Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Favorite Fictional Character --- Fred Flintstone

I'll be the first to admit that I'm a cartoon junkie.  I find no shame in this, nor do I think it's something that leaves me open to ridicule.  I'm addicted to cartoons, and I'm not afraid to admit it.

There is a small caveat to my addiction, it can't be a cartoon that was made after I was in my teens.  For whatever reason, almost all cartoons since the mid 1990s are sloppy.  I'm not sure if it's because they have gone to digital animation instead of hand drawn, their horrible story lines, or a combination of the two.; but I can't handle the way cartons look anymore.  They aren't entertaining by any stretch of the imagination, and that's a damn shame.  I wish today's kids had the cartoon that I grew up with.  Even more than that, I wish they had the cartoons that my mom grew up with, including The Flintstones.

No matter how much Fred Flintstone bloviates, yelled, pushes his chest out, or stomps his humongous feet, his heart is always in the right place.  Fred is the quintessential blue collar family man caught up in taking care of his family.  He is loud, aggressive, and just a tad bit bossy, but behind his obnoxious exterior, is a man who truly loves his family,

Everything he is, everything he is about, everything he does is centered on giving his family a better life. He works his ass off at the quarry, takes the odd job around town, and is constantly trying to scheme his way into the moneyed elite.  He has a heart of gold, and not matter how much he may irritate people, he is the first in line to lend them a helping hand. 

I grew up with a father that was like Fred in a superficial way, but unlike him in more ways than one.  My dad was loud, obnoxious, pushed his chest out, and unlike Fred, threw a punch more often than not.  What he wasn't was a man who was willing to put his family first, and do what needed to be done to take care of them.  Who my dad was, is why I love Fred as much as I do.  I wanted a father, who despite what was on the exterior, was a man who put his wife and kids first.  I wanted a dad who did what it took to make sure we were safe and loved.  I'm not sure I wanted a prehistoric caveman who yelled "Yabba Dabba Doo" all the time, but I'm pretty sure that if I had, my father would still be around.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook edited by Kate White (Password Clue)

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Hard-boiled breakfasts, thrilling entrees, cozy desserts, and more - this illustrated cookbook features over 100 recipes from legendary mystery authors.  Whether your're planning a sinister dinner party or simply looking to whip up some comfort food, you'll find plenty to savor in this cunning collection.  Full-color photography is featured throughout, along with mischievous sidebars revealing the links between food and foul play. 

Let's think about this one for just a second.  How on earth would I be able to pass on this one.  The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook contains two of my favorite things in the world, mysteries and food.  It's a no-brainer, and I would have deserved to be victim number one, had I not jumped at the chance to get my hands on this one.

When I got it in the mail, and I'm not exaggerating this, I skipped all the way from the mailbox to my front door.  I was that damn excited.  Now it took me a few days to have the time to start trying out some of the recipes, but once I did, I have to admit to being a little impressed.  These aren't examples of complicated, high cuisine.  For the most part, the recipes are fairly simple, easy to follow, and it's the kind of food we all love to eat.

I'm not a huge breakfast eater, but I know it's the most important meal of the day, so I try to get by the best that I can.  I'm really not an egg fan, so the fact I was willing to make an omelet should shock everyone I know, but when I saw who contributed it to the book, I had to go for it.  I think you guys know that I'm a huge fan of Ben H. Winters The Last Policeman trilogy, and thank the lord, he included Detective Palace's Three-Egg Omelet.  If you are a fan of the series, you will recognize Hank's customary breakfast.  It was super easy to make, and while I'm still not a huge fan of eggs, I'm willing to love anything attached to Hank Palace.

After I had perused the entire book, I decided to try out Brad Meltzer's Italian Chicken.  Again it was a dish with only 7 ingredients, two of them salt and pepper, and it was so easy to make.  There were only 5 steps to it, the first was to preheat an oven and spray a baking dish.  I wasn't expecting it to be as good as it was.  I think sometimes we forget that simple is good, and that sometimes it's the best way to go.

And not to name drop, but here are some of the other authors who have contributed recipes of their own: Louise Penny, Mary Higgins Clark, Rhys Bowen, Kathy Reichs, Charles Todd, Jacqueline Winspear, Gillian Flynn, Sue Grafton (the peanut butter and pickle sandwich her main character loves so much), James Patterson, and tons more.  This will be one of those cookbooks I go back to over, and over, and over again.

Challenges: Password (America)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Switching Commenting Back to Disqus

I've decided to switch back to Disqus for commenting.  I tried it out a few years ago, and had quite a few problems with it, but as time has gone by, I've noticed that a lot of the issues I had, are no longer happening for other bloggers.  

The biggest reason I'm switching back is that it does make it easier to reply to every comment. I try to respond by email now, but with so many people not setting up their email address for Blogger, it's becoming a less frequent option for me.  I'm going to miss having the comments pull up in a separate window, as I do think that makes it easier, but I'll learn to live without it. 

Hopefully this transition will go smoother for me, than it did a few years ago.  I'm going to keep my fingers crossed.  

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear

Synopsis From TLC Book Tours Site:

Spring 1937.  In the four years since she left England, Maisie Dobbs has experienced love, contentment, stability - and the deepest tragedy a woman can endure.  Now, all she wants is the peace she believes she might find by returning to India.  But her sojourn in the hills of Darjeeling is cut short when her stepmother summons her home to England: her aging father, Frankie Dobbs, is not getting any younger. 

On a ship bound for England, Maisie realizes she isn't ready to return.  Against the wishes of the captain who warns her, "You'll be alone in a most dangerous place," she disembarks in Gibraltar.  Though she is on her own, Maisie is far from alone: the British garrison town is teeming with refugees fleeing a brutal civil war across the border in Spain.

And the danger is very real.  Days after Maisie's arrival, a photographer and member of Gibraltar's Sephardic Jewish community, Sebastian Babayoff, is murdered, and Maisie becomes entangled in the case, drawing the attention of the British Secret Service.  Under the suspicious eye of a British agent, Maisie is pulled deeper into political intrigue on "The Rock" - arguably Britain's most important strategic territory - and renews an uneasy acquaintance in the process.  At a crossroads between her past and her future, Maisie must choose a different direction, knowing that England is, for her, an equally dangerous place, but in quite a different way. 

Earlier this week I reviewed Leaving Everything Most Loved, the previous book in the Maisie Dobbs series.  In that review, I tried my damnedest to not let the fact I had already read this book, to bleed into it.  For the most part, I think I did a pretty good job keeping them separate, and not letting this book color what I had to say on the previous.  I'm not going to rehash what I had to say, though I'm still having some of those same problems, only magnified about a bazillion times.

To be perfectly frank with you guys, this almost became a DNF on page nine.  When I was about half way through the page, I had to put the book down, and walk away for over an hour. Even then, I had to force myself to pick the book up and continue reading it.  Regardless of what happened to upset me so much, the fact I even contemplated not reading a Maisie Dobbs book is upsetting enough.

I've been debating how detailed I wanted to get with this review, and I think I've decided to go in a direction that will include spoilers, so please stop reading if you don't want to know some of the pertinent details. On a personal level, it will be impossible for me to review this book, and explain my reactions to it, without giving away some of the secrets.  And be warned, I may ramble for a while before I shut up.

As a long time fan of the series, I've been all for Maisie marrying James Compton, and finding true happiness in her life.  Part of the issues I had with the previous two books was in the way she kept going back and forth on what her feelings were for him, and what she wanted out of the relationship.  She has some serious  hangups when it comes to her personal relationships.  Between her childhood and her experiences in the war, I get where they come from, but enough is enough.   I've been wanting to shake her, and tell her to not only make a decision, but to make the right one. After everything she's been through, she deserved to be happy, and any idiot could tell that James made her happy.  She was just allowing her personal issues, and self doubts, to get in the way.  At the end of the Leaving Everything Most Loved, I had the impression that she was going to make the right decision, and finally agree to marry James.

On page seven of A Dangeorus Place, I got my wish. She finally agreed to marry him, and I couldn't have been happier. It was by telegram, but I was expecting that.  On page eight, through another letter, we learn that Maisie is pregnant with their first child.  Then on pages nine and ten, all hell breaks loose.  A little over a year after they were married, James is killed in a plane crash, and Maisie loses the baby.  The whole four years between the two books are told within fourteen pages, all within letters or news stories.

It's not even the loss of James and the baby that has me so upset, though I think James was a great character, and I would have liked to see them grow old together, but it's in the way it happens that pisses me off so much.  These characters deserved better than this.  It's all off page, told as more of a prologue to the book, rather than as part of the story.  It's callous in it's execution and it comes across, at least to me, that the author didn't really care for the character or their relationship anymore.  And instead of just letting her say no to the engagement, and allowing James to move on with his life, she killed him off is a rather offhanded way.  The other way I could read it, was with Maisie being in a happy place, contented with life, the author wasn't sure in which direction to take the character.  So instead of ending the series, or moving Maisie into a new chapter of her life, she chose to completely upend her life once again, and start the neuroses and inner conflict all over again.  Cause heaven forbid, we have a happy character.  After 11 damn books, the drama can end.

The other problem I had with this one, and a few of the others, is that it seems the author is moving Maisie more into the espionage realm, and less on the mystery side of things.  I'm not a huge fan of spy thrillers, regardless of who writes them, so I'm not sure how much longer I'll continue with the series if that is the direction they keep moving in.  It's repeated a few times in this book that once the Secret Service has you in their sights, they don't let you go.  I'm hoping they do let her go, and that Maisie gets back to doing what she does well, solving crimes.

For the most part, I really enjoyed the rest of the book.  I think the author did a great job in setting the scene, something she has always been really good at.  With the Spanish Civil War in full steam across the water, Gibraltar is sitting on the edge of a precipice, and anything is possible with that much tension swirling around the island.  She has populated the island with some intriguing characters, though I did find a few of them to be rather one dimensional, and the storytelling itself is as spot on as it's ever been.  Jacqueline Winspear is a great story teller, I just hope she starts taking better care of her characters.

By the end of the book, I wasn't ready to run out in traffic anymore, and I am willing to give the series one more chance.  I want the next book to get back to what the series used to be like.  Tone down some of the angst, stop making her so insecure and indecisive, and let her be happy for once in her life.  Bring Billy and Sandra back into the fold, their absence was notable in this book.  For that matter, bring her father and the senior Comptons back into the story, the lack of the regular supporting characters has been another issue for me.  Stop sliding Maisie into the spy game,  and let her reopen her detective agency.  Let Maisie be the Maisie we all fell in love with in the beginning of the series.

I don't want to say goodbye to Maisie, but I didn't want to say goodbye to Buffy Summers either.  That show lasted seven seasons, and in reality, it was time for it to be over.  The Maisie Dobbs books have now lasted through number eleven, and while I don't want to see her go, it might be her time as well.  I'm hoping that book twelve corrects some of the issues I, and a lot of other readers, have been having.  If not, maybe I'll just pretend the network pulled the plug.

I would like to thank Trish of TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review this book. Please visit the tour page to read other reviews.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Favorite Fictional Character --- Bastian Balthazar Bux

The 1984 film adaptation of Michael Ende's The Neverending Story was a huge deal to me the first time I saw it. It was a movie that changed my imagination for the rest of my life.  How cool was it  that there was a place, Fantasia, where every legend, every fictional creature ever dreamed up by man, had a place to live.  Who wouldn't want to live there?

Can you imagine a place where Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, Eeyore, Buffy Summers, Mame Dennis, Zeus, and Isis, all had a place to mingle and coexist?  They would all band together to fight against Trollocs, Orcs, Sauron, Ursulla, Michael Meyers, and others of their ilk.  And yes, I do still play this game in my head.  Every time I read a book, watch a movie, or get sucked into a TV show, every single character is sorted in this imaginary land in my head; the good guys on one side of the planet, the bad guys on the other.  At one point in time, I kept lists, had the characters divided into guilds, and had them forming governments and businesses.  I'm no longer that obsessed with the idea, but I can't totally let it go either.

As great as the idea of Fantasia was for me, the best part of the me, was who the real hero was.  It wasn't the obvious choice, the young warrior Atreyu.  In the end, the real hero was the nerdy, bullied kid, who just wanted to escape his feelings of  neglect and displacement.  Bastian Balthazar Bux just wants to escape his existence.  He has no real friends, he's not getting the attention he needs at home, and he's being bullied in school.  When he gets lost in the story of Fantasia, it's not long before he realizes that he's not just reading a book, that he is in fact witnesses to, and to a degree, participating in, something far greater than himself.

It's this young boy, this junior bibliophile, who has the key to saving Fantasia. Its on his tiny shoulders, and it's his imagination that must save the day.  This is a case where all it takes for the hero to save the day, is to use his mind.  For a nerdy, junior bibliophile watching this movie for the first time, it was life affirming.  It gave me hope that I didn't need to be some super strong athlete, to make a difference.

I own this movie, and I still watch it from time to time.  My heart still beats faster as Bastian struggles with the truth.  I still cheer, sometimes out loud, when he accepts the idea that he can make a difference.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Friday Night Jamie by Bren Christopher (Password Clue)

Synopsis From Publisher:

Jamie is an accountant who lives by a strict schedule: every day is planned; the future is predictable.  And that schedule includes one night a week when he allows himself to blow off steam at a gay dance club in the City.   One Friday night he gets more than he bargained for when he meets Matt, an out of work stranger with long dark hair and rough hands.  The attraction is undeniable but Matt does not fit Jamie's idea of the perfect man to share his carefully ordered life. 

Instead, Jamie longs for a date with his dream man: handsome, sophisticated Keith, a successful Vice President at his prestigious New York accounting firm, a man on his way up.

But everything changes when Jamie discovers a suspicious error in one of is accounts.  Suddenly, he finds himself on the run from both the mob and the FBI -- and the only man who can help him in the tall, dark-haired stranger he rejected.  Because Matt is not who he seems -- and neither is Keith.

Even in the world of m/m romance books, Friday Night Jamie is not high literature.   It won't make my best of the year list, even if I did one for romance books only, nor is it all that original.  What it is, is a whole lot of fun.  This is the kind of story Lifetime makes into movies, and who doesn't binge watch those every once in a while.  Why hasn't anyone started a gay version of the Lifetime channel, I can promise it would be a huge hit.

Lifetime movies have, for the most part, have two essential truths; first impressions can't be trusted and looks can be deceiving.  In most cases, if a man appears to be too good to be true, he is.  The man that is perfect on paper, is the man to run away from.  The man who doesn't check off every little box on your "must haves" list, he's the one you want to keep.

As in the perfect TV movie, the perfect guy will always show his true colors, normally in a deadly way.  Keith is not exception to that rule, though why Jamie found him to be all that desirable is beyond me.  Either the poor boy had blinders on, or he's a dumb as a bunch of rocks.  Since he doesn't come across as dumb in an other aspect of his life, I'm going to have to go with blind.  Matt on the other hand is golden form the moment he walks on the page, and for any man to have the patience he does, is a miracle all on its own.  Once Jamie gets his head out of his ass, Jamie and Matt are great together.  They are so very different from each other, but I've always thought that opposites make great pairings.  They both brings such different things to the table, that together, they compliment and smooth out each other's rough patches.

What follows is the normal cheesy movie of the week fare.  Jamie stumbles upon some bad stuff, the FBI gits involved, people get killed, the heroes go on the run from the bad guys, more people get killed, and the two heroes live happily ever after.  The mystery aspect is pretty light, as far as the heroes having to solve anything, but what's there was enough to hold my interest.   Like I said, nothing that isn't predictable or new, but it's a hell of a lot of fun to read.

Challenges: A-Z Mystery, Password (Friday)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear

Synopsis From Back Cover:

London, 1933.  Two months after Usha Pramal's body is discovered in the waters of a city canal, her brother, newly arrived in England, turns to Maisie Dobbs for help.  Not only has Scotland Yard made no arrests, but evidence indicates they failed to conduct a full investigation.  Usha had been staying at an ayah's hostel, a refuge for Indian women.  As Maisie learns, Usha was different from the hostel's other residents.  But with this discovery comes new danger, as a fellow lodger who was close to Usha is found murdered. 

As Maisie is pulled deeper into a unfamiliar yet captivating subculture, her investigation becomes clouded by the unfinished business of a previous case, and by a growing desire to see more of the world.  At the same time, her lover, James Compton, gives her an ultimatum she cannot ignore. 

It's been almost two years since I read the previous book in the series, Elegy for Eddie, and I'm finding that I can almost copy that review, and paste it here. Now since then, I have gone back to read the books I skipped over, and as of right now, I've read the entire series, including the next book, A Dangerous Place, which I will have a review of later in the week.  Maisie is still a little too angsty in this one, still a little too unsure of herself, or what she wants in life.   The title fits not only the story, but where her mindset is at.

By the way, I'm trying to write this review, and not allow it to be tainted by the fact I've already read the next one.

I know Maisie has been through a lot in her short life, that she has lost more than most of us will ever have to deal with.  Her experiences in the first World War, and what she suffered through, will always taint her perceptions of who she is, and what she wants.  I really do get it.  I also get that if Maisie was the creation of a less gifted author, that a lot of the issues would be glossed over and forgotten, and that would be a damn shame.  Maisie Dobbs in one of the most complex and four dimensional characters I've come across in a long time.  Jacqueline Winspear has done a find job at developing her into a character that is so admirably damaged.  I just wish, and while it was to a degree, that the angst had been spread out just a tad bit more.  I wish Maisie had been dealing with all of her issues the entire length of the series, and not have them come to the forefront in the last two books.

Maisie has deep wounds that she forced to the back or her mind, thought she had dealt with, but with the death of her mentor Maurice, she is now having to deal with them head on.  For the last two books she has been reevaluating her place in life, what she wants out of it, and on a more fundamental level, who she is.  Me personally, I wish it hadn't taken two full books to do it, that she would have made up her mind on some of the subjects long before, but I get that I can't make a character behave in a certain way, just to appease my sense of timing.  And yes, I get that unless you have been reading this series from the beginning, you won't understand half of what I'm saying, so I apologize for that.  I can honestly say that I'm relieved by the end, because I know she is finally on the right track, that she isn't going to be stupid and reject James, that she is finally going to allow herself to be happy.

One little side note before I move onto the actual mystery aspect of the book, I'm not sure I'm completely comfortable with what happens to Billy in this book.  Having him flirt with the idea of having an affair with Sandra, seems so out of character of him.   I get that he and his family have had some horrific things happen to them, and that he probably feels more adrift than Maisie, but when is enough enough.  I think the author has done a real disservice to this character, it was almost as if she wasn't sure what to do with him anymore, so lets just screw his life up completely, and push him aside.  I know that by the end, he is back on the right track, but it still feels as if the author is done with him, and that's a crying shame.  Billy has been the oddly beating heart of the series, and it's going to be horribly saddening to see him go away.  I just wish we would  have had more closure with him, and his family, before that happened.

If you can't tell by know, this series, for me at least, is about the characters more than the mystery aspect.  As in the previous books, the mystery itself, while rather violent, still has, for lack of a better word, a gentleness about it.   This author is so gifted at writing Maisie's character into the story, it's a little hard to differentiate where her and the mystery are separated.  The author, much like Dame Christie, is gifted at weaving a rather intricate story into a tale that is both challenging, and easy to follow.  At no point in time, with any of these books, have I felt as if I was being tricked or purposefully led astray by the action.  It's, as always, well crafted and well told, and worth the read.

One last note, if you think this review is a jumbled mess, I get it.  My feelings are so over the place, so confused in my head, that writing a coherent review for this one, has been a struggle.  I tried to express myself as clearly as I could, but I'm not sure if I pulled it off.  So please accept my apologies, but also know that if I didn't like this character, and this series as much as I do, I wouldn't be having this issue.

I would like to thank Trish of TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review this book. Please visit the tour page to read other reviews.

Challenges: A-Z Mystery