Brag Book! It’s My One Year Blogoversary!!!

dancing leslie knopeI can barely contain myself. I one year ago I published my first review at the Book Self, Joe Muto’s memoir, An Atheist in the Foxhole: A Liberal’s Eight-Year Odyssey Inside the Heart of the Right Wing Media. Since those humble beginnings, I’ve read and reviewed some really great books (and some not so great ones), gained followers and likes, received wonderful messages from the authors I’ve reviewed and have gotten involved in some really cool things like the giveaway for the movie “This Is Where I Leave You” based on the Jonathan Tropper novel of the same name.

I initially started this blog because I had gone through a horrific writing situation in the professional sense, and I needed an ego boost to prove to myself I still had the chops as a writer. I figured a blog might do the trick, but I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to write about. Writer and artist Austin Kleon once advised don’t write what you know; write what you love. What wise advice. I love books and I just knew I had to write about them. And now look where I am! Wow!

I want to thank my readers for joining me on this journey, and we have so many more miles to go. I’m working on a couple of book reviews. A publisher sent me a galley of a novel to be published in mid-November, which I am reading now and will probably post a review around the publishing date. I’m open to guest reviewers. And there are just so many books I want to read and review. I have a list as long Shaquille O’Neill.

I’m really looking forward to starting my second year of the Blog Self, and I hope my readers are, too. Thanks so much.

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Reading to Reels: This Is Where I Leave You

This_Is_Where_I_Leave_You_posterJudd Altman (Jason Bateman) has the ideal life. He’s happily married to his college sweetheart Quinn (Abigail Spencer). He has a great job working as a radio show producer. He believes his life can’t get any better. And it won’t. In fact, it’s about to get a lot worse.

In the beginning of This Is Where I Leave You (based on the Jonathan Tropper novel of the same name) we see Judd working for a hugely popular radio show called “Man Up” hosted by a “take no prisoners” shock jock named Wade (Dax Shepard). It’s not just any ordinary day for Judd. It’s also his beloved Quinn’s birthday, and before he heads home to the missus, he purchases her a delicious birthday cake. Judd can’t wait to surprise Quinn to some fabulous baked goods. However, he’s about to get a huge surprise himself.

As Judd enters the marital bedroom he notices two people tussling under the covers. Quinn and Wade (yes, Judd’s boss) are doing the horizontal sweaty. And it turns out Quinn and Wade have been having an affair for nearly a year. Not surprisingly, Judd is devastated.

And just when he thinks his life can’t get any worse, Judd’s sister Wendy (Tina Fey) calls him to let him know their father, Mort, long suffering from cancer, has died. His last dying wish? Mort Altman wanted his family to sit Shiva, the traditional 7-day Jewish period of mourning. This is odd because Mort, an avowed Atheist, was Jewish in name only. And his wife and the Altman kids’ mom, Hilary (Jane Fonda), isn’t Jewish. The Altmans were never particularly observant, and there is even a mention of putting up a Christmas tree later in the film. (I, as a recovering Catholic turned Unitarian, probably have more experience making latkes than this motley crew.)

So the Altmans all awkwardly shit Shiva, awaiting in low chairs, as various friends, relatives, neighbors, and assorted acquaintances pay their respects. Judd explains his wife’s absence by claiming she had a bad injury at the gym. Wendy wrangles her two kids, a baby and a toddler in the midst of potty training. How do we know the toddler is in the midst of potty training? Well, because the adorable moppet drags his potty chair everywhere. And Wendy’s wheeling dealing hubby (who I named “suitpuke on the cell phone”) is too busy chasing the all mighty dollar to be much help and soon splits the scene.

Joining Judd and Wendy are older brother Paul (Corey Stoll) who stayed in town to help run the family business, and bad boy baby brother, Phillip (Adam) Driver), who drives up in a flashy sports car. Paul and his wife Alice (Kathryn Hahn) are desperate to have a child, so sex is on a very strict schedule and Alice is going a bit crazy from the fertility drugs. She’s also Judd’s old high school flame, which just adds to the awkwardness. And Phillip doesn’t come alone. With him is his much older therapist turned girlfriend Tracy (Connie Britton—and her gorgeous spun from sunlight hair).

As for the Merry Widow? Well, she’s mourning her late husband while also showing off her newly enhanced cleavage (or as Judd later calls them “bionic breasts”), and waxing nostalgically for Mort’s dong. The Altman kids are appropriately embarrassed, but quite used to it. Hilary was a notable child therapist and author who often revealed her children’s most mortifying moments in her books.

Seven days of mourning bring up years of family dysfunction, childhood roles are resumed, under the surface resentments start bubbling, past regrets are revisited, and misty-eyed memories are shared.

Separated from Quinn, Judd reconnects with teenage crush Penny (Rose Byrne), but some very interesting news from Quinn may throw a wrench in Judd and Penny’s budding romance. Feeling neglected and unappreciated by her husband, Wendy reconnects with Horry (Timothy Olyphant) the neighborhood boy who was her true love. Sadly, Horry is now brain damaged due to a bad car accident he and Wendy were in years ago. Horry lives with his mom Linda (Debra Monk), and works in the Altman sporting goods store. Phillip uses Tracy to deal with his messed-up mommy issues and Tracy is sadly wise to this, but damn, Phillip is so damn charming at times. And matriarch Hilary is also dealing with some surprising romantic secrets that may shock her kids.

Mourning Mort also brings up sweet memories for the Altmans. Judd recalls how Mort would comfort him by touching Judd’s forehead with his own. Linda tells the kids how Mort paid her mortgage after her own husband died. Mort wasn’t perfect but he truly cared about his family and others. And maybe in all their grief, the Altman can grow to appreciate their father and each other.

And there are also funny moments. Judd gets back at Wade in an epic way with the help of some college boys. Wendy shows she’s in good fighting shape with a balled up fist. The family rabbi (Ben Schwartz—yep, Jean-Ralphio from “Parks and Rec”), and childhood friend of the Altman boys, helps celebrate the late Mr. Altman with some Borscht-belt shtick, while fending off his nickname of Boner. And while at temple Judd, Phillip and Paul steal away to toke up only to set off the sprinklers.

Directed by Shawn Levy and adapted by Jonathan Tropper himself, I was at bit hesitant to see the film version of This Is Where I Leave You because I adored the novel so much. But for the most part the film delivered. I noticed a few changes from the novel. For instance, in the novel the Altman’s go by the last name Foxman, and Quinn’s original name is Jen (no, I’m not bitter about the change). The film doesn’t delve too much into the Altman’s various pasts but that may have been a good choice because I’m afraid it may have been a bit too much for less-than-two-hour movie.

The best part of This Is Where I Leave You was its top-notch cast. I expected a lot and the cast totally delivered. Jason Bateman has a wonderfully real “everyman” quality. Relative newcomer, Adam Driver, is a fabulous new find. Jane Fonda (and her bionic breasts) was hilarious. And Tina Fey, one of my favorite comedic girl crushes, shows she also has the chops to handle more dramatic material.

The Altmans of This Is Where I Leave You, made me laugh, cringe, and tear-up. This shiksa wouldn’t mind observing shiva with the Altmans for a short spell. I’ll even bring the latkes.

Writer’s Block

Writer's Block PhotoWell, it’s been one crazy week. We started a new project at work and had a bunch of ducks to get in a row before we could proceed with the project. I had a meeting after work Monday night. And tomorrow I start my work as a teaching assistant for my church’s religious education classes (I’m going to be working with 3rd and 4th graders).

And beyond the personal, this past week we observed the 13th anniversary of 9/11 (seems like yesterday, yet longer than 13 years). President Obama gave a speech on ISIS. We discussed Ray and Janay Rice and the complex and thorny issue of domestic abuse.

Apple released several new technological products, including the Apple Watch. Guardians of the Galaxy continues to dominate the box office. And a little girl was bummed because President and Mrs. Obama visited her school, not Beyonce.

And because I hate Sarah Palin with the fiery intensity of ten thousand suns, I couldn’t help but laugh my ass off when I found out she and her family were involved in a huge brawl at a party. In fact this one of my reactions. And here is another:
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Once again, I want to congratulate Lisa Brown for winning the This Is Where I Leave You giveaway and thank my readers for their participation in the giveaway. Speaking of This Is Where I Leave You, the movie’s star Jason Bateman showed up on David Letterman this past week. Here is a clip of Mr. Bateman discussing how his Kristy McNichol hair got him some tail. Millennials, ask your parents about Kristy McNichol.

And though insomnia sucks, I was able to catch a rerun of Charlie Rose featuring Jonathan Tropper, the author of This Is Where I Leave You, the film’s director, Shawn Levy, and two members of the cast, Jason Bateman and Tina Fey. Sadly, at this moment Lord Google isn’t very helpful in finding me a clip. I’ll update once I find one.

Have a great week-end!

We Have a Winner!!!!

winnerI want to thank everyone who entered the giveaway. A winner has been chosen. And the winner is…

Lisa Brown!

Lisa’s favorite book turned movie is the Keira Knightly and Matthew MacFadyen version of the Jane Austen classic Pride and Prejudice.

Congratulations Lisa! Courtesy of Warner Bros. you will receive One (1) $25.00 Visa gift card to use towards a viewing of This Is Where I Leave You in theaters and a copy of the book with a movie tie-in cover.

I enjoyed reading all of your comments, not just the names of your favorite books turned movies, but why both these books and movies mean so much to you. Movies and books are more than mindless entertainment; they are a part of who we are as human beings.

Thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway. You rock. And once again, Lisa, congratulations!

Giveaway! Giveaway! Giveaway!

TIWILY-1SHTA few months ago I read a wonderful novel “This Is Were I Leave You” by Jonathan Tropper. Now the film adaptation is being released by Warner Bros. on September 19th, 2014. Click below to take a look at the movie’s trailer.

And here is the official synopsis of the movie version of This Is Where I Leave You:

“When their father passes away, four grown siblings, bruised and banged up by their respective adult lives, are forced to return to their childhood home and live under the same roof together for a week, along with their over-sharing mother and an assortment of spouses, exes and might-have-beens. Confronting their history and the frayed states of their relationships among the people who know and love them best, they ultimately reconnect in hysterical and emotionally affecting ways amid the chaos, humor, heartache and redemption that only families can provide—driving us insane even as they remind us of our truest, and often best, selves.”

This Is Where I Leave You stars Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn, Connie Britton, Timothy Olyphant, Dax Shepard and Jane Fonda

As a treat for my readers I have been contacted by film’s publicity team about hosting a giveaway to celebrate both the book and the release of the film. One lucky winner of this giveaway will win the following generously provided by Warner Bros.

One (1) $25.00 Visa gift card to use towards a viewing of This Is Where I Leave You in theaters and a copy of the book with a movie tie-in cover.

To enter you this giveaway you must do the following.

  1. Leave a comment at this very blog post starting today and ending Sunday, September 7th at 6:00pm central time.
  2. In the comment section you must type in your first name and last initial and name your favorite movie that was originally based on a book.
  3. Note: An email is required to post a comment and this giveaway is only open to those with United States addresses. Only one entree per email address please.

Once I get all of your comments I will put your names with your comments in a hat and pick out a name. I will announce the winner’s name on Tuesday, September 9th. The winner will be contacted via email regarding his or her address so he or she can receive this wonderful prize package.

I’m really looking forward to your comments, and no way will they affect my choosing of the winner. Your favorite book adapted movie can be a classic like “Gone With the Wind” or something more recent like the “Hunger Games” franchise. Or you can mention a guilty pleasure gem like “Valley of the Dolls.”

I know I loved the book This Is Where I Leave You” and I’m really looking forward to the movie, especially considering it boasts such a top-notch cast.

To learn more about This Is Where I Leave You,” both the book and the movie, take a look at any of the following links:

This Is Where I Leave You Official Website

This Is Where I Leave You Facebook Page

This is Where I Leave You Book Discussion Club

This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

000996In Jonathan Tropper’s novel This Is Where I Leave You, Judd Foxman is going through a very rough patch—adultery, death, job loss and all sorts of family dysfunction.

Judd discovers his wife, Jen, is having an affair, when he walks in on her and his boss, Wade, in flagrante delicto on Judd and Jen’s marriage bed. It’s Jen’s birthday so Judd retaliates by shoving Jen’s cake up Wade’s butt.

Judd quits his job in disgust and moves out of his house only to live in a basement apartment. He’s depressed, getting fat and is about to find out Jen is pregnant. Is the bun in the oven Judd’s or Wade’s?

Oh, and to make matters worse, Morton Foxman, Judd’s father has died after a long illness. Though never a very observant Jew, the Foxman family patriarch had one dying wish. He wanted his family to sit shiva, the Jewish tradition of seven days of mourning.

Amongst the mourners is Judd’s immediate family. There is his mother, Hillary, proud of her fake boobs and the author of notorious book on child rearing. There are also Judd’s siblings—his older brother Paul, bitter and filled with resentment, much of it aimed at Judd. The fact that his wife is Judd’s ex-girlfriend doesn’t exactly help either. There is Judd’s sister Wendy, a mother of three, whose Master of the Universe husband, Barry, seems to be more in tune with his Blackberry than his family. And then there is Judd’s younger brother, Philip, a charming ne’er do well, who brings home is much older girlfriend, a psychotherapist named Tracy.

Yes, this is going to be fun.

What is supposed to be a time of family support, connection and shared memories is actually a time of dysfunction, acrimony, frayed nerves and past family hurts. Paul truly loathes running the family business. Wendy feels overwhelmed and underappreciated, and uses this time of mourning to resurrect a past romance. Philip is still in a state of perpetual adolescence. Dad, Morton, is barely in the grave, and his widow, is flirting with lesbianism. Judd is on the verge of divorce and potential fatherhood, but can’t quite resist a sexy hook-up with an old high school classmate.

Involved with the shiva and officiating the late Mr. Foxman’s funeral is Judd’s buddy Rabbi Charles Grodner. In their younger years, the Rabbi was called Boner, and Judd and his siblings can’t help but call him Boner. Rabbi Boner? It’s a shandeh.

During the shiva, various relatives, neighbors, co-workers and friends visit and pay their respects to the remaining Foxmans. They talk about how much they appreciated the late Mort Foxman. But Judd and his family will have none of it.

Paul is still blaming Judd for ruining his dreams for a college education and for getting to his wife first. Wendy’s three kids just remind Judd that his estranged wife, Jen, is pregnant (and schtupping his boss). Despite the so-called influence of an older and wiser Tracy, Phillip isn’t about to give up his Peter Pan ways. And the merry widow, Hillary Foxman, is not about to put her cleavage away and is fully ready to embrace her late in life Sapphic leanings.

This Is Where I Leave You captures a family in a time of bereavement. There are moments of true poignancy and bittersweetness. Reading Tropper’s novel will probably remind you of the times you lost a loved family member and the myriad of emotions and feelings you went through—denial, grief, anger, joy and nostalgia.

This Is Where I Leave You Will also make you laugh.

Yes, a novel about a man with an adulterous wife, no job, a recently deceased father and a messed up family is pretty damn funny. And the humor comes naturally and is fully in tune with the characters. Nothing rings false.

For instance, in one scene, Judd recalls a time when his mother handed him a tube of KY jelly once she found out her baby boy had discovered masturbation. She told him it would prevent chafing. And of course, she had to do this in front of the entire family. I could totally see Mrs. Foxman doing this. What she sees as motherly, Judd finds absolutely mortifying.

And in another scene, Judd and his brothers steal away from the synagogue during the reading of the Kaddish, prayer for the dead, to smoke a joint in one of the synagogue’s classrooms. The joint’s smoke sets off the fire alarm. Perhaps getting high isn’t the best way to remember your father.

Judd and the Foxman clan make other bad decisions. They often fight. They’re often clueless and selfish. But they also show each other support and offer each other moments of laughter and happiness. All of this gives Judd time to reflect on his life. Yes, things are bad. But maybe they’ll get better.

I thoroughly enjoyed This Is Where I Leave You and I’m happy to know Tropper has other novels in his arsenal. This Is Where I Leave You has also been made into a movie to be released later this year featuring the likes of Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Jane Fonda. Hmm, do I smell a “Reading to Reels” post?