live by nightThere’s a bit of a story behind my reading of Live by Night: I picked up the audiobook from the library months ago – probably closer to a year ago. I sped through the first 9 cds and then…lost it. I brought it in from the car, set it aside, and it disappeared. I was furious! Ransacked the house, went through all my suitcases, the car, called the hotel I’d stayed at. No luck. Cut to this past week: I spent my vacation doing a thorough cleaning and decluttering of my spare bedroom, and guess what I found? Yep. I was finally able to finish!

Live by Night tells the story of Joe Coughlin, and it is a big story. Joe starts out the son of a law-and-order police captain in Boston. He abandons his father’s teachings to be an outlaw, to live outside the law, first as a petty thief, and later as a gangster. What I loved most about the novel was the range of stories: Joe as a petty thief who falls for a pretty girl he meets during a robbery; Joe as a tough guy in prison, standing up to the made guy inside; Joe as the King of Ybor City, using a lot of native smarts, cunning and ruthlessness to corner the rum trade; and Joe as a gangster, family man and gentlemen farmer in Havana, Cuba, building a baseball field for the boys who work in his tobacco fields. They are big stories and even though Joe is a very bad man, you can’t help but root for him – not to get back on the straight and narrow or give up his outlaw nature. No, you find yourself hoping that his latest criminal scheme will work out, that he can keep his employees safe, that he doesn’t end up in a pair of cement shoes.

In part, the story is propelled by Joe’s love of two different women. Emma is the pretty girl he meets during a heist, the kind of woman that men will do anything for. She makes Joe take crazy chances, chances that end badly for Joe. Later, Joe meets Graciela, a head-strong Cuban woman who helps him build an empire in Prohibition-era Florida.

When I first picked up this audiobook, I raced through the first 9 cds, before that little interruption I mentioned. When I had it back in my hands, I popped in disk 10 and I was right back in the story; I didn’t even need to go back for a refresher. Do you have any idea how unusual that is? I have stacks of books that I’ve read, reviewed, and a week later I can’t remember the name of the main character. Live by Night engaged me in a way that few books have recently. The stories and characters stayed fresh in my mind months later. I wish every book I read was so compelling.

My one complaint is that the book seemed to end very abruptly. I kept running back through the CD tracks, thinking it must have skipped a track. But looking back, the abrupt end made sense, in the context of Joe’s life.

What balances that complaint is that I can look forward to seeing the book on the big screen. Ben Affleck will directing and is apparently working on the screenplay. I’m not sure I picture Ben as Joe, but I have confidence that he can do a great job with it. Sadly, we’ll have to wait until 2016.

My copy of Live by Night came from the Kent Free Library, and I think they will be very happy to finally have it back!

 

New on the Shelves…

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By Lisa | Filed in New Books | One comment

Don’t Try To Find Me by Holly Brown

find me

When a fourteen-year-old runs away, her parents turn to social media to find her—launching a public campaign that will expose their darkest secrets and change their family forever, in this suspenseful and gripping debut for fans of Reconstructing Amelia and Gone Girl.

Don’t try to find me. Though the message on the kitchen white board is written in Marley’s hand, her mother Rachel knows there has to be some other explanation. Marley would never run away.

As the days pass and it sinks in that the impossible has occurred, Rachel and her husband Paul are informed that the police have “limited resources.” If they want their fourteen-year-old daughter back, they will have to find her themselves. Desperation becomes determination when Paul turns to Facebook and Twitter, and launches FindMarley.com.

But Marley isn’t the only one with secrets.

With public exposure comes scrutiny, and when Rachel blows a television interview, the dirty speculation begins. Now, the blogosphere is convinced Rachel is hiding something. It’s not what they think; Rachel would never hurt Marley. Not intentionally, anyway. But when it’s discovered that she’s lied, even to the police, the devoted mother becomes a suspect in Marley’s disappearance.

Is Marley out there somewhere, watching it all happen, or is the truth something far worse?

empire striketh backIf you read my review of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, then you know what to expect from William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher. They are fun little tidbits, translating Star Wars into something The Bard would have been proud of.

Luke Skywalker, on his battle with the Imperial Walkers:

A hit! A very palpable hit. Wait,
Although my shots have found their mark, their blasts
Have no effect, It is their armor, fie!
Our blasters are too weak to penetrate
The strength of their robust exteriors.
Rogue group, use thy harpoons and cables, too.
Let us go for their legs and trip them up -
Perhaps they can be bested from beneath.
Dack, art thou with me?

 

Leia, after Han is frozen in carbonite:

Full fathom five my lover lies
Within an icy tomb,
They say he lives, but my heart dies,
Sing wroshyr, wroshyr, wroshyr.

Fun, but to be honest, it gets tiring for me after a while.

I would love to give these to a bunch of eighth graders — I think they would make a great introduction to Shakespeare, a way of showing that Shakespeare’s language isn’t impenetrable and difficult, just different. Other than that, I think you need to be a real Star Wars geek to truly appreciate these.

My copy of William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back was an Advance Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

 

Sad news for World Book Night

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By Lisa | Filed in Commentary | One comment

 

world book nightI am sad to report that World Book Night US has suspended operations:

“The expenses of running World Book Night U.S., even given the significant financial and time commitment from publishers, writers, booksellers, librarians, printers, distributors, and shippers, are too high to sustain without additional outside funding,” [executive director Carl] Lennertz wrote.

If you follow here, you might remember that in 2012 I handed out copies of The Book Thief at my local tattoo parlors. It was an amazing experience, handing out books to people and sharing a book that I truly loved.  I imagine that this is a hugely expensive operation, and I am so sorry that they couldn’t find the funding they needed.

New on the Shelves…

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By Lisa | Filed in New Books | No comments yet.

shiningRide Around Shining by Chris Leslie-Hynan

A provocative debut novel about a young white chauffeur and his wealthy black employer, an NBA player—a twenty-first century inversion of what we’ve come to expect stories of race and class to look like, and a discomfiting portrait of envy and obsession.

Ride Around Shining concerns the idle preoccupations, and later machinations, of a transplanted Portlander named Jess—a nobody from nowhere with a Master’s degree and a gig delivering takeout. He parlays the latter, along with a few lies, into a job as a chauffeur for an up-and-coming Trail Blazer named Calyph West and his young wife, Antonia.

Calyph is black and Antonia is white and Jess becomes fascinated, innocuously at first, by all they are that he is not. In striving to make himself indispensable to them, he causes Calyph to have a season-ending knee injury, then brings about the couple’s estrangement, before positioning himself at last as their perverse savior.

In the tradition of The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Great Gatsby, and Harold Pinter’s The Servant—not to mention a certain Shakespeare play about a creepy white dude obsessed with a black dude—Ride Around Shiningtries to say the unsayable about white fixation on black culture, particularly black athletic culture, something so common in everyday life it has gone all but unaddressed.

Quotables

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By Lisa | Filed in Quotables | No comments yet.

“Doctor Who: You want weapons? We’re in a library. Books are the best weapon in the world. This room’s the greatest arsenal we could have. Arm yourself!”

(from Tooth and Claw in Season 2)

Russell T. Davies, Welsh screenwriter and television producer, whose work includes Dr. Who

New on the Shelves

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By Lisa | Filed in New Books | No comments yet.

I have a special love for short stories. When they are well done, they have as much impact as a novel, but in a fraction of the time.

flingsFlings: Stories by Justin Taylor:

The acclaimed author of Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever and The Gospel of Anarchy makes his hardcover debut with a piercing collection of short fiction that illuminates our struggle to find love, comfort, and identity.

In a new suite of powerful and incisive stories, Justin Taylor captures the lives of men and women unmoored from their pasts and uncertain of their futures.

A man writes his girlfriend a Dear John letter, gets in his car, and just drives. A widowed insomniac is roused from malaise when an alligator appears in her backyard. A group of college friends try to stay close after graduation, but are drawn away from—and back toward—each other by the choices they make. A boy’s friendship with a pair of identical twins undergoes a strange and tragic evolution over the course of adolescence. A promising academic and her fiancée attempt to finish their dissertations, but struggle with writer’s block, a nasty secret, and their own expert knowledge of Freud.

From an East Village rooftop to a cabin in Tennessee, from the Florida suburbs to Hong Kong, Taylor covers a vast emotional and geographic landscape while ushering us into an abiding intimacy with his characters,Flings is a commanding work of fiction that captures the contemporary search for identity, connection, and a place to call home.

dorian grayWilde Passions of Dorian Gray by Mitzi Szereto is purported to follow the adventures of an iconic character, but I think this novel suffered from a bit of misrepresentation. It was presented as a follow-up to The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, so cleverly alluded to in the title, and that’s a workable idea for a novel. I would be interested in what happened to Dorian – what happened to Dorian? What happened to the portrait? What would you do if you were assured that you would never grow old and never have to pay for those sins? But this is really soft-core porn. Not that there is anything wrong with that – I like a bit of raunch now and then. It just wasn’t what I was expecting when I agreed to review it.

Basically, this book follows Dorian Gray as he leaves England in search of new “sensations.” First, he goes to Paris where he frequents brothels and stages elaborate orgies in his apartments. But Paris is a little too close to England and he begins to run into reminders of his past. He travels to Marrakesh and dabbles in a bit of brutality – on the receiving end. Eventually, he has to dispose of his lover and find a new playground.

That’s really the gist of the book – Dorian travels from city to city, fucking and killing people. (More of the former than the latter.) Eventually, he lands in New Orleans and takes up with some vampire wannabes. It’s a pleasant enough erotic romp, but it doesn’t really work for me. This kind of novel, with its Victorian language, is not explicit enough to really be erotic for me, but isn’t meaty enough from a literature standpoint to really satisfy my reading appetite. An amuse-bouche, perhaps, but definitely not a main course.

My copy of Wilde Passions of Dorian Gray was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge. If this sounds like your sort of book, I suggest you check out the author’s website for similar works – she’s got quite a variety!

New on the Shelves…

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By Lisa | Filed in New Books | One comment

Is anyone else excited about the Walking Dead marathon coming up July 4th weekend? Hopefully, you’ve got better things to do than hang around inside, watching tv, but if the weather is lousy it wouldn’t be a bad way to spend the weekend. Maybe instead I’ll spend it reading…

infectedWe’re All Infected: Essays on AMC’s the Walking Dead and the Fate of the Human Edited by Dawn Keetley:

This edited collection brings together an introduction and 13 original scholarly essays on AMC’s The Walking Dead. The essays in the first section address the pervasive bloodletting of the series: What are the consequences of the series’ unremitting violence? Essays explore violence committed in self-defense, racist violence, mass lawlessness, the violence of law enforcement, the violence of mourning, and the violence of history. The essays in the second section explore an equally urgent question: What does it mean to be human? Several argue that notions of the human must acknowledge the centrality of the body–the fact that we share a “blind corporeality” with the zombie. Others address how the human is closely aligned with language and time, the disappearance of which are represented by the aphasic, timeless zombie. Underlying each essay are the game-changing words of The Walking Dead’s protagonist Rick Grimes to the other survivors: “We’re all infected.” The violence of the zombie is also our violence; their blind drives are also ours. The human characters of The Walking Dead may try to define themselves against the zombies but in the end their bodies harbor the zombie virus: they are the walking dead.

faceoffNow, this is a book that had me hooked from the very first pitch!

Ever wonder who would win in a fight if the most popular thriller characters were paired against their most worthy opponents? Would you bet on Lee Child’s Jack Reacher or Joseph Finder’s Nick Heller, or even Dennis Lehane’s Patrick Kenzie over Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch?

Oh yeah! If you love your detectives the way I do, I know that you have daydreamed about pairing them up. FaceOff is less about these characters fighting it out, it’s more about them teaming up and working together. And that is worth the price of admission.

It certainly says something about the quality of work that Simon & Schuster puts out that they have so many great characters to pair up. And I will warn you, Readers: you are going to get hooked on new series. You might as well know that going in. Unless you have a lot more spare time than I do, there are going to be characters here that are unfamiliar to you, and I guarantee these stories are going to make you want to run right out and pick up a few of their adventures. (You know the great thing about a Kindle Fire? No matter how many books you put on it, it never gets any heavier.) Smart thinking, S&S.

Now, the stories! I don’t even know where to begin. The weirdest and creepiest of the bunch was Special Agent Pendergast (Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child) vs. Slappy the Ventriloquist Dummy (R.L. Stine) – it sounds bizarre, but it works. Now, I am not a Pendergast fan – on paper, it seems like the sort of thing I should love, but I don’t) and I haven’t read any of Slappy’s…adventures, but that didn’t matter. The story is great and I can’t think of a better way to pair up this odd couple.

The first of my absolute favorites was Lincoln Rhyme (Jeffery Deaver) vs. Lucas Davenport (John Sanford). I have many of the Prey novels (several of them autographed, after meeting Sanford several years ago at a book signing) and I’ve read several of the Lincoln Rhyme novels, so I knew this was going to be good. The characters are so different and they butt heads ion such interesting ways. In addition, you’ve got their trusty sidekicks – Amelia Sachs and Lily Rothenburg – to spice things up. Really fabulous – I would love a full-length novel of this pairing!

But really: Nick Heller (Joseph Finder) and Jack Reacher (Lee Child). I can’t say “versus” there, because they really end up working together. I’m familiar with Jack Reacher, read a few of the books, and I’ve already ordered a couple of Heller novels. This one was so much fun – from the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, to the fact that some poor Boston accountant got more help, for free, than he could have possibly paid for and he didn’t even know it! Great, great story.

So, thanks to my friends at Simon & Schuster and Meryl L. Moss Media Relations for providing this free Advanced Reader Copy of FaceOff. The rest of you – hit your local bookstores and libraries for it. And start saving your pennies, because I guarantee this book will spawn a shopping spree!