This is another psychological thriller that keeps the reader riveted from Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn. This, Flynn’s debut novel, tells the story of Camille and the uphill battle she faces as she is forced to confront her past and return her her roots.  Struggling as a cub reporter, Camille gets a prime assignment that just might get her name on the journalism map.  The only problem is the story requires her to head back to her small hometown to cover the murder of two young girls.  Her mother still lives there and Camille has had practically no communication with her since Camille left eight years ago.  There also is a new half-sister, who Camille does not know at all.

Flynn does a fantastic job of interweaving all of Camille’s troubles with the case she’s supposed to be researching and reporting.  And, though Camille is not a perfect character, we do at least begin to like her more and more as the story progresses.  She’s very troubled (at the beginning, we find out one of the reasons she is floundering in her newspaper job is that she just finished a stint in a psych hospital) and heading to her hometown only increases these troubles.  But, Flynn does not take Camille or any of the characters here and send them over the top, as many authors tend to do, especially in thrillers.  The story and the characters here are controlled and methodical.  All in all, this is a a wonderful thriller with a dark, gritty edge. 

Facebook0Google+0Twitter0Pinterest0tumblrEmail

Be the first to comment!

A dark (as the title states), depressing novel with pretty much no sympathetic characters, this is the second novel by Gone Girl author Flynn.  The main character here, Libby Day, was witness to her mother and sisters being murdered when she was a small child.  In court, she identified her brother as the killer.  Over 20 years later, Libby begins to doubt that testimony…did she really see her brother kill three members of her family or did she just believe she had seen it?  Libby begins a quest for self-discovery that will take her life into even more dark places than before.

First of all, Libby is not a nice person.  She’s a thief, she can be violent, and she only begins to question her brother’s innocence after stumbling on a group of true crime addicts who offer her money for trophies from her past.  Aside from Libby, the novel is also told from the point-of-view of the mother and the brother (both of those POVs are set before the murders).  But, like Libby, neither the mother nor the brother are characters the reader will want to relate to.  The brother, Ben, gets involved with Satanism and a VERY bad crowd of friends.  And the mother sits idly by while her family crumbles around her. 

See…it’s a VERY dark story.  But, if you can get past all of that, it is a well-written, edgy piece of fiction that really does keep you reading.  Unlike a lot of contemporary thrillers, this one has a solid foundation, as well as great character development and a pretty decent ending. 

Facebook0Google+0Twitter0Pinterest0tumblrEmail

Be the first to comment!

By far my favorite book of 2012 (even though I read it in 2013).  It is a strong, fierce thriller that combines social commentary and suspense…all in one well-written story.  It is no surprise to me that Ruth Rendell is still writing strong, highly literary pieces of fiction.  She is one of the leaders of the mystery genre, especially British mysteries.  Writing here as Barbara Vine, Rendell writes what I think is one of her best in years…lending truth to the adage that some things improves with age. 

The story here starts off in 2011 with a sister and her brother, Grace and Andrew, sharing a home in London.  They divide the living space of the house equally, a situation which works fine until the brother’s lover, James, comes to live with them.  James sets off a series of events that neither Grace nor Andrew will ever recover from.  While coping, Grace begins reading a long-lost manuscript, never published because its storyline includes unwed mothers and homosexual characters in the 1920s.  That’s when a completely different part of the story takes over.  Or at least we THINK it’s different…because it is set in the post-WWI era.  Soon, correlations between Grace’s modern-day dilemmas and the historical plot become evident. 

The historical storyline revolves around a sister, Maud, the youngest child in a very conservative Bristol family, who gets herself pregnant. After telling her family, they want to send her away.  But, her brother John has a different idea.  He is homosexual and aware that he will never be able to lead a respectable life as a gay man, so he and Maud begin living together as husband and wife…in name only…so that the child does not seem illegitimate. 

Both storylines are interesting and compelling but the historical one just captivates the reader with twists and turns that the reader never expects (or at least I didn’t).  I found both tales together a great commentary on how things regarding sexuality and homosexuality have changed…yet how some things have stayed the same through the centuries. 

Facebook0Google+0Twitter0Pinterest0tumblrEmail

2 comments already!

The time has come!  The time I have been waiting for decades for!  The time I might have been waiting for from the day I was born!  It is here!  Alfred Hitchcock has come back into the realm of popular culture with a vengeance!!!!
My family got their first VCR for the Bears’ January 1986 Super Bowl.  Shortly thereafter, I discovered Hitchcock.  Having died in 1980, six years prior to my discovery of him, Hitchcock was no longer “in the news,” so to speak.  I watched most of his movies and tried my best to find out everything I could about him, but most of the stuff I found was from ages ago.  Yes, the occasional article would be written, but for the most part, Hitchcock was history!
History NO longer!  There are 3…count them 3…new movies or television shows dedicated to the life and/or work of the Master of Suspense:  Hitchcock, the feature film starring Anthony Hopkins as the director and Helen Mirren as his devoted wife, Alma; The Girl, an HBO movie starring Toby Jones as Hitchcock, about the making of The Birds; and Bates Motel, an A&E TV show starring Vera Farmiga as Mrs. Bates and Freddie Highmore as young Norman, about the early life of the Psycho family.
In addition to that (as if that wasn’t enough!), many of Hitchcock’s films are coming out on Blu-Ray and getting a lot of press, not to mention the British Film Institute and their months-long celebration of all things Hitchcock, to cap off their year-long “Rescue the Hitchcock 9” fundraiser to help restore nine of Hitchcock’s early British silent works.  The event, appropriately titled The Genius of Hitchcock, was a full retrospective of his works plus guests and lectures speaking about all facets of Hitchcock. 
So, basically, I’m on cloud nine.  Finally, FINALLY, the masses are catching on to the brilliance and talent of Hitchcock.  It’s about time!

Facebook0Google+0Twitter0Pinterest0tumblrEmail

Be the first to comment!

Recently, I flew to London to attend several days of the two-month-long The Genius of Hitchcock festival held at the British Film Institute’s Southbank campus.
Starting in June and ending after London’s yearly October film festival, the BFI pulled out all of the stops to honor one of their own…a British director who became an international sensation by helming such movies as Rear WindowVertigoNotorious and Psycho

The Genius of Hitchcock celebration caps off the year-long fund-raising push entitled Rescue the Hitchcock 9, a campaign to save nine of Hitchcock’s early British silent films.  These nine films are in dire need of restoration…without it, there is the chance they might be gone forever.
Being a BIT of a Hitchcock fan (OK…a little understatement —I’m obsessed), I would have loved to hunker down in London all four months, savoring classic after classic.  But, there is this little thing called WORK, not to mention MONEY, of which staying in London requires a lot.  So, alas, I settled on cramming in as many movies as I could in my limited time (five films, to be exact).
Have I seen all five before?  You betcha.  Do I own all five on DVD?  Yes, I do.  But, somehow, traveling over 3,700 miles to see movies I know by heart doesn’t seem all that silly to me.   Obsessed, I tell you!
Like I said, I saw five of Hitchcock’s masterpieces (sadly none of the restored “Hitchcock 9” were playing when I was there).  I watched a double feature of Shadow of a Doubt and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) on one night, followed by a double feature of Mr. and Mrs. Smith (no, not THAT one…the 1941 film with Robert Montgomery and Carole Lombard…the only romantic comedy Hitchcock ever made) and Strangers on a Train on the next.

But, the crème de la crème, the pièce de résistance was the 3D showing of Dial M for Murder.  No, this is NOT NEW 3D…this is old, classic 3D.  This is when 3D was done for effect and not financial gain.  This is when 3D was not a marketing ploy.
I have a strong distain for the new wave of 3D films sweeping through Hollywood, though I am much more against 2D films being re-released in 3D, such as Titanic (1997) and Beauty and the Beast (1991).  When I saw Scorsese’s Hugo (which I heard nothing but great things about in 3D), I specifically sought out the 2D version.
Maybe I’m equating my lack of interest in modern 3D with my lack of interest in most contemporary animation.  Look at Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs —imagine how tedious and superior the animation process was back in 1937 and compare that with today’s inferior “computer” animating.  So OK, modern 3D is not that bad…but, RE-RELEASING already-shot films just to capitalize on the 3D bandwagon is the last straw.  Where will it end?
Dial M for Murder is different.  Hitchcock filmed it in 3D but it was released in 1954 in mostly 2D.  Aside from a limited 3D re-release in the early 1980s, most people have not seen Dial M for Murder in the original 3D Hitchcock intended it to be shown.  And, among filmies, it is supposed to be one of the best, if not THE best, example of 3D filmmaking.  And, after seeing it, not only does it not disappoint but I would have to agree that the use of 3D was amazing.
Unlike much of 1950s’ Hollywood 3D, nothing here is done just for the 3D effect (such as no paddleballs bouncing at the screen, a la The House of Wax (1953)).  Everything here is done for a reason…the use of foregrounds and backgrounds become more of a 3D element than in-your-face effects.  In one scene, the infamous purse that becomes a key item in the plot stands boldly in the foreground, with character action going on behind it.  The purse, a simple inanimate object, looks as if it is right in the audience’s lap.  And that is how Hitchcock uses 3D throughout the entire movie…subtly but OH SO effectively.  But then again, would we expect anything less from the Master himself?
Keep in mind that as long as Hollywood keeps making money off of 3D, they will keep making these so-so 3D movies and…even worse, keep re-releasing existing 2D movies in 3D.  If The Bridge on the River Kwai in 3D comes out in cinemas, I’m moving to Mongolia and living in among the yak herders in a nice yurt!
Madness, Madness.  Soapbox over.

Facebook0Google+0Twitter0Pinterest0tumblrEmail

Be the first to comment!

I recently went on a short trip and with my trusty iPad in tow, I had a decision to make about what to read while on vacation.  I started off reading a book that I’m doing for a book discussion…a literary, dense book that I soon realized would not fly for vacation reading.  Even if vacation is not taken on or at the beach, “beach read” type books are always a must for my travels.  To clarify, a “beach read” is a not a book set AT the beach…but rather a FUN book…a guilty pleasure…a book you would not like to be caught reading by scholarly family or friends.

Some people read romances as their “beach reads,” but I often read “chick lit” on vacation and in that genre, Madeleine Wickham always satisfies.  Her books are not completely mindless (like some chick lit) and she writes strong female characters with enough problems so the reading is fast, but not too many problems to bog down the story.  LIGHT is the key in a beach read and The Wedding Girl did not disappoint.  The characters were superficial (in a good way) and the story was breezy.  Wickham (who also writes under the pen name Sophie Kinsella) is one of my favorite vacation writers.

But, this time, I also read a thriller.  I’ve read Joy Fielding in the past and liked her…but The Wild Zone was completely different from her other books.  It is less thriller and more character study.  Not that this was too heavy for vacation…it was just unexpected.  I don’t expect all thrillers to get into the psychological aspects of their characters… especially with authors not known for those deeper character developments.  When I read the other Fielding books (Missing Pieces and Charley’s Web) they were solid thrillers, but not anything too intense or emotional.  The Wild Zone caught me off-guard with its slow-paced storyline, not to mention its surprise twist ending.  For Fielding die-hards, be prepared for an unusual novel.  For those unfamiliar with this author and with thrillers in general, this might be a good book to try and get your toes wet with another genre.

Facebook0Google+0Twitter0Pinterest0tumblrEmail

Be the first to comment!

This debut novel from Chicago Tribune journalist (and Pulitzer Prize winner) Julia Keller is gripping from page one…reeling the reader in with clear depictions of small town life, adolescence, and brutal, senseless violence.  Starting out shortly before a seemingly random shooting, the story introduces us to a mother and daughter who are both at odds with each other.  The mother, Bell, works too much, overly dedicated to her job as prosecuting attorney for a small, impoverished county in West Virginia. And her daughter Carla is knee-deep in full-blown teenage rebellion.  Actually, that rebellion sets the stage for the story…while waiting for her mother to pick her up from mandatory “anger management” class, Carla witness one of the most violent acts in Acker’s Gap, WV.  After this, Carla becomes even more of a problem…not only is she still a behavior problem but now she also has upsetting, conflicting issues with what she witnessed.  Bell, in addition to dealing with Carla and with the hunt for the murderer(s), also has other issues contending for space in her frantic world.  Keller, as in her Chicago Tribune articles, truly does have a way with words… bringing characters, places and scenarios to life with true, vivid imagery.  This was one of the best written mysteries I’ve read in ages!  Hopefully, Acker’s Gap, along with Bell, Carla and the other colorful characters of this small town, will be back soon. 

Facebook0Google+0Twitter0Pinterest0tumblrEmail

Be the first to comment!

From Chicago author Libby Fischer Hellmann, here’s a top-notch mystery with a strong female main character, Georgia Davis.  She’s feisty, proud, confident and able.  She’s a good PI who isn’t a “superhero” type…meaning she get afraid and is not ashamed to show it.  In Doubleback, Davis gets involved with a kidnapping/murder/financial malfeasance plot that takes her from Chicago to the Arizona-Mexico border.  Hellmann’s writing style is good, though I think sometimes she can be a bit choppy.  But, the great character construction and well-laid-out plot make up for this. Though the plot can be a bit far-fetched (as most thrillers and mysteries can be), Davis also seems believable in her role…meaning she doesn’t just happen to “fall” into situations, rather the escapades she finds herself in are essential to the plot.   I would read more tales about Georgia Davis and her sometimes partner-in-crime Ellie Foreman (Hellmann does a series with Foreman as more of a primary character too).

Facebook0Google+0Twitter0Pinterest0tumblrEmail

Be the first to comment!