Monthly Archives: July 2015


Nelson DeMille

Nelson DeMille“For some reason I could never get into the writing of F. Scott Fitzgerald, except for The Great Gatsby, which I consider a work of genius. This April was the 90th anniversary of the publication of Gatsby, and the publisher, Scribner, marked the anniversary with a special edition and a series of essays, including one by me, that can be read here.

“If you’ve actually never read The Great Gatsby do yourself a favor and forget the movie versions you may have seen, and read the book. If you’ve already read it, read it again.  It’s incredibly modern for a 90-year-old book, and the story of sex, obsession, betrayal and corruption is timeless.”

The Great Gatsby book cover

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Nelson DeMille, bestselling author of: By the Rivers of Babylon, Cathedral, The Talbot Odyssey, Word of Honor, The Charm School, The Gold Coast, The General’s Daughter, Spencerville, Plum Island, The Lion’s Game, Up Country, Night Fall, Wild Fire, The Gate House, The Lion, The Panther, The Quest, and Radiant Angel. He also co-authored Mayday with Thomas Block and has contributed short stories, book reviews and articles to magazines and newspapers. For more on Nelson DeMille and his novels just click on: www.nelsondemille.net

Bill Bryson

 

author Bill Bryson“The two older books that jump to mind for me are Lost Horizon by James Hilton, which is a classic adventure book (the one about Shangri-la), which I read at a single sitting when I was about 15 and haven’t had the nerve to go back to since for fear that the repeat experience wouldn’t be so magical, and The Ascent of Rum Doodle by W.R. Bowman, a parody of an Everest expedition.  It was written by an unknown Englishman and is completely forgotten now, but it is the funniest book I have ever read — and it is one that I have returned to again and again.”

Lost Horizon book cover

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 Bill Bryson, author of A Walk in the Woods (soon to become a Robert Redford produced movie starring Emma Thompson), One Summer: America 1927 and numerous others. Bryson has more books than any other author in the 40 years of THE SUNDAY TIMES bestsellers list.

Carl Hiaasen

carl-hiaasen“One of the funniest and most twisted novels ever written was CAR, by the late Harry Crews. It’s very short, and one of his early works, but I was blown away when I read it. The plot features a young guy who actually tries to eat a Ford from bumper to bumper as part of an elaborate promotion for a North Florida auto dealership. The car (it’s either a Maverick or a Pinto, I can’t remember) is cut into cubes and lubricated so it can be swallowed, digested and then re-delivered on stage with a rowdy audience in attendance. It’s a beautiful all-American story.”

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— Carl Hiaasen, award winning humorist and columnist. His works include his first novel Double Whammy. Since then, Hiaasen has published Skin Tight, Native Tongue, and eight national bestsellers: Strip Tease, Stormy Weather, Lucky You, Sick Puppy, Basket Case, Skinny Dip, Nature Girl and, most recently, Star Island. For more on Carl Hiaasen and his novels just click on: http://www.carlhiaasen.com

 

 

Dr. Catherine Gordon

Dr. Catherine Gordon“For three years, I drove from a Boston suburb, where I lived at that time, to a seaside pediatric hospital in Providence, Rhode Island.  The drive took one hour on a clear sunny day, but became a 3-4 hour journey if a winter blizzard was upon us.  As I pondered how to make best use of my travel time, I discovered audiotapes. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd became one of my very favorites.

“The story’s main character is Lily Owen, an endearing 14 year-old girl who, haunted by memories of her late mother and the abuse of her father, runs away from home.  She and her African American caregiver, Rosaleen, take off for a small town in South Carolina.  The setting and characters immediately struck a chord with me as I grew up in the South, am a pediatrician whose practice focuses on the care of teenagers, was born the year the Civil Rights Act was passed, and grew up thereafter an observer of the often turbulent transition to an integrated South. Recent happenings in Ferguson, Charleston, and even my new home city of Cincinnati remind me that racial tensions remain high and that we have not yet fully transitioned, now 51 years later. If you want to read a well-told story that tugs at heartstrings and taps into the moral conscience, this book will be a match.  Watching the relationship unfold between teen aged Lily and her nanny and housekeeper, Rosaleen, is heartwarming as this unlikely pair become “family” even though not biologically related. I will not tell you how the story ends, but must disclose that I was late for work a few mornings, hesitant to get out of the car once at my destination (i.e., the hospital), waiting for a moving chapter to end.

The Secret Life of Bees book cover

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“Eleanor Roosevelt, a historical figure whom I greatly admire, once said about children, “Unless indoctrinated, a child is too logical to understand discrimination.” Lily Owens embodies this quote as she was receptive to kindness irrespective of race (or age or any other discriminating factor). The Secret Life of Bees came along many years after her time, but I am certain that Roosevelt would have shared my fondness for this thought-provoking novel. I am certain it would have been, like mine, one of her “Top 10” favorite books.”

— Catherine M. Gordon, MD, MS, is Director, Division of Adolescent and Transition Medicine, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and Professor of Pediatrics, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

Pat Wilson

Pat Wilson of Pelican BookstoreEvery once in a while an author publishes a book that stands above all the rest. Some notable books:

Peace Like a River written by Leif Enger in 2002 about a sickly 11-year-old boy.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese in 2010 about a doctor in Ethiopia.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, a story of World War II in France.

All the Light We Cannot See book cover

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What makes these books outstanding is the experience and the journey these magical writers take us on.

These novels are not popular fiction, these are handcrafted miracles, given to the readers of the world and are among my favorites ever written.

—Pat Wilson, Manager, Pelican Bookstore, Sunset Beach, N.C.

Norman Steinberg

norman-steinberg“Years before the Coen brothers ever thought of sending victims through a wood chipper in Fargo, Carl Hiaasen had already employed a chipper to slice and dice an unfortunate woman—Victoria Barletta—killed during a botched nose job in his 1989 novel, Skin Tight.

Skin TIght book cover

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Pound for pound, in his or any other weight class, Carl Hiaasen is, in my humble opinion, the most inventive and, by a far margin, the funniest and quirkiest novelist working the crime genre. There’s no arguing about his best-sellerdom, yet, Hiaasen has constantly been consigned to second or third fiddle to the likes of Elmore Leonard and Donald Westlake.  I cry “Foul.”  Is it because his books have not been made into hit movies?

Perhaps. Hiaasen is the bravest, most inventive and the most fall-down-funny writer toiling in this genre. Call him a satirist, a black humorist, an ironist, but just start working your way through his addictive fourteen books.

I give you the example of my favorite “Hiaasen,” his third published novel, Skin Tight.  Like all of his books, Skin Tight is set in South Florida.  This one features Mick Stranahan, retired investigator for the Florida State Attorney’s office where he had worked on the unsolved Victoria Barletta case.

That’s where it all starts. The aforementioned nose job was performed by Dr. Rudy Graveline, plastic surgeon.  The problem is “Dr.” Graveline is not really a doctor and never even played one on TV.  He is sort of a plastic surgeon hobbyist, but that doesn’t stop him from performing delicate cosmetic procedures that sometimes kill people.  And now, Graveline is trying to kill Stranahan.  Along the way, he will hire two hit men, one of whom is a seven-footer named “Chemo” with a grotesquely pock-marked face (courtesy of Dr Graveline) and a weed-whacker for a prosthetic hand.  Don’t ask. The body count is prodigious and inventive.

When’s the last time you read about someone being dispatched by a stuffed Marlin?  Or, during a liposuction procedure? Hiaasen’s characters are always masterfully drawn.  There’s a whole host of whacked out oddballs throughout.  My favorite is the sleazeball reality show host named Reynaldo Flemm, after which no parody of Geraldo Rivera will ever be necessary.  Even though he’s not in Skin Tight, there’s a recurring Hiaasen character, a former Governor of Florida, now living in the Everglades and existing on road kill. That will give you an idea of what’s in store for you with Carl Hiaasen.  A full tasting menu.”

Norman Steinberg heads the TV Writers Studio at Long Island University (Brooklyn campus), a one-of-a-kind program that gives students a real-world TV writing experience.  Steinberg is an Emmy Award winner, a veteran screenwriter whose credits include Blazing Saddles, My Favorite Year, Johnny Dangerously, Mr. Mom and many others. For more about the LIU TV Writers Studio go to: http://www.liu.edu/brooklyn/mfatv

A Good Life

Newspapering and Other Adventures

A Good Life book cover

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by Ben Bradlee (1995)

Good Life, Great Read!

Miss the days when, coffee in hand and in slippers and robe, you’d wait for the sound of the morning paper to hit the front porch?

Ben Bradlee’s autobiography takes us back to the day when, of a morning, you’d open a Post, Times, Gazette or Herald and read earth shattering news, banner headlines not only announcing but making history—KENNEDY ASSASSINATED, BREAK IN AT DEMOCRATIC HEADQUARTERS, PENTAGON PAPERS RELEASED, WATERGATE HEARINGS BEGIN, VIETNAM RAGES, NIXON RESIGNS.

And Ben Bradlee may not have set the type but he sure as hell helped set the standard. No newspaperman in recent history made a greater impact on the future of U.S. journalism than the Washington Post’s managing editor.

Perfect, made all the right calls? No not even close. But it’s hard to imagine a more candid, accurate and generous account (he heaps praise on this fellow editors and writers) from the eye of the storm than Bradlee’s.

The early days—his growing up in Boston—have their moments. And Bradlee’s years as a slack-off—drinking, carousing, card player—at Harvard comes equipped with self-deprecating humor. His stint in the Pacific—zipping up and down in harm’s way on a Navy destroyer chasing Japanese subs, covering landing operations and firing deck guns at point blank range into enemy aircraft—makes riveting reading. . . while serving as a great reminder of what Bradlee and the Great Generation were thrown into during that “second war to end all wars.”

His post-war stepping stones, stories of the jobs that lead to the Post’s managing editor position must be told—early newspapering at the award winning New Hampshire Sunday News, earning his stripes on his first tour with the Washington Post, U.S. Press attaché stationed in Paris, and then as the European correspondent of Newsweek. But these early adventures, even considering the divorce from his first wife, Jean, and his affairs (not necessary in that order), are up against some rather strong autobiographical competition. I mean, who but Ben Bradlee (which he sees as the fortune that followed him his entire good life) would find themselves as the centerpiece (of sorts) of our history.

And that’s what makes A Good Life one of America’s great modern day autobiographies. Read More »

John Rhodes

author John Rhodes“A number of years ago when I first read Mark Kriegel’s Pistol: The Life Story of Pete Maravich I did so knowing that I was one of the lucky ones. Having been in the basketball business for a number of years I’ve had the opportunity to ask some of the greats who they considered the best they ever saw.  I’ve heard Michael, LeBron, Byrd, Magic, West, Oscar, all the usual suspects, but most often the name that came up was, usually after a thoughtful pause, “Well, the most exciting and talented I ever saw was Pistol Pete Maravich!”

Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich book cover

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And then they’d ask if I ever saw him play. “Yes, I not only saw him play I played with him and against him!” This never fails to kick-start the conversation.  “No, I didn’t play with him in Raleigh at Broughton High School or with or against him at LSU. But I grew up in Raleigh and we played pickup games at the park at Hayes Barton Swimming Pool. I was three years older, so the games that I played in with Pete—which are, even now, hard to forget—were on those Raleigh playgrounds.

Here was this skinny white kid who grew to be 6’5, wearing these floppy socks, doing things with a basketball that we’d never seen before. So when I read Pistol, the biography, I was really prepared to be, in a sense, disappointed. I thought, hell I know the story, knew his dad, Press, was there in Raleigh when he took Pete to LSU, delivering a prize that would get Press the head coach’s job there.

I knew how Pete lived, how he played (I watched him all through high school at Broughton) and I knew how, sadly, he died. What I wasn’t prepared for was the powerful story that Mark Kriegel tells in this biography—it’s a story of a kid who lives his father’s dream, and I would learn later in reviews that confirmed my rather biased opinion that this is a story, to quote one review, that “captures the saga of an American family: its rise, its apparent ruin, and finally, its redemption.”

Pete wasn’t just the Elvis Presley of basketball, a tremendous shooter and ball handler; this was a very complex individual, one that novels, rather than non-fictions, are made of. So I knew Pete, or at least I thought I did . . . until I read Pistol. You don’t have to be a basketball fan to enjoy this powerful biography.” — John Rhodes is the Mayor of Myrtle Beach, S.C., and the Executive Director of the Beach Ball Classic, the nation’s premier high school basketball tournament. For more on Mayor Rhodes’ Beach Ball Classic click here: http://www.beachballclassic.com.

 

Mary Alice Monroe

author Mary Alice Monroe“My go-to novel for pure pleasure, a book read so often the pages are dog-eared, is The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher. A number-one bestseller when it was released in 1987, the novel focuses on Penelope Stern Keeling, an elderly British woman who returns home from the hospital after a heart attack. She relives her life through flashbacks from her point of view and those of her three children. What I love most is that Penelope Keeling’s life is not extraordinary, but it spans “a time of huge importance and change in the world”–World War II and the post-war years. Yet the novel is not about great battles or heroics, but how everyday people deal with everyday hardships and joys.

The Shell Seekers book cover

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Pilcher excels in the universal, describing the details of life that we all relate to–and she does it in such a charming manner. She spins a web with dialogue so fresh and natural that we are unaware we are learning important facts that move the story forward. Dialogue is supposed to do this in novels, but few writers succeed as well as Pilcher.

Finally, Rosamunde Pilcher has that elusive quality we call “voice” in writing. Someone could read a paragraph of her book aloud and we could recognize it as Pilcher. This quality can neither be taught nor imitated.

Writers come and go with new generations. Young readers today might not know Rosamunde Pilcher. But her books remain as timeless as the classics. I treasure all her books, but The Shell Seekers is her masterpiece. Do yourself a favor: pick up a copy and savor every word.”

— Mary Alice Monroe is the New York Times bestselling author of  The Lowcountry Summer Trilogy: The Summer Girls (Book 1), The Summer Wind (Book 2) and The Summer’s End (Book 3, May 2015). Check out all of Monroe’s books here.