Tuesday, July 22, 2014

My take on: That Night

I have to liken That Night by Chevy Stevens to a Lifetime TV movie, but in a good way. There is lots of melodrama, teenage angst, and a murder. Sounds like a Lifetime movie doesn't it? On a lazy Sunday, I can easily get lost in Lifetime movie marathon and this book was no different.

I started this book on July 12th and finished it a week later. For me, that's an accomplishment. I'm usually reading several books at once, and occasionally one will get my attention more than others. That Night got my attention in a big way!

After sixteen years in prison, Toni Murphy is being released. She's returning to a hometown that still sees her as a murderer and an outcast. Why is she going back? Why would she want to encounter people who hate her? Even her parents, especially her mother, have doubts about her. What was Toni convicted of? The murder of her sister, Nicole. Toni and her boyfriend Ryan were convicted of her murder. Is Toni returning to prove her innocence? Or just to prove to everyone that she's a better person? I was intrigued by the plot!

As teenagers, Toni and Ryan lived in their own world. They were so in love that nothing else mattered. They dressed different. They talked different. They smoked pot. They drank alcohol. In the eyes of some, including Toni's mother, they were bad news. Toni's dad was always on her side, even when it made her mother angry. Nicole was different. She was the "perfect" child. The "good" child. She followed her parents' rules and got good grades, the very opposite of Toni. But Nicole had her parents fooled. Toni knew her sister was sneaking out at night to be with a boy, drinking, and hanging out with the neighborhood mean girls!

Shauna McKinney is the ultimate mean girl. During high school, she made Toni's life a living hell. But to everyone else Shauna and her cronies, Rachel, Kim, and Cathy, were good girls. They project an image of perfection, but Toni knew their true nature. Unfortunately, Nicole didn't see who they truly were. To the outside world, Toni is a foul-mouthed teenager. When Toni tries to expose Shauna, no one believes her -- no one except Ryan.

The story alternates between Toni's teenage years, her time in prison, and her time out of prison. There is a lot of suspense in the build up to "That Night." I kept turning page after page because I wanted to know what happened "the night" Nicole was murdered. After "That Night," Toni was never the same. She's full of guilt and pent up anger. What could she have done differently to prevent Nicole's murder? That's a central theme throughout the book. Several characters in this book, including Toni's parents, have to realize that holding onto guilt will get them nowhere.

I loved this book. Given the slow rate in which I finish books, it's an accomplishment and testament to the writing that I finished the book in a week. I really wish there was more. The payoff was satisfying, but I still wanted to read more of Toni and Ryan's story. There is certainly hope for their future, I just wanted to see more of that future.

Rating: O.M.G. !!!

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (St. Martin's Press). That Night is the July selection for She Reads

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Please welcome Laura Pedersen

In this Q&A Laura Pedersen talks about her new play with music, This Will All Be Yours, which runs off-Broadway in New York City as part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival July 17-August 7 at The Barrow Group Theatre

Q&A With Laura Pedersen
What made you decide to try writing a stage play? When did you realize you wanted to write more than one?
My starting point is always a story, usually one that has meaning for me because it involves an issue that I care about. Next I decide if it's for children, teens or adults, or some crossover combo. Once the story has taken shape it tends to naturally lend itself to a specific format -- newspaper article, short story, novel, series of novels, stage play, etc. However, no rap songs, mime shows, or confessional poems have emerged thus far.
What was the inspiration for This Will All Be Yours?
I like to say that This Will All Be Yours is about the demise of the family farm, but in a fun way! This is
something that was happening all around me when I was growing up in Western New York and across the country. We felt in our bones it was bad on so many levels, but there weren't many options for people. Government policies were making things worse, not better. I'm glad I was able to stick around long enough to see a renaissance in small farms, and that researchers have been able to provide so many reasons why community supported agriculture is beneficial all around -- information we didn't have in the 1970s.
Did you originally envision the show as a musical?
My dad was very musical. In fact, he was a folk singer, which was not the kind of thing you wanted the kids in the cafeteria to find out when I was in Middle School. So even though I'm not musical, I love it and was exposed to the American Songbook growing up. The minute I had the outline for this story in play format I knew it needed music.
What is the most rewarding part of having a play of yours performed?
It's just amazing to sit in the dark and watch the actors work their magic on the stage. And it is always magic to me. No matter how many rehearsals I attend I have no idea how the director, performers, and crew do what they do. Everyone always jokes about me having to understudy for certain parts since I know all the lines. Well, that's never going to happen so don't anyone catch flu or eat dodgy potato salad at a 4th of July picnic. My mother is a nurse and she says that if you can't see the ocean from where you're sitting in the restaurant then do not order the seafood.
Which is more challenging --- writing a play or writing a novel? Why?
It's most frustrating when I think I have a good story, put a lot of time into developing it, and then it turns out not to have legs. It's equally frustrating when I think I have a good idea but can't locate the best way to tell the story. On balance, if something is not working out then it's probably not a solid story with a beginning, middle (or "the muddle" as writers like to call it), and an end. Time to move on. Unless you're on a deadline for a newspaper, in which case you figure it out. Working for a newspaper is an excellent way to eliminate "writer's block."
Do you try to attend every performance?
I do try and attend every performance. To me a story is never completely finished and I'm always listening for what I might be able to make into a slightly better line or solve some problem that's been niggling at me. The final night of The Brightness of Heaven we sold out so I gave up my seat and listened to the play from a place where I couldn't see anything. Total epiphany -- the placement of one critical piece of information that had always bothered me finally resolved itself.
What is your prep ritual as performance time nears? Do you have any superstitions you adhere to before curtain?
Before the show I just hope all the performers are hale and hearty and ready to go on. I'm usually just goofing around at that point, giving out candy to my friends. I'm trying to find peach candy (since the family has a peach orchard) for This Will All Be Yours -- not an easy task. What I do is stay out of the actors way because they have some bizarre rituals -- a few disappear, some are lying on the floor, and one bellows in front of a wall. I don't even ask.
What advice do you have for someone who is considering a theatrical career, either on the creative side or acting side?
I can only speak to writing. See as many shows as possible. I often learn more from a bad show than a good one. Sit in the back so you can watch how the audience reacts to everything and not just how the story is being told. This is also a good way to run into famous tall people such as John Cleese, Jeff Goldblum and John Lithgow because they usually head to the back or upstairs in search of more legroom.
If you could be involved with ANY play, in any capacity, what would it be, and why?
I'd need a time machine and also a body swapping formula. With those details out of the way I'd be born Henrik Ibsen in 1828 and have written An Enemy of the People.
When you are not working, what do you enjoy doing?
Rollerblading.
What are your favorite books and authors?
A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn
Emerson: The Mind on Fire by Robert D. Richardson Jr.
The Mayor of MacDougal Street by Dave Van Ronk
The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream by Thomas Dyja
Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World by Margaret MacMillan
What are your favorite movies?
Mississippi Burning
Harold and Maude
Dog Day Afternoon
The French Connection
A Streetcar Named Desire
Annie Hall
Who are your favorite musicians/bands?
My background has left me stuck in the 1960s -- Carole King, James Taylor, Nina Simone, Etta James, the Drifters, Martha and the Vandellas, the Shirelles, the Mamas and the Papas, Buffalo Springfield. Whereas some people never made it back from Woodstock, I never made it to Woodstock.
What is your favorite food?
I eat at Chipotle every day. But if they open up a Moe's Southwest Grill around here then Chipotle stock is going to drop like a rock.

This Will All Be Yours Social Media/Website:
Website: http://www.thiswillallbeyours.com 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

My take on: The Stories We Tell

Before an author becomes an automatic buy, I have to read at least 2-3 of their prior books. I think Patti Callahan Henry has become an automatic buy for me. I loved And Then I Found You and Coming Up Air. When I saw the e-mail pitch for her latest book, The Stories We Tell, I didn't even need to know what the book was about. All I saw in the e-mail was "Patti Callahan Henry," and I was sold!

In all honesty, this wasn't my favorite book of hers but it certainly held my attention from start to finish.

On the surface, Eve and Cooper Morrison seem to have it all. They have a beautiful but moody teenage daughter in Gwen. Cooper runs a successful magazine. Eve owns an equally successful printing company. They are one of the top couples on the Savannah social scene. They have it all. Everything is great ... or so it appears. In an instant, everything comes undone for this couple. The facade they allowed everyone to see and believe is crumbling. The happy life they once had is gone. How and why becomes a great source of debate throughout the book.

Cooper and Eve's free-spirited sister Willa get into a bad car accident. The physical scars are just the beginning of their problems. Cooper spins a wild tale about the accident. Willa was drunk and not only embarrassing herself, but Cooper in front of his high-profile clients. While Cooper is driving her home, she grabbed the wheel and caused the accident. At the outset, it seems logical. In the past, Willa always got drunk and made a fool of herself. Why should this time be any different? What does Willa say about the accident? She can't remember. A head injury has left Willa with memory loss. Willa swears she wasn't drunk, and medical tests back her up. If you're Eve, whom do you believe? 

Eve has to believe Cooper. Maybe he just got a few details wrong. Believing in Willa means not believing in her husband. She has to trust her husband. If there is no trust, how can they have a marriage? But soon Eve begins to peel back the layers on Cooper's story. Eve exposes one lie after another, but still she has faith in Cooper. Her entire life is tied to being a wife and a mother. But who is Eve without those things? Can life still go on without her neat and ordered life?

With every lie exposed, I kept waiting for Eve to get really, really angry. But I felt her reaction was subdued. I wanted her to leave him right away. Cooper is lying about more than just the accident. The book reads a lot like a thriller, except the action here isn't murder it's a family drama. The drama definitely held my attention. I kept reading because I wanted to know why Cooper lied. Maybe Cooper and Willa were having an affair? That was my first assumption, but that was too easy and I was wrong. It's never the most obvious reason, but by the end of the book I wasn't completely satisfied. When I found out the source of Cooper's lies, I was like "That'ts it?!?" Perhaps, if I was married I would understand a little more. Although, by the end Eve was on better footing and I loved that! While I wasn't in love with this book, I would certainly read another book by Patti Callahan Henry!

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy from Sullivan and Partners in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

My summer with Hogwarts: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

The first Harry Potter book came out in the U.S. in September 1998. I was 16 at the time, and even then I was a voracious reader. But the Harry Potter hype was lost on me. I wasn't into fantasy stories. Just about every book I read had to be based in reality. I couldn't wrap my head around books like this.

I didn't get why people were so excited about a book. Also, I think this series brought on the start of midnight release parties. Waiting up until midnight for a book? I love books, but there is no way I'm staying up late to get a book. That's what online shopping is for!

Fast forward 15-plus years later, I now work for a children's publisher in NYC and I'm two semesters away from getting my Masters in book publishing. I can no longer ignore the phenomena that is Harry Potter. This summer, I vowed to read the entire series. A daunting task! I've owned the hardcover boxed set for more than a year, so no time like the present to read the books. I don't think I will finish all seven by the end of the summer, but I want to give it a try. It will most likely take me until the end of the year to finish all seven.

I'm not sure what I could add to the discussion about Harry Potter. The series has been part of the book publishing lexicon since the first one came out in the U.K. in 1997.

So, how was my first semester at Hogwarts? I enjoyed it. J.K. Rowling definitely has a gift for words. I felt so sorry that Harry had to live with his horrible aunt, uncle, and cousin. He doesn't get the chance to be himself in the Dursley household. Any chance he has to be creative is crushed. Before Hogwarts, the book felt a little slow to me. But once the hulking, but lovable, Hagrid tells Harry about his true "wizard" heritage, the book picks up.

It reads very much like the first book in a series. There are a lot of characters and mythology to lay out. I haven't seen the movies, but I know which actors play which characters. It was fun to read and imagine the scenes in my head. Ron and Hermoine seemed like the kind of friends you would want in your corner. Picturing Alan Rickman as Professor Snape was the best part for me. Most of the movies I've seen with Alan Rickman, he's playing a jerk so the visual was just as good here.

Pacing is such a big deal for me. I want the author to get to the point or overall plot quickly. I wanted a little more action here, which didn't come until the latter chapters. I know Voldemort is the ultimate bad guy, but his role is minimal in this book. Perhaps if I had read the books as they came out, I would have had a different reading experience.

Overall, I enjoyed my first semester at Hogwarts. I'm looking forward to the next chapter. Onto Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

My take on: The Blonde

One of my favorite movies of all-time is Some Like it Hot. I like it for the performances by Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. Two musicians in the late 1920s witness a mass shooting by mobsters. To escape they dress up like women and join an all-girl band. HILARIOUS MOVIE! Marilyn Monroe has her moments in the movie. Like this one......


I think that's the only movie I've ever seen with Marilyn Monroe. Why am I talking about a movie that came out in 1959? Simple I've just finished The Blonde by Anna Godbersen. What if Marilyn Monroe was a spy for the Soviets? Hmmmmmmmm......interesting idea. A fictionalized spin that Monroe's
affair with John F. Kennedy was part of an elaborate spy mission? I was intrigued. I've always thought she was a ditzy blonde, but Anna Godbersen gave Marilyn a slightly stronger persona. I say "slightly" because she spends a lot of time drinking and sleeping with several men, including Kennedy.

What would possess Marilyn to spy for the Soviets? If she gets enough dirt on the future president, Marilyn will get to meet her biological father. I had no idea that Marilyn grew up in foster homes, which plays a big part in her life in this book. She's always looking for something she never had -- love. Spying on Kennedy could bring the promise of love. But spying on Kennedy also resulted in something she never expected ... Marilyn fell in love with her mark. That was not supposed to happen. In this book, Kennedy is a womanizing JERK! In fact most of the men in this book are jerks, including Robert Kennedy. Although in this book, Clark Gable is like the big brother that Marilyn never had.

I think Kennedy conspiracy theorists will eat this up. I'm not into conspiracies, but I think this was a unique way to look at this time period. Some of it is still relevant today.

"There are already too many stories, and you know how once there's a little scandal people love to fabricate on top of that." -- Pg. 342

What's not true about that quote? Marilyn's affair had to be kept secret, otherwise the media would have put its own spin on it. Take a look at recent celebrity stories, and you're sure to get 35 different versions. Marilyn's behavior in this book was certainly fodder for Hollywood insiders, so much so it was hard to sympathize with her character. She's quite slutty in this book. The plot moved too slowly for me to overlook the focus on Marilyn's sexual exploits. I wanted a little more suspense and a little less sex. I'm not a prude, sex in a book is Ok as long as it doesn't disrupt the flow of the book. The flow was little uneven for me. It does start to pick up when Marilyn discovers the plot to kill Kennedy, I think we all know how that turned out in real life. But Godbersen's prose offers a different way to think of what might have been. What if Marilyn could have stopped it all?  What if Marilyn could have saved his life? So many people would have a different view of her. She would no longer be the ditzy blonde. She would have been a hero. It's a little far-fetched but a somewhat fascinating way to think about an such an important piece of history.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy from FSB Associates in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, June 20, 2014

My take on: FaceOff

I rarely read short stories. I don't know why. I guess I'm just not a fan of keeping stories and plots within one book. But............sometimes one of these books makes it on my reading pile.

I was intrigued by the concept of FaceOff. Several of today's best-selling thriller authors team up and have their iconic characters "faceoff" vs. each other? I was definitely intrigued. First, how does this work? The authors are published by various publishing houses. I work for a children's publisher, and I know such an endeavor is HARD! Long story short, all of the writers for this book are members of the International Thriller Writers, the stories for the book are donated on behalf of the organization, the proceeds go to the organization, and author David Baldacci serves as editor.

Some of the stories worked for me, and some didn't. But overall I enjoyed the book. My favorite was Rhymes With Prey, written by Jeffery Deaver and John Sandford. Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs team up with Sandford's Lucas Davenport and Lily Rothenburg. Several years ago, I saw the movie version of The Bone Collector, so I kept picturing Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie in their roles as Rhyme and Sachs. Several Latina women have been murdered in NYC, and it's a race against time to stop the murderer before he strikes again. When they have a suspect, Lily is implicated in a subsequent crime. Is someone trying to frame her? OF COURSE! This worked as a short story, but it totally could have worked as a full-length book. A movie would be nice too! I was speed reading this one. I kept thinking, they're going to get Lily out of this mess. 

Red Eye written by Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly, featuring their characters Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch respectively was pretty good, too. Why do I say "pretty good"? I could see the differences in their writing style. Bosch descends upon Boston to search for a suspect in an unsolved murder. I felt like I was in Kenzie's head, and I connected to his character. With Bosch narrating, I felt like I was reading a different story.

R.L. Stine's Slappy the Ventriloquest and Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's Aloysius Pendergast was the strangest pairing. A dummy vs. a real person? How can that work? There are definitely some elements of magical realism. Aloysuis wakes up in a mental institution and doctors are trying to convince him that he's locked up for his own good. They're trying to convince him that his memories of life as an FBI agent aren't memories, instead they are hallucinations. The scenes with the dummy just didn't work for me. I don't think I full understood that plot. I might have to read it again.

Overall, this was a clever and unique way to get these writers to collaborate. There are short cuts taken at every corner by the characters, but it works and I hope they do it again!
 
Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy from Meryl L. Moss Media Relations as part of a blog tour.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

TFIOS: The movie


As movie adaptations go, this was very faithful to the book. Like the book, I did feel the movie got better in the second half. I don't normally cry at movies or when reading books, but The Fault in Our Stars cracked my shell. If you haven't read the book or seen the movie, I will do my best not to spoil it for you.

The Good: The performances by Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe, Nat Wolff, and Sam Trammell. This is the first performance I've seen by Shailene Woodley, and I have to say she captured the sarcastic wit of Hazel Grace Lancaster perfectly. Laura Dern and Sam Trammell were equally captivating, portraying the emotional roller coaster that comes with having a child with cancer. Every movie I have ever seen with Willem Dafoe, he's always playing a jerk. I think he's got playing a jerk down to a science. He was great as Peter Van Houten. Nat Wolff was a breath of fresh air, he was funny and heartwarming in every scene.

The most powerful scene occurs about 20 minutes from the end. Those of you who have seen the movie know what I am talking about. If you didn't cry at that scene, there is something wrong with you. I heard a lot of sniffling, including my own, at that part. I knew it was coming. I was trying not to cry, but I couldn't stop the waterworks.

The Bad: I know A LOT of teenage girls will disagree with me, but .......... for me Ansel Elgort was the weak link in this movie. Yes he is nice to look at, but that's about it. His portrayal of Augustus Waters was not my cup of tea. Every time he spoke, I felt like he was trying too hard. I had a hard time believing the words coming out of his mouth.

You can't include everything in the movie, but I wish the Waters family had a more prominent role in the movie. His parents and his siblings are virtually ignored. In the latter half of the book, they play a key role. A lot of the pain and suffering that the characters go through in the last 80 pages is left out in the movie version. If it had been in the movie, I might have had a different opinion of Ansel Elgort's performance.

Overall: I think Hollywood got this one right. There have been many movie adaptations that failed to live up to the spirit of the book (My Sister's Keeper anyone?), but The Fault in Our Stars is not one of them.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...