February 10, 2016

Review: Idyll Threats

Idyll Threats A Thomas Lynch novel
By Stephanie Gayle
Available now from Seventh Street Books (Prometheus Books)
Review copy

Pushcart Prize-nominee Stephanie Gayle's first mystery novel IDYLL THREATS is set in the small town of Idyll in 1997.  The cops are ill-prepared to solve a murder, given that they mostly deal with traffic tickets and supervising the town festival.  Luckily, the new police chief Thomas Lynch is a former New York homicide detective.  His interest in working the murder of Cecelia North goes farther than that, however; he was one of the last people to see her alive.  Revealing how and where would reveal his greatest secret to his underlings, unfortunately.

I thought the 1997 setting was done wonderfully.  Not many people have cell phones, for instance, although a few do.  It's also just after a retroviral drug was created, one that helped the gay rights movement recover.  I thought Thomas's life as a closeted gay man was well done.  There's an accepted level of homophobia in the police station and the town itself that isn't necessarily violent, but is pervasive and unwelcoming.  And yet, Thomas does manage to meet other men he's interested in who are interested in him.  He's not sexless, nor entirely alone even in a smaller town.

The setting and characters will keep me coming back to this series.  But IDYLL THREATS did not fall down on the mystery angle.  I kept the pages turning as the clues were uncovered and the picture started to come together.  I also liked Thomas's torment over trying to get the work done right, to find the evidence that could replace his refusal to make a statement.  He feels guilty (as he should) even though he's otherwise doing his best.  I also liked how this element comes up again and again, as other people who saw Cecelia or other clues start to come forward despite their own reasons for staying silent.

IDYLL THREATS is a slim but encompassing novel.  I really felt like I got to know Idyll and its residents.  I'm looking forward to Gayle's next Thomas Lynch novel.

February 8, 2016

Movie Monday: The Brothers Grimsby

The Brothers Grimsby, known as Grimsby in the UK, is the newest movie from Sacha Baron Cohen.  It does not have anything to do with the brothers Grimm, as I originally thought.  The title refers to a real town in Northern England (that is reportedly unhappy about its portrayal).

It comes to theaters March 10, but I was lucky enough to catch a preview at Alamo Drafthouse.  It was a great program that included a behind-the-scenes look at Brüno before the movie and a livestream Q&A with Baron Cohen after.  It was an unfinished cut of the meeting, so we got to answer a few questions about what Baron Cohen might do for the final cut.

I was mostly interested in seeing the movie because Mark Strong (Kingsman, Welcome to the Punch) plays Baron Cohen's secret-agent brother.  The two were separated after their parents' death, and Baron Cohen's Nobby manages to find him just in time to screw up a mission that could prevent millions of deaths.

Honestly, most of the humor didn't work for me.  It's very focused on being gross, particularly in a sexual way.  I did appreciate how many of the gags became funnier just by going on longer and continuing to cross the line of good taste.  I'm probably happier than I would have been if I paid to see the movie.

The behind-the-scenes material was great.  I loved getting a glimpse at the security measures Baron Cohen uses when deliberately trying to provoke people.  He also spoke later on how safety is always the most important thing and getting the gags is second.  You know where the exits are, have a plan to get out, watch people's hands, and then try to be funny.  It was very sobering, particularly after the reveal that the racist white supremecist, F. Glenn Miller, interviewed for Brüno went on to murder three people outside a Jewish community sites.

It was also interesting, and less fraught, to hear how Baron Cohen managed to finagle an R-rating for The Brothers Grimsby.  He did it, of course, by submitting an even more outrageous cut.  The film's most memorably perverse scene is 2 1/2 minutes, but the version originally submitted to the MPAA was 11 minutes.

Even though I didn't love The Brothers Grimsby, it was an enjoyable night out at the movies.  I did love getting a peek at Baron Cohen's process.

February 5, 2016

Review: Remembrance

Remembrance A Mediator novel
By Meg Cabot
Available now from William Morrow (HarperCollins)
Review copy

The sixth Mediator novel, TWILIGHT, came out when I was a sophomore in high school.  I remember eagerly devouring it to discover how Suze Simon and Jesse de Silva would make their relationship work, even though he was a ghost and she helped ghosts cross over to the other side.  I started reading Meg Cabot's books because of The Princess Diaries series, but I liked Mediator even better because of the paranormal element.

Twelve years later, Cabot has returned to Suze's story with REMEMBRANCE.  It's only been six years for Suze, who has graduated from college and is now interning as a counselor at her old high school.  Jesse is almost done with med school.  And Suze is being driven nuts by his old-fashioned refusal to have sex before marriage.  In walks Paul Slater, Suze's loathsome ex.  He's threatening to tear down Suze's old home, the building that Jesse haunted and still anchors his soul. 

Suze has quite a bit on her plate between her evil ex and a girl at the school being followed by a murdered child.  Luckily, those six years haven't dulled her edge.  Suze is fierce, and not to be messed with.  Her only power might be seeing ghosts, but that isn't going to stop her from delivering justice to those who need it.  Even though REMEMBRANCE is an adult novel and the first six books were YA, she (and the rest of the characters) feel like the same people.

The main difference is that there's a bit more swearing (although most of it is just referred to) and a darker storyline.  Suze stumbles across some stomach-churning crimes as she attempts to help one ghost achieve peace.  The way Paul re-enters her life by trying to blackmail her into sex is also pretty intense.  At the same time, I don't think Cabot edges it up too much.  The original fans are now adults, and there's nothing I don't think a new teenage fan couldn't handle.  (Especially not if they've been reading some of those dystopians.)

I loved getting a chance to reacquaint myself with Suze and her friends and family.  It's been ages since I read the original Mediator novels, but it felt like stepping back into a familiar place after a journey away.  REMEMBRANCE is a fun, vibrant read sure to satisfy fans.  I'm very happy Cabot went back to the well for this one.

February 3, 2016

Half Price Books Haul: January 2016

Watch out!  I'm trying something new.

Let me know if you like it in the comments!

February 1, 2016

Review: Jillian Cade: (Fake) Paranormal Investigator

Jillian Cade Book one in a series
By Jen Klein
Available now from Soho Teen
Review copy

JILLIAN CADE: (FAKE) PARANORMAL INVESTIGATOR is Jen Klein's first YA novel, but she's already a seasoned writer due to her work with hit TV show Grey's Anatomy.  The eponymous Jillian Cade knows all about the paranormal due to her father.  She uses the information she's picked up from him (in addition to some common sense) to run Umbra Investigations.  After all, it isn't too hard to solve a haunting that isn't actually happening.  When a classmate hires Jillian to find a missing person, she realizes that she might be in over her head trying to solve a real case.  But her dad ditched her, so she has to make money somehow.

I took a long time to warm up to JILLIAN CADE.  I think I was expecting something kookier.  Instead, I got Jillian's reluctant attraction to Sky Ramsey, the mysterious new boy who knows too much about her.  (And who is totally off his rocker, since his explanation for the disappearance is that a succubus did it.)  The story did start to move once it pulled off one of my favorite tricks: it switched genres.

I feel like I'd like a sequel better, because the reveals really broadened the world of JILLIAN CADE.  This book took too long to build for me, and I just couldn't with Sky.  His whole stalker-act could've been written to be 90% less creepy, thus making the romance 90% more believable.  (As is, it mostly hinges on Sky being hot and Jillian feeling possessive of him.)

JILLIAN CADE: (FAKE) PARANORMAL INVESTIGATOR isn't a bad first novel, but I expect more from someone working on a show that knows how to bring the drama.


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