Archive | For Him

Fiction for Him Friday: Pelecanos and Lehane

PelecanosLehaneIt’s time for some hot guy fiction. Now, this is not exclusionary at all. If ladies want to read fiction written by men featuring mostly male characters doing manly things (behaving badly’s on the list), be my guest. I was running a little short on crime fiction recently, so I grabbed four books from two authors I love but have ignored of late–George Pelecanos and Dennis Lehane. Let’s start from the top.

The Double by George Pelecanos

You may have heard of Pelecanos from his work as a writer and producer of The Wire and Treme on HBO. He’s been in the crime lit business for a while with 20 books on the shelves. The Double is his second novel with the young protagonist Spero Lucas, who makes finding stolen goods his calling card after returning home from service in Iraq. The first book in the series is called The Cut and is a recommended starting point. In this story, Spero agrees to help a woman whose 19th century painting was stolen by a lover, and as is true in this genre, the bad guys are really bad. Pelecanos has an excellent ear for dialog, gets into the minds of multiple characters, and gives you the sex and violence that’s worth the hardcover price. Also, any time he provides you with a music cue, look that stuff up. This author has great taste in music, and he assigns each character his own musical style or soundtrack. Pelecanos writes mainly about the D.C. area, and the city’s a character in every book.

Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane

This is the second book I’ve selected that requires going back in a series if you want the full story. Gone, Baby, Gone told the first part of the story of two private investigators, Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, who track down a missing kid. The movie was what made us forget about Ben Affleck’s bad acting turns, as it was his feature directorial debut. Lehane wrote five books in this series, starting with A Drink Before the War. He wrote one more book in the series before moving onto single stories for a while. He comes back with Moonlight Mile. In this installment, Kenzie and Gennaro find themselves searching for the same girl, now 16, who’s run away from her family. The tale also brings up the bad economy of the time (not that it’s improved much) as the couple struggles to get by with their own young daughter, having to decide whether to work for the “man” when the “man” is clearly bad news, and again dealing with some Russian gangsters who are a bit short on compassion.

Live by Night by Dennis Lehane

It was nice to read three of Lehane’s more recent books because I felt like they were all crime-related but distinct enough to show a writer who’s pretty comfortable in the game. Live By Night reminded me of the recently completed HBO series Boardwalk Empire. The plot begins in 1926 Boston, in the early days of Prohibition. Joe Coughlin, son of a Boston police captain who takes residence on the wrong side of the law, finds himself running a criminal empire out of Tampa Bay. I don’t think I want to live in pre-air conditioning Florida. Coughlin has to deal with murderous competitors, Klansmen, a female evangelist who attempts to take away his shot at going legit, and a boss who doesn’t entirely respect his place in the pecking order. Many scenes will make you as uncomfortable as walking on the beach in a wool suit on a summer day.

The Drop by Dennis Lehane

What’s up with these Eastern European thugs? The Drop is almost novella in length but tells a tidy tale of Bob, a bartender who has no life, save the job and spending lots of time at his local Catholic church. One night he finds a half-dead puppy in a trashcan and decides to take care of it with the help of a woman who’s a bit damaged herself. Bob has to deal with Nadia’s former lover, a villain who was the man responsible for the dog’s condition but attempts to blackmail Bob along with getting the dog back. If that isn’t enough, the bar gets robbed of a lot of Chechen gang money. Bob has to look over his shoulder at his co-worker, an older man who used to be in a gang of his own and is attempting to make one last score, deal with a cop investigating the robbery who also goes to Bob’s church, and the sudden move into adulthood of taking care of a puppy. The final chapter occurs as an enormous haul of cash comes into the bar on Super Bowl Sunday as various criminals get together in a scene that would have me calling in sick. I know, didn’t stick the landing.

You can’t go wrong with any of Pelecanos’ or Lehane’s works. Start from the beginning with A Firing Offense (Pelecanos) or A Drink Before the War (Lehane), or just get in the game somehow. It will make you happy that you’re living a life of un-crime.

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For Him Friday: Zach Law Reviews Joss Whedon by Amy Pascale

Joss Whedon: The Biography by Amy PascaleIf you had any doubts before now that Southern Spines is my completely self-indulgent passion project, then the following blog post will disabuse you of the notion. I gave my husband Joss Whedon: The Biography as a Christmas gift, not just because I knew he would enjoy the subject matter, but because we’re both Whedon fans. I knew would enjoy reading and owning the hardcover as well. Maybe calling this a “For Him” review of Amy Pascale’s biography is a misnomer. I just call it icing on the cake. Here’s Zach.

Joss Whedon is a third-generation television writer. His father wrote for television shows like Captain Kangaroo, The Electric Company and The Golden Girls. His grandfather wrote for The Donna Reed Show, The Andy Griffith Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show. As you can see, television show names used to be pretty straightforward.

Is it because of this history that a book about Whedon is simply entitled Joss Whedon: The Biography? Author Amy Pascale, who used to hang out on the Buffy fan site The Bronze–back when message boards were a thing–writes an uncomplicated story about Whedon’s rise to the top of the nerd world.

Most Whedon fans are going to be familiar with the details of his un-meteoric rise to the top of the entertainment world. In a way, Whedon became the independent band that we loved that made it big, and we had to decide if our love could survive mainstream acceptance.

How did Whedon become “our Jossy”? He had the fortune to get a writing gig with the TV show Roseanne after graduating from Wesleyan University. It wasn’t immediate success, as he had to trudge through the stereotypical video-store clerk gigs before getting his shot. Whedon actually railed against becoming a TV writer because it was the “family business.” The Whedon name and a self-produced musical based on the Oliver North trial (performed by friends and family) helped him catch the eye of a producer.

There were successes and failures. He got to write a few scripts on his first season with the show Roseanne, but in his second season, he was isolated.Whedon didn’t waste his time. He continued working on an idea that was initially called “Rhonda the immortal waitress.”

It’s amazing that Buffy the Vampire Slayer even exists, let alone that it became a “cult” TV hit years down the road. After working on Roseanne and the first incarnation of the TV version of Parenthood, Whedon took a few script-doctor gigs while trying to get his own screenplays produced. All the cool lines in the movie Speed? Whedon. His breakthrough success was the film version of Buffy, which, in typical Hollywood fashion, turned out to be a very different film than the one he had envisioned. A lot of his future work hinged on the original screenplay.

Whedon considered passing on the small-screen version of Buffy, but decided that the television show would be his big shot to produce his own work. Through the show, he honed his writing skills and gained experience as a director. The little show that could became a hit, spawning The Bronze and other message boards where die-hard fans could discuss the show in the dial-up Internet age, along with Whedon and members of the cast and crew. Whedon’s accessibility is one reason for his rabid (or more accurately, intellectually excited) fan base. He’ll go to the Webs to discuss a project, including the failures, of which there have been a few. He’s had his share of unproduced screenplays and television frustrations.

Buffy was such a hit that Whedon earned a spin-off featuring Buffy’s vamp-boyfriend with a soul, Angel. Buffy lasted seven seasons and Angel five, with Angel concluding one year after Buffy.

My fine and dandy spiritual guide and wife introduced me to Buffy. Like a lot of people, I didn’t “get” the name, and even through the first season I was a tough convert. I remember that I had to record the Buffy series finale on VHS because Mrs. Southern Spines was on a business trip, and it was hard to avoid spoilers.

Remember the word failure? It’s key when considering Whedon’s career and his attempt at producing a “space western” called Firefly. I’ll admit that the television show didn’t totally suck me in during its brief run. The original pilot was shifted to later in the season, and the first episode of the show was a second shot. It’s hard to introduce that many characters at once. Firefly had an odd run of 14 episodes, three of which weren’t televised.

Thanks to DVD technology, I revisited the show years later and fell in love with it and its companion movie, Serenity, which Whedon wrote and directed. The film provided the TV show a bit of closure. Still, knowing that Whedon had years of Firefly storylines is frustrating for us fans, also known as “browncoats.” Firefly wasn’t a critical or financial success, so once again, Whedon was left in the lurch.

Buffy fans were introduced to Whedon’s love of musicals with the episode “Once More, With Feeling.” Of course I own the CD soundtrack from that episode. That love of musicals showed up again during the 2007-2008 writer’s strike when Whedon produced Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Another cult hit, Dr. Horrible stars Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion of Firefly. As a quick digression, isn’t it odd that Nathan Fillion will be known more for his role on Castle than for his work as Captain Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly? Also, David Boreanaz has been on the show Bones longer than he played Angel. We can’t account for taste.

After Whedon’s fourth TV series, Dollhouse, came and went with a bit of a whimper, we weren’t quite sure what would happen next in his career. When he was announced as the writer and director of Marvel’s The Avengers film, fans may have thought it was a joke to see him running a big-budget movie franchise. But run it he did, and he was able to bring the movie in under budget and with the traditional Whedonesque turns of phrase. 2012 became The Year of Whedon. Not only did The Avengers set box-office records, but his “loving hate letter” to the horror genre, The Cabin in the Woods, left development hell and came out to mostly positive reviews.

How does Whedon tick? Well, he decided after a grueling movie shoot that he would relax by–producing another movie. According to Pascale’s biography, Whedon loves to have friends over and perform Shakespeare. He decided to make Much Ado About Nothing at his house with some buddies over a weekend. Whedon and I have different ideas on relaxation.

What’s next for Whedon? Well, there’s the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show, of which he’s more of an executive producer due to his Avengers work. The Avengers sequel releases this summer, and there’s already a two-part follow-up coming out in the next three years. He may no longer be a cult classic, but I’m not abandoning my favorite indy band just because it hit the big time.

If you read/buy a Joss Whedon biography, you’re probably someone who knows his work very well. You will read things about his career/life that you haven’t read before. Plus, it’s nice to put it all together from Roseanne to The Avengers and every step in between. We’d all like to be a part of a Joss Whedon dance party one day.

Follow @zach_law on Twitter, but only if you want to be bombarded with tweets about football and beer.

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Fiction for Him Friday: The Martian by Andy Weir

Zach Law writes about Fiction for Him

Zach Law writes about “Fiction for Him”

A note from the editor: literature, like any other art form, is subjective. I realize that not everyone shares my taste in books, especially the person who reads next to me in bed every night. While my husband Zach and I don’t necessarily enjoy the same books, we both love reading and writing. You may remember that I asked Zach to share his review of Kent Wascom’s The Blood of Heaven last year. Now I’ve asked him to write a regular guest post that I’m tentatively calling “Fiction for Him Friday.” As you’ll learn, Zach reads a lot of sports and nonfiction, too. I hope Zach will introduce us to new genres, titles and writers, although I’m the one who put today’s book, The Martian by Andy Weir, into his hands. That’s what you do for people you love, right? Recommend books? Besides, nepotism and fresh content rock. – Alison

The Martian by Andy WeirI have written manuscripts. None of them have advanced to the “sold” stage, and maybe it’s because I haven’t come up with the right opening line. The Martian by Andy Weir has such an opening line, and forgive the language.

“I’m pretty much fucked.”

Such is the beginning for Mark Whatley, an astronaut stranded on Mars after an unfortunate impaling that leaves him dead but not quite. A bad sandstorm causes Mark’s team to abandon him on Mars and the botanist/engineer has to MacGyver his way through emergency after emergency to stay alive on a planet hostile to life.

The end of the first chapter summarizes Mark’s plight perfectly:

I’m in a Hab designed to last thirty-one days. If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of explode. If none of these things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death.

Naturally, Mark’s not as screwed as he thinks, otherwise this would be a short, depressing novel. Astronauts in the Ares program have multiple specialties, which explains Mark’s botanist/engineer bona fides. The latter is good for things like taking hydrogen out of water to make fuel. The former is important because Mark has to survive long enough to be rescued by the following Mars crew, and that’s hundreds of days in the future. Mark finds a stash of potatoes, brought on the trip for a Thanksgiving Day feast, and discovers a way to get enough water to saturate the dry Martian soil and become the first farmer of Mars.

Mark eventually finds a way to communicate with NASA, who has to solve a problem about a hundred more times complicated than Apollo 13 to get Mark back home, or at least resupplied with enough food to survive. The rest of the book is non-stop problem solving. Mark seems like a bit of a movie hero for a while, solving all of his problems with brain or brawn. He does make the occasional error or two, because otherwise the tension would evaporate. He needs the help of people “billions and billions” of miles away to continue his modest goal of not dying.

Andy Weir, author of The Martian

Andy Weir, author of The Martian

While the book doesn’t make me want to sign up on the next interplanetary mission (the book doesn’t specify when this happens, and I’ll assume the answer to that is “not in my lifetime”), it does move the blood. Mark doesn’t accept defeat, despite some major setbacks. He chafes at times to the ultra-conservative ways of NASA. Let’s face it, the world was somewhat bored with traveling to the moon by the time Apollo 13 had its struggles. The human side of space travel is what makes kids want to become astronauts when they grow up.

I’d like to bring up one point: Andy Weir self-published this book first–the so-called kiss of death if you want to be considered a “serious” author. Three years after self-publishing The Martian, Weir has a publisher (Crown) and guys like multiple-Hugo winner Larry Niven blurbing the novel. The last 150 pages of The Martian are a rush you really can’t slow down. This is the “hard” sci-fi book of your dreams, with no space opera or green alien queens to tide you over. Andy Weir is the real deal. To learn more about the author, visit his website at

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