Friday, February 5, 2016

Must See: Me Before You

The countdown is on people. Me Before You is hitting theaters on June 3rd, so I've begun stocking up on Kleenex for this must see film (at least it should be "must see" if it's anywhere near as heartbreakingly beautiful as the novel). I'm getting all verklempt just thinking about it; heck, even the trailer had me tearing up a little. Ugh, I'm strategizing already on what the best time is to see this film. Do I go to a really early screening when less people are likely to be around, or a really late screening when the dark of night will help camouflage my red splotchy face and runny nose. Yes, I'm an ugly crier and this film will make me cry, there might even be a choked sob or two.

Don't let the prospect of tears deter you from seeing the film though, after all some of the best movies had us crying our eyes out; how about The Fault in Our Stars, Titanic ("I'll never let go, Jack"), Beaches, Up, and Steel Magnolias. Everyone needs a good cry sometimes. Why not do it in a room full of people doing the same?



Even the movie poster is downright dreamy. Below the poster is a brief film summary for those of you who haven't been lucky enough to read the book yet (What are you waiting for?).

Louisa "Lou" Clark (Emilia Clarke) lives in a quaint town in the English countryside. With no clear direction in her life, the quirky and creative 26-year-old goes from one job to the next in order to help her tight-knit family make ends meet. Her normally cheery outlook is put to the test, however, when she faces her newest career challenge. Taking a job at the local "castle," she becomes caregiver and companion to Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), a wealthy young banker who became wheelchair bound in an accident two years prior, and whose whole world changed dramatically in the blink of an eye. No longer the adventurous soul he once was, the now cynical Will has all but given up. That is until Lou determines to show him that life is worth living.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Libraries, Love 'em!

As you all know I love to read. I love books period, but equally loved and revered in my heart is my good ol’ public library, which actually isn’t old, it’s pretty new and quite hip (photo above is from my library's upstairs alcove). It has a lovely little fireplace with some comfy chairs placed nearby for some cozy cold-weather reading. Of course these are prime real estate, so they are never, ever, ever available when I stop by for a visit. It also has a little cafĂ© downstairs, which on occasion has had surprisingly good banana bread, but I digress.

Libraries in general are undervalued and underrated, so I thought I’d throw them some much needed and well-deserved love. So, here’s a little reminder as to the wonders they have to offer, and a little virtual poke and a nudge in hopes you’ll go and rediscover your local library.

Beyond the obvious access to books, libraries offer a wealth of information and other resources. Whether you’re looking for reference materials, magazines, DVDs, audio books or even e-books. Yes, you can borrow e-books for free, you don’t need to make Amazon or B&N richer. Don’t forget about the librarian and/or all the other wonderful staff always ready, willing and able to help answer your questions. English author Neil Gaiman said “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.” Ain’t that the truth! (Pardon my grammar).

Libraries also build community through the countless programs and classes they offer; bringing local citizens together that might otherwise have nothing in common. My library for example has a mahjong group (don’t know what mahjong is but I’m glad there’s a group just for them), yoga classes, and computer classes. Just as importantly, they have free concerts on weekends that help make art and music accessible to individuals that might not otherwise be exposed to these moments of beauty that help feed not just the mind, but the soul.

Lastly, libraries are the great equalizer. They serve everyone in the community, regardless of age, income level, ethnicity, or religion. They offer everyone free access to books and computers. Thanks to libraries, knowledge is but a fingertip away from everyone’s hands.

So, love your public library and show it. Start with a visit.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Must-See Films of 2016

I’ve become much more persnickety of late in choosing my must-see movies. Whether due to the too high price of a movie ticket, my middle-aged cynicism and lack of patience with the same old regurgitated stories, or the fact that thanks to On Demand I can wait out the big movie companies like a pro, the number of “must-see” films (by which I mean I have to watch them as soon as they’re released) is miniscule compared to the days of yore when I was at my local movie theater every weekend.

Nowadays, it takes some true originality, great acting, and quality filmmaking to get me into a movie theater seat. A bit of nostalgia sometimes helps too. In 2015, the extent of my in-theater screenings was The Martian and Creed. Both of which I loved for widely different reasons. It’s a proven fact that fewer Americans are going to the movies. Granted, the fact that home-entertainment options are improving all the time is undoubtedly having an impact, with Netflix, video games and mobile apps readily available to everyone with a smartphone, but I do believe the caliber of movies is also partially to blame. In a clip I saw online of a 1979 Merv Griffin interview with Francis Ford Coppola, Coppola explained that movies have to have “quality and integrity because they have such a tremendous influence on the world and on people.” I don’t think that belief is held by most filmmakers today.

So while 2016 will have its fair share of sequels, including Ride Along 2 (January 15), Kung Fu Panda 3 (January 29), Zoolander 2 (February 12), My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (March 25), and The Purge 3 (July 1); there’ll be plenty of action blockbusters like Captain America: Civil War (May 6), X-Men: Apocalypse (May 27), Ghostbusters (July 15), and Suicide Squad (August 5); and even some animated hits like Finding Dory (June 17) or Ice Age: Collision Course (July 22) - the few films which I can’t wait to see had in fact previously captured my heart as books. The four films on my early must-see list for 2016 are as follows:

Me Before You (Release Date: March 4, 2016)
I read Me Before You by Jojo Moyes back in 2014. As I stated then in my book review post, Moyes’ beautiful tale of love offered a “complex story on what it really means to love someone selflessly and unconditionally.” As with the book, the film focuses on a small-town girl, played by Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke, who meets Will, played by Sam Caflin, a rich and successful young man who is struggling to come to terms with his handicap after an accident. While I’m usually the first to say that the movie is never as great as the book, I’m holding out hope that like the film version of The Fault in Our Stars, Me Before You will manage to once again prove me wrong.

A Monster Calls (Release Date: October 14, 2016)
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness is actually a children’s book, which I read and loved, but for which I never wrote a review. Set in England, it focuses on Conor, a 13-year old boy who struggles to cope with the fact that his mother has terminal cancer (though it's never directly mentioned in the book) and he’s being bullied at school. Each night Conor is visited by a monster who tells stories intended to highlight certain truths to the young child.

While the full movie trailer hasn’t been released, I did find this very short teaser. The film will feature Liam Neeson as the monster, as well as the director of The Orphanage and, more importantly, one of the producers of Pan’s Labyrinth, so hopefully it will be as visually stunning as that unforgettable film. The book was emotionally gripping, let’s hope the movie is too. I’m sure I’ll need a hanky or two for this one.

The Light Between Oceans (Release Date: Unknown)
OMG, I absolutely loved this heartbreaking, hauntingly beautiful and bittersweet book. As I said in my book review post, “This book is this close to perfect. I guess the best way for me to describe it is to say it was as breathtakingly beautiful as the most delicate and perfect of roses, yet like a rose, it had quite a few thorns.”

The tale focuses on a lighthouse keeper, Tom Sherbourne, and his wife Isabel living off the coast of Western Australia, who keep a baby girl who washes up in a lifeboat. The movie will feature Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander as Tom and Isabel, and the talented Rachel Weisz as Hannah. If the early buzz from some online articles is to be believed then the film is "one of the most powerful and emotional dramas" due to be released this year. I better start stocking up on Kleenex.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Release Date: December 25, 2016)
I thoroughly enjoyed this fantasy filled adventure tale. I read it and blogged about it back in 2011 and knew even then that it was headed to the big screen. In the story, 16-year old Jacob Portman uses clues from his grandfather to reach a mysterious island with an abandoned orphanage, where he helps and protects a group of peculiar children from horrible creatures who are out to destroy them. The movie will feature a star-filled cast, including Eva Green as Miss Peregrine, Asa Butterfield as Jacob, Ella Purnell, Chris O’Dowd, Allison Janney, Terence Stamp, Kim Dickens, Rupert Everett, Judi Dench and Samuel L. Jackson.

If you’re interested in a comprehensive list of all movies due for release in 2016, check out firstshowing.net's 2016 Schedule.

Catch you at the movies.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Reading Ahead: 2016 Book Preview

A new year is upon us and with it comes the opportunity to find yourself, to think for yourself, to learn something new, and to grow a little bolder, braver and wiser. Believe it or not, you can find the roadmap to accomplishing many of those goals in the pages of a great book, because a great book can change your life.

While every book isn't life-altering, every book does offer it's own special magic to transport us to different worlds and, for a small space in time, to wash away the worries of everyday life. In search for just such a book to kick-start my 2016 into high gear, I perused countless online book previews and Amazon pages and came up with this list of upcoming releases. The list is reflective of my reading tastes which run towards mysteries, thrillers and literary fiction, but hopefully there's something here which captures your interest and imagination.

January

The Children's Home by Charles Lambert (January 5th)
In a sprawling estate, willfully secluded, lives Morgan Fletcher, the disfigured heir to a fortune of mysterious origins. Morgan spends his days in quiet study, avoiding his reflection in mirrors and the lake at the end of his garden. One day, two children, Moira and David, appear. Morgan takes them in, giving them free reign of the mansion he shares with his housekeeper Engel. Then more children begin to show up…read more.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout (January 12th)
Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her. Gentle gossip about people from Lucy’s childhood in Amgash, Illinois, seems to reconnect them, but just below the surface lie the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of Lucy’s life…read more.

February

Missing Pieces by Heather Gudenkauf (February 2nd)
Sarah Quinlan's husband, Jack, has been haunted for decades by the untimely death of his mother when he was just a teenager, her body found in the cellar of their family farm, the circumstances a mystery. The case rocked the small farm town of Penny Gate, Iowa, where Jack was raised, and for years Jack avoided returning home. But when his beloved aunt Julia is in an accident, hospitalized in a coma, Jack and Sarah are forced to confront the past that they have long evaded…read more.

The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton (February 16th)
Thrillingly suspenseful and atmospheric, The Quality of Silence is the story of Yasmin, a beautiful astrophysicist, and her precocious deaf daughter, Ruby, who arrive in a remote part of Alaska to be told that Ruby's father, Matt, has been the victim of a catastrophic accident. Unable to accept his death as truth, Yasmin and Ruby set out into the hostile winter of the Alaskan tundra in search of answers…read more.

She’s Not There by Joy Fielding (February 23rd)
“I think my real name is Samantha. I think I’m your daughter.” Caroline Shipley’s heart nearly stops when she hears those words from the voice on the other end of the phone. Instantly, she’s thrust fifteen years into the past, to a posh resort in Baja, Mexico—and the fateful night her world collapsed…read more.

March

Nowhere Girl by Susan Strecker (March 1st)
In an abandoned house, sixteen-year-old Savannah Martino is strangled to death. The police rule Savannah’s murder a random attack of opportunity, which prompts the small New Jersey town to instigate a curfew and cancel football games. Isolated and afraid, Savannah’s sister, Cady, continues to communicate with Savannah through dreams…read more.

The Passenger by Lisa Litz (March 1st)
In case you were wondering, I didn’t do it. I didn’t have anything to do with Frank’s death. I don’t have an alibi, so you’ll have to take my word for it...

Forty-eight hours after leaving her husband’s body at the base of the stairs, Tanya Dubois cashes in her credit cards, dyes her hair brown, demands a new name from a shadowy voice over the phone, and flees town. It’s not the first time…read more.

Only Ever You by Rebecca Drake (March 22nd)
Three-year-old Sophia Lassiter disappears at the playground only to return after 40 frantic minutes-- but her mother Jill's relief is short lived. Jill is convinced the tiny dots on her daughter's arm are puncture marks. When doctors find no trace of drugs in her system, Jill accepts she won't ever know what happened during her daughter's absence and is simply grateful to have her home safely…read more.

April

The Obsession by Nora Roberts (April 12th)
Naomi Bowes lost her innocence the night she followed her father into the woods. In freeing the girl trapped in the root cellar, Naomi revealed the horrible extent of her father’s crimes and made him infamous. No matter how close she gets to happiness, she can’t outrun the sins of Thomas David Bowes…read more.

OCDaniel by Wesley King (April 12th)
Daniel is the back-up punter for the Erie Hills Elephants. Which really means he’s the water boy. He spends football practice perfectly arranging water cups—and hoping no one notices. Actually, he spends most of his time hoping no one notices his strange habits—he calls them Zaps: avoiding writing the number four, for example, or flipping a light switch on and off dozens of times over…read more.

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel (April 26th)
A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand…read more.

May

Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica (May 17th)
In downtown Chicago, a young woman named Esther Vaughan disappears from her apartment without a trace. A haunting letter addressed to My Dearest is found among her possessions, leaving her friend and roommate Quinn Collins to wonder where Esther is and whether or not she's the person Quinn thought she knew…read more.

June

With Malice by Eileen Cook (June 7th)
Eighteen-year-old Jill Charron wakes up in a hospital room, leg in a cast, stitches in her face and a big blank canvas where the last 6 weeks should be. She comes to discover she was involved in a fatal accident while on a school trip in Italy three days previous but was jetted home by her affluent father in order to receive quality care. Care that includes a lawyer. And a press team. Because maybe the accident...wasn't an accident…read more.

The Girls by Emma Cline (June 14th)
Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader…read more.

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda (June 28th)
It’s been ten years since Nicolette Farrell left her rural hometown after her best friend, Corinne, disappeared from Cooley Ridge without a trace. Back again to tie up loose ends and care for her ailing father, Nic is soon plunged into a shocking drama that reawakens Corinne’s case and breaks open old wounds long since stitched…read more.

July


You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott (July 26th)
Katie and Eric Knox have dedicated their lives to their fifteen-year-old daughter Devon, a gymnastics prodigy and Olympic hopeful. But when a violent death rocks their close-knit gymnastics community just weeks before an all-important competition, everything the Knoxes have worked so hard for feels suddenly at risk…read more.

Don't forget...
“You can find magic wherever you look. Sit back and relax all you need is a book.”
Happy reading!

New Year, Fresh Start

Look what the New Year dragged in. It’s me! I hope 2015 was a good year for all of you and that you were blessed with a joyous holiday season shared with family, friends and loved ones to cap it all off.

In speaking of a new year someone once said, “Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one.” Following that analogy, I’m hopeful that even if my simple life doesn’t read like the next great American novel by year’s end, that I can at least squeeze out a really good novella from 2016.

As always, life is good, albeit simple. No great love affairs or new worlds conquered, but the great thing about each tomorrow is the hope it brings for bigger and better things. Just think, this same time next month I might be scaling Mount Everest with my new, recently divorced husband, George Clooney. Ok, probably not, I’m hopeful, not delusional.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to 2016, and hoping that it will be filled with good health, happiness, laughter, peace and love for you and me. God bless.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Must See: The Theory of Everything

One of the best things about Fall, along with the cool, crisp days and riotous mix of beautiful colors that dot our landscapes before leaves start gently fluttering from the sky like snow flakes (to later become a slimy slurry causing life-threatening driving conditions), is the sudden onslaught of quality, inspiring and Oscar-caliber movies which flood our local movie theater screens. The movie reels (they're probably not reels anymore, more like CDs, but go with me here) have sat in stifling warehouses all summer, while we sat through mind-numbing action movies and comedies, when suddenly they make their presence known in as dramatic and spectacular a fashion as the natural splendor we're lucky enough to enjoy every autumn.

I caught a trailer for such a movie during my recent screening of Gone Girl. Scheduled for release on November 7th, The Theory of Everything is based on the life of famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking. As you'll see from the trailer, the film appears to be more a human story, a story of love (I'm a sucker for those) than a story of science or theories. I found just this brief glimpse of Eddie Redmayne's ("Les Misérables") performance in the lead role heart-wrenchingly moving, so I'd hedge my bets right now that he's a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination. I can't wait to catch this extraordinary story and Oscar-worthy performance.

Helloooo!

I thought what better day to make a return appearance on this humble blog than Halloween, since it’s been a ghost-town around here (ba-dum-bump). I’ve been suffering from a case of the doldrums and hence my blogging and reading duties have suffered. Blogging never comes easy for me, so that’s always the first hobby to perish on the altar of procrastination. As for reading, as many of you know I had set a new year’s goal of reading 52 books this year (6 up from last year’s 46) and for a while I was at peak stride, namely during the summer when I had no TV distractions, but sadly I plateaued at 42. Alas, you can do the math, I’d have to read a mind-bending 10 books between now and the end of the year to reach the promise land. Not exactly an impossible feat but I’ll admit very unlikely, especially when you throw the upcoming holiday season into the equation.

Other than a case of the lazies and my usual TV addiction which drains part of my free time, my blogging absence featured a trip to the movies (saw Gone Girl; enjoyable and true to the book) and two trips to NYC to catch Broadway shows (Lion King and Mamma Mia). What can I say about those two, other than that they were fabulous! I’d heard so much about the Lion King beforehand that I was afraid to be let down by my own unattainably high expectations, but it lived up to everything everyone said and more. The staging, the costumes, the music; everything was up to the usual Disney standards, meaning it was perfect. Despite all that, if you had limited cash and I had to recommend one of the two shows for you to see, I’d say go see Mamma Mia. It didn’t have the amazing sets or incredible costumes, but it was nonetheless pure unadulterated fun. By the time the curtain dropped and the stars came out for their encore, the audience was singing along and dancing in the aisles.

I’m thrilled to report that my television viewing schedule has been significantly distilled and condensed down to only two appointment-television shows, The Voice and The Blacklist; all others are haphazardly viewed depending on a formula made up of equal parts boredom and curiosity. The Voice is gearing up for what seems a great season. As usual, I’m on Team Blake all the way, with two early favorites in Reagan James and Jessie Pitts (click on their names to watch my favorite performances from each). The Blacklist has me in a bit of a quandary; I want to love it as much as last season, but it’s just not delivering the kind of gripping and memorable storylines or characters that it did during its freshman run and seems fated for the ever-reliable sophomore slump. I’ll share more on Red and Keen in another post.

Well, I hope to make my way back soon with more frequent postings. I owe you guys a book review post on Looking for Alaska by John Green, read during my mini-hiatus, and also on the book I’m currently reading Dear Daughter, which so far is great. I hope everyone has a Happy (and safe) Halloween with some spooktacular fun!

PS. Don’t forget to turn back your clocks. I’m looking forward to my extra hour of beauty sleep this weekend (need all the help I can get)!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

All We Had

In All We Had artist and sculptor Annie Weatherwax has delivered a stunning debut novel in which she’s beautifully demonstrated her incredible talent and gifts by painting with words a portrait on the page of a simple life filled with love and struggle that was poignant, funny and equal parts heartwarming and heartbreaking. Weatherwax delivered each stroke using the original, brutally honest and memorable voice of our 13-year old narrator, Ruthie Carmichael. Ruthie has at times been both parent and child in her relationship with mom Rita, who gave birth to Ruthie at 16 and was now only 29. Ruthie and Rita have always known struggles, frequently sitting on the precipice of homelessness, yet thankfully “with her movie star looks and Oscar-worthy acting, voila!” out of nowhere Rita would miraculously produce an instant boyfriend and a new place for them to live.

It was June 2005 and Rita had just lost her Walgreens job when she produced Phil, a 1-800 wall-to-wall carpet installer whose apartment smelled like carpet glue. Ruthie adored her mom regardless of her track record with men (most of who were jerks; Phil, quite possibly brain damaged). Rita was fierce and smart and according to Ruthie “she could spot an asshole from a thousand miles away and her favorite word by far was fuck.” Truth was that when life was just Ruthie and Rita, it felt like magic. After getting tired of Phil and his crappy TV with coat hanger antenna, Ruthie and Rita decide to skip town in a beat up 1993 Ford Escort with Phil’s DVD player and old laptop in tow to pawn for some much needed getaway cash.

It takes little thought for Rita to come up with their destination, Boston, since despite having been in and out of shelters, boyfriends houses and places of their own which never lasted, Rita always made sure Ruthie never missed school and as such, she just knew one day Harvard would come knocking with scholarship in hand. Of course, as the saying goes, the best laid plans often go awry, so after sponge baths in gas station bathrooms, sleeping in the car, and spending nearly all their cash, their Escort actually lands them in Fat River instead of Boston at Tiny’s Grub ‘n’ Go!, where they intended to only fuel up and steal a couple diet cokes and powdered Donettes for the road, but after their Escort craps out and the two are left stranded, a tearful confession to Mel, Tiny’s owner, lands them a gig as waitress and dishwasher and before long maybe enough money to pay the bills.

For Ruthie, Fat River becomes the first place she can truly call home and her co-workers, Peter Pam, the transgender waitress with broad shoulders, blonde wig with perfect flip curl and handlebar mustache; and Arlene, the head waitress with hot flashes so bad she has to run into the walk-in freezer to cool off, her beloved extended family. Soon Ruthie and Rita move out of the back room of the gas station into a place of their own, that soon enough sweet-talking mortgage broker Vick entices Rita to buy and which thanks to our now infamous subprime mortgage crisis places them once again on the brink of disaster and fighting for survival, though this time the price of survival might change their lives forever.

I loved All We Had! I know, I know, it seems like I love everything I read, but what can I say, I’m just darn good with my reading choices. Anyway, this novel was infused with so much honesty, warmth and love, that you truly can’t help but fall in love with it and all of the characters that comprise this small perfect world of Fat River and Tiny’s Grub ‘n’ Go which Weatherwax has created. It truly is a story of love, if not a love story; depicting the kind of deep, abiding, palpable love that can exist not only between two lovers, but also between a mother and child.

Ruthie was so beautifully written and as our narrator so powerful in the depths of her honesty. In its every line, the reader can feel the depths of Ruthie’s love for Rita; the kind of love that sees you through your darkest hours, because while love might not always conquer all (despite popular belief), it makes the “all” that much more bearable because you’re sharing it with that one person that truly matters. As for Rita…poor, poor Rita, my heart broke for her heartbreak, and I felt the weariness she carried at just 29 from a lifetime of disappointments and tribulations (from foster care to pregnant at 16, to being a single parent fighting the good fight with everything at her disposal, even if it was just her beauty and sexuality). Say what you will about Rita’s morals or decisions, she was a good mother, who tried her very best.

Do yourself a huge favor and read this wonderful novel from this amazing new author. All We Had is a gritty, witty, and haunting story that will touch your heart (and stay there) as you read every line and every page long into the night in this unforgettable page-turner.

Friday, September 5, 2014

One Kick

Oh my gosh, this was such a great book! One Kick is 306 pages of pure adrenaline; a true pedal to the metal non-stop action thrill ride. Cain’s latest is a page turning thriller which, no lie, reads like the screenplay for a new Hollywood blockbuster, featuring edge of your seat excitement and a roller coaster ride for your emotions, fraying your nerves and playing havoc with your heart. One Kick is the first installment in the new “Kick Lannigan” trilogy from best-selling author Chelsea Cain and if this is how we start, well then I’m just giddy with anticipation for books 2 and 3.

Kathleen Lannigan (aka Beth, aka Kick) was only six years old when she was kidnapped by Mel and Linda and used as the star in the “Beth movies,” touted as the most successful series of child pornography films on the net. Five years later (where the book starts), Beth only has memories of her beloved dog Monster to serve as the key to her true identity when the FBI rescues her, making her a news sensation and cash cow for her media hungry mother. Now 21 and going by the name Kick, she lives on her own terms and refuses to be a victim ever again, training herself to pick locks, shoot guns, do martial arts, and so much more.

Haunted by her past and obsessing over two recent cases of local missing children, Kick has a disturbing visit from John Bishop, a mysterious former weapons dealer intent on recruiting her to help in trying to bring the children safely home. Suspicious of his motivations and coping with some initial friction between the two (they mix like oil and water), Kick nonetheless agrees to help, driven by her own dark memories and sense of guilt. Relying on Bishop’s unprecedented access to information not even available to law enforcement and seemingly unlimited personal wealth, Kick starts to dig for the truth, soon uncovering one or two skeletons in Bishop’s own closet, and as they come ever closer to the truth and rescuing the missing children, Kick will find that all roads lead back to her own troubled past and mind.

One Kick was easily one of the best action thrillers I’ve read in a very long time. It is a book you will not want to put down once you start. While it’s a thriller in the truest sense of the word with barely a chance to catch your breath throughout each riveting page, it also offers a great story and most importantly an unforgettable protagonist. One Kick is filled with twists, turns and some startling revelations which perfectly lay the groundwork for what will undoubtedly make this both a best-selling series and Hollywood movie.

It goes without saying that the key to a successful series based on one central character is of course to have a fully developed, real and believable character with whom readers can both relate and sympathize; in this regard, Cain has a sure-fire hit in Kick Lannigan. Kick is genuine, real and basically a kick-ass heroine. While scarred by the horrors of her childhood, she is not broken and refuses to be defined by her experiences. I wish I could have one-tenth of her resilient courage, grit and determination, and though some readers might questions some of her character’s decisions, personally I thought they felt true to Kick and the experiences that shaped her. Bishop was as expected a heady mix of sexy, dangerous, and mysterious but I also found him uncomfortably unethical and sketchy at times, which is why I’m going to reserve final judgment on him for later in the series.

I will offer kudos to Ms. Cain on her tactful handling of such a dark and sensitive subject as pedophilia, pornography and child trafficking. There were passages that were difficult to read just because of the subject matter, but honestly Cain never offered lurid or sordid details for sensational purposes so the story never felt exploitative. Even with Kick, though parts of the narrative offer flashbacks to her (Beth’s) time with Mel, the reader is thankfully never made privy to the exact nature of the abuse.

One Kick is a definite must read if you’re looking for a book that offers a helluva of a plot, plenty action and at times heart-wrenching emotion. It is a tale of revenge and redemption with a few Glocks, throwing stars, and nunchucks thrown in for good measure.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Necessary Lies

Necessary Lies by best-selling author Diane Chamberlain is a historical fiction novel fraught with the charged emotions of the 1960s; a story of hope, courage and redemption that exposes some frightening truths about our collective American history. Set in 1960 North Carolina, Necessary Lies focuses on Jane Forrester and Ivy Hart; two young women worlds apart whose lives are on a collision course with destiny.

Fifteen year old Ivy lives, along with her sister Mary Ella, nephew William, and grandmother Nonnie, as tenants in a small dilapidated home on the small tobacco farm where they toil for barely any income from sunup to sundown. Poverty and need help introduce them to young Jane, the new social worker in charge of their welfare case. Even with welfare the small family barely has enough to eat, relying on the kindness and generosity of the Gardiner family (the farm owners) for scraps and leftovers to make ends meet. Ivy is overwhelmed not only by their financial struggles but also the responsibility of caring for her ailing grandmother, mentally unstable sister, developmentally delayed nephew and her own epilepsy. Ivy’s sole escape comes from those treasured moments when she sneaks away from home at night and meets up with Henry Allen, the Gardiner’s son, and the two can share in their love’s joy and dream of the day when they can run away together to California, get married and raise a family.

By comparison, twenty-two year old Jane is a small town girl who made good by marrying a successful young doctor. Despite society’s expectations for her to just stay home and take care of her home and husband, Jane is an idealist yearning to make a difference in the world. Determined to succeed in her new social worker role, Jane is quickly warned to keep her ideals in her mind and heart, and to learn to put sentimentality and feelings aside, yet she can’t help but to connect on a human level with her client’s fears and sorrows –both with Lita Jordan and her kids, a black family on the same Gardiner farm and the Hart women. Drawn in by both families, but especially by Ivy’s wistful hopes, Jane uncovers some shocking facts not only about their plight, but also about the power she holds in her hands to change their lives forever. As tragic events unfold and secrets are revealed, Jane will struggle between right and wrong and make a decision that will change all their lives forever.

Despite having only read one other book by Diane Chamberlain, I’d stake my money on the statement that this novel has got to be one of her best. A moving story with vividly drawn characters, Necessary Lies was a compelling, poignant and unforgettable book that opened my eyes to an injustice which lives in our past, namely the government’s use of the Eugenics Sterilization Program during the time of our tale.

Wiki defines eugenics as “the belief and practice of improving the genetic quality of the human population.” From 1929 to 1975 North Carolina sterilized over 7,000 of its citizens. The eugenics program targeted the “mentally defective” or “feebleminded” in mental institutions and was considered “for the public good;” but in the 1950s the program shifted to focus on women on welfare. The program permitted social workers to petition a Board on behalf of their clients to have them sterilized – men and women; boys and girls alike. While many social workers used the program to petition in consideration of a client’s best interest, there were still too many egregious and tragic abuses that permitted countless unnecessary and unwanted sterilizations making this program a dark stain on our nation's conscience.

As the story's narrators, both Ivy and Jane were wonderfully written to offer the reader an evocative insight into the hardships that each woman faced; Ivy’s struggles with poverty and lack of education, and for Jane, the courage it took to face the strictures of society at that time. I was irate and heartbroken at the countless injustices depicted in the tale, while thoroughly enmeshed in our two protagonists story and their struggles as I rooted for each – for Jane to do what was right, not necessarily expected or expedient and for Ivy to reach her dreams.

Necessary Lies is an emotionally-gripping and riveting story that informs and enlightens. A fictional moral tale that haunts with the real truths shared.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Hounded

David Rosenfelt’s Hounded is the latest installment in the Andy Carpenter series. Despite the fact that this is the twelfth book in this seemingly popular series, this was actually my first book by this writer. While someone more familiar with the impressive list of characters (and there are many) would probably enjoy the book a little more given their familiarity with character histories and quirks, I nonetheless found the book offered a compelling, entertaining and enjoyable read that could easily stand on its own merit without having read the entire series.

In Hounded, Andy Carpenter is a multi-millionaire defense attorney, who along with his girlfriend, Laurie Collins, an ex-cop and investigator is tasked with coming to his good friend’s, policeman Pete Stanton, rescue. While attending a crossword championship with his secretary Edna, Andy and Laurie get a mysterious phone call from Pete asking that they go to a nearby address, which turns out to be the site of a murder. Pete calls in a favor and asks if they would take care of the murder victim’s, Danny Diaz, orphaned eight year old son and basset hound in order to avoid them getting thrown in to the system. Soon Pete needs a much bigger favor from Andy when he’s accused of Danny’s murder. Turning to his unorthodox group of friends and allies, including his accountant and computer hacker Sam Willis, his former client Willie Miller and his mobster friends, and scary bodyguard Marcus, Andy starts to dig for the truth and finds that truth is stranger than fiction in this engaging and fun mystery.

I really enjoyed Hounded. It was a funny, fast-paced and relatively suspenseful mystery and legal thriller. Andy’s character offers the perfect mixture of sarcasm, wit and genuineness that makes you easily relate and fall in love with him. What seemed early on like a straightforward whodunnit actually proved to be an intriguing and original conspiracy that kept me guessing throughout (though I did figure it out three-quarters of the way through). A great measure of how much I enjoyed the book is the fact that upon finishing it, I went to the library and took out the first book in the series Open and Shut, which proved equally gripping with just as much humor and heart.

Author David Rosenfelt proves an interesting character in his own right. Having read two of his books, I went to his website and noted that actually all his books feature a dog in some aspect or another of the tale and as with his main character, dog lover Andy Carpenter, Rosenfelt himself created the Tara Foundation (the name of Andy’s beloved golden retriever), which has rescued almost 4,000 dogs many of them Goldens.

Hounded was a charming, witty and stimulating story featuring a wisecracking and lovable protagonist that will win over old and new (like me) fans alike.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Television's Biggest Night

The countdown is on folks. Yes indeed, today are the Primetime Emmy Awards when we’ll be basking in the luminescent splendor of Hollywood’s A-list celebrities (or as Amy Poehler would have you believe, “the rat-faced people of television”) as they walk down the red carpet to receive their well-earned pats on the back for a riveting season of television. As most of you may know (or maybe not), Emmy nominations were announced a few weeks ago to really no fanfare because it was way too early in the morning, nonetheless, for those of you remotely interested, I’ve provided below a partial list of nominees.

Best Drama Series: “Breaking Bad”; “Downton Abbey”; “Game of Thrones”; “House of Cards”; “Mad Men”; “True Detective”

Best Comedy Series: “The Big Bang Theory”; “Louie”; “Modern Family”; “Orange is the New Black”; “Silicon Valley”; “Veep”

Lead Actor in a Drama Series: Bryan Cranston, “Breaking Bad”; Jeff Daniels, “The Newsroom”; Jon Hamm, “Mad Men”; Woody Harrelson, “True Detective”; Matthew McConaughey, “True Detective”; Kevin Spacey, “House of Cards”

Lead Actress in a Drama Series: Lizzy Caplan, “Masters of Sex”; Claire Danes, “Homeland”; Michelle Dockery, “Downton Abbey”; Julianna Margulies, “The Good Wife”; Kerry Washington, “Scandal”; Robin Wright, “House of Cards”

Lead Actor, Comedy: Jim Parsons, “The Big Bang Theory”; Ricky Gervais, “Derek”; Matt LeBlanc, “Episodes”; Don Cheadle, “House of Lies”; Louis C.K., “Louie”; William H. Macy, “Shameless”

Lead Actress, Comedy: Lena Dunham, “Girls”; Edie Falco, “Nurse Jackie”; Julia Louis Dreyfus, “Veep”; Melissa McCarthy, “Mike & Molly”; Amy Poehler, “Parks & Recreation”; Taylor Schilling, “Orange Is the New Black”

Kudos to all the nominees, but I have a small bone to pick with the Academy so bear with me while I go on a brief albeit pointless rant. Look, I fully grasp that there are so many good shows on TV that it’s hard to nominate everyone worthy, but I refuse to believe that quality television can only be found on cable channels, which is the impression you’d get from the snobs over at the Academy after a cursory review of the above list of nominees, especially in all of the drama categories.

The Best Actor in a Drama category for example is composed strictly of actors on cable shows; not a one, nada, zip, from the broadcast network channels. Really? Really? How about James Spader from The Blacklist, Mads Mikkelsen from Hannibal, or James Spader from The Blacklist? Umm, have I made my bias a little too obvious? Well, now that it’s out there, let me say in my defense that Spader was sheer genius as Raymond Reddington and his scene-stealing performances definitely merited at least a nomination.

Alas, tomorrow is another day (which is pretty obvious), but anyway thanks for letting me vent. Tune in to NBC tonight to watch Seth Meyers crack a few jokes and hand out some shiny trophies to some deserving winners.