Tag Archives: Emily Bestler Books

Songs in the Key of Life

small-admissions

Small Admissions: A Novel by Amy Poeppel (Emily Bestler Books/Atria, $26.00, 358 pages)

I was anticipating this book to be a downsized version of The Admissions, an earlier-released novel by Meg Mitchell Moore about the pressures of getting a high school senior daughter – one living in Danville, California, into an elite college.  The Admissions was a funny and entertaining book, but it was also loaded with valuable information for real-life parents on how to attack the knotty college admissions process.

Small Admissions focuses on parents attempting to get their children admitted into a highly competitive pre-school/elementary school in New York City.  While it’s also humorous, I found it to be overly light – both in the manner in which it’s written and in the lack of substantive, useful information.  I expected more of the latter since the author previously “worked in the admissions office of a prestigious private school” in NYC.

On the plus side, this is a relaxing read – like watching a family comedy on network TV, or a film on Lifetime – and Poeppel occasionally gets off a good line: “Happiness is not a zero-sum game.  It’s the only case in which the resources are limitless.”  You may get better mileage and satisfaction than I did.  (Perhaps.)

i-liked-my-life-amazon

I Liked My Life: A Novel by Abby Fabiaschi (St. Martin’s Press, $25.99, 272 pages)

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is an honest-to-goodness ghost story.  Madeline (Maddy) Starling is a happy housewife and mother.  She has a successful husband, Brady, and a great teenage daughter, Eve.  And then, suddenly, Maddy is gone – by suicide.  This might be the end of the story, but it’s just the beginning as Maddy sticks around as a ghost; one who can observe what goes on with Brady, Eve, and other formerly-important figures in her life.  She also has the power to implant thoughts in their heads – such as the notion that Brady needs to find a new spouse to take care of him and Eve.

Author Fabiaschi, in this debut novel, makes good use of the notion that people tend to feel the presence of a deceased person after his or her passing.  Yes, there’s a touch of the plot used in the 1990 film “Ghost,” but the overlap is minimal.  And she writes well in a ghostly voice:

“Everything in our house looked perfect, which was awesome when I thought everything was perfect, but disturbing now that I know the truth.  It’s like we lived on a stage.”

And:

“Perhaps we all offer what we can, until we can’t, and then our loved ones step up or have others step in.  Perhaps death exists to challenge the people left behind.”

In her ghostly existence, Maddy finds that she’s on a timetable.  There’s only so much time to complete what she needs to get done – via earthly creatures, before her powers erode and she heads for her final destination.

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Surprisingly, Fabiaschi sets up an ending that we can see coming from hundreds of pages away.  Except that the book does not end that way.  Well played!

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

Small Admissions was published on December 27, 2016.

I Liked My Life was released on January 21, 2017.

early-decision

Note: Another novel that deals in a semi-factual way (“Based on a true frenzy!”) with the college admissions process is Early Decision by Lacy Crawford.

 

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Secret Agent Man

Kill Shot: An American Assassin Thriller by Vince Flynn (Emily Bestler Books/Atria, $27.99, 385 pages)

Stanfield had always understood the risk of ordering a talented, highly motivated man to kill for his country.   The cold, detached killers were easier to predict.   Rapp, though, was far from dispassionate about his job.   He couldn’t kill these men fast enough.   It was his hatred for terrorists that drove him to kill with such efficiency.

Mitch Rapp is this country’s most dangerous secret weapon, at least when it comes to the world’s terrorists.   Rapp has a list of terrorists and he’s authorized to kill them all, one by one, with a single shot to the head.   Rapp is such a fearful killing machine that even within the covert walls of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), he’s “off the books.”   (Rapp makes both Jason Bourne and James Bond look like caffeine-free figures.)

Rapp, you see, has a score to settle with the bad guys.   His girlfriend of years ago was aboard an airplane that was bombed out of the sky by a Libyan terrorist, and once Rapp has assumed his role of The American Assassin, he finds its his life’s calling.   But his bosses at The Company are afraid that he’s eventually going to have a slip and if he does – since officially he doesn’t exist – they will have to make sure that he’s terminated.

As the story opens, Rapp is headed to Paris to kill a terrorist staying in a posh hotel suite.   It appears that this is going to be a very easy kill – except that no one on the CIA’s advance team has bothered to tell Rapp that there’s a group of four heavily armed killers waiting for him in the adjacent room.   They’ve got 90 or so bullet rounds with Rapp’s name on them…  Has Mitch been set up by his own spooks – jealous of his sudden success – or is someone else working with the bad guys?

How would (Rapp) react if he was pulled in and shut down?   Not well, was Stansfield’s guess.   How would he react if he found out that someone at Langley was selling their secrets to their enemies?   By definition, that individual would be a traitor, and Stansfield had little doubt what Rapp would want to do to such a person.

Flynn writes quite knowingly and convincingly about the world of spies.   To his credit, he populates the tale with strong men – and with women who are just as strong, talented and cagey as their male counterparts.   Rapp has a love interest which gives the telling some breathing room between killings, and the love/sex scenes are tastefully done.   Finally, Flynn presents us with Stansfield Turner, a real-life CIA legend who appears “as himself” in these pages.

At the conclusion of Kill Shot, secret agent Rapp has learned a lot about his true friends and enemies; something that surprises this hardened assassin.   As the story concludes, a new partnership has been formed, and readers will anxiously await the next overtly-exciting chapter in The American Assassin series.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Kill Shot was released in February of this year.

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Coming Up Next…

A review of Kill Shot: An American Assassin Thriller by Vince Flynn.

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