Archive for September, 2010

When Is a Castle a Rook?

Thursday, September 30th, 2010


These “Richard Castle” books just crack me up. Seriously. If, like me, you’re a fan of the TV series Castle, you can’t help but get a big kick out of these series-related books.

However, unlike most books that derive from television programming (think Star Trek for an especially successful version), these books are not a continuation of the show. Instead these are books that the show’s lead character, Richard Castle, “writes.” Actor Nathan Fillion, who plays Richard Castle, is pictured on the back cover as the author and the back flap bio replicates that character’s TV persona.

In reality, these snappy mysteries are written by one of the genuine, flesh-and-blood mystery writers who have appeared on the show (remember those poker games?). Which one? I haven’t tried to find out but I bet the truth is out there.

The first book, Heat Wave, came out at the beginning of the second season, and was prominently displayed on the show. The synergy must have been pretty solid, because this second book came out just as the third season started. It seems the not-real Richard Castle has to meet the same once-a-year deadlines as real popular fiction writers!

It’s obvious where Castle finds his inspiration: Nikki Heat and her police team from the books are thinly veiled versions of Kate Beckett and her crew on the TV show. Castle re-imagines himself as Jamison Rook (cute name twist huh?), a journalist.

But there are differences, too. And this last book had one revelation about the Rook character that really knocked me out.

They’re fun reads, for sure, but what’s even more fun is the whole idea of real books from a fake writer. You’ve got to love that.

The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno

Sunday, September 19th, 2010


By Ellen Bryson

The Short Take:

Bryson’s first novel takes you inside the freaky world of P. T. Barnum’s museum of oddities and prodigies — human, animal, and inanimate. I found it thoroughly fascinating, both for how it depicted these unique people and their relationships, as well as its thoughtful explorations of the nature of individuality and choices.

Why?

Human oddities: How do they feel about being gawked at for money? Why are they doing this?

While some may have few options, others take pains to keep their appearance far outside the norm. Mr. Fortuno, The World’s Thinnest Man, is one of the latter. He takes great pride in his cadaverous appearance, despite its accompanying pain and limitations. He is also very proud of his position as a “prodigy” at Barnum’s museum, even though he fears Mr. Barnum.

This book explores themes of identity, isolation, transformation, friendship and love, and the repercussions that result with each small choice one makes. At the same time, it lifts the veil on a fascinating world where the vastly unusual and markedly unalike live closely together to form a new kind of human family.

Oh, yes, there are also mysteries to be revealed. That’s about as mesmerizing as you can get.

A Little Plot:

Mr. Fortuno works and lives at Barnum’s New York American Museum. He’s been there for 10 years, is proud of his performances, has a close friendship with Matina the fat lady, and is largely satisfied with his existence. Now that the Civil War is over, things look even brighter.

Then he sees a mysterious veiled lady entering the museum late at night… and he is possessed. He feels he must find out more about her, be near her, protect her. He quickly finds himself enmeshed in a tangle of lies and intrigues, involving the battling Mr. and Mrs. Barnums as well as his fellow oddities, as he strives to be closer to this splendid, secretive woman — a new human oddity for Barnum’s showcase.

And, everything is changing — including Fortuno.

You can learn more about this book and it’s author by clicking here. I think you’ll be fascinated by her, too..

A Visit from the Goon Squad

Friday, September 10th, 2010


By Jennifer Egan

The Short Take:

The further I got into this novel the more I enjoyed it. What first feels like a series of unrelated stories involving interconnected characters turns out to be a richly woven and rewarding tapestry.

Why?

At first I thought: Yet another novel that hops around in time? Aargh. But this novel reveals its core story in such a smart and provocative way, I was totally seduced.

The characters are so intriguing you really want to know more about their pasts and future. And Egan cunningly obliges. I particularly enjoyed the way some very minor characters showed up again in a “six degrees of separation” way. A nice touch.

The writing it tight and imaginative. The pacing feels spot on. And the events and characters are all just quirky enough to keep even the most jaded reader intrigued and entertained. Despite what the name telegraphs, this is not some rock and roll shocker, it’s one really nice read that’s fully human.

A Little Plot:

Hmmm. This is hard since the story bounces around in time and I don’t like to reveal too much plot (my pet peeve with so many reviews). Suffice it to say that it concerns the lives of people somehow involved with the music industry like record producers and their posses. The story takes place in locations like San Francisco, New York, Naples, and Africa from (I’m guessing) the 70s through to the near future.

You’ll find love, thievery, seduction, adventure, success, redemption and a lot more. It’s life, except quite a bit more interesting than mine.

If you plan on reading Super Sad True Love Story (see my review of August 22), pick up this book first. It’s the perfect segue. Really. Even though the styles are quite different but this book almost feels like a prequel.

If you want to know more about Jennifer Egan, click here.

Rock Paper Tiger

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010


By Lisa Brackmann

The Short Take:

Brackmann’s first novel breaks a lot of the rules for a thriller; especially a thriller with international intrigue. Good for her. And good for us.

Why?

Instead of a former special forces commando with super skills, we have a former plain old National Guard drudge with nursing skills. And she’s a girl. With a bad leg. Plus, her survival instincts aren’t the best. In other words — a real person. And, boy, is she in a mess.

The Hitchcock-like mess Brackmann has created for her hero, Ellie Cooper, is also strikingly different: You can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys. I’m not talking about one mole or double agent. I’m talking about pretty much everybody. And neither can Ellie. She just keeps moving, keeps playing, keeps trying to be true to those she thinks are her friends, and keeps trying to elude everyone who might be her enemy.

Even the end is different; it’s not a tidy little package all wrapped up with a bow. Some questions linger. And, isn’t that more like real life, too? Hitchcock would have loved this book. But Brackmann’s Ellis is no icy blonde love interest, she’s as real a human hero as you’ll find.

A Little Plot:

Twenty-something Ellie Cooper is adrift. A severely injured Iraqi veteran, she came to China to be with her husband, Trey, who now wants a divorce. She wants to stay in China but both the “how” and “why” are complicated. She just knows she doesn’t want to return stateside.

On visit with an artist friend, Lao Zhang, she briefly meets a Uighur, a Chinese Muslim minority. While she thinks nothing of the encounter, both U.S.A. and Chinese operatives are now after her. And Zhang has disappeared.

Ellie’s not even sure if her pursuers are intent on finding the Uighur, her friend Zhang, or if it all has to do with something she shouldn’t have seen back in Iraq. As she struggles to find safety as well as answers, she is drawn into an online role-playing game where some players may be friends trying to help. Or maybe not.

But whatever move she makes, her pursuers are always there. And her danger grows.

IF you want to know more about Lisa Brackmann and her book, click here.

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