Friday Flicks: The Girl on the Train


Earlier this year, I read The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins as part of a book club. I loved the way Hawkins blurred the lines of her thriller by using an unreliable narrator and shifting around the chronology of the story. When I heard that Hollywood was planning a film adaptation of the novel, I was a bit apprehensive. The way that the story is presented seemed uniquely suited for the pages of a book. Still, I entered the theater with some optimism, especially as the trailers seemed to capture the dark tone of the novel.

In the film, Emily Blunt plays Rachel Watson, a woman who has turned to alcohol as her life collapses around her. Each morning, she rides the train to and from work and passes the neighborhood where she and her ex husband used to live. As the train stops at the local station, she has a clear view into the house that her ex now shares with the woman who ended their marriage.

Rachel does her best to ignore the remnants of that former life. Instead, she focusses on the young couple who lives a few houses down the street. Her voyeuristic curiosity allows her to escape from the unfortunate reality that her life has become. But her fantasy come crashing down when she notices the wife in an embrace with another man. The next morning finds Rachel bruised and unable to remember the events of the night before. She awakens to news that a local woman has gone missing. As the picture of the woman permeates the media there is no denying the woman's identity. It is the same woman who Rachel has studied each day on the train. With no recollection of the previous evening, Rachel fears for the worst. What has she done?!

The Girl on the Train turns out to be a surprisingly faithful adaptation of Hawkins's novel. Director Tate Taylor, who is no stranger to book adaptations after his smash debut The Help, smartly maintains the shifting timeline of the novel. This helps to add intensity and suspense to an otherwise straightforward story. Like the book, the movie is much more a character study of a woman who has lost control of her life. Emily Blunt gives a career defining performance as Rachel, allowing us to connect and even sympathize with her deeply flawed protagonist. The supporting cast of seasoned Hollywood role players all perform admirably in their parts, and Allison Janney in particular shines as a detective who is skeptical of Rachel's testimony. Just like the novel, I felt the movie tipped its hat a bit too early, causing the last act to lack the intensity that the buildup promised. Still, The Girl on the Train is a solid adaptation with a star-affirming performance by Emily Blunt that should please both fans of the novel and casual moviegoers.

Without Mercy by Jefferson Bass

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"Some days I think we're making progress. Other days, I think the problem is just human nature itself, stretching all the way back to Adam and Eve."

A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of reviewing The Inquisitor's Key by the fabulous Jefferson Bass duo. That novel was my first introduction to their Body Farm series featuring forensic anthropologist Dr. Bill Brockton. I really enjoyed reading that novel, and appreciated the way Bass crafted a story that was both a religious thriller and brilliant character study. When I was contacted by the publisher to read Bass's latest novel Without Mercy, I jumped at the opportunity.

Dr. Bill Brockton heads up The Body Farm, a University of Tennessee institution that he founded and maintains. Assisted by his doctoral student Miranda, Brockton has become a leading name in anthropology and one of law enforcement's go-to guys. His latest assignment finds Brockton investigating the partial remains of a person who seems to have been chained to a tree and left for dead. Without a full skeleton and with limited evidence that was tarnished by time, Dr. Brockton finds himself facing one of the most gruesome crimes of his career.

On top of the usual vigor of his job, Brockton also faces some added stress on the personal front. Miranda his student and assistant is presenting her thesis soon and is beginning to look for a place to start her career. Unable to face the implications of this impending vacancy, Brockton buries himself in the one place he always feels safe. . . his work. But even his job is beginning to abandon him. With advancements in technology and methodology exceeding Brockton's own expertise, he begins to question his relevance in the field that he's devoted his life to.

Just when everything is looking grim, things get even worse. Brockton receives word that Nick Satterfield, a sadistic murderer who he helped put behind bars, has escaped from prison. Suddenly, he is forced into facing a nemesis that he thought he was done with. With the added pressures of both his personal and professional life caving in on him, Brockton fears for both his sanity and his life.

In Without Mercy, the tenth installment in the series, Jefferson Bass presents a fast paced mystery that will have you reading into all hours of the night. Beyond the thriller, it is the intense depth of Brockton's character that will leave a lasting impression. I was riveted by the way Brockton faced the threat of becoming obsolete in a field that he pioneered. Even though I am not a faithful reader of the series, Bass's writing helped me to grasp the context and emotional implications of the characters. Even with an ending that veered a bit too far from reality, Without Mercy is a solid thriller that provides everything a fan of the genre is looking for.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2016, 30)

The Buried Book by D.M. Pulley

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"Books are like people. Sometimes they lie."

Young Jasper's life is being turned upside down. His mother is gone. She left him at his Aunt and Uncle's farm. He loves her unconditionally, but it would be a lie to say that Jasper is not worried or confused. Why would she leave him there with no explanation? Where is she going? And why wasn't Jasper allowed to stay with his father?

Jasper soon begins to acclimate to life on the farm. He learns that everyone has to do their part to keep the estate running. Although he enjoys his time there, Jasper still longs to return home to his mother and father. But that doesn't seem likely to happen. A visit from his father confirms his worst fears, no one knows where his mother is. A remnant of his mother's past soon appears in the form of her old diary. As Jasper begins to read it, he finds out secrets that point to a dark pass and threaten to impact his future.

In The Buried Book, author D.M. Pulley weaves an edge-of-your-seat mystery with a coming of age story that thrills and incites a genuine emotional response. The novel intersperses Jasper's story with pieces of his mother's diary. With each revelation, Jasper learns more about his mother while simultaneously losing bits of his childhood innocence. The result is both riveting and heartbreaking. I raced through the pages of this book and couldn't stop thinking about if for several days after finishing. The Buried Book will leave you breathless as you burn through this fantastic story.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
This review is part of a tour by TLC Book Tours.

(2016, 29)

Friday Flicks: Sully

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America has a complicated history with airplanes. They started as a luxurious means of travel and represented the core of mankind's exploration of the world. They represented the best of what we were capable of if we put our efforts toward a common goal. Later, they became the weapon of choice as terrorists executed the largest attack in the history of the country. Suddenly, planes became the ammunition in our darkest nightmares. In his latest film Sully, director Clint Eastwood portrays an event of American heroism that explores the complexities of an unplanned aircraft landing in a post 9/11 world.

Tom Hanks plays captain Chelsey "Sully" Sullenberger the pilot who managed a miraculous landing of US Airways flight 1549 into the Hudson River. With all of the passengers and crew surviving the unlikely ordeal, Sully is quickly labeled a hero. But as the NTSB begins their standard investigation of the crash, evidence from the wreckage brings Sully's actions into question.  He trusts his gut, but models appear to show the event could have been avoided. With his entire career set to be judged on a few fateful minutes of extraordinary circumstance, Sully struggles to defend his legacy while acclimating to his new role as an American hero.

Following his hit American Sniper, director Clint Eastwood once agains chronicles the story of a real life hero. Like his previous film, the events of 9/11 cast a shadow over the entire proceedings. Images of the doomed plane gliding through the New York skyline eerily recall the famous news footage from that September morning. But like Sniper, Sully is more about average Americans rising to the occasion than any darkness that terrorism elicits. Despite knowing the end result, the faithful recreation of the water landing left me on edge of my seat. The efforts of the ferry drivers and emergency response teams in the direct aftermath of the incident are reverently portrayed as a tribute to the services of these ordinary heroes.

While Aaron Eckhart as co-pilot Jeff Skiles and Laura Linney as Lorraine Sullenberger dutifully fill their supporting roles, there is no denying that this movie belongs to Tom Hanks. As he's done time and time again, Hanks disappears into the role of an everyman in an extraordinary circumstance with ease. He captures the emotional complexity of Sully with a subtlety that makes you forget that you're watching a movie. Based on Highest Duty, the autobiography of the real life Sullenberger, Sully is a film that respectfully tells many sides of the story while never losing the focus on its main character. The film checks all the boxes of a potential awards season contender and serves as another solid notch in Eastwood's storied career.

Autumn in Oxford by Alex Rosenberg


Tom Wrought is being framed. Life hadn't been easy up to this point, but he never expected it to get this bad. A Pulitzer prize and colloquial respect as a historian did little to protect Tom from the hysteria of McCarthy's crusade against communism. Black-listed and humiliated, Tom relocated to Oxford where he found the love of his life Liz. The only problem. . . Liz is married.

As the affair of Tom and Liz progresses, the two become soulmates. But the bliss of love is soon interrupted by the sudden murder of Liz's husband. The poor man is pushed in front of a train on the London Underground, and Tom is the prime suspect. The authorities see the event as a cut and dry case of "the other man" killing the husband out of jealousy. Despite the clear motive, Tom adamantly proclaims his innocence.

Lucky for Tom, Liz believes him. She hires a young lawyer to defend him and to get to the bottom of who would frame him. As the story unfolds, we learn secrets of Toms past that have the potential to unearth an even larger conspiracy of global proportions.

In Autumn in Oxford, author Alex Rosenberg crafts a deliberately plotted thriller that is riveting from start to finish. I was reminded of the works of Joseph Kanon, especially The Good German, as I read this historical novel that was full of twists and turns that come with Cold War espionage. The characters are intricately drawn and help to keep the pages turning even when the action stalls. It was particularly refreshing to have two women, Liz and her solicitor, take the reigns of the investigation, especially given the time period of the story. Autumn in Oxford is a novel that could have benefited from one final editing pass, but ultimately the heart of the characters and intrigue of the plot elevate the book into a fascinating and engaging read.

For more information, visit Amazon, Goodreads, and TLC Book Tours.

(2016, 28)

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Storm Front by John Sandford


"There're not many angels around anymore. Not in my work."

The Virgil Flowers series by John Sandford is one of my all time favorites. Flowers, a quirky investigator who has his own way of going about his job, is one of the most charismatic and unconventional leads in a popular mystery series. His long hair, obscure music group t-shirts, and cowboy boots make him instantly recognizable by wardrobe alone. His reputation as maverick investigator who solves "the hard ones" places him in some of the most dangerous situations that the state of Minnesota has to offer. Storm Front finds Flowers in an investigation that has stakes reaching far beyond the jurisdiction of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Elijah Jones is in the biggest trouble of his life. For years, Jones has cared for his wife who suffers from Alzheimers. Now, as he faces his own terminal cancer diagnosis, Jones sets a plan in motion that could potentially keep his wife cared for long after he has died. During a recent archeological dig in Israel, Jone's team discovered an ancient artifact that seemingly alters history dating back to the Bible. He smuggles the artifact home to Minnesota in the hopes of auctioning it to the highest bidder and securing the wellbeing of his wife for years to come.

Enter Virgil Flowers. He is busy investigating a petty case of local fraud when his boss Lucas Davenport gives him a call. Shortly after, Flowers is at the airport picking up an Israeli expert who he will assist in retrieving the artifact. But Israel is not the only party with interest in the relic. The history and religion altering implication of the ancient stele has a host of parties from around the world racing to retrieve it. From an American television personality to a notorious terrorist, it seems like everyone wants to get their hands on the artifact. This leaves Virgil in a unique situation. Is an ancient rock really worth dying for?

As with the previous novels in this series, it is really fun to read about Virgil Flowers working out a case in his unique way. John Sandford writes with a crisp urgency that makes Storm Front a real page turner. That being said, this is the first novel in the series that I didn't come out of wanting more. The plot of this book strays a bit to far from reality for me. The globe spanning historical implications of the premise seem more fitting to Dan Brown's Robert Langdon than Virgil Flowers. Flowers seemed so out of place, in fact, that I found myself more interested in the subplot of antique lumber fraud than the main story. Some have suggested that Sandford may have employed another author to help him write this novel. Whether this is true or not, Storm Front, is an installment that does not reach the height of the novels that preceded it. For the sake of his fantastic character, I hope this novel does not mark the beginning of a decline in what remains one of my favorite series.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2016, 27)

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