hit or miss?
Get Stories I Only Tell My Friends in hardcover for 7, down from $26.

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