Tuesday, December 31, 2019

My Favorite Movies of 2019


Monday, December 30, 2019

Things That Are Making Me Happy

Enjoyed both of these movies although they could not have been more different. I know a lot of women, especially, will hate UNCUT GEMS because there is no likable character and it is super violent. I know many men will avoid LITTLE WOMEN because they think it is a chick flick. Well, it is based on a novel that is iconic to many women, but that does not diminish its worth. And if you like movies, you should like movies from all genres. LITTLE WOMEN is a piece of American history. Enough, off the soap box.

We got through Christmas and it was about as good as it could be. Megan and I needed a lot of rides. Some from family members, some from friends and some from Lyft. Everyone delivered us in speedy fashion. Megan was tense with DARE ME reviews coming in. It is different from book reviews because so few people read book reviews (or books)
Whereas a studio has poured a lot of money into producing 10 episodes of this show, plus more than 100 cast and crew members are looking to Megan for a paycheck. Ugh.

Taking off quickly today because I hurt my neck somehow and sitting here is excruciating. Have a great New Year and I will see you on the other side of 71.

What about you? 

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Things That Are Making Me Happy

(Autumn Fallin' by Jay May)

In a show I was watching, someone referred to a recent widow as resilient, and I guess I am too. Although I still miss Phil every day, I am also happy a lot of the time. Small things--like a book I had reserved at the library came in. Or I solved some small house problem. Or I cancelled Hulu and got Showtime and now have lots of new shows to watch. Or I had an empty day in the week, and a friend texted me, "Was I busy on Thursday?" Or on a trip to Ann Arbor with other friends, I found the perfect snowman decoration for my daughter-in-law.

Small things, yes, but these things have always made up my life. Or I went out to dinner with a friend and they were playing a song at the restaurant, I have never heard before but perfectly summed up DARE ME. Life can be wonderful if I don't fixate on loss and the President. Neither of those things can be fixed.

Reading American Spy but too soon to tell. The Grammarians was not so great.
I have downloaded BRIAR PATCH, (which I read forty years ago), in anticipation of its debut on USA in January. Went to see DARK WATERS, which is about the Teflonization of the world. So depressing but a good reminder of the even worse state we are in now without a good Justice Dept and EPA.

So much good food this week. Detroit has so many great restaurants now.. I am sold on Buddha Bowls, if you never had one. Such interesting tastes.

Still watching VICTORIA but it is no THE CROWN. It demonstrates the importance of great writing. Although I love the leads who apparently married.

What about you?
And have a happy holiday. I'll be back next week.

Friday, December 20, 2019


This was peculiar book for me. Although I read it very quickly, easily and with pleasure, it had many oddities. It wasn't until the book was half over, that its real topic emerged: the adoption of Asian babies by American couples. And the problems of surrogate mothers as well. And because the topic arises late, it leaves most of the characters lurching for their place. Characters I had begun to be interested in in the first half, barely surfaced in the second.

It is also a story of mothers and daughters. A major figure is identified mostly by her surname. Why?
And if the first half addresses privilege, the second half leaves this behind and hones in on other non-character based issues too often. It's as if, Ng becomes bored with her clever social satire and reaches for a deeper tone.

The plot mostly concerns the intersection of a self-satisfied Shaker Heights family with a single mother and her daughter. The single mother is an artist who begins to clean for the family. The daughter forms relationships with all of the family's kids. But as I said earlier, most of this goes out the window in the second half.

I kept thinking that if this book was reordered and told from the single mother's POV, it would have been a stronger story. But you can find lots of reviews who had no problem with the story. So maybe it's just me. Certainly it is a well-written, thoughtful book. Just a little short of memorable characters. Too many of them never come alive.

I see this is about to be a miniseries starring Reese Witherspoon.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Psst. Here is the first episode of DARE ME


Favorite TV of the Year-2019

I am probably mostly doing this for myself so I will have a record but anyway...Another observation, I am probably forgetting things I saw earlier in the year. Streaming really affects my memory adversely.


1. Succession (HBO)
2. The Crown (Netflix)
3. Unbelievable (Netflix)
4. Russian Doll (Netflix)
5. Fleabag (Amazon)
6. Better Things (FX)
7. Mindhunter (Netflix)
8. Schitt's Creek (Pop Sugar/Netflix)
9. Bodyguard (Netflix)
10Catastrophe (Amazon)

Monday, December 16, 2019

Dare Me Gets Its First Review

Uncertain Attraction in “Work in Progress” and “Dare Me” | The ..

Things That Are Making Me Happy

Went to see TOO HOT TO HANDEL at the Detroit Opera House, a yearly event where The Messiah is reinterpreted as a jazz composition. Always fun and we go to the dress rehearsal with all the Detroit school children and senior citizens. So lucky to have friends willing to take me along despite my being out of their way.

Went to see RICHARD JEWEL, about the security guard suspected in the Atlanta Olympics bombing. Very good acting but it really felt like a movie done on the cheap. There are far better crime dramas on TV now. This was with a group of people who have been seeing a movie once a month for ten years. A really nice time despite the movie being mediocre.

Reading THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD. Of course, it is terrific.Tried FIVE DAYS MISSING, but could not get into the writing style.

Went to visit a friend who has been ill practically as long as I have known her (20 years) with breast cancer. She remains upbeat, involved, and a real hero to me.  I am sure it is partly that spirit that has kept her going this lone.

Out to dinner with six friends. A yearly tradition but this year without Phil. Not really able to enjoy it. 

Very difficult Christmas shopping this year. I had to order practically all of it online. Most of it is okay but I'd rather see it before buying it.

Watched another season of LINE OF DUTY. Finished MRS. MAISEL. Finished Season One of Victoria. Tuned back into EVIL and was shocked at how scary and evil it is. And on a network!

What about you? 

Friday, December 13, 2019

FFB: MY Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout

I see this is opening on Broadway in January. It will star Laura Linney, perfect casting. Here was my rview from a few years ago for Wednesday Book Reviews.

Lucy Barton, a young mother, is in the hospital after an appendectomy that left her with a stubborn infection. From her bed, she examines her past, present and future. Her childhood was an abusive one-although she doesn't despise her mother, who shows up after a many years' estrangement for a five-day visit. For much of the book, I thought her mother was some sort of apparition, and I am not sure it wouldn't have worked better had she been. Like OLIVE KITTERIDGE,(Strout's earlier book)  Lucy and her mother are not always easy to understand. Lines like this one, threw me:
    "Otherwise on occasion, and without warning, my mother, and usually in the presence of our father, struck us impulsively and vigorously."
     An impoverished childhood leads Lucy to a life that looks successful on paper: a writer with a husband and two children. Yet this hospital stay allows another woman to steal that away from her.  Yet a passivity on Lucy's part keeps the reader a bit distant from all of her travails.
     On occasion, you intuit that a writer's (Strout) life experiences are so different from yours that you will never fully understand her characters. And although I love Strout's novels and her writing, I am always looking at the page through gauze. I don't mind it though. I don't expect to "get" every novel I read any longer.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Things That Are Making Me Happy

I got the tree up this week, which was very difficult. I couldn't bear to open any of our boxes of ornaments (things we saved over 50 years)  so I got my cleaner (friend, really) to drive me to get new ones. It's not the most interesting tree but who ever really notices more than the lights. 
Saw Honey Boy, which I thought was quite good. Also A Winter's Tale, broadcast from London. I have never seen that Shakespeare play before and although it was odd, it was well done.
Went to a Christmas lunch with my book group and we blew a fuse so it was dark and some of the food was lost to us. Then I went out with friends for dinner and their car was towed away. So a strangely nice but unlucky day. 
Watched The Irishman on Netflix, which was certainly good enough, but I didn't see it as the best movie of the year. I don't know what I would pick though.
Reading Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur, about a daughter who aids her mother in conducting an affair. A strange book, which reminds me at times of CONCRETE ANGEL. 
I miss The Crown so have started Victoria. I have no idea if it's supposed to be good or not. I have never been fond of the monarchy but I am fond of history.  Still amazed at the British series Line of Duty, which is so complicated I can barely follow it. Perhaps six episodes is too many for one crime. It leads the writers down the path of many, many twists and turns. 
Speaking of following plots, my focus is still not what it was. I am hoping it will return to me and I will not lose whole parts of movies where I must start thinking of something else because I am not wholly there.
What about you? 

Friday, December 06, 2019

FFB: Miami Blues, Charles Willeford

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Bigger Than Life

If only her Dad was here to enjoy this but I am glad I am (and you are)!

First Wedneday Book Review: OLIVE AGAIN, Elizabeth Strout

This continues the story of Olive Kitteridge, an aging, former math teacher in Maine. She is as annoying and lovable as she was in the first volume, OLIVE KITTERIDGE. She marries a second time, which is a success, makes new friends, ages into an assisted living facility, endures health and family problems. It sounds depressing and it is at times, but her strength and eccentricities make it work. A good writer can make any character interesting, I think.
For more reviews, see Barrie Summy's blog.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Things That Are Making Me Happy

A lovely five days in New York, where I saw two great plays (Scotland, PA and Betrayal) got to visit with the Meyersons (thanks for getting me off on the right foot) , some other friends from Brooklyn, and Megan and lots of good meals, two okay movies. It was challenging, and there were one or two scares, but it was well worth it. And I was really lucky with the weather.

Reading OLIVE, AGAIN and NINETY GLIMPSES OF PRINCESS MARGARET. Watching THE CROWN. Love Harold Wilson, what a great actor and great historical figure. There is a great podcast on THE CROWN. And listening to Peter Morgan describing what a showrunner does, I am in awe that Megan has done this. If he is terrified waiting for the series to start, what must Megan be enduring.

And also found a fun series on you tube, "Technique Critique", where experts critique various things they find in movies: like accents, crime scene stuff, hospital scenes, etc.

What about you?

Monday, November 25, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving 2019

                                  Taking a week off here. Hope you all have a good one.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Friday's Forgotten Books, November 22, 2019

TRAP FOR CINDERELLA, Sebastien Japrisot (Patti Abbott)

This is one of those books whose success depends on taking you by surprise and it is difficult to review it without divulging details that will detract from that pleasure. A girl wakes up in a hospital. She has just undergone plastic surgery to fix the burns she sustained in a fire at her house in a French resort. Her friend has died in the blaze. Or is she the friend? She can't remember much, including who she is. A third woman seems to play a role in both scenarios.

The book plays with this idea--who died and who survived. It is a moody, atmospheric
book--reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith. The book won France's most prestigious fiction award. It is short and dark. Read it when you are fully awake and not drowsing in bed or you won't know who is who either.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Monday, November 18, 2019

Things That Are Making Me Happy

In the next week or so, FROM SEA TO STORMY SEA (Lawrence Block) should be available. My story used this painting by Harvey Dunn for inspiration. Can't wait to see the other stories.

Saw MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN and SOUTH PACIFIC this week. The second was at the historic Redford Theater, which plays classics on the weekend.
Couldn't help but wonder how many people in the huge audience at the Redford Theater was getting the message as well as the music of SOUTH PACIFIC.

If Norton was going to change MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN, he needed to explain Robert Moses better and not just in one long speech by him (Alec Baldwin). These were important issues (and still are) and if addressed would be better in a tv series rather than a movie. I am sure the typical movie-goer would not know Jane Jacobson or Moses.

Trying to get into THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10 by Ruth Ware.

Watching LINE OF DUTY on Acorn. VG. Finished the first season of SLINGS AND ARROWS and waiting for the second. Have given up on the three network shows I thought might be watchable. EVIL got too woo woo for me.Started THE CROWN. Thought it was a seamless transition to new cast. Wish Phil was here to give me the synopsis on Harold Wilson, Anthony Blunt. Thank goodness I have an iphone.

Hoping it warms up soon. This is too cold for November.


Friday, November 15, 2019

Friday's Forgotten Books

From the archives: Randy Johnson

THE BIG KISSOFF OF 1944, Andrew Bergman

Jacob “Jack” Levine is not your regular fictional private eye. He’s Jewish, middle aged, and bald. He has a lady friend with a “friends with benefits” arrangement. The line goes : “I even took my socks off. In my circles, that’s class.”
Still, he’s not immune to the fairer sex.
So when the leggy blonde came in one morning with a problem, Jack was more than ready to help. She had a bit role in a play on Broadway, just having moved from the chorus line, and her problem was blackmail!
It seems when she was on the west coast trying to make it in the movies and in need of money, she’d had a moment of indiscretion and had made a couple of stag films. Now someone was demanding money and promising to tell the show’s producer and she needed the job so bad!
Jack got a twenty dollar retainer from her and said he’d see what he could do.
He soon finds himself in over his head.
 A dead body turns up, the producer calls and is being blackmailed as well. He knows there’s a girl in the show who’s made stag films, but not who, and wants Jack to make the pay-off, twenty thousand.  Another dead body, his first client disappears and Jack figures out she’s more than she seemed(he knew she’d not told him everything), someone is taking shots at him and sending goons by his home, and politics enter the picture, going all the way to the highest office in the land.
I liked this P.I novel. 

Monday, November 11, 2019

Things That Are Making Me Happy

Went to a lovely Japanese Patisserie this week. Delightful sandwiches as well as pastry but what are all the millennial doing: playing with the laptops and drinking dull coffee. Remember when coffee shops used to be for talking.

Saw PARASITE twice and although I thought it funny, clever and scary, I don't quite get why it is getting so much adulation. Also saw THE LIGHTHOUSE, which was beautiful to look at and well acted but too over the top bonkers for me in the end. How long would it take you to go crazy from cabin fever if there were two of you? More than five weeks, I think.

This is my new favorite thing. There are quite a few episodes, all about 10 minutes. So restful and set in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. It is on adult swim but I just googled it. Try it if you need a rest from the world. Because the UP is another world.
Enjoying SLINGS AND ARROWS on Acorn. It is a three season Canaidan show from the early 2000s about a Shakespeare troupe. But more about the off-stage antics than on. Luke Kirby and Rachel McAdams are so young.

Well, I did it. I gave my car to my daughter-in-law. I am now the proud owner of an empty garage.

What about you guys?

Friday, November 08, 2019

12/29/19: DARE ME

FFB: THE ODDS, Stewart O'Nan

Another brilliant novel by the master.

A middle-aged couple, headed for divorce, decides to spend their final weekend together (Valentine's Day) at Niagara Falls, where they spent their first one.

They also decide to take the money left in the bank after some disastrous decisions and see if they can solve some of their troubles at the casino tables. This is not a travelogue of Niagara Falls but one that winds through their past a bit. They seldom leave the hotel, restaurants and casino in this book.

Sad, lovely, romantic, despairing, hopeful--all of these in this portrait of a marriage and what can go wrong and right with it. Just great stuff. There are few better writers for me.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

First Wednesday Book Review: THE BODY IN QUESTION, Jill Ciment

 THE BODY IN QUESTION tells the story of two jurors on a murder trial, sequestered for a three-week period, who begin an affair almost at once.Both jurors are only identified by their jury number (C-2; F-17) during the course of the trial. Although the testimony they hear each day in the jury room is given some attention, the author is more interested in their affair, how it affects the eventual verdict of the jury and how it affects the elderly husband the female juror has left behind. There is a significant age gap between C-2 and her husband, perhaps making it easier to leap into an affair. 

This is a very well-written book. The reader is anxious to see how this affair will impact on the jury decision or if it even will. The jury is small-only six jurors and an alternate and secrets are hard to keep with unlocked doors. We know far less about F-17 because the story is from C-2's pov. I am anxious to look for Jill Ciments previous books after reading this one.

For more reviews, go to Barrie Summy's place, right here.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Things That Are Making Me Happy

Pretty much all about Bouchercon this week. I did a panel with George on the birth of the paperbacks and another one on Writing Short Fiction. I love doing panels, especially if I can ask rather than answer questions. I also attended two of Megan's. One on unlikable women and I don't think a lot of the audience understand a complex character is usually not likable all that much of the time. And if you are not writing a series, this is not a problem.
I enjoyed lots of good food, some a bit spicy for me but delicious. Typically I did not do a good job in meeting new people. I never do. There were a lot of tributes to Bill. And his daughter, Angela had a party for him. Very nice. Bill did himself proud with that one. And her husband is a great guy too.
I attended about ten panels of varying quality. The best ones pick a real subject rather than just allowing the writers to talk about their work.
Very good work by the organizers, especially in having films of early Bouchercons, old posters, book bags, programs. Always something to look at. 
Went to the Book Depository. It was very moving to stand where LHO stood. I still don't quite believe he did it alone. And why didn't he have a place to escape to after the shots. He just seem to run wildly around.
Went to the art district, mostly to eat pie but it looked like a fun area. Dallas was lovely at night with many buildings outlined in various colors. I was impressed. On to Sacramento--but not me probably.

And what about you?

Monday, October 28, 2019

Things That Are Making Me Happy

A nice week. Went to an event at the best comic book store I have ever seen (Green Brain). (They even had copies of Megan's NORMANDY GOLD) The event included music, an artist with slides of her origami, a poetry and a prose reading. How nice to spend a rainy night with such talent.
Had a friend over to watch BILLY LIAR on Criterion, which did not hold up at all for me. I am doubtful I ever saw it before although I thought I had
Saw the movie PAIN AND GLORY, which was gorgeous to look at and Banderas was terrific. I have often found Almodovar difficult-a lot of subtitles to read quickly and not always clear what he's saying, but this one was pretty easy to follow. And ultimately extremely touching.
Reading NORMAL PEOPLE by Sally Rooney, which is very good. Did not finish 1222 by Anne Holt. About 75% through I realized I just didn't care about anything other than the protagonist, who was a great character. It was probably me but a hotel full of characters who were never drawn out enough to be real for me sunk it. 
Watched WATCHMEN a second time and am now up to speed.
Looking forward to Bouchercon although sad that I will be going alone for the first time.
So happy though to see some of you there. 


Friday, October 25, 2019

FFB-THE WIDOWER, Georges Simenon

THE WIDOWER tells the story of a  designer named Bernard Jeantet who returns to his home in Paris from work one day to discover that his wife, Jeanne, is missing.  They met eight years earlier when he rescued her from her abusive pimp. They’ve lived a quiet life since then. A life that, at least in Bernard’s mind, was one of happiness until she wasn't home to greet him one day. When Bernard learns what has become of his wife, his entire life is turned upside down. When he learns of how she has spent the eight years, he is astounded.

 The Widower is a character study.  We grow more and more astounded at how a man could know so little about his wife, seemingly never interested in any life beyond their own. Does he love her or his idea of her? And what are her feelings toward this rescuer or perhaps imprisoner?

The Widower is a  pageturner. Only 143 pages and not a page of that is wasted. It begins with a mystery,but then opens up to answer the real questions that Simeon is concerned with. How little we know each other.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Things That Are Making Me Happy

Glad to have last week behind me. I managed to keep busy enough to have it go by. I saw DOWNTON ABBEY again with a friend looking forward to it. And she made a lovely dinner to thank me for going for the second time. Another friend went with me to see FIRST LOVE, a Japanese film. We walked out. Just too violent for us but we had a very nice Lebanese dinner. That is the great thing about Detroit. We have the best Arab restaurants in the country. Had lunch with Josh. Read THE WIDOWER by Simenon, which was terrific. Boy, how could he spin these stories in a matter of weeks. Also liked THE BODY IN QUESTION by Jill Ciment.
Watched the last episode of SUCCESSION (HBO), which was pretty amazing. These are not nice people but they are interesting.

How about you?

Friday, October 18, 2019

FFB: APRIL EVE, John D. Mcdonald

April Evil, John D. MacDonald

I think this is the first novel, other than those in the Travis McGee series that I have read in many years by John D. MacDonald. I had truly forgotten what a great writer he was. There is not a page of this book when things don't happen, when the story isn't speeding along, when you will want to put it down. It is truly a manual for how to write a crime story.

Three men, one newly out of jail, and a woman converge on Flamingo, a Florida town. Their plan is to rob an old man who keeps all of his money in a safe in his house. There are at least a dozen other players who make things hard for this trio for various reasons. This story has three critical female characters. And a kid who noses around too much. It is vicious in spots, but also tender, observant, and clever. The atmosphere is excellent. I can't think of one good reason not to read this book.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Things That Are Making Me Happy

Mostly taking a break this week as I try to get by what would have been Phil's 75th birthday on the 18th. I did go and march with the UAW strikers and I enjoyed MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER. Also enjoyed COME AND AWAY. So it isn't all bad. But pretty hard indeed. And I have dental surgery on Wednesday. Yes, damn bad week.

Tell me what you're up to.

Friday, October 11, 2019


Amor Towles wrote this book back in 2011, before he wrote A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW. It is set entirely during the year of 1938 and mostly takes place in Manhattan. Katie Kontent, formerly Katya, is in her twenties and making her way in the city. Her close friend, Evie (Evelyn) and Katie are out on the town for New Year's Eve when they meet the glamorous and  mysterious, Tinker Grey. An automobile accident ensues, which takes them all on different paths than they might have imagined.

This novel is sometimes as frivolous as this setup sounds. A lot of the time is given over to the pursuits of the wealthy or wannabe weathy. But like Gatsby, it has other ambitions. Perhaps life is not as
glib and glamorous as it seems. Certainly our characters do not find bliss as they inch up on the war.

The writing is gorgeous. Towles can really put you in a club or a car or a country house. I think A GENTLEMAN was the better book but this was quite a first novel. Towles had already had a career in finance when he wrote it and his maturity works to his advantage. Good but not great for me.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Things That Are Making Me Happy

Lots of cloudy weather and rain this week. Enjoyed RULES FOR VISITING although the protagonist remained enigmatic to me. Do you mind that in a book? Does it bother you if you never quite understand why a character's life is like it is and what their motivations are? Also enjoying MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER.It tales place in Nigeria, which makes it all the more interesting.
I am watching PRIME SUSPECT from the nineties. It holds up so well. Mirren creates an indelible character. Also enjoying DERRY GIRLS although I really need closed captions to understand this one.
Had lunch with my son on Tuesday. Nice to have him to myself. Really wished I had a bigger family.
Saw JUDY. Renee Z was excellent but the movie dragged and was flat in many sections. Such a sad life. Her years at MGM amounted to child abuse.

What about you guys?

Friday, October 04, 2019

Friday's Forgotten Books, THE IMPERFECTIONISTS, Tom Rachman


THE IMPERFECTIONISTS is a debut novel that reads like the work of an experienced master of the genre. Is it me or are first novels growing stronger all the time? Perhaps since Mr. Rachman is himself a journalist and editor he is following that sage advice to write about what you know.

More like a series of short stories than a traditional novel, THE IMPERFECTIONISTS tells the stories of some of the personnel at a small newspaper in Rome. Here we have the story of the copy editor, a reporter, a stringer, the editor in chief and various other personnel including a devoted reader. A sort of Canterbury Tales.

In between these delightful, insightful, humorous and sometimes painful personal and intersecting stories, we also get the story of the Ott family, the newspaper's founders and how the family eventually slid into obscurity and the newspaper folded.

It is hard not to swoon over such a elegant writer. Each story is original and very much written with its own tone. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.