When you hit the beach this summer, a good book is just as essential to pack as sunblock. We asked two area experts—Joan Ripley at the Second Story Book Shop in Chappaqua and Jenny Siegel at Anderson’s Book Shop in Larchmont—to evaluate the industry buzz and come up with a list of must-reads.
This Night’s Foul Work
[May 27, Penguin]
In this gritty mystery novel, writer Fred Vargas takes to the dark alleys and graveyards of France. This Night’s Foul Work is the fourth in the International Dagger Award-winning Commissaire Adamsberg series. This time, the Commissaire is wrapped up in a plot that involves everything from gruesome gore on the outskirts of Paris to mysteriously murdered stags in the woods of Normandy. (And to all you tough guys out there: Fred Vargas is a woman!)
House of Daughters
[July 29, Plume]
From the author of Blessed Are the Cheesemakers and By Bread Alone comes another gastronomically sophisticated tome. House of Daughters follows Clementine, the sole caretaker of a Champagne vineyard dubbed the House of Peine (note the double entendre). When her father dies, Clementine discovers she has a half-sister with whom she must share the vineyard. The siblings go and do what women do best—bond over Champagne.
[June 3, Knopf]
From Snow Falling on Cedars author David Guterson comes the story of two boys, John William and Neil, one high society and one working-class Irish, who are drawn together because of their love of the outdoors. After college, John William pulls a Holden Caulfield and decides to turn his back on all his privilege and move deep into the woods. Neil is then left to erase John William’s trail—and see how long he can keep John William’s new life as a hermit a secret.
The Spies of Warsaw
[June 3, Random House]
Those who love historical fiction—but wish the genre were infused with a dash of James Bond—need to pick up books by Alan Furst, a writer that the Houston Chronicle has described as “the greatest living writer of espionage fiction.” Start with The Spies of Warsaw, a thriller that spans countries, causes, and unbelievable personalities as a newly minted military attaché spies while Europe is on the brink of World War II. But leave the martinis at home—Mercer’s too busy foiling counterintelligence plots to stop for a drink.
[June 17, Knopf]
When two sisters reunite after 50 years, they realize that their memories of their shared childhood differ in disturbing ways, and old resentments resurface. Yet, with debut novelist Poppy Adams’s lyrical style, sibling rivalry never sounded so poetic. Before trying her hand as a novelist, Adams worked as a documentary filmmaker for the BBC, so it’ll be interesting to see if her well-trained eye translates to the page.
[June 24, Random House]
It took seven years for Ethan Canin, author of The Palace Thief, to write this novel. Was it worth the wait? Prince of Tides author Pat Conroy called America America “the crowning glory of [Canin’s] writing life,” so we’ll take that as a “yes.” The story follows a yard boy growing up in the 1970s whose life is upended when he becomes an aide to a wealthy New York Senator who decides to run for president. Can our hero stay true to his working-class roots, or is living the high life just too tempting?
Depressing movies went out with the cold weather. Now that summer’s on its way, expect smaller, worthier films to make way for bigger things: big budgets, big action sequences, and big names to return to the big screen. Oh, and lots of heroes, too. Can’t decide what to watch? Consult this guide to the best films to see this summer.
Be Sure to See:
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Apparently, even after you find the Holy Grail, there’s still more whip-cracking adventuring to do. An older, crankier Indy takes young Mutt Williams (Transformers’ Shia LeBeouf) along for the ride this time. Steven Spielberg returns to direct, so expect shots to be amazingly intricate for an action/adventure flick.
Sex and the City: The Movie
All your favorite city-dwelling fashionistas bring their dramas—and their wardrobes—back for their first big-screen outing. (Just think of seeing all those luscious clothes on a huge movie screen.) Besides a brief hint at Carrie’s wedding, plot details were still closely guarded as of press time, but it’s a safe bet that they involve trying to find the perfect pair of strappy sandals.
Based on a simply animated, mostly boring Japanese animated series, Speed Racer doesn’t necessarily beg for a film adaptation. Yet filtered through the warped minds of The Matrix’s Larry and Andy Wachowski, Speed Racer looks to be a mile-a-minute special-effects extravaganza. The Wachowskis get bonus points for casting Into the Wild’s wide-eyed Emile Hirsch as Speed and Lost’s Matthew Fox as the nefarious Racer X.
Iron Man may be a second-tier superhero with no inherent powers, but Robert Downey, Jr., has the chops to make any character layered and interesting (May 2), while children may see what those pesky Pevensies are up to in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (May 16).
Be Sure to See:
Because of their cold, metal, and sometimes evil natures, it’s hard to turn robots into sympathetic film characters, but by gum if Wall-E isn’t just about the cutest thing running around Earth in the year 2700. That’s because he’s not built with bolts and bits, but with Pixar’s heart-tugging animation magic. And it’s a good thing that Wall-E is so adorable; apparently Earth’s future rests in his metal clamps.
The Incredible Hulk
The fact that Larchmont resident Ang Lee’s respectable Hulk is largely reviled makes us angry—and you wouldn’t like us when we’re angry. Yet we feel drawn to this new Hulk reboot because of its classier-than-usual cast, which includes Edward Norton as Bruce Banner himself, along with Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson, and William Hurt. Directed by Louis Leterrier of the Transporter franchise, this comic-book movie has the potential to be both thoughtful and action-packed.
Director M. Night Shyamalan’s output may be mixed since The Sixth Sense, but his films are always at worst thought-provoking, and, at best, worth debating about with friends. Maybe it’s because Shyamalan insists on writing his own movies instead of adapting the work of other writers. This time, his creepy style brings us another disaster scenario: some unknown phenomenon causes a seemingly unstoppable rash of suicides across the country. We’re trying to figure out the twist already.
The Oscar-nominated Mongol (June 6) tells the life story of Genghis Khan—how cool is that? If the tale of the famous conqueror seems too violent, the animated children’s film Kung Fu Panda, with voice-acting by the goofy Jack Black, might be more your speed (June 6). Still too much hand-to-hand combat? Try the slap-sticky Get Smart, with The Office’s Steve Carell stepping into the role of Maxwell Smart (June 20).
The Dark Knight
Memento director Christopher Nolan’s pitch-black sensibility has so reinvigorated the Batman franchise that this certainly is our most anticipated film of the summer, if not the whole year. This time, Christian Bale’s laconic Batman goes up against a truly deranged-looking, bank-robbing Joker. It’s a bittersweet proposition for fans because actor Heath Ledger’s death looms large in the mind—but he looks like an awesome Joker.
What can be a better contrast to Batman’s dark qualities than sunny Swedish pop music? A loose plot—about a young girl who, before her wedding, wants to find out who her father is among three possible men—is constructed around a series of bubbly ABBA tunes. Meryl Streep plays the protagonist’s mom, so let’s hope she’s a real dancing queen.
Sick of all the superheroes, nonstop action, and blockbuster entertainment? Don’t fret: an honest-to-goodness documentary is opening this July. The doc follows four Indiana high school seniors through all their typical teen conflicts: cliques, romances, depression, etc. The film received huge buzz and a nice reception at Sundance this year: can you say Little Miss Sunshine?
Even further down on the superhero food chain is Hancock (Will Smith), whose alcoholism and ability to inflict collateral damage is so bad, he needs to hire someone to handle his public relations (July 2). No amount of public relations can make good-natured monster Hellboy into a beloved superhero, but that doesn’t stop him from fighting an army of bizarre-looking creatures (devised by Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro) in HB II (July 11). And, for nerds who think the truth is still out there, there’s the long-awaited (and still untitled as of press time) X-Files sequel (July 25).
Opening in August:
By August, studios have usually exhausted their supply of big-budget movies and start trying to tide us over with leftovers. Still, there are some interesting tidbits remaining, including an adaptation of Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Choke starring Sam Rockwell (August 1). There’s also Pineapple Express (August 8), a stoner comedy starring Superbad’s Seth Rogen, yet directed by David Gordon Green, who usually makes achingly beautiful movies. Or, if you’re feeling Star Wars withdrawal, there’s the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars (August 15), meant to launch a new television series of the same name.
Note: Studios are notoriously twitchy about film release dates, and some of these may have adjusted after press time.