Sunday, July 24, 2016

Mark Park and the Flume of Destiny by Brian Olsen

Synopsis From Publisher:

Mark Park is model-handsome and strong as an ox, but thinking has never been his strong suit.  When everyday machinery turns murderous, Mark will have to strain his brain to keep his friends and family safe.  An amusement park holds a deadly secret and his roommates are in for the rides of their lives, but Mark will have to venture alone into a whole new world, a world where all his strength is useless and only his underused intellect can save the day. Can Mark solve the mystery of the flume before the people he loves are lost to him forever?

I think most of you guys already know about my childhood years spent traveling with a carnival, so when I figured out that an amusement park is one of the star attractions of the book, I couldn't wait to dig in.  I had already read the two previous books, and I fell in love with the roommates and this weird mix of science fiction, urban fantasy, and horror.  The fact that the author has a twisted sense of humor that is evident on every single page, and I knew I would love this one just as much as I did the first two.  I was right.

Mark is one of those guys that can get any woman he wants, and he has, but it's not enough for him anymore.  The events over the last two books has Mark thinking towards the future, and he's tired of sleeping with random women, and not remembering their names the next day.  He's not sure what he wants out of a relationship, or even out of life, but he knows that what he's been doing, isn't working anymore.  It's with this confused outlook on life that Mark is forced to deal with yet another extensional threat to the human race.

This time around he, the rest of the roommates, and their friends, are facing another incarnation of the artificial intelligence born out of Amalgamated Synergy, except this time around "she" has a younger brother.  That's right, another company has spawned it's own mind controlling entity, and this time around he like makes machines do whatever he wants them to do.  Add in the mad scientist from the previous book who is intent on building doppelganger clones of the first mind controlling monster and a dead actress, and the roommates are in trouble.  They have to face a brain erasing carnival ride, a visit from Mark's multi-cultural family, explosions, a body count larger than the two previous books put together, out of control construction equipment, betrayals out the wazoo, and the lead human bad guy, that I'm still in love with, but just can't seem to get his act together.  I really do understand where he is coming from, and I feel so bad for the pain he goes through in this book, but what he's doing is wrong.  He's fighting fire with fire, and the fire he's using, can't be controlled.

But it's Mark that's the star of this show, and boy does he pull it off.  He tests himself in ways that I'm not sure he thought he would be able to pass.  I'm actually pretty sure he was expecting to fail this one.  He saves everyone else, and is ready to get lost in the shuffle, but he shows a strength of will that surprises everyone, himself included.  He comes out stronger for it, and he quickly became my favorite of the four roommates.
Other Books in the Series:

Alan Lennox and the Temp Job of Doom
Caitlin Ross and the Commute from Hell

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Wodsmithonia is 7 Years Old!

I can't believe it, but Wordsmithonia is six days over it's 7th blogoversary.  This time last year, I wasn't sure this milestone would be reached.  My personal, and professional life, had been in upheaval for far too long, and I had already been absent from the blogging world for a few months. More than once, I found myself making the decision to close the blog down for good, but I could never pull the trigger.  The entire time I was gone, I missed the voice I had found through the blog, and I had more than missed the interaction with all of you.  When I finally caved into the inevitable earlier this year, and started to make my first forays back into the fold, you guys welcome me back with open arms, and I can never express how grateful I was for it. Whether you know it or not, you have seen me through some of the worst moments in my life, and helped me celebrate some of the most joyous. I love you guys.  You are the reason I keep doing this, you are the reason I have felt at home from the moment my first post went live on 07/18/2009.  I look forward to another seven years with you guys.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Finding Fontainebleau: An American Boy in France by Thad Carhart

Synopsis From Dust Jacket: 

For a young American boy in the 1950s, Fontainebleau was a sight both strange and majestic.  A provincial town just south of Paris, it is home to France's greatest chateau where Thad Carhart's father was assigned as a military officer.  With humor and heart, Carhart conveys a rich panoply of French life in the '50s: the discovery of a Paris still covered in centuries of black soot; the strange bewilderment of a classroom where wine bottles dispensed ink for penmanship lessons; the excitement of camping in nearby Italy and Spain.  What emerges is an insider's view of a postwar Europe rarely seen or largely forgotten. 

Against this background of deep change for France stands the Chateau of Fontainebleau.  Begun in 1137, fifty years before the Louvre and more than five hundred before Versailles, the Chateau was a royal residence for centuries.  A string of illustrious queens and kings - Marie Antoinette, Francois I, the two Napoleons - added to its splendors without appreciably destroying the imprint of their predecessors.  As a consequence, the Chateau is unique in France, a supreme repository of French style, taste, art, and architecture.  Carhat tells us the rich and improbable stories of these monarchs and of their love affair with a place like no other.

Before I started blogging, I could have counted on one hand the amount of memoirs I had read in my life. Over the last seven years, I have had the opportunity to read/review quite a few memoirs, and I have absolutely fallen in love with a genre I never knew I would.  Reading the lyrical beauty of Finding Fontainebleau has just added to that love affair.

Part memoir, part travelogue, and part history book, Finding Fontainebleau has given me a greater appreciation for France, and for the first time in my life, I want to book a ticket, and get my butt over there.  Mr. Carhart, who is now one of my favorite contemporary writers, has a skill in storytelling that makes me green with envy.  I could only hope to write half as well as he does, though I know that it will never come to be.  He weaves his personal history with that of France and Fontainebleau, and instead of being a fragmented mess, he is able to tie the two stories together.  The narrative undulates back and forth, but never feels out of control.

For the last few weeks, this was the book I would read once I was in bed.  And like any good bedtime story, the melodious tenor of Mr. Carhart's written cadence sent me to dreamland night after night. What I'm reading rarely influences what I dream of, but I can still recall my leisurely stroll through the rooms of Fontainebleau.  I can only hope that I will be able to visit those halls for myself, but if that never comes to pass, I will have Finding Fontainebleau waiting on my shelves.

I would like to thank Lisa of TLC Booktours for the opportunity to read and review this book.  Please visit the tour page to read more reviews.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Favorite Fictional Character --- Popeye

If there is a pantheon of biggest fictional characters of all time, there are a few whose membership should never be doubted.  I dare anyone to not know the names of Superman, Sherlock Holmes, Mickey Mouse, Dracula, Bugs Bunny, or even Scooby-Doo.  These are names, and faces, that are universally recognized and loved.  I could make an argument for twenty or thirty other characters that I could easily names into their ranks, but this post is about one of them in particular.  I'm sure that there are going to be naysayers about this guy, those who say he really isn't as big of a pop culture icon as I believe he is, but I would humbly tell them that they are wrong.

If for some bizarre reason you don't recognize this guy, you can call him Popeye the Sailor Man, Popeye for short.  Popeye, bless his heart, comes across as a crass sailor with very little education.  For the most part, he sort of lives up to that characteristic, but he has these moments that not only defies all expectations, but always made me think his normal attitude was all a front.  Those moments when his intelligence shines, somehow solving problems that flummoxed everyone else, were the moments that made me think we were seeing the real Popeye. Spinach may have gave him super-strength, but I somehow doubt that it gave him super-intelligence as well.  I never understood what he saw in Olive, a woman who seemed to pit him and Bluto against each other, all for her enjoyment.  I guess it proves that when it comes to love, no amount of intelligence can keep you from acting a fool. 

If you doubt his iconic status, just think back on all the comic strips, comic books, movies, TV shows, books, and cartoons that he has starred in over the last 87 years.  That's not counting all the licenses merchandise, video and pinball games, toys and stuffed animals, his stint as a spokesman for Quaker Oats, or his stint as the mascot of the most popular soccer teams in the world at , Flamengo.   If you can name a product, he has been on it.  Popeye is the man, and Mickey, Bugs, and the rest, are making room for him.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Being a Beast by Charles Foster

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

How can we ever be sure that we really know the other? To test the limits of our ability to inhabit lives that are not our own, Charles Foster set out to know the ultimate other: the nonhumans, the beasts.  And to do that, he tried to be like them, choosing a badger, an otter, a fox, a deer, and a swift.  He lived alongside badgers for weeks, sleeping in a burrow on a Welsh hillside and eating earthworms, learning to sense the landscape through his nose rather than his eyes.  He tried to catch fish in his teeth while swimming like an otter, rooted through London garbage cans as an urban fox, and as a red deer he was hunted by bloodhounds and nearly died in the snow. Finally, he followed the swifts on their migration route over the Strait of Gibraltar, discovering himself to be strangely connected to the birds. 

Within the first few weeks of my Freshman year in college, I was approached to take part in what was described as an immersive overnight experience designed to give us an idea of what it was like to be homeless.  They took a handful of college Freshmen down to the "big" city of Wichita, KS, and had them spend the night among those who didn't get to sleep in a warm bed the following night.  Needless to say, I passed on the "learning" experience because I was homeless as a kid, albeit for less than a few months.  I knew what it was like to sleep in a car, and not know where your next meal was coming from.  In my eyes, this night out on the streets was nothing more than a way for middle-class kids, who never wanted for anything in their lives, to spout out false empathy for those they got to leave behind less than 12 hours later.  You can not get a real sense of what it's like to be homeless, when you know you are going back to three meals a day and a warm bed in less than 24 hours. Unless you are really feeling the fear and uncertainty they are feeling, you are just a poser, trying to make yourself look good.  Now had Charles Foster designed this experience, maybe the kids would have really learned something from it.  But in the end, even with months and months spent out in the "field", they still would have gone back to their comfy beds, and three meals a day.  And that's the crux of my issue with this book, no matter what I thought of the experiences Mr. Foster put himself through, the lessons he tried to teach himself, in the end, he's still human.  And no matter what, he still sees through human eyes and rationalizes everything through a human brain.

To give Mr. Foster his due, he is pretty upfront about the limitations he is facing in regards to the experiment he is mapping out.  The entire first chapter is an examination of the pitfalls and problems he is facing in his quest to not only live like a beast, but to think like them, to truly experience the world as they do.  What follows was a extraordinary account of a man, and at times other members of his family, as he submerged himself as much as possible in a world he was never going to fully understand.   He describes his approach and observations with a sense of humor that I found to be off putting at times, but all together charming at the same time.  Mr. Foster is a talented wordsmith, and it shows on every page as he describes the sensory input he experienced.  I swear I was able to taste earthworm in my mouth as he described his culinary experience with them.

I'm still not convinced that everything Mr. Foster put himself through allowed him to experience the world as the beasts do, but I'm not sure such a thing is really possible.  Unless there is a shaman out there that can put his/herself into an animal's body, and live as they do for a few years, I'm not sure any human ever will.  I do think that he has a new understanding of the particular beasts he chose to live like, and that's just as worthy of a goal.  I don't think we need to necessarily become a beast to understand them in some small way, or to appreciate the role they have on Earth.   Being a Beast has given me a greater appreciation for the natural world, even if I'm not going to experience in quite the same way as Mr. Foster did.

I would like to thank Emily with Henry Holt & Company for the opportunity to read and review this book.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Prime Time by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Seasoned investigative reporter Charlotte McNally knows that in the cutthroat world of television journalism every story could be your last.  There's always someone younger and prettier to take your place, always a story more sensational to drive ratings through the roof. 

When Brad Foreman's widow demands to know why Charlie never answered his e-mail, Charlie is confused.  She never received his message.  What did Brad, an accountant at a pharmaceutical company, want to tell her?  As she searches through her computer, she finds an innocent-looking e-mail in her junk mail folder that may turn out to be the biggest story of her career.

Is the encoded e-mail - and the ones that follow - linked to Brad's "accidental" death?  Charlie's investigation leads her to Brad's friend professor Josh Gelston, who is charming and exceedingly helpful - perhaps suspiciously so.

Charlie must decide is she can trust Josh.  Before a multimillion-dollar fraud ring with murder in its arsenal makes her the next lead story. 

Hank Phillippi Ryan is one of those authors that I've seen around for quite a few years, but have never really taken the time to read before.  I've wanted to, cross my heart and hope to die, but other books kept distracting me.  I'm sure that's a situation any voracious reader has found themselves in at least once.  There are just too many books, and there will never be enough time to read all the ones you want.  Luckily for me, the entire Charlotte McNally series is being republished, and when I was contacted by the publicist to see if I wanted to review the first book in the series, Prime Time, I jumped at the chance.

For my long time followers, you already know that I love mysteries, but have a strong preference for Golden Age mysteries.  Oddly, I don't think I really understood that preference until I read Prime Time.  Please don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the read, and had a lot of fun with Charlie.  It has a compelling mystery for her to solve, and seeing the character interaction was a joy to read, and therein lies my moral quandry.

I guess, when it comes down to it, I'm a plot over character kind of guy, at least when it comes to mysteries. And that's what I love about Golden Age authors, their plots were convoluted and complicated, taking twist after twist, but somehow making it all work in the end.  Agatha Christie, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Erle Stanley Gardner, John Dickson Carr, Patrick Quentin, Patricia Wentworth, and many others, were geniuses at writing compelling mysteries.  Of course they had great characters to go with it, but the core of their books were the mysteries themselves.  They weren't character studies, sacrificing plot details in order to focus on character development, and that's what I feel most modern mysteries do.

I'm not saying there is there is anything wrong with that, nor am I saying that all modern day mystery authors make that trade off, but I do think most do.  I've read books by more than one "modern" mystery author, and they do write well developed characters.  Their main protagonists, especially the ones who go to star in their own series, do show great evolution over the course of a book(s).  And please don't misunderstand me, I love well developed characters, but it seems, at least in the mystery/thriller/suspense genre, that some of that character growth, takes the place of the twisted plot developments I love so much. And, sorry for repeating myself with this next line, please don't misunderstand me and think that Prime Time has a weak plot, it doesn't, I just wanted more of it.  It needed to be beefed up a bit in order for me to really sink my teeth into it.

It all boils down to preference, and I'm pretty sure my preference will not change.  I'm still more apt to pick up a book by Agatha Christie than I am anything written in the last few decades, and that's okay.  I'm still going to read the remaining books in this series, because I really do like Charlie, but it won't be a mad dash or a binge read like I did with Mary Roberts Rinehart a few years ago.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Favorite Fictional Character --- Tom & Jerry

Sometimes you need a song in order to get your point across. Whether it's Marvin Gaye, Rob Base, Katy Perry, or the Baker and his Wife, they all have it right when they sing, "It Takes Two." Occasionally, when I'm deciding who I'm going to highlight in a Favorite Fictional Character post, I end up selecting someone that is generally paired with another character.  In most cases, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as an example, I'm able to separate them in order to highlight just one of them.  But every once in a while, I'm having to do a post about more than one character.  The Cast of Clue, Scarecrow & Mrs. King, Waldorf & Statler, and Frank & Joe Hardy, are some of the characters that I've had to do one single post on.  I dare anyone to separate those characters from each other, and love on one of them, but not the other.  It's a task that would make Sisyphus blanch.  And that's the task I was facing when I selected Tom & Jerry. You simply can't take them apart, they are a single unit, and need to be treated as such.

Is there anyone out there that doesn't love Tom & Jerry?  If the answer is yes to that, I want NASA to check them out, and make sure they are in fact human, and not from some distant planet.  Yeah, I know they can be pretty violent.  If Tom wasn't trying to capture Jerry to make him part of his meal, Jerry was busy poking Tom, trying to get him worked up.  I think between the two of them, they have been shot, stabbed, chopped in half, electrocuted, beaten by a variety of weapons, cooked, ran over, blown up, poisoned, frozen, and burned.  They are both clever little guys, but Jerry seemed to get it over on Tom most of the time, but Tom's ingenuity managed to payoff, albeit it in a very intermittent manner.

As antagonist as they could be, one of my favorite aspects of their relationship, was the sense of genuine friendship between them.  Even when they were hurting each other, it felt as if it was more of a competition, rather that true animus.  When one of them was facing some outside foe, or experiencing a problem, the other would be by their side, helping them out.  They could even, from time to time, join forces on a joint adventure.  But it's their fighting that kept me captivated as a kid.  I could watch episode after episode, enraptured by their antics.  

These guys were already a 36 years old when I was born, let alone when I was watching cartoons, but Tom & Jerry are characters that transcend age.  They are characters that are loved by kids today, and I have a feeling they still have a long life ahead of them.