Monday, February 28, 2011

The Fifth Servant by Kenneth Wishnia

Synopsis From Back Cover:

In 1592, Prague is a relatively safe refuge for Jews who live within the gates walls of its ghetto.  But the peace is threatened when a young Christian girl found with her throat slashed in a Jewish shop on the eve of Passover.  Charged with blood libel, the shopkeeper and his family are arrested, and all that stands in the way of a rabid Christian mob is a clever Talmudic scholar, newly arrived from Poland, named Benyamin Ben-Akiva.  Granted just three days to bring the true killer to justice - hampered by rabbinic law, with no allies or connections, and only his wits, knowledge, and faith to guide him - Benyamin sets off on a desperate search for answers.  Following a twisting trail form the streets to the shul, from the forbidden back rooms of a ghetto brothel to the emperor Rudolf II's lavish palace, he will dare the impossible - and commit the unthinkable - to save the Jews of Prague...and himself.

When I finished reading The Fifth Servant I wasn't really sure what I was feeling.  To tell you the truth, I'm still not really sure as I'm sitting here, typing up my review.  I think I may end up rambling a bit, so I apologize in advance.  If I don't end up doing that, so much the better.

The book sounds like, from the synopsis, that it's going to be a historical murder mystery.  One side of that equation worked for me, the other half I'm still a bit wishy washy about.  Where this book more than succeeded for me was in bringing the time period to life.  It's obvious that the author did a lot of research for the book and that attention to detail made the streets breathe in a way I've not felt in a historical novel before.  I could visualize in my mind streets and building as they were being described to me.  I could feel the fear and anger expressed by both Jew and Christian as tempers flared as the situation was reaching critical mass.  I'm going to be honest in saying that I really never paid all that much attention to the state of Jews in 16th century Europe.  Like most people I could have told you that they probably didn't have the best times and that they were persecuted, horrifically at times.  But I couldn't have told you much more than that.  This book gave me a glimpse into the day to day lives of Jewish people who are forced to live in a walled ghetto, surrounded by thousands of people who would gladly kill them for the smallest reason.  I felt that I came out of this book knowing a little more about Jewish culture and religion, and I feel blessed for that.

What really brought the "reality" home for me was the use of language.  The author uses Czech, German, and Yiddish throughout the book.  I'm going to admit that I found the foreign words a distraction in the beginning, especially when I had to flip back and forth to the glossary in the back.  But as the story progressed I found myself, not necessarily understanding the words, becoming more familiar with them.  They didn't seem out of place after a while and I think without them, the story would have been lacking.  If ever I read a book where words mattered, this would be one of them.

Now where this story didn't really grab me was in the mystery side.  I found the murder itself to be almost an afterthought and not really well developed.  Instead of the murder and the subsequent investigation being the vehicle and driver of the story, it seemed to interrupt the narrative.  I found myself  not caring all that much and wanting to get back to the rest of the story.  I still can't really tell you how Benyamin solves it because the end is so rushed that I'm sure I missed something.

My only other quibble, and it's slight, is the point of view the story is told in.  When Benyamin is on the page, it's all told in the first person.  When the story shifts, it's told in the third person.  Now I know most people wouldn't notice or care about that, but I found myself getting annoyed at times.  It didn't do any damage to my enjoyment of the story since I plan on reading this one again.  I have a feeling this will be a book that on each reread, I will discover something new.

I would like to thank Trish of TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review this book.  You can find more reviews by visiting the tour page.

Challenges:  A-Z, M&S

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Mailbox Monday for 2/28/11

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at The Printed Page and is being hosted all this month by Laura of Library of Clean Reads.

I won a hardcover of The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino from Stephanie at Misfit Salon

Friday, February 25, 2011

Watchers by Dean Koontz

Synopsis From Title Page:

From a top-secret government laboratory come two genetically altered life-forms.  One is a magnificent dog of astonishing intelligence.  The other, a hybrid monster of a brutally violent nature.  And both are on the loose...

This was the book that made me fall in love with Dean Koontz as a teenager.  I don't remember how I came to read this one but the first time was magical for me.  I couldn't put it down, I didn't want to eat or sleep until I was at the end.  Something about this book grabbed me and would not let me go.

I'm always a little hesitant to go back and read a book that I have such fondness for in my head.  I'm never sure if it will be as good as I remember or if the "greatness" I experienced with the first reading will have faded, leaving me with tarnished memories.  Thankfully, though this book didn't live up to that euphoria, I still loved it and found myself getting lost once again.

The first time around I really found myself getting lost in the story of the dog, Einstein.  The fact that he turned into such a blessing for both Travis and Nora really hit home for me.  Dogs have always held a special place in my heart and I've always know that they can "save" a human in ways that can never fully be explained.  The fact that Einstein is not only as smart as a human but has the same emotional needs made it all the more special for me.  Add in the action of running for his life from both the government and The Other, and the story was just mesmerizing.  I still loved them and what Travis and Nora were willing to do to protect him.  I got lost in all the minute details of their discovering his intelligence.  From the wedding magazine, to the flash cards and Scrabble tiles, I smiled when they smiled and felt fear when things got hairy for them.

What really grabbed my attention this time around though were the bad guys of the piece.  It really wasn't the government officials that I found myself gravitating towards, though Samuel's conversion at the end was a great thing to read.  What I really paid attention to this time around was the contrast between Vincent, the hit man hired by unknown employers to take out the scientist involved, and The Other. 

Vincent is a homicidal maniac who has no qualms about killing.  He enjoys it and feels he gets life energy from his victims.  He never questions the hit and has no problem taking out women or children if they are in the way.  Actually quite the opposite, for him the younger the victim the stronger the life force he takes into himself.  This time things are a little different though, he does start to question why he is being told to kill these particular people.  He breaks his own rules and start to torture them to find out why the are being targeted.  When he discovers the truth about Einstein and The Other, he quickly figures out how to capitalize on the information he has and does everything he can to hunt Einstein down.

The Other, on the other hand was created to kill by the scientist who designed him.  Part baboon, dog, and who knows what else, The Other was created for one thing and one thing only, to kill.  Where Einstein  was designed to act as a spy, The Other was designed as a soldier.  Where Einstein is both physically adorable and has a loving nature, The Other is physically hideous and knows nothing but anger and violence. 

What breaks my heart about The Other is that he still has the emotions of a human.  He knows he is hideous to look at so he breaks mirrors and gouges out the eyes of his victims.  He knows he can't control his urges and hates himself for it.  The only joy he feels is by watching Mickey Mouse cartoons, something that Einstein loves as well.  He is a damaged character, one that I felt so much empathy for despite his actions and desire to kill Einstein, who he hates more than anything.  Einstein is the golden son, loved by everyone and taken care of by Trevor and Nora after he escaped from the laboratory.  The Other is the reject, the creation that is neither loved or cared for,  He is black sheep of the family, and he knows it.

The contrast between these two "killers" is fascinating.  One human, but not human in any way that counts.  The Other, a genetically created killing machine that is more the more human of the two.  One you want to die because he is a disgusting person, the other you want to die so he can quit living in such self hatred and anger.  I wanted to kill Vincent myself where I would have wanted to take care of The Other, though I know that would have been futile.

I'm so glad that I've reread this book as an adult.  I think I like it even more now, though for different reasons.  I think that's the best thing to happen with a reread, discovering new sides of it that for whatever reason you never saw the first time around.

Challenges: M&S

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Favorite Fictional Character --- Speed Buggy

I'm going to finish the month off with another one of my favorite cartoons that played on USA's Cartoon Express.  Speed Buggy was the coolest car since Herbie, only with more personality.

Speed Buggy, or Speedy to his friends, was a fiberglass dune buggy that loved to win races.  Along with his builder, Tinker, and two other friends, Speedy traveled the world racing against all types of cars.  No race was too big or too small and Speedy normally came out on top.

What made the show so much fun though was all the mysteries and espionage situations they found themselves in.  Like Scooby, Jabber, Josie, or Captain Caveman, Speedy would normally get involved in some nefarious happenings and would always manage to save the day.  He was loyal and lovable, almost like a big dog on wheels.  He had a mind of his own but could be controlled by a remote as well.  Tinker and his friends would rarely ever use it, but sometimes the bad guys got a hold of it and made Speedy do things against his will.

There are few cases where a car could stand on his own as a character.  I don't think it's enough that they talk, I mean KITT would never be considered a great character, there has to be a personality as well.  Speedy not only has the personality to pull it off, he also has the heart to go along with it.  No matter what, whether anyone else agree with me, Speedy will always hold a special place in my memories.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Mailbox Monday for 2/21/11

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at The Printed Page and is being hosted all this month by Laura of Library of Clean Reads.

I stopped into the Friends of the Library Book Store and picked up two hardcovers for $1 a piece.  I got Alphabet Thorn by Patricia A. McKillip and Stitches in Time by Barbara Michaels.

Then I went to Barnes & Noble and picked up a bargain hardcover of The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie and trade paperback of The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett.

Friday, February 18, 2011

CSN Review & The Story of What Happened to the Old Ones

So as many of you already know, I was super excited to get the opportunity to review another product from CSNStores.  I was really looking forward to picking something out for Aidan to put in his room as we redecorated it.  We had actually gone through a few ideas together and just a few hours before we were going to make our final decision, Aidan had an accident.

I'm still a little foggy on the details but for one reason or another Aidan was sitting on my bed, watching TV, and cutting some pictures out of a magazine for a school project.  Within 15 minutes he came out of my room crying.  At first I thought he cut himself or hurt himself in some other way.  It took a few minutes before he was able to tell me that somehow he cut the top sheet as he was cutting the pictures out.  He couldn't tell me how he did, I'm not even sure how he managed that one, but he did it.  He was scared that I was going to be mad at him, which I really wasn't.  I would rather have him cut my sheets rather than something else.  So long story short, I ended up picking sheets out for my bed instead of his.  It was that or get him a TV for his room instead, and he's still too young for that one.

My bedding is all dark brown with a little blue, so I needed to look for chocolate brown sheets.  I'm really picky though when it comes to my sheets.  Too high a thread count and I don't like the way they feel or look.  They all tend to be too "satiny" for me.  Too low a thread count and they are just rough and I don't like that either.  I guess I'm like Goldilocks that way (minus the blond hair).

After looking at a lot of sheet sets, I picked out the Luxor Treasure 530 Thread Count Solid Sheet Set from Simple Luxury.  Once I got them, they went into the wash and onto my bed that same day.  I've now had a few days of sleeping in them and I love them.  I think I've found the perfect thread count for me.  They are soft without being too soft, if that makes any sort of sense.  I even like their shade of chocolate more than a lot of other sheets I've looked at.  It has a richness to it that doesn't come across as too shiny.  It's just right.

I would encourage you to visit their site and look around for a while.  I'm almost positive that you will find something to your liking.

After Kathy commented, I figured I better finish telling the story.  Aidan still got the Night Fox Rug.  I felt bad for him so I went ahead and bought it.  He loves it, I just hope he doesn't cut it up too. :-)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Alchemy of Chance by Peter S. Brooks

Synopsis From Back Cover:

In the Spring of 1977, Aurelie Peguissoux, blind map maker, astrologer, and collector of twin towns, sets off on the train from Paris to Brittany, with her Braille books, tactile Scrabble kit, and cello, on a journey to rediscover a world she lost with her sight.

Dafydd, a Welsh film-maker, is reluctantly searching for his missing brother, with only a trail of cryptic postcards as clues to his whereabouts.

After a chance encounter in Dinard, the two set out to decipher the messages on the cards, unaware of a web of coincidence connecting them and the outcome of their quest to a group of strangers converging on Newquay, Dinard's twin town.

I'm ashamed to admit this but when I actually got this book in the mail during December, I quickly put it aside and got ready for the holidays.  My brain sort of forgot about it and it was only recently, as I was picking up my desk, that I remembered this book waiting to be read.  When I finally cracked the cover and got started, I was entranced by the story telling and quickly fell in love with the main characters.

This was epic trip of self discovery brought about by one person's desire to find herself again and anothers desire to find his brother, even if under some duress.  Their separate travels eventually lead them to a chance meeting and from their they quickly connect and continue together.  What I loved about their journey is that their is no quick hop into bed, they form a friendship first that is all too rare in modern fiction.  They bond over food, Scrabble (love it!), and a desire they both have to solve the mystery of his brother's location.  For her it's a desire to prove that she didn't really loose anything when she was blinded in the accident that also killed her mother.  For him it's a way to reconnect with something he thought he had lost.

They are both such wonderfully thought out characters that I almost wish more time had been spent on them and less on the others.  While I understand and even like most of the secondary characters, I wish I had more time with Aurelie and Dafydd.  Their journey was the most interesting to me and I loved getting to know them.  As they spent time beside the river or in his brother's cottage I fell in love with them and by the end of the book as I was ecstatic for them and the future that awaited them.

As far as the secondary characters go, for the most part I enjoyed their stories as well.  It took me a little while to really keep track of who everyone was, but by the time they all met up in that small restaurant I felt as if I was amongst old friends.

What I also wanted to touch on, briefly, was how wonderfully descriptive the author brought to life the countryside of France.  I felt as if I was partaking in every meal, exploring every vista and piece of scenery described, and getting to know every little hamlet that our sojourners visited.  I rarely ever get lost in the "setting" of a book, but this is one time that I did.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Favorite Fictional Character --- Jabberjaw

This month was going to be about cartoon characters in general, but I think I'm leaning more towards those cartoons that I watched on USA Network's Cartoon Express.  I just have so many great memories of watching this at home and at my grandparents house.  When my grandparents had new carpeting put in, off white in color, I would have to take my shoes off and I would park myself in front of the big console TV and get lost in a world that was nothing like my own.  Another one of those cartoons was "Jabberjaw."

For those of you who may not know that grinning shark pictured above, let me introduce him to you.  If you were to think of crossing Curly from the Three Stooges, Rodney Dangerfield, and Scooby-Doo, you would get Jabberjaw.  Of course that is if you turned him into a great white shark.  Jabberjaw was the drummer for the band, The Neptunes, in the year 2076.  He and his band mates live under the sea in a vast complex of communities that have sprouted up on the ocean floors.  Like many great Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters, Jabberjaw and his friends not only play great music, they solve mysteries and save the world in between gigs.

Jabberjaw is, obviously, the star of the show and his fifteen feet of height won't let you forget it.  He is used to not only being the star, but the butt of the jokes as well.  Because he is a shark, he isn't allowed in all the places his friends are which causes him to feel disrespected and down at times.  But, like Scooby, the bad guys are never caught without him and just for a minute, he gets the respect he deserves.

I always had a great time when I watched him and his friends on his adventures.  In many ways, I think I actually enjoyed this one more than Scooby or Josie and the Pussycats, both of which are similar in tone and style.  I think the novelty of having a great white shark as a good guy was part of my attraction to him.  I can't think of any other shark portrayal where the big toothed creature isn't gobbling humans up.  That and there was just something so infectious about his laugh that oftentimes I would laugh right along with him (and that damn laugh track).

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Torchwood: Bay of the Dead by Mark Morris

Synopsis From Back Cover:

When the city sleeps, the dead start to walk. 

Something has sealed off Cardiff, and living corpses are stalking the streets, leaving a trail of half-eaten bodies.  Animals are butchered.  A young couple in their car never reach their home.  A stolen yacht is brought back to shore, carrying only human remains.  And a couple of girls heading back from the pub watch the mysterious drivers of a big black SUV take over a crime scene.

Torchwood have to deal with the intangible barrier surrounding Cardiff, and some unidentified space debris that seems to be regenerating itself.  Plus, of course, the all-night zombie show.

Not that they believe in zombies.

I don't think it's ever going to be possible to explain how much I love all things Torchwood.  There is just something so addictive about the show, especially Captain Jack.  I'm not sure what it is, but I can never get enough of it.  Last year I discovered the books, and since I don't like to order online I've had to get them as I find them.  This is only the second one I've read but I can't wait until I discover the rest of them, at least 12 more to go.  All I know is I'm a Torchwood addict.

Now that I got that out of my system, can I just say I don't know why zombies and Torchwood were never paired together on the screen.  They are a perfect fit.  Over the top violence and gore, cheesy monsters, and crazy explanations just fit into the universe created by Russell T Davies (the producer of the TV show).  What I loved about this book, especially since I'm starting to feel zombies are being overdone, is that I'm not sure I've ever seen this explanation used before.  I won't give it totally away but think of the "Femme Fatale" episode of "Friday the Thirteenth: The Series" and you may get an idea of where the zombies come from, though not the whole story.

This book takes place after the tragic deaths of Owen & Tosh, so Jack, Gwen, and Ianto are joined by Rhys and Andy, Gwen's husband and old partner.  It was nice to see Rhys given a more pronounced role in the book since he's more of a supporting character in the show.  I've never been a big fan of his because despite of enjoying Captain Jack's affairs with men, especially Ianto, I always though Captain Jack and Gwen should have a romp in the hay.  Here though he shined, I can understand what Gwen sees in him, so that desire for Jack and Gwen to hook up has been negated a bit.

If you are a fan of Torchwood, Sci Fi, zombies, or just wonderfully written zany fun, I would encourage you to pick this book up and devour it.  For me, this was a great way to get a Torchwood fix while waiting for the new season to make it to the US.  I only hope that I can quickly get in a few more fixes as well.  That may come from what I just discovered earlier this week,  that there are audio/radio episodes.  They are available on CD.  I only found them on Amazon, but I'm going to try and locate them another way first.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Mailbox Monday for 2/14/11

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at The Printed Page and is being hosted all this month by Laura of Library of Clean Reads.

I received trade paperbacks of 31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan, The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear, and The Samaritan by Fred Venurini for upcoming TLC Book Tours.

I won a DVD of "Coffee Date" from Nikola of Nikola's Book Blog.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Winner of Love Me To Death !

Using I just drew the winner of Love Me To Death by Allison Brennan.....and that lucky winner was Jill!!!!!  I just emailed her the info so if she doesn't get back to me within 48 hours a new winner will be selected.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Synopsis From Back Cover:

One postwar summer in his home of rural Warwickshire, Dr. Faraday, the son of a maid who has built a life of quiet respectability as a country physician, is called to a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall.  Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the Georgian house, once impressive and handsome, is now in decline, its masonry crumbling, its gardens choked with weeds, the clock in it stable yard permanently fixed at twenty to nine.  It's owners - mother, son, and daughter - are struggling to keep pace with a changing society, as well as with conflicts of their won.  But are thy Ayreses haunted by something more sinister than a dying way of life?  Little does Dr. Faraday know how closely, and how terrifyingly, their story is about to become entwined with his.

I finally did it, I read a Sarah Waters book and I loved it.  Her books have been on my list for a while now but I always seemed to get distracted by something else.  When I found The Little Stranger for a dollar, I could no longer pass it up. The problem, or maybe it wasn't a problem, was that as soon as I bought it, I had a uncontrollable urge to read it.  Every time I picked something else up, this book cried out "No, Read Me!".  Once I obeyed, I couldn't put it down.

I found myself getting lost not only in the story of this family but in the Hall itself.  I'm not sure one can be separated from the other.  The story of the Hall is the story of the family.  As the rate of decline speeds up in the Hall, it speeds up in the family.  Where one suffers a setback, so does the other.  There is no clear line of where they begin or end.  The fact that the decline is told in such lyrically descriptive detail kept me glued to the story and left me feeling a little cheated once the last page was turned.

Everything in this book is flawed.  There is no one thing or person that doesn't have a trace of that decay running through it.  This is a land and it's people that are struggling to find their way again after the war and their story is told through the lives of the Hall and it's inhabitants.  The tension and sense of foreboding that runs throughout the pages kept building in small waves that slowly started to submerge the characters and the Hall in a flood of terror and utter despair.

When I first started the book I was under the impression that Dr. Faraday was going to be the hero of the tale, but as I got to know him more, I'm not at all convinced that he wasn't behind the slow descent into madness that took place.  Whether or not the troubles took place at the hands of some supernatural force, Dr. Faraday's growing obsession with the Hall, or some combination of both, Dr. Faraday was at the heart of a lot of it.  He, more than any other character, illustrated for me the dangers of a new world that doesn't quite make sense anymore. 

As a quick side note, I've never thought of myself as a fan of Gothic fiction.  But lately I've found myself almost enraptured by the whole genre and have recently picked up several more book and plan on picking up even more.  I'm really enjoying myself as I get lost in the type of storytelling that takes place.  I'm not sure if this change in my taste is permanent or not, but I'm going have fun while it lasts.

Challenges: GLBT, M&S

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Scourge of God by S.M. Stirling

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Rudi Mackenzie - son and heir of the High Priestess Juniper Mackenzie and the Bear Lord Mike Havel - continues his trek across the land that was once the United States of America.  His destination:  Nantucket, where he hopes to learn the truth behind the Change, which rendered technology across the glove inoperable.

During his travels, Rudi forges ties with new allies in the continuing war against the Prophet.  Presiding over his flock, the Prophet teaches his followers that God has punished humanity by destroying technological civilization, and that they must continue to destroy any technology they come across - along with those who dare use it.

But one fanatical officer in the Sword of the Prophet has an even greater mission: to stop Rudi from reaching Nantucket by any means necessary.

The Scourge of God takes place at the same point that The Sunrise Lands ended.  Rudi is determined to rescue his friends for the new alliance formed between The Church Universal Triumphant and United States of Boise.  The old president was assassinated by his eldest son with the help of the Prophet and now his youngest son is on the run with Rudi and his friends.  Once the rescue mission goes off with just a few glitches the group of adventures continue to make their way East to Nantucket.  Along the way they suffer losses and some wins and make new friends and allies.  They take refuge in a Buddhist monastery and ally themselves with a Indian tribe that controls a great swath of land.

Back home in the Willamette Valley, the allies are preparing for an invasion by the Prophet and President Thurston.  They also have the a serious issue in Pendelton to deal with otherwise they will be surrounded by the enemy. 

The book changs back and forth between the two groups of people as they continue to do everything they can to keep the forces of the Prophet from destroying all that they love.  They may not all like or even trust each other at times but they are all locked in a battle against the forces that want to destroy them. 

With each book this series contines to get more intense and habit forming..  I continue to become more and more invested in the outcome and I can't wait to read what happens next.

Other Books Reviewed In The Series:

Dies the Fire
The Protector's War
A Meeting at Corvallis
The Sunrise Lands

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Finding the Way edited by Mercedes Lackey

Synopsis From Back Cover:

The Heralds of Valdemar are an ancient order, drawn from all across the land, from all walks of life, and at all ages, these unusual individuals are Gifted with abilities beyond those of normal men and women.  They are Mindspeakers, FarSeers, Empaths, ForeSeers, Firestarters, FarSpeakers, and more.  Sought and Chosen by mysterious horse-like Companions, they are bonded for life to these telepathic, enigmatic creatures.  With their Companions, the Heralds of Valdemar ride circuit throughout the kingdom protecting the peace and, when necessary, defending their land and monarch.

I am in love with all things Velgarth, the world that the Kingdom of Valdemar exists in.  I snatch every book up that I find, though I still am missing three books, and I devour them almost instantly.  Finding the Way is the new fifteen story anthology that explores the world of Heralds, Healers, Bards, and other citizens of the land.  Mickey Zucker Reichert, Fiona Patton, Rosemary Edghill, Larry Dixon, Elisabeth Waters, and Mercedes Lackey all continue to draw upon their creative talent to expand the mythology of Velgarth and Valdemar.

Now I know for a lot of people anthology can' be headache inducing if all the stories don't work for them.  I know some people that if they even dislike one story, the whole collection is ruined for them.  Thankfully I am not like that, not that I didn't enjoy every story in this one, because I did for one reason or another.  For the most part this was a collection of 15 wonderful stories that allowed me to revisit my favorite fictional land.  Now I didn't love them all, but there were none that fell flat for me this time around.

What I absolutely loved this time around was that quite a few stories allowed me to revisit some fantastic characters introduced in other anthologies.  I got to visit with Jem and Ree in the stories "Heart's Choice" by Kate Paulk and "Heart's Own" by Sarah A. Hoyt.  They are a couple of young men, one completely human the other a changechild, who are trying to forge a life together after the Mage Storms.  They continue to face challenges, not only because they are shaych (gay) but because of Ree's obvious difference in appearance.  What I love about them is that despite the prejudice and the odds, they are slowly building a life with a new daughter and a relationship, if somewhat strained, with Jem's father, the local lord.  They face more difficulties in these two stories, but by the end they are stronger for it and even more committed to each other.

The other two stories that really stood out for me, were "Unintended Consequences" by Elizabeth A. Vaughn and "The Time We Have" by Tanya Huff.  The first was the shortest story in the collection, about nine pages long, but it had one of the strongest emotional punches for me.  Lady Cerararatha's husband was one of the Rethwellan lords that tried to assassinate Queen Selenay and sit her husband on the throne.  Faced with the shame and possible execution as a traitor, Lady Cera's mind instantly goes into overload.  Will she be allowed to to stay in Valdemar?  Will she be sent back home to Rethwellan, where she would face an unknown future?  Or is something else in store for her that she can never predict?  When the two women, one the wife of a traitor the other the queen of the land, finally come face to face, they are connected by the betrayal of their husbands. 

In "The Time We Have" we find out how lifebonding doesn't always go the way you would want it to.  Herald Jors is riding circuit when he is caught up in struggle against bandits that have been pillaging and killing their way across Valdemar.  One of those bandits happens to be a beautiful young woman that for one reason or another Jors is not able to get out of his head.  It's by going after her that the Herald is able to end the reign of terror that the bandits have been spreading, but it's also through her that he suffers the biggest loss of his life.  Herald Jors and Mirgayne were destined to be lifebonded, but the bonding is cut off way before it's time.

Where "Heart's Choice" and "Heart's Love" helps keep alive that helpless romantic side of me, "Unintended Consequences" and "The Time We Have" broke my heart and made sad for the characters involved and for anyone who has been caught up in a relationship out of their control.  I think both are feelings and situations that most of us find ourselves in at one time or another.  We have all come out with scars, but it's that true belief in love that allows us to find our peace and strength.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Favorite Fictional Character --- The Herculoids

Time once again for me to talk about some of my favorite cartoon characters, especially as I was growing up.  I remember sitting on my grandmother's living room floor and watching Cartoon Express on USA Network.  The Herculoids were always one of those cartoons that I watched.

The Herculoids were a group of super heroes that lived on the planet of Quasar.  King Zandor of Azmot seemed to be the sole defender of the planet from any threat whether interstellar or from home.  He is assisted by his wife, Tara, and his son, Dorno.  They are all in peak physical condition and are proficient with the energy slingshot.

They are assisted in their defense of the planet by five native, intelligent animals.  Zok, who was my favorite as a kid, was a Space Dragon who was able to leave the planet and fly out into space.  He shoots energy beams out of his eyes and tail.  Those eyes also produced nega beams which disrupted other types of energy sources.  I always wanted to be the one to ride on his back.

Tundro was the ceratopsian dinosaur that shot energy rocks out of his horn.  Out of all the animals he was the coolest, especially when I was going through my dinosaur phase.  He had ten legs which allowed to go faster than most animals his size and reach greater heights.

Igoo, the rock ape, was the strongest of them all.  Whenever a job called for brute force, Igoo was the man, especially since his body was indestructible.

Gloop and Gleep were the two blobs that were able to take any shape and form miniature versions of themselves.  They came in very handy, especially when a trampoline, catapult, or bridge were needed to save the day.

What I loved about this show, what I think most boys loved about this show, was the action and adventure.  The Herculoids defended their home from tyrants, monsters, and alien lifeforms bent on domination.  They used a combination of intelligence and brawn that appealed to me and for just a few minutes I was able to picture myself fighting along side.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Under the Mercy Trees by Heather Newton

Synopsis From TLC Book Tour Page:

Thirty years ago, Martin Owenby came to New York City with dreams of becoming a writer. Now his existence revolves around cheap Scotch and weekend flings with equally damaged men. When he learns that his older brother, Leon, has gone missing, he must return to the Owenby farm in Solace Fork, North Carolina, to assist in the search. But that means facing a past filled with regrets, the family that never understood him, the girl whose heart he broke, and the best friend who has faithfully kept the home fires burning. As the mystery surrounding Leon’s disappearance deepens, so too does the weight of decades-long unresolved differences and unspoken feelings—forcing Martin to deal with the hardest lessons about home, duty, and love.

I'm going to be honest from the start, I've tended to have issues with novels featuring unhappy, middle aged gay men.  They tend to depress me in ways that other books normally won't.  I tend to imagine myself in their situations, and it's never good.  It's the outcome to my life that I've feared since I first started reading gay fiction while I was still in high school.  For those of you who aren't familiar with classic gay literature, most have unhappy beginings, middles, and ends.  So when I decided to read/review this book, I knew it was about a gay man who had to go home to deal with a current family emergency and the past.  What I didn't know is that Martin was going to be an older, lonely gay man who has been running from his past and his family for years.  If I had know that, I don't think I would have wanted to read this book, I'm still not sure I'm totally happy with my decision.  I'm a little ambivalent about this one.

The book is told from not only Martin's viewpoint but his high school girlfriend Liza, his sister-in-law Bertie, and his sister Ivy.  That's not the whole family by any stretch of the imagination, but they are the eyes we see everyone else through.  They all have their own secrets that slowly come out as the story unfolds. 

The catalyst for everything is when Martin's brother, Leon, disappears from his home without and signs of violence.  Martin is summoned home, not to help find him, actually I'm not sure why he was summoned home other than to be there.  But it's that homecoming that allows Martin to slowly deal with being a rural gay boy who never though he would be able to go home.  Martin's secrets aren't all that need to be told.  Ivy has plenty of her own, including how her brother went missing.

I really didn't like any of the characters.  The ones that weren't annoying were never really developed enough for me to care enough about what was happening with them.  The characters that were developed enough for me to form an opinion of, that opinion wasn't all that great.  Even the most likable of them just didn't get on my good side.

What I did love was how the author uses language to tell her story.  It's a lush, descriptive prose that despite my feelings for the characters kept me reading and wanting to know what happens next.  I wanted to know what those secrets were, I wanted to know what happened to Leon, I wanted to know what happened between Martin and Liza at the waterfall, I even wanted to know what Ivy was talking about.  I was caught by the story and the writing and I appreciate the initial experience.  I just think this will be the one and only visit I pay Martin and his family.

I would like to thank Trish from TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to review this book.  If you would like to read other reviews of this one, please visit the tour page.

Challenges: GLBT

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Case of the One-Eyed Witness by Erle Stanley Gardner

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Perry Mason is dining peacefully at the Golden Goose cafe when he receives a mysterious phone call.  The frantic woman on the other end of the line is desperate during their cryptic phone conversation.

The only clues: a newspaper clipping about a blackmail case, and the combination to a safe scrawled on a  scrap of paper.  The case: a tangled web indeed, strung between an eccentric widower with something to hide, a sexy cigarette girl with plenty to cry about, a real-estate broker with his own home on the selling block, a wife, a lover, and too many loose ends.  The common denominator: murder, of course...

I think I've already mentioned that I'm a hug fan of the Perry Mason TV show, so much so that when by chance I found one of the books last year, I snatched it up and loved every minute spent reading it.  I then went on the hunt for any more that I could find, and The Case of the One-Eyed Witness was one of two that I found.

What I love about these books so much is that though they are fairly short in length, this one was only 228 pages, they are packed full of everything you want in a good mystery.  The action starts off fairly low key, building up slowly as the story introduces characters and plot twists.  Just when I thought I was starting to figure out how everyone fits in, the story shifted and a new development made me rethink everything.

From the synopsis you already know this mystery revolves around blackmail and the murders surrounding it.  The blackmail, the reason for it anyway, isn't obvious right away but once it was exposed I was rather shocked by it because it's not something I would ever think about.  The whole plot revolves around a blackmail scheme that victimizes adoptive parents.  The parents are told that their child is part Japanese and unless they want everyone knowing about it, they must pay the blackmail.  Of course I'm comparing it too how things are viewed today, not back then.  Once I got over my thinking on the subject and started looking at it through other eyes, I could understand why things happened the way they did.

The mystery itself it one of the best I've read in a long time.  It has plenty of twists and turns but nothing doesn't ring true.  From the beginning when Perry is trying to figure out who his client is all the way to the end, the story kept me on my toes.  Everything that happens, needed to happen in order for the author to get too the ending he wanted.  It's pure genius and now I'm frantic to get ahold of more of his books.

I did find the full TV episode that was based off of this book, but I couldn't embed it within the post.  Instead I will post the link for anyone who would like to go and watch it.  It doesn't follow the book on every point, but what movie or TV show does,.  It was enjoyable to watch and it made me appreciate the story even more.

Challenges:  A-Z, M&S, FF, VM

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Mailbox Monday for 2/7/11

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at The Printed Page and is being hosted all this month by Laura of Library of Clean Reads.

I won a paperback of Buffalo West Wing by Julie Hyzy from Kaye at Pudgy Penguin Perusals.

I received a paperback copy of Outwitted by Beth Solheim from the author for review.

A friend of mine had two copies of Jaws 2 on DVD so he gave me one of them.

I bought the complete series of Buck Rogers on DVD from Wal-Mart for $10.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Why Didn't They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Was it a misstep that sent a handsome stranger plummeting to his death from a cliff?  Or something more sinister?  Fun-loving adventurers Bobby Jones and Frances Derwent's suspicions are certainly aroused - especially sine the man's dying words were so peculiar: Why didn't they ask Evans?  Bobby and Frances would love to know.  Unfortunately, asking the wrong people has sent the amateur sleuths running for their lives - on a wild and deadly pursuit to discover who Evans is, what it was he wasn't asked, and why the mysterious inquiry has put their own lives in mortal danger...

This was the first time I had read this book, though I had seen the PBS movie that inserted Miss Marple into it.  I must say that it is now on my ever growing list of Christie favorites.  It's just plain fun to read.

Bobby and Frankie are two young people, a little bored with life, who find themselves involved with something just a little bit exciting.  They can't not jump at the chance to find out exactly what is going on.  They throw themselves into the investigation and quickly find themselves way over their heads in danger and red herrings.  What I like about them is though they aren't very good at the sleuthing, they do it with gusto.  There is no room for self doubts or deep thinking for them and they quickly start making mistakes.  They confide in the wrong people and swallow false leads in a single gulp.  They are gut, emotional thinkers not intellecutals and it shows in how they handle themselves.  It's that wild abandon that makes the book so much fun to read though, and I would have to think Agatha Chrsitie had fun writing it.

The plost is ingenious and involves a decent sized cast of characters and a big gothic style house where things aren't always the way they seem.  Drug addiciton, insane asylums, mad doctors, suicide, wills, femme fatales, and helpless appearing women all add to the sense of drama that our two young heroes can't help but be intranced by.  They do end up solving the question of Why didn't they ask Evans?, though more by chance than skill.  So eerything works out in the end and like most of Christie's boy/girl pairings end up confessing their love at the end.

Challenges: M&S, FF, VM

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Bearing an Hourglass by Piers Anthony

Synopsis From Back Cover:

When life seemed pointless to Norton, he accepted the position as the incarnation of Time, even though it meant living backward from present to past.

The other seemingly all powerful Incarnations of Immortality -  Death, Fate, War, and Nature - made him welcome.  Even Satan greeted him with gifts.  But he soon discovered that the gifts were cunning traps.  While he had been distracted, he had become enmeshed in a complex scheme of the Evil One to destroy all that was good. 

In the end, armed only with the Hourglass, Norton was forced to confront the immense power of Satan directly.  And though Satan banished him to Hell, he was resolved to fight on.

This is the second book in the Incarnations of Immortality series and is one of the funniest in the series.  Norton is an intriguing character in both his complexity and simplicity.  He is a simple man, not overly ambitious who is quite happy to wander through life on his own.  His life quickly changes as he is talked into fathering a child on a ghost bride.  He is happy in the relationship but when things go horribly wrong he doesn't know what to do.  Through manipulation and chance Norton ends up being the Incarnation of Time and he is quickly thrust into schemes he has no way of understanding.  That's all the details you are going to get on the storyline, if you want more read the book.  You won't be sorry, I promise.

What is so fun about this book though is how Norton must now live his life.  He is now aging backwards, which means he will only leave office when it's time for him to be born.  What other way can Time pay attention to what is going on?  All the other Incarnations know him from their past and present, he is only now meeting them.  It's rather interesting to read about a character that knows nobody but everyone else knows him, in some cases very well.

There are also some really fun scenes, and I think the author used his sense of humor here, where Norton is distracted by Satan.  Norton is thrust into worlds inhabited by aliens, elves, maidens in distress, and evil sorceresses.  It's all very tongue in cheek and a whole lot of fun to read.  It's only towards the end of the book that you realized that not everything taking place in these worlds should be taken at face value.  Certain directors would be proud.

The only time the book gets a little hard to understand, it does require some strict attention at times, is when the characters are exploring the meaning of time and paradoxes.  There is some technical language, real or fiction, thrown in to explain how and why Norton is able to do what he does and what the limitations are. 

Overall this is a fun, fast paced fantasy adventure that should be able to keep even the most casual of reader entertained.

Other Books In The Series:

On a Pale Horse

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

While en route from Syria to Paris, in the middle of a freezing winter's night, the Orient Express is stopped dead in its tracks by a snowdrift.  Passengers awake to find the train still stranded and to discover that a wealthy American has been brutally stabbed to death in his private compartment.  Incredibly, that compartment is locked from the inside.  With no escape into he wintry landscape the killer must still be on board!  Fortunately, the brilliant Belgian inspector Hercule Poirot is also on board, having booked the last available berth.  He launches and immediate and urgent investigation into this vexing crime-for which each of the thirteen other passengers seems to have a motive.

As most of you know by know I'm not a huge fan of Monsieur Poirot, though I may be considered a minor fan. He tends to get on my nerves a lot.  He's arrogant, pompous, vain, and just a little snobbish.  Now I admit that he is brilliant enough and he has little competition when it comes to how his "little grey cells" work.  Normally I need someone else with him, like Hastings, in order to humanize him for me.  Or I need him to be an almost secondary character, as he was in The Mystery of the Blue Train.  Neither of those are the case in Murder on the Orient Express, which has always been my favorite Hercule Poirot book.

The storyline and plot twists take care of that for me in this one.  This is not the first time I've read this book, not even the tenth, but it may be the first time, while reading the book, that I focused on how I was feeling towards Poirot.  He seems almost toned down in this one.  The arrogance is there, but it's not as in your face.  Though that's not what makes him more real for me. 

It's how he reacts to the motive behind the killing and the subsequent investigation.  He seems almost to be emotionally reacting to the whole thing.  I'm not going to go into any details for those of you who have not read this book, but the motive for the killing is perfectly justifiable for me, and in a way Poirot may feel the same way.  I think he wants to solve this one more for personal knowledge that he could, rather than seeing the guilty parties brought to justice.  You just have to read the solution and how Poirot handles it in order to understand what I'm talking about.

Now I have seen two movie versions of this.  The first is the Albert Finney version, the second was the PBS version from last year.  Both movies, though the PBS one more so, seem to show a more conflicted, angry Poirot than what I get out of the book.  I think that anger is based more on Hercule Poirot's attitude and personality in all his other books, than what is shown in this one.  I could be completely off base on that, but maybe not.  I actually own the Albert Finney movie and may end up reviewing it on here at some later date.

No matter what, this was and still is one of my favorite Christie mysteries and I would encourage everyone to read it.

Challenges: M&S, VM

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Favorite Fictional Character --- Ren

Another month and another monthly "theme" for the FFC posts.  This month is going to be about cartoon characters.  There will be no time period restrictions on it, but I think I will be featuring some rather more obscure characters than the more popular ones.  Today's will be one of the sexiest male cartoons characters ever drawn, Ren from "The Pirates of Darkwater".

"The Pirates of Dark Water" took place on the world of Mer.  Mer is a land of 20 seas with most land broken up into islands.  Unfortunately those seas have been slowly being corrupted by Dark Water.  The Dark Water is slowly killing of the land and is becoming more and more hostile to ships sailing the seas.

Octopon was the brightest and most advanced kingdom of the land and Ren's father was the king that ruled it.  The Dark Dweller created Dark Water to destroy the land and Octopon was one of it's first casualties.  Ren was sent into exile at a young age and was raised, unaware of who he truly was, by a lighthouse keeper.  Once Ren reached adult hood, he discovered the truth and set out on a quest to discover the lost treasure of Mer.  By retrieving those treasure, Ren will be able to defeat the Dark Dweller and save his world from the decay that is slowly killing it.

Ren is a brilliant example of a young man reluctantly embracing his destiny and trying to do the right thing for those he doesn't know.  He is joined on his adventure by various friends and foes alike but they all serve to highlight Ren's strengths and weaknesses.  Between the writing, the drawing, and the lush environment that Ren got to play in, he was one of the most dashing and fun cartoon characters created in the 1990s.