Cheek to Cheek by Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga

cheek to cheekMusic – This is the new 2014 collaboration album by Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. It consists of jazz standards by famous jazz composers like George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin. Cheek to Cheek was inspired by the desire of Bennett and Gaga to introduce the songs to a younger generation. It debuted at number one on Billboard and earned Gaga her third consecutive number-one album, and it extended Bennett’s record as the oldest person, at 88, to achieve number-one status on the charts. Of course, Lady Gaga (Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta) is one of the bestselling vocalists of all time, and has five Grammy Awards and 13 MTV Video Music Awards. Although her Pop albums – The Fame, The Fame Monster, and Born This Way – brought her great success, she now plans to do one jazz album per year. The legendary Tony Bennett (Anthony Dominick Benedetto) has 17 Grammy Awards and has sold over 50 million records worldwide. Cheek to Cheek is one of the best jazz vocal albums to come out in years, and it features scintillating big band arrangements and famous jazz musicians with the band. Every song is a delight, but I especially liked “Lush Life,” (by Billy Strayhorn), “Nature Boy,” and “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.” This is a stunningly excellent CD, and it will keep your heart pounding. It also has a generous fold out photo montage, with candid photos of the performers.

Mermaids in Paradise by Lydia Millet

mermaids in paradiseBook – Deb and Chip are pondering where to take their honeymoon. After considering and rejecting several adventurous possibilities, they decide on a romantic Caribbean island vacation. Chip is an outgoing jock who makes friends easily and, at their first dinner on the island, he invites several guests he’s met to join them. Among them is Nancy, a marine biologist. The next day when the newlyweds are relaxing on the beach, Nancy races up to them and informs them that she has spotted mermaids while snorkeling near the reef. What ensues is pandemonium, as Nancy tries to manage her “discovery,” while protecting the mermaids’ lives and habitat. What surprised me most about this book was the humor. It’s narrated by Deb, whose droll observations and opinions on everyday life balance the deeper messages concerning corporate greed, the impact of social media and the delicate balance of the ecosystem.

The Killer Next Door by Alex Marwood

The Killer Next DoorBook - Hossien is looking for someplace to live. Vesta has never lived anywhere else at all. Cher shouldn’t be living here. And Collette, according to her former boss, shouldn’t be living at all. Everyone at 23 Beula Grove, a run-down boarding house in South London, has a secret, from the scummy landlord to the quiet man who lives upstairs and never tries to make friends, but some of their secrets are more dangerous than others.

The Killer Next Door isn’t much of a mystery; although there’s some ambiguity over who the killer is, the possible suspects are narrowed down pretty quickly. That isn’t the focus of the book, though, which is instead concerned with how all these very different people make a life for themselves in something less than the best of circumstances, how they help each other out when help is needed, and how they betray each other without ever meaning to. I enjoyed spending time with these characters, and I’ll be making time to read Marwood’s first novel, The Wicked Girls.

Son of No One by Sherrilyn Kenyon

son ofBook – Cadegan has been cursed into living in a realm without color or hope because of one bad judgement. His entire life has been nothing but trying to do the right thing in spite of the circumstances around him. When he wakes up one day and finds a spot of color in his realm that doesn’t belong, he is given a chance to taste life again, but is it just more cruelty or a real chance at redemption?

Poor Jo, never quite fits in anywhere. Her family is nuts. Jo shades more towards sane, but not far enough to get by in the ‘real’ world outside of her family. Trying to earn a living she falls through the looking glass, literally, into a colorless world inhabited by demons and a strange knight that she really should be scared of….

While I still loved this book I felt that it was much more flippant and soft than her usual books. I usually need a few tissues while reading about the Darkhunters and their crew, this time I only needed one. I don’t know if I didn’t get as into the book emotionally, if I was just tired as I read, or if the characters didn’t resonate quite as well with me as Zarek, Acheron, or even Julian. Whatever it was…I still enjoyed the book and have purchased it, cheapskate that I am that’s a real endorsement.

 

The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett

mag assBook – The Magician’s Assistant is a magical story of loss, discovery, and healing. Sabine has been Parsifal the Magician’s lovely statuesque assistant for over 20 years in L.A. Parsifal marries her shortly after his male lover, who is also friends with Sabine, dies from AIDS. It is only a brief time later that Parsifal also dies and Sabine surprisingly learns that her husband has a mother and two sisters in Nebraska, when he had claimed that he had no family, as they were all dead. Sabine and Parsifal’s family meet and Sabine learns about Guy as a boy growing up in the Great Plains and his mother and sisters learn about Parsifal the magician from L.A. The family is enchanted by Sabine as she demonstrates some of the magician’s tricks and they all form a very special bond as they share the details of the magician’s life and eventually face up to the painful reason why he left his home, abandoned his family, and took on a new identity. Beautifully written and insightful.

Fed Up (2014)

fed upMovie – This 2014 advocacy documentary was produced by journalist and TV personality Katie Couric, who narrates it. According to this movie, the epidemic of obesity, diabetes and other serious conditions is due to the high-sugar diet consumed by millions of Americans, especially children. Fed Up blows the lid off everything we thought we knew about food and exercise, and exposes the hidden truths contributing to our serious health crises. The film features interviews with the country’s leading diet experts, as well as former President Bill Clinton, who is now a vegan. Sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, “pure” cane sugar, and similar sweeteners are found in countless products, which are constantly marketed to small children. The fast food industry is pushing these products on all of us in the same way that the tobacco industry used to glamorize cancer-causing cigarettes. It shows why ‘calories in, calories out’ is a useless model for explaining why we’re growing around the waist as a society. The basic premise of the documentary is that sugar is the primary culprit in our diet, and that the big sugar lobby in Washington mitigates against efforts to challenge this problem. We need to improve education and get consumers to demand products that have less sugar. Similarly, the documentary posits that a return to cooking real food in our school cafeterias, and in our homes, instead of buying processed food, would result in healthier kids, and save money. Fed Up accurately highlights the multiple factors which directly interfere with getting to the truth about obesity.

Us by David Nicholls

usBook – Douglas Petersen, a scientist, is trying to cope with his wife Connie’s announcement that she thinks she wants to leave him. Also, his relationship with his recalcitrant seventeen-year-old son, Albie, has always been rocky. Douglas hopes that their family’s planned “Grand Tour” of Europe will somehow help them resolve their issues. He sets some personal goals for their inter-rail trip, including “It is not necessary to be seen to be right about everything, even when that is the case.” As they embark on the trip from their home in suburban London, Douglas narrates their experiences, and shares the story of his marriage to Connie and struggles as a father to relate to his son. Told in short chapters, and alternating from past to present, Douglas kept me entertained with his dry humor, insights and predicaments as he tries to approach his life in a new way.

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

ghostsBook – I didn’t love every story in this collection, but I loved the collection as a whole. There’s an art to putting together a short story collection, and most collections just don’t quite make it. 20th Century Ghosts flows smoothly from one story to the next, sometimes featuring a kind of free-association logic that’s downright humorous in effect. A mention of Kafka in the end of “Pop Art” ties into “And You Will Hear the Locust Sing,” a story about a boy who wakes up one morning having turned into a giant insect, and the Biblical overtones in that story give you completely the wrong impression of “Abraham’s Boys” until you finally learn the good doctor’s surname. It’s a little thing, a fun trick, but I enjoyed it.

I’m having a hard time picking a favorite story, to be honest. The opener, “Best New Horror,” is a fairly predictable sort of “but it was all really true!” story about a horror writer and an editor, but the self-awareness of the story raises it to a new level. “The Black Phone” is a terrific anti-serial-killer story (as opposed to all the stories in which the serial killer is the star of the show), “The Cape” features a very convincing creeper of the sort you’d hate to meet on a dark sidewalk but probably already have, and “Voluntary Committal” is both the scariest and the most heartwarming story in the book (and won a well-deserved World Fantasy Award).

The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates

fallsBook – The Falls is a haunting tale that stays with you even after you finish reading it.  It begins tragically, as Ariah’s newly wedded husband throws himself into Niagra Falls on the first day of their honeymoon. Ariah becomes known as the “Widow Bride of the Falls” and considers herself damned, but remains in the area.  She meets Dirk Burnaby, a handsome successful lawyer and they soon marry. Life is good for the Burnaby’s. They have 3 children, a lovely house, and Dirk’s law practice is thriving.  All that begins to unravel when Dirk is approached by a young mother pleading for his help.  As a result, he decides to launch a lawsuit against a chemical company polluting the Love Canal that causes environmental disasters and illnesses of nearby inhabitants, including the woman and her family. Dirk becomes obsessed with the case and commits all his time and resources to it. Although his heart is in the right place and his need for justice is intense, he is no match for corrupt politicians and big businessman. His altruistic act leaves him ruined and his family broken.  Though his children were young at the time of his lawsuit, when they reach adulthood they re-explore the man that their father was and take up his cause to restore honor to his name.  This absorbing story spans over thirty years and is very thought provoking and well researched.  It is an epic family drama with characters that are well developed.

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar

story hourBook – Lakshmi is an immigrant from India, married but desperately lonely. With no friends or family nearby and a husband who belittles or ignores her, she attempts suicide to end her pain. She ends up at a psychiatric unit, where she meets psychiatrist Maggie Bose. Lakshmi opens up to Maggie, who empathizes with her plight. As a condition of Lakshmi’s release, she must continue to have weekly sessions with Maggie. As the treatment continues, the lines become increasingly blurred between professional detachment and friendship, with unexpected confessions and repercussions.

The story is told in alternating chapters by Lakshmi and Maggie as they explore the themes of love, passion, forgiveness and friendship. This book is thought-provoking and I didn’t want to put it down. I loved the gentle wit, the confusion and compassion of the characters. Lakshmi, especially, is a character I’ll remember for a long time.