book reviews · books

Book Review: Consumed by Aaron Mahnke

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Like many other readers, I came to Aaron Mahnke’s fiction after listening to his podcast, “Lore,” which I love. I must say, I am glad I followed that trail.  Aaron Mahnke’s novel does not provide the fear and terror that a reader of Stephen King might expect; it’s a different kind of scare. Cozy, like sitting in your favorite armchair with a cup of tea and a great book, comfy and relaxed, and BAM! something smashes into the window, scaring the bejesus out of you! Reading this, you’ll end up with tea all over your lap, and your book tossed to the floor in fright. Be careful.

While ‘Consumed’ was not quite what I expected (honestly, from the title, I’d suspected a vampire novel), it was a worthwhile read, and had me on the edge of my seat. I honestly cannot remember the last time I reacted this way to a horror story. I will definitely be reading more of his fiction. But maybe not while drinking a hot cup of tea…

book reviews · Internet

Book Review: Gangsterland by Tod Goldberg

Sal Cupertine is a legendary hit man for the Chicago Mafia, known for his ability to get in and out of a crime without a trace. Until now, that is. His first-ever mistake -Sal kills three “Donnie Brascos”-undercover FBI agents, and a CI. He fears for his own life after this, and calls his cousin Ronnie for help, ending up in a situation he’d never imagined.  After a few nights in the back of a refidgerated meat truck, Sal ends up in Las Vegas, where, a few surgeries and some intensive training later, and Sal Cupertine becomes Rabbi David Cohen. Leading a growing congregation in Las Vegas, overseeing the population and the temple and the new cemetery, Rabbi Cohen, surprises even himself as he spouts quotes from the Torah,  Old Testament, or Oldies Radio.  Yet, as it turns out, the Mafia isn’t quite done with him yet. Soon the new cemetery is being used as both a money and body-laundering scheme for the Chicago family. And that rogue FBI agent on his trail, seeking vengeance for the murder of his three fellow agents, isn’t going to let Sal fade so easily.
Gangsterland is a wickedly dark and funny novel. I’m not normally one for gangster stories (I’ve never seen the Godfather, or Scarface, or any of those iconic films, although I have watched a couple of seasons of The Sopranos, and I’m a fool for Law & Order), but I made an exception here. I am a big fan of the podcast Literary Disco, which Tod Goldberg is part of, and I’d read some of his short stories, and quite enjoyed them. So I had to read this, and I am glad I did. One night, that’s all it took, and I laughed myself silly half the time! This is a great book, and I am saying now: read it!! The twisted idea of turning a hit man into a Rabbi is so brilliant, and works so well. Goldberg has a knack for language, and his characters are fully fleshed out, even the minor ones. I can’t wait to read his other novels.

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book reviews

Book Review: The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

“Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

A compulsively readable, emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller that draws comparisons to Gone Girl, The Silent Wife, or Before I Go to Sleep, this is an electrifying debut embraced by readers across markets and categories.” 

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That’s the summation from Goodreads, and of course, after reading that, I had to read this book. Hitchcockian is right–Paula Hawkins debut novel is worth the time. It was not at all what I’d expected, and that alone kept me reading. At the halfway mark I found myself saying “This book has me all screwed up! And I cannot put it down!” I had to find out why, and who. Now, be warned: there are a couple of spoilers in this review, although I do not give the end away (I’m not that kind of person!).

Told primarily by Rachel, who isn’t always a reliable narrator, we see how these people’s lives are intertwined. Rachel may be crazy, you think. The others who tell their sides (Anna and Megan) may be as well. A bit of the literary criticism that was pounded into my head in college popped up as I read this, so I will share it with you, even though I normally just read a story for the story. Rachel rides the train every day, back & forth to a job she no longer has, looking out the window at the house she lived in with her ex-husband, who now lives there with his new wife & baby. She’s got a drinking problem, and has become a bit obsessed with the couple who live in the house a few doors down from her old house–the couple she calls Jess & Jason. Rachel is, in the beginning of the book, on a journey to nowhere. As her story unfolds, and she gets involved in things outside the train windows, we see that she is finally moving forward. The train is a symbol of her journey.

This novel has been compared to Gone Girl, and a couple of other things I’ve not read, but the comparison to Hitchcock is spot on. Read it. You’ll like it.

Oh, and another thing–I had not figured out who or why by the time it was revealed, and that, as you may know is always a plus in any mystery for me!

book reviews · television

Book Review: Die Again by Tess Gerritsen

daI was a bit confused at the beginning of ‘Die Again,’  finding myself on safari in Botswana, when I was expecting to be in Boston with a detective & medical examiner. Of course, it was all pulled together in later chapters, and quite well. In Boston, Detective Jane Rizzoli is on the case of a taxidermist found dead in his garage, hung from the ceiling and gutted, along with a the body of a snow leopard. Medical examiner Maura Isles connects the case to a several semmingly unrelated deaths where the victims have all been found hanging upside down. Together, the ladies follow the odd clues back to Botswana, where Jane uncovers the unsolved mystery of a deadly camping safari four years prior. When she realizes the two cases are connected, Rizzoli must track down the single survivor of the  trip to uncover who is truly behind these horrible deaths.

If you’ve watched the TNT television show based on this series, you’re familiar with one version of  these characters. I’m a big fan of the show, and have watched from the beginning; unlike some readers, I don’t have an issue with the changes made by the show; some people have complained that the characters are too different from they were written by Gerritsen. Well, that is true to some extent. In the books, Jane Rizzoli is described as a small woman, with a mass of dark curly hair, carrying an enormous chip on her shoulder; Maura Isles (who doesn’t even appear until the second book) is described a cool, aloof, and goth-like, with black hair, pale skin and a “slash of red lipstick.” The press and police refer to her as the Queen of the Dead. Jane is a bit unlikable in the novels, I find; her television counterpart is rather loveable. Other than the dark hair, Angie Harmon doesn’t look much like the novel version of her character, but it’s a perfect casting, I think. And although Sasha Alexander isn’t goth in the least, she seems to be the perfect Dr. Isles, at least for me.  They are two lovely women, great actors, and the show is awesome; the books are wonderful, as well. I’ll be enjoying both. The new season  begins February 18th, and Die Again, the 11th book in the series, is in stores, and online now. Enjoy!

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book reviews

Book Review: The Good Girl

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

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This novel, the story of an adult daughter, kidnapped and eventually returned, is told in a “before and after” way, with each chapter told from a different character’s point of view. For example, a chapter may be titled ‘EVE, Before’, and the narrator will be Eve, the girl’s mother; she will be talking about how things were before the kidnapping or before her daughter returned. The voices heard are Eve, Gabe (the police detective assigned to the case), Colin (the kidnapper) and in only two chapters, Mia (the “good girl”).

The novel has some elements that seem to have stepped out of a soap opera: Colin has been hired to kidnap Mia and bring her to some other men. He picks her up in a bar, after her boyfriend doesn’t show up (it’s later revealed that Colin has paid him to stay late at work), and takes her home, but he can’t bring himself to turn her over to the men who hired him. Instead, he and Mia disappear into the woods, and spend three months loving in an abandonded cabin. Of course, like any good soap story, they end up in love. But they aren’t the only ones. Meanwhile, back home, Mia’s mother, Eve, is falling for detective Gabe, and he for her, in spite of the fact that she’s got a powerful judge as a husband. The judge is a classic jerk, though, uncaring about his daughter or wife, and only worried about himself. We aren’t surprised that the entire thing turns out to be his fault.

While I enjoyed the back & forth of characters, and found this a fairly good novel, I found it a bit lacking in true emotion. Still, I was happy with it, and especially glad that I had no idea about the ending.

book reviews · celebrity

Book Review: My Mother Was Nuts

My Mother Was Nuts by Penny Marshall

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Penny Marshall is a better comedian, actress and director than writer. I imagine that many of these stories were funny, and a heck of a lot more interesting when they happened, but, even hearing most of them told in her uniquely gravelly voice (I listened to the audio book), did not bring them to life. This is too bad, since she’s lived quite a life.

Most folks my age remember Penny Marshall primarily as Laverne DeFazio on the sitcom “Laverne & Shirley,” but these days, she’s better known as a director and producer. although she’s made some of the best known and well-loved (as well as biggest grossing!) films of our time, she’s never been nominated for major awards for her work, even though her films have won. Let me clarify: Marshall was nominated as an actress for the Golden Globe 3 times for Laverne & Shirley, and has won awards from several other places for her films & her work in general, including receiving a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.  But while several of her films (Big, Awakenings, Cinderella Man, A League of Their Own) were nominated and in several cases won Golden Globes or Oscars for actors, music, or various other things, Penny herself has been neglected. This isn’t something that seems to bother her; as long as she’s working, having fun, and getting to season tickets to sporting events, she’s happy.

“I’m not someone who has had to deal with much personal drama outside of the usual: growing up with parents who hated each other, two marriages and divorces of my own. There was the cancer thing, too.” This is how she opens her book. Having seen her work in Hollywood, I know she can tell a story, and there are places in her memoir where that shines through. Unfortunately, her natural low-key style keeps things from ever really taking off. I’m betting if someone presented this to her as a screenplay, she’d turn it down. As a matter of fact, while discussing making the film ‘Riding In Cars With Boys,’ she mentions that the action in the screenplay seems to jump from one time period to another, without any sort of transition, “”there were no in-betweens,” and that it drove her crazy. I felt the same way about most of this book. I craved details, not just name-dropping. Don’t just give me a list of all the famous people who were at the birthday parties she & Carrie Fisher co-hosted every year; tell me what they did! She mentions once that David Bowie & Iman crashed one of these parties, and that’s it. She mentions it. Tell us about it! Great stories are in the details, and unfortunately, Penny Marshall leaves out too many of the details. She’s had an amazing, interesting life, but if you want to know about it, this isn’t the book to read.