Quick Review: BUT WHAT I REALLY WANT TO DO IS DIRECT by Ken Kwapis (St. Martin’s Griffin)

KwapisK-ButWhatIReallyWantToDoIsDirectUSAn interesting blend of memoir and advice for budding directors

For over three decades, director Ken Kwapis has charted a career full of exceptional movies and television, from seminal shows like The Office to beloved films like He’s Just Not That Into You.

He is among the most respected directors in show business, but getting there wasn’t easy. He struggled just like everyone else. With each triumph came the occasional faceplant. Using his background and inside knowledge, But What I Really Want To Do is Direct tackles Hollywood myths through Ken’s highly entertaining experiences. It’s a rollercoaster ride fueled by brawls with the top brass, clashes over budgets, and the passion that makes it all worthwhile.

This humorous and refreshingly personal memoir is filled with inspiring instruction, behind-the-scenes hilarity, and unabashed joy. It’s a celebration of the director’s craft, and what it takes to succeed in show business on your own terms.

In But What I Really Want to Do is Direct, Ken Kwapis draws on decades of experience as a director of television and movies, sharing what he’s learned behind the camera and also some interesting and often amusing experiences and stories. Continue reading

Upcoming: THE FOUR WINDS by Kristin Hannah (St. Martin’s Press)

HannahK-FourWindsUSI spotted The Four Winds in a Macmillan catalogue, and my eye was caught first by the cover — doing its job, and making me stop to read the synopsis, which only increased my interest in reading Kristin Hannah‘s upcoming novel. Due to be published by St. Martin’s Press in February 2021, here’s the synopsis:

An epic novel of love and heroism and hope, set against the backdrop of one of America’s most defining eras — the Great Depression.

Texas, 1934. Millions are out of work and a drought has broken the Great Plains. Farmers are fighting to keep their land and their livelihoods as the crops are failing, the water is drying up, and dust threatens to bury them all. One of the darkest periods of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl era, has arrived with a vengeance.

In this uncertain and dangerous time, Elsa Martinelli — like so many of her neighbors — must make an agonizing choice: fight for the land she loves or go west, to California, in search of a better life. The Four Winds is an indelible portrait of America and the American Dream, as seen through the eyes of one indomitable woman whose courage and sacrifice will come to define a generation.

Looking forward to reading this. The Fourth Wind is due to be published by St. Martin’s Press in North America in February 2021. (At the time of writing, I couldn’t find a UK publisher, but the North American edition is available for pre-order.)

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads

Quick Review: MODERN FAMILY by Marc Freeman (St. Martin’s Press)

FreemanM-ModernFamilyUSThe Untold Oral History of the Long-Running Family Sitcom

An oral history, with the full participation of cast and crew, of one of the most popular sitcoms in television history.

Since premiering in 2009, the groundbreaking television sitcom Modern Family has garnered tens of millions of devoted fans, earning 75 Emmy nominations and 22 Emmy Awards, including five in a row for Outstanding Comedy Series (one of only two sitcoms to ever achieve that feat). Professors have written about it. Psychologists have lectured on it. Leading publications, such as The New York Times and Washington Post, have explained their love for it. With funny, heartfelt and relatable stories about family, Modern Family has gained a worldwide following of hundreds of millions of viewers in countries as diverse as England, Israel, The Netherlands, Germany, and South Africa.

As much as people love the show, few know the stories behind it. How did a kernel of an idea by Emmy-winning writers Steve Levitan and Chris Lloyd morph into a television juggernaut? Where did they find the cast? How did they come up with story ideas and film favorite episodes? What went on behind the scenes? Up until now, there have been individual stories and interviews about the show, but nothing comprehensive that captures the complete story of the series.

Marc Freeman’s Modern Family: The Untold Oral History of One of Television’s Groundbreaking Sitcoms is the only major book ever written that explores this show as told by those who created it. More than seventy people, including the entire cast, crew, and creators, detail the full history of this iconic sitcom. The cast recalls their memories of the trials and tribulations of casting. They share their impressions from the first table read through the last light turning out. Writers, directors, and performers walk readers through storylines, production and favorite episodes. Guest stars such as Elizabeth Banks, Josh Gad, Adam Devine, Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane recall their appearances on the show while others recount their experiences working with Kevin Hart, Barbara Streisand, Ed Norton and more. Readers get to go behind the scenes and experience the show like never before, including personal photos. They’ll also discover the never-told fallout and divorce of the two showrunners, making the show two separate series blended into one. Even people unfamiliar with the show will gain deep insight into what it takes to put a series on television.

I started watching Modern Family around season three, I think — I caught an episode when I was visiting my father in LA. It was funny, and I started watching it whenever I could. Like all long-running shows, it experiences ups and downs, but it held strong for a surprisingly long time. With the show recently ended, I thought this Oral History would be an interesting read. I was not disappointed: exhaustive, engaging and illuminating, I enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: UNDER PRESSURE by Robert Pobi (St. Martin’s Press / Mulholland UK)

PobiR-LP2-UnderPressureUSThe explosive second Lucas Page novel

A series of deadly explosions rock the city of New York and with too many victims and no known motive, the F.B.I. turns once again to Dr. Lucas Page…

On a beautiful October evening, New York City’s iconic Guggenheim Museum is closed for a tech company’s private gala. Until an explosion rocks the night, instantly killing 702 people, including every single attendee — yet the damage to the building itself was minimal.

An explosion of that precision was no accident and, in response, the FBI mobilizes its entire team — but the sheer number of victims strains their resources. Were all 702 victims in the wrong place at the wrong time, or was there only one target and 701 unlucky bystanders? That many victim files is a staggering amount of data to sort through and Brett Kehoe, Special Agent in Charge of Manhattan, decides that he can’t do this without more computational power.

Dr. Lucas Page, astrophysicist, university professor, and former FBI agent, is uniquely gifted for the task at hand — he can visualize a crime scene as if he was a bystander and can break down any set of data at a glance. Even though Page wants nothing to do with the FBI, with his city under attack and his family at risk, he steps in to find a killer in a haystack before they strike again.

I really enjoyed the first novel in Robert Pobi’s Lucas Page series, City of Windows. I was therefore very much looking forward to the character’s second outing, and I’m happy to report that I was not disappointed. I really enjoyed this, and zipped through it. Continue reading

Upcoming: AXIOM’S END by Lindsay Ellis (St. Martin’s Press)

EllisL-AxiomsEndUSI stumbled across Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis in a Macmillan catalogue, and thought it sounded rather interesting. Pitched as “Stranger Things meets Arrival“, I am quite intrigued. Here’s the synopsis:

An alternate history first contact adventure set in the early 2000’s…

By the fall of 2007, one well-timed leak revealing that the U.S. government might have engaged in first contact has sent the country into turmoil, and it is all Cora Sabino can do to avoid the whole mess. The force driving this controversy is Cora’s whistleblower father, and even though she hasn’t spoken to him in years, his celebrity has caught the attention of the press, the Internet, the paparazzi, and the government — and redirected it to her. She neither knows nor cares whether her father’s leaks are a hoax, and wants nothing to do with him — until she learns just how deeply entrenched her family is in the cover-up, and that an extraterrestrial presence has been on Earth for decades.

To save her own life, she offers her services as an interpreter to a monster, and the monster accepts.

Learning the extent to which both she and the public have been lied to, she sets out to gather as much information as she can, and finds that the best way for her to find the truth is not as a whistleblower, but as an intermediary. The alien presence has been completely uncommunicative until she convinces one of them that she can act as their interpreter, becoming the first and only human vessel of communication. But in becoming an interpreter, she begins to realize that she has become the voice for a being she cannot ever truly know or understand, and starts to question who she’s speaking for — and what future she’s setting up for all of humanity.

Axiom’s End is due to be published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2020, in North America and in the UK.

Follow the Author: Goodreads, Twitter

Upcoming: THE GOD GAME by Danny Tobey (St. Martin’s Press/Gollancz)

TobeyD-GodGame

In January, St. Martin’s Press and Gollancz are due to publish a new novel by Danny Tobey that has caught my attention: The God Game. Based on the synopsis (below), it looks like it should appeal to fans of novels like Ready Player One and You, as well as fans of techno-thrillers. Looking forward to this one.

You are invited!
Come inside and play with G.O.D.
Bring your friends!
It’s fun!
But remember the rules. Win and ALL YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE.™ Lose, you die!

With those words, Charlie and his friends enter the G.O.D. Game, a video game run by underground hackers and controlled by a mysterious AI that believes it’s God. Through their phone-screens and high-tech glasses, the teens’ realities blur with a virtual world of creeping vines, smoldering torches, runes, glyphs, gods, and mythical creatures. When they accomplish a mission, the game rewards them with expensive tech, revenge on high-school tormentors, and cash flowing from ATMs. Slaying a hydra and drawing a bloody pentagram as payment to a Greek god seem harmless at first. Fun even.

But then the threatening messages start. Worship me. Obey me. Complete a mission, however cruel, or the game reveals their secrets and crushes their dreams. Tasks that seemed harmless at first take on deadly consequences. Mysterious packages show up at their homes. Shadowy figures start following them, appearing around corners, attacking them in parking garages. Who else is playing this game, and how far will they go to win?

And what of the game’s first promise: win, win big, lose, you die? Dying in a virtual world doesn’t really mean death in real life — does it?

As Charlie and his friends try to find a way out of the game, they realize they’ve been manipulated into a bigger web they can’t escape: an AI that learned its cruelty from watching us.

God is always watching, and He says when the game is done.

The God Game is due to be published by St. Martin’s Press in North America (January 7th) and Gollancz in the UK (January 9th).

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Interview with RONAN FROST

SavileS-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Ronan Frost?

Well the official bio would tell you he’s a Brit living overseas, who has worked for the MoD and done some fairly interesting stuff. What it wouldn’t tell you is sure, he did all that, but he’s also a name I made up. It’s not a huge secret, given the decision was made to put my real name on the back cover with the quotes ‘Writing as Steven Savile…’ which kinda gives it away. How Ronan came to be, well, my editor wanted me to write a book like my bestselling novel, Silver, which just so happened to feature one Irish gent, Ronan Frost as one of the lead characters. So when we needed a name for the contract it seemed only right to give my editor what he’d asked for. Ahem.

So, instead we’ll tweak this one and say ‘Who is Steve…’ to give you a fairer idea who is on the other end of this. 49 year old ex-pat, living in the wilds of Sweden surrounded by trees, more trees and err, more trees. I swear there must be a few thousand for each living soul. More than that. I emigrated 22 years ago. I spent the early days over here teaching English and History, but turned full time as a writer back in 2006 when I signed to do a trilogy of fantasy novels for the popular game world Warhammer. I’ve done all sorts of weird and wonderful jobs, including writing the storyline for the massive computer game Battlefield 3, and most recently writing adventures and monster manuals for a couple of popular roleplaying games. Continue reading

Review: CITY OF WINDOWS by Robert Pobi (Minotaur Books)

PobiR-LP1-CityOfWindowsUSA fantastic new thriller, and hopefully the start of a long series

During the worst blizzard in memory, an FBI agent in a moving SUV in New York City is killed by a nearly impossible sniper shot. Unable to pinpoint where the shot came from, as the storm rapidly wipes out evidence, the agent-in-charge Brett Kehoe turns to the one man who might be able to help them — former FBI agent Lucas Page.

Page, a university professor and bestselling author, left the FBI years ago after a tragic event robbed him of a leg, an arm, an eye, and the willingness to continue. But he has an amazing ability to read a crime scene, figure out angles and trajectories in his head, and he might be the only one to be able to find the sniper’s nest. With a new wife and family, Lucas Page has no interest in helping the FBI — except for the fact that the victim was his former partner.

Agreeing to help for his partner’s sake, Page finds himself hunting a killer with an unknown agenda and amazing sniper skills in the worst of conditions. And his partner’s murder is only the first in a series of meticulously planned murders carried out with all-but-impossible sniper shots. The only thing connecting the deaths is that the victims are all with law enforcement — that is until Page’s own family becomes a target.

To identify and hunt down this ruthless, seemingly unstoppable killer, Page must discover what hidden past connects the victims before he himself loses all that is dear to him.

This is the first of Pobi’s novels that I’ve read, and I was intrigued by the premise. Very quickly, it became clear that this is a very good novel by an excellent writer. I really enjoyed this, and I’ll definitely be reading more of Pobi’s work in the future. Continue reading

Interview with HOWARD ANDREW JONES

JonesHA-AuthorPicWelcome back to CR! It’s been quite some time since we last interviewed you (2011!), so let’s start with an introduction for new readers: Who is Howard Andrew Jones?

When I’m not writing, I’m editing, and if I’m not editing I might be feeding our horses or repairing the horse fence, or reading, or playing solitaire tactical board games, or running a tabletop role-playing game, or cleaning the house, which unfortunately seems to be the spare time activity that gets the most spare time! I’ve been happily married to the same wonderful lady since 1991, and we have two kids in college, one about ready to graduate. I’ve been a TV cameraman and a recycling consultant and a technical book editor and a magazine editor and an adjunct professor of English. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed teaching, and if I hadn’t gotten that first publishing contract I might have gone back to school for my Ph.D.

I’m a fairly competent piano player, but don’t get much time to play anymore. I used to gig around in rock bands in high school and college, and picked up a little guitar skill as well, although I’m only good enough to strum accompaniment for singalongs. I hold a second degree black belt in Shotokan karate and am studying for my third. I have a deep love of ancient history and have long been fascinated with the Abbasid Caliphate and Hannibal of Carthage. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE MAN BETWEEN by Charles Cumming (Harper Collins)

CummingC-ManBetweenUKA spy novelist finds himself recruited into the world of espionage…

He risked it all to become a spy. Now he must pay the price.

One simple task for British Intelligence takes him into a world of danger.

Successful novelist Kit Carradine has grown restless. So when British Intelligence invites him to enter the secret world of espionage, he willingly takes a leap into the unknown.

But the glamour of being a spy is soon tainted by fear and betrayal, as Carradine finds himself in Morocco on the trail of Lara Bartok a mysterious fugitive with links to international terrorism.

Bartok is a leading figure in Resurrection, a violent revolutionary movement whose brutal attacks on prominent right-wing politicians have spread hatred and violence throughout the West.

As the coils of a ruthless plot tighten around him, Carradine finds himself drawn to Lara. Caught between competing intelligence services who want her dead, he soon faces an awful choice: to abandon Lara to her fate or to risk everything trying to save her.

Charles Cumming is one of my favourite thriller authors. It’s becoming almost cliché to compare him to le Carré, but he remains the best comparator. Cumming writes intelligent, engaging and interesting espionage thrillers. In his latest novel — The Man Between in the UK, and The Moroccan Girl in North America — he takes a premise that is very interesting and possibly something many thriller authors think/fantasize about frequently: what if an author of the genre was recruited by a secret service to aid them in an investigation? I really enjoyed this novel. Continue reading