Critic’s Picks: May

Jason Kehe reviews his four must-reads of the month—his favorite L.A. release, one pick from the wide-open West, another from our friends back East, and a recommendation for more adventurous readers


100 Ideas that Changed Film
David Parkinson
(Laurence King, 216 pages, $30)
Next in the 100 Ideas that Changed… series—after such topics as fashion, architecture, art, and photography—is film. Each two-page spread is devoted to a different idea that influenced film’s development. For every technical entry, like “Tracking Shots” or “Continuity Editing,” we’re treated to something sexy—“Censorship” or “Pornography.” As with its predecessors, this paperback tome shouldn’t be read page by page. The fun comes from flipping it open at random, digesting a single morsel of knowledge, and calling it a day. With that routine, you’ll be a film expert within weeks. 



The Book of Madness and Cures
Regina O’Melveny
(Little, Brown, 336 pages, $26)
As your friends depart for exotic foreign locales this summer, console yourself with a trip of your own—through Renaissance-era Europe. Your guide is Gabriella Mondini, a gifted young doctor who’s consistently underestimated because of her gender. When her father disappears, the Guild of Physicians sees no reason to keep her membership active—so they forbid Gabriella from continuing to practice. All she can do is set out to find her missing dad, aided by the mysterious breadcrumbs he’s left behind. It’s not the richest of plots, but in this debut novel, L.A. poet Regina O’Melveny makes a case for the lyricism of adventure.



The Gumshoe and the Shrink: Guenther Reinhardt, Dr. Arnold Hutschnecker, and the Secret History of the 1960 Kennedy/Nixon Election
David L. Robb
(Santa Monica Press, 336 pages, $25)
Just when you thought there was nothing new to say on the Kennedy/Nixon election, along comes David L. Robb’s sexy tale of medical intrigue in the years leading up to 1960. That’s when it was discovered—by the book’s most fascinating and troubling character, the manic-depressive detective Guenther Reinhardt—that Nixon was seeing a psychotherapist. Back then, such a revelation would have been devastating to a campaign. Robb’s hopscotch chronology—we’re never in the same year for more than a few pages—is difficult to follow, but the history of Nixon’s long-kept secret, its implications and its repercussions, sustains this narrative.  



Matchbox Girls
Chrysoula Tzavelas
(Candlemark & Gleam, 324 pages, $20)
When Lissa and Kari’s uncle disappears in the middle of the night, the person they call is Marley Claviger. All Marley can think is: Why me? She’s got a point. Marley is a grad school dropout who can barely pay her rent. But as with Lissa and Kari, twins who seem a lot older than their four years, Marley’s special. This being an urban fantasy—set in Los Angeles during wildfire season—special means magical. Before long, everyone’s a player in a cosmic war. Tzavelas’s world-building unfolds in clunky spits and spurts; she’s much better in the intimate moments between characters just beginning to understand who, and what, they are.