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Friday, February 27, 2015

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Breakfast at Tiffany's and three storiesBreakfast at Tiffany’s and 3 short stories

 by Truman Capote

Reviewed by Gerti


I read Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” many years ago, and knew him to be a very talented writer. Like that iconic book, the short novel “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” also went Hollywood, starring gorgeous waif Audrey Hepburn, whom everyone remembers from “My Fair Lady,” and a very handsome George Peppard, whom no one remembers. “Tiffany’s” is found in a very tiny volume, perhaps 5” by 7”, 161 pages in all, and that also includes 3 short stories, so it’s no surprise the filmmakers had to add (and change) a lot to make a movie. Of course, the book is better than the movie, but you should experience both for contrast.

His writing is clever, but tight, and Capote excels when writing descriptions, like that of heroine Holly Golightly and her big city lifestyle. The plot and motivations are weaker and decidedly unromantic, and perhaps that’s why filmmaker Blake Edwards decided to change things, like the ending, for his movie audience. He also significantly changed the male narrator, whom Holly calls “Fred”, into a gigolo, which I don’t think was what Capote intended for his narrator at all. Edwards cuts some of the characters from Capote’s novel for simplicity’s sake, but then adds others to go along with his re-tooling of Capote’s tale.

Taken in its entirety, the Capote book, complete with the 3 short stories which follow “Tiffany’s”, has Truman writing about quirky characters, and the relationships they have with others. Like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Capote seems concerned with the essence of these people, and the phony persona’s they present to the world. For example, charming urbanite Holly Golightly is actually Lulamae Barnes, a run-away bride from Tulip, Texas, who lives in New York by her wits and tricks. In the short story “House of Flowers,” which follows the novel, the protagonist is a female prostitute, a very young and popular one in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, who falls in love, and then has to deal with the cruelty of her husband and his grandmother when she leaves the business behind to marry him. She cannot really escape the past, as her prostitute friends pay her a visit in her new home. Similarly in “Tiffany’s,” Lulamae’s husband, aging veterinarian Dr. Golightly, comes to NYC to convince her to come home to her children. Neither woman goes back, and perhaps here Capote is trying to say that you can never go back to what you were in this life, that the only way is to continue going forward, even if it’s in another direction, and love plays no part in how the story ends.

That’s why the movie’s ending to me is so wrong, for it has Holly staying in New York, taking back her cat and giving in to her love for “Fred.” This doesn’t happen in the book, and I think it doesn’t exactly because of the point Capote was trying to make about one’s past. The other two stories, “A Diamond Guitar” and “A Christmas Memory”, both resonate to the same note – things happen in life that separate us irrevocably from our past, and the people who dwell there, and while we can think fondly about it, and them, we really can’t return.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote

Reviewed by Gerti


I read Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” many years ago, and knew him to be a very talented writer, perhaps even, as Norman Mailer said, “the most perfect writer of my generation.” Unlike that book, however, Capote’s first novel, “Other Voices, Other Rooms” is an imperfect masterpiece, Mona Lisa in a tube top. Some of the writing is clever and tight, but other chapters, especially near the end, are meandering messes that sorely needed the eye and pen of a good editor.

The book details the life of 12-year-old Joel Knox who goes to the deep South to live with his father after Joel’s mother dies. His father lives in a decaying old plantation called Skully’s Landing, a name filled with foreboding and menace, which the place lives up to. Even after his adventure-filled trip there, Joel has to wait a long while to see his father, who is in a sort of coma. His father’s caretakers as well as gatekeepers are Joel’s stepmother Amy and his uncle Randolph. Like a character from Thomas Harris’ “Silence of the Lambs”, Uncle Randolph flounces around the novel, painting, singing and telling sad stories to young Joel while wearing costumes from La Cage aux Folles. Amy is a bit of a tyrant who comes unhinged occasionally, especially after the house servant leaves. The sanest people at the house are the servants, Missouri “Zoo” Fever and her father, Jesus, an aged man who dies before the end of the novel, setting off Zoo’s disastrous exodus to Washington, D.C.

Capote excels when writing descriptions, like that of hero Joel and his friends, Isabel and Florabel Thompkins, one of whom is Joel’s love interest. In fact all the characters in the book are refreshingly quirky, even the people who drive trucks and run rib restaurants that Joel spends just a little time with. It’s the plot and character motivations which are the weakness in this book. It is a bildungsroman, as Joel grows up during the course of the book, finding not only his long-lost father, but his own sexuality as he tries to decide between romancing Idabel, a tomboy his own age, and Miss Wisteria, a midget who sees in Joel her only chance at love with a creature nearly her size. And of course there is the underlying sexual tension between Uncle Randolph and Joel, but Capote doesn’t go there in this book, and the homosexual urges remains unfulfilled.

In OVOR, Capote brings forward a familiar theme in his writing, one he would use again in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “In Cold Blood”, which is that things happen in life that separate us irrevocably from our past and the people who dwell there, and while we can think fondly about it, we really can’t return. Holly Golightly can never go back to being Lulamae Barnes after she’s lived in New York, and the Clutter family killers can never go back to a time before the murders. Even though Joel Knox returns to his father, his father is not really a father to him, and in fact wanders away from the plantation at the end of the book. Joel leaves his illusions and his childhood behind him. I wish there were more here than just quirky people stuck in unusual places, but there is no real salvation here for Joel, who ends stronger, but more alone at the end of the book than he ever was before.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Siege

SiegeSiege - As the World Dies: Book Three

by Rhiannon Frater

Reviewed by Gerti


Rhiannon Frater’s zombie apocalypse trilogy, begins with “The First Days” and ends here with “Siege”. The second book is called “Fighting to Survive” and is to my mind the best book of the three, as “Siege” spends too much time bringing back the dead as ghosts, rather than zombies. It stretches credibility too far!

The trilogy centers around former prosecutor Katie, who helped out housewife Jenni when the zombie apocalypse hit urban Texas. After trials and tribulations, the pair end up in a walled fort in Ashley Oaks with about a hundred other survivors of the turn. Katie is now pregnant by Travis, a former architect who has successfully fortified the town against the undead, as well as human raiders eager for their resources. Jenni, who lost her abusive husband and small children to the zombies, is now living happily with Juan, and her stepson Jason. Her reputation for mad zombie killing has led Juan to nickname her “Loca,” and she lives up to her reputation for crazy stunts in this book.

Frater obviously loves the entire zombie genre, as she introduces us to another survivor colony out at a former shopping mall, in a nod to Romero’s classic zombie movie. Jenni and another survivor from Ashley Oaks named Bill, get kidnapped and taken to this Madison Rescue Center after an attempt to get medical supplies and equipment from a local hospital goes sideways. The mall has about 400 survivors, but is surrounded by zombies and run by a power hungry former senator, who just happens to be related to a bitchy beauty queen expelled from Ashley Oaks after killing her husband, shooting Juan, and trying to steal a Hummer. The senator, Paige Brightman, is more interested in capturing Ashley Oaks (which would make her look good to whatever US government officials are left) than she is in securing the safety of her fellow human survivors.

The two groups decide to talk, Ashley Oaks in order to get back their people, and Brightman in order to take over the fort and its inhabitants. But when the mall’s citizens decide they would rather be in the fort which has more resources and is being far better managed than Brightman’s military operation, Brightman decides to bail and in the process, lets a flood of zombies into the mall. It’s heartbreaking to read graphically about all the carnage, including the demise of some main characters, but Katie and Travis save as many mall-dwelling humans as they can and take them to their fort.

The final drama of this book has a zombie horde of over 10 thousand headed their way, which causes planning, panic and prompts some rabid religious followers to desert the fort. My main objection in this novel is all the ghost sightings that go on, but it’s a good enough conclusion to the saga. I love Frater’s memorable characters, and admire how she brings Ashley Oaks to life.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Fighting to Survive

Fighting to surviveFighting to Survive - As the World Dies: Book Two

by Rhiannon Frater

Reviewed by Gerti


Fighting to Survive” is the second book in Rhiannon Frater’s zombie apocalypse trilogy, and perhaps the best. She began the series with “The First Days”, which is delightful thrill ride but flawed in a number of ways. She ended the saga with “Siege”, which I just finished this afternoon, and which to my mind spends too much time bringing back the dead as ghosts, rather than zombies.

Fighting to Survive” is my favorite novel of the group. The storyline is about former prosecutor Katie helping out housewife Jenni when the zombie apocalypse hits urban Texas. After trials and tribulations, the pair end up in a walled fort in Ashley Oaks, with about a hundred other survivors of “the Turn”, as it’s called. While the first novel sets Katie up as a lesbian, in this book she finds herself attracted to Travis, a former architect and the man who is trying to fortify the town against the undead. Jenni came from an unhappy marriage, and her husband and children are all zombies now, so she also finds a man. He is named Juan, and he is Travis’ best friend. She is so mad at the zombies and so foolhardy when she attacks them, that he begins to call her “Loca” or crazy.

In all these post-apocalyptic stories, the zombies are never the only enemy of the survivors. And sure enough, here bandits have been spying on the fort, and are eager to take out this group, which they see as competition for resources. The bandits are really evil men, who are also target other groups of survivors of the zombie onslaught, clued in to their existence by their ongoing communication with the Ashley Oaks group. Luckily, the fort’s residents catch on to what’s going on, and attempt to rescue the other bands of survivors before the bandits can rape and torture them. And since the citizens of Ashley Oaks also know they are under observation, they plan a diversion for their rescue missions, and a trap for the bandits when they come a’knockin’.

Fighting to Survive” has its ups and downs, but its great characters and effortless storytelling were lively enough to keep me interested. I’m impressed by author Frater, who apparently started writing her novels on-line, but has luckily now gotten a contract to publish all three books. I urge all lovers of the zombie genre to head directly to Ashley Oaks, the town where civilization is trying to rebuild itself despite a hoard of reanimated dead people, and very nasty live ones! You won’t be sorry that you entered the world created by talented newcomer Rhiannon Frater.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The First Days

The first days : as the world diesThe First Days - As the World Dies: Book One

by Rhiannon Frater

Reviewed by Gerti


I have been reading Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga’s zombie novels for the past few weeks, so it is with great joy that I have discovered a strong, new voice in the genre – Rhiannon Frater. Her “The First Days” is delightful in a number of ways. First, her writing is strong and clear, and the image she draws in the first pages of the housewife whose zombie baby is trying to reach her – with the little fingers peaking beneath the door – is truly haunting. Second, she has female protagonists, which is something Kirkman and Bonansinga dabble in with their “Walking Dead” novels, but Frater (being a woman!) does it better.

However, that said, there are some rough patches in the novel as well. While I like the storyline about prosecutor Katie helping housewife Jenni out of town when the zombie apocalypse hits urban Texas, I got tired of the constant references to Katie’s lesbian lifestyle. I also wearied of the weaker Jenni consciously thinking about how she can’t be apart from Katie, because Katie is her protector now, taking the spot vacated by her now zombie-fied husband. Those passages seemed either grating or whiny, depending whose brain we were picking, to use a phrase zombies might appreciate.

Ultimately, however, the book is the story of each woman discovering her strengths and through their partnership, accomplishing feats, like rescuing other people, that truly weak individuals would not be able to manage. There is a level of realism, like when she shows the workers at the rural gas station who don’t believe the end of the world has arrived, and the rich idiot who still wants to throw his weight around in a world where money and what kind of car you drive no longer matters. These people all get killed, while our adaptable heroines carry on, first finding safety in a gun shop and then in an isolated, fortified town.

The First Days” is a thrill ride, and a great first effort from author Frater, who apparently started writing the novel on-line, but has luckily now gotten a contract to publish all three books in her zombie trilogy. Having finished the second book, “Fighting to Survive”, by this time, I can say that it is even stronger than this one, and does not share the “rough patches” that I had trouble with in this initial offering. So I would advise readers who love the zombie genre to pick up this book, put up with its shortcomings, and plow on to Ashley Oaks, the town where civilization is trying to rebuild itself in the midst of a hoard of reanimated dead people. You won’t be sorry that you entered the world that talented newcomer Frater has created.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Cinderella Murder

The Cinderella murder“The Cinderella Murder” by Mary Higgins Clark
sequel to “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”
Review by Gerti


Mary Higgins Clark newest novel is novel in a number of ways. First, for this book, she uses a collaborator named Alafair Burke (which makes me question how old Clark is), although she has co-written books before with her daughter. And second, this book continues the story of Laurie Moran, a TV reality series producer with bad luck in her real life, but great luck in her career. She’s just produced a ratings-busting TV pilot called Under Suspicion, which tries to take long-cold murder cases and uncover the killer. Now her boss wants more of those shows. She’s chosen “The Cinderella Murder” for her second show, even though her boss was pushing for her to work on the Jon Benet Ramsey case.

In the first book, Laurie’s high profile crime series comes to the attention of the man who killed her husband years before, and he tries to put his own high-caliber spin on the ending by killing her. Fortunately for Laurie, her dad used to be a powerful NY cop, and he foils the killer’s plans. In this sequel, her father once again senses a killer is trailing the TV crew when a neighbor to Cinderella’s mother, Rosemary Dempsey, is found bludgeoned to death in her backyard (which is actually good, since she’s an obnoxious character!) Laurie thinks there is no connection, but her dad does not believe in coincidence. So he and Laurie’s son, Timmy, head to California with the production crew to keep an eye on things, and hopefully catch the killer before he can get to Laurie.

The original murder goes like this – Susan Dempsey, Rosemary’s daughter, was a beautiful and talented student at UCLA. She is found dead (minus one shoe) near the home of the movie producer she was supposedly auditioning for, but his alibi is another beautiful blonde acting student (Susan’s roommate Madison) from UCLA whom he supposedly called to his home after Susan didn’t show up. Another roommate named Nicole was never originally under suspicion, but Laurie thinks she’s being far too secretive about the murder, as is Susan’s former boyfriend. But don’t forget to put the boy who was crushing on Susan (currently a quirky computer billionaire) and their hunky college professor on the list of suspects. Add a crazy religious cult and you’ve got your mystery.

Clark’s characters are always well-drawn, distinct, and likable, so I found myself caught up in the story, however convoluted. The only thing I don’t like about this book is the romance between Laurie and the lawyer who interviews the graduates, named Alex Buckley. Fortunately, there is just a touch of romance, (and a smattering of gramps and son) so that I would recommend this quick and satisfying read to anyone. I’m glad to hear that they are starting a series of these books, and look forward to reading the next one.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

I've Got You Under My Skin

I've got you under my skin“I’ve Got You Under My Skin” by Mary Higgins Clark
Review by Gerti



I’m as irritated as the next guy by the fact that Mary Higgins Clark always uses old songs titles for her book titles, but this book is much better than the title might indicate. It tells the story of Laurie Moran, a TV series producer who has had a bad stretch of luck. Her last two shows bombed, and her husband was killed. On top of that, the killer told her young son that he was coming after him and his mother, too. Fortunately for Laurie, her dad used to be a powerful NY cop, and he retired to watch over his grandson Timmy. The only clue to the killer is that he has blue Eyes, but we don’t find out till the end that they are only contact lenses.

Because of her affinity for crime victims, Laurie pitches a story idea to her boss for a series of shows on unsolved murders. She chooses to start with a doozy – the case of wealthy socialite Betsy Powell, found smothered in her bed the night after a Graduation Gala for her daughter and 3 of her friends. Turns out, each of the girls hated the lady, and each had a good motive to kill her. Betsy was such a witch, though, that other people wanted her dead as well, and hundreds of people were invited to the house party. So whodunit? Old Mr. Powell wants to find the answer before he dies, and so he’s willing to pay each of the girls (now women) $250K to reenact the night of the party at his house – and be questioned by a lawyer.

Laurie’s new show is so high profile, however, that the man who killed her husband hears about it, and he’s ready to put his own high-caliber spin on the ending by killing her. His name is Bruno Hoffa, but of course that’s an alias. He’s pursuing revenge on Laurie because her father, when he was still a cop, put him away for 30 years.

Sounds like a pretty hackneyed plot, but Clark is such a good writer, that this novel really works. Her characters are well-drawn, distinct, and likable, so I found myself caught up in the story. It’s a delight finding out how evil Betsy Powell is, and how she ruined the lives of the 4 girl murder suspects. The only thing I don’t like about this book (besides the title, which doesn’t appear anywhere in the book), is the romance between Laurie and the lawyer who interviews the graduates, named Alex. It is irritating that Clark has to have her protagonists find love in many of the books she writes, but perhaps that’s part of their appeal to many of her readers. Romance novels with mysteries attached, or Mystery novels with a touch of romance? To me, the book would have been stronger if she had left that out. There are so many other juicy relationships going on, the budding romance between Laurie and Alex is the least interesting in the book.

In summary, Clark’s style is easy breezy, and I would recommend this quick and satisfying read to anyone. The characters are great and the plot moves fast