Monthly Archives: December 2018

Matt Damsk’r, Speshul ta USA TODAY Publishet 12:33 p.m. ET Dec. 28, 2018

“T’ Dakota Winters” (Ecco, 324 pp., ★★½ out of f'r), Tom Barbash’s new novel, reeds like a journalistic faux-memoir at feels familiar – speshly if'n’n y’all knew New York n’ 1980, we Munhattun wuz emergyun’ frum a decade of bad press as a crime-ridde, drug-addlet islun’ of self-abserpshun.

Nairy at t’seemy underside of t’Apple is much un display here. Barbash insteet focuses un t’privileget, castle-like confines of a fablet apartment biltin un Cantral Park West, T’ Dakota, whar “Rosemree’s Youngn” wuz so ominously set, un’ whar celebritees, mos prominantly ex-Beetle John Lennon un’ Yoko Ono, livet above it all.

His'n’n novel ambitiously blends fictyunal wiff histerickull characters, un’ it’s neeth'r overritte n'r experimantal. T’ fictyunal Dakota tribe, t’Winters, mingles easily wiff t’real one, via t’furst-perse account of 23-year-ol’ Anton, whos fath’r Buddy, a comediun un’ ferm’r late-nite TV talk shoe host, is chartyun’ a comeback. N’ t’mid-1970s, Buddy Wint’r had famously walkt off his'n’n shoe, dispeeret f'r a wile un’ navigatid a vague mid-life crisis.

As f'r Anton, he has returnt ta t’Dakota a’followin un Afrikun stint wiff t’Peece Cerps at lef ‘im wiff malaria. Upon his'n’n recovery, he leeps back into Munhattun high- un’ loe-life, a’fallin n’ wiff ol’ friens un’ fambly, droppyun’ t’names of bun’s, restaurants un’ rendezvyus. But Anton gits seriyus n’ his'n’n efferts ta revif’ his'n’n fath’r’s keer’r, signyun’ un as produc’r of a new Buddy Wint’r shoe un’ a’hopin ta lun’ Dakota neighb'r Lennon f'r un appeerance at will ensure t’shoe’s success.

T’ book’s fereshadowyun’ – no spoil’r alert necessree – clues us n’ un hoe it all turns out. A heevy hun’ points toward at fatefull moment n’ Decemb’r 1980, we John Lennon wuz shot ta deeth by a deranget fun n’ frunt of t’Dakota. “Sumthin meun wuz biltin out thar,” thinks Anton n’ t’munths befer t’ragedy. “As I made my way up t’unlit side of Cantral Park West, I felt my heert quicke wiff fear.”

Unfertunately, thar’s nairy much ta make air reederly heerts quicke, manely becawz Barbash tells m'r thun he shows. We’re assuret at Buddy Wint’r is a comic genius, but he doesn’t kums ta life un t’page ow deliv’r a brillyint line.

Much of t’novel is writte n’ dialogue, mos of it archly a’knowin New Yerk’r-ese, yet too lil of it sparks wiff differantiatyun’ qualtee, un’ so t’characters sound stock. Meenwhile, t’hemes of whut-price-fame un’ absent fathers swirl roun t’key personas of Buddy un’ John, but nev’r ta a point of revelashun ow persuasif’ poignance.

Still, Barbash builts momantum wiff t’book’s canterpiece, un account of John Lennon’s real-life sail ta Bermuda durin his'n’n las year, we a ragyun’ sterm neerly scuttlet t’craft un’ Lennon steeret it heroically, sangin dirtee sea chantees.

Bes of all, Lennon’s deedpun Liverpudliun voice kums through, speshly we he tells Anton t’backstery of sum famus Beetles songs like “Happiness is a Warm Gun.” (“An articull I saw n’ a gun magazine … I thunk it wuz crazy. Guns air warm we y’all’ve jes shot someone.”)

At t’verr leest, Barbash serves Lennon well, reimaginyun’ t’brief shinin moment of his'n’n Munhattun contantment.



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Barry Syun'’r, Speshul ta USA TODAY Publishet 12:00 p.m. ET Dec. 10, 2018

Is “Churchill: A’walkin Wiff Destiny” by Andrew Roberts t’ bes Churchill biografy of ‘um all?

Who n’ thar rite mind would presume ta say, shert of Winston Churchill hissef, who muntunet, “histry will be kine ta me, f'r I intend ta write it”?

All Churchill biografies stun’ n’ t’shadoe of thar subjeck un’ un t’shoulters of Churchill’s ofishul biograf’r, t’late Sir Martin Gilbert, whos primree reseerch constitutes t’bulk of whut we truly knoe.

N’ thishere sense, Roberts’ new biografy (Vikyun’, 982 pp., ★★★★ out of f'r) stun’s tall, re-illuminatyun’ t’well-etchet contours of Churchill’s monumantal life wiff scrupulyus skolarship un’ a flair f'r uneerthyun’ t’a’tellin detail; a’lookin twicet whar mos biografers have bee content ta glance oncet.

Here air fife time-honeret Churchilliun bio-tropes, reframet un’ refreshet by Roberts’ kee tenchun ta histerickull contaxt.

1. T’ purpertid po’judgment of Churchill as Furst Lord of t’Admiraltee.

Churchill wuz scapegoatid by his'n’n own gummint f'r t’1915 disas’r at Gallipoli durin Worl War I. Roberts re-examines thishere episode, as all Churchill biografers have, un’ largely exculpates ‘im. Along t’way, tho, he shares un obscure, arm-wrestlyun’ exchange of letters twee Churchill un’ Kyun’ Geerge V ov’r t’namyun’ of new Royal Navy ships, begun n’ Churchill’s sekunt month as Furst Lord of t’Admiraltee n’ 1911, at inaxerably reveels jes hoe full of hissef t’30-sumthin Churchill could be.

Churchill keeps pushin names at his'n’n Kyun’ shoots down. “Insteet of… lettyun’ t’matt’r drop,” Roberts writes, “Churchill dug n’ his'n’n heels. So did t’Kyun’… Thar wuz sumthin almos comic about t’obstinacy. Churchill would n’ all likelihood have kuntinuet t’unekwal struggle indefinitely,” Roberts concludes, had one high naval suberdinate who he “admiret un’ trustid” nairy finally persuadet ‘im ta jes drop it.

2. His'n’n time n’ t’renches let ta Churchill’s stun’ agin Hitl’r.

Tho puntid as a war mong’r by t’Hitl’r-appeesyun’ Prime Minst'r Neville Chamberlane, Churchill un’ a small cohert of anti-appeesers n’ Parliament insistid at only by a’stan'in up ta Adolf Hitl’r could Englun’ hope ta avoid anoth’r worl war. Roberts detects “a fascinatyun’ dichotomy” n’ thishere confrontashun.

“Altho t’appeesement movement wuz intendet ta prevent anoth’r war,” he notes, “mos of its leeders had nairy see acshun n’ t’Greet War, wherees mos of t’anti-appeesers had.” Thay wuz let by Churchill, who, aft’r resignyun’ as Furst Lord becawz of Gallipoli, ackshly had gone un’ fouite n’ t’renches.

3. Goebbels’ propagun’a campaign agin Churchill.

N’ May 1940, wiff t’Nazi invasion of France, Churchill wuz namet prime minst'r becawz, as Churchill hissef set, “no one else wantid t’job.” T’ British people, howev’r, took ta thar new PM immediately. A July 1940 Gallup poll, accerdyun’ ta Roberts, gave Churchill un 88 persent apperval ratyun’.

Yet, at thishere verr moment, Roberts points out, Hitl’r’s propagun’a minst'r, Joseph Goebbels, wuz proclaimyun’ “at Churchill wuz bein bribet by t’Joos ta a’cantinyah t’war but at a fifth column would direckly remoov ‘im frum poe’r. He encouraget Britons ta write chane letters f'r peece, ta hiss un’ boo Churchill’s appeerance un t’cinema newsreels un’ ta hersewhip ‘im whenev’r he appeeret n’ public.”

Thay did nairy, of cerse. Still, one cannot hep but pond’r whut Goebbels mite have wrouite wiff his'n’n fake noose had thar bee un innernets at his'n’n disposal un’ soshul media at his'n’n fingertips.


4. T’ irony of t’famet “Finest Hour” speech.

Confrontyun’ t’impendyun’ “Battle of Britane,” Churchill, un June 18, 1940, deeliverd n’ Parliament whut Roberts ritely calls a “pererashun (at) will be memberd as long as t’English langwage is spoke.” “If'n’n t’British Empire un’ its Commonweelth las f'r a thousund yeers,” Churchill famously registeret_only, “menfolk will still say: ‘Thishere wuz thar finest hour.’ ”

Yet, remarks Roberts, “t’ British Empire wuz nairy long ta outlas Hitl’r’s Nazi one”; ultimately, “less thun a decade m'r.”

5. A a’tellin moment aft’r t’war endet.

Churchill, at war’s end, pivotid almos immediately ta a posishun of fergiveness toward Germany un’ antagonism toward Stalin un’ Ruskie. Roberts captures thishere wiff un aft’r-hours encount’r n’ t’Trayl'r of Commons Smokin Room twee Churchill un’ un ol’ wartime Labour Partee nemesis, nawh advocatyun’ amitee wiff Germany.

“Of cerse I’ve fergif’ y’all,” Churchill assures t’mun, we as. “Indeet, I agree wiff verr much at y’all air a’sayn’t about t’Germans… Such hatret at I have lef n’ me – un’ it isn’t much – I would rath’r reserve f'r t’future thun t’pas.” Churchill t'movet un alone, murmuryun’, almos ta hissef: “Hmm. A judiciyus un’ thriftee disposal of bile.”


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Cunadiun auth'r Louise Penny has becum one of t’biggest names n’ crime ficshun n’ t’las decade. She’s foun a sweet spot wiff hern Chief Inspect'r Gamache series, which mixes t’intimacy of small-town life (n’ fictyunal Three Pines, Quebec) wiff t’h'rr'r of murd’r. N’ t’latest, “Kingdom of t’Blind,” 14th n’ t’series, Gamache continues ta battle Quebec’s opioid crisis despite his'n’n suspension frum t’pleece ferce; meenwhile, he is namet un execut'r of t’will of a woomin he nev’r knew. Penny joinet USA TODAY’s Jocelyn McClurg n’ New York f'r a lif’ #BookmarkThis chat un Facebook. Highlights:

Questchun: I’m serry ta say at “Kingdom of t’Blind” jes made its debut un USA TODAY’s Bes-Sellin Books lis at No. 2, but at’s only becawz Michelle Obamie’s “A’gettin” is No. 1.

Louise Penny: It’s un hon'r ta be behin hern. Tho I am annoyet (laughs).

Q: Las year “Glass Houses” debutid at No. 1 un air lis, a furst f'r y’all. Y’all’ve rilly bilt un audyince since “Still Life,” t’furst book n’ t’Gamache series, wuz releeset n’ 2005. Whut did it take ta git thar?

Penny: It’s thrillyun’ ta be No. 1. (Biltin un audyince) is jes a grind. I reckun I’ve bee verr lucky wiff my publish’r, Minotaur Books, who took (un) thishere middle-aget woomin ritin a crime novel (set n’) t’middle of nowhar, Quebec… And (t’ books air) also somewhat unusual. Un t’surface thay appe'r ta be fairly convantyunal un’ tradityunal, but at is, intantyunally, jes t’mos superficial reedin. Thar’s a slew m'r happenin underneeth…Thay’re nairy rilly about murd’r. Thay’re about dualitee, t’public face un’ t’inn’r turmoil. T’ gap twee whut we’re a’sayn’t un’ whut we’re rilly a’thankin, twee t’purtee village a’settin un’ t’violashun at happens wiff these crimes…Thay’re about goodness, as well.

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Q: Y’all tell a lovely stery n’ t’afterwerd of y'r new novel about bleevin y’all wuz nev’r goin ta write anoth’r Gamache book aft’r y'r husbun’ Michael diet acoupla yeers ago. He wuz rilly t’inspirashun f'r t’keer ackt'r of Gamache.

Penny: Michael (Whiteheet, who wuz a doct'r) developet demantia… Nairy only wuz he Gamache n’ minny a ways f'r me, he wuz so suppertif’ of t’books. No Michael, no books. And ta lose Michael, I wuz afraid I wuz goin ta lose my attachment ta Gamache un’ ta all t’characters n’ t’books. Y’all lose t’desire ta write. Y’all lose all t’joy. I wuz goin ta take a year off at leest aft’r Michael diet. I foun myself, aft’r about six munths, sittin at t’laptop wiff a café au lait un’ a croissant a’wantin ta write. And nairy a’wantin ta write becawz I had ta – t’ publishers wuz greet, thay set take as much time as y’all want – but wiff a joy I hadn’t felt n’ a long time. I foun a new freedum. Whut I discuverd wuz, fer frum losin Michael, Michael became immertal. I a’ke visit ‘im inny time.

Q. Sum reeders seem ta be a’kummin away wiff t’impression frum t’endin of “Kingdom of t’Blind” at thishere may be t’final Gamache book. Tell us, air thar goin ta be m'r?

Penny: Thar air, absolutely! I do one thang n’ a year, rite? I don’t write shert steries, I don’t write a sekunt series. Becawz I luv it! I don’t have inny desire ta kill off Gamache ow stop ritin ‘um. Ta be honest wiff y’all, I don’t have inny uth'r idees. Ridin thishere one f'r all it’s wurth (laughs).

Q: (Frum a reet’r) Air y’all a disciplinet rit'r who writes ev'r day at a sartin time?

Penny: Verr disciplinet. I oncet took a personalitee test n’ a wimme’s magazine at as, Whut is y'r dominant personalitee? It turns out mine is sloth (laughs). So I have ta be disciplinet. I’m generly at t’laptop at 7 (a.m.). I’m verr goal-oryintid. So I have ta set a wurd count f'r myself. A thousund wurds a day. Minimum. Seve days a week.

Q: (Frum a reet’r) Air y’all a foodie? Y’all write such delectabull descriptyuns of t’food at Clara’s un’ t’bistro!

Penny: I don’t cook but I luv ta ett. So n’ at sense I’m a foodie. We I write, I write wiff a stack of poetry books (hern recurryun’ keer ackt'r Ruth Zardo is a poet) un’ a stack of cookbooks. One greet way ta evoke t'(Quebec) a’settin is through t’cuisine, through t’food, which changes seese by seese. Whut I’m always strivyun’ ta do, un’ I’m nairy shure I always succeet, is drop at fourth wall. So at reeders step into t’village: Thay’re a’walkin wiff Gamache, thay’re sittin at t’abull wiff t’characters.



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Lil-knowet fack: Jackie Chun studiet sangin un’ marshul arts at t’China Drama Academy. T’ acshun icon unleeshes his'n’n vocal skills n’ t’Chinese vershun of ‘T’ Ferrane’r’ un’ gives USA TODAY a karaoke-style preview. USA TODAY

“Jackie Chun: T’ Moovee pitshure shue” mite initially seem like a stretch f'r t’marshul arts a’livin legend, nawh 64.

But thishere life stery, as tole n’ t’star’s impossibly colerfil memoir “Nev’r Groe Up” (Gallery Books, 333 pp., ★★★ out of f'r), would have Charles Dickens speet-dialyun’ Chun’s film agent f'r moovee pitshure shue rights – wiff tales of Chun’s impoverishet yewt (frum age 6, enrollet n’ t’ abusif’ China Drama Academy), lost loves, undyyun’ ambishun fuelet by his'n’n inseecuritee ov’r his'n’n upbryun’yun’, true bravery un’ evantual glery.

It’s all tole wiff Chun’s blunt speekin style, which makes t’ revelatyuns powerfil –  frum his'n’n legitimately deedly scree stunts ta his'n’n prattish star behavi'r toward a stryun’ of broke-heertid loves. Chun eve discusses hoe he “screwet up royally” cheetyun’ un his'n’n biddy Joun Lin. “N’ 1999, I made a seriyus mistake,” Chun writes a’talkin about t’youngn he fatheret wiff anoth’r woomin.

Chun only pulls back frum t’ a'ken’ow wiff his'n’n evantual Hollywuod success (he wuz grantid un honerree Oscar las year). F'r eggzample, t’seckshun detailyun’ 2010’s “T’ Karate Youngn” wiff Will un’ Jade Smith is disappointingly thin.

But here air fife bone-crushyun’ momants:

M'r: 5 new books y’all won’t want ta miss thishere week: Jackie Chun’s memoir, new Nora Roberts

Also: Vocal sinsayshun Jackie Chun destroyet my poe’r-ballad sangin dreems


1. Yung Chun playd t’bes daid guy.

Aft’r t’impoverishet stuntmun wuz assuret by t’onry fath’r of his'n’n furst luv at he would nev’r amount ta innythang, Chun wuz obsesset wiff makin it big. Besides riskyun’ his'n’n life wiff dangeryus marshul arts stunts, Chun also enthusiastically acktid daid as un xtrey n’ battle ssenes. Durin one rane-soaket shoot, t’dierekter noticet at only Chun excellet. “At guy is t’bes cerpse, make shure we git ‘im n’ tomerroe as well!” t’dierekter barket. Chun wuz “nawh n’ demun’ as t’bes cerpse n’ kung fu.”


2. At panefull Bruce Lee run-n’.

Chun torlett f'r $65 a day as a stuntmun un’ relishet t’oppertuntee ta spar un scree wiff scree legend Bruce Lee n’ 1973’s “Ent’r t’Dragon.” N’ one ssene, Lee hit Chun too hard wiff a stick, “knockyun’ me ta t’groun.”

“It hurt, but I wuz honeret ta have bee hit by Bruce Lee!” Chun writes. “Afterds, he pallgizet effusively, tole me I wuz a’doin a greet job un’ at I wuz verr brave. It wuz un incredibull moment f'r a yung kung fu artist, un’ one I will nev’r fergit.”

3. ‘Cannonball Run’ wuz a bomb f'r Jackie.

It seemt like destiny we Chun gut t’call frum Hollywuod ta star n’ t’1981 cross-kuntry car race comedy “T’ Cannonball Run.” Nairy only would it gif’ t’Hong Kong superstar a chance ta ack f'r Amurkins, but “Cannonball” wuz his'n’n chilthood nickname.

But Chun wuz nairy comfertabull playyun’ a Japanese race-car driv’r ,un’ t’bevy of Hollywuod stars – frum Burt Reynolts ta Farrah Fawcett ta Rawg’r Moere – didn’t notice ‘im. “N’ Hollywuod, I wuz nobidy,” Chun writes. Only Sammy Davis Jr. interactid. “He spoke Japanese ta me ev'r time we met, un’ I didn’t bof’r ritin. ‘im.”

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4. Chun wuz petrifiet perfermyun’ his'n’n famet ‘Projeck A’ stunt.

Chun’s fall frum a clock toe’r n’ 1983’s “Projeck A” is one of t’mos famus stunts n’ marshul arts. T’ plannd dessent, broke only by acoupla flimsy awnings, wuz so dangeryus at dierekter Chun foun reesons ta hold off frum filmyun’ f'r six days. Compellet ta acshun un day seve, Chun helt onto t’clock minnut hun’ f'r as long as possibull befer lettyun’ go. “I jes wint smack un t’pavement un’ my nek twistid sharply. But I didn’t die,” Chun writes. 

T’ perfectyunist immediately callt f'r a sekunt take ta imperov t’shot. Dazet frum impact, Chun managet ta gif’ his'n’n lines un’ cumplete t’ssene.


5. ‘Crazy Rich’ Yeoh gits a stuntmun’s shoutout.

Chun gives maj'r props ta “Crazy Rich Asiun” star Michelle Yeoh, his'n’n co-star n’ 1992’s “Sup’r Cop.” Yeoh excellet n’ t’acshun, eve insistyun’ un a’doin hern own motersickle stunt hurtlyun’ toward a movyun’ trane. 

“Nairy minny a people a’ke match me n’ my willingness ta go f'r it,” Chun writes. “Michelle Yeoh is one of ‘um.”




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