Wandering the streets of Brooklyn in his pajamas is not the way Drummond Clark intended to spend Christmas Eve, but sometimes he gets confused. When his son Charlie returns him home, the house explodes! Soon the two find themselves pursued by assassins on an adrenaline-fueled cross-country adventure, and Drummond displays survival skills not many other retired appliance salesmen can boast. Could it be that Charlie’s workaday dad was once a spy for the CIA? A former agent struggling with early-onset Alzheimer’s is a potential disaster, and both sides want him quiet. With short, action-packed chapters and tongue-in-cheek humor, Once a Spy by Keith Thomson is a popcorn movie in book form.
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Patton Oswalt was a wasteland or so he thinks in his new memoir Zombie, Spaceship, Wasteland. A wasteland teenager is bored and escapist enough to destroy their life and create a new one. Example: Oswalt was born into a military family in the ‘burbs and wasn’t happy until he’d mastered the dark, lone-standing, spotlighted comedy stage. Oswalt’s book is a memoir in fictional and autobiographical essays. There are remembrances of odd jobs, crazy relatives, nightmare gigs, dungeons and dragons and pop culture aplenty all told in the same style as Patton Oswalt’s standup comedy – rambling, yet thoughtful – with plenty of digressions expressed in footnotes, lists and illustrations.
Politically Correct Holiday Stories by James Finn Garner puts a new spin on the holidays. Rudolph, the nasal, empowered reindeer, negotiates better working conditions from Santa. Then there is “’Twas the night before Solstice and all through the co-op not a creature was messing the calm status quo up.” Happy holidays!
Who better to narrate a book featuring a dark, conflicted character in a long black duster and a penchant for sarcasm than an actor who is best known for playing those very traits? James Marsters, the man behind “Spike” of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel fame, easily steps into the wizard role as Harry Dresden, the hero of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. Marsters’ reading is dramatic, fun, and tinged with intensity. A fast-paced blend of urban fantasy, action-adventure, and noir, Changes reveals that Chicago-based Dresden has an even more personal stake in the supernatural goings on of the world. Whether a long-time series fan or a newcomer, you’ll be wowed by the magic worked by this powerful combination.
If you think Shakespeare isn’t for you, perhaps it’s time to look at it from another angle. Instead of watching a mopey, indecisive prince debate whether life is worth living, step behind the action to see what the lesser characters might be doing while they wait their cues. This is the conceit of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1991), which takes two minor roles and reveals them as entertaining fools. They’re not quite sure what they are doing in the world of Hamlet, but they’re pretty good at faking it, and they may just discover the laws of physics along the way. Starring Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, and Richard Dreyfuss, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is a feast of quick wit and clever repartee.
You may know Lisa Scottoline as a bestselling author of legal thrillers, but did you know she is just as capable of making you laugh? Why My Third Husband Will Be A Dog is a collection of some of her best work from the popular “Chick Wit” column featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Whether alluding to her ex-husbands (Thing One and Thing Two), celebrating her penchant for movie candy, arguing why you should embrace visible panty lines, or identifying the life lessons gleaned from Betty and Veronica, Scottoline takes the realities of life as a woman and turns them into sheer entertainment. Quick chapters make this book perfect for picking up even when you have only a few minutes to spare, and the audio version features Scottoline’s own hilarious narration.
Katherine Givens is minding her own business, lamenting the demise of her favorite bra, when UPS comes calling. She receives a package that contains a pair of red high-top sneakers and the ashes of her free-spirited childhood friend. Annie has just passed away, and her last request was that five women who have played pivotal roles in her life now embark on a journey around the country and disperse her ashes at the places that gave her life meaning. In Annie Freeman’s Fabulous Traveling Funeral by Kris Radish, the semi-strangers are provided with airline tickets, rental car vouchers, and credit cards for an unusual road trip extending from Sonoma to Manhattan. You may just find yourself hoping for a traveling funeral of your own.
Imagine a world in which social status, job placement, and even whom you marry is all determined by what colors you can see. Ever since the big Something That Happened, most people can only see variations of a single color, and your last name identifies which one. Eddie Russett is an unassuming Red who has been sent to the Outer Fringes. There he meets Jane, a sarcastic Grey, who questions all the Rules. Eddie shouldn’t be listening to her, especially as she constantly insults him, but he’s never met anyone like her. Author Jasper Fforde never fails to deliver stories that are imaginative, clever, complex, and wholly original, and Shades of Grey fits right in. This is a story with something for everyone. Just don’t expect it to be like anything else.
Ralphie Parker and his quest for a Red Ryder BB gun are just as much a part of holiday traditions as any Rankin and Bass special. Humorist Jean Shepherd based A Christmas Story on several of his previously published short stories about his boyhood in Indiana. Some of those gems originated in Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories and Other Disasters, a book that brings the funny out of all-American rites of passage. From the schoolyard misadventures of Delbert Bumpus to the title story about a junior prom, Shepherd makes it much easier to laugh at adolescence than it was to live through it. After all, who could resist “Daphne Bigelow and the Spine-chilling Saga of the Snail-encrusted Tinfoil Noose”?
Only an Iron Man (even before the fact) would take on the daunting task of bringing screen icon Charlie Chaplin to life, and Robert Downey, Jr.’s performance in the 1992 Chaplin is nothing short of a masterwork. Even before he dons the mustache, hat, and cane, Downey is utterly believable as the irrepressible Chaplin. His story is dramatized in clever use of both muted black and white and full color scenes, exploring his life from an upbringing in the English slums all the way to an Honorary Oscar in 1972. Though celebrated for his comedy, Chaplin struggled with sorrow and controversy, and Downey imbues every scene with telling emotion. Also starring Dan Aykroyd, Anthony Hopkins, and featuring Kevin Kline in a neat turn as Douglas Fairbanks, Chaplin honors a classic legend even as it establishes a modern one.