Brand New at the Library!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Shoes to Die For (Jaine Austen Mystery Series book 4) 

by Laura Levine

Reviewed by Gerti

I’ll admit it. I’m hooked on the books of author Laura Levine, who writes the Jaine Austen series. Calling them mysteries is a bit far-fetched, for the mysterious aspect to their murders is always just an excuse for protagonist Jaine to put herself into awkward, embarrassing and of course amusing situations. I like this book better than some of the other efforts in this series, as she has toned down the amount of time she spends with her cat, Prozac, and the flaming personality of her next-door neighbor, Lance, which for me marred some of the other books.

In this novel, the LA freelance writer falls into a job for the exclusive clothing store “Passions”, where despite her double-digit dress size, she has conned the former model/owner into letting her do their ad campaign. This way the reader gets to meet the staff, including stereotypical mean girl Frenchie, nice-but-ditzy Becky, and heart-throb/hunk Tyler. Tyler and Jaine have a lot in common – they are both writers, but Tyler is taking a writing class and it’s his alibi when Frenchie turns up dead after scamming the owner out of her own business. Everyone else left standing is a suspect, including a customer Frenchie was mean to, and the accountant, who had a crush on Frenchie.

Laura Levine is a comedy writer from way back and is doing very nicely writing this series of funny mysteries. While not the most hysterical book in the series, “Shoes to Die For” is funny enough to spend some time with, as TV-land writer Levine shows off her comedic skills. Unlike some of her other books, however, she doesn't seem to make as much use of Jaine’s parents, which is a mistake, as they tend to provide a comic subplot and write about it in hysterical e-mails to their daughter, in the style of Seinfeld’s parents.

I love heroine Jaine Austen, who has thoroughly modern problems and gets into relatable situations, like having weight issues or having to endure a man she met through speed dating. Levine’s language is a treat to read, her characters a delight to meet, and oh the world inside Austen’s head! I love her sense of humor. She’s like having a girlfriend who is smart enough to catch crooks, and crack wise at the same time. While “Shoes to Die For” is not my favorite Levine novel, it’s an easy bubble-bath read, something to which protagonist Jaine Austen would definitely give a thumbs up.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Movie Review: The Rewrite

The rewrite 
Movie Review: “The Rewrite”
Reviewed by Gerti 

A movie that has gotten no attention but deserves a look, at least by Hugh Grant fans, is “The Rewrite.” Grant stars as Keith Michaels, a Hollywood screen writer who has fallen on hard times. His desperate agent has finally gotten him a job teaching screen writing at a college in Binghamton, New York. But Michaels nearly ruins that as well, first by sleeping with a co-ed (even before he teaches a single class), and then by insulting another teacher from the English Department. Allison Janney does a great job playing an old maid, Jane Austen-loving professor. She also serves on the college ethics committee, which soon gets wind of Michaels’ affair with the student.

For his second strike, Michaels has never read the 70 screenplays which were submitted by students to gain entry into his class. He simply checked on the school web site and chose the students in his class based on their looks. So he has a bevy of beauty queens in his class, and 2 nerds. And yes, the teacher on the ethics committee figures this little trick out, too, and is none too pleased.

Among these female students is Marisa Tomei, who plays Holly, a single mother of 2 girls who is trying to get a second chance by going back to college. How she manages her time is the most fictional aspect of the story, as she works 2 jobs, one at the school book store and another at a fancy restaurant, to pay for school. With going to classes and sleeping, I’d be surprised if she had any time to see her kids! But she is a bold lady, and shames Michaels into actually reading her screen play, and their interaction thaws his heart. After a few classes (he’s been forced to meet with his students more than once a month) he is interacting with all of them, and actually trying to teach them something about writing.

Wonder of wonders, one of the male students is actually a gifted writer, and turns in a screen play that Michaels sends on to his Hollywood agent. Ironically, the same studio execs who rejected his recent works are thrilled by the modern take on story telling Michaels’ student has. Michaels is also instrumental in helping the other nerdy male student who has been hazed and practically killed while trying to join a fraternity. Michaels stays with him in the hospital until his parents arrive. Witnessing this act of humanity, the female student who was going to bring charges against him for sexual harassment changes her mind, as does the ethics-loving Jane Austen professor.

All right. So I know there is something wrong with a teacher who hits on his students, but Hugh Grant is charming here (as always), and he does break the relationship off as soon as he realizes the school doesn’t allow such a thing. His relationship with Tomei also blossoms (ah, a relationship with an age-appropriate woman!) so his evolution as a man and a teacher is complete. The overall affect, thanks to good writing and charming actors, is a delight. “The Rewrite” is a quirky, heart-warming film on the order of Grant’s “Two Week’s Notice.”

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Revenge of the Homecoming Queen

Revenge of the Homecoming Queen by Stephanie Hale
Reviewed by Gerti

This is the third book I have read by author Stephanie Hale, and I like it a lot. I had previously read “Austenland” and “Midnight in Austenland” because of my love of writer Jane Austen’s works, to which those books pay mild tribute. I liked the former book, didn’t like the latter. I picked up this book, “Revenge of the Homecoming Queen”, because I needed something to break that tie about the author’s talents. This book proves again that Hale is a very good writer with a fabulous sense of humor and a gift for creating likeable characters.

Perhaps more YA than the other two books, this book centers around high school senior Aspen Brooks. Perhaps that implausible name is a tip of the hat to the name of heroine “Cher” in every teen girl’s favorite film, “Clueless”. Like Cher, Aspen is a dream girl, an A-lister popular girl with all the right clothes, attitudes, and even friends. She dates the quarter back, of course, and is all teed up to become Homecoming Queen. That is until the principal, Miss Hott, calls the name of her nemesis, Angel Ives.

Quarterback boyfriend Lucas is also not chosen to be Homecoming King, but that’s his own fault, as he started a campaign to elect a nerdy boy named Rand whose parents are impossibly rich. Lucas explains to Aspen that he did it because he thought she and Rand had a lot in common, and thought she would be elected queen. Angel is none too happy about Rand being her king, either, and that’s the only fact that saves Aspen from being heartbroken.

Aspen starts to have very bad days at school, after her tire gets slashed and someone stuffs her locker with porn. She thinks its Angel, but it turns out Angel is only after her boyfriend, and when she sneaks away during a party to be with Lucas, Angel accidentally gets kidnapped. The rest of the story involves trying to track down the Homecoming Queen, and the other people who end up getting kidnapped after her. But the ending is satisfying and gratifying, as we find out that the kidnapper was only out to punish Aspen and keeps nabbing the wrong girls!

This book was terrific fun, and not just for teens. I thoroughly enjoyed how Aspen grows up, from selfish teen/queen to a girl who is capable of caring for others (and the environment!), even putting her own life in danger to save her mom. It’s a rollicking good time filled with plot twists, humor, and a little naughtiness to keep it all interesting. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was sorry to see it end.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Death of a Neighborhood Witch

Death of a neighborhood witch 
Death of a Neighborhood Witch by Laura Levine
Reviewed by Gerti

Death of a Neighborhood Witch” is another funny mystery from the author of the Jaine Austen mysteries, Laura Levine. However, unlike so many other authors who have gleaned inspiration from the famed British novelist Jane Austen, Laura Levine’s only connection with the original author, her plot, and characters, is that the heroine’s name. It is not even a running joke in this book, as it was in Levine’s first novel, “This Pen for Hire.” Perhaps author Levine has realized that not that many people who read mysteries know who Jane Austen is, or perhaps she feels the joke has run its course. Either way, I don’t mind.

Levine uses the Austen name to reel in new fans, because once they read one of her hysterical books, they will be hooked, as I am. Laura Levine’s comedy background is impressive - Levine wrote for such classic TV shows as “The Bob Newhart Show” and “Laverne and Shirley” and her skills are one display here, as heroine Jaine solves yet another murder, after being the chief suspect first. Her comic antics are laugh-out-loudable, but also plausible, which is what makes them so fun! These comic turns are what I really love about the book, and the series.

However, I dislike that she has changed the personality of her nosey neighbor Lance to make him flaming in this book, and I liked him better when he could just hear through her paper-thin walls. He is positively nasty in this book, and his double-crossing her after they pick out Halloween costumes (he changes her flapper outfit to a gorilla suit at the last minute) is the reason she becomes a murder suspect at all. No one needs friends like that!

I also dislike the frequent references to Jaine’s cat, Prozac, but I understand that is part of Levine’s schtick, just as Joanne Fluke‘s cat is an important character in all her Hannah Swensen food-related mysteries. It is Prozac running into the yard of the neighborhood witch Cryptessa Muldoon (and inadvertently killing her bird!) that sets the wheels of the mystery in motion. Cryptessa is an irascible old lady who in her youth used to star in a short-lived TV series called I Married a Zombie. Think of her as analogous to Morticia Adams or Lily Munster.

Cryptessa is hated by her neighbors for being cranky and nosey, as she takes pictures of her neighbors, who are engaged in some pretty wild stuff for middle-class middle-aged people. So when she is found dead with a “Do Not Tresspass” sign staked through her body, everyone is a suspect, and Jaine has to figure out who done it. In the end, it doesn’t really matter who did it, because the mystery is just an excuse for Jaine to butt into everyone’s lives and find out their dirty little secrets. Lucky for us, Levine’s comic writing talents and easy writing style make it a pleasure to go along for the ride. This book is a hoot!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Poet

The poet. 
The Poet by Michael Connelly
Reviewed by Gerti

Even before I started reading “The Poet”, Stephen King’s gushing forward let me know that it was something special. He praises Michael Connelly for the enticingly clever first line, “Death is my beat”, which comes from the mind of journalist, Jack McEvoy, who is struggling with his emotions after the death of his homicide detective brother, Sean. King praises the book as a marvelous piece of storytelling, and it is, including “a series of surprises that go off like well-placed dynamite charges”. I’ve found those unexpected twists in plot to be typical of Connelly’s writing. Although his comments were written in 2003, King calls this book “the best work Michael Connelly, a prolific writer, has done up to this point, and marks(s) him as an important voice in the genre at the turn of the century.” With high praise like that, what can I say, but that Connelly has written another great book filled with memorable characters and a sizzling storyline?

Connelly’s writing never fails to impress me. Since I was once a journalist, I really like his realistic characterization of newspaper reporter Jack McEvoy, and the problems Jack faces within and without his newsroom. He believes that his twin brother’s death was not a suicide, but has difficulty convincing others that it’s more than wishful thinking. He breaks the big story, however, when his research reveals a pattern to the supposed suicide deaths of several homicide detectives across the country, and the FBI is called in to investigate. Soon, Jack finds himself on the trail of a serial killer called The Poet, with a taste for Edgar Allan Poe (who else?) There is the obligatory romance with a tougher-than-nails female agent, until Jack begins to suspect that she may be behind some of the deaths. But the true killer’s identity is that dynamite blast Stephen King was referring to… so I won’t spoil it for you!

Suffice it to say that I agree with Stephen King that this is a great book, complicated but satisfying. I love the way McEvoy follows the clues wherever they lead, even if they sometimes lead him astray for a while. I even like his relationship with FBI agent Rachel Walling, as it seems more natural here than her “romance” in another book (“The Narrows”) with another of Connelly’s favorite protagonists, sometime LAPD detective Harry Bosch. This book is irresistible, and I finished it in a day, despite it being over 500 pages long. If the writing weren’t so good, I might even have to complain about how much Connelly writes!

I strongly recommend “The Poet” to anyone who likes a crime story where the good guys win, almost. But just like students in college take psychology classes to figure out what is wrong with them, this book shows that the FBI (and journalism – LOL) is riddled with broken people, some of whom can’t be fixed.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Ender's Game

Ender's game 
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
Reviewed by Gerti 

My husband read Orson Scott Card’s classic science fiction novel “Ender’s Game” decades ago, and my son a few years ago before the movie of the same name came out. They were both able to scoff when we watched the movie together about how the story was handled by the filmmakers. And while I don’t always trust their taste in literature since it runs more toward science fiction than mine, they were right when it comes to this book. “Ender’s Game” is amazing.

The storyline is dramatic and suspenseful, with a likeable main character, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, who even though he is not even 10 at the book’s beginning, is nonetheless frightening in his understanding of the world and other people. He is a “Third” child in a world where families are not allowed to have that many children. He has older siblings named Peter and Valentine, and while Peter is a sadist, sister Valentine has always come to Ender’s aid. This is why Ender feels that someone older and wiser will always come to his aid as he goes through his military training, but we learn later that that is not the case.

I don’t want to ruin the plot for you, but let’s just say that Ender kills people. There are two instances where Ender is being bullied by one child in particular, and that child also has a pack of followers. Ender realizes that if he doesn’t decisively win a fight, the bullying will continue and only get worse. So he cleverly defeats his older boy bullies. But what he doesn’t realize until the novel’s end is that he in fact kills those boys, not as Peter would out of cruelty, but out of necessity, as Ender sees it. And while adults are watching, the other boys could just have easily have killed Ender, and no one would have come to his aid.

In incidents like those, Ender proves his strategic intelligence. He is seen as the last hope for humans in a war against alien creatures called “buggers”. He believes he is a student at Battle School, preparing for the coming war against them. He doesn’t realize till the end that each simulation he goes through, he is actually fighting battles against these telepathic creatures. I did, perhaps because I had already seen the movie, but there were enough clues left by the author that Ender has a special connection with the computers at the academy. He was so extraordinary when playing a video game on the school’s machines that his human handlers had not designed the levels on which he was playing.

This book won the Hugo & Nebula awards for writers of science fiction, and the fights between Ender and the other boys, as well as the battle simulations in the special zero gravity rooms, are brilliantly written, so clear and precise in their language that visualizing them was easy even for someone who prefers Regency Romances like myself. My only critique of the book, and apparently it is a common one, is that Ender would be too young to do all this, starting at age 6. I could be wrong, however, as my teenaged son disagrees, and he probably remembers more clearly how young boys think since he’s closer to that age.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Pelican Brief

The pelican brief. 
The Pelican Brief by John Grisham
Reviewed by Gerti

John Grisham introduces us to a female protagonist in “The Pelican Brief” who must be his ideal woman. Darby Shaw is a brilliant law student at Tulane, so smart in fact that she figures out who killed 2 Supreme Court Justices before even the government does. And that puts her life in danger.

But more than that, Shaw is Grisham’s dream girl, because besides having a first class mind, she is a younger woman who is sleeping with her older and frequently drunk law professor, Thomas Callahan. I sense a little wish fulfillment here, as not only is she brilliant and willing to sleep around, but Darby Shaw is also gorgeous. So stunning that she literally turns heads when she walks down the street, although being modest (as if!), she wears oversized sweaters that hide her rockin’ bod.

Not to take away from the great plot, which has Callahan and his best friend being killed as part of the conspiracy from the White House down to protect the man who wanted the Supreme Court Justices killed just to make more money. Darby is constantly moving and of course outsmarting the government and the virtual mobsters who are chasing her at each turn in order to get hold of “The Pelican Brief”, which she wrote. But like Jennifer Garner in “Alias”, Darby is able to change her identity quickly, dying her hair, moving around thanks to all the money she has, and basically getting help from other fellows who are looking to get in her pants, namely the reporter Gray Grantham. I don’t think it’s an accident that his name sounds a lot like John Grisham, either.

It is a great story, and the suspense level is high. She is being stalked by all kinds of characters, including one of the world’s most infamous assassins, Khamel, who actually killed the esteemed jurists from the highest court in the land. But everyone is so swayed by Darby’s looks, Callahan, Grantham and even “all-business” assassin Khamel, that this reads more like a teenager’s daydream than a classic thriller. Don’t get me wrong – I loved it. But the character of Darby Shaw was so obviously written by a man, and a love-starved middle-aged man, that it is comical and detracts from what would otherwise be a great and gripping story.

Grisham’s writing is as good as it usually is, but I find it hard to enjoy even a thriller like this when the book is so hamstrung by juvenile lusts. I like to think that Darby Shaw could have been a slightly dumpy but brilliant law student, and still written “The Pelican Brief”. But perhaps Grisham wrote the book with the movie version already in mind. Although I had to laugh when Julia Roberts was chosen to play the female lead in the film, and then so obviously didn’t dye or cut her hair (as Darby does many times in the book) to escape the bad guys. It’s just another decision by male “artists” who changed the storyline in order to cater to their vision of female beauty.