Thursday, December 31, 2015

review: a suspension of mercy by patricia highsmith

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Patricia Highsmith’s A Suspension of Mercy is quite the slow starter. The first three chapters simply introduce characters and give a bit of the setting. It takes an excruciating amount of time before the plot finally gets started with Alicia running off and Sydney, a television writer of crime fiction, being suspected of nefarious deeds related to Alicia’s disappearance. Sydney does little too dissuade anyone as his actions grow suspicious, especially while he uses his real life situation to think of ways in which a character of his actually would kill his wife. Highsmith spoils the tension and suspicion though by revealing the whereabouts of Alicia a little too quickly. From there A Suspension of Mercy is a bit farcical, but fortunately Highsmith heats up the plot again before the end. For all the slowness of the beginning, the final scenes are an excellently paced conclusion to the story.

About the audiobook: Originally published in 1965, A Suspension of Mercy by Patricia Highsmith was released on audio in October 2015 by Blackstone Audio and runs just over seven hours. Simon Vance is the reader. Although Vance’s accent would typically make him a good choice for a novel set in England, the main character in A Suspension of Mercy is American and Vance didn’t use any variance in accent or tone to set Sydney apart from the others. Sydney’s outsider status would have been better conveyed if Vance had used his voice to make Sydney different.
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

author guest post: richard cerasani

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Many thanks to the author of Love Letters from Mount Rushmore, Richard Cerasani, for sharing the story of his discovery of the trunk filled with the letters that inspired his new book!

Not long ago, one single event changed me from an actor to an author. It all began with the discovery of a trunk in my parents’ attic, on a cold, autumn day in 2005. My mother, Mary Cerasani, had recently passed away, just a month shy of her 94th birthday.

Mother had been a school teacher her entire life. Her first love, after her family, was traveling all over the world to learn about other countries and cultures. She was always bringing home little artifacts from her travels with which to teach her family, friends and students. It was just part of her routine. So she designated the attic as her own private depot, where she could accumulate and preserve her treasures.

The attic was visited very infrequently because it was not easily accessible (entering the attic involved a hanging rope and pull-down ladder stairs). My intention that fall day was not to organize my mother’s belongings, but rather to retrieve a certain Daughters of the American Revolution flag that I knew had been in her possession. I thought it would look nice in a shadow box, hanging next to my other Revolutionary and Civil War memorabilia.

As soon as I entered the dark, dusty attic, I was greeted with a collection of boxes and bags that were in a state of complete disarray. It was just as it had always been. An old steamer trunk in the corner caught my eye. Its leather straps were broken and its big metal latch was rusty – and unlocked. I slowly opened the heavy metal cover and looked upon an intriguing collection of bundles and sealed shoeboxes.

For the next couple hours, I felt like a character from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Mother’s trunk was filled with magic and memories, unparalleled by anything I had ever come across. Among the items that caught my eye were plaster busts of four presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt. I immediately realized these castings were the ones my father, a sculptor, had made while working for Gutzon Borglum at Mount Rushmore. I felt as though I had struck gold!

In the midst of all this excitement, I was reminded of the biggest regret of my childhood. After my teacher found out that my dad was an artist who had worked as a sculptor on Mount Rushmore, she asked me to bring in some items for “Show and Tell.” My presentation to the class contained the original pictures of my dad climbing over George Washington’s face, newspaper clippings, and other memorabilia. I became an instant celebrity in my class.

But all those original pictures and newspaper clippings mysteriously disappeared. The guilt and shame I felt over the loss was incalculable. Worst of all, what would my father say? It haunted me for years, particularly anytime Mount Rushmore was shown in a documentary or commercial. I had lost all record of my father’s work at a grade school “Show and Tell.”

You can imagine my pleasure upon finding a little brown envelope marked “negatives,” along with the other relics of the steamer trunk, filled with images of Dad climbing over the presidents’ faces and up onto their noses. After all these decades, my guilt had finally been absolved!

The trunk also revealed hundreds and hundreds of old letters, bundled together by twine. They were love letters between my father and my mother, written over the period of six months that Dad worked on the mountain in South Dakota, and mother stayed home in Avon, NY taking care of an infant and a toddler.

Both of my parents were gone by that time, but here in this trunk, I could piece together their story through diaries, newspaper articles, and letters. Suddenly, a time in their history to which I had never paid much thought materialized before my eyes. I saw my parents – young, in love, and willing to do anything to keep our family together.

As I delved further into my parents’ story, I realized how meaningful it truly is. Theirs is a story not just of love, but of the struggles in creating the “shining tribute to Democracy.” It is a story that perfectly embodies what it was like to struggle through The Great Depression, surviving on love, family and art.

review: love letters from mount rushmore by richard cerasani

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Beautifully laid with family photographs and photocopies of the actual letters, Love Letters from Mount Rushmore tells the tale of actor (and now, author) Richard Cerasani's parents. Cerasani's father was a struggling sculptor who went to work in South Dakota to assist in the creation of Mount Rushmore. The young Cerasani stayed behind in New York with his mother and brother. In sharing his parents' story, Cerasani reveals a history not taught in schools. It is a wonderful glimpse into the people who made a national monument. Love Letters also shows the remarkable entrepreneurship of his mother. During her short visit she made money giving tours. His narration combined with excerpts from the letters provide insight not just into the relationship between husband and wife, but the working relations between the men and the circumstances they dealt with while constructing a national attraction. The personal story combined with short profiles on some of the others involved provides a fascinating look at an aspect of US history.
Review copy provided by the publicist, Media Connect.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

review: pretty girls by karin slaughter

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Pretty Girls is a tightly woven narrative filled with “What??” moments. Karin Slaughter’s latest novel is a masterful work featuring three narrators whose stories quickly come together. To say much about the plot beyond that it centers on the lives of people who have been affected by a serial killer who has hunted pretty young women for many years would give away too many of the fantastic reveals Slaughter drops in throughout Pretty Girls. Although the conspiracy uncovered feels a bit far-fetched, every other element of this incredibly layered novel is right on point.
Review copy provided by the publicist, BookSparks PR.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

review: the city of devi by manil suri

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With the warning of a bomb to be detonated and imminent nuclear annihilation, many are attempting to flee Mumbai in Manil Suri’s The City of Devi. Sarita and Jaz, however, are not fleeing, but looking for a man they both know intimately—Sarita’s husband, Karun. Although Jaz knows exactly who Sarita is, Sarita doesn’t discover who Jaz truly is until they are well on their journey. Suri tackles a number of issues in The City of Devi, foremost among them religion and sexuality, and handles them excellently. The shifting between Sarita’s narration and Jaz’s gives a nice perspective on who Karun is and why both of his lovers feel a need to find him. It is not until the fast-paced ending that things are thrown off-balance by an unexpected dark turn.
Review copy provided by the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

review: the things we keep by sally hepworth

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Anna is all too familiar with early on-set Alzheimer’s as her mother suffered the same fate. Having experienced her mother’s decline, Anna immediately leaves her husband and moves in with her brother’s family. When they are no longer able to care for her, her brother locates a facility where a male patient her age lives. It happens to be the same place where Eve has just accepted a position as chef after her husband’s financial scheme and subsequent suicide have left Eve and her adorable daughter penniless. The Things We Keep is an immensely powerful story with Sally Hepworth creating characters who work their way into your heart. The unfolding of the details and unexpected reveals are especially moving as Hepworth shifts the timeline around so that the reader is at the same disadvantage as everyone but Anna.
Review copy provided by the publisher, St. Martin’s Press.

Monday, December 7, 2015

review: west 57 by b.n. freeman

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B.N. Freeman’s West 57 is an uproariously good time. With the death of her father, Julie Chavan is tasked with determining what to do with the publishing house, West 57, he owned. Times haven’t been good for book publishers and Julie’s dad made some questionable decisions before he died. Complicating matters is Julie’s mother who lives across the country in California. She wants Julie to leave New York and join the movie business in LA with Julie’s ex-fiancĂ©, but that likely means getting back together with a man who cheated on her.

The characters here are outrageous (Julie is the only grounded one, but even she sees her father’s ghost), but keep the novel entertaining. The antics of the drunken King Royal add to the fun while some very real dangers stemming from the publication of King Royal’s memoir keep the novel balanced. Freeman also takes a risk by inserting himself as an author Julie interacts with—the risk pays off and creates an excellently meta scene.

About the audiobook: West 57 is read by Meredith Mitchell whose voice work here nicely distinguishes between the narration and the dialogue. Her inflections are also spot on. The audio version of West 57 was published by Blackstone Audio in November 2015 and runs 10 hours.
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

review: the grownup by gillian flynn

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This short story from Gillian Flynn features an outrageous and hilarious narrator whose con job lands her in the middle of a con job perpetrated by someone else. The question becomes though, who is conning the narrator? Is it Susan, the woman who hired her to cleanse the house? Or is it Susan’s stepson, who Susan claims is terrorizing the family? The Grownup is filled with unexpected twists that leave the reader with questions. Despite the loose threads, The Grownup is a satisfying read and extremely well-crafted.
Review copy provided by Blogging for Books.