A cartoonist's take on aging

"Can't we talk about something more pleasant?

The quirky cartoonist for the New Yorker, Roz Chast, has a new book out called "Can't we talk about something more pleasant?" It's a graphic novel of her parents' decline that is touching, funny, sad and all too familiar. An only child, Chast bore the brunt of her parents' transition from independence to complete dependence, indignity and death.

Searching for Sugar Man

Searching for Sugar Man

Both a mystery and a musician, Rodriguez was a folk singer/songwriter and the subject of "Searching for Sugar Man." Despite cutting two albums of high quality with songs that left lasting impressions on the producers, he vanished into obscurity. Far off in the country of South Africa, his music took hold and a legend began. Still in the days of vinyl, record stores were selling millions of his albums. Rodriguez was as big as Elvis and The Beatles. Many of his lyrics were gritty and hit hard like "This system's gonna fall soon/To an angry young tune/and that's a concrete cold fact." Thanks in part to the South African government banning his songs, he became a hero to those oppressed by apartheid and liberal Afrikaners. His fans found precious little about him in the liner notes of the albums, but they knew the tales of his tragic death where he set himself on fire. Where did Rodriguez come from and why did he commit suicide in such a way?

One of the Crown Jewels of Soul Singers

The royal sessions by Paul Rodgers

Paul Rodgers, one of rock n roll's most soulful voices, has released a CD of classics. In the liner notes for "The Royal Sessions" Rodgers mentions he was fortunate to have some of the same session musicians who performed the original versions of gems like "I Thank You" and "That's How Strong My Love Is." Apparently some of those studio musicians were unfamiliar with Rodgers, the singer/songwriter/keyboardist/guitarist who performed "All Right Now" and "Wishing Well" with Free and "Can't Get Enough" and "Good Lovin' Gone Bad" with Bad Company. The rich, velvety texture of Rodgers's voice is well-suited to both the gritty blues of "Born Under a Bad Sign" and the smooth "I've Been Lovin' You Too Long" included on "Royal Sessions." Most interesting is his spin on "Walk on By," made famous by Dionne Warwick. On "Royal Sessions" the heavy polish of the production is rubbed away exposing more of the emotional pain.

Problems with People

"Problems with People" by David Guterson

David Guterson is perhaps best known for his 1994 best-selling debut novel "Snow Falling on Cedars." His latest book is a collection of stories titled "Problems with People."

Readers meet a wide variety of protagonists in these stories including a man on safari with his terminally ill sister, a middle-aged couple on their first weekend trip together, and a lonely landlord hoping to get to know his new tenant. What the characters have in common is difficulty with human connections. They each face challenges with people in their lives, whether it be a mother, a former colleague, or a wayward son. And they each have their own internal problems that make relationships difficult.

The Summer Books are (almost) Here!

If you are lucky enough to have more reading time during the summer, you may want to reserve a copy of one of these new books today.

Janet Evanovich continues her wildly popular series featuring New Jersey bounty hunter Stephanie Plum with "Top Secret Twenty-One." In this caper Plum juggles several dangerous assignments while helping her Grandma Mazur with her bucket list.

You may remember that Robert Galbraith's "The Cuckoo's Calling" received good reviews but little attention until it was revealed that Robert Galbraith was actually J. K. Rowling. The new Galbraith book "The Silkworm" features the same detective now investigating the murder of a novelist.

In a World

In a World

Winner of Sundance's best screenplay competition in 2013, "In a World" is a fun indie movie that does a good job balancing comedy with drama. Lake Bell, who wrote and directed also plays Carol, a voice-coach still living with her dad. Her father is a famous vocal talent, with a big booming voice. A new dystopian film is coming out and who does the ad beginning with the iconic phrase "in a world" is all the buzz. Carol is encouraged to break the glass ceiling by geeky studio guy, Louis, who is also crushing on her. Meanwhile, her father's protégé, Gustav, thinks the job is surely his only to find competition coming from all quarters. Throughout the film, Carol, determined to get accents and verbal tics down on tape, risks her own safety to eavesdrop. The dysfunctional family dynamic is so realistic it may make you want to cry instead of laugh, but there is plenty of sarcastic humor to lighten the mood.

--Cindy F., Headquarters

Odd Thomas

Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz

I waited with anxious anticipation for my request of "Odd Thomas" to arrive. Hollywood has a long history of changing crucial elements of a favorite series. I must say I was pleasantly surprised by director Stephen Sommers' take on the Dean Koontz series. With some relatively minor exceptions, it was the closest book to movie interpretation that I've seen.

For those of you unfamiliar with the books, Odd is a small town fry cook who has paranormal abilities. He can see dead people. Odd can also see bodachs who are wraith-like demons who are attracted to pain and destruction. When he sees his town of Pico Mundo overrun with bodachs, he realizes it heralds a near apocalyptic event. Enlisting the help of his girlfriend, Stormy, and the local police chief, Odd races against time to save the day.

Top Guns

American Gun by Chris Kyle

Books open doors to familiar places that look new.  I enjoyed such an experience between the covers of "American Gun: A History of theU.S. in Ten Firearms" by Chris Kyle. In the context of firearm innovations, Kyle examines historical events where guns played pivotal roles. The people who wielded the famous weapons were figures of fame as well as infamy, found on Mt Rushmore as well as in footnotes. For example, Theodore Roosevelt, Al Capone, the Dalton gang, Corporal "Zip" Koons and Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester entwined their lives with guns, as did the author. As Kyle reminds us, good often sits side-by-side with bad.

Local Historian Takes on Local Landmark

Hoosiers and Scrubby Dutch: St. Louis's South Side by Jim Merkel

St. Louisan Jim Merkel's books "Hoosiers and Scrubby Dutch: St. Louis's South Side" and "Beer, Brats, and Baseball: St. Louis Germans" both offer an entertaining, light-hearted look at St. Louis history. Now Merkel turns his attention to our beloved national monument in "The Making of an Icon: the Dreamers, the Schemers, and the Hard Hats who Built the Gateway Arch."

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