Monday, May 30, 2011

The A Circuit by Georgina Bloomberg & Catherine Hapka

The A Circuit
The A Circuit by Georgina Bloomberg & Catherine Hapka

The blurb:
On the A Circuit, extremely privileged teens travel the country competing at the top level of horse showing.  At Pelham Lane Stables outside of New York City, the teen riders are some of the top competitors on the circuit.  Tommi, a billionaire heiress, and Kate, a working student, are serious about their riding.  So when Zara, the wild child of a famous rock star, descends on Pedham Lane, her antics (and trailing paparazzi) are not welcome.  And then there's the distraction of Fitz.  He's the barn's resident Casanova and he just wants Kate to give him a chance. But the real challenge comes when the drama on the ground starts spilling into the show ring!

Review: 
The A Circuit takes us to the elite and privileged world of dressage, horses, and wealthy teens.  Pelham Lane Stables is one of the most elite riding stables in the country, and reputedly the best in the East Coast.   We follow the stories of the riders, who are mainly teenage girls, as they compete and work as a team to keep the stables running smoothly.

Through the eyes of three main characters, we share the drama, excitement and intrigue that goes on in  Pelham Lane Stables.   There's Tommi, the billionaire's daughter, whose seemingly perfect life has its own problems.  Her desire to prove her commitment to horses and riding and to carry this love and commitment to adulthood is one of the stronger conflicts of the book.  Her best friend Kate is a "working student" which means that in exchange for access to the horses and classes, Kate works at the stables.   This often means that the other riders often treat her like an employee and are dismissive of her knowledge and skills.  Though Kate's able to brush this off, stay focused, and enjoy riding and the horses.  The least likable and most tormented of the group is Zara, the rockstar's only child.   Since nearly every relationship and interaction she has is colored by her father's fame, she's gotten used to getting her own way.  Getting her own way hasn't always been good for her - but her love for horses and friends of her own may be a way to tame her.  There are other secondary characters - boys, the social climbers, parents, and Jamie, the owner and manager of the stables.  Jamie serves as a mentor to the girls - his handling of the difficult ones, equine and human, wins everyone's respect.

The A Circuit's super privilege and drama will likely appeal to fans of Gossip Girl and the Clique.  The book is a light, fun read.    I'm a bit embarrassed that part of what drew my attention was the author - Georgina Bloomberg.  Though this sort of attention is addressed by the characters  of The A Circuit  where she makes clear that the children of paparazzi level fame don't want to be reduced to extensions of their famous parents.  The author drew my attention, but I kept reading because of the characters themselves.   


Reading level: Ages 9-12
ISBN-10: 1599906341 - Paperback $9.99
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (May 24, 2011), 288 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher

About the Authors:
Georgina Bloomberg is the younger daughter of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  An accomplished equestrian, Georgina is on the board of directors of the Equestrian Aid Foundation, the Bloomberg Sisters Foundation, and the Bloomberg Family Foundation.  She is also the founder of the charity Rider's Closet, which collects used riding clothes for collegiate riding teams that are unable to afford them.  Georgina is a graduate of New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study.

Catherine Hapka has published many books for children and young adults, including some about horses. A lifelong horse lover, she rides several times per week and keeps three horses on her small farm in Pennsylvania.  In addition to writing and riding, she enjoys animals of all kinds, reading, gardening, music and travel.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Conflict of Interest by Adam Mitzner

A Conflict of Interest
A Conflict of Interest by Adam Mitzner

The blurb:
Alex Miller is a criminal defense attorney and, at thirty-five: the youngest partner in one of the most powerful law firm in New York City.  He's a man at the top of his game with the life he's always dreamed of, complete with a loving wife, who remains patient with his long hours and high-stakes cases, and a beautiful young daughter.

At his father's funeral, Alex meets Michael Ohlig -- a mysterious and nearly mythic figure in the Miller family history -- who presents Alex with a surprising request: to represent him in a high-profile criminal investigation. . .an alleged brokerage scam that has lost hundreds of millions of dollars for investors. Wealthy beyond words, Ohlig insists he's done nothing wrong, and Alex who's experienced enough to know that clients always lie, uncharacteristically believes him.

But as the facts come out, shocking secrets are revealed that threaten everything Alex believes in -- about the law, his family, and himself.  But his desperate need for the truth propels Alex to unscrupulous depths, and to confront a past defined by deception and a future in jeopardy. . . with the realization that one false step could destroy everything Alex holds dear.

Review:
 A Conflict of Interest has been compared to Scott Turow's Presumed Innocent because both stand out among the legal thrillers.   Adam Mitzner's A Conflict of Interest gives a credible account of what life is like for a mid-level partner in a large and prestigious New York law firm.  Mitzner captures the advantages, perks, culture, pressures, and constant demands of Big Law life and we see how work has shaped Alex's life.

The story is told from Alex's point of view and he takes us through the different stages of the trial with such precision and detail that put A Conflict of Interest on the list of books to suggest to future lawyers and law students.  We readers get a sense of the drama and excitement of litigation as we learn - as much as much as we can in a novel - about the practice of criminal law and civil litigation.   But those who read legal thrillers for the excitement and plot will find the novel a gripping read.  As Alex's professional and personal life slowly unravels, we find ourselves sharing his hopes and fears.   A Conflict of Interest delivers drama, romance, excitement, and betrayal.    It's fun, fascinating, and thoroughly enjoyable.

ISBN-10: 1439157510 - Hardcover $25.00
Publisher: Gallery (May 17, 2011), 384 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author:
Adam Mitzner is an attorney living in New York City.  A Conflict of Interest is his first novel.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson

Though just released on May 10, 2011, In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin is on Amazon's list of Best Books in May 2011 and IndieBound's May '11 Indie Next List.

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson

I'd discovered Erik Larson by chance.  We were visiting Chicago for a wedding a few years ago our cab driver highly recommended Larson's earlier book The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America which is an amazing read.  He'd written a nonfiction book that read like one of the best thrillers ever.  Larson has a gift for combining detailed research with a gripping narrative. 

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America

This latest book, In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin, Erik Larson is equally, if not even more riveting.  I was lost in the book for a day and a night - and resurfaced only after finishing it.

The blurb:
Berlin, 1933.  William E. Dodd becomes America's first ambassador to Hitler's Germny in a year that will prove to be a turning point in history.  A mild-mannered professor from Chicago, he brings along his wife, son, and a flamboyant daughter,  Martha.  Dodd must associate with key Nazis and attend their glittering parties, while telegraphing his growing fears to a largely indifferent State Department.  His daughter, meanwhile, becomes entranced with the "New Germany" and has one affair after another, including with the surprisingly honorable first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels.  The year darkens ominously, and both Dodd and his daughter find their lives gradually transformed -- until the bloody night that reveals Hitler's true charcter.

Breathtakingly paced, with unforgettable portraits of Germany's new masters, In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin is a stunning work of narrative nonfiction that sheds fresh light on why America stood by as Hitler rose to power.

Review:
If you are interested in Nazi Germany or enjoy reading about history or nonfiction, do read  In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin.    Larson somehow delivers considerable detail and research in a way that adds to the drama and our understanding of the time.

 His choice of the Dodds as the main characters gives us a glimpse into the U.S. diplomatic corps at that time.  Dodd's resentment of the wealthy and connected diplomats that populated the service becomes an important factor in the outcome of his diplomatic mission.  Larson demonstrates the ways in which Dodd was an awkward fit and how this outsider status affected the way he dealt with his German colleagues.    His beautiful and wild daughter Martha dove into Berlin's social circuit.  Her friendships, love affairs, contacts, and adventures further complicated the Dodds' position with fellow diplomats - and help make In the Garden of Beasts a fascinating read.

ISBN-10: 0307408841 - Hardcover $26.00
Publisher: Crown; 1St Edition edition (May 10, 2011), 464 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

About the Author:
Erik Larson graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied Russian history, language and culture. He received a masters in journalism from Columbia University. After a brief stint at the Bucks County Courier Times, Larson became a staff writer for The Wall Street Journal, and later a contributing writer for Time Magazine. He has written articles for The Atlantic, Harper’s, The New Yorker, and other publications.

Erik Larson is the author of national bestsellers Thunderstruck, The Devil in the White City, and  Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History.  Read more about him at www.ErikLarsonBooks.com

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers: A Legal Toolkit for Independent Producers by Thomas A. Crowell

The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers, Second Edition: A Legal Toolkit for Independent Producers

The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers, Second Edition: A Legal Toolkit for Independent Producers by Thomas A. Crowell

I'd visited Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts in NYC for advice on reviewing a distributorship agreement. Since I wasn't certain of receiving legal help, I'd asked if there were any resources that they'd recommend. They suggested this book - The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers: A Legal Toolkit for Independent Producers.

The book is divided into these sections: (1) Contracts and Intellectual Property; (2) Financing Your Movie; (3) Creating, Acquiring, and Managing Film Property; (4) Production Service Agreements, Product Placement and Hiring Cast and Crew; (5) Production - depiction releases, location releases, copyrights on the set, artwork license, representations and warranties, trademarks on the set, E&O and contractual obligations; (6) Post-Production issues: Music Licensing, Prerecording Music Licensing, Composer's Service Agreement; Film Clip License Agreements; Credits & Copyright Notes; (7) Distribution Agreements: traditional distribution deals, distributor's fee deal, major deal points, distributor's expenses, tips for attracting a distributor, a DIY plan, dvd distribution, DIY online distribution, content aggregator deals; and (8) Law Library and Appendixes with A Filmmaker's Guide to Intellectual Property; A Filmmaker's Guide to Contract Law; A The Clause Companion; and A Filmmaker's Guide to Labor and Employment Law.

The book can be read by topic or in order. I did a particularly close reading of the section on distributorship agreements. In his discussion of distributorship agreements, Crowell provides a clear explanation of how money from ticket sales gets to the distributor and producer and approximate percentages and amounts that the distributor usually reaps. I found his chart of the Theatrical Distribution Money Pipeline particularly helpful. Crowell also gives helpful notes on what an independent producer should pay particular attention to and where a distributor might try to pass on costs that are traditionally their responsibility. Crowell's expertise and experience are particularly helpful in this regard and in spotting different sources of revenue, media and markets where a distributor can distribute a film (e.g., theatrical, free tv, pay tv, VOD and PPV, home video, commercial video, internet, airline, ship, hotel/hospitality, scholastic, and military). Crowell's advice on what is market (particularly in the areas of "distributor's recoupable expenses", nonrefundable advances from distributor, territorial minimums for distributor, financial thresholds in terms of gross receipts when negotiating the term period of a distribution agreement), what a producer should be careful not to grant (or to carefully negotiate), and when not to cede control is critically important, is worth the price of the book.

As the book stresses, each contract is different. This book isn't a contract form book, it's a book that introduces readers, producers and creatives on the legal and financial aspects of producing, marketing and distributing a film. Appendix C: The Clause Companion lays out the major deal points that should be negotiated and agreed upon before the contracts are prepared and signed. Here are some of the areas that Crowell explains: approval (resolving creative differences); types of compensation (fixed, contingent, deferred, participation, residuals, royalties and bonuses); conditions precedent to the agreements; credits; engagement (service contracts); special clauses, such as favored nation clause, holdback provisions, key man clauses, kill fees, net profits, option on future services, and pay or play clauses; representations and warranties; rights granted, reserved rights and the reversion of rights.

The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers: A Legal Toolkit for Independent Producers
is a strong resource, written in clear language, with a detailed and helpful index. I highly recommend it for film producers, people in the film industry, and lawyers who want a better understanding of the business side of filmmaking and "what is market."

ISBN-10: 9780240813189 - Paperback $34.95
Publisher: Focal Press; 2 edition (January 20, 2011), 472 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Program.

About the Author:
Thomas A. Crowell is a New York-based lawyer who counsels his clients on a wide range of entertainment law and intellectual property rights issues.  He graduated from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, cum laude, and was awarded membership in the Order of the Coif -- the national legal honors society.  For over a decade, prior to becoming an attorney, Mr. Crowell produced television news and award-winning children's entertainment. He is a member of the bars of New York, New Jersey, and the United States Supreme Court.  Learn more about him at www.thomascrowell.com


Comment

Graveminder by Melissa Marr

Graveminder
Graveminder by Melissa Marr

The blurb:
Rebekkah Barrow never forgot the attention her grandmother Maylene  bestowed on the dead of Claysville, the town where Bek spent her adolescence.  There wasn't a funeral that Maylene didn't attend, and at each one Rebekkah watched as Maylene performed the same unusual ritual:  Three sips from a silver flask followed by the words, "Sleep well, and stay where I put you."

Now Maylene is dead and Bek must go back to the place -- and the man -- she left a decade ago.  But what she soon discovers is that Maylene was murdered -- and that there was good reason for her odd traditions.  It turns out that in placid Claysville the worlds of the living and the dead  are dangerously connected.  Beneath the town lies a shadowy, lawless land ruled by the enigmatic Charles, aka Mr. D--, a place from which the dead will return if their graves are not properly minded.  Only the Graveminder, a Barrow woman, and the current Undertaker, Bryon Montgomery, can set things right once the dead begin to walk.


Suddenly Rebekkah is struggling with more than just her grief--she's forced to deal with centuries-old bargain, dark secrets, a complicated romance that still haunts her, and a frightening new responsibility: to stop a monster and put the dead to rest where they belong.


Review:
I very much enjoyed Graveminder.  There's a definite mystery behind Maylene's actions and her role as Graveminder. 

Maylene's murder at the start of the novel alerts us to the dangers and unusual culture at Claysville as well as to Byron Montgomery.  Byron has recently returned to Claysville after a successful career in law enforcement in the outside world.  He approaches Maylene's death with the professional skills that he'd developed over the years and finds the town's secrecy and approach to Mayelene's death frustrating and disconcerting.

When Rebekkah returns, Bryon finds that he is as much in love with her now as when they were teens.  Fortunately,  Rebekkah seems to welcome him back into her life.  They work together and as they search for who caused Maylene's death. 

Graveminder combines a love story with mystery and magic.   It's a captivating and engrossing read.

ISBN-10: 0061826871 - Hardcover $22.99
Publisher: William Morrow (May 17, 2011) 336 pages.
Review cover courtesy of the publisher.

About the Author:
Melissa Marr is the New York Times bestselling author of the Wicked Lovely series of young adult novels: Wicked Lovely, Ink Exchange, Fragile EternityRadiant Shadows and Darkest Mercy (Wicked Lovely).  She currently lives in the Washington D.C. area with her husband and children.  Graveminder is her first adult novel. Learn more about Melissa Marr at www.melissa-marr.com

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall - From America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness by Frank Brady

Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall - from America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness

Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall - from America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness by Frank Brady

The blurb:
Endgame is acclaimed biographer Frank Brady's decades-in-the-making tracing of the meteoric ascent-and confounding descent - of enigmatic genius Bobby Fischer.  Only Brady, who met Fischer when the prodigy was ten years old and shared with him some of his most dramatic triumphs, could have written this book.  Drawing from Fischer family archives, recently released FBI files, and Bobby's own e-mails, this account is unique in that it covers Fischer's entire life - an odyssey that took the Brooklyn-raised chess champion from an impoverished childhood to the covers of Time, Life, and Newsweek to recognition as "the most famous man in the world" to notorious recluse.

Possessing a 181 IQ and remarkable powers of concentration, Bobby was only 13 when he became the youngest chess master in U.S. history.  But his strange behavior nearly halted his Cold War championship match with Soviet star Boris Spassky, he turned down millions of dollars in sponsorship offers, and by 1992 he was an international fugitive, wanted by American law enforcement for having violated U.S. sanctions.

Woven into Fischer's late-life odyssey are bizarre flirtations with apocalyptic religions, Nazis, and mafiosi, and bouts of paranoia that had him traveling with gun-toting bodyguards and railing against perceived conspiracies.

Who was Bobby Fischer, and what does his life say about the flowering of genius and distorting effects of fame?  In Endgame, Frank Brady gives us the fascinating answer.


Review:
Previous knowledge of chess or its masters isn't necessary to an appreciation of Bobby Fischer's story or this latest work by Frank Brady.  The book is an engrossing read - well researched and full of drama.  It's the story of a child prodigy, his obsessive love for the game, his foray into chess at the time that the Russians and Eastern Europeans dominated chess, and his impressive

 Endgame opens with Fischer's arrest in Japan for traveling on an expired passport.  His fear, confusion, and the strangeness of the scene alerts to the drama that unfolds.  This glimpse into Fischer's decline is juxtaposed against Fischer's childhood and his love of chess.

Fischer and his elder sister were raised by their mother on a very tight budget.  Brady met Fischer in these early years and is well acquainted with the generous New Yorkers that served as teachers and mentors and extended family to young Bobby Fischer.   Brady captures what Fischer was like - brilliant, easily bored, and deeply fascinated by chess.  His sister bought a chess set when he was six years old.  His sister and mother weren't as interested in the game, he beat them, and played against himself often and constantly.  As his obsessive love for chess overtook his other interests, his mother grew worried enough to try to get him to seek therapy or reduce his obsession.   While she worried about the intensity of his obsession with chess, his mother introduced him to chess masters, teachers, and groups. Fischer's skill and grasp of the game stood out early on.   I particularly enjoyed reading about Fischer's early years - the people that took an interest in him, introduced him to other talented players, discussed the nuances of the game, brought him to tournaments, welcomed him into their exclusive clubs.  Brady shares small details that give a clear picture of Bobby Fischer both at an early age and as his career quickly blossoms.

As we read about each of Fischer's matches and how each of them impacted his skill and career, we learn about sports competitions during the Cold War.  Chess was dominated by the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, their champions were cared for, trained supported and received significant backing from their governments.  Fischer was bitter - perhaps rightfully so - about the extent to which the Russian players were supported and worked together.  His brilliance, youth, abrasiveness,  and confrontational attitude stood out in these competitions.   In his later years, Fischer became known for his membership in fringe religious groups, anti-semitic tirades, and reclusive behavior. 

Our fascination with Bobby Fischer is reflected in movies such as Searching for Bobby Fischer and a new HBO documentary Bobby Fischer Against the WorldEndgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall - from America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness is a fascinating and well researched account of Bobby Fischer's life.

ISBN-10: 9780307463906 - Hardcover $25.95
Publisher: Crown (February 1, 2011), 416 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author:
Frank Brady is internationally recognized as the person most knowledgeable about the life and career of Bobby Fischer.  He is the author of numerous critically acclaimed biographies, including Citizen Welles; Onassis: An Extravagant Life; and Bobby Fischer: Profile of a Prodigy (the first edition of which appeared in the mid-1960s and focuses on the young Bobby).