Charlie's Books

Charlie's Books
Buon Giorno, Amici!

Our motto ...

Leave the (political) party. Take the cannoli.

"It always seems impossible until it's done." Nelson Mandela

Right now 6 Stella crime novels are available on Kindle for just $.99 ... Eddie's World has been reprinted and is also available from Stark House Press (Gat Books).

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Reviews ... Still Missing, Manon Lescaut, Brothers, The Messenger & Jimmy Bench-Press ... DOC says ...


The Brothers Judd on Johnny Porno:

Currently cruising just beneath mass media radar is the next big thing in crime writing, Charlie Stella. When critics and readers describe him they invariably resort to comparisons with the greats of the genre--Elmore Leonard, George V. Higgins, and Donald Westlake. [That would be Westlake writing his Parker series, as Richard Stark, making it appropriate that Mr. Stella's latest is the first original title from Stark House Press.] But, at least here in Johnny Porno, you might also compare him to a historical novelist, because what he's offered up is a pitch perfect look at 1973 and the birth of the mainstream porn industry in a book packed with a wide cast of characters, numerous subplots, entertaining dialogue, enough factual/historical context for a documentary, and plenty of action. And if that's not enough for you, the novel is leavened with healthy doses of humor.

At the center of the tale is John Albano, an essentially decent guy who lost his union carpenter card when he punched out a foreman. Nor is that the only trouble his fists have caused him. He got a job collecting receipts from local porn theaters when he decked a corrupt cop in a local mob bar. Once that would have been a really minor job, but Deep Throat has just been banned in New York, so, of course, everyone wants to see it. Suddenly, the seedy movie houses are doing brisk business. At the same time, John made an enemy of the mob boss's nephew when they fought over a supposed pass John made at the hood's wife. And if Johnny Porno--the unwanted nickname that his current employment has won him--didn't have enough problems, he has to deal with his bitchy ex-wife if he's going to see his son and her first husband has hatched a plan to rob him of the cash he's collecting for the mob. Those are just the storylines that touch John directly, percolating along in the background are additional subplot ranging from a pair of honest cops trying to bust the crooked one to an effort to track down a 1970 Cadillac Eldorado that features in the film, for a mobster who just has to own it.

By the end of the novel there are so many guys gunning for each other that it's an impressive performance on Mr. Stella's part just to be able to orchestrate all the action coherently. That narrative dexterity, the entertaining dialogue, and the likable title character, in particular, not only make this a novel you'll want to read, but Charlie Stella an author to watch.


Grade: (A+)

The Kindle experiment is proving a much more expensive venture than physical book buying because I can now read while working out on the elliptical machines. The ease of reading has become undeniable (especially on crowded subways). I’m up to a steady 3-4 books per week since we purchased the thing and although I’m opting to use their “free books” option more and more (partly to offset the initial cost ($303 fazools)--equal to 3 months of my buying books), I’m still purchasing books. A few weeks back I saw a review in the New York Times that intrigued me. I only read the first few paragraphs (rather than spoil the read for myself) but immediately knew I’d be buying the book (Still Missing, by Chevy Stevens). Monday I made the purchase at work after finishing another free-bee Kindle purchase (Manon Lescaut--yeah, DOC, the book the opera was based on). I started reading at lunch while at work and was hooked before I returned to my computer. It is a debut novel that became as stunningly compulsive reading as was Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, except I found it to be much better writing start to finish.

I was halfway through the book when I commented on the author’s page about how much I was enjoying the book. I had told many at the office (where I’m a book club member) about how I couldn’t stop reading (and was sneaking reads throughout the work day). I was almost finished while taking the Staten Island Ferry ride home Friday night, but then had our weekly date with the Principessa Ann Marie at our favorite Mexican restaurant and wound up too full and tired to finish reading last night. I finished it this morning, though and it is a truly compulsive read.

The thing that I learned at the author’s page, by the way, was Still Missing has already received FOUR STARRED REVIEWS. In my short and humble word processing/crime writing “career” the reviews I’ve been most proud of are the six starred industry reviews we received over 7 books. We were rarely reviewed by all four (Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist and Library Journal), but we did pretty good over the span (I’d thought); out of the 21 industry reviews we received those 6 starred reviews. Still Missing, a DEBUT novel, scored FOUR (and all, in our humble opinion, very much deserved). This is a GREAT read, amici.

I won’t provide spoilers (ever) but here’s the concept that hooked me (again, I wouldn’t read the full Times review once I found myself intrigued): A real estate broker is showing a house and is abducted. It isn’t the usual formulaic thriller/rapist/serial killer novel. It is much more than that. It comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. A page turner from start to finish, it will leave you wanting more from this author and fortunately for all of us, there’s more coming down the road (Never Knowing, Summer of 2011).

Manon Lescaut ... The read was fast enough, it’s a small novel by Abbé Prévost, but being an opera buff (or buffoon), I prefer the opera by Puccini. I think it may have come too soon on the heels of reading The Red and The Black by Marie-Henri Beyle a/k/a Stendhal. Both reads were worth the price of admission (one freebee and one $3.99 purchase) but perhaps should have been spaced a little further apart by moi (in that French mode). My bad in that regard. Manon is the poor one in this tale of class mingling woe, but she’s beautiful and that hooks more than one fish. le Chevalier Des Grieux (more French) is the son of privilege who first falls for Manon. He can’t get enough of the woman or the abuse her desires lead him to. In the Stendhal novel mentioned above, you can flip the classes/genders but the psychological torment for those in love are pretty much the same (why I should’ve spaced these babies apart better--but that’s what being cheap will get you, brothers and sisters). Like I said, I prefer the opera ...

Okay, by now DOC has upchucked his Miller Light ... so back to the reviews.

Brothers ... a terrific movie with some excellent writing by David Benioff. Toby Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman and Sam Shepard were incredible. Absolutely terrific. MaGuire plays the war hero, a great father, husband and son. Gyllenhaal is the screw-up brother, son and uncle. MaGuire returns for a second tour of duty to Afghanistan and is captured. He goes through hell (you’ll have to watch it to understand that over simplified definition). When he’s assumed dead, Gyllenhaal assumes a bigger role with his brother’s family (and starts to grow up). He maybe gets too close? Excellent. See it.

The Messenger ... on a similar tragedies of war theme, Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster and Jena Malone are equally wonderful in this poignant and gripping tale of the poor SOB’s who have to inform the families of soldiers killed in war. There will no dry eyes early on and all through this baby.

Finally, a wonderfully kind review of Jimmy Bench-Press from author Mike Dennis for Patti Abbott’s Forgotten Book segment over at her site.

And here’s some great blues from the Allman Brothers Band ...

— Knucks

And the DOC says ...

Hey Chaz,

So we’re back to the opera? That means whining about that $38 Billion fazools can’t be far off. Actually, I liked that clip. I made it up to the 2:25 mark which is almost double my personal best. I think that girl used to be in “Cats”, then her career obviously tanked and she started singing Guido show tunes to pay the rent. Since it was opera, I’m assuming she is either dying, going mad or recently discovered that she had slept with a close family member. That’s why opera will never catch on in the U.S. Granted, we did dabble in the motif for a while… we had Bobby Goldsboro (wearing his hair helmet).

Last week, the First Lady was performing her “Junk in the Trunk” tour through the Gulf States. She told everyone to do down there for vacation and promptly packed up the family and went to Maine. Obviously, she is not too smitten with the prospect of running into her fellow Americans. They realized that they had forgotten to bring their dog and sent a private jet to pick him up. Really, that’s just wasteful. Couldn’t they have simply put him in a limo?

When the oil spill first started the Bamster used to mention BP at least twice in every sentence. Now that it seems to be capped all you hear is “I” and “me” and “my administration”. I was expecting to see photos of Fredo in a diving suit holding a giant cork. If only he could do something similar to the First Lady.

Joe “why would I put hair plugs in the back of my head when I can’t see the back of my head” Biden claimed that although many people felt the Tea Party was racist, he didn’t think so. So, why bring it up Joe? This seems to be the new strategy of the Libs for dealing with the movement. Expect the following report of a Tea Party demonstration on MSNBC in the near future:

Chris Matthews: So Arianna, have there been any incidents of lynching African Americans yet.
Arianna Huffington: Not yet Chris, but the small turnout of African Americans probably has something to do with that.
Chris Matthews: And have you seen any signs denouncing the practice of lynching African Americans.
Arianna Huffington: Not a one, Chris.
Chris Matthews: So it would appear that they condone the practice?
Arianna Huffington: What other conclusion could you make, Chris?

And here’s a little Mickey Rourke content to cheer you up, big guy.

Have a good week