Thursday, November 29, 2012

Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal

Synopsis From Back Cover:

London, 1940.  Winston Churchill has just been sworn in, war rages across the Channel, and the threat of a Blitz looms larger by the day.  But none of this deters Maggie Hope.  She graduated at the top of her college class and possesses all the skills of the finest mind in British intelligence, but her gender qualifies her only to be the newest typist at No. 10 Downing Street.  Her indefatigable spirit and remarkable gifts for code breaking, though, rival those of even the highest men in government, and Maggie finds that working for the prime minister affords her a level of clearance she could never had have imagined - and opportunities she will not let pass.  In troubled, deadly times, with air-raid sirens sending multitudes underground, access to the War Room also exposes Maggie to the machinations of a menacing faction determined to do whatever it takes to change the course of history.

Earlier this month I posted a review for the second book in the series, Princess Elizabeth's Spy.  I read them in order, but because of time restraints they aren't being reviewed in order, so I apologize to anyone who may be confused by that.

This will be a rather short review, because a lot of what I wanted to say about Maggie and her personality, I already said in the previous review.  What I do want to touch upon is in the way the author combined the threat of a Nazi invasion and fresh bombings from the IRA to build the tension that Maggie and her friends find themselves living with every day of their lives.   Now I don't know if there was ever any collaboration, at any level, between the two organizations, but the combination works brilliantly here.  It forces Maggie and her  friends to expect trouble from all directions, never really allow them to gain safe footing.

The other aspect I really enjoyed, and which I didnt' mention in the previous review, is the group of people that surround Maggie.  From her aunt, a college professor in Boston, her gay best friend, the girls she shares her home with, the silent young man who seems to have taken some interest in her, her enigmatic parents, and even with Winston Churchill himself, the author has created a cast of supporting characters that I'm really looking forward to getting to know better.  The fact that some of the closest people in her life aren't what they appear to be, makes it even better.

Now I know this is considered a mystery novel, and will be found in that section of a bookstore, I tend to think of books like this more of historical fiction, with a murderous or espionage twist.  It's really about recreating the time period and atmosphere that someone in London during the war would experience.  The spy craft and death are just added bonuses.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

No Favorite Fictional Character Post On Wed.

For those of you who I'm friends with on Facebook, you know that I've been having a serious battle with a stomach bug the last few days.  I'm feeling slightly better, but I still feel as if the Civil War is being fought in my abdomen.  I was planning on writing this post on Tuesday (which for me is today), but I just don't have the energy to pick out a character, let alone write about one.  I promise the feature will be back next week.

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

Synopsis From Goodreads:

On the day of his wedding, Conrad, heir to the house of Otranto, is killed in mysterious circumstances. Fearing the end of his dynasty, his father, Manfred, determines to marry Conrad's betrothed, Isabella, until a series of supernatural events stands in his way. . . .

I fell hard for the Gothic genre last year.  From the moment I opened the first book, I was hooked.  I love the way a good Gothic novel can suck you into this realm that, at first, seems as solid as your own, but the further you get into it, the sands start to shift beneath your feet.  What you think is real, starts to become fuzzy.  The boundary between reality and the supernatural starts to wobble a bit.  You many not always cross over the line, but you are pulling and stretching it the entire time.  So needless to say when I saw someone mention The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, and the fact it's one of the founding fathers of the genre, I had to check it out.    Now that I've done it, I'm still not sure what I'm thinking.  Those sands have never stopped shifting around on me.  Regardless of what I think of this one, I'm glad I read it.

Written in 1764, after the author had a rather haunting dream, The Castle of Otranto is full of the melodrama and over the top dialogue, so common of the era.  Most of the time, those two things get on my nerves and I'm forced to put a book down.  They are amongst the many problems I have with reading the "classics."  I can rarely ever take them seriously or really allow myself to get to involved with what I'm reading.  I'm not sure if it's the subject matter or the way in which Walpole constructed the story itself, but this book actually lends itself to those factors that makes other books intolerable for me.  

The Castle of Otranto is full of underground labyrinths, family curses, prophecies, betrayal, secret identities,  and plenty of death.   Giant pieces of armor come crashing down, sometimes with fatal results. Ghostly apparitions are seen walking the halls and speaking words of doom.  Young women are forced to go on the run, one in order to save herself, the other to save a young man she may love.  For a book that is less than 100 pages, it's chock full of every cliche that Gothic literature has come to be know by.  

I'm of two minds on whether I liked the book or not, but I can say I enjoyed every second of it.  For those of you who love Gothic literature, you should give this book a read so you can appreciate where the genre came from.  If you aren't a fan, this may not be the book for you, but I would almost be willing to bet, you would enjoy it anyway.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffmann (Plus Giveaway)

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

The tale of the Nutcracker, written by E.T.A. Hoffman in 1816, has fascinated and inspired artists, composers, and audiences for almost two hundred years.  It has retained it's freshness because it appeals to the sense of wonder we all share.

Maurice Sendak designed brilliant sets and costumes for the Pacific Northwest Ballet's Christmas production of Nutcracker and has created even more magnificent pictures especially for this book.  He has joined with the eminent translator Ralph Manheim to produce this illustrated edition of Hoffmann's wonderful tale, destined to become a classic for all ages.

The world of Nutcracker is a world of pleasures.  Maurice Sendak's art illuminates the delights of Hoffmann's story in this rich and tantalizing treasure.

Believe it or not, I have never read Nutcracker before, I've never seen the ballet, nor have I ever seen the various TV productions that have come out over the years.  Despite all of that, I still had a vague idea of what it was all about.  I knew it was about a young girl who loved her Nutcracker and how that Nutcracker battled the evil Mouse King.  

What I didn't know, was all the stuff that happened in between.  I didn't know that there was this rather creepy godfather who was a genius clockmaker and would make her and her brother magnificent Christmas present every year.  I also didn't know that on one particular Christmas, the young girl, despite her lovely dolls and pretty dresses, fell in love with a little Nutcracker, a gift for the entire family.  I didn't know the legend behind the Mouse King or why he was so bent on destruction.  I didn't know of the magnificent battles the toy soldiers, lead by the Nutcracker, fought against the hoards of mice.  I never would have guess the real identity of the Nutcracker and how he came to be cursed in such a way.  I didn't know how action packed, romantic, and plain fun this would be to read.  Having illustrations by Maurice Sendak, was icing on the cake.  

Thanks to the lovely people at Crown, I have a copy of this book to giveaway.  All you need to do to enter, is leave a comment telling me your favorite Christmas story.   You also need to leave a valid email address so I can contact you if you are the winner.  You must be a US resident, sorry guys.  The giveaway will run from now until 11:59 pm CST, on 12/5/12.  I'm cutting this one short in order for the winner to get it by Christmas.  I will use to pick the winner.

Challenges: CS

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Mailbox Monday for 11/26/12

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at Mailbox Monday 

I recieved a trade paperback of The Third Miracle by Bill Briggs, from Broadway Paperbacks, for review.

The lovely Becke of The Mysterious Garden Muse and the moderator of the Mystery Board on the Barnes & Noble book club site, sent along paperbacks of Still Life and A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny, and Spider Bones by Kathy Reichs.

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Christmas Home by Greg Kincaid (Plus Giveaway)

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

Todd McCray, hero of A Dog Named Christmas, is now twenty-four years old and working at a local animal shelter, where he meets and quickly becomes best friends with Laura, a young volunteer.  Laura, like Todd, has disabilities, but her struggles are more physical than developmental.  Their friendship is sealed when Todd - with the help of a his trusted companion, the tenacious Labrador retriever named Christmas - trains a beautiful dog named Gracie to help Laura with the day-to-day life tasks that are difficult for her.

Life seems good for Todd, but all is not well in his hometown.  Struggling families unable to make ends meet are abandoning more and more dogs, and the shelter is swelling to capacity.  The local government is struggling to meet it obligations too, and in early December, on the cusp of another holiday season, Todd's boss delivers the bad news.  Due to funding problems, the shelter will close its doors before the end of the year.

But what will happen to the animals?

As the Christmas holiday approached, Todd has limited time to find homes for all the dogs.  Not to mention that he needs to secure a new job and figure out what to do when his friendship with Laura takes an unexpected romantic turn.  All of this seems overwhelming unless you've got a loving family, dedicated friends, and a couple of very special dogs behind you.  In which case, nothing is impossible.

There is something so unique and special about Christmas, that I'm willing to broaden my mind and pick up a book I wouldn't normally.  I don't know if it's the overly sentimental frame of mind that Christmas puts me into, but for about a month, I'm willing to read a book that exists to exploit every single one of those good feelings.  I don't mind when the book I'm reading is so saccharine that my teeth could fall out at any second.  It's not a reading experience that I enjoy at any other time of the year, but I almost crave it as Christmas time.  Now I'm not saying I want to read a lot of it, but one or two books a season seems to be okay.

With A Christmas Home, Greg Kincaid has created a community that seems to come straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.  Granted it would require those lifelike paintings to experience some hard economic times, but I think you get the idea.  Of course the fact that this book takes place in a small town in Kansas, the state I currently live in, helps that narrative idea along.  His town is filled with earnest characters who are trying to their best to keep their town afloat and to do the right thing by all those involved.  They are warm, loving characters that most of us would love to be around.

Since this is a Christmas book, and a Christmas book about dogs, you should probably be able to guess that everything works out in the end.  It may not be what the characters envisioned the solution to be in the beginning, but it's a conclusion that enriches the lives of all those involved.  Now I'm just going to have to wait for the ABCFamily Channel movie to be made.  Maybe next year, during their 25 Days of Christmas.

Thanks to the lovely people at Crown, I have a copy of this book to giveaway.  All you need to do to enter, is leave a comment telling me your favorite Christmas movie.   You also need to leave a valid email address so I can contact you if you are the winner.  You must be a US resident, sorry guys.  The giveaway will run from now until 11:59 pm CST, on 12/2/12.  I'm cutting this one short in order for the winner to get it by Christmas.  I will use to pick the winner.

Challenges:  CS

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Favorite Fictional Character --- Pikachu

The day before Thanksgiving is never one of my favorite days.  It's a busy day at work, then I have to run to the grocery store and grab the things I didn't remember to get earlier.  It's a crazy, frantic, draining day that I never look forward to.  Of course it's followed by Thanksgiving, which is just as busy and crazy, but for whatever reason, it doesn't seem to get on my nerves at all.  So right now, well tonight actually, I will be doing some basic prep work, but mostly, I will be trying to relax.  I will chill out with a book, ignore everyone who tries to talk to me, and set my alarm clock so I can get up early enough to start cooking and watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  It's tradition in my house, and one that seems to tone down all the craziness of the day.

Despite having a son, who never seemed to get into Pokemon all that much, I know very little about Pikachu, the species.  I don't know there habitat choices, their mating habits, or how to tell the difference between a male and a female.  I'm sure I can read all about it on Wikipedia, but to be honest, I really don't care.  So this post is about a particular Pikachu, well the Pikachu from the animated series.  It's not even a show I really ever watched that much, but when I did, it was Pikachu I fell in love with.  When I did catch the show, he was the only reason I didn't turn the station.

When the young Pokemon trainer, Ash Ketchum, begins his journey of animal enslavement, he is given a young Pikachu as his first charge.   Which by the way, I think it was pretty lazy of Ash to not give Pikachu a different name, but that's neither here nor there.  At first our young hero, and I'm talking about Pikachu here, refuses to do what Ash tells him to do.  Oftentimes, Pikachu, who is an electrical Pokemon, would shock Ash instead of listening to him.  He rebelled if put in his Poke Ball, and good for him on that one.  Pikachu begins to warm up to Ash when he realizes Ash isn't all that bad, and actually has the best intentions.  When Ash saves his life, Pikachu and Ash's bond starts to deepen, and it's not long before they are the best of friends.  But true to form, Pikachu still hates to be inside that stupid Poke Ball.

Now I know I'm not the only one who finds Pikachu adorable.  At the height of his popularity, Pikachu appeared to have taken over the world.  He was named Second Best Person of the Year by Time magazine.  He was the 15th greatest cartoon character of all time, as named by TV Guide, and he was everywhere.  Stuffed animals, sheet sets, toothbrushes, towels, cutlery.... you name it, he's on it.  He is the Japanese version of Mickey Mouse, and I never want him to go away.  When he says "Pika, pika", my heart melts, my knees get weak, and my breathe catches just a bit.  He is cuteness personified, and I hope he stays that way.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge

Well it's that time of year again.  The weather is getting cooler, the Christmas decorations have been up in the mall for weeks now, and I've been listening to Christmas music for about as long.  Christmas is made even better by the wonderful books I get to read.  Whether the book is about the meaning of Christmas, the retelling of a favorite Christmas tale, or even peppered with the occasional yuletide murder, I like nothing more to curl up on the couch, sip some hot chocolate, and delve into the pages.  Of course if it's snowing outside, all the better.  

My fabulous friend, Michelle of the True Book Addict, has had a Christmas Blog, The Christmas Spirit, for years now. For the last few years, she has hosted a Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge, that I look forward to every year.  Needless to say, I'm on board once again.  I'm going to be signing up for the Mistletoe Level and since Christmas would not be Christmas without the wonderful movies, I'll be doing Fa La La La Films as well.  So I will let Michelle tell you all about it.

It's the fourth year of theChristmas Spirit Reading Challenge! Like last year, there are multiple levels for participation, like children's books and watching Christmas movies.  So, something for everyone!

Now, on to the details and sign up:
  • challenge will run from Monday, November 19, 2012 through Sunday, January 6, 2013 (Twelfth Night or Epiphany).
  • cross over with other challenges is totally permitted AND encouraged!
  • These must be Christmas novels, books about Christmas lore, a book of Christmas short stories or poems, books about Christmas crafts, and for the first time...a children's Christmas books level!
  • visit this POST for a list of new Christmas books for 2012.  There are a lot of good ones coming out this year, including the new Richard Paul Evans novel, A Winter Dream (I just got it yesterday!).
  • Levels:
            --Candy Cane:  read 1 book
            --Mistletoe:  read 2-4 books
            --Christmas Tree:  read 5 or 6 books (this is the fanatic level...LOL!)
          Additional levels:
            --Fa La La La Films:  watch a bunch or a few Christmas's up to you!
            --Visions of Sugar Plums:  read books with your children this season and share what you read
          *the additional levels are optional, you still must complete one of the main reading levels above

  • the most important rule?  Have fun!!!
  • I will have a review linky posted as a page the day the challenge starts.  You will find it at the top of the left sidebar.
  • Sign up in the linky below (link to your post with your reading can change up your list during the challenge...I just want to be able to stop by to welcome you and see what you plan to read).
One final note:  I am going to do a giveaway of a mystery box of Christmas books to participants in the U.S. (At the moment, I'm not sure on an International prize because of finances, but if I find that I can afford it, I will pick an International winner and they can choose a Christmas book (under $10 or three bargain books for $10, if they're running the promo at the time) from Better World Books.  Giveaway will end at the end of the challenge.  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Four seekers have arrived at the rambling old pile known as Hill House:  Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of psychic phenomena; Theodora, his lovely and lighthearted assistant; Luke, the adventurous future inheritor of the estate; and Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman with a dark past.  As they begin to cope with chilling, even horrifying occurrences beyond their control or understanding, they cannot possibly know what lies ahead.  For Hill House is gathering its powers - and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

I think most of us know that book blogging doesn't have a lot of drawbacks.  We get to read/review new books that we may not have been exposed to any other way.  There is this wonderful community that gives us a forum to talk about something that we derive so much pleasure from, and they don't plug their ears while we are doing it.  I could list the benefits of book blogging until I turn blue in the face, but that wouldn't get me any closer to making a point.

And my point is this, for me, if there is a drawback to book blogging, it's that I don't reread my favorite books as often as I would like, or even as often as I used to.  Before book blogging, I was a voracious rereader of my favorite books.  I never understood why I wouldn't want to revisit a book if I loved it.  It would be like meeting a real cool person, hanging out with them for a week, becoming good friends, and then never returning a phone call because you've been there, done that.  I would look forward to picking up an old friend, and diving back into the characters and a story that never gets old, never fails to entertain, and never lets me down.  One of those books is, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

I can't remember the first time I read this book, but I know it was after I watched The Haunting, the 1963 screen adaptation with Julie Harris and Claire Bloom.  Actually, I'm pretty sure I had seen the movie quite a few times before I ever picked up the book.  Once I did, my love for the story only deepened.  I've lost count of the times I've dived back into Hill House, but sadly this is the first time I've picked it up in the three years I've been blogging.  Once I opened up that cover, it was like coming home.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the story, never seen the movie, and didn't read the synopsis, the plot is pretty simple.  Researcher wants nothing more than to prove the existence of the supernatural, so when he finds the perfect house to investigate, Hill House, he starts to assemble a team to help him out.  By searching through the records of paranormal investigators, newspapers, and police records, he compiles a list of individuals with previous experience with the unexplained.  Of those he invites, only two of them show up, so with the nephew of the owner along for the ride, they get to work.

Where this book leaves most other haunted house tales behind in the dust, is in the way Shirley Jackson crafted her characters and in the atmosphere of the house they inhabit.  When the author sat down and created the characters of Dr. Montague, Luke, Theo, and Eleanor, the writing gods must have been looking down upon her.  In those characters, especially with Eleanor, Shirley Jackson created such vibrant, psychologically complex characters who I never tire of spending time with them.  The way she takes the character of Eleanor and integrates her with Hill House, is such a feat, that only a true wordsmith can accomplish.

Hill House itself, is one of the most important characters, a character so essential to the book, that this masterpiece could not exist without it.  Hill House breathes.  It moves and ungulates in subtle ways, manipulating it's occupants by playing with their minds.  It's off angularity throws the research team off their game, almost from the beginning.  It's a house that lives in every way.  It's mean.  It's evil.  It wants nothing more than to take, for itself, the lives residing within.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Blood Line by Lynda La Plante

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Still reeling from the death of her fiance, Detective Anna Travis has thrown herself into her new role as the chief inspector for London's murder squad.  When Scotland Yard's missing person bureau in unable to locate the son of a court employee, the superintendent - James Langton, Anna's former lover turned sometimes friend - urges her to take on the suspicious assignment.

But is this new investigation purely a missing persons case - or a full-blown murder inquiry?  An ominous pool of blood with no locatable victim leads Anna on a desperate hunt for a man who has disappeared without a trace.  With no body, and increasing pressure to make an arrest, Anna becomes obsessed with the smallest details of the case.  Now, one man has vanished, a killer may be loose on the streets, and, as Langton looks on, Anna Travis may be losing control of her investigation - and of herself.

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to review Lynda La Plante's Prime Suspect series, and for the most part, I loved all three books.  They were something I had been wanting to tackle for a while, so I was excited when the opportunity presented itself.  Needless to say, when Blood Line was offered for review, I jumped at the chance.  I knew it was part of an ongoing series, though I didn't realise it was the 7th book, but I was okay with that.  Normally, in a police procedural, the books can be read as stand alone, if you don't mind not being clued in to some of the personal aspects of the characters.

Now I can't say that I like Anna Travis as much as I do Jane Tennison, but it comes pretty close.  I think, had I started at the beginning, I would have liked her a bit more in this one.  As it is, I found her to be a bit of a basket case, though with good reasons, and a bit hard to understand all the time.  But there is such a steely determination to go on, a desire to prove everyone wrong, that she fights her way back into my good graces.  She is a complex character, one that I'm thinking of revisiting at another time.  Above Suspicion, the first book in the series, may be an upcoming purchase.

My only issue, and while it didn't ruin the book for me, it came close, was the way the author deals with the main subject manner of the plot line.  I had the same issue with Silent Victims, the third book of the Prime Suspect series.  The missing man, who everyone says is the perfect son, a quiet thoughtful man, and someone who is shy, ends up being none of those things.  Neither his fiance, his father, or anyone else involved in the beginnings of the case knew he was a secretly gay man, living a very shadowy life.  Instead of being shy and quiet, he has a temper that can explode in violence.  He lives so deeply in the closet, at least while he is home in London, that he picks up guys through ads, and in a few cases rape became involved.  He is stock piling money through drug smuggling, and while he tries to back out in the end, that doesn't change the damage already caused to others.  So the victim, who starts off as a quiet, hard working auto mechanic, who is saving money to pay for his wedding, becomes a violent, gay drug smuggler.

And it doesn't end there, other than the gay officer who assists Travis in the investigation, gay men in general are not depicted well in this book.  Much like the gay officer in Silent Victims, Paul Simms seems to be added in to soften the negative stereotypes in the rest of the book.  Then towards the end of the book, we meet a young man who has a different take on the victim.  This is the young man, the victim was truly in love with and was wanting to build a new life with.  He was fixing up a Mercedes for his birthday, bought a house for them to live in, but then he disappears and the young man is left hanging in the air.  I understand turning the murder victim into a bad guy, and I even understand making the bad guy have a softer side, but it felt as if the love interest, who really isn't in the book beyond a few pages, was placed there in order to tone down the negative portrayal of gay men.  I get that there are violent gay men, they even may be drug dealers, and I'm okay with that.  I guess it's that I'm starting to see a pattern with this author, and I'm not sure I'm totally comfortable with it.

Earlier I said that my qualms with the subject matter almost ruined the book for me, with stress on the almost.  Because of the complexities in the case, the various characters who come in and out of the story, and the sheer violence of the way this man was killed, the author was able to keep my interest.  I found Blood Line to be a well crafted thriller that never stopped taking turns, or surprising me in the way Detective Travis was able to piece everything together, and bring those responsible to justice.

If you couldn't tell, I'm of two minds on this one.  I'm trying to be the bigger man and overlook the way I feel this author treats gay men in her books, and for the most part I'm there.  She is a talented writer who never fails, in the four books I've now read by her, to craft a storyline full of twists and turns that are based in the gritty reality of life.  I'm going to keep reading her books, I'm just going to have to put my sensibilities aside when I do.

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Favorite Fictional Character --- Kermit the Frog

It was pretty cool on Sunday and Monday, needless to say, I loved it.  I love cooler temps and shorter days.  When I get to leave work, and it's already dark out, I'm in love.  I know most of you don't feel that way, and I'm okay with being the odd man out.  There is just something about the fall and winter that I love more than spring and summer.  For those of you who know what I'm talking about, thank you.  To those of you who don't get it, I'll leave the warmer part of the year to you.  It also means Thanksgiving is almost here, only 8 more days to go, if you don't count today that is.  Which means it's almost time for the parade.  Until then, I'll bring up one of my other favorite character balloons, Kermit the Frog.

Growing up in a swamp with 3,265 brothers and sisters would be hard on anyone.  He would be struggling to make a name for yourself or even to figure out what your role would be.  So when Kermit was 12, he packed up and headed out into the world.  On his his journey he ran into a young boy, Jim Henson, and became one of the first frogs to talk with a human.  Neither one of them though, understand the role they would play in each other's lives later on down the road.

When the wanderlust finally abated a bit, Kermit returned to the swamp and his to his duties for the family.  It wasn't long after though when a traveling talent agent happened to stop by the swamp.  He was impressed by Kermit's talents, and it wasn't long before Kermit was on his way to Hollywood.  Once there, he and some of the other Muppets, were signed by a studio, and the rest is show biz history.

In his career, Kermit has been everything from a reporter for Sesame Street News, ran his own theater company, and even starred in a few movies.  He and his friends have become iconic legends in many circles, and he is always in demand wherever he goes.  Now most of the time, he will accompanied by his "girlfriend" Miss Piggy, or in the company of his best friend, Fozzie Bear.  Either way, if you run into him on the street, shake his hand, and thank him for the years of entertainment he has brought to us all.  One word of caution though, if it's Miss Piggy with him, make sure you compliment her first.

Monday, November 12, 2012

These Things Happen by Richard Kramer

Part Of The Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

Set in Manhattan and told through an ensemble of endearing voices, These Things Happen is not the quite coming of age story about a modern family.  Fifteen-year-old Wesley, a tenth grader, has moved from his mother and stepfather's home to live for a school term with his father and his father's partner, George, so that father and son might have a chance to bond again.  But when Wesley finds himself unexpectedly at the center of an act of violence, everyone around him must reexamine themselves, their assumptions and attitudes.

I went three whole years with only one review book that I could not finish, then 2012 happened.  With These Things Happen, I have now tripled that amount.  I feel horrible about it, I have no desire to even be sitting at the computer right now, typing these words.  I would rather be doing anything else, including building a replica of the Acropolis out of marshmallows.  I don't like having to admit I've given up on a book, it doesn't feel good.

So needless to say, this won't be a review, and I give you permission to exit out of this window,  and go about your day.  I do want to explain my reaction to the book, so if you are a bit curious but don't need a lot of details, then you may want to finish reading this post.

I think most of us have that one friend, who just tries to hard.  They want to be all things to everyone.  They strive to be funny, but normally fall flat.  They will spout of facts, normally incorrectly, in order to appear smart and worthy of deep conversations.  They wear clothes appropriate to someone 20 years younger than them.  They want to be cool, witty, and fun, but the harder they try, the worse the results.  Since they are your friend, you can forgive it.  I just wish I could have forgiven it with this book.

Now I'm not saying These Things Happen fit that mold perfectly, but it's the closet analogy I can come up with.  The entire time I was reading it, and granted I gave it less than 50 pages, I was grinding my teeth in frustration.  Nothing I read felt real or personal to the characters I was wanting to like.  The dialogue felt forced and unnatural, trying to hard to be witty and current.  And that's my hang up with the book, I hated the way the characters talked, I couldn't get over it, and because of that I closed the book and have no desire to pick it up again.

I know that not giving you all that much detail, but that's all I have in me right now.  I wish I had the energy to  give you some examples of what I'm talking about, but that would require me to reopen the book and pick a few to share, which I just don't care enough to do.  I wish I had more to say, either positive or negative, but I don't.  So I'll leave you with this thought, I do think this book will appeal to readers who enjoy YA more than I do.  I think These Things Happen is marketed towards the adult market, but I think it would fit in better with YA readers who are used to unnatural dialogue coming out of the mouths of teenagers.

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

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Mailbox Monday for 11/12/12

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at Mailbox Monday 

I received a trade paperback of Purgatory Reign by LM Preston from the author for review.

I bought a paperback of Under the Vale edited by Mercedes Lackey.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Word Verification.... Sorry But I Have To

I didn't want to do this.  I've held out putting it back on for a while now, but I can't handle the spam anymore.  It's gotten to the point that I'm receiving almost three hundred spam messages a day.  I've tried to be patient with it, but it's taking too much time to delete them from my email and from the spam filter on the blog.  I'm hoping if I use the word verification for a few months, that the spammers will give up and I can go back to not using it.  I know it's a hassle, especially now that they have added the number, but I hope you guys are patient with me.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Black Count by Tom Reiss

Part of Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

His swashbuckling exploits appear in The Three Musketeers, and his triumphs and trials inspired The Count of Monte Cristo - both books written by his son.  Yet it is for one reason in particular that General Alex Dumas deserves to stand n history's spotlight:  alone among his race, he rose to command vast armies - in an audacious campaign across Europe and the Middle East - and in his triumph and ultimate betrayal we see how dangerous one individual can be to an entire way of life.

Born to a black slave mother and a fugitive white French nobleman in Saint-Domingue (present day Haiti), Alex Dumas was sold into bondage but made his way to Paris, where he was schooled as a sword-fighting member of the French aristocracy.  When the Revolution broke out, he joined the army at the lowest rank - yet quickly rose, through a series of legendary feats, to command more than 50,000 men.

No matter how high he soared, Dumas continued to live by his blade and his boldness in the face of overwhelming odds.  Yet, because of his unwavering principles, he ultimately became a threat to Napoleon himself.

Dumas was on his way home from conquering Egypt when his ship nearly sank, and he was captured by a mysterious enemy, thrown into a dungeon, and subjected to slow poisoning.  But the fate that awaited him when he escaped the dungeon would shock him even more.

I've been trying to figure out the first time I read The Count of Monte Cristo, the first time I fell in love with a story that has captivated my imagination ever since.  As a young adult, I read it as an adventure.  How could anyone resist the story of a man who is betrayed by those he thought he could trust, imprisoned for years, only to escape and exact revenge on those who harmed him.  It's a brilliantly told tale, and now that I know the inspiration for the story, I'm in love with it all that much more.

Before this book, I never gave much thought to who Alexandre Dumas was, I knew nothing about his background, let alone that his father was once a a revered military man, a general who led troops into battle, and pulled off what some thought was the impossible.  The fact that he was the bastard son of a French aristocrat and a freed slave, makes the real story of the father, that much more compelling.

When I read a biography, especially of someone I'm not that familiar with, I want it to entertain and inform.  I want to know who the person was to the core, what made them who they are, what drove them to be the person someone would want to write a book about hundreds of years later.  But what's more, I want a book that makes me want to read more after the last page is turned.  I want to be inspired to continue my journey. I want to learn more about the topic of the biography, or even the events they found themselves surrounded by.  Tom Resiss did all of that for me with The Black Count.

Not only do I want to know more about General Dumas, but I feel compelled to actually read more about the French Revolution and it's aftermath.  As an American high schooler, we never really learned all that much about what happened.  I think most Americans use A Tale of Two Cities as their main references point.  From what I did know about it, I was appalled by the excesses and horrified by the sheer violence.  This book didn't change that for me, actually it gave me even more reason for feeling the way I do.  What The Black Count did, was make me want to know more about the workings of the Revolution, the issues behind it, and the people involved.

It also made me want to know more about a society that was capable of looking past the general's race, to raise him up to such heights.  I want to know more about a France that I never knew about, a country that despite it's "familiarity" stills remains an enigma for most Americans.  I want to know how a country could wrestle with race, create a handicapped system of equality, and then turn it's back on the gains it had made.

Now I'm not saying my next few years are going to be taken up with a serious study of French history and culture, but I will keep my eyes open for opportunities that will allow me to sate my curiosity.  It will, on occasion, check to see if there are any new books about General Dumas or the French Revolution.  I will google to see if France has erected a statue or honored the General for his service anytime soon.  This will be a book I lend out, though I'm normally hesitant about doing so.  This will be a book that stays on my shelves for years to come.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Favorite Fictional Character --- Snoopy

Now that it's November and Election Day is behind us, it's time to start thinking of Thanksgiving.  It's time for cooler weather, roasted turkeys, family and friends coming together, and one of my favorite happenings of the year, The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Since I was a kid, I've been in love with this yearly tradition.  I wake up just a bit earlier, get the turkey in the oven, and hunker down to watch the marching bands and balloons.  It's those balloons that I'm using for inspiration for this month's theme.  For the month of November, I will be featuring characters who have had their image immortalized in our collective memory as giant balloons floating down the New York skyline.  To start off the month, I would like to present you with a very special dog, Snoopy.

Whether he is the faithful sidekick to Charlie Brown, the fearless fighter pilot waging war against the Red Baron, or the sloppy kisser that Lucy fears, Snoopy is one of those characters that just seems to have been ingrained in our pop culture.  I don't think there is anyone in this country who would not recognize that iconic image of a white beagle wearing a huge grin.

I can't remember the first time I was introduced to Snoopy, he seems to have always been in my life.  My mom was a huge fan of Woodstock, the little yellow bird who acted as Snoopy's wingman, pun intended.  Because of her love of Woodstock, Snoopy was there all the time in our house.  When It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown came on every Halloween, we watched it.  I got to watch Snoopy take the sky in his Sopwith Camel (doghouse), and fight the Red Baron over occupied France.  

Every Thanksgiving we would watch A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.  Charlie Brown, with the help of his friends, including Snoopy, tried to throw a Thanksgiving day feast.  Snoopy and Woodstock set up the table, his fight with the lawn chair is hilarious.  For whatever reason Snoopy was also the chef, serving up buttered toast, popcorn, pretzel sticks, jellybeans, and a jello sundae for desert.  Needless to say, Snoopy's hard work is not appreciated by most of the guests who were expecting turkey and all the trimmings.  As a kid, I thought Snoopy's dinner wouldn't have been so bad.

Then for Christmas, we got to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas, my personal favorite of the Charlie Brown specials.  We get to see Snoopy go over the top and decorating his doghouse, all to win $50, something Charlie Brown just doesn't understand.  We are also treated to his spectacular skating skills as he skates loops around the kids.  It's in this special that Snoopy really cemented himself in my heart as a character that would stay with me forever.  It's just not Christmas without him.

Now as an adult, I actually own the box set that includes all three specials, along with three others themed together.  My favorite image out of those three specials is Snoopy as a pilgrim settler in It's America Charlie Brown, The Mayflower Voyagers.  Snoopy and the gang have become a part of our holiday traditions.  He is so central to our celebrations that it's unimaginable to not have these shows playing in the DVD player.  It's just as horrific to think of the Macy's Parade without Snoopy's balloon floating above the heads of the spectators.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal

Synopsis From Back Cover:

As World War II sweeps the Continent and England steels itself against German attack, Maggie Hope, former secretary to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, completes her training to become a spy fro MI-G.  Spirited, strong-willed, and possessing one of the sharpest minds in government for mathematics and code breaking, she fully expects to be sent abroad to gather intelligence for the British front.  Instead, she is dispatched to go undercover at Windsor Castle - to tutor the young Princess Elizabeth in math.  Yet the upstairs-downstairs world at Windsor quickly proves more dangerous - and deadly - than Maggie ever expected.

I'm going to admit, right up front, that I've been a bad blogger lately.  I really haven't had the time or the energy to sign in and write reviews.  As of right now, I have 11 finished books, waiting patiently to be taken off the shelf and a review written.  I actually wanted to get a review of Mr. Churchill's Secretary, this books predecessor, but alas, I ran out of time.  I actually forgot I had to have this review up today.  So I'm here on election day, having already voted this morning, writing a few reviews.

After reading Mr. Churchill's Secretary, review coming later, and Princess Elizabeth's Spy, I think it's safe to assume I'm in love with this sub genre.  Now I'm not sure if it has a name or not, but this explosion of mystery novels set in England during the two World Wars, has me panting for more.  Now I guess I better explain myself or you are going to assume I'm some sort of drooling baboon, one that doesn't utter anything other than "ugh."

I know I'm mentioned it before in my reviews of books by Jacqueline Winspear and Charles Todd, but there seems to be an odd sort of "gentleness" the various authors seem to bring to the table.  I'm not sure if that tone lends itself to the genre or to the heroines the authors create, but I can imagine that Maggie Hope, Maisie Dobbs, and Bess Crawford would find themselves fast friends and three peas in a pod.  Even the chaos of their lives, the world changing events going on all around them, they do their jobs.  They go about their business, doing what they can to make things, even in a small way, that much better.  Men and women are murdered around them, and they comport themselves with such grace and strength, that I find myself in awe of all of them.  They rise to the occasion and get the job done.

As far as Maggie goes, she would be the feistier of the three friends.  She knows she has the education and brains to run with the big boys, but had to fight her way into the position to be able to prove it.  I can't get into too much of her back story, otherwise I would be giving you a review of the first book as well.  I guess that means I can't really say anything about her in this one either.  What I can say is that I find her to be a fascinating person, who doesn't always see everything going on around her, but is always willing to move on once the truth comes to the surface.  She has a heart and doesn't see everything in black or white, but does have a strong sense of good and evil.  She is willing to put herself in danger to save her charge, and is willing to give her life for something she believes in.

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

Please Vote Today

Those of you who I'm friends with on Facebook can attest to the fact that I am one of those who is highly invested in the outcome of this election.  You also know who I'm voting for, and for whom I would love you to vote for.  That's not what this post is about though.  What I want to say right now is that regardless of who you are voting for, just vote.  It may not be the guy I would vote for, but I would rather have you vote for someone I don't like, than not vote at all.

We live in the oldest democratic republic in the world.  Thousands upon thousands have given their lives to guarantee that we all have a voice in the selection of our leaders.  But it is our responsibility as citizens to partake in that right.  And for those of you who won't vote this year, just remember your silence is a vote.  It's just a vote for the guy you didn't want to win. 

So please, don't let my voice be louder than yours, go vote today.  Give voice to what you want for this country and it's future.  Let yourself be heard.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Mailbox Monday for 11/5/12

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at Mailbox Monday 

I bought a paperback of Naughty in Nice by Rhys Bowen from Barnes & Noble.