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Monday, May 18, 2015

Pretend You Don't See Her

Pretend you don't see her : a novel 
Pretend You Don’t See Her by Mary Higgins Clark
Review by Gerti


By now, I’ve gotten used to Mary Higgins Clark writing books based on old songs, but this is one song I’ve yet to look up on YouTube. It seems an odd title, though, for the story of realtor Lacey Farrell who goes into witness protection after seeing a murder at a client’s condo in New York City.

There is more wrong with this novel than just the title, however. One of the things that stands out early is that the killer, who uses a false name to get Lacey to show him a NYC apartment, allegedly steals the key to the place from the front hallway table there in order to come back and kill the owner. But after the murder, when Lacey shuts him out by locking the door, he somehow can’t open it to get back in, even though he has the key. Big continuity flaw.

I also dislike how stupid Lacey is in the novel. Through the witness protection program, the authorities move her from NYC to Minneapolis after she sees the killer’s face and they figure out from his prints that he’s a wanted mobster they thought was dead. But Lacey can’t help telling her ditzy mom where she has been moved to, even though she knows it threatens her own safety. She also can’t keep away from the things she did in New York – working in real estate and going to health clubs. It seems that would be Witness Protection 101, try to do different things in your new location, so you’re not so easy to track down. But Lacey follows old patterns, and with her loose lips, it’s no wonder the murderous mobster finds his way to Minnesota to finish the job by killing her.

I also disliked how she felt unable to make new relationships in her new town, afraid that she was putting them in danger. It seems odd that she is unwilling to put strangers in danger, when she seems to go out of her way to put herself in harm’s way. The only sensible thing she does is choose a fake name – Alice Carroll – this is similar to her real name, so she can remember and respond to it.

The back story in this novel – that actress Heather Landi’s mother never believed she died in a car accident, but that she was murdered, and that elderly lady confides in Lacey and gives her Heather’s journal – is interesting. But all of it seems far-fetched and strains credibility. I always like Clark’s writing, but this seems like one of her early writing efforts which could have used a few more read-throughs by a conscientious editor. Now the only mystery is the song…

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Walking Dead: The Fall of the Governor - Part 1

The fall of the Governor, part oneThe Walking Dead: The Fall of the Governor – Part 1 by Jay Bonansinga
Review by Gerti


I love the television series “The Walking Dead” on AMC, but I don’t like reading graphic novels, so Jay Bonansinga’s novelized books about “The Walking Dead” with Robert Kirkman are a wonderful way to check in on my favorite characters and settings, as well as see some action the TV series ignores or changes to make it more palatable for a wide audience.

For example, in “The Walking Dead” on AMC, the treatment of the katana-wielding female character Michonne is very different than what happens to her in the graphic novels, and also here in “The FOTG – Part One”. I understand why, because the sex and violence in these books is way beyond what you could or would want to show on TV, given the wide age-range of the series’ fans. There are several protracted scenes here where the Governor, Philip Blake, takes revenge on Michonne after she, Rick and Glenn stumble into Woodbury. When she is finally freed by one of the Governor’s henchmen, instead of escaping, she sets out to find the Governor and gets her own perverse payback from him. It’s that kind of a world after the zombie apocalypse, but it’s definitely more “Fifty Shades of Gray” than the made-for-TV revenge viewers get on AMC.

This book also stays true to the graphic novel plot, where the Governor takes off one of Rick Grimes’ hands, which also does not happen on TV. In this book, Rick spends time in the infirmary with Dr. Stevens and nurse Alice, who show him that Woodbury is an evil place, and the Governor is a madman. Therefore when the opportunity to escape arises, the whole group follows Martinez, the Governor’s unhappy henchmen, out of the complex after rescuing Glenn and Michonne.

A character completely ignored by the TV series is Lilly Caul, who takes center stage in Bonansinga’s “Descent”, which shows Woodbury after the Governor. In this book, unlike others by Bonansinga, she is lulled into a false sense of security by the Governor, and spends her time sleeping with her boy toy, and getting pregnant. I’ll have to read “The FOTG – Part Two” to see why she isn’t pregnant in “Descent”. Here, however, she is not a likeable character at all, and could have been completely written out without me missing her.

The Fall of the Governor – Part One” is a terrific read, although like so many “part one’s” these days (Harry Potter and The Hobbit, for example), there is a sense of dissatisfaction when it ends. Bonansinga writes in a clear, exciting way, and I felt swept along with the action, although the graphic sex and violence are not for pre-teen or sensitive readers. I can’t wait to read “Part Two”, but still resent that what should have been one book was split into two parts, probably just to garner the authors more money. It’s a great storyline and they deserve to be paid for their creativity, but why rip off the audience?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Burning Room

The burning room : a novelThe Burning Room by Michael Connelly
Review by Gerti

 

Former reporter turned crime writer Michael Connelly is one of my favorite authors, and I could hardly wait to get my hands on “The Burning Room.” The only disappointment I felt when it was over, was that it was over, and I had no more Connelly to read! Don’t worry about me, though. I’m already halfway into one of his old books!

In this book, LAPD cold case detective Harry Bosch (hurrah!) is on the case of a man who died 10 years after being shot. He was Orlando Merced, a musician performing in Mariachi plaza in LA a decade before with his band, looking for work, when a bullet pierced his spine. The crime was always considered a gang drive-by gone bad, and Merced was paraded around by a political candidate to show how out-of-control LA crime had become. But Bosch and his new partner, Lucia Soto, soon realize that another band member was actually the intended victim, and that the murder weapon was a hunting rifle, which puts an entirely different spin on the investigation.

As always, Bosch is hampered in his efforts to find the truth by the political workings both inside and outside the police department, but now he has to even question the commitment of his partner, a young Hispanic woman who appears to be lying to him about where she is spending her time, and which case she’s really working on. When confronted, Lucy reveals that she was the victim of a neighborhood building fire as a child, and is hoping to find out who set the Bonnie Brae fire, which killed several of her childhood friends. Bosch agrees to help her, and soon realizes that that case is related to that of the Mariachi musician, as well as to a bank robbery down the street.

In typical style, Connelly weaves a brilliantly complicated story, filled with interconnected plotlines which make it real thrill when everything comes together at the end. For long-time Bosch fans, an FBI agent and former love interest of Bosch’s even puts in a guest appearance, and we get to see Bosch’s daughter working toward her own career in law enforcement. Can you say “passing the torch?” Connelly has thankfully even gotten over his young writer’s habit of making Bosch sleep with someone in every novel. Here Bosch resists getting back into a relationship with the coroner, and starts seeing a female crime reporter. It will be a sad day for Connelly readers when Harry Bosch decide to retire from the force! At this point, as long as Connelly keeps writing, I’ll be there, excited to read the next installment!

Monday, May 11, 2015

My Gal Sunday

My Gal Sunday 
My Gal Sunday by Mary Higgins Clark
Review by Gerti


I’ve gotten used to Mary Higgins Clark writing books with titles based on the popular culture of her youth, but this title was a new one for me. Apparently back in the day, there was a radio soap opera called “My Gal Sunday,” so it makes sense (to Clark) for the characters here to reference that now obscure show and call the former president’s wife “Sunday” when her real name is Sandra. However, it seems an odd reference to the modern reader who has never heard of the original, but I guess it’s no more unusual than the Preppy Handbook from the ‘80s recommending women be nicknamed “Bunny” or “Buffy.”

The real meat of this collection of vignettes by Clark is that there is a mystery-solving couple comprised of a former president (with another impossible name – Henry Parker Britland IV) and his lovely young Congresswoman wife, Sandra “Sunday” O’Brien. As seemingly mismatched as Dashiell Hammet’s detective and socialite pairing, Nick and Nora Charles from the Thin Man series, the Britland’s first mystery is whether or not his friend and (former Secretary of State Thomas Shipman) murdered his young lover, Arabella. Strangely, Shipman doesn’t even remember her death, although it happened in his house, in his library, with his gun, right after their relationship broke up. The Britlands believe Shipman is being set up, but whodunit? This first mystery is so easy this reader solved it even before the evildoer is revealed.

In the second vignette, Sunday is kidnapped, which drives her husband and the secret service who still protect him crazy. They think an international terrorist is behind the act, but it turns out the terrorist is just using the situation to improve his living conditions in jail and knows nothing about the crime at all. The true criminal is the brother of someone Sunday couldn’t keep out of jail back when she was a public defender. But the good guys manage to rescue Sunday just in the nick of time, thanks to a canny media message she manages to send her husband, who we find out here also happens to be a pilot. Yes, sometimes these people are so talented it defies credulity, and that weakens the stories.

Speaking of which, the third story involves a little French-speaking boy who also gets kidnapped by a bad babysitter and escapes during the Christmas season. Luckily, Jacques finds the Britland’s home, and they treat him to a glorious holiday celebration (having no children of their own) until the mystery of his origin can be solved. Another case goes back to Britland’s own childhood and involves a murder on the presidential yacht. Sunday is determined to solve it, and so she does, bringing a foreign head of state to justice for the crime.

These four stories of Clark’s are fun to read in a “Movie of the Week” way, where you leave common sense behind and just enjoy the ride. No secrets of the universe are revealed, no Nobel prizes won or lost, but if you are looking for a bit of escapist fun to brighten your day, these stories provide just the right touch.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Walking Dead - Book 7

The Walking Dead – Book Seven by Robert Kirkman
Review by Gerti


I have been a fan of the AMC series “The Walking Dead” since it first premiered a few years ago. That said, however, I am not a fan of the graphic novel format, preferring Kirkman’s story on the screen to the bleakly colored page. But this season, where Rick Grimes and his ragged group of survivors entered Alexandria outside of Washington DC, had me too anxious to wait for the next televised episodes to find out if yet another post-apocalyptic Eden was too good to be true.

As a result, I chose to read “The Walking Dead – Books 6 & 7” in graphic novel format, hoping that I would be far enough along in the series to catch Rick’s group as they entered the zombie-free Virginia enclave. My timing was just right. It is in Book Six where the survivors I have come to know and care about approach DC. But this review is about Book Seven.

Reading “ahead” like this showed me that the little paradise that Rick and his people stumble onto does not stay one – and that is their fault to some extent. Former law enforcement officer Rick comes to find that one of the inhabitants of Alexandria is being abused by her doctor husband. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that that is the same lady that widowed Rick is attracted to. And knowing Rick as fans of the story do, it is not at all surprising that the situation between the two men comes to a head, with violence being the only solution. He is, after all, “one-strike Rick” now. There are no second chances for these people who have been living with violence and death for so long.

The other fact that is revealed in Book Seven is that the walls that looked so secure early on are much like Alexandria themselves – partially illusory – as the survivors from outside find out too late that some of the posts holding the walls up were not sunk in concrete, and therefore, likely to come down if a herd of zombies large enough pushes on them. We’ve seen the solution they try here before at the Georgia prison where the group holed up, parking trucks against the sagging walls, and therefore readers know the walls will eventually come down before the characters do.

Disaster strikes, and Rick and company try their best to fight off the un-dead interlopers, but Carl is seriously injured in the last few pages. I’m not sure what that means for the show this season. Carl has already been shot once, a few seasons ago, so perhaps they won’t shoot him again on TV. In the comic-book storyline, Rick has one arm and his baby is dead too, so the print world may be more brutal than the producers are willing to show their vast television audience. But I anxiously await both the arrival of Books 8 and 9 for me at the library, and Sunday night, so I can see what twists and turns Kirkman’s story has next.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

No Place Like Home

No place like homeNo Place Like Home by Mary Higgins Clark
Review by Gerti

One of the better Mary Higgins Clark books, even though one of the "surprises" was pretty evident from the beginning. It involves a woman names Celia whose husband buys her a house for her birthday, a house in which she killed her mother when she was a child and bore a different name. I accept the fact that a child who becomes famous for a crime would want to change her name in order to reclaim her anonymity, but I don't see a husband EVER buying a house for wife that she hadn't seen and approved. And a house with such a terrible history for her? Too great a coincidence to believe, and that makes him an immediate suspect in my book!

Celia, however, has no such suspicions, even though creepy things start happening almost immediately. Those include someone vandalizing the lawn in front of the house and their heavy wooden front door, works which prove to be more than the actions of teenage ne'er-do-wells. Then the realtor who sold the house to her husband is found dead near some spilled paint that was used to write "Little Lizzie's Place. Beware!" on the lawn. Liza Barclay was Celia's childhood name, and the press dubbed her "Little Lizzie" after infamous parent killer Lizzie Borden. But in Liza's case, she accidentally shot her mother, Audrey, while trying to protect her from Ted Cartwright, her sexy but violent stepfather.

Celia hasn't told her new husband, Alex Nolan, about her past, but any fan of old movies know this plot - where the creepy husband tries to make his rich new wife feel like she's losing her mind, possibly even get her convicted of some crime. And that's where it's headed in this book, as the bodies begin to pile up, and Celia seems to be strangely close to each location! After the realtor, the lawn boy is found shot to death, then a riding instructor of Celia's who is also linked to her father and stepfather. One local detective in on the verge of matching Celia's fingerprints to those of Little Lizzie, but luckily, the Morris County prosecutor thinks the finger-pointing has gone too far and that Celia may in fact be more victim than crazed criminal.

All through the plot twists, Celia tries desperately to remember what her mother shouted while fighting with her stepfather, and when it finally comes back to her, she is able to put the pieces together herself. A bullet pulled from a tree decades ago and a yellowing press clipping also help knit the story together, and soon all the non-deceased baddies are behind bars, including Celia's current spouse, who just wanted her for her money.

A fun book to read, like most of Clark's efforts. "No Place Like Home" would make great reading around Halloween, when all the spooky vandalism would fit right into the season of ghosts and goblins. I'm glad I bought this book at a local book sale.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Ordinary People

Ordinary peopleOrdinary People
Movie Review by Gerti

I am a crier. I cry at a lot of things: movies, books, Hallmark commercials, dead animals by the side of the road. Just because I cry a lot doesn’t mean there aren’t things worth crying over, and this movie, “Ordinary People,” contains one of them. That is, I cried because a young man tried to kill himself. I cried because his mother was a cold fish who loved her dead son more than her living son. I cried because… because “Ordinary People” contains so many weep-worthy twists of emotion as I watched this family tear itself apart.

The story is a simple one. An upper-middle class family has two teenaged sons. Both went sailing on Lake Michigan. One died when their boat overturned, and the other is wracked with guilt at the death of his older sibling. The dead brother, Buck, was good at so many things, but the younger brother, Conrad, is the sensitive one, so he doesn’t see himself as strong. He tried to commit suicide after his brother died, but instead comes home from the hospital to find that his mother resents him for his brother’s death, for his suicide attempt, and in fact for everything he does that makes their family seem less than perfect to her friends. There is a beautiful scene where Con yells at his mom for never coming to see him in the hospital, and the father simply makes excuses for her. Hard to watch!

Con tries to solve his issues by going to see a psychiatrist, Dr. Berger, but his mother also finds that embarrassing. Con quits the swim team and tries to connect with other people, especially girls he knows, all in an attempt to find his true identity in the face of tragedy. He also tries to reconnect with his mother, but it becomes heartbreakingly clear that she is unavailable to him, that all she wants to do is get out of town, out of the country, away from her surviving son, and just play golf. The devastating aspect of it is that she tries to take Con’s father away, too, leaving Con no one within his household with whom he can communicate.

It all unravels eventually when Calvin, the father, confronts his wife about her coldness toward their surviving son. Instead of talking to him, or seeking psychiatric treatment, she chooses to pack her things and leave. But you get the feeling that abrupt as that action seems, it means good things for the two remaining family members, dad Calvin and son Conrad. The final scene shows them connecting outdoors (the house is poison?) and hope grows that their relationship will blossom in the absence of the cold, manipulative wife & mother.

The title is ironic, because this family is anything but ordinary with their wealth and their twisted relationships. But the two surviving members in the Lake Forest, Illinois household, dad and son, are seen as working toward a day when they will only be troubled by ordinary irritations - low grades at school, a weird swim coach, or unprofitable stock transactions. I love how the father, despite being browbeaten by his wife, reaches out to the son who needs him so desperately, which opens his eyes to the real cancer in the family, his aloof spouse. Must see.