Tag Archives: irony

Off Leash

Two from David Rosenfelt.

Unleashed: An Andy Carpenter Mystery (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 308 pages)

Unleashed (nook book)

Morristown Municipal Airport is a designated relief airport for the New York area. That means it was built to serve as a place for planes to go when JFK, LaGuardia or Newark become overcrowded. Since I have never been at these airports when they’re not overcrowded, I’m surprised that Morristown Airport is so empty.

Criminal defense attorney Andy Carpenter is back for another episode of irreverant irony and sarcasm all in the pursuit of justice. Author Rosenfelt just keeps getting better and better. In this, the tenth of his Andy Carpenter series, the reader is treated to a caper wherein Sam Willis – Andy’s ever reliable accountant – is a featured character. So much so that Andy’s main client, Denise Price, stays in the background of the story until nearly 200 pages into the book when she slyly offers up Sam in her place as the murderer of her financier husband, Barry Price!

Shifts between the main narrative by Andy and another voice fill in the second evil plot layer that is growing in the background led by a shadowy figure named Carter. Andy and his trusty team of Laurie, Maurice, Willie and Sondra circle the wagons to protect their buddy, Sam.

Highly recommended.

Airight: A Thriller by David Rosenfelt (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 295 pages; St. Martin’s Paperback, $7.99, 312 pages)

Airtight (nook book)

The day was already a month long, with no sign of ending any time soon.

Be ready for a tense and tightly crafted thriller. Airtight is clearly not an Andy Carpenter-type of story. The central character is Luke Somers, a police officer in a suburban town somewhere in New Jersey. Luke narrates the tale in the first person for many of the chapters while the remainder are presented through a third person narrator.

Underlying a terrific plot are the feelings of honor and duty held by Luke and his nemesis, Chris Gallagher. Each of them has a brother whom he holds dear to his heart. Luke’s brother, Bryan, is an investment banker married to a prosecuting attorney. Chris’ brother, Steven, is believed to have stabbed and killed a judge recently nominated to fill a federal appeals court seat.

Luke, acting in the line of duty, shoots Steven. In retaliation, Chris captures Bryan and holds him somewhere out of sight with just seven days worth of air to breathe and the ability to send text messages to Luke, who is frantically seeking to find him. Chris believes his brother – whom he raised himself – was not the prospective judge’s killer and demands that Luke find the real killer.

Rosenfelt provides many plot twists and a few red herrings to keep the reader involved and baffled as the action moves along toward a remarkable conclusion.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

David Rosenfelt is also the author of Leader of the Pack and Heart of a Killer.

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All I Have to Do is Dream

The Sniffles for Bear: A Bear and Mouse Children’s Book by Bonny Becker; illustrated by Karly MacDonald Denton (Candlewick Press; $16.99; 32 pages)

“Bear was sick, very, very sick…  Bear was sure no one had ever been as sick as he.”

This terrific book in the Bear and Mouse children’s book series is perfect for teaching a sensitive child that a transitory illness can have a bark that’s worse than its bite.   In this finely illustrated tale, Bear (and he’s a big one!) is down with a winter flu and he’s sure that he’s dying – so sure that he decides to draw up a will to give away his worldly possessions.   Mouse (the far smaller of the two friendly animals) helps Bear to keep his grip on this mortal coil by nursing him through his illness with the benefit of some hand-holding and Nettle soup.   A congested Bear says of the soup, “Dat was just the thing.”

Eventually, Bear comes to feel better and – wouldn’t you know it? – Mouse winds up catching the flu and all he wants to do is rest.   So the tables are turned, and its Bear’s turn to take care of Mouse; some Nettle soup and Mouse goes happily, snuggly to sleep.

The colors in this book are subtly relaxing, and the story is told with such humor and irony that your child will likely plead with you to read it before catching 40 winks.   Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Sniffles for Bear is recommended for children ages 3 and up.   The first book in the series, A Visitor for Bear, was a New York Times Bestseller and an E. B. White Read Aloud Award Winner.

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Don’t Dream It’s Over

The Imperfectionists: A Novel by Tom Rachman (The Dial Press; $15.00; 281 pages)

Perhaps the sub-title of The Imperfectionists should have been Related Tales of Dark Humor and Irony.   This is the fictional story of a second-rate international newspaper based in Rome, a poor cousin to the International Herald-Tribune.   It has never had any more than 25,000 subscribers and readers, and it has no website.   It is, therefore, doomed.

The Imperfectionists is not actually a novel but rather a grouping of eleven short stories concerning the wild and wooly characters who work at the rag before it enters its death spiral.   One copy editor is smart enough to depart early…  She finds an apparent life raft in the International Finance Department at the Milan Office of Lehman Brothers.   Welcome to the Titanic!

This may give you a bit of insight into author Rachman’s wicked sense of humor.   Rachman could likely write about anything – even a crew of sanitation workers – and make it sound interesting and engaging.

“You can’t dread what you can’t experience.”

The reporters and allied staff members at the nearly defunct paper truly dread – like they fear their own deaths – its inevitable closing, but they take some comfort in the fact that their pink slips mean they won’t actually experience the lights being turned off for the final time.

One of the opaque characters is a copy editor who simply pretends to hate her job because she loves it too much.   “I get to stay…” she thinks as she avoids a round of lay-offs, while grousing that she wishes they had let her go.   Then there’s the veteran war reporter who is completely nuts but quite successful (like the one my wife and I had drinks with once).   These gruff and nicked guys are far more interested in telling their literal war stories than in observing anyone’s reaction to them…  They’re a bit like wild animals whose press badge serves as their “If lost, return to —” tag.

The paper in question is owned by Oliver Ott, a man who inherited the paper and who is – quite naturally – completely clueless as to its operations.

“The paper – that daily report on the idocy and the brilliance of the species – had never before missed an appointment.   Now it was gone.”

Arthur Gopal, the often-pitied obituary writer, survives to find a plum job as a top reporter in Manhattan, while the publication he so carefully wrote for expires (“Overnight, the paper disappeared from newsstands…”) without the benefit of a beautifully written send-off.   Such is life.

The Imperfectionists would be virtually perfect but for an abrupt, flawed and somewhat frustrating ending.   Be forewarned.   Still, this is well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This book was purchased by the reviewer at Lyon Books in Chico, California.

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Help!

Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank by Randi Hutter Epstein, M.D. (W. W. Norton; $24.95; 302 pages)

Medical Journalist Randi Hutter Epstein presents an easy-to-understand, yet not patronizing, overview of childbirth across time.   Each of the book’s five parts features some aspect of the cold, unvarnished reality faced by pregnant women and the subsequent delivery of their babies.   The time frame discussed in the book spans the ages; however, the 19th and 20th centuries are Epstein’s primary focus.   Clearly, fads and political movements in these two centuries have had a heavy influence on how childbirth has been addressed.   The ongoing struggle between physicians and midwives for clientele became an ugly smear campaign, never mind that nearly all doctors were male and that they perpetuated ludicrous theories for hundreds of years causing massive harm to their patients.

“In the meantime, doctors were doing what they considered the best medicine.   They believed they were saving lives by luring women away from midwives and into the hospital, where doctors could control the business of babies.   Ironically, what they thought was (the) best medical care was sometimes the deadliest.”

Dr. Epstein conveys her views in a most engaging manner.   She has a very strong sense of irony and makes good use of it.   This reviewer was unaware of the sometimes-bizarre methods employed in the past during delivery, including twilight sleep that wiped out all memory of the childbirth experience.   Never mind that during labor a woman using twilight sleep had to be lashed to the delivery table in order to keep her from falling off while writhing in pain.

There is some overlap among chapters with regard to the material covered.   A reader interested in a particular section of the book will find a comprehensive write-up much like a stand-alone article.   This makes perfect sense because the author is a widely published medical journalist.

There does not seem to be an intended audience for Get Me Out.   Rather, most anyone can benefit from the book, as was the case for this reviewer whose granddaughter was born right after I finished reading it.   By the way, Dr. Epstein has four children of her own which qualifies her on yet another level.

Highly recommended.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A review copy was received from the publisher.

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A Hazy Shade of Winter

So Much for That: A Novel by Lionel Shriver (Harper; $25.99; 433 pages)

“…the biggest tipoff that she was not in as much denial as she feigned was that Glynis had no interest in the future.   That left everyone pretty much stumped.   When you weren’t interested in the future you weren’t interested in the present either.   Which left the past, and she really wasn’t interested in that.”

This is a fictional tale of two American families in 2005.   They are typical, yet atypical in that they are both being worn and ground down by the twin pressures of a fiscal recession and deadly diseases.   The primary family, the Knackers, is composed of Glynis, sculptress, wife and mother and mesothelioma victim (a form of cancer that is killing her quickly); Shep, the ever dutiful husband who is a millionaire on paper; their absent college age daughter Amelia; and their clueless teenage son Zach.   Their friends, presumably Jewish, are Jackson and Carol Burdina.   Jackson is an angry co-worker of Shep’s who is insecure about being married to the ever-beautiful Carol.   They have two daughters, Flicka, who was born with Familial Dysautonomia (FD) – which will likely kill her by the time she is 30 – and Heather, their healthy overeating daughter who is growing larger by the hour.

Shep Knacker’s longtime dream is to cash in on his home improvement business in order to live what he calls The Afterlife on an island.   However, just as he sells his business for a cool $1 million, Glynis is diagnosed with the cancer that gives her a little over a year to live.   The longer Glynis lives, the more Shep’s Merrill Lynch account will be drawn down.   Shep quickly learns that a million dollars does not last long in a world where an aspirin costs $300 and a regimen of chemotherapy goes for $30,000.

“That had been one revelation, insofar as there was any: everything was equal.   There were no big things and little things anymore.   Aside from pain, which had assumed an elevated position… all matters were of the same importance.   So there was no longer any such thing as importance.”

One of the ironies of this tale is that while 51-year-old Glynis fights to hang on to life to the point where she becomes a near madwoman, young Flicka looks forward to the day – at 18 – when she can end her own.   And while they trouble themselves with such basic issues, Jackson becomes obsessed with penis enlargement surgery – something he presumes will please his attractive spouse.

“(It was) a world where oblivion was nirvana, where one was never allowed the hope of no pain but only of less.”

Glynis eventually becomes angry as her supposed friends either treat her like a woman already dead, or fail to follow through on their original promises to be there for her when the going gets rough.   Yet, she stubbornly refuses to ever accept a fatal diagnosis, even while undergoing a year-long regimen of toxic chemo.   She begins to view herself as a marathon runner who never seems to be able to complete the 26th and final mile.

Shep is a man who has prided himself on being responsible his entire life.   He’s the man who has always paid his own way and played by the rules.   But others tell him that he’s a responsible taxpaying sucker especially when Medicaid won’t buy Glynis even a single aspirin for her pain.   He’s not sure what to do until, surprisingly, his ever raging and thought-to-be-dense friend Jackson sends him a message.

This is a work about human values and morals in the face of impending financial ruin and death.   What would we do – any of us – in order to keep our health and our homes for an extra day, week, month or year?   In this weighty and timely fictional tale you will find an answer.

Highly recommended.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.   So Much for That is also available as an unabridged audio book and as a Kindle Edition download.

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Reeling in the Years

I’d Know You Anywhere: A Novel by Laura Lippman (William Morrow)

There are writers who, like certain songwriters, can be admired more than they can be enjoyed.   In the field of songwriting, the team of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen – collectively known as Steely Dan – has often been praised for their tunes steeped in irony even if their songs are more clever (more intellectual) than charmingly fun.   I kept thinking of Steely Dan and, especially, the song “Reeling in the Years” as I read this latest novel from the prolific writer Laura Lippman.

Lippman’s skills are to be recognized as she persuades a reader to turn over 370 pages of a story that does not amount to a lot.   There are two protagonists.   There’s the now-38-year-old Eliza Benedict, who was kidnapped and raped and held for 39 days by Walter Bowman, who sits on death row in Virginia awaiting his execution.   Bowman is a spree-killer convicted of two murders in two states, but he may have killed as many as eight young girls.   Why he didn’t kill Eliza (then known as Elizabeth) when she was 15 is supposed to be a question that puzzles everyone.   Except that Bowman was captured after a simple traffic stop.   The notion that he might have killed Eliza had he not been taken into custody when he was seems to elude everyone here.

Although Lippman gives her readers a lot of twists and turns and feints, there’s not much drama in this crime drama, and not much thrill in this psychological thriller.   It is interesting enough, but just enough.

Eliza never comes to life, especially as she displays no anger against Bowman.   When Bowman contacts her just weeks before his scheduled death, she becomes his strangely witting accomplice without much effort.   Eliza is a character that’s simply not present in her own life:  “Her time with Walter – it existed in some odd space in her brain, which was neither memory or not memory.   It was like a story she knew about someone else.”

A character in the book, a hack writer who wrote a “fact crime” book about Bowman, complains that he’s just simply not as interesting a criminal as, say, Ted Bundy.   That’s certainly the case as we never come to know what it is that made Bowman a killer, nor how it is that this man with a said-to-be just average IQ is suddenly cunning enough to use his victim Eliza in a last-minute plan to gain his freedom.   Something key is missing here as the author admits:  “(Her) mother had long believed that Walter had experienced something particularly wounding in his youth.”

Since neither of the two characters ever becomes fully realized, it’s hard to care about whether Eliza will, in the end, forgive Walter and/or help him avoid execution.   The reader will, however, wonder why this now happily married woman is willing to risk her contented life for someone who harmed her.   Since Eliza does not know herself, she certainly will never come to know or constructively forgive her former captor.

A significant flaw in this crime drama is that the interactions with participants in the criminal justice system feel like flyovers, neither grounded nor concrete.   The lawyers seem to be portrayed more as actors (attention being given to how they look and dress) than as advisors.

In the end, this reader admires Lippman’s skills, her persistence and her success.   However, reading this novel was a bit like trying to listen to that Steely Dan song “Reeling in the Years” as it plays in another room, down the hall, too far removed to be heard clearly.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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