Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Favorite Fictional Character --- Miss Piggy

I don't know what I was thinking last week when I posted about Mr. Moose from Captain Kangaroo.  For some reason I thought that was going to be my last FFC post of the month, so I wouldn't be able to get to my favorite Muppet of them all.  Luckily, I was wrong and we had five Wednesdays in March.  So today I'm going to give you the greatest diva of them all, Miss Piggy.

Born to a philandering father and an over stressed mother, Miss Piggy left her home over Becker's Butcher Shop as soon as she could.  Escaping to the big city our young heroine wasn't sure what she could do to maker her way.  In a bid of desperation she took a job walking a sandwich board for a barbecue dive.  After too much time spent doing a dead end job, our heroine who knew she was destined for stardom, took the name Laverne, and entered a beauty pageant.  Winning that pageant was the break she needed.  She went on to star in a bacon commercial, then as a mascot for a local TV sportscast called Pigskin Parade.

From there she went on to have a bit part in The Muppet Show chorus but her talents were not to be denied.  Her charisma and star power oozed out of her pores so much that Kermit the Frog quickly realized what a star he had on his hands.  She has more talent in her little snout that most poor fools have in their entire bodies.  She can sing, dance, act, and do a mean karate chop when someone pisses her off. 

There is nothing she can't do and her career has only gotten bigger as she has graciously aged.  She's done magazine covers, documentaries, sang with Dolly Parton, and has even done a workout video.  I have a feeling Miss Piggy will be around tormenting Kermit long after the rest of us have faded into memory.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

As much as I love mysteries, I have never read any Sherlock Holmes book before this one.  Quite honestly, the only reason I picked this on up was because the Friends of the Library Book Store had a hardcover copy for $1.  Otherwise I would have lived my life quite well without reading a Sherlock Holmes story. 

I think my aversion to him, at least up till now, has been partly to do with my experience with Hercule Poirot.  Both of them are arrogant, egotistical, and slightly mental at times.  I have a hard enough time reading the Poirot stories, I didn't want to have to deal with another detective that pontificates so much that it gives me a headache.  After reading this collection of stories, the first collection to be published, I discovered that while they may be alike in many ways, they are refreshingly different.  Sherlock carries himself in such a way that his egotism doesn't force those around him to suffer.  He's brilliant and he knows it, he is just a tad bit more gentle with showing it off.  It's all in the tone the authors chose to use and I for one now prefer Sherlock over Poirot. 

I think it also has a large part to do with how prevalent Sherlock Holmes is in our culture.  You don't have to ever read a book or short story to know who he is.  Admittedly I felt that I already knew him so what was the point of reading about him.  It's not a fair way to pick your reading material but with so much out there, why wouldn't you want to read about characters that would be completely new to you.  I'm glad that I can honestly say that I do know who Sherlock Holmes is now, and I can't wait until I get to know him better.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a collection of 12 short stories originally published in magazine form between 1891 and 1892.  They were published in book form in 1892, so not a very long wait.  I'm only ashamed that it took me until 2011 to give them a chance.

What I loved about this collection is that not all of them deal with an actual punishable crime.  "The Man With the Twisted Lip" is a case that starts off with the promise of murder or kidnapping as the minimum.  Instead it's a case involving identity and not wishing to expose a family to shame or humiliation.  There is absolutely no crime committed.  The best part for me though is that Holmes doesn't explain how he figured this one out.  Instead the author gives the reader the clues and leaves it to them to figure out how the detective figured it all out.  "A Scandal in Bohemia" gives us the tale of a king who fell in love and had an affair with an accomplished actress.  Now that he is forced to marry someone else he needs to get back all proof of the affair from the rightly angry actress.  This is the story that introduces the world to Irene Adler, the only woman to ever get the best of Sherlock Holmes.  It is the first story in the collection and served as a wonderful introduction into how Sherlock's brain works. 

Now there are actual crimes committed in these stories as well.  Bank robbery, murder, jewel robbery, and counterfeiting are some of the actions taken by the desperate criminals featured in these stories.  Even these, normally mundane crimes, are given a new twist that made me feel as if I was just discovering the crimes for the very first time.  In "The Adventure of the Engineers Thumb" a young hydraulic engineer, Victor Hatherley, is hired to fix a problem.  His client's hydraulic press is not working as it should and it needs to be fixed as soon as possible.  The client is willing to pay an overly large amount of money and the job is located out in the country so despite his misgivings, he agrees to take the job.  What he encounters when he gets there is more than he bargained for.  His clients are counterfeiters who plan on killing him once they are done.  Luckily he manages to escape, losing his thumb in the process.  On arriving back in tow, he encounters Dr. Watson who patches the wound and takes him to Sherlock Holmes.  From there the case is left in Holmes' capable hands and he quickly solves the case though the bad guys get away.  The atmospherics of the story allowed me to get sucked in from the beginning and the by the end of the story I felt as if I had watched a wonderful movie that would not leave my head.

As a collection I felt the stories worked well together and felt as if they were a cohesive example of Sherlock Holmes and his abilities.  I will have to admit to being hooked on him now so don't be surprised if you start seeing more reviews featuring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous creation.  By the way, in case I didn't mention it before, if you click on the story titles it will allow you to read full text versions of them.

Challenges: A-Z, M&S, VM

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear

Synopsis From Back Cover:

August 1914. Michael Clifton is mapping the land he has just purchased in California’s beautiful Santa Ynez Valley, certain that oil lies beneath its surface. But as the young cartographer prepares to return home to Boston, war is declared in Europe. Michael—the youngest son of an expatriate Englishman—puts duty first and sails for his father’s native country to serve in the British army. Three years later, he is listed among those missing in action.

April 1932. London psychologist and investigator Maisie Dobbs is retained by Michael’s parents, who have recently learned that their son’s remains have been unearthed in France. They want Maisie to find the unnamed nurse whose love letters were among Michael’s belongings—a quest that takes Maisie back to her own bittersweet wartime love. Her inquiries, and the stunning discovery that Michael Clifton was murdered in his trench, unleash a web of intrigue and violence that threatens to engulf the soldier’s family and even Maisie herself. Over the course of her investigation, Maisie must cope with the approaching loss of her mentor, Maurice Blanche, and her growing awareness that she is once again falling in love.

I read a lot of mysteries.  Actually, I read more mysteries than I do anything else anymore.  This is the first mystery, and this will sound strange, that made me feel at peace.   Now I know that's not a normal feeling to have when reading a book about murder, but that's the way Jacqueline Winspear made me feel.

There is a gentleness, even when dealing with violence and murder, about her writing that I found intriguing and refreshing.  Most mysteries have a frantic, hard pounding pace and tone that while it keeps you on the edge of your seat, it's exhausting.  It's like eating an entire large meat lovers pizza.  You're full and content but feel heavy and lethargic.  This book though was like eating the lightest piece of cherry cheesecake.  They both leave you feeling full, content, and happy as can be.  You feel like you can skip through a field of heather, laughing and feeling as joyous as can be.  Now I know I'm laying it on a little thick, but I can't help it.

Now that I'm done telling you how the book made me feel, let me add a few words about what I thought of the book and it's storyline, the mystery.   When I agreed to review the book I wasn't aware that it was the 7th book in a series.  I had never heard of it or the star of the series, Maisie Dobbs.  After reading this one, I feel like I've been missing out on something grand (okay, that was more about what the book made me feel, but I'm getting there).

Maisie is a thinker.  She does her leg work, but she uses her brain way more.  I can see her having tea with Jane Marple and the two of them solving a case without ever leaving the house.  That kind of intellect is a nice change of pace to more physical type of detective I've been reading a lot of lately.  The fact that she is vulnerable and not as sure of herself when it comes to love, makes her all the more interesting. 

The mystery and the search for the missing nurse take some twists and turns involving more than Maisie was initially gambling on but the solution is well thought out and almost elegant in it's simplicity.  The author didn't go for the "shock and awe" of a outcome that came out of the blue.  Instead she chose to go with an ending that is slowly hinted at throughout the book and even though I saw it coming, I was still wrapped up in the story until the last page.

I know this review was a little rambling and a little too sugary but I think I can live with that.  This will be a series that I know go back and enjoy from the beginning.

I would like to thank Trish of TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read/review this book.  If you would like to read more opinions on this one, please visit the tour page.

Challenges: M&S

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Geraldine Ferraro, 1935-2001

We lost a true political pioneer yesterday to multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer.  Geraldine Ferraro was a respected prosecutor when she decided to run for congress in 1978.  She quickly made a name for herself by championing legislation to bring equality in the workplace for women.

In 1984 she was chosen by Walter Mondale to be his Vice Presidential nominee.  She became the first woman to ever be on a major political party ticket, in this case the Democrat party.  Her nomination energized the campaign but they ended up losing to the incumbent president at the time.

The excitement lasted far beyond the campaign.  Her candidacy gave women a living example of what can be achieved in the political sphere.  It was a trailblazing that has benefited many.  The careers of Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and countless others owe just a tiny bit of their success to Geraldine Ferraro and what she accomplished.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Another Short Survey Meme (Only 4 Questions)

My very good friend, Michelle of The True Book Addict and The Christmas Spirit, tagged me in a short, 4 question meme.  I'm really liking these memes that are short and don't take up a lot of time to answer.

Four Places I Go

Home to spend time with my son
The Park to spend more time with my son

Four Favorite Smells

Pine trees
Issey Miyake cologne
Turkey in the oven
Camp fire

Four Favorite TV Shows or Movies

Buffy: The Vampire Slayer

(A caveat on this one though.  My favorite shows are numerous and these were just the first four that popped in my head.  My favorite movies would require more time than either I have to answer or you have to read)

Four Recommendations

Tell your kids you love them everyday
Never stop questioning
Never stop learning
Never stop reading

I'm not going to tag anyone, but I would love anyont that does this to come back and let me know so I can read your answers as well.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor, 1932-2011


I fell in love with Elizabeth Taylor the first time I saw the movie Cleopatra.  I was in 5th grade and the movie came on TV.  Why we watched it, I don't remember.  I think it was one of my moms favorite movies and for whatever reason I watched it with her.  All I remember was how beautiful she was and how cool the naval battle was.  I've been a sucker for that movie ever since.

Once I was in college I saw Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and I fell in love with her all over again.  This time it was for her amazing ability to bring a character to life and make her audience forget the actress.  She was brilliant in that movie and just about everything else I have ever seen her in, including The Flintstones movie.  If you have never seen Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? watch this clip and you will understand what made me respect her so much.

What I really respect her for though is her activism on behalf of HIV/AIDS awareness and research.  When most of this country was running away out of fear, she was one of the few outspoken public figures trying to give a voice to those who were being stricken down by the disease.  She helped to found amfAR,  the American Foundation for AIDS Research and started her own foundation.  She testified against the ban of allowing HIV/AIDS positive people from even entering the United States and she never stopped speaking out on a cause she felt so passionately about.

She was a brilliant actress and an even stronger voice for those who were deprived of one.  She will be missed by millions, and I am one of them.

Favorite Fictional Character --- Mr. Moose

Well, another month is coming to a close so I'm having to make my final puppet/muppet FFC selection.  There were a lot of them I considered; The Count from Sesame Street, Lambchop, Owl X from Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, and Beaker from The Muppet Show were just a few of them running through me head.  They may still show up later on down the road, but for this one I decided to go with someone I remember watching as a really little kid.  I had to go back to Captain Kangaroo for this character, so please welcome Mr. Moose.

First of all, I just want to say that I wish I was able to find a better picture of him, preferably in color.  Since I couldn't, this one will have to do.  I wanted he color picture because that's how I remember him.  I never watched Captain Kangaroo in black and white, so it's just not the same.  In the long run though, it really doesn't matter.  Whether in B&W or color, Mr. Moose was one of the funniest things on TV, at least for someone my age.

From what I remember, Mr. Moose's goal in life was to make as many ping pong balls fall on the head of the Captain, as often as possible.  He was very fond of telling knock-knock jokes whose solution would bring a cascade of ping pong balls, pelting poor Captain Kangaroo.  To be honest, I blame Mr. Moose for my habit of telling knock-knock jokes as a kid.  I always felt a little let down though because when I told them, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get a single ping pong ball to fall out of the air.  I think my mom was relieved that Mr. Moose had more than those jokes up his sleeve.  Heaven knows she could only take so many of them.  Occasionally he would throw out a rather funny riddle or trick the Captain into saying something that would cause the balls to fall.  I was never very good at remembering riddles, at least not enough to tell them correctly.  So for those episodes, people were safe from my mimicing of Mr. Moose's behavior.

Mr. Moose didn't change my life or cause me to look at situations in a different light.  What he did do, and superbly if I do say,  was entertain me.  To me, that's what puppets should do.  They should make you laugh so hard your sides are ready to bust.  They should allow you to forget the nasty peanut butter and jelly sandwich your mom made you eat, or the stupid kid next door that tried to steal your Tonka dump truck, or even the really cool dinosaur that your grandma wouldn't let you get.  Puppets are bare bones entertainment.  They have one goal in life and that is to make you smile. Mr. Moose was one of the best.

As a quick side note, Mr. Moose now resides in The Smithsonian.  Even as a 6 year old, I knew Mr. Moose was going places. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mailbox Monday for 3/21/11

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at The Printed Page and is being hosted all this month by Laura of I'm Booking It.

I received a trade paperback of Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay for an upcoming TLC Book Tour.

I bough two hardcovers for a dollar a piece from The Dollar Tree.  They were The Reserve by Russell Banks and The View From The Seventh Layer by Kevin Brockmeier.

I also bought the newest Lupe Fiasco CD, "Lasers", from Target.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Female of the Species by Joyce Carol Oates

I have a few friends, whose opinions I normally trust, who have been prodding me into reading Joyce Carol Oates.  I'm not really sure why I was hesitant at first, maybe it was as simple as having other books I would rather read instead.  Anyway, long story short, I tend to buy quite a few books at The Dollar Tree, well because they are a dollar.  Sometimes they have absolutely nothing I would ever want to read, most of the time they have one or two books that if I had to pay more than a dollar, I probably wouldn't read.  I'm a little more adventurous though when I only have to cough up a buck.

One of those books I decided to take a chance on was The Female of the Species by Joyce Carol Oates.  I figured it would be a good way to get my friends off my back.  The fact the cover said it was "Tales of Mystery And Suspense" was even better.  I'm on a short story kick right now.  I find reading them easier than a full length novel.  With a collection of short stories, if you aren't loving something, you can either move on to the next or tough it out since it's only a short section.

That whole thing about being tales of mystery and suspense was a little misleading.  As was the synopsis in the dust jacket, the reason I decided not to share it with you.  In a vague sort of way, the description works.  This is where my review may not make all that much sense.  So if you don't want to read any more of it, don't feel obligated to.  My last warning to you is this, this may be a lengthy review because I'm using this as a way to formulate my thoughts on this one.  I'm not sure what I'm going to be typing, but I don't think it would be a fair, accurate review if I go back and change anything.

This is a collection of 9 previously published short stories that use violence and the promise of violence to illuminate or showcase social dysfunctions that dominates the lives of the various women highlighted in each tale.  Each story tells the story of a female that for one reason or another kills someone else.  None of the stories are told in a straight forward manner that would allow you to just read the words without really thinking of what you are reading.  They are all designed to force you to think and reason out why things are happening the way they are.  Some of the conclusions reached aren't that comfortable to think about.

Some of them are in physically or mentally abusive relationships, and when the woman reaches her breaking point, the only option they have left is to kill their abuser.  Not all the abusive relationships end with the "abuser" being killed.  One young woman, "Doll: A Romance of the Mississippi",  is sold into prostitution by her stepfather.  By the end of the story though, you aren't really sure which one is the victim and which the abuser.  The fact the young lady likes to slash her johns from time to time, doesn't help matters.  It forces you to rethink viewpoints on abuse and manipulation in relationships.  Who was really in charge between the two was a little hazy, but I think I would have to go with the young lady.  She was the true villain of the piece, not her stepfather.

Two of the stories, "The Banshee" and "Hunger" use the promise of violence to explore two very different individuals who just want something they feel is missing.  "Banshee" told from the viewpoint of a six year old girl who just wants her mommy and daddy to pay attention to her.  Her parents have divorced, mom is now with a new man and has had another baby.  Dad isn't around much and with Mom paying more attention to her new husband and baby boy, the little girl is obviously feeling some jealousy and abandonment issues.  It all comes to a head at a beach barbecue at their vacation home.  The little girl is feeling neglected and lonely and just wants someone to love her and pay attention.  She's hoping daddy will show up but gets concerned that he won't be able to find her.  So her six year old brain comes up with the only solution she can think of.  She has to get as high as she can so everyone can see her.  On her way to the widow's walk on the top of the house, she picks up her baby brother and brings him with.  Once she's out on that roof though, it's obvious what's going to happen, though the story ends mere seconds before the fatal plunge actually happens.  What I love about this story is that there is no dialogue, it's all the inner monologue the girl has going through her mind.  She just wants to be loved.  She doesn't undertand why her life has changed so much and she wants everything to go back the way it was, everything.

"The Hunger" on the other hand is about a young, married mother who would seem to have everything going for her.  A rich husband and a beautiful daughter to look after, a gorgeous home, the life most of us would want.  While on vacation, without her husband, at her aunt's beach cottage, she meets a young man who is about to change her life forever.  It's start off innocent enough, then the affair starts.  She thinks nothing of it, she is only going to be there for a few more days.  What could it hurt?  When a man is murdered, strangled by his male lover she doesn't automatically connect her young man to the crime.  After some thought she does consider it, mainly because of the way they met.  Once she gets home, he follows her a few days later and her life is flipped upside down.  She continues the affair and even blames the husband for not being there on vacation with her.  It's his fault that he wasn't here to protect his family, who cares she's the one who jumped into bed with a complete stranger.  She doesn't know what she had been missing, she just knows she was missing something.  Her lover eventually talks her into killing her husband, another thing she blames the husband for, taking no responsibility for herself.  When the day comes though, as they are walking on the beach towards the spot the lover is supposed to ambush them, things may not be all they had seemed to be.  She may have felt trapped into doing this, but which of them is really going to die.  The story lets you think it could go either way, but either the lover or her husband will die within seconds of the story ending.

The rest of the stories are just as compelling, even the ones I didn't like as much.  These are definitely not an average collection of murder mysteries.  They aren't written like them and I think it's a disservice to call them that.  They are told with various viewpoints, with women from all walks of life and all ages.  The one thing they have in common is that they all involve women or girls who are in situations they see no other way out of.  Someone has to die in order for them to move on with their lives.  Some of them are down right manipulative and evil, but most are something else.  Most of them are caught up in situations they feel they can't control, that the choices they make have to be made.  The fact that they do have choices in life and murder isn't their only option, makes their choice hard to understand.  Even when you could see yourself acting the same way in the situation, what they do horrifies you.  It gives you a look into the what all of us, not just women, are capable of.  There is a little murder in all of us.  It's just not always pretty to look at.

I promise this will be my last paragraph, promise.  I wanted to end this by saying that everyone I know who enjoys Joyce Carol Oates has told me that short stories are not her forte.  That she is better at writing full length novels.  I will admit that some of the stories didn't work for me and that some weren't as tight as they could have been,  I'm still amazed by the impact she wrote into each one of them.  If she is only mediocre at short stories, I can't wait to read what she does with a full length book.  I think I'm now going to listen to my friends more often when the tell me to read someone.

Challenges: A-Z, M&S, FF

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A-Z: Me In A Nutshell

I saw this meme done by Carol at Carol's Notebook and since I haven't done one of these in a while, I thought it would be fun. The fact that it's really short and won't take long to do was helpful.

A. Age:  34
B. Bed:  Queen
C. Chores you dislike:  Dishes
D. Dogs:  None right now, but hopefully soon
E. Essential start to your day:  A shower
F. Favorite color:  Blue or Green depending on the day
G. Gold or silver:  Silver
H. Height:  6' 2"
I. Instruments you play:  Violin
J.Job title:  Assistant Store Manager
K. Kids:  1 Son
L. Live:  Wichita, KS
M. Mom’s name:  Tammy
N. Nicknames:  Buggy, childhood nickname
O. Overnight hospital stays:  1 for almost a week when appendix was taken out (horrible mess)
P. Pet peeves:  Someone reading my newspaper before I do and way too many others
Q. Quote from a movie:  "Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death"
R. Righty or lefty:  Righty
S. Siblings:  1 brother
T. Time you wake up:  Between 6:30 and 7:00 AM on weekdays maybe later on weekends
U. Underwear:  Boxers
V. Vegetables you don’t like:  Zucchini, most types of squash (except butternut), canned spinach
W.What makes you run late:  Other people
X. X-rays you’ve had:  Head, neck, teeth, chest, back, knee
Y. Yummy food you make:  Potato dumplings, lasagna....heck, everything I make :-)
Z. Zoo animal favorites:  Tigers, lions, polar bears, penguins, wolves, gorillas

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Favorite Fictional Character --- Lady Elaine Fairchilde

It's only a few block away from Sesame Street but Mr. Roger's Neighborhood is just around the corner from almost every block in the United States.  Once you find your way to his home you are greeted by a warm, gentle man who's main goal in life is to teach and entertain children.  Luckily he is joined in this quest by many of his friends, including the inhabitants of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.

One such resident is Lady Elaine Fairchilde, the resident caretaker of the Museum-Go-Round.  In her wondrous home, which never seems to run out of rooms, you will find displays and artifacts on almost any subject.  Anything you ever wanted to know from music to dinosaurs is to be found, waiting to be discovered.

Now you would think that such a woman, entrusted with such a magnificent duty, would be kind and gentle.  Instead, Lady Elaine Fairchilde is anything but.  She is temperamental, cranky, and always has a scheme up her sleeve.  She always has her trust Boomerang-Toomerang-Zoomerang around just in case she needs to get up to something in grand style.  It's her favorite tool to commit mischief and she shows off her handiwork with a sense of glee that if not so serious, would be endearing.

Such a woman wouldn't be tolerated by her neighbors, would she?  How could anyone stand living around such a woman?  Despite all of her meanness and at times scariness, her neighbors love her and have an almost infinite amount of patience with her.  They see her for who she really is.  Lady Elaine is a insecure woman who has always had a rather low sense of self esteem.  This causes her to lash out at people out of fear of being hurt by them.  At the same time she wants their attention so she pulls off hair brained ideas just to get that attention focused back on her.  She wants to be loved.  What she doesn't understand, at least not enough, is that she already is loved.

Her neighbors understand this and that's way they allow Lady Elaine to come to the right conclusions all on her own.  She will always admit to making a mistake and, when necessary, use her Boomerang-Toomerang-Zoomerang to fix the mess she made.  Often times, her neighbors use her stubbornness to their advantage.  When King Friday is digging his heels in, it's Lady Elaine that is able to get through to him.  She is the one that can make him understand that he's being silly and that he needs to admit he's wrong.  Her interference is needed so much around the palace that she is the adopted auntie for Prince Tuesday.

Lady Elaine is one of those people, that once you get past their thick walls of gruffness and animosity, is one of the most generous souls around.  She has a heart of gold, waiting to be found by anyone willing to find it.  She will teach you anything you want to know and is always willing to answer a question.  When you meet her though, don't offer her a cheeseburger.  She is a strict vegetarian and you don't want to get on her bad side by offering a piece of meat for dinner.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan

Part Of The Synopsis From Back Cover:

Who killed Dr. Harvey Burdell in his opulent Manhattan town house?

Though there are no clues to the brutal slaying of wealthy Dr. Burdell, suspicion quickly falls on Emma Cunningham, the refined, pale-skinned widow who managed his house and servants. An ambitious district attorney seeks a swift conviction, but defense attorney Henry Clinton is a formidable obstacle—a man firmly committed to justice and the law, and to the cause of a frightened, vulnerable woman desperately trying to save herself from the gallows.

I'm always a little leery, but can never resist, an actual unsolved murder case and the story an author is willing to create around it.  Sadly, a lot of authors who take an actual case out of history and try to recreate it, fail miserably.  They can't seem to get a good sense of character or the time period the slaying took place in.  The tale they craft, while maybe good fiction, doesn't have the ring of truth about it.  The solution they created just isn't believable.  Thankfully, that was not the case with 31 Bond Street.

The tale that Ellen Horan weaves around the murder of Dr. Harvey Burdell is not only believable but entertaining as well.  She brought the streets of 1857 New York to life in ways that may get me to love historical fiction after all.  New York is treated as an important character, one that brings the color and texture to the story in ways that allows an almost tactile experience.  As the characters encounter different parts of the city and surrounding land, that setting supports everything they do.

She obviously did her research and the story was richer for it.  She managed to blend both historical and fictional characters and events into a cohesive narrative that felt like the truth.  It felt as if she had found Emma Cunningham's journal, Henry Clinton's private memoir, and had  H. G. Wells' time machine at her disposal.  The characters are so real that it almost feels like they will come off the page at any second and explain what it is they are doing and why things happened the way they did.  It was a brilliantly done look into the minds of people that have been dead for years.

If you couldn't tell that I loved this book, then I didn't use enough flattering language.  Maybe I should go back and put in a few more just for the fun of it.  The book is certainly deserving of it.  I'll be looking forward to anything else this author chooses to put out there for the public to consume.  At this point I would be willing to read an informational pamphlet about the mating rituals of peacocks, if this author was the one who wrote it.

I would like to thank Trish of TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review this book.  Please visit the tour page for more opinions and for information about the author.

Challenges: M&S, FF

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Samaritan by Fred Venturini

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Dale Sampson is a nobody. A small town geek who lives in the shadow of his best friend, the high school baseball star, it takes him years to even gather the courage to actually talk to a girl. It doesn’t go well. Then, just when he thinks there’s a glimmer of hope for his love life, he loses everything.

When Dale runs into the twin sister of the girl he loved and lost, he finds his calling–he will become a samaritan. Determined to rescue her from a violent marriage, and redeem himself in the process, he decides to use the only “weapon” he has–besides a toaster. His weapon, the inexplicable ability to regenerate injured body parts, leads him to fame and fortune as the star of a blockbuster TV reality show where he learns that being The Samaritan is a heartbreaking affair. Especially when the one person you want to save doesn’t want saving.

I finished this book a few days ago and I'm still not sure what to make of it.  Other than most of the crappy music that comes out these days, there isn't much that makes me feel old.  I mean I'm only 35, 36 in August, so other than the occasional backache, there isn't much that does it to me.  This book though, made me feel ancient.

The entire time I was reading, which I did enjoy, I felt like there was something I just wasn't getting.  I don't feel like that very often so when I do, I feel as if I'm either too old to get it, or just not smart enough to understand the point behind the story.  It's not even that long of a book, less than 200 hundred pages, I was that I think the author had a point of view he was trying to get across, and I missed it.

Dale is one of those characters that you don't like from the get go, but you still end up siding with.  He's a longer, mainly because of his own issues, so his people skills suck.  In his defense, he does have a horrific experience to deal with, one that I'm not sure many people would be able to get over, which causes him to be even more messed up in the head.  Between his natural inclination and that night in high school, Dale is a deeply damaged individual.  It's that damage that sucks you into his life and sort of makes you care for him, despite your first impression of him.

After graduation, he sort of floats through life without putting any effort into it at all.  That chance encounter with the twin sister of his lost love though, sends him into a tailspin.  He starts stalking her, beating up her abusive husband, and convincing himself that he can save her.  Who the hell cares that she had no desire to be saved.  Incident after incident, some of them fairly violent, leads him down the road of exploiting his ability to regrow almost any body part.  An ability he discovered after the happening in high school.  It's through that exploitation that everything comes to a head and Dale is forced to grow up, even if it's only a little bit.

This is where I feel as if the book had a message to get across to the reader.  It's here, when Dale is at his most delusional, that I feel the author was tyring to get a message across.  I'm still not sure what that message was, for that matter I can't even tell you there was a message.  This is the section of the book, for me, that everything started to go over my head.  Not in comprehension of the story, because I understood that.  I knew what was happening, who was doing it, and their motivations for doing it.  What I didn't understand, was the "Why" these things were happening.  I didn't get the point of the book, what the author was trying to express.  Maybe I'm looking for something that wasn't there.  Maybe the book was just supposed to be a fun read.  If that's the case, the book was terrific.  If not, then I'm sorry to say I missed it somehow and I probably won't look for it anytime soon.

I would like to thank Lisa of TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review this book.  You can find out more about the author and other opinions on this by visiting the tour page.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Mailbox Monday for 3/14/11

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at The Printed Page and is being hosted all this month by Laura of I'm Booking It.

I received a paperback of So Close the Hands of Death by J.T. Ellison for review from PTA

I was blessed to receive a box of 5 ARCs from my friend Terri of Alexia's Books and Such....  She was gracious enough to send me Never Look Away by Linwood Barclay, So Cold the River by Michael Koryta, A Lonely Death by Charles Todd, Die For You by Lisa Unger, and The Youngest Templar: Orphan of Destiny by Michael P. Spradlin

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Outwitted by Beth Solheim

Part Of The Synopsis From Back Cover:

The Witt's End Resort in Northern Minnesota will never be the same when Sadie Witt assumes the role of funeral director's helper after the untimely murder of the previous assistant.  After skeletal remains are discovered under Cabin 12, Sadie and her sister set out to solve a murder and reveal a secret that ties a prominent community member to a notorious crime operation.

Sadie Witt has to be on of the most interesting characters I've read about in a long time.  She's a 64 year old who dresses like a 19 year old with bad taste.  She wears short skirts and tight shirts in loud colors and animal prints.  She dyes her hair, almost daily, with various colors that never existed naturally.  She has a tattoo of an asp on her belly and she has no problem trying to pick up men.  The fact that she sees dead people and is charged with helping them cross over, is just the frosting on the cake.  She's loud, obnoxious, just a little trashy, and the best thing about the book.

The mystery/storyline itself is a little busy, almost too much going on.  It's starts off when two different spirits show up not knowing they are dead or in need of help.  Sadie and her young apprentice are kept rather busy trying to help them out and keep them on the right path.  That storyline is interrupted by the return of the funeral director's ex husband, their son is Sadie's apprentice.  He's a deadbeat drunk that is getting mixed up with the wrong people.  Those wrong people are involved in a baby stealing/adoption scheme that involves the local judge.  Add in the dead body found under the cabin, it just happens to be related to one of the spirits, and Sadie is kept awfully busy.  I'm not even going to mention the dating site that Sadie hooked her sister up on and the two men, one hiding a secret that shows up.

Now that I've finished the book, I'm really thinking that I should have read the first book in the series before I read this one.  I really enjoyed this one but there was so many references back to the first book that I felt lost at times.  Couple that with all the different plot points and there were moments I wasn't sure what was going on.  Despite the occasional confusion, I loved the characters and had a lot of fun.

Challenges: A-Z, M&S

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Favorite Fictional Character --- Sherlock Hemlock

I've been reading a lot of mysteries lately and recently started (almost finished) my first Sherlock Holmes book.  Naturally since I'm highlighting my favorite puppets/muppets this month, it seemed logical to introduce you to the "World's Greatest Detective", Sherlock Hemlock.

My first memory of the great detective, Sherlock Hemlock, was a humdinger of a case.  Poor Ernie, who had lost his lunchbox earlier in the day, finds it sitting on a ledge.  His relief fades into horror when he opens it up and discovers that half of his chicken salad sandwich has already been consumed by a nefarious culprit.  Luckily for Ernie, Sherlock Hemlock shows up on the scene to save the day.  Using various clues and Ernie's deductive reasoning, Sherlock accepts Ernie's solution.  It was Sherlock who ate the sandwich.

No you may be saying to yourself, "this is just the silliest thing in the world."  You would be right, but it was supposed to be silly.  As a kid I loved the idea of a egocentric detective who can't solve anything for himself but is always willing to take the credit.  The fact that he is the guilty party most of the time made it all that much funnier to me.

The best part is that Sherlock Hemlock wasn't just the "World's Greatest Detective", he also made a great TV host.  Luckily the folks at Sesame Street made Sherlock the host of  "Mysterious Theater".  Much like the great Vincent Price before him, Sherlock hosted stories about great mysteries.  He was often times joined by his dog Watson.  Now much like Ernie before him, Watson would often times solve the case way before Sherlock would.  It's that ability to solve but not solve mysteries that I loved so much about him.  He helped a budding mystery lover discover humour in what was normally a tragic genre.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Mailbox Monday for 3/7/11

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at The Printed Page and is being hosted all this month by Laura of I'm Booking It.

I received trade paperbacks of The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry and The Raising by Laura Kasischke for upcoming TLC Book Tours.

I received Bandits by LM Preston from the author for review.

I won a paperback of When Santa Fell to Earth by Cornelia Funke and a hardcover of The Quiet Little Woman by Louisa May Alcott from Michelle of The Christmas Spirit.

I won a handmade silk Jon Vandyk tie from Wendi at Wendi's Book Corner.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett


When Clyde Wynant goes missing, his daughter Dorothy, tries to get Nick Charles to find out where he is.  When Wynant's secretary/lover, Julia Wolfe, is gunned down, Nick is slowly dragged into the investigation.  With the helpful prodding of his wife, Nora, Nick quickly finds himself at the center of an ever growing mystery.

This is going to be a case where the movies comes close to ruining the book for me.  "The Thin Man" starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick & Nora Charles is one of my favorite movies of all time, and one I never get tired of watching.  The witty banter that flies back and forth between the two is a lot of fun to watch.  They are my all time favorite screen couple.

That wit is still in the book, some of the one liners come straight out of it, but the movies takes it to a whole new level.  It's too the point that I felt the book version of Nick & Nora were almost shadows of the movie version.  The basic characters were there, they just weren't as solid.  They still slam the drinks back like alcohol is about to go out of business, they still have a rapport between them that is amazing to behold, and they still do it with a style all their own; they just aren't Powell and Loy.

The basic story is the same, of which I'm very grateful.  I guess I've gotten used to the idea that when a book is made into a movie, they change it, sometimes to the point it's unrecognizable.  That's not the case here.  The characters are the same, the deaths happen in the exact same way, and killer and his motive are unchanged. 

With that being said, not every detail matches up perfectly.  Claude Wynant and Julia Wolfe who are only names in the book are fleshed out into actual characters in the movie.  They don't have big roles other than those already given to them, but in the movie we are given a chance to know them and form opinions about them.  Asta, Nick & Nora's dog, is changed from a female into a male for the movie.  I'm not sure I get the reasoning behind it unless they already had his cuckolded scene in the second movie mapped out. 

The biggest change, the one I sort of had a problem with, was how Dorothy is depicted.  In the movie she is a slightly neurotic daughter who is worried about her father.  He had promised to be back before her wedding and when he doesn't show, she starts to fall apart.  When Julia is killed and the investigation gets underway, her fear of being as crazy as the rest of her family comes through.  By the end of the movie though she is well under way to marital bliss.  The book has her as crazy, manipulative, and scheming as the rest of her family.  She uses the image of herself being innocent and naive to her advantage and tries to manipulate both Nick and Nora with it.  They see through it and know her for what she is, but they still feel a little sorry for her and agree to help her out on more than one occasion.  While I think I know the reason behind the switch, to give the movie audience a sympathetic character to relate too, I'm not sure I really have a preference between them.  If anything, I may actually lean towards the book version of the character.

I really didn't mean for this to be a contrast between the book and the movie, but since I have the movie so ingrained into my head, I'm not sure it could have been done any other way.  What I don't want to do is leave you with the impression that I didn't enjoy the book, because I did.  If I had never seen the movie, I would have loved it.  It has everything in it that I enjoy; great characters, a complicated murder plot, and fantastic dialogue.  It's just I love the movie even more.

Challenges: A-Z, M&S, VM

Friday, March 4, 2011

Strangers by Dean Koontz

Synopsis From Title Page:

They were strangers.  A handful of people.  From different backgrounds, living in different towns and cities across America, they had nothing in common - except fear.

They were victims.  Cold and stark, an unknown terror gripped their dreams and turned their days into living nightmares.

They were chosen.  And they could not escape.  Deep in the heart of a sprawling desert, a dark memory called out to them, drawing them to the Tranquility Motel - where the terrifying truth was waiting....

Even though it seems that I'm a humongous Dean Koontz fan, especially since I just reviewed Watchers, I'm really not.  There have been only four of his books that I really loved and a few others that I thought were okay.  Strangers, which I first read as a teenager, was one of those four.

Of all his books, I always thought this one would make the perfect movie.  It has numerous characters living their separate lives until they start experiencing life altering personality shifts, some terrifying others more benign but still troubling.  Dominick Corvaisis, a newly published author, finds himself waking up in terror.  He hides behind the furnace in his home, often times taking weapons with him.  Dr. Ginger Weiss, an up and coming cardiac surgeon is experiencing strange blackouts that has her running in a blind panic from the most benign objects.  Ernie Block, an ex Marine, finds himself so scared of the dark that he cringes every time the door to the motel office opens after nightfall.  Father Brendan Cronin loses his faith in God as he starts to heal people with the touch of his hands.  Jack Twist, a former soldier and master thief, finds himself giving away all his ill gotten gains because the sense of thrill has gone.  I can even picture very specific actors in the roles as they bring the terror to life on the screen.

As their situations start to spiral out of control a few of them receive pictures of strangers hooked up to machines while laying in an almost catatonic state.  As they slowly start to put the pieces together, they are drawn back to the Tranquility Motel in Elko County, Nevada.  They, along with a few others, all stayed there for what they thought were a few days of relaxation.  Little do they know that the real memories of those few days are forcing themselves to the surface and are about to change not only their lives, but the future of the entire planet.

This book, and the movie I picture in my head every time I read it, are perfect fodder for everyone who believes the government loves a good cover up.  When something so amazing and life altering happens in that small dessert community, the government decides that the public is not ready for the truth.  So they cover it up, wiping the memories of all those who witnessed it, hiding the truth for as long as they can.  Some elements are even ready to kill to protect it.  This secret though is so big that the truth is driving the witnesses crazy as their false memories start to crumble away.

This is a brilliant mixture of horror, science fiction, and suspense.  Dean Koontz blends all three genres into a story that makes me want to become a believer.  He does it by giving us characters that though not perfect are likable.  I care about what happens to them, especially when I see actors like Sarah Michelle Gellar taking the roll of Sandy, Meryl Streep playing Ernie's wife Faye, or Brad Pitt playing Dominick.  I want their fears to end and for them to discover what happened to them.

Challenges: M&S

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Favorite Fictional Character --- Don Music

When I was trying to decide what group of characters I wanted to feature in the month of March, I kept coming up with ideas then rejecting them.  Nothing seemed to work for me so I took myself to YouTube in hopes of some distraction.  I'm not sure what put the idea in my mind but I started searching for "Sesame Street", "Mr. Rogers", "The Muppet Show" and other such video clips.  I had good time that night exploring some of my childhood favorite.  Then, like a bolt of lightning, it hit me.  Why not feature some of my favorite puppet characters.  So here I am, typing up my first FFC of the month, which will be used to reintroduce you to Don Music, the funniest musician to grace "Sesame Street".

For those of you who may not be familiar with Don Music, I'll give you a few introductory details about him.  Don was a struggling music writer who came close to writing some very familiar songs.  He almost finished "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star", came close to completing "Mary Had a Little Lamb", and was almost done with "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" that the royalty money was inches away.  Instead those songs were completed by other, not so gifted song writers.  Don Music went on to write such classics as "Whistle, Whistle, Little Bird", "Mary Had a Bicycle", and the fantastic "Drive, Drive, Drive Your Car".  You may also know his version of "Old MacDonald" which he wrote with a barnyard full of animals.

Don's part time collaborator was the intrepid reporter, Kermit the Frog.  It seems that Kermit was so enthused by Don's creative talent that he would often times do a news story featuring Don as he wrote his newest hit.  Now like any creative soul, Don would occasionally hit a mental block and start feeling sorry for himself.  He occasional banged his head on the keyboard in fits of despair that would leave poor Kermit perplexed and eager to help. 

Where Don normally found himself blocked was in the rhyming of it all.  He often times could not figure out what to rhyme with words like "snow".  Kermit, the eager beaver that he was, would offer suggestions that, though rhyming, would not make sense in the context of the song.  This would cause Don to constantly change one word after another until his creative genius shown through and a new song would be born.

Sadly, due to his younger fans copying his headbanging moves, Kermit's visits grew further and further apart and Don slipped into music obscurity.  It's only with the invention of YouTube that Don's popularity recently started a comeback and I expect that it won't be long until he is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Afterlives of the Rich and Famous by Sylvia Browns

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

Get an All-Access Pass to the Other Side

For decades—on television, in consultations, and in packed auditoriums across the country— renowned psychic Sylvia Browne has been asked one question again and again: “What is my favorite celebrity doing on the Other Side?” Now, for the first time, you can follow the red carpet into the heart of the spirit world. Browne reveals intimate details of how some of our most cherished actors, musicians, and public figures have fared since their deaths, giving us one more glimpse into the personalities we loved and lost. Both moving and rollicking, this is one book that’s truly impossible to put down!

Afterlives of the Rich and Famous features intimate afterlife accounts of Princess Diana, John Lennon, Heath Ledger, Marilyn Monroe, and other charismatic celebrities. By channeling her longtime spirit guide, Francine, Browne gained unrestricted access to a dimension most of us can only imagine, one in which telepathic communication is the norm and everyone occupies their healthy, thirty-year-old beautiful body. In candid reports, these stars reveal fascinating details about their new lives and the work they’re doing on the Other Side, many even sharing whether and where they intend to reincarnate.

With accounts written entirely in a trance state, Afterlives of the Rich and Famous offers an unprecedented look at life on the Other Side. You’ll find detailed descriptions as Browne brings the spirit world vividly to life and explains how we get there, from what transpires at the moment of death to the extraordinary welcome spirits receive. Afterlives of the Rich and Famous is a book that no one else could have written and a must-read for every fan of this extraordinary assembly of celebrities.

I'm not sure how much of Sylvia Browne's vision of the Afterlife is one that I personally belief in.  Probably not much of it at all, but what I appreciate is that she believes it.  This isn't a woman who is making stuff up to give false hope and  make a ton of money.  This is only the second book of hers that I've read, but the fact that she truly believes in what she writes is evident and welcomed.

This book, like the last one I read, is easy to read and she doesn't come across as thinking that she is better than us for not knowing this stuff to begin with.  The book itself is broken up into four sections that allowed me to quickly get a grasp on the material.  The Introduction, is simply that.  It gives a quick glimpse into her background and what the book is going to be about, the current happenings in the lives of celebrities that have passed away.  The second section is titled, "Death...and Then What?"  It simply gives a quick introduction to the Afterlife and what happens as someone departs from this world and goes back home.  The third section is the glossary and it came in handy a few times.  While nothing is too terribly technical, it's helpful to have a reference point for certain terms and ideas that the author talks about as she relates the afterlives of the celebrities.  The fourth section is the good stuff.  In it Sylvia recounts what some of the most cherished celebrities are now doing with their lives.

What I loved about this section is how she broke it up.  The first part of each celebrities bio starts off with who they were and what they accomplished on Earth.  After that, Sylvia lets us know what they are up to now.  She does this by going into a trance and channeling her spirit guide, Francine.  Francine then shares what information she has about the given subject.  If found the recap of their Earthly life to be helpful as it reminded me of some of the great movies and accomplishments they achieved before they passed.  It also recounts, briefly, their personal life and manner of death.

The second though gives the reader what they picked this book up for to begin with.  Sylvia lets us know that who met them on the other side (it was nice to know that animals are always the first ones to greet them), what their mindset was when they arrived, and what they have been doing since.  She reveals that Anna Nicole Smith has begun, once again, to study Buddhism and is training to teach meditation.  She has also reunited with her son and couldn't be more content.  Francine let Sylvia know that John Ritter along with Lucille Ball are taking studying cardiovascular genetic disorders in order to someday prevent them.  Natalie Wood, Dean Martin, Eva Gabor, and Gregory Peck are a few of the other celebrities that Sylvia allows us to know about.

Whether or not I believe in the vision that Sylvia Browne puts forth in this book doesn't really matter.  What matters, at least to me, is that she gives us something to believe in.  She gives us an account of the afterlife that is both reassuring and in a few cases dark at times.  Not everyone passes from this world into a perfect afterlife, Bela Lugosi being one of those.  No matter what though, Sylvia gives us a recounting of those afterlives as she sees them.  It's an unflinching and at times personal glimpse into the lives of those that we cherished while they were here with us and still miss since they have left.

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

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Part Of The Synopsis From The Dust Jacket:

All children mythologize their birth.... So begins the prologue of reclusive author Vida Winter's collection of short stories, which are as famous for the mystery of the missing thirteenth tale as they are for the delight and enchantment of the twelve that do exist.

The enigmatic Winter has spent six decades creating various outlandish life histories for herself - all of them inventions that have brought her fame and fortune but have kept her violent and tragic past a secret.  Now old and ailing ,s he at last wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life.  She summons biographer Margaret Lea, a young woman for whom the secret of her own birth, hidden by those who loved her most, remains an ever-present pain.  Struck by a curious parallel between Miss Winter's story and her own, Margaret takes on the commission.

I'm in love.  I don't think there is any other way I can put it.  After reading The Little Stranger I realized I really enjoy Gothic fiction.  After finishing The Thirteenth Tale, I'm in love with it.  I don't know how much of it I will read this year since the reading list in my head is pretty full already, but I'm looking forward to whatever I'm able to cram in.

What I loved about this book, and I won't get into many specific details, is the interaction between Vida and Margaret.  Their lives, while different in many ways, have a very tragic core to them that unites them at times and allows Vida to tell her tale.  And what a tale it is.  By piggybacking on their joint childhood pain, Vida is able to manipulate the narrative, allowing Margaret to see the truth and get distracted all at the same time.  It's a wonderful exploration of using personal narrative to tell a life story.  What parts of that story truly matter, which parts are simply window dressing, and which parts are purely fictional and only existed in the imagination.  Vida Winter is the true wordsmith of her life and it shows as she twists and weaves the truth with a bit of misleading information that fogs Margret's eyesight and keeps her from coming to the correct conclusions before Vida is ready.

There wasn't anything that I didn't love about this book.  I loved Vida's narrative style as she spun tales about her family, the Angelfields.  She brought each and every once of them to life as they interacted with each other and their home.  There is nothing out of place and every detail is needed to explain the actions of the wild twin girls, their adulteress governess and the last two remaining staff who keep secrets better than anyone.  The book is a treasure to read from the marbled green pattern your eyes see when you first crack open the cover to the carefully chosen words on every page.  This will be a book I keep and reread for a long time to come.