Saturday, March 26, 2016

'Breakfast at Tiffany's' Revisited: The Three Stories

Here we see the cover of my middle-school paperback copy of Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote. I bought it circa 1989, probably through Scholastic book order. (Perhaps it would be more proper to say my mom and dad bought it for me; I didn't have a job when I was 12.)

I voluntarily read this book after my English class read "A Christmas Memory." "A Christmas Memory" is one of the three short stories that follow the Breakfast at Tiffany's novella in this volume. The four were published together in the 1957 original. "A Diamond Guitar" originally appeared in Harper's Bazaar, and "A Christmas Memory" was originally printed in Mademoiselle.

I reread the three stories this week after (finally) watching the film Capote, and they were even more brilliant than I remember, especially "A Christmas Memory." It's also much more poignant than I remember. I remembered that the little dog, Queenie, died (I'd hated that part as a child), but I forgot that it ends with the elder relative's slow decline and eventual death. I remembered it largely as a beautiful, happy Christmas story, despite the Depression-era poverty of the characters. It's actually bittersweet.

I loved Greco-Roman myth when I was a child, but I never caught onto the fact that "House of Flowers" was a modernized version of the myth of Cupid and Psyche. I learned from Wikipedia ( that there's a musical version Truman Capote himself helped write; I wish it had caught on better than it did.

I just wish the short story didn't imply that light-skinned Haitian women were universally acknowledged as more beautiful than dark-skinned Haitian women. Dark-skinned Haitian women are as beautiful as any other segment of the female population.

I was also surprised how much the character Tico Feo ("Ugly Tico," apparently meant ironically) foreshadows Capote's later meeting of Perry Smith, one of the multiple murderers covered in Capote's "nonfiction novel" In Cold Blood. A multiracial (indigenous American and white), charming prison inmate who plays the guitar and dreams of escape to an idealized paradise, prone to violent outbursts and conniving? Perry Smith. But this book was published in 1957, and Capote didn't meet Smith until 1960 - eerie.

I'm currently listening to an audiobook recording of In Cold Blood from my local library.

"In Cold Blood without even blinking
I mean damn, what was Capote-pote-pote pote thinking?"

Photos are my own, all taken of my personal copy of Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Horror Audiobook: 'A Midsummer Night's Scream' by R.L. Stine

A Midsummer Night's ScreamA Midsummer Night's Scream by R.L. Stine

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really enjoy a fresh take on A Midsummer Night's Dream, but this one's a bit hard to love. The plot is full of holes, the writing is hacky, and actual references to Shakespeare's play are few and far between. The Puck character never even says, "Lord, what fools these mortals be."

One thing I really didn't like was the main character Claire's tendency to call other girls and women "sluts." To be fair, many young women do really use this term. However, I don't think many thoughtful teenage girls would appreciate the stereotype that they are shallow, catty, and judgmental. In real life, this kind of name-calling can lead to bullying, and a young person who is bullied and doesn't know how to get help may even contemplate suicide. I know this personally because my cousin's 12-year-old daughter committed suicide in May 2015 after being bullied at school about not wearing designer clothes and being "poor." I have strong negative feelings toward girl-on-girl name-calling, or any name-calling between teens. Young folks really need to be positively reinforced for being kind and gentle toward each other.

But if you like kitschy early-1980s horror films, especially of the slasher variety, you might be able to appreciate this book on that level. I did care enough about the characters to root for Claire and Delia to live. It's not the worst young adult horror story ever. It's just not brilliant.

I purchased this audiobook at a library used media sale with my own finds and was not obligated in any way to review it. This review represents my own personal opinion.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Stay Tuned for 'The Devil's Due' by L.D. Beyer

The Devil’s Due is a historic thriller set in Ireland in the early 1920s. Long story short, my grandfather served in the Irish Republican Army during the War for Independence. Family legend held that he was forced to flee Ireland below a false passport with a price on his head by both the British and the IRA. Like most legends, this one grew over time with each retelling, and with each beer my uncle drank! Reality, I suspect, may have been far less dramatic. However, real or not, it makes for one great story line!

It’s from this legend—and a couple of pints in a pub in Dublin—that The Devil’s Due comes to life.

Guilty of a crime he didn’t commit, Frank Kelleher flees through the streets of war-torn Ireland with the British and the Irish Republican Army both trying to put a bullet in his head. Branded a terrorist by the government and a traitor by his friends, he’s forced into hiding until he can figure out how to right the wrongs of his past.

The Devil’s Due will be released in June. Stay tuned…

Now for the really good news:

Because of your support, today my first book, In Sheep’s Clothing, reached # 1 on the best seller list for Amazon Kindle Assassination Thrillers and # 1 for Terrorism Thrillers!

To celebrate and to continue to drive momentum, I have decided to hold an Irish Sweepstakes and I'm offering the Kindle version of In Sheep’s Clothing for only 99 cents!

This special offer ends on Sunday, March 20th, so act fast.

To get your copy, go to:

L.D. Beyer

Friday, March 11, 2016

Book Review: 'Landline' by Rainbow Rowell

LandlineLandline by Rainbow Rowell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is cute, romantic, and funny. It's almost everything I've ever wanted from a Rainbow Rowell novel, except Tyrannus Basilton Pitch and Simon Snow. I really loved Carry On. Like, a lot. And before that, I fangirled extensively over Fangirl. This isn't quite as much fun as those, perhaps because I can't quite identify with Georgie McCool as much as I can with Cath Avery. I don't have two young daughters, or any children at all.

But I still enjoyed listening to the audiobook. I love little Noomi, and how she pretends to be a green kitty, punctuating all her speech with meows. I love Georgie and Neal together. I love Seth's Sethness and Scottie's Scottiness. I love the guy at the Halloween party who randomly decided to dress up as Maggie Simpson.

I think my favorite side character, though --this is a minor spoiler, so look away if you must -- is Alison, the "pizza guy" who turns out to be a pizza gal. I love that in Rainbow Rowell's world, attraction between two women doesn't end in death and heartbreak (The Night Circus, I'm looking at you) but in sweet hand-holding and intense eye contact following a triumphant puppy birth. With sympathetic family members, even! See, film industry, how it is possible to write lesbians/queer women without writing tragedy?

I tried mentally casting a movie version of Landline, but it's tough to come up with a Georgie. She's a beautiful, funny blonde, but less of a Kate Hudson body type and more of an Amy Schumer body type. The material isn't raunchy like Schumer's usual films, though. I also thought of another funny blonde with a curvy figure, Rebel Wilson, but this isn't as slapstick as her usual fare. Let me think about this one some more.

I like Jason Sudeikis (the lovely Olivia Wilde's partner IRL) for Neal, Danny Pudi for Scottie, and Neil Patrick Harris for Seth. I would like to see NPH with chestnut hair for a change.

I purchased this audiobook with my own funds at a library used media sale and was not obligated in any way to review it.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Book Review: 'The Big Short' by Michael Lewis

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday MachineThe Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this book because I was listening to public radio on my way home from work one evening and heard an interview with the director of the movie based on it. The director talked about some of the real people Lewis wrote about.

The "character" who stood out in my mind was Michael Burry, who was played in the film by Christian Bale. I have a longstanding interest in Christian Bale. Bale had to learn to play heavy-metal drums to take on the character, the director said, because Burry has some distinctive mannerisms and habits. He's on the autism spectrum, with the characteristics typical of Asperger's.

I thought this sounded interesting enough that I wanted to read the book before I saw the movie. I couldn't understand all of Lewis's more technical points about the bond market. This made the first chapters of the book slow reading for me. I think I caught the gist of it, though: Many, if not most, of the people on Wall Street - less so in the stock market, more so in the bond market - have no idea what products they're actually selling. This was particularly true in the 2000s, before the awful housing market collapse of 2007-2008. But, Lewis would have us know, there hasn't been any real effort to fix the underlying problems.

Some of Lewis's conclusions seem to support those of Barbara Ehrenreich in her book Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. In my review (here) of that book, I wrote, "The thesis of Bright-Sided is the U.S. residents tend, as a people, to subscribe to an optimistic outlook on life that isn’t so much based in fact as it is in wishful thinking." A few individuals, such as Burry, foresaw that the U.S. subprime mortgage market could collapse, and they made their investors tremendous sums of money when it did. The majority, however, refused to believe that the collapse could ever happen in the way that it did. The bond market put more faith in itself and its regulators than either deserved.

The U.S. financial market was, and remains, fraught with what Lewis refers to as "bombs." They're not the exact same subprime mortgage bombs, since banking regulations have tightened around that particular market. However, these large financial institutions remain able to create markets out of thin air and trade on derivatives and other financial products so arcane, only tiny numbers of people who, like Mike Burry, possess unusual skill sets can actually understand them and their risks.

By the way, Burry never actually plays the drums in the book. He does take up the guitar and develop a passion to learn everything about guitars. Maybe the screenwriter had to change guitars to drums because that was easier to teach a non-musical actor. (I think it's fair to call Christian Bale non-musical, although we all know he did, in fact, sing and dance in the musical Newsies. But that was 20 years ago.)

I checked this book out from my local public library and was not obligated in any way to review it.

Monday, March 7, 2016

How I Spent My Sunday: Capote

My Sunday, March 6th, was pleasant. Tit Elingtin and I had brunch at Granite City Food and Brewery with my parents. The Sunday brunch is a delightful affair, with large, sticky cinnamon rolls, fresh slices of juicy pineapple and melon, mashed redskin potatoes, and waffles with pecan pieces.

After the meal, we went to Barnes and Noble, which is part of the same shopping complex. I didn't find the book I wanted, Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. I'm currently listening to the audiobook of her novel Landline, and I'm obsessed. I want to read her other two books (Landline and Attachments) eventually.

Rowell released a short story, "Kindred Spirits," on March 3rd, which is World Book Day in the U.K. (I wish we had World Book Day in the U.S.A. People dress up like their favorite book characters, like a literary Halloween.) I don't think it's available for the worldwide market yet, but that's okay, because I still have to finish my current Rowell book and two others. That'll take a while.

I didn't find the book I wanted, but my mom chose Murder Past Due by Miranda James, the first book in the Cat in the Stacks series. I can't say I blame her; it has a cat and a library.

The woman in line behind us struck up a conversation about the Harry Potter wand pens. Then another woman got in line behind her carrying a thick book about mythology. They declared their mutual love for myth, and the first woman said in honor of Greek myth, her daughter's name is Penelope, but Penny for short. Just like Penny Bunce in Carry On! I wanted to say so, but instead I told them they'd probably appreciate my cousin Molly's name for her unborn daughter due in April: Freya. They thought that was a great baby name...which it totally is.

When Tit and I got home, we put on a movie. Tit chose Capote because, he said, he heard Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance was outstanding and won awards. (Indeed, Hoffman won the Best Actor Oscar for it in 2006.) He didn't know it would involve Harper Lee, who unfortunately passed away on February 19, 2016. He wasn't sure who Truman Capote was; he just saw Breakfast at Tiffany's for the first time last year, and he didn't like it that much. He wasn't even aware that Capote was based on a true story.

But it is! The movie opens on a high school student going to visit her friend, only to discover that her friend has been gruesomely killed, shot to death in her bed. The unlucky friend was Nancy Clutter, murdered along with three members of her family on November 15, 1959. As portrayed in the movie, Truman Capote read a short article about the killings in newspaper, inspiring him to travel with his friend Nelle Harper Lee to the crime scene--Holcomb, Kansas--in search of material from which to write a magazine article about how the unsolved crime affected the small town.

Harper Lee is played by Catherine Keener, Interestingly, she seems to have some of the qualities of the adult Jean Louise Finch that I read about in Go Set a Watchman. She's very independent.

Capote's involvement quickly became much deeper. He covered reams of paper with notes taken while interviewing residents of Holcomb about the Clutter family. Then two men, recently paroled from the Kansas State Penitentiary, were arrested for the crime in Las Vegas and extradited back to Kansas. Capote personally interviewed both Richard (Dick) Hickok and Perry Smith, but he seemed to have a special fascination with Smith.

Their film counterparts are played by Mark Pellegrino and Clifton Collins, Jr.
You may remember Mark Pellegrino from such films as The Big Lebowski...
...or as Jacob on the U.S. television program Lost, or as Lucifer on Supernatural*. But since Capote was apparently more interested in talking to Perry Smith, Pellegrino's role in this film is limited. (He does look very sexy with vintage-style tattoos and a 1950s haircut, though.)

Indeed, a kind of love story seems to develop between Capote and Smith, and as a viewer I was pulled along with it. It's never explicit. Capote was, for all practical purposes though not for legal purposes, married to novelist and playwright Jack Dunphy (played by Bruce Greenwood). And clearly, Capote (at least as a film character) was deeply disturbed by the events he uncovered in Western Kansas.

Smith, in the movie, admits to having pulled the trigger and killed all four of the victims, and to slitting the father's throat. The movie doesn't romanticize or gloss over the horror of the crime. It does leave the viewer wondering if Capote had fallen in love with his subject and if those feelings were, in some way, returned. But it also seems as if Capote used Smith to complete his book, and that he felt guilty about this.

Perry Smith and Dick Hickok were executed by hanging in April 1965. The movie shows Capote being present as a witness at Smith's execution, but I'm not sure this is factual.

It took Truman Capote a total of six years to turn his experiences in Kansas into his "nonfiction novel" In Cold Blood. After that, he would struggle with drug and alcohol addiction, and he never completed another book (although Answered Prayers was published after his death in 1984, incomplete). The movie script seems to imply that he was so disturbed by his relationship with Smith and Hickok, he could never think or write the same way again.

Philip Seymour Hoffman didn't look very much like Truman Capote, and he certainly didn't sound like him in any of his other roles. For this movie, though, Hoffman was able to recreate Capote's distinctive voice and mannerisms. It's no wonder he won an Oscar. It's a stunning transformation.

I haven't read In Cold Blood, but I added it to my ever-growing TBR list. It does, after all, represent some of Harper Lee's life's work as well as Capote's. I respect them both.

And, of course, I'm sorry for the Clutter family's terrible loss. I'm sure the two surviving daughters, who were grown and out of the house at the time of murders, must have been devastated to lose their parents, sister, and brother all at once.

*Pellegrino also appeared in an episode of Person of Interest. It is noteworthy to mention that a POI cast regular, Sarah Shahi, will play Nancy Drew in an upcoming CBS television pilot. I never read a Nancy Drew book, but as a fan of Sameen Shaw, I added Shahi's face to a few classics.

Although I still have yet to finish Season 4 of Person of Interest, I've come to think of Sameen as an LGBT fictional character, since I already know Season 4 will reveal her not-just-friends relationship with Samantha "Root" Groves. Nancy Drew likes girls, right? Please say yes.