Wednesday, March 13, 2019

I Hear Mute People

The Silent Patient – Alex Michaelides (Celadon)

Every once in a while, a book comes along that has a reputation that proceeds its arrival onto bookstore shelves. Alex Michaelides debut novel, The Silent Patient, is one of those books; a unique, yet pretty straight forward story as psychological thrillers go. 

The tale involves a seemingly troubled, beautiful artist, who stands accused of murdering her husband and then goes mute, not uttering a single word in her own defense. Assumed to be psychologically challenged, Alicia Berenson is confined to a mental institution; where a series of psychotherapy professionals try to break through the wall she has built up around herself.


Enter, Theo Faber, a psychotherapist who seems utterly hellbent to work with Alicia and boldly go where no therapist has successfully gone before and bring her back to the world of the living and speaking. It’s the hellbent part that should be tip off for folks who want to try to figure out where all this is heading.

As with all great psychological thrillers – you will either have the breakthrough you seek, or you will upon the story’s conclusion do a healthy face palm for not realizing the path that you have been on all along. While The Silent Patient, is very well put together, I was able to see a bit of the classic, The Sixth Sense in between the lines and that Faber was a whole lot bigger to this story than just a hyper interested, committed metal health practitioner. That best guess on my part, may have reduced my overall impression and the impact of the story for me.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Have a Drink on Me

On Drinking - Charles Bukowski - Edited by Abel Debritto (ECCO) 

The new collection of writings, On Drinking, by Charles Bukowski, edited by Bukowski expert Abel Debritto, you get everything you should have come to expect from Mr. Bukowski; at turns the writings are colorful, profane, elegant, and caustic. Bukowski is a prolific scribbler and this collection offers up the scratchings of poetry, short stories, magazine quotes and observations.

On Drinking, proves that EVERYTHING was fodder for Bukowski writings - events big or small or seemingly insignificant. Bukowski On Drinking is really drinking as a catalyst for writings on women and sex and life and family and sobriety and all things Bukowski. Clearly a drunkard himself, Bukowski offers up some colorful thoughts, observations and prose about drunks, especially those who are not himself.

Many skilled practitioners of the art form of writing have bemoaned the difficulty of churning out words, that often give reference to the strain of giving birth. Bukowski does seem to give credence to the stream of thought. In fact he seems to lend credence to the line the alcohol lubes the system and ease the flow of words onto the blank page.

Some of these scribblings drip with an intense loneliness and despair, while others display and all out, reckless abandon and humor. Much of what is gathered here seems to be imbued with a sense of telling the real world to go F itself. That attitude makes this collection a must read for those who aspire to the form.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Judgment Day for Judgment

Judgment: A Novel – Joseph Finder (Dutton)

Joseph Finder is one of my all-time favorite authors. He has done an amazing job of crafting tightly woven plots, compelling characters and stories that will suck you in and keep you turning pages and guessing right to the very end. Add to that his willingness to kill off a main character along the way just to ratchet things up.

With his new book, Judgment, I am left questioning Finder’s judgement. First, there are the totally out of place, backhanded slaps at Donald Trump, ranging from a dog chewing on a Trump figurine chew toy (?) to a running commentary on branches  of the U.S. government that deal with all things Russia, are underfunded/understaffed. Not sure how these offhand remarks (Russia collusion?) served moving the story along?

Plot Holes
Couple that silliness with plot holes throughout and storylines that swerve off the road and go nowhere and you’ll be left scratching your head. You have to wonder how it is that the seemingly all knowing, all seeing antagonist somehow misses when the protagonist, Judge Julianna Brody has a series of meetings with representatives of the federal government.

The ending was a dramatic miss, where Brody gets to walk straight into a high powered meeting at the private residence of a Russian oligarch so she can confront her tormentor directly. Now this is a guy who has been portrayed as being so ruthless, or surrounded by ruthless killers who would not hesitate to kill off anyone who gets in the way; yet she gets to walk out of the house unscathed. In fact there were so many opportunities that Judge Brody could have been dispatched that it defies logic and any grip on reality.

It was my respect for Finder’s skill that kept me plugging along, reading to the end, in an unrealized hope that things would take a turn for the better, that never happened.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Bottom Line on the Bottom Line

Geddy Lee’s Big Beautiful Book of Bass: A Compendium of the Rare, Iconic and Weird – Geddy Lee – (Harper Design)

Who better than Geddy Lee, the man who spent nearly 40 years anchoring the bottom end of the sound of progressive legends and Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductees, Rush, to write a definitive treatise on the bass guitar. This amazing collection, chock full of amazing photos, deep history and insightful interviews with some of the masters of the instrument all under the covers of Geddy Lee’s Big Beautiful Book of Bass: A Compendium of the Rare, Iconic and Weird.

You will literally run out of adjectives to describe the book, before you run out of book. The photography, courtesy of Richard Sibbald – illustrates the full range of styles, shapes, sizes, colors and finishes from manufacturers like Fender, Gibson, Hofner, Ampeg, Rickenbacher and even Steinberger.

Lee waxes poetically about his voluminous personal collection and details the axes he used in the studio and on the stage. Lee offers a completists approach to a graphical index of a timeline of the history of the bass. You can hear a mutual respect in the interviews Lee conducts with a group of legendary bassists ranging from Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, U2’s Adam Clayton, Robert Trujilio (Metalica/Suicidal Tendencies) the Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman among others.

Lee shows just how deep this collection goes by looking at international bass builders/craftsman (luthiers) Dan Armstrong, Tony Zemortas and Antonio Wandr Pioli. This is a must read for bassists, bottom line bass/Rush fans, music fans, and fans of the skilled craftsman who create musical works of art. It’s only fitting that the Geddy Lee’s Big Beautiful Book of Bass: A Compendium of the Rare, Iconic and Weird is a work of art.

Monday, February 4, 2019

A Tale of Two Thrills

Freefall: A Novel – Jessica Barry (Harper)

Thrillers, by their very nature, need to bait the hook, tease the reader into biting on the story and then set the hook and keep them locked in for the full ride. Great thrillers feature sympathetic, yet tough as nails characters and a story line that is relatable and that you care enough about that you want to see what happens to them in the end. It helps if the author can parcel out the story in a way that keeps readers guessing and thinking that they can discern  where things are going before they actually get there.

Jessica Barry’s debut, Freefall, checks all of the boxes, with a story line that runs on a dual track. Allison carpenter miraculously survives when her fiance’s private plane crashed into a mountain side in the Rockies. Thousands of miles away in Maine, Allison’s Mom, Maggie – estranged from her daughter, upon hearing the news, tries to piece together her daughter’s life, all the while doubting the reports of her death. Both women fully live up to the sympathetic yet tough as nails standard.

Allison’s harrowing trek out of the mountains and toward a new life, free of the almost stereotypical, bad guy, big pharma CEO fiancĂ© driving her forward. While there are a number of brushes and near misses with folks who seem hell bent on stopping her from blowing the whistle on her fiance’s wrongdoing. Along the way it becomes apparent that her beau was not at the stick when the plane went down and that a race for survival was on between the pair.

There is an equally relatable crustiness to Maggie’s character; if you have a cranky parent or grandparent you can hear the old school, familiar disdain, with little to no patience for new people and new things. The slam bang finish is satisfying and sets the table for Jessica Barry to be an ongoing thriller talent to be reckoned with.   

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Expect, No…Mercy

The Long Road to Mercy – David Baldacci (Grand Central)

Since his debut thriller, Absolute Power, some 23 years ago in 1996, I have been a fan of bestselling author David Baldacci. Through his amazing catalog of work and his multitude of successful characters and series he has done an amazing job of weaving enthralling tales and creating compelling story leads.

So it was no surprise that Baldacci would once again launch a new character to lead the way with his latest book, The Long Road to Mercy, in the form of FBI Special Agent Atlee Pine. Right from the first page I thought we were off to the races on another amazing thrill ride. Pine makes late night visit to the Colorado based Florence ADX, super-max prison to have a chat with serial killer and mountain sized Hannibal Lecter-like, Daniel James Tor, who she believes is responsible for the disappearance of her twin sister Mercy.

With shades of Clarice Starling confronting Lecter at the Plexiglass divider I was strapped in a ready for what I thought was certain to come! And then the story took a hard turn and veered off into a tale involving the murder and mutilation of a Grand Canyon mule and the mysterious circumstances that surround it. What? The word LONG in the title is very apt, because this one goes on a long and winding road to introduce Pine and her background while mixing in a twisted tale involving international intrigue, a so-called suitcase nuke, mysterious North Korean thugs and a shadowy bunch of consultants and think tank operatives. What?

I hung in for the story to see exactly where it would go and end up and in the end thought it would be a good story for a beginning novelist, but I wasn’t sold that this was up to Baldacci’s standards. Here’s hoping the title The Long Road to Mercy, lives to its billing in the second book and Baldacci sends Pine on an ongoing search for answers involving her sister.   

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Tale of Two Cookbooks

I love cookbooks because of the sheer diversity of their style and approach to cooking, because I love to try new things and learn new techniques or methods for preparing food. Two recent additions to the shelf approach things from very different directions; one focused on an almost snout to tail approach to cooking, with nothing going to waste and the other an easy home cooking, simple recipe approach.
Joe Beef: Surviving the Apocalypse: Another Cookbook of Sorts – Fredric Morin, David McMillan, and Meredith Erickson (Knopf)

Adventurous and dynamic may just barely scratch the surface of the Joe Beef approach to cooking and food. Part cookbook and part gourmet survival guide Fredric Morin, David McMillan, and Meredith Erickson team up to serve up Joe Beef: Surviving the Apocalypse: Another Cookbook of Sorts, is a rambling affair chock full of intriguing recipes (150!) along with a carefully curated selection of essentials to stock up your larder to make surviving the apocalypse less trying.

The trio load Joe Beef: Surviving the Apocalypse: Another Cookbook of Sorts, with tales and reminiscences about long lost summers and unique Sunday dinners. The fact that they are based in Montreal may be a contributing factor to some of the difficulty sourcing some of the ingredients suggested in the book. Not a great choice for the beginning cook, there is a level of skill need to successfully pull some of these recipes off; but the stories make this worth the price of admission.

Comfort Food Shortcuts: An "In the Kitchen with David" Cookbook from QVC's Resident Foodie – David Venable – (Ballantine)

A 20 plus year veteran of the shopping network OVC, David Venable is dubbed the channel’s resident foodie and has successfully introduced curious shopper to a wide range of new gizmos and innovative devices and tools to make meal preparation simple and easy.

Simple and easy is the focus of Venable’s latest cookbook, Comfort Food Shortcuts: An "In the Kitchen with David" Cookbook from QVC's Resident Foodie, which is loaded with 110 recipes that utilize many of the time saving devices that he sells through QVC, combined with great shortcuts that will make it easy to get great tasting food that will become favorites for the whole family.

Busy schedules can make family dinners non-existent, but this simple, stripped down approach combined with easy shortcuts on the ingredients used in things like slow cookers and pressure cookers to simplify the whole process. Think great meals with less muss and no fuss.