Tag Archives: humor

Puttin’ on the Ritz

Defensive Wounds: A Novel of Suspense by Lisa Black (William Morrow; $24.99; 352 pages)

“Trying to find a smear of the dark red on the burgundy-patterned carpet made needles and haystacks seem like a bar bet.”

In this fourth time around in Cleveland, Ohio, author Lisa Black presents a convoluted present day mystery that is solved with one part forensics and one part feelings.   Author Black does an excellent job of setting up the story line and expanding her cast of characters.   While forensic scientist Theresa Mac Clean and her cop cousin Frank are easily recognizable from the prior novel in this series, Trail of Blood, their emotions and personal opinions are considerably more pronounced.   Ms. Black uses a plotline that consists of a series of seemingly unconnected murders to thoroughly explore the meaning of family loyalty.   Throughout the tale, each of the main characters – Theresa, Frank, and Theresa’s daughter Rachel – must choose which side they are on.   For Rachel the choice revolves around her feelings for a young man with whom she works at Cleveland’s Ritz-Carlton hotel.   Theresa has to balance her relationship with Rachel and her daughter’s safety with the demands of her job in the medical examiner’s office.

Aggressive defense attorneys are not usually mourned at their passing by local law enforcement officers and forensics specialists.   These public servants often face seemingly excessive interrogation on the stand as expert witnesses during trial proceedings in criminal matters.   When glamorous defense attorney Marie Corrigan is found trussed up and dead in the Presidential Suite at the Ritz-Carlton hotel, not a single tear is shed or kind word uttered by the team summoned to the crime scene.   Ms. Corrigan’s reputation for winning acquittal verdicts for her questionable clients nearly matched her beauty and enviable figure.   “Ding dong the witch is dead,” was the vocal intoned by Leo DeCiccio in the trace evidence lab as the autopsy of Corrigan’s body began.

What better way to create a readily available pool of murder victims than to have them attend a seminar at said hotel that features the development of skills for achieving litigation success?   There is none better as far as this reviewer is concerned.   As each subsequent victim is discovered, the possibilities for a single murderer seem difficult to grasp, yet the methodology of killing is strikingly similar.   The past and present relationships of the murder victims and the investigators are not obvious.   Theresa and Frank must devote hours of sleuthing to fit the pieces together for the solution of the crimes.

Ms. Black’s wicked sense of humor provides several amusing sidebars for the reader.   Among the seminar lessons are the following:  “How to Make Not-Guilty Happen” and “Criminal Defense in a Down Economy.”   She gives her characters clever phrases and sets up the opportunities for them, such as,

“Two bodies piled up, and this woman knew both of them.   She may be able to connect the dots for us.   How much should we worry about people’s feelings?   Especially since they’re the same people who are going to say we didn’t solve these murders because we don’t like them?”

The take-away from this mystery novel is that we must all move on in life and it takes a bigger person to do so.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Defensive Wounds was released on September 27, 2010; it is also available as a Kindle Edition and Nook Book download.

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Goin’ Back

The Stuff That Never Happened: A Novel by Maddie Dawson (Broadway; $14.00; 336 pages)

The Stuff That Never Happened, written by Maddie Dawson, is a fascinating story that presents a realistic view of the challenges and trials of love, passion, and loyalty within a long-term, modern-day marriage.

The truth is much more complicated.   The truth is that I’m actually in love with another man.

Annabelle shares the story of her lovely life raising her children in New Hampshire amongst her loyal, dedicated husband Grant, while building lifelong memories with family and friends.   Yet now that the children are grown and gone and Grant is distracted and distant as he dedicates all of his time to writing a novel, she consumes her times dreaming of a man from her past.   Then, by chance, she comes across her former lover and has to  make the decision of whether to stay with the man she married, or take a chance with the one she desires.

Maybe we’re all dreaming of a person from the tantalizing past who sits there, uninvited, watching from the edge of our consciousness, somebody you find packing up and moving out of your head just as you’re waking in the morning, and whose essence clings to you all day as though you have spent the night with him, wandering off together somewhere among the stars…

Joseph’s Reviews recently interviewed the author and after reading her responses, I found her to be down to earth, warm and fun.   Her story is told in a similar light-hearted tone with elements of humor and wit intertwined with enjoyable eclectic characters and flowing dialogue.   I felt the same connectedness reading about Maddie Dawson as I did with her main character, Annabelle.

The deep characterization of this novel highlights the themes of passion, love, dedication and forgiveness that bring the characters to life and challenge the reader to wonder if the grass is truly greener on the other side and whether the consequences are worth the grazing.

I look forward to reading future novels from Maddie Dawson.

Well recommended.

Kelly Monson

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7 Questions

We are here continuing our interview with writer Maddie Dawson, author of The Stuff That Never Happened: A Novel.   In this concluding part of the interview, the questions were asked by Joseph Arellano (JA) and Kimberly Caldwell (KC).

4.  JA:   When I was writing music reviews in college, I loved to read interviews in which musicians cited their influences, idols and role models.   (I would then go and listen to those other musicians to see if I could hear the connections.)   With this in mind, which authors come to mind when you think about who has influenced you?

MD:   I love writers who really explore the complexities of relationships and the inner lives of their characters – writers like Alice Munro, Amy Bloom, and Anne Tyler.   (Hmmm, a lot of A’s there.)   I also love so much of Jane Smiley’s work, particularly her early novels – and I love Anne Proulx’s short stories and her descriptions.   I believe that life is a  mix of humor and pathos, that the hilarious gets mixed in with the mundane and the tragic on a daily basis, so I adore the work (particularly the non-fiction) of Anne Lamott who is just so honest and real.   I love the wordplay and intelligence of Lorrie Moore’s work, and I’m constantly awed by the humorous work of modern male writers like Mark Haddon, Nick Hornby, and Jonathan Tropper.

5.  JA:   Is there a particular novel that you’ve read in 2010/2011 that seemed to be exemplary or mind-blowing?

MD:   I’m so glad you asked this question, because I was completely blown away by A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.   The complexities of that novel, the ins and outs of the plot, the depth of the characters:  I found it truly mind-blowing.

6.  JA:   What’s either the best or the hardest thing about publicizing your own work?

MD:   Ack!   Getting the word out about a book is such a huge task for authors these days.   I love some aspects of it – the social media stuff, the connecting with readers, the skype-ing with book groups and the constant feedback from people who have comments.   But other aspects are harder for me:  keeping up a blog and being interesting when really my head and heart are with my new characters and my new book, which is just coming into being.

7.  KC:   Are you working on a new book and, if so, what is the premise?

MD:   I am working on a new book.   It’s the story of a woman who, at 43, discovers she’s pregnant for the first time, just as she and her long-term boyfriend agree to a separation so she can care for her 88-year-old grandmother who is suddenly having little strokes.   It’s a story about the risks we take in loving, and the way that you can’t ever truly predict what your life will be.   I think all my work is basically about finding our true lives and our real families, and the ways in which we can be surprised by the life that finds us when we’ve gone ahead and made other plans, to paraphrase John Lennon.

Note:  Part One of this interview (The Author’s Perspective; click on the link in the Recent Entries column on the right to read it) was posted on this site on August 30, 2011.   Maddie Dawson’s novel, The Stuff That Never Happened, is now available as a trade paperback release.

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Shake Me, Wake Me

Pinch Me: A Novel by Adena Halpern (Touchstone, $14.99, 288 pages)

“And you thought your life was cursed!”

“Never marry a man unless he’s short, bald, fat, stupid, and treats you badly.”   Grandma Dolly, 82 and Mother Selma, 55

Imagine meeting the man (or woman) of your dreams:  successful, intelligent, loyal, charming, attractive, and who wants nothing more but to spend the rest of your life taking care of you.   Does this sound too good to be true?   Well, for the  main character in Adena Halpern’s novel, Pinch Me, it is.

Lily Burns has spent her twenty’s dating the wrong men…  on purpose.   Throughout her life she has been advised to date someone who she would never love so that the family curse, created generations before she was born, would  not do unthinkable things to the men she loved.   Witnessing what her mother, Selma, and grandmother, Dolly had gone through, Lily takes this advice seriously.   Then she meets Gogo, a handsome, successful pediatrician who adores her and asks for her hand in marriage.   For once ignoring her family’s advice, she marries Gogo and in desperation to prove she has beaten the curse, she asks her new husband to pinch her.   And the curse begins.   The story takes us on Lily’s hilarious and somewhat sad journey to get her husband back while undoing the family curse for good!

I have to admit that I initially thought the theme of this story was hokey and I was hard pressed to believe it would live up to the standards set by the novels I have recently reviewed.   However, I was quickly made optimistic by the author’s direct and flowing dialogue, and the enticing storyline that began on page one and continued throughout the novel.   This was a fun and lighthearted tale and I was entertained to the end.

Halpern kept my attention with Lily – her strong-willed main character – and her quirky but loving mother and grandmother.   I read the story in two short sittings, cheering for Lily and Gogo and I began to wonder if perhaps we all hold some family curse brought on by something we or our predecessors may have done in the past.

I found myself laughing out loud while reading Pinch Me, especially throughout the conversation that takes place between Lily’s mother Selma and grandmother Dolly as they try to convince Lilly that she should not get  married (that conversation alone is worth your time!).   It is a quick read and downright fun.   I will definitely be reading more from Adena Halpern.

Well recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Pinch Me was released on July 19, 2011.

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Coming Up Next…

A review of Pinch Me: A Novel by Adena Halpern.

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The Author’s (Humorous) Perspective

Questions That I Am Asked Frequently* by Jeff Shelby, author of Liquid Smoke

I am asked many questions frequently.   Or, at least in my head, I am asked questions frequently.   Or maybe that is just the voices.   Sometimes it is hard to tell.   The voices can be loud and kinda pushy.   Anyway, here are some questions that I may or may not be asked frequently.

Q:  Is your book, like, a REAL book?

A:  Yes.   It’s totally real.   It has words and everything.   It’s very real.   As is the pink elephant standing next to you.   Watch out, it’s about to pee on you.

Q:  Is your book any good?

A:  No.   It’s GREAT.   It’s so GREAT you’ll probably want to quit your  job and travel the world, telling people about it.   If you wanna go to Mongolia, I’ll probably go with you.   I’ve never been there and I hear they have great BBQ.   And I hear they love great books.   Like mine.

Q:  Are you rich?

A:  No.   I’m Jeff.   Pay attention.

Q:  I have an idea for your books.   Can I send it to you?

A:  No.   I’m already full of ideas.   Those voices again…

Q:  What is LIQUID SMOKE?

A:  It’s smoke that is made of liquid.   Duh.

Q:  Why do you have such awesome hair?

A:  (Blushes)  You think?

Q:  Are you going to write more Noah books?

A:  Yes.   Unless I don’t.   But I will.   Maybe.

Q:  I heard you wrote a book called STAY AT HOME DEAD but you’re using a different name, Jeffrey Allen.   What’s that all about?

A:  Where did you hear that?   Did you tap my phone?   Because it’s true.   Look for it in January.   And stay off my phone.

Q:  What’s the hardest part about being a writer?

A:  Counting all the money we make.   (BURSTS INTO LAUGHTER)  Kidding.   Um, probably writing the first word of the story.

Q:  Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

A:  No.   I always wanted to be a baseball player.   But the Padres got a restraining order and it’s all awkward now.

Q:  If you could write one piece of advice about being writing, what would it be?

A:  Write.   And don’t let pink elephants pee on you.   Ever.

*It’s quite possible that I’ve never been asked any of these questions frequently and that’s why I answered them so poorly.

(Copyright 2011, Jeff Shelby)

Liquid Smoke: A Noah Braddock Mystery (Tyrus Books, $15.95, 300 pages) will be released on August 22, 2011.   Jeff Shelby is the author of the novels Dead Week, Killer Swell and Wicked Break.   He lives in San Diego, and sometimes responds to the name Jeffrey Allen.   But then sometimes he doesn’t.

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One Fine Day

One Day: A Novel by David Nicholls (Vintage, $14.95, 448 pages)

David Nicholls’ novel One Day was recommended by my friend and colleague Joseph (the passion and dedication behind Joseph’s Reviews) who shared that this book was “just about the best love story I’ve ever read.”   So with high expectations I sat down and finished the novel over the course of “one day” without disappointment.

Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew meet on their college graduation day.   Although their backgrounds are far from parallel and they have nothing in common when it comes to their future plans, they make a commitment to a lifetime of friendship.   Following a failed attempt at a romantic interlude (that we discover toward the end of the story), Emma continues to hope that the relationship will evolve into more than friendship as Dexter desires Emma but finds distractions in just about every woman he encounters.   The reader witnesses the ebb and flow of their relationship as Nicholls presents a synopsis of their lives written on the same day each year over a 20-year time span.

I enjoyed both characters as the story evolved.   Even during Emma’s continuous search for her life’s purpose and throughout the stages of Dexter’s egocentric lifestyle, I found their relationship heartwarming.   Emma’s ability to see the “real” Dexter and love him desperately even during his destructive phases, and Dexter’s continuous need for Emma’s support without the constant need for her companionship, presents an honest portrayal of the challenges and benefits of long-term friendship.   I enjoyed the cultural references outlined throughout the decades and was amused at the familiarity of the relationships I have with some of my own lifelong friends.   I won’t reveal any more of the details of Emma and Dexter’s story but will assure you that it is unpredictable and won’t disappoint.

Nicholls has great skill in blending humor, wit, devastation, and confidence in his characters and storyline, which he presented through detailed and vibrant dialogue.   I agree with my friend Joseph; this is one of the best love stories I’ve read.   It was an immensely enjoyable read and truly deserves the accolades it has received.   I am also a fan of actor Anne Hathaway so I believe that this wonderful storyline, combined with Hathaway’s talent, will make the movie version (coming out next week) well worth seeing.

Highly recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was received from the publisher.   “Every reader will fall in love with it.   And every writer will wish they had written it.”   Tony Parsons

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Living in the Past

The Fine Wisdom and Perfect Teachings of the Kings of Rock and Roll: A Memoir by Mark Edmundson (Harper Perennial, $14.99, 240 pages)

“Being a Stones lover was about being willing to piss anywhere.   And on everything.”

Based on the original AC/DC-based book cover and the 60s-style journalism used by Edmundson early on, it seems that this is going to be a rock memoir in the style of Chuck Klosterman and Rob Sheffield.   Fortunately, it is not, as a bit of Klosterman and/or Sheffield goes a long, long way.   This is, instead, a true tale of personal growth and what it takes to arrive at a personal philosophy of life.   To be specific, Edmundson writes about “the best moments” in his young life, when he worked as a rock roadie, a cab driver, assistant manager of a movie theater, and small college instructor.  

As a young man and college graduate in New York City, Edmundson was floundering:  “Young people like me want everything, yet…  have no idea just what EVERYTHING is….”   The streets of the Big Apple wound up being the perfect academy for Edmundson, who was to discover that ambition must rest on the attempt to balance personal glory with compassion for others.

The rock and roll lessons can be discarded, as Edmundson came into contact with mega-bands that were a decade or more past their prime.   This is an engaging, yet non-essential, read that may offer younger readers a bit of guidance for the journey that’s still ahead.

Joseph Arellano

Reprinted courtesy of San Francisco Book Review.   The Fine Wisdom and Perfect Teachings of the Kings of Rock and Roll was released in trade paper form on May 10, 2011.

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Streets of Bakersfield

Hot, Shot, and Bothered: A Lilly Hawkins Mystery by Nora McFarland (Touchstone, $14.99, 304 pages)

Get ready for a new type of spunky girl mystery!   This second appearance of Lilly Hawkins, a TV news shooter for the local Bakersfield, California TV station, proves to be a summer stunner.   Lilly is a very honest person, sort of.   That’s to say she’s honest with herself about who she is now and who she was in the past.   She’s not so honest about her intentions when it comes to her boss at the station or the local police and sheriff.   A drowning death that she’s sent to video tape seems fishy to Lilly.   It is one of the two concurrent mysteries that sustain the reader’s interest.   Layered over the drowning is a breathtaking wildfire that may just consume the evidence at the location of the drowning.   Who set the fire and why was Jessica Egan murdered?

McFarland sets the scene with plenty of realistic action.   She has been behind the camera in Lilly’s shoes as a shooter for the news media.   To McFarland’s credit, the details are helpful and she has resisted the urge to bury the reader in techno speak.   One element that was lacking would have proven helpful for this reviewer.   A simple graphic/map showing the general vicinity where the action takes place could have provided a sense of the movement in the story.   Author Lisa Black’s thriller Trail of Blood that is set in Cleveland, Ohio contains one and it was an integral part of enjoying the book.

The characters in Hot, Shot, and Bothered are brought into the tale in a general locale, not exactly in Bakersfield, California, but nearby.   As they are matched up with each other, for example the grocer and the lady mayor, the stakes are raised.   McFarland is very adept at revealing her characters’ motivations at her own pace.   She makes Lilly work under super pressure to cover the growing fire and satisfy her nagging doubts about the drowning.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Hot, Shot, and Bothered was released on August 2, 2011.   “Funny, smart and honest.   Packed full of adrenaline and attitude.   Don’t miss it!”   Lisa Scottoline

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Against the Wind

In the Rooms: A Novel by Tom Shone (Thomas Dunne Books, $24.99, 342 pages)

She probably only dated snowboarders with a rap sheet as long as their arm, the cheekbones of Viggo Mortensen, and a penchant for whittling driftwood into small but meaningful tokens of their appreciation for Life’s Bounteous Gifts.   I failed on both fronts.   I had neither misbehaved with sufficient abandon nor reformed myself with enough zeal.   I was just trying to get home without being tripped up, or found out, just like everyone else.

This debut novel might have been entitled Dim Lights, Big City as it is a reverse  image of Jay McInerney’s book and film Bright Lights, Big City.   In McInerney’s story, a young man turns to drinking and drugs to evade the memories of  his dead mother and an estranged wife.   In Tom Shone’s novel, protagonist Patrick Miller turns to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings as a way of shoring up his sagging career as a Manhattan-based literary agent.

Miller, who grew up in England (like his creator), has been shaken up by relationship problems – his girlfriend is bitterly honest about his flaws – and this has affected his ability to attract successful writers to the firm he works for.   And then, suddenly, he finds that his favorite author in the world – one-time Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Douglas Kelsey – is back in the Big Apple after spending years hiding out in the artists’ community of Woodstock.   Miller impulsively follows Kelsey when he spots him one day out on the streets of the city, and learns that the trail ends at an AA meeting in a church.

How is Miller going to get to speak to the reclusive Kelsey, a modern-day J.D. Salinger?   Well, simple, he will just pretend that he has a drinking problem and begin joining the meetings “in the rooms” of NYC.   But, actually, it’s not so simple because as he carries out his plan, Miller finds that he’s now lying all of the time to the two sets of people in his life – to his co-workers, he insists that he’s not a heavy drinker and does not have a problem (they think he’s in denial); to his new fellow AA members, he insists that he can’t handle his liquor or his women (oh, so he’s co-addicted to sex, just as they suspected).

If things aren’t complicated enough, Miller is soon attracted to Lola, a young woman he meets at one of these meetings – a woman who serves as a trusted liaison between him and the respected author – and they begin to get physical.   But, Catch-22, the rules of AA prohibit them from getting close to each other for a minimum of a year – a year based on mutual sobriety.   Eventually, Miller is not quite sure what he wants and just as he’s becoming addicted to Lola, his ex-flame comes back into his life.

If all of this sounds a bit glum, it’s not as told by Shone.   The novel is quite funny, as my wife can testify since I read no less than 8 or 9 lengthy excerpts of it to her…  Readers will identify with Miller as he’s a want-to-be nice guy who makes mistake after mistake, even after he’s decided mentally that he’s going to get his act together.   It seems that he just can’t win, as life keeps throwing unexpected changes his way.

Shone makes the telling especially interesting with many insights into both the book publishing world and AA.   While his characters are sometimes critical of the 12-step process, they’re also positive that the program works.   Here’s the ever-cynical Kelsey on Bill (Wilson) of the Big Book:   “Well, Bill’s no Steinbeck.   That’s for sure.   There’s nothing original to any of it.   He filched the whole thing.   It’s just religion’s greatest hits.”

The more that Patrick Miller learns about AA, the more he wonders if he may indeed have some problems.   Whether he drinks too much or not, virtually every AA member that he encounters tells him that he spends too much time inside of his head.   Miller is so busy analyzing life, and trying to find the right path and rules to follow, that it seems to be passing him by.

The true charm of In the Rooms, is its conclusion, in which our hero must make the right choices – the exact right choices – to prove to himself and others that he  is, in truth, the nice guy that he’s always wanted to be.   He’s helped along in this by what he’s come to learn “in the rooms” and so he comes to see that – ah, yes – it works!

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.   “Sharp, funny, and ultimately touching…  Recommended for readers of Nick Hornby and Joshua Ferris.”   Library Journal

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