Friday, November 27, 2015

Best Boy - Eli Gottlieb

Happy Friday. For my American friends who were observing it yesterday, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. My review of Eli Gottlieb's Best Boy today first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers. I am posting it today with their permission. Hope you enjoy.

First line: "Payton Living Center was the sixth place in a row Momma had taken me but neither of us knew it was the one where I'd stay forever and ever."

Todd Aaron is a seasoned veteran of Payton Living Center. Eli Gottlieb's (The Face Thief) fifty-year-old autistic narrator lives in a cottage on the center's grounds, works in a nearby school cafeteria and follows all the rules so he can be a "best boy."

With the exception of his annoying roommate, Todd is content at Payton--until the arrival of "Mike the Apron." The new staff member reminds Todd of his abusive father, and his discomfort foreshadows trouble for the vulnerable protagonist: "I was nervous and I stayed that way. I carried it around with me like a fizzy drink I drank too much of fast, that was always about to make me burp. The pressure was inside me and pushing steady, even though I hoped it would go away."

To compound Todd's uneasiness, Martine, a female resident, encourages him to stop taking his medication. Torn between his budding attraction for her and his need to be a best boy, Todd says, "My feelings pushed out of me towards Martine as strongly as the Law pushed back. I stood between the feelings while they canceled each other out to make an emptiness in my head."

The burp comes when Todd decides he can't cope any longer. Quietly setting off in the night, he leaves Payton, determined to go home.

Best Boy packs an emotional whopper of a story into a relatively quick read. Gottlieb respectfully molds Todd, avoiding stereotypes in a faithful portrayal of autism. Both heart-breaking and heart-warming, Best Boy leaves a dazzling impression.

Best Boy is available in hardcover (ISBN: 9781631490477) from Liveright and as an unabridged audiobook (ISBN: 9781504617499), narrated by Bronson Pinchot from Blackstone Audio from your favorite independent bookstore and the following retailers:

Alibris Amazon Audible Barnes & Noble
Book Depository Downpour iTunes Kobo

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Quote of the Week

And the reason that drama geeks are at the pinnacle of that food pyramid of geekdom? It's not the tragedy/comedy logo or Cats pins on the raincoats. It's not the black eyeliner on both the boys and the girls. Neither is it the ability to burst into song or a tap dance in the school hallway at the drop of a theater reference. No. The thing that separates theater dorks from the rest is one guessed it...once again...girls. There were and always will be pretty girls who sing and dance and act and improvise and joke around and are willing to make fools of themselves. And--and this is the most important point of all--and they 're willing to hang out with geeky guys and even go to wrap parties and occasionally make out with them. This sets up drama geeks as the lions of the dork Serengeti.
   —Rainn Wilson in The Bassoon King

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Promise - Robert Crais

First line: "The woman stood in the far corner of the dimly lit room, hiding in shadows like a fish in gray water."

Elvis Cole and Joe Pike join forces with Robert Crais' Suspect hero team of Scott James and Maggie for The Promise, which is packed with action and suspense, as well as love and devotion.

Cole is hired by Meryl Lawrence to find her colleague Amy Breslyn.  Breslyn took an abrupt leave of absence and just disappeared, vanished. According to Lawrence, Breslyn also walked off with over $400,000 from their company, and she wants to find her co-worker before the powers that be discover the missing money. Lawrence says she feels responsible because she believes Breslyn took off with a crooked mystery man she met online; She claims she pressured Breslyn into online dating after her son was killed overseas by a suicide bomber.

Lawrence encourages Cole to track down a young man named Thomas Lerner, a close friend of Breslyn's son. When Cole shows up at the address Lawrence gives him for Lerner, all hell breaks loose, but none of it connected to anyone named Thomas Lerner. What is at the house is a dead body and serious bomb munitions. Elvis Cole suddenly finds himself in the midst of a major crime investigation as well as his own missing person's case that is racking up more questions than answers. And when the heat rises, he calls in the reinforcements.

The Promise took a while to hit the bookstores, but now that it's here, I can say with certainty it was worth the wait.  This complex plot contains all the hallmarks of a great Crais novel: humor, social issues, passion, crack dialogue and top-notch characters. Relationships maintain a central focus of the series; Elvis and Joe's relationship continues to grow, but it takes more of a backseat role in The Promise, allowing Crais to explore Scott and Maggie's pack bonds further as well as Amy Breslyn's relationship with her son. Plus, it seems there may possibly be a new romantic connection blooming for the series.

In addition to the themes surrounding relationships, there is a strong idea of hidden identities. People aren't necessarily who they seem and situations aren't what they seem, which of course works to ramp up the suspense, but it also illustrates a depth of character for several people. One of those folks is Jon Stone. There aren't a lot of the familiar faces in this novel, but Jon Stone returns in arguably his best outing yet. If you didn't love Stone before The Promise, I dare you not to after this one.

And of course the title theme, promises. Promises carry a lot of weight and obligation with them. Those with the strongest character wield their promises carefully, honestly and unceasingly.

Crais has a history of wonderful female characters, but The Promise may include the cream of the crop. I was especially taken with Amy Breslyn's character.  She's described as "small, round, and dumpy...she'd never been a looker." Despite not having a stereotypical hero exterior, this smart, single mother stole the show for me. I don't expect to see her back in anything beyond a possible cameo but I sure wouldn't complain if she did reemerge in later books.

And of course Maggie. Crais' treatment of Maggie's role in The Promise is reverential. And it's his attention to the small details, like the green tennis ball, that make his depiction of her so superb. Early in the novel, Crais creates mirroring scenes of handler and dog experiencing PTSD dreams. In Maggie's dream, she experiences memories through scent and is haunted by the emotions those scents conjure up. Just as Scott cries out in his terror dreams, Maggie does too. Crais uses that opportunity to provide subtle background from Suspect, but it serves an even greater role in illustrating the strong devotion and connection Maggie has with her "pack."  Dog lovers should all appreciate the care Crais takes in his development of this magnificent character.

All around The Promise is a winner of a novel. I've said this before and I'll say it again, I love this series--Crais' writing in general--and if the quality continues to stay at this level, I don't mind the wait between books. I'm happy to savor the exceptional story, and enjoy the experience. It's much more filling than mounds of junk.

The Promise is available in hardcover (ISBN: 9780399161490) from Putnam and as an unabridged audiobook (ISBN: 9781455853359), narrated by Luke Daniels and MacLeod Andrews (holy cow, power team) from Brilliance Audio.

Alibris Amazon Audible Barnes & Noble
Book Depository iTunes Kobo

Monday, November 9, 2015

Catching Up on Audiobooks

I have been terrible about getting my audiobook reviews on the blog this year. I am listening to them regularly and reviewing for AudioFile Magazine, but neglecting to get them up on the blog once they've appeared in the magazine. Part of this is because my intention was always to rewrite them with a bit more about the content of the book. My reviews for AudioFile focus on the recording. Time just hasn't allowed that, so I wanted to share a few of my favorites with you from this year with AudioFile's permission. So, let's take a look:

A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders

Deviating from her bestselling non-fiction, Judith Flanders tries her hand at mystery in this debut novel. Susan Duerden gives voice to Flanders' narrating protagonist, publishing editor Samantha Clair. With consistency and emotion she creates a high level of authenticity in the reactions of a woman unaccustomed to big money book sales, let alone murder and mayhem. Duerden maintains a swift pace without hurrying and her dialects are distinct as Sam travels by foot, train and plane throughout Europe searching for clues about her missing author, Kit Lowell. Edgier than a traditional cozy, Duerden offers a light tone, while still delivering the occasional profanity with spunk. The only disappointment in this enjoyable recording is a flat delivery of the novel's sharp humor.

Shark Skin Suite by Tim Dorsey

Hold on to your sun screen and shades, Florida's own Serge A. Storms is back and so is his versatile narrator, Oliver Wyman. A cast recording isn't necessary with Wyman at the helm. The wrinkles and white hair on a crew of plucky senior women ride the waves of Wyman's geriatric sound as assuredly and confidently as Mahoney's smooth gumshoe jive rolls off his tongue. Whether it's Coleman's dawdling drugged diction or Serge's speeding caffeinated chatter, Wyman is seamless in his delivery, highlighting subtle nuances in each character. Dorsey's series is famous for the wacky humor and Wyman delivers it with verve, leaving listeners chuckling heartily throughout. Veteran listeners or newbies are sure to enjoy this addition to the Serge A. Storms oeuvre.

Gun Street Girl by Adrian McKinty

Gerard Doyle returns to Adrian McKinty's Detective Sean Duffy series to give a stunning performance in his reading of the fourth installment, GUN STREET GIRL. The plot, involving a suspicious murder-suicide possibly connected to arms dealers, is packed with subtle nuances and passions that underlie a tired, beat down, highly complex RUC inspector. Simultaneously Duffy's protégé, Alexander Lawson, possess the unrestrained wonder and eagerness of an optimistic youth. Doyle narrates these mirroring roles with an elegant grace that makes listeners forget he's even there. From the subtle changes in dialect to McKinty's distinct writing cadence--and most especially the dark humor--Doyle hones in on and perfectly enacts all the minute details making this police procedural engaging and a joy to listen to.

Night Life by David C. Taylor

Keith Szarabajka ferries his audience back into David C. Taylor's McCarthy-era New York City with such authenticity they may start seeing their surroundings in black and white. Taylor's richly atmospheric debut crime novel, NIGHT LIFE, is only enhanced by Szarabajka's vast range of meticulous dialects, reflecting the diversity of the period. Szarabajka also subtly teases out the harsh ugliness of a nation in fear and leaders who profit from it. He delivers Taylor's stellar dialogue with a gritty grace befitting hardened cops and dirty politicians while never missing a beat of the deadpan humor that serves as the icing on this delectable performance. A brilliant pairing of narrator and story makes NIGHT LIFE a superb audiobook.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman

Fredrik Backman's stunning tribute to life, death and fairy tales chronicles the story of Elsa, a seven-year-old tasked with delivering apology letters for her grandmother after her death. Joan Walker reads this delightful novel with a perfect balance of reverence and playfulness, bringing out Backman's wonderfully authentic child's-eye perspective as well as his heart-warming humor. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry is populated with a rainbow of eccentric characters, and Walker provides each a distinct persona. Elsa's dialogue is, unfortunately, the most disappointing. Often Walker sounds as though she is over-reaching for a childish high-pitch instead of expressing Elsa's character. This small glitch aside, the audiobook is utterly enchanting and a must for anyone who appreciates story.

The Dog Master by W. Bruce Cameron

David Colacci reveres the wolf in his narration of W. Bruce Cameron's The Dog Master. Guiding listeners through three time periods, multiple early tribes of humans and the wolf packs, he keeps the momentum of the plot swift, the characters distinct and the atmosphere rich. The tensions, anxieties and frustrations of both these early people and their canine counterparts are palpable in Colacci's boundless reading of a tale about the first dog. Without resorting to exaggerated dramatic effects, he builds an authentic tone of constant danger in an uncertain world of hunter and prey while also establishing passionate relationships--human to human and human to wolf. Exciting, engaging and enjoyable, The Dog Master should have a wide appeal for many audiobook listeners.

These have all been audios--and books--I thoroughly enjoyed. Here's a list of a few that I probably wouldn't recommend to anyone, but if you want to check out my reviews, click on the links to the Audiofile site:

The Empire of Night (Robert Olen Butler)
The Swimminer (Peter Ganim)
Ruins of War (John A. Connell)
Second Life (S.J. Watson)
Eeny Meeny (M.J. Arlidge)
After the Storm (Linda Castillo)
City on Fire (Garth Risk Hallberg)

If you haven't checked out the AudioFile site, I encourage you to do so. Sign up for their newsletters and subscribe to the magazine if you're an audiobook lover like I am. I've discovered great audiobooks through them and I hope these that I've shared here have been of interest to you. Thanks and happy reading/listening!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Quote of the Week

Gosh, it's always such a joy to dig into a James Lee Burke book, isn't it? Today's quote is from his upcoming (and wonderful) House of the Rising Sun:

"The screams of the children and the women were like sounds one hears inside the wind. Or in a dream. Or in a burning building about to collapse. Or in a universe where you helped dim the stars and murder the voices of charity and pity that should have defined your soul."
   –James Lee Burke, House of the Rising Sun

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