Mini-Review: “Drama” by John Lithgow (Audible/Harper)

Lithgow-DramaOne of America’s great contemporary thespians on his actor’s education

Through the vivid stories in Drama, John Lithgow shares a backstage history of his struggle, crisis, and discovery, and the scenes of his early life and career that took place before he became a nationally-known star. Above all, Drama is a tribute to the most important influence in John Lithgow’s life: his father, Arthur Lithgow. An actor, director, producer, and great lover of Shakespeare, Arthur brought theatre to John’s boyhood, where performance and storytelling were a constant and cherished part of family life. Lithgow brings the theatre worlds of New York and London to life as he relives his collaborations with renowned performers and directors including Mike Nichols, Bob Fosse, Liv Ullmann, Meryl Streep, and Brian De Palma. Lithgow’s ruminations on the nature of theatre, performance, and storytelling cut to the heart of why actors are driven to perform, and why people are driven to watch them do it. At once hilarious and reflective, Drama pulls back the curtain on the making of one of our most beloved actors.

This memoir took me a little by surprise. For one thing, Lithgow doesn’t linger so much on the projects in which he has performed – rather, he focuses more on the lessons he’s learned, the experiences he’s enjoyed, and some of the people he has met along the way. It’s an interesting memoir, and a really good listen.

He talks about his peripatetic upbringing, and how he would change school too often to form close bonds – a problem that resolved later in his school years, when he returned to Massachusetts. Lithgow also talks honestly about his early-career luck, and acknowledges that some of his earliest roles he got partly because of his father’s position as a director. At the same time, he later recognises how this spoiled him for his career-proper, and how when he was in New York, he was completely unused to having to go through the auditioning grinder. Lithgow tells us about his time in London, and how he tried to get his draft deferred (successfully, it seems). He’s not proud of it, but he is honest about how afraid he felt about having to go to the jungles of Vietnam. He speaks candidly about his first marriage, and the dalliances that led to its demise.

Delivered in Lithgow’s distinct voice, the emotion in his performance is pretty flat – or, measured, perhaps. It’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but I think I could spot the moments he found less interesting. It’s not as humorous as I was expecting, but it didn’t suffer for this.

Definitely recommended, this is another very good memoir – well-written, excellent production, and enjoyable and interesting.

***

Drama is out now, available as an audiobook through Audible, and is published in print by Harper.

An Interview with ALISON GAYLIN

GaylinA-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Alison Gaylin?

Hmm, I’m still trying to figure that one out.  For the purposes of this blog, I am a suspense writer and reader of all sorts of things.

Your next novel, Stay With Me, the third in your Brenna Spector Trilogy, is due to be published in June by Harper. How would you introduce the novel to a new reader? What can fans of the series expect?

Stay With Me is the third book in the Brenna Spector suspense series, and the culmination of what readers of the series would know as the “Clea Trilogy.” Brenna is a private investigator blessed – and cursed – with hyperthymesia (perfect autobiographical memory.) It makes her pretty great at her job, but it wreaks havoc on her relationships with others. (How can you forgive and forget when you can never forget?) She specializes in missing persons cases, but the one missing person she’s never been able to find is her older sister Clea, who got into a blue car 28 years ago when she was 17, never to appear again. That event triggered Brenna’s hyperthymesia at the age of 11 and has haunted her ever since. In Stay With Me, Brenna’s life is turned upside down when her 13-year-old daughter, Maya, disappears. Also in the book, the mystery of Clea – which plays a major role in the first two books, And She Was and Into the Dark – is finally solved. Continue reading

Quick Review: “Happy Accidents” by Jane Lynch (Audible / Harper)

LynchJ-HappyAccidentsAUDA great memoir by a great comedienne and actress

In the summer of 1974, a fourteen-year-old girl in Dolton, Illinois, had a dream. A dream to become an actress, like her idols Ron Howard and Vicki Lawrence. But it was a long way from the South Side of Chicago to Hollywood, and it didn’t help that she’d recently dropped out of the school play, The Ugly Duckling. Or that the Hollywood casting directors she wrote to replied that “professional training was a requirement.”

But the funny thing is, it all came true. Through a series of Happy Accidents, Jane Lynch created an improbable and hilarious path to success. In those early years, despite her dreams, she was also consumed with anxiety, feeling out of place in both her body and her family. To deal with her worries about her sexuality, she escaped in positive ways such as joining a high school chorus not unlike the one in Glee but also found destructive outlets. She started drinking almost every night her freshman year of high school and developed a mean and judgmental streak that turned her into a real- life Sue Sylvester.

Then, at thirty-one, she started to get her life together. She was finally able to embrace her sexuality, come out to her parents, and quit drinking for good. Soon after, a Frosted Flakes commercial and a chance meeting in a coffee shop led to a role in the Christopher Guest movie Best in Show, which helped her get cast in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Similar coincidences and chance meetings led to roles in movies starring Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, and even Meryl Streep in 2009’s Julie & Julia. Then, of course, came the two lucky accidents that truly changed her life. Getting lost in a hotel led to an introduction to her future wife, Lara. Then, a series she’d signed up for abruptly got canceled, making it possible for her to take the role of Sue Sylvester in Glee, which made her a megastar.

Today, Jane Lynch has finally found the contentment she thought she’d never have. Part comic memoir and part inspirational narrative, this is a book equally for the rabid Glee fan and for anyone who needs a new perspective on life, love, and success.

While listening to this audiobook, I realised I’ve seen a hell of a lot more of Jane Lynch’s TV and movie work than I originally thought I had. And, it must be said, she’s brilliant in everything. That’s quite the detailed synopsis, above, and I think I will actually not go into too much detail about the topics and projects Lynch goes into, here. I really, really enjoyed listening to this.

Happy Accidents is an aptly-titled memoir, too. The author’s journey really has been a long string of happy accidents – with a few unhappy ones thrown in the mix, too. Here, Lynch takes the listener/reader on a journey to and from her childhood in small-town Illinois, to New York (which seems to have been an alternatively exhilarating and exasperating city), to Hollywood. She describes her experiences trying to get her first roles, the roadblocks that appeared in front of her – sometimes due to her gender, sometimes because of the vagaries of Hollywood and television.

She’s honest, self-deprecating, sarcastic and doesn’t speak ill of anyone. She’s kind towards and praiseworthy of many of the people she’s worked with – from Charlie Sheen (Two and a Half Men) and James Spader (Boston Legal), to the whole cast and crew of Glee (her enthusiasm for this show is infectious).

Happy Accidents is, frankly, excellent. Lynch’s narration is amusing, welcoming, clear and, well, quite happy. She’s open and honest about certain aspects of her character that she doesn’t seem too happy about, but also enthusiastic about her experiences and work, and certainly her colleagues. The production is crystal clear. Very highly recommended.

Also try: Tina Fey’s Bossypants; Stephen Fry’s The Fry Chronicles

LynchJ-HappyAccidents

Review: A COLDER WAR by Charles Cumming (Harper)

CummingC-TK2-AColderWarUKTom Kell returns…

A top-ranking Iranian military official is blown up while trying to defect to the West. An investigative journalist is arrested and imprisoned for writing an article critical of the Turkish government. An Iranian nuclear scientist is assassinated on the streets of Tehran. These three incidents, seemingly unrelated, have one crucial link. Each of the three had been recently recruited by Western intelligence, before being removed or killed.

Then Paul Wallinger, MI6’s most senior agent in Turkey, dies in a puzzling plane crash. Fearing the worst, MI6 bypasses the usual protocol and brings disgraced agent Tom Kell in from the cold to investigate. Kell soon discovers what Wallinger had already begun to suspect – that there’s a mole somewhere in the Western intelligence, a traitor who has been systematically sabotaging scores of joint intelligence operations in the Middle East.

This is the second novel to star Tom Kell, disgraced SIS agent, and apparently the services new go-to problem fixer. At least, for problems that need to be fixed quietly and delicately – more so than the secret service normally requires. A Colder War improves on A Foreign Country in almost every way (quite the feat, given how good the previous novel was), and hopefully marks the beginning of a long-running series to star Kell. This is another engrossing, expertly crafted espionage thriller. Continue reading

Short Review: A FOREIGN COUNTRY by Charles Cumming (Harper)

CummingC-TK1-AForeignCountryUKAn excellent spy thriller

On the vacation of a lifetime in Egypt, an elderly French couple are brutally murdered. Days later, a meticulously-planned kidnapping takes place on the streets of Paris.

Amelia Levene, the first female Chief of MI6, has disappeared without a trace, six weeks before she is due to take over as the most influential spy in Europe. It is the gravest crisis MI6 has faced in more than a decade. Desperate not only to find her, but to keep her disappearance a secret, Britain’s top intelligence agents turn to one of their own: disgraced MI6 officer Thomas Kell.

Tossed out of the Service only months before, Kell is given one final chance to redeem himself – find Amelia Levene, at any cost. The trail leads Kell to France and Tunisia, where he uncovers a shocking secret and a conspiracy that could have unimaginable repercussions for Britain and its allies. Only Kell stands in the way of personal and political catastrophe.

Charles Cumming is one of my favourite authors – in the thriller genre or otherwise. He writes tightly-plotted, gripping espionage thrillers in the tradition of John le Carré and others of that era. [It is, perhaps somewhat cliché to now compare Cumming to le Carré, but it really is apt.] Cumming’s novels are decidedly British, in that they are devoid of melodrama or the dick-swinging swagger that can characterise American-authored espionage thrillers (see, for example, Vince Flynn and Brad Thor). They are, however, just as gripping. Continue reading

Books Received (Easter Week & a Bit)

BooksReceived-201404-17

Featuring: Mark Alder, Charles Cumming, Stella Gemmell, Terry Hayes, Sarah Pinborough, Justin Richards, Marcus Sakey, Tom Rob Smith

AlderM-SonOfTheMorningMark Alder, Son of the Morning (Gollancz)

Edward the Third stands in the burnt ruin of an English church. He is beset on all sides. He needs a victory against the French to rescue his Kingship. Or he will die trying.

Philip of Valois can put 50,000 men in the field. He has sent his priests to summon the very Angels themselves to fight for France. Edward could call on God for aid but he is an usurper. What if God truly is on the side of the French?

But for a price, Edward could open the gates of Hell and take an unholy war to France…

This has been creating quite the buzz around the UK SFF community. It took me a little while to discover that “Mark Alder” is a pseudonym for “M.D. Lachlan” (which, incidentally, is also a pseudonym…). I really enjoyed Wolfsangel and Fenrir, but have yet to catch up with the rest of Lachlan’s werewolf series. Soon, hopefully. You can read an excerpt from the novel, here.

Also on CR: Interview with M.D. Lachlan, Catch-Up Interview

*

Cumming-AColderWarUKCharles Cumming, A Colder War (Harper)

A top-ranking Iranian military official is blown up while trying to defect to the West. An investigative journalist is arrested and imprisoned for writing an article critical of the Turkish government. An Iranian nuclear scientist is assassinated on the streets of Tehran. These three incidents, seemingly unrelated, have one crucial link. Each of the three had been recently recruited by Western intelligence, before being removed or killed.

Then Paul Wallinger, MI6’s most senior agent in Turkey, dies in a puzzling plane crash. Fearing the worst, MI6 bypasses the usual protocol and brings disgraced agent Tom Kell in from the cold to investigate. Kell soon discovers what Wallinger had already begun to suspect – that there’s a mole somewhere in the Western intelligence, a traitor who has been systematically sabotaging scores of joint intelligence operations in the Middle East.

Charles Cumming is one of my favourite authors – not just of thrillers, but of any genre. I’ve fallen behind a bit, but I’m really looking forward to jumping into this novel. A Foreign Country, the first in this series, is one of the books I haven’t read, so I’ll be reading that in a few days, before starting in on this one.

Also on CR: Reviews of Typhoon and The Trinity Six

*

GemmellS-CityUKPBStella Gemmell, The City (Corgi)

The City is ancient and vast and has been waging almost constant war for centuries. At its heart resides the emperor. Few have ever seen him. Those who have remember a man in his prime – and yet he should be very old. Some speculate that he is no longer human, others wonder if indeed he ever truly was. And a few have come to a desperate conclusion: that the only way to halt the emperor’s unslakeable thirst for war is to end his unnaturally long life.

From the crumbling catacombs beneath the City where the poor struggle to stay alive to the blood-soaked fields of battle where so few heroes survive, these rebels emerge. Their hopes rest on one man. A man who was once the emperor’s foremost general – a revered soldier who could lead an uprising and liberate a city, a man who was betrayed, imprisoned, tortured and is now believed to be dead…

The paperback release of this novel arrives. I received the large, trade-paperback last year. I started reading it when I was really not in the mood for fantasy. It was very well-written, and the world was really well-realised. But at the time I found it rather slow, and a bit too heavy on the world-building over the story-telling. I’ll give it another go, hopefully, some time later this year.

*

Hayes-IAmPilgrimTerry Hayes, I Am Pilgrim (Corgi)

Can you commit the perfect crime?

Pilgrim is the codename for a man who doesn’t exist. The adopted son of a wealthy American family, he once headed up a secret espionage unit for US intelligence. Before he disappeared into anonymous retirement, he wrote the definitive book on forensic criminal investigation.

But that book will come back to haunt him. It will help NYPD detective Ben Bradley track him down. And it will take him to a rundown New York hotel room where the body of a woman is found facedown in a bath of acid, her features erased, her teeth missing, her fingerprints gone. It is a textbook murder – and Pilgrim wrote the book.

What begins as an unusual and challenging investigation will become a terrifying race-against-time to save America from oblivion. Pilgrim will have to make a journey from a public beheading in Mecca to a deserted ruins on the Turkish coast via a Nazi death camp in Alsace and the barren wilderness of the Hindu Kush in search of the faceless man who would commit an appalling act of mass murder in the name of his God.

Another novel I’ve heard great things about, but for some reason haven’t got around to reading. It’s a biggie, but I’m really interested in reading it.

*

PinboroughS-LT2-MurderSarah Pinborough, Murder (Jo Fletcher Books)

Dr. Thomas Bond, Police Surgeon, is still recovering from the event of the previous year when Jack the Ripper haunted the streets of London – and a more malign enemy hid in his shadow. Bond and the others who worked on the gruesome case are still stalked by its legacies, both psychological and tangible.

But now the bodies of children are being pulled from the Thames… and Bond is about to become inextricably linked with an uncanny, undying enemy.

This is the next in Pinborough’s historical London crime novels (with a hint of the supernatural). I’m currently reading the first, Mayhem, and really enjoying it. Review pretty soon, hopefully.

*

RichardsJ-SuicideExhibitionUKPBJustin Richards, Suicide Exhibition (Del Rey UK)

WEWELSBURG CASTLE, 1940.

The German war machine has woken an ancient threat – the alien Vril and their Ubermensch have returned. Ultimate Victory in the war for Europe is now within the Nazis’ grasp.

ENGLAND, 1941

Foreign Office trouble shooter Guy Pentecross has stumbled into a conspiracy beyond his imagining – a secret war being waged in the shadows against a terrible enemy.

The battle for Europe has just become the war for humanity.

Another paperback release, and another novel I’ve been so slow about getting around to reading. I do like the sound of it, I’ve just been distracted constantly whenever I think about reading it. Maybe now I’ll get my act together.

*

Sakey-B2-ABetterWorldMarcus Sakey, A Better World (Thomas & Mercer)

The brilliants changed everything.

Since 1980, 1% of the world has been born with gifts we’d only dreamed of. The ability to sense a person’s most intimate secrets, or predict the stock market, or move virtually unseen. For thirty years the world has struggled with a growing divide between the exceptional… and the rest of us.

Now a terrorist network led by brilliants has crippled three cities. Supermarket shelves stand empty. 911 calls go unanswered. Fanatics are burning people alive.

Nick Cooper has always fought to make the world better for his children. As both a brilliant and an advisor to the president of the United States, he’s against everything the terrorists represent. But as America slides toward a devastating civil war, Cooper is forced to play a game he dares not lose – because his opponents have their own vision of a better world.

And to reach it, they’re willing to burn this one down.

This is the sequel to Brilliance, which I have but have not yet got around to reading. (That is a bit of theme for this post…) I’ve never read anything by Sakey, but I’ve heard lots of very good things.

*

SmithTR-TheFarmUSTom Rob Smith, The Farm (Grand Central)

If you refuse to believe me, I will no longer consider you my son.

Daniel believed that his parents were enjoying a peaceful retirement on a remote farm in Sweden. But with a single phone call, everything changes.

Your mother… she’s not well, his father tells him. She’s been imagining things – terrible, terrible things. She’s had a psychotic breakdown, and been committed to a mental hospital.

Before Daniel can board a plane to Sweden, his mother calls: Everything that man has told you is a lie. I’m not mad… I need the police… Meet me at Heathrow.

Caught between his parents, and unsure of who to believe or trust, Daniel becomes his mother’s unwilling judge and jury as she tells him an urgent tale of secrets, of lies, of a crime and a conspiracy that implicates his own father.

Tom Rob Smith’s previous novels have been huge, international hits. Which, as with so many in an ever-busier publishing environment, I haven’t managed to try, yet. After seeing it on NetGalley, and my request being accepted, I’m hoping to get around to this very soon. Especially since I seem to have developed a real taste for international thrillers, lately.

*

Which of these catches your eye? Have you been waiting for any of them?

Teaser: Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan’s THE STRAIN (TV)

The teaser trailer for upcoming TV adaptation of Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain was unveiled by FX during the Super Bowl. Here it is: