Saturday, March 24, 2007

Prizzi’s Family, by Richard Condon

(hb; 1986: second book in the Prizzi quadrilogy)

From the inside flap:

“We join the Prizzis, the ruling house of organized crime in the late sixties in New York: Charley Partanna, the thoughtful hit man who is in love with love; the devious, dangerous Maerose Prizzi who is in love with power; the deceptively doddering Don Corrado who is in love with the honor of his family – a family busy with gambling, extortion, narcotics, pornography, loan-sharking, prostitution, as well as such endeavors as recycling U.S. postage stamps into a $40-million-a-year industry, as the scene shifts from New York to Miami, to Dallas, to New Orleans, to Seattle and Yakima.

“All of this is under siege from the Electronic Church and one of its bizarre practitioners, George F. Mallon, a mayoral candidate running on a platform of corruption-free New York. To effect his clean-up crusade, Mallon must crack the family’s suzerainty, and his first target becomes Prizzi enforcer Charley Partanna.

“Mallon is not the only menace stalking Charley: Maerose, hot-blooded granddaughter of the ancient don of dons, is determined to marry Charley so she can take over leadership of the family and become an impossibility: the first woman don in Mafia history. Charley, meanwhile, has been hugely diverted by the mesmerizing beauty of Mardell La Tour, a mega-statuesque showgirl with more than a touch of madness in her otherwise ravishing head, an adventuress who is in love with fantasy. With Maerose, Mallon, and the extravagantly gorgeous Mardell all after his hide, Charley finds himself caught in a complex and desperate bind from which only a Houdini could escape… maybe.”

Review:

This prequel to Prizzi’s Honor is just as satirical, romantic and difficult to put down as its source novel. The returning characters and their attendant interlocking dramas are reader-involving and just as fresh as the first time around.

As with Honor, the finish is at once electrifying and funny, with an eye towards future Prizzi novels.

Followed by Prizzi’s Glory.

Another landmark work about the Life, this: well worth your time.

Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida

(hb; 2007)

From the inside flap:

“On the day of her father’s funeral, twenty-eight-year-old Clarissa Iverton discovers that he wasn’t her biological father after all. Her mother disappeared fourteen years earlier, and now Clarissa is alone and a drift. The one person she feels she can trust, her fiancé, Pankaj, has just revealed a terrible and life-changing secret to her. In the cycle of a day, all the truths in Clarissa’s world become myths and rumors, and she is catapulted out of the life she knew.

“She finds her birth certificate, which leads her from New York to Helsinki, and then north of the Arctic Circle, to mystical Lapland, where she believes she’ll meet her real father. There, under the northern lights of a sunless winter, Clarissa comes to know the Sami, the indigenous population, and seeks out a local priest, the one man who may hold the key to her origins.

“Along her travels she meets an elderly Sami healer named Anna Kristine, who has her own secrets, and a handsome young reindeer herder named Henrik, who accompanies Clarissa to a hotel made of ice. There she is confronted with the truth about her mother’s past and finally must make a decision about how – and where – to live the rest of her life.”


Review:

Northern is an offbeat, melancholic and delightful book. What thrilled me the most about Lights is not so much what Vida wrote, but what she didn’t write -- that is not to say that she does not bring this story to life with vivid images and effective understatement. Readers who require their authors to spell everything out for them should probably avoid it; readers who do not need to be spoon-fed their entertainment should check it out.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell

(hb; 2005: non-fiction)

From the inside flap:

“… Blink is a book about how we think without thinking, about choices that seem to be made in an instant – in a blink of an eye – that actually aren’t as simple as they seem. Why are some people brilliant decision makers, while others are consistently inept? Why do some people follow their instincts and win, while others end up stumbling into error? How do our brains really work – in the office, in the classroom, in the kitchen, and in the bedroom? And why are the best decisions often those that are impossible to explain to others?

“In Blink we meet the psychologist who has learned to predict whether a marriage will last, based on a few minutes of observing a couple; the tennis coach who knows when a player will double-fault before the racket even makes contact with the ball; the antiquities experts who recognize a fake at a glance. Here, too, are great failures of ‘blink’: the election of Warren Harding; the New Coke; and the shooting of Amadou Diallo by police. Blink reveals that great decision makers aren’t those who process the most information or spend the most time deliberating, but those who have perfected the art of ‘thin-slicing’ – filtering the very few factors that matter from an overwhelming number of variables.”

Review:

Life-changing book about not only trusting one’s gut instincts, but being aware of one’s surroundings – and of the subconscious information that's making itself available to us, if we’re open to it: we simply have to read whatever signs are unveiled to us.

Gladwell backs his exciting ideas with scientific data, psychology and historic events, making for a great read, possibly one of my all-time favorite non-fiction books.

Pick it up, already!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Death in the Devil's Acre, by Anne Perry

(pb; 1985: seventh book in the Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series)

From the back cover:

"When a doctor is found brutally murdered in the lurid section of London aptly named 'Devil's Acre,' even its most hardened residents are stunned. But shock soon turns to mroe bodies with the same gruesome 'calling card': a stab wound in the back and a rather inexpertly executed mutilation...

"As Pitt and his wife Charlotte race against time to find the killer, a treacherous mystery unfolds. And no one, not the lowest brand of ruffian or the most established aristocrat, will come out unscathed."


Review:

After Pitt starts investigating the murder of a well-to-do doctor in a dangerous slum (called "Devil's Acre"), he discovers that the doctor wasn't the killer's first victim. It seems that the killer's first victim was Max Burton, a seductive footman-turned-pimp (from Callander Square). Not only that, but more victims -- bearing the same wounds and mutilations -- are appearing, the details of their sordid sanguineous deaths splashed in newspaper headlines.

Unputdownable, this rush of raw Victoriana -- one of the best entries in Perry's Pitt series, with a fresh sense of physical danger and a Paragon Walk-like finish.

Preceded by Bluegate Fields.

Followed by Cardington Crescent.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill

(hb; 2007)

From the inside flap:

“Judas Coyne is a collector of the macabre: a cookbook for cannibals… a used hangman’s noose… a snuff film. An aging death-metal god, his taste for the unnatural is as widely known to his legions of fans as the notorious excesses of his youth. But nothing he possesses is as unlikely or as dreadful as his latest discovery, an item for sale on the Internet, a thing so terribly strange, Jude can’t help but reach for his wallet…

“For a thousand dollars, Jude will become the proud owner of a dead man’s suit, said to be haunted by a restless spirit. He isn’t afraid. He has spent a lifetime coping with ghosts – of an abusive father, of the lovers he callously abandoned, of the bandmates he betrayed. What’s one more?

“But what the UPS man delivers to his door in a black heart-shaped box is no imaginary or metaphorical ghost, no benign conversation piece. It’s the real thing.

“And suddenly the suit’s previous owner is everywhere: behind the bedroom door… seated in Jude’s restored vintage Mustang… standing outside his window… staring out from his widescreen TV. Waiting –with a gleaming razor blade on a chain dangling from one bony hand…”

Review:

Stunning debut novel, one that doesn’t redefine the boundaries of mainstream horror fiction, but possesses a nerve-rending uneasiness – of ghosts both real and born of past traumas – that grabbed me and made me loath to set the book down until I’d finished it. Can’t recommend this one enough – Hill is a writer to watch for

The resulting film is set for release in the near future.

Traci Lords: Underneath It All, by Traci Elizabeth Lords

(hb; 2003: autobiography)

From the inside flap:

“How does a teenager go from high school sophomore to the most recognized porn star in the world overnight? And why?

“Twelve-year old Nora Kuzma traveled with her mother and three sisters to southern California in search of a stable life. But years of sexual abuse and parental neglect drove her onto the streets of Hollywood and straight to the door of a nude modeling agency.

“Struggling to survive, she assumed the name Traci Lords and became a Penthouse centerfold. By age fifteen she was a world-famous porn queen drowning in a sea of sex, drugs and lies until the FBI raided her home just days after her eighteenth birthday.

Traci Lords: Underneath It All is the… uncensored… story of how one young girl made peace with her past and triumphed over impossible odds to become a successful actress, recording artist, and most improbably of all, a happy and healthy woman.”

Review:

Breeze of a read, this. Lords comes off as a level-headed, Midwestern woman of traditional values, who, at a young age was driven by financial desperation into a job that she despised. Readers looking for lubricious details about the twenty porn films Lords made will be disappointed; the author doesn’t “dish” on that subject – instead, she talks about the personal miseries that were plaguing her life during that period, which makes up little of the narrative.

Mostly, she also talks about her struggle for mainstream acceptance as an actress, musician and her attempts to heal herself from a traumatic childhood (she was raped at ten years old, pregnant at fifteen), as well as mending her relationship with her scattered family.

Inspiring, cautionary book, worth your time.

The Spy Who Loved Me, by Ian Fleming

(pb; 1962: tenth book in the original 007/James Bond series)

Review:

Less than a year after putting down Emilo Largo’s atomic bomb threat in Nassau (in Thunderball), Bond is pitched against two cruder nemeses, Sluggsy Morant and Sol “Horror” Horowitz in a rundown motel in the Ozarks. Morant and Horowitz are would-be arsonists in an insurance scam. Problem is, they’re also threatening to rape, murder then use Vivienne (“Viv”) Michel, short-term motel clerk, as the scapegoat for the “accidental” blaze.

The story is told through Viv’s eyes. As a narrator, she’s chatty, her backstory taking up almost half of the 131-page novel. When Bond appears to rescue her from her canny assailants, whom she’s been fending off for a better part of a night, it’s not the usual Bond tale, with geopolitical ramifications ensuing if Bond fails; it’s Bond on a more personal level, being an honorable man in a nasty fight.

Good, different take on Bond. Thematically, it reminds me of the short story “The Hildebrand Rarity” (from For Your Eyes Only).

Followed by On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.


The Spy Who Loved Me became a film in 1977. Story- and character-wise, it's way different from its source novel.

Roger Moore starred as James Bond. Barbara Bach starred as Major Anya Amasova. Curt Jurgens played Karl Stromberg. Richard Kiel played the comically villainous Jaws (who appeared in the next Bond film, Moonraker). Caroline Munro played Naomi. Bernard Lee played M.


A light-hearted remake, titled Never Say Never Again, hit the silver screen in 1983. Sean Connery reprised his role as James Bond. Klaus Maria Brandauer played Maximilian Largo. Max von Sydow played Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Barbara Carrera played Fatima Blush. Kim Bassinger played Domino Petachi. Bernie Casey played Felix Leiter. Edward Fox played M.

Irvin Kershner directed the film.

<em>The Courts of Chaos</em> by Roger Zelazny

(pb; 1978: fifth  novelette in The Chronicles of Amber quintology) From the back cover " Amber, the one real world of which all...