Monday, October 26, 2009

A Review: 700 Sundays by Billy Crystal

Hardcover: 192 pages
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; First Edition edition (October 31, 2005)
ISBN-10: 0446578673
ISBN-13: 978-0446578677

I bought this book because 1)  I love Billy Crystal, and 2) I needed something light and entertaining to read on the plane while traveling to Kansas City to visit my mother.  700 Sundays refers to the number of Sundays Billy got to spend with his father before he died.  Instead of writing about his many successes as a comedian and actor, Billy concentrates on his early years with his marvelous family.  In addition to one line zingers throughout the book, we are introduced to a bunch of colorful characters who never cease to be interesting and downright hilarious.  There is his grandmother who said to gravelly voiced Louis Armstrong (to his delight) "Louis, have you ever tried just coughing it up?"; his Uncle Milt Gabler, who started the Commodore music label and recorded Billie Holiday singing "Strange Fruit" when no one else would; and of course, Billy's father, the man who bought his little boy a tape recorder when he announced he wanted to be a comedian and didn't scold him when he repeated off-color borscht belt routines for family gatherings.

We get a glimpse into the lives of a Jewish family in the 50's in all it's hilarity, frustration and grief, but what is most impressive is the love and support this family felt and provided for each other.


One of America's most beloved entertainers takes us home. Billy Crystal opens the front door to a time in his life when he shared joy, love, music, and laughter with an eccentric family headed by the hardworking father who left them all too soon.

From the story of the Crystal family's proud connection to the New York jazz scene of the '40s and ' the hilarious living room performances that would sow the seeds of Billy's unparalleled the times of tragedy, heartbreak, and his mother's unending courage, 700 Sundays celebrates the memories, the love, and all the other wonderful gifts parents can give a child.

Based on his Tony Award®-winning play, 700 Sundays is not the story of Billy Crystal's great career. It is a tribute to a family and the people who helped make him a man. Personal, poignant, and funny, it will have you laughing out loud — and sometimes crying — with the realization that Billy's family is also yours.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Review: One Door Away From Heaven by Dean Koontz

  • Mass Market Paperback: 704 pages

    • Publisher: Bantam; First Thus edition (October 29, 2002)
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 0553582755
    • ISBN-13: 978-0553582758

Part  X-Files, part thriller, this book is unique in more ways than one.  The characters are typical of Koontz in that they are never boring, never ordinary.  Micky Bellsong is at a critical time in her life, staying with her Aunt Geneva while trying to sort out her problems and begin anew.  Micky and Geneva meet their new neighbor Leilani, a young girl living with her drugged out mother, Sinsemilla and stepfather, Preston Maddoc.  Preston believes that the elderly, infirm and handicapped should be killed so they don't become a drain on society.  And since Leilani has physical handicaps, she knows what is in store for her.  She tells Micky and Geneva that Preston is planning to pass off her imminent death as a benevolent alien abduction.

Add to the mix a motherless boy, a strange boy who goes by the alias Curtis Hammond and is the quarry of two cross-country manhunts, one led by the FBI and the other by mass murderers who, like the messianic Curtis, may not be what they seem.

All of the characters eventually come together in rural Idaho in a desperate  attempt to save Leilani and as a result find true wisdom and joy.

Never have I read a book with so many nutty, eccentric characters without it being just plain silly.  However, put all of these nutty characters together and they just seem to work.  Micky is one of the more attractive heroines, but the real star is Leilani, whose spunky nature and sparkling and humorous dialogue easily make her this books most memorable character.  Underneath the tragedy, mystery and adventure lies a story about good vs evil, revelation and friendship. 

If I had to say one negative thing about the book it would be that it was too long.  On occasion the narrative seemed to drawn out and really unnecessary.

Synopsis (from the author's website)

In a dusty trailer park on the far edge of the California dream, Michelina Bellsong contemplates the choices she has made. At twenty-eight, she wants to change the direction of her troubled life but can’t find her way—until a new family settles into the rental trailer next door and she meets the young girl who will lead her on a remarkable quest that will change Micky herself and everything she knows—or thinks she knows—forever.

Despite the brace she must wear on her deformed left leg, and her withered left hand, nine-year-old Leilani Klonk radiates a buoyant and indomitable spirit that inspires Micky. Beneath Leilani’s effervescence, however, Micky comes to sense a quiet desperation that the girl dares not express.

Leilani’s mother is little more than a child herself. And the girl’s stepfather, Preston Maddoc, is educated but threatening. He has moved the family from place to place as he fanatically investigates UFO sightings, striving to make contact, claiming to have had a vision that by Leilani’s tenth birthday aliens will either heal her or take her away to a better life on their world.

Slowly, ever more troubling details emerge in Leilani’s conversations with Micky. Most chilling is Micky’s discovery that Leilani had an older brother, also disabled, who vanished after Maddoc took him into the woods one night and is now “gone to the stars.”

Leilani’s tenth birthday is approaching. Micky is convinced the girl will be dead by that day. While the child-protection bureaucracy gives Micky the runaround, the Maddoc family slips away into the night. Micky sets out across America to track and find them, alone and afraid but for the first time living for something bigger than herself.

She finds herself pitted against an adversary, Preston Maddoc, as fearsome as he is cunning. The passion and disregard for danger with which Micky pursues her quest bring to her side a burned-out detective who joins her on a journey of incredible peril and startling discoveries, a journey through terrible darkness to unexpected light.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Review: Still Life by Joy Fielding

Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Atria (March 24, 2009)
ISBN-10: 1416585273
ISBN-13: 978-1416585275

Have you ever wanted to be a fly on the wall and listen to what people were saying without their knowledge?  Casey Marshall had that opportunity...just not in the way she wanted.

Casey had everything.  Boatloads of money, a handsome loving husband, a successful interior design business and lots of friends.  Until one day, after having lunch with two girlfriends, she was run down by a hit and run driver and left in a coma.  After a few weeks she begins to come out of it, although the only ability she regains is her hearing.  For weeks, she lies in her bed listening to the conversations around her and gradually, she learns that not everyone in her life is her friend.  She learns who tried to kill her and why, yet she is helpless to do anything about it.

I really had trouble putting this book down.  The plot is intriguing and tension filled and the characters were interesting.  I was literally on the edge of my seat a lot of the time.  Now I remember why I used to read Fielding's's time to get back to reading her more often.

Synopsis (from the author's website)

Globe and Mail bestselling author Joy Fielding delivers a riveting new tale of suspense, told from the vantage point of a comatose woman.

Beautiful, happily married, and the owner of a successful interior design business, Casey Marshall couldn’t be more content with her life until a car slams into her at almost fifty miles an hour, breaking nearly every bone in her body, and plunging her into a coma. Lying in her hospital bed, Casey realizes that although she is unable to see or communicate, she can hear everything. She quickly discovers that her friends aren’t necessarily the people she thought them to be–and that her accident might not have been an accident at all. As she struggles to break free from her living death, she begins to wonder if what lies ahead could be even worse.

Smart, suspenseful, and overwhelmingly addictive, Still Life is a novel Fielding’s fans won’t soon forget.

A Review: The Cheater by Nancy Taylor Rosenberg

Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Forge Books (June 9, 2009)
ISBN-10: 0765319020
ISBN-13: 978-0765319029

 Lily Forrester is a former prosecutor, now a Ventura, California judge, who literally got away with murder when she killed the man who raped her and her daughter a few years before.  Now her marriage to Bryce Donnelly is falling apart.  Lily has no idea that Bryce is a philanderer until she receives a call from the Las Vegas police informing her that Bryce has been arrested for attempted rape, even though Las Vegas was not on his travel itinerary. 

In the meantime, Lily meets Anne Bradley at the gym and immediately likes her.  Unbeknown to Lily, Anne is the owner of Alibi Connection, an internet referal company that provides alibis to adulterous men.  Through her company, Anne entices, then kills them.  Enter FBI profiler, Mary Stevens, who follows a string of unsolved murders to Anne.  You can see where this is leading...directly to Lily's no-good husband.

Now, as a woman who has dealt with unfaithful men, I kind of got a kick out of Anne's exploits.  It's good to see a woman get her revenge, but Anne's methods are way too gruesome and heavy-handed.  Don't get me wrong...I'm not sympathizing with the victims; they are loathesome, insensitive boors.  I've seen man-haters before but nothing like this.  Anne is a real sociopath.

The plot is rather complicated and far-fetched; nevertheless, it was an enjoyable read and a good way to pass a lazy day.  In fact, I'm looking forward to reading some her earlier works in which she introduced us to Lily Forrester and Mary Stevens.  They are both women I would enjoy knowing in real life. 


Nancy Taylor Rosenberg's newest book The Cheater (Tor Forge) weaves the lives of three women in an intense and taut legal thriller.  Lily Forrester returns from Rosenberg's New York Times bestsellers, Mitigating Circumstances and Buried Evidence.  This time Forrester is a county judge in Ventura, California.  She meets another lawyer, the charming and vivacious Anne Bradley, but their friendship shatters when Bradley accuses Forrester's husband of rape.  Meanwhile, FBI agent and profiler Mary Stevens is on the trail of a black widow serial killer who lures cheating husbands to their deaths and mutilates their bodies.

The story is an intricate, psychological drama.  Rosenberg's intensely psychopathic villain introduces a fascinating weapon into the arsenal of fiction thrillers: the drug Versed to sedate her victims and eliminate them in humiliating and gruesome ways.  Forrester struggles with her personal demons and this plays into the hands of the serial killer.  Stevens finds her professional skills tested to their limits as she pursues a murderer across a web of deceit and misdirection.  The climax is not a simple consolidation of plot lines but a collision--a controlled crash that will leave the reader practically stumbling out of the wreckage, emotionally drained yet very satisfied. (You may want to smoke a cigarette afterwards.)

The inspiration to write The Cheater came from two incidents.  First, Rosenberg was compelled to draw upon the actual story of a girl who was abandoned by her father to die along a deserted winter road.  This experience, when combined with sexual molestation, could drive the victim to rationalize committing acts of chilling violence against others.  Second, Rosenberg learned about alibi clubs and was convinced they'd be great plot devices to add more mystery to already suspenseful plots.

rosenberg-nancy1.jpgThe Cheater is the thirteenth of Rosenberg's highly acclaimed and popular novels.  A prolific author, she uses her considerable research skills and her fourteen years of service as a police officer, investigator, and parole officer to build compelling and true-to-life stories.  As an example of her dedication to accuracy, Rosenberg took and passed the required test to become an FBI agent.

For those interested in the character Mary Stevens, she's back at work in a forthcoming novel, Her Daughter, which also features Lily Forrester.  Steven's previous exploits are available in Sullivan's Law, Sullivan's Justice, Sullivan's Evidence, and Revenge of Innocents.

Rosenberg admits her plots are complex because she is herself a complex person.  She understands the twisting and baffling nature of life and brings this awareness into her story development.  As for her writing style, she hates outlining, as it stifles the fun out of the creative process.  She prefers to sit at her computer and let the story surprise her as she writes.

Her advice to aspiring writers is to write the best book possible and sit on it until the economy improves.  She's been working with young writers in a program called Voices of Tomorrow and has recently started a new offering for more serious writers using the Internet service called Go To Meeting.  Interested writers should contact her through her website.

After living in New York and California, Nancy Taylor Rosenberg currently resides in her hometown of Dallas, Texas.  She is the proud mother of a very creative family, which includes a poet and a novelist.

acevedo-mario-small.jpgContributing editor Mario Acevedo is a member of ITW and the author of the Felix Gomez vampire detective series from Eos HarperCollins.  His most recent Gomez vampire adventure is Jailbait Zombie.  Mario lives and writes in Denver, Colorado.