Blog Posts by bweiner

Posted by bweiner on 04/15/15
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With reality shows dominating the television landscape, Arts & Entertainments by Christopher Beha is a well-timed novel that examines our obsession with fame and our desire to find the extraordinary in ordinary circumstances.
 
We first meet Eddie Hartley, the drama teacher at a boy’s prep school in New York City. Eddie once dreamed of making it big as an actor, but his minimal success determined his fate as an educator. He and his wife Susan are in need of money to support their attempt at in vitro fertilization after having no success with pregnancy, so Eddie resorts to selling a sex tape of him and his ex-girlfriend Martha, who is now a successful television star.  The tape goes viral, the wife and ex-girlfriend bond as exploited women, and a new reality show is born.
 
Eddie finally gets the fame he has been chasing, but at what cost?  Are reality shows responsible for creating frenzy, or do we generate their success with our overwhelming passion and response to them? Christopher Beha has written a spectacular novel that will thrill us with its hilarity while challenging our conceptions concerning the genesis of reality television. If you watch these shows or not, this is not one to miss!
 
satire
Posted by bweiner on 03/22/15
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Travel to the distant future in Time To Expire, a world where technology and scientific discovery have eliminated disease and lengthened the duration of human life. The decrease in mortality has also minimized other damaging aspects of society, weakening their destructive effects in this new world.
 
Who becomes the savior of civilization?  The answer is LifeSpan, a technology company responsible for the dramatic turn of events. In addition to the eradication of disease, the company is able to pinpoint the exact time of death for all people and facilitate their exit from the world. Families are able to anticipate the death of their loved ones and be present as they spend their last moments on Earth.
 
We follow Cole, who has taken a job with a bright future at LifeSpan. His security is threatened by an underground movement that challenges the ethics of  LifeSpan’s authority.  Should they exercise such power over human existence? Does knowing make it easier to let someone go?
 
In his debut novel, Chris Ramos treats these questions with the respect and attentiveness they deserve. His characters are authentic; his action is crisp and complete. I am eager to see where this outstanding new author will take us next.
 
Posted by bweiner on 02/12/15
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There are support groups for almost everything these days. Join Dr. Jan Sayer as she facilitates therapy for people who have survived unspeakable trauma and continued psychologically painful experiences in Daryl Gregory’s new thriller, We Are All Completely Fine.
 
This is quite a cast of memorable characters: from Stan, who survived captivity with cannibals, although he sports a few less appendages, to Barbara, who carries secret messages etched on her bones courtesy of a scrimshander. Dr. Sayer is aware of their continued anxiety, and encourages the group to bond and work through their problems. Unfortunately, something dark and malicious is released through their sessions, and the danger escalates for the entire group…
 
Part horror, part psychological thriller, Daryl Gregory keeps us in uncomfortable suspense while managing to wrest a few chuckles along the way. If you like your horror fun, fast and frenzied, this is the book for you!
 
Posted by bweiner on 01/07/15
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People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished From the Streets of Tokyo--And the Evil That Swallowed Her Up is the vivid, detailed, affecting story of Lucie Blackman's disappearance from the streets of Tokyo, and the subsequent discovery of her dismembered body in a seaside cave in Japan. This sensational, true story of a young English girl and her gruesome murder by a man described as "unprecedented and extremely evil" will captivate you so completely that you will not want to put it down.

Yet, it is not only the tragic loss of a young life that makes this a compelling read. Award-winning, foreign correspondant Richard Lloyd Parry navigates us through Japanese society with an adroit hand, and we examine the culture through the eyes of the Eastern and the Western world.

Even more fascinating is the picture Parry paints of every person involved in Lucie's life and death. Lucie's family: her mother, father, sister and brother are all present and plugged into this story. Lucie's friends and acquaintances provide insight into her character and actions. Parry contributes painstaking detail about Japan's legal system and the people who represent it. Probably the most unsettling element of this tale is the intimate portrait of Joji Obara, the accused killer of Lucie Blackman. Parry guides us from his birth in Japan to his lengthy trial for the rape and murder of multiple young women. The key to this riveting book is the incredible detail Parry provides, and the depth of emotional intensity he packs into this sad story. Spellbinding indeed.

 
Posted by bweiner on 11/05/14
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He may be physically gone from this world, but Kurt Vonnegut left us with a legacy of wit and wisdom that will tickle the funny bones of generations to come.

If This Isn't Nice, What Is?: Advice to the Young, is classic Vonnegut. This collection of graduation speeches is witty, intelligent, absurd,expressive, concise, and supremely charming.

These are not the same old tired speeches about "going forth into the world and making your mark". Vonnegut does remind us to be blissful and celebratory about the small moments and the people who support us.

This modest book is also bursting with sage advice like:

 
"There's bad news and good news tonight, my friends. The bad news is the Martians have landed in New York City and are staying at the Waldorf-Astoria.
The good news is they only eat homeless people and they pee gasoline."

See? Where else can you get advice like that?

Posted by bweiner on 08/14/14
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Short Term 12 features something extraordinary in modern filmmaking; exceptionally believable characters who mirror our own frailties and limitations. There was never a moment in the film that was insincere or unconvincing.
 
This is the story of Grace and Mason, two caretakers at a short term foster care facility for at-risk teenagers. Brie Larson, as Grace, is tough and tender and runs the facility with a firm but loving hand. John Gallagher Jr., as Mason, is her sounding board and safe place. These two have barely passed their teenage years, and the weight of their difficult journeys raises their empathy while building their defenses. We come to recognize Grace as a survivor, and we are aware how acutely she feels the teenager’s pain.
 
This terrific movie alternates between light-hearted joy and painful darkness. The characters vacillate between strength and despair. Above all, there is courage and dignity in these truly authentic young people who fight for survival and a chance to reverse their predestined fate.
 
Posted by bweiner on 06/14/14
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Frequently, when I choose my next book to read, I intentionally avoid anything polished, conspicuous or readily available in multiple copies. I prefer to find the quiet gems, small works written in earnest by relatively unknown authors. Usually, my efforts are rewarded by a rich and satisfying read, but this time, the return was even greater.
 
Black Moon, by Kenneth Calhoun, is a diamond in a sea of rhinestones. This smart novel follows a handful of characters as they navigate a world plagued by an epidemic of insomnia. They struggle with moral issues as they try to make decisions about their loved ones who are afflicted with the condition.  They must also carefully monitor their own health and realistically assess their chances of survival. In the midst of the chaos, they cope with the normal problems that trouble friends, lovers, and companions.
 
Consider this passage, as one of the characters, Biggs, describes the frightening state of sleeplessness.
 
The sleepless, in their total exhaustion, quickly lost their ability to distinguish fact from fiction. The unguarded gate in their heads was now propped wide open to suggestion and persuasion. It was a great time for storytellers he thought, for magicians and, of course, advertisers- his abandoned trade. It was the ideal era for placebos: well-intended, white lies that produce truth in spite of themselves. 
 
Carefully chosen, succinct language is the trademark of this excellent debut novel.  Scientific and humanistic concerns are carefully balanced in a skillfully told tale that is poignant and perceptive. Please make sure to check out this superb debut novel.
 
Posted by bweiner on 05/14/14
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Clarissa is being stalked, and like most victims, she knows her stalker. She even has vague memories of intimacy between them, but her memories fade following the time she and Rafe left the bar. She is about to find out what happened that night, courtesy of some very personal pictures her stalker has been hoarding…
 
The Book of You, the debut novel by Claire Kendal, recounts the events following the one night Clarissa spends with Rafe after being discarded by her married lover. Clarissa anxiously attempts to piece together the events of the night, but her memories are cloudy. She becomes a prisoner in her home and finds respite in her appointment to a seven week jury deliberating a rape and assault case. But there is nowhere to hide; she is observed and confronted by Rafe wherever she goes.
 
Clarissa wavers between indecision and purposeful action as we witness her resolve to end this nightmare. The “you” in this story is Rafe, and Clarissa is chronicling every moment and every action of his assault on her. Will she gather enough evidence to justify police involvement, or is she too late?
 
Explore the depths of desperation in this tense, psychological thriller by an engaging new author.
 
Posted by bweiner on 04/23/14
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Desperation can drive anyone to make disastrous decisions. In The Vanishing, by Wendy Webb, Julia Bishop has reached a crossroad in her life. Her husband Jeremy has cheated countless innocent people in a fraudulent investment scheme. His subsequent suicide has left Julia vulnerable and exposed.
 
When the mysterious Amaris Sinclair offers her an opportunity to exit her past and renew her future, she jumps at the chance. But her move to the centuries old estate of Havenwood may be her last. The mysterious mansion holds more questions than answers, and the whispering walls begin to close in on her...
 
Experience the mystery and terror of this tangled tale by an appealingly articulate Midwestern author.
 
One word of caution: You may want to lock the door and leave the lights on...
horror, Mystery
Posted by bweiner on 03/19/14
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In The Sun and other Stars, author Brigid Pasulka crafts a story of family and community that will captivate you with an easy sense of familiarity. Pasulka, an English teacher in Chicago, understands and embraces the familial conflicts and intergenerational obligations that shape our personal growth. She has lived in Russia, Germany, Italy, and Poland, where she went in search of her own heritage.
 
In this story, twenty-two year old Etto is in unfathomable grief after losing his mother and twin brother. His deepening isolation creates a rift between him and his father as he struggles to repair his broken life. He meets two people who help him rekindle his desire to live, and Italy's favorite pastime, soccer,  becomes a  source of salvation for him.
 
Brigid Pasulka pens stories of genuine people we can relate to. Love, loss, family, friendship, and community dominate her themes. She writes from the heart, and she will touch your heart with her words. After you read this, check out her first novel, A Long, Long, Time Ago and Essentially True, another tour de force of multi-generational magic.
 
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