TheRevanentWhat’s new in this month’s Awards Circuit Book Nook: A tale of revenge, ice cream blondes and jazz age heiresses, and a killer shark!

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The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge by Michael Punke

The Revenant has to be one of the year’s most anticipated films. Directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, the source material must have done something special to command such talent, right? Michael Punke’s novel is a tale of man against nature with a complete presentation of early American frontiersmen, shares many similarities with Ron Rash’s Serena (although it’s safe to say Inarritu does better than the latter adaptation). The story of Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) and his need for revenge compels the reader on its own, but Punke builds on the initial vigilantism by having Glass overcome bears, wolves, Native Americans, etc. leaving a string of bodies and a river of blood in his wake. In fact, Glass’s story works so well that the addition of other characters ends up stoppering the narrative, especially with some attempts at humor that never quite work. Regardless, envisioning DiCaprio, mauled beyond recognition, in his quest to kill the man who left him for dead (played by Hardy!) should be a gritty, aching tale of justice deferred.

ALSO ON SHELVES

Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham by Emily BinghamIrrepressible

Emily Bingham’s exploration of her aunt’s life is cinematic in itself and perfectly aligns with the current landscape involving female-based films, falling closely in line with Carol. The story of a 1920s flapper who never fit in, partially because of her open lesbianism, deserves to be told in and of itself. Emily Bingham’s book, Irrepressible, gives a decent overview of why Henrietta Bingham lived up to the definition of the word. A woman ahead of her time, she traveled the world and dated some very high profile men and women (including Orson Welles’s colleague John Houseman) before being smothered by the mores of a changing society. The abundance of characters does leave Henrietta an enigma overall, but that seems to be Bingham’s intention; that no matter how packed a trunk of documents may be, it only tells part of the story. Bingham’s life is a colorful whirlwind and in looking at pictures I kept seeing Elizabeth Moss playing Bingham. The book could easily lend itself to being condensed, there feels like a lot of players, but deserves cinematic retelling.

MegMeg by Steve Alten

Steve Alten’s Meg is in the pantheon of “giant shark” thrillers a la Peter Benchley’s Jaws. Although, where Jaws was a standard Great White, Alten’s Meg stands the extinct supershark, the Megalodon. Lacking the subtlety of Benchley’s novel, Meg is a great thriller one can immerse themselves in for a day or so, where the action remains constant and the characters are clearly delineated into black and white. As someone who’s read Alten’s work, both the continuations of the Meg series and his outside works, Alten has a fun, frisky voice that keeps the beats coming even when you want to throttle main character Jonas Taylor. Adapting this will certainly be interesting, as it’s too campy for a serious director and too interesting for a hack. Suffice it to say, the line separating this from Sharknado is thin in the wrong hands so director Eli Roth’s tackling of this doesn’t inspire confidence. However, maybe there’ll be some decent special effects, or maybe they’ll downplay the actual appearance of Meg and try to up the terror in more minuscule ways, without requiring an immense effects budget. Either way, I’m interested to see how it all turns out.

The Ice Cream Blonde: The Whirlwind Life and Mysterious Death of Screwball Comedienne ThelmaIceCreamBlonde Todd by Michelle Morgan

Part true crime procedural with all the intrigue of something Vincent Bugliosi would write and biography,  separates fact from fiction, dissecting a whirlwind life and career brought down by circumstances unresolved to this day. Morgan opens up Todd’s life, showing more than just the starlet transformed (or squashed) by fame. Unlike Marilyn Monroe, Todd understood fame’s fleeting nature, opening up a restaurant called The Sidewalk Cafe as an alternative revenue stream when the bright lights of Hollywood receded. As an actress Todd was a deft comedienne, paired up with both Zasu Pitts and Patsy Kelly for a series of successful Hal Roach shorts. But Todd wanted to be taken seriously as an actress, and though she got the chance a time or two she never was truly tested before her untimely death. Her few shorts and films show her as a capable actress but what Morgan is more interested in is showing Todd’s personality, and it’s evident she was a kind, giving person always willing to help someone. Of course, most will read this for its discussion of Todd’s death. You can’t start your book with Alice Todd, Thelma’s mother, declaring “my daughter was murdered” and not explore the subject. The final chapters are devoted to the coroner’s inquest, a rather slapdash affair in my opinion, and subsequent ruling of Todd’s death as a suicide. However, as Morgan explores in breaking down the various theories, numerous officers and the jury foreman at the inquest believed Todd was murdered. Morgan herself gives her theory on Todd’s death and it’s one I’d agree with. The fact that Todd’s death wasn’t properly examined by the police department, who didn’t investigate some theories at all, at the time is ridiculous and only leaves the case stinking further. This needs the full-scale biopic treatment (possibly directed by Allen Coulter of Hollywoodland fame?) now!