Friday, March 29, 2013

State of the Onion by Julie Hyzy


Synopsis From Back Cover:

Never let them see you sweat - that's White House Assistant Chef Olivia Para's motto, which is pretty hard to honor in the most important kitchen in the world.  She's hell-bent on earning her dream job - executive chef.  There's just one thing: her nemesis is vying for it, too.  Well, that and the fact that an elusive assassin wants to see her fry...

The highly trained Secret Service agents couldn't do it.  The snipers swarming the White House grounds were no help.  Only Ollie Paras was able to stop the intruder - hitting him with a frying pan.  She'd like to wash her hands of the whole thing, but after she witnesses a murder, there's no going back...

Eons ago, my friend Deb of Book Magic reviewed State of the Onion by Julie Hyzy, and it instantly went on my wish list.  I'm not normally a fan of cozy mysteries, despite my love affair with the genre itself.  There just seems to be something so forced about them, almost as if they are trying too hard.  But this particular series caught my eye, mainly because of the setting.  Not only am I a huge mystery fan, but I'm an even bigger political junkie.  So to have a mystery series, albeit a cozy one, set in the White House, I was intrigued enough to give it a go.  The fact that Deb liked it helped in that decision, she is the one who got me hooked on the only other cozy series I like, the Royal Spyness series by Rhys Bowen.

Despite my interest in the book, it took me 19 months before I got my hands on the book, and another 18 months before I actually read it.  I never said I wasn't a procrastinator.  So back in January, during my blog hiatus, I got curious enough to finally pick it up and delve into the White House kitchens of Olivia Para.

From the beginning, as Olivia is walking onto the grounds of the White House and she clobbers an intruder with a fry pan, the action is pretty intense and steady.  She is quickly drawn into a world of political assassination, spies, and plots to overthrown governments.  All of this as she is vying for the job of Executive Chef, as the current position holder is retiring.  She had to go up against a vindictive, high strung TV chef for the job, and try not to get killed by a notorious assassin.

Because it's a cozy, there is a romantic interest in the book, a Secret Service agent that is true to their breed, stern and dependable.  He comes across as a nice guy, if a bit of a stick in the mud, and a little judgemental.   The supporting cast of characters include the First Lady, 2 other chefs in the kitchen, and a Sensitivity Director hired to make sure the White House doesn't inadvertently step on foreign toes.  The fact that he is a vile, condescending man who I wish had been the killer, makes him fun to read, and hope for his death.

Also true to form, the plot needs a huge helping of willing suspension of disbelief, as there are stretches bigger than Air Force One.  But that's what I expect from most modern mysteries.  Thankfully none of the plot holes, or overreaches hurt the book in a permanent way.  In an odd way, they almost make the book that much more enjoyable to read.  I will definitely be checking out the rest of the books in the series, I just hope it doesn't take me another 37 months to read the next one.

Challenges: A-Z

Thursday, March 28, 2013

What I Did Over My Weekend: Village Flea Market


Since I didn't take a new picture of the Village Flea Market, I used the one I took when I posted about my trip back in June.  I never go there to spend a lot of money, it's more about looking around and watching people.  Flea markets seem to be a great equalizer, even more than Wal-Mart.  You can, and will, see people from all walks of life, perusing the tables and booths.  They pick over what others deemed to be worthless or unwanted.  They bargain and haggle, and it's always fun to watch.  Regardless of how much money someone has on them, they never want to pay the ticket price.  It's all about getting a $5 item for less than $3.  And sometimes, but not very often, it's about finding an item that is worth way more than the sticker price.  It's that search for hidden treasure that appeals to almost everyone who heads to a flea market or antique fair.

I managed to take a few random pictures of things that, for whatever reason, caught my eye.

You got to love the warriors fighting over the woman who has her back turned.

Am I the only one that's a little creeped out by the blank stare?

Can anything else fit into this corner?

I really, really want to see this Justin Bieber lamp in someones house.

You got to love these boots.

Can't they put expressions onto a mannequin's face?  The blank stare is creepy once again.

My mom actually bought one of these painted skulls the last time she was in town, except hers has a wolf on it.  You too can have one for $93.
I actually did manage to buy a few things, most of them were comic books, but I did find this album.  I never knew they did a musical version of War of the Worlds, nor that Richard Burton would be in it.  I can't wait until I have the time to listen to this, and I got it for $2.  I hope it's worth it.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

So I'm Signing Up For Bloglovin

<a href="http://www.bloglovin.com/blog/3841370/?claim=cntfg52c7bg">Follow my blog with Bloglovin</a>

With all the changes coming down the road in the next few months, I'm trying to find new ways for you guys to follow the blog.  I've seen quite a few bloggers sign up for Bloglovin, so I figured it may be an avenue to explore.  There will be a button on the sidebar as well for anyone who chooses to follow the blog this way.

If you guys know of any other ways, or anything else I can do to make it easy to follow, please let me know.

By the way, the stupid code at the top, I can't get it to where it creates a link, but it seems to be working all right anyway.  So sorry about the messy looking post.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What I Did Over My Weekend: Wichita Art Museum


Well it's official, I suck at taking pictures of artwork hanging on a wall.  I can never seem to get them centered in the picture, and they always look crooked.  I swear when I'm taking the picture, everything looks good in the window.  It's just the final result doesn't seem to match up.  Of course if I somehow manage to get it centered and straight, the lighting is off.  And since they are very strict against flashes, there isn't a whole lot I can do about that.  Well maybe I could, if I was better with a camera.

But getting off that subject, I just wanted to share some of the pictures I took on my last trip to the Wichita Art Museum.  As I posted back last year, if I have a Saturday off, I'm at the museum, even if it's only for a hour.  Since it's free admission on those days, you do have to deal with kids running around more often than not, but it's always worth the distractions.

This time around, I did take a picture of the Mary Cassatt that so many people love, and while I like it, it's not my favorite of the American Impressionism works that they have.  That honor goes to the first picture I'm showing you, The Black Shawl by Frederick Carl Frieseke.  The rest of the pictures are of works I truly look forward to seeing every time I go to the museum, but for some reason I didn't take pictures of them the last time I was there.

The Black Shawl by Frederick Carl Frieseke (1905)

Mother and Child by Mary Cassatt (1890)

Falls in January by John H. Twatchman (1895)

Daydream by Sidney Goodman (1986-1987)

Coal Mine Disaster by Vincent La Gambina (1941)

Summer of 1941 by Louis Bouche (1941)

Sunlight on Brownstones by Edward Hopper (1956)

And just for the fun of it, when I was there, I visited the gift shop and bought a few postcards and 2 notecards.  I would like to send them to a random commentor who leaves a comment by 4/2/13.


Monday, March 25, 2013

The Deadly Travellers by Dorothy Eden


Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

The Deadly Travellers describes the adventures of pretty, vivacious Kate Tempest, a young woman alone in the world and free to follow her whims.  When Kate accepted the job of escorting a little Italian girl from Rome to London, she knew it would be a challenging assignment, for she spoke no Italian, and the child, Francesca, knew no English.

En route, no only did Francesca vanish from the Paris Express, but Kate could find not witness to the fact that the child had ever been aboard!

Then, just as she had begun to question her own sanity, Kate met two attractive men, both of whom offered their help - and their love.  Caught in a terrifying web of deception and betrayal, she soon realized that one of these men was actually involved int he cruel plot - and that her own life was in mortal danger.

I really want Kate's job.  She works for an agency that calls her up, and lets her know of odd jobs that fits her personality.  Most of the time it's to do someones shopping for them, to help pick out a birthday gift, or even to just sit and read with the client.  If such agencies still exist, I need to find one soon.  And then she gets a call to travel to Rome, pick up a young girl, and bring her to her mother in Paris.  She gets to travel by train, something I still want to do, and just enjoy herself.  I'm still so jealous of her at this point in time.

Once she gets to Rome, people are acting a little stranger than she thinks is reasonable, but she puts it out of her mind and decides to try and enjoy herself.  That strangeness only intensifies once she shows up at a dilapidated house to pick up the young girl.  The nanny seems rather brusque, and Francesca is sullen.  The girls attitude never really changes once they are on the train, but stil Kate it trying to enjoy herself.  When she puts the young girl to bed, and leaves the car to grab a bite to eat, my jealousy of Kate comes to an end.

At first it seems like things are improving when she meets an attractive young man who seems to take her mind of her longtime boyfriend back home.  But when she goes to wake the girl the next morning, the girl is gone and another, from a tour group, is in her place.  Nobody else ever saw the girl, so once a few minutes pass, and the girl is found to be nowhere on the train, people start to think she may be a bit wacky.  The young man she met, who may not be as innocent as he first appeared, seems to believe her, but Kate can tell he has his doubts.

When she contacts her employer back in London, she is eventually told that the father boarded the train and took her off.  But something just doesn't sit right with Kate and she is determined to make sure the little girl is okay, no matter what anyone else says.  Her investigation takes her back to London, where dead bodies start piling up, and others just seem to disappear.  She feels like she is being watched, that someone is stalking her, but nobody will take her seriously.

In desperation, she travels back to Paris and Rome to see what the hell is going on, and before it's done, three different men will be in her life, one of whom wants to kill her.  She will have to figure out the truth; who is behind the girl's disappearance, what crimes are being committed through the girl, and who is behind the attempts to make her look and feel like a loon.

Once Kate got over doubting herself, I started to get jealous of her again.  She gets to travel all over Europe, not under the best of circumstances, but still, it's travel.  She meets interesting people.  That fact that some of them end up dead, and that others are tyring to either kill or scare her, doesn't seem to matter that much to me, I'm still jealous.  If anything, the danger she is in, the adrenaline that must have been pumping nonstop, makes her journey all that much more appealing to me.  I want to do what she is doing.  Alas, I'm not sure I will ever get to have such an adventure, so I will have to continue reading about them.

Challenges: VM (World Traveller)

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Confession & Sight Unseen by Mary Roberts Rinehart


Synopsis From Back Cover:

The Confession

A quiet, self possessed woman becomes slowly hypnotized by fear in an elegant mansion that reveals itself as a crypt of impassioned terror...

Sight Unseen

A beautiful young woman at a bizarre seance witnesses a crime of passion before it actually happens...

I just realized that I haven't been writing these reviews in the order I read the books in.  Maybe it's because I took that time off, but that doesn't seem to be all that important to me.  Right now, I'm just enjoying the fact I  can do what I want, when I want.  If I had been doing this in order, The Confession & Sight Unseen would have had a review a lot earlier than this, and the WOT books would come one after another.  But enough of that.  Let's talk about my first Mary Roberts Rinehart book of the new year.

To start things off, we have a country house mystery with all the usual trappings.  Elderly woman alone with a few servants rents a country home for the summer assuming that her nephew and his family will be joining them.  When his plans don't work out, she still takes the house, despite her maid's fears or dislike for the homes owner.  It's no long before the phone starts ringing in the middle of the night, with no one there.  Some unseen person is entering the home, candles are used up over night, and a general feel of unease stifles the air.  Add in a hidden confession to an old murder, stoic villagers, and atheism.  It's a well crafted, short mystery that didn't leave me guessing for long, but did leave me satisfied at the end.

The second story involves a group of neighbors who gather once a week for dinner and discussion.  On one of those occasions, one of the group arranges to have a medium drop in and do a seance.  What nobody knew, including the medium, is what her reading would uncover.  Everything goes according to plan, until the medium starts talking about a murder.  While notes were taken, nobody took it seriously until later that night when a murder in the neighborhood was discovered.  A murder described perfectly by the medium, hours before it happened.  It's up to the group to figure out who killed the man, before the medium has another vision.   I don't know if the shorter format made the story a little more cohesive than The Red Lamp, but I found the inclusion of the supernatural to be a better fit with this story.

Challenges:  A-Z, VM (Psychic Phenomena)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

10 Books + Island, With A Twist


The other day, my good friend Yvette of in so many words.... did a post on the 10 books she would want with her on a desert island, a different planet, or spending eternity at an empty diner.  Well I was able to answer that question pretty quickly, and we actually had two books in common.  We both picked Watership Down by Richard Adams and Dracula by Bram Stoker.  

My additional books were:  Omnibus edition of the Last Herald Mage trilogy by Mercedes Lackey, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, Gillespie and I by Jane Harris, The Thief of Always by Clive Barker, and Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.

However, that's not the point of this post.  Picking your 10 favorite books, the only books you would want for the rest of your life, it's pretty easy.  I think most of us, though we would have to do some weeding, could come up with that list fairly quickly. 

The question I think is harder to answer, and the question I'm answering with this post is, of all the books you have never read, which 10 would you want with you the day you became stranded on a desert island?  I think our TBR lists, our wish lists, are way bigger than any of us would consider healthy.  So trying to narrow that list down is a bit harder, at least for me.  What makes it even harder is that, on any given day, a few of the books my change on us.

So with no further ado, these are the books I would pick, as of right now:

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis

Dragonwyck by Anya Seton

Curtain by Agatha Chrisite

Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie

Under the Sea-Wind by Rachel Carson 

Le Morte D'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Night Eternal by Guillermo Del Toro & Chuck Hogan


Synopsis From Back Cover:

Two years have passed since the vampiric virus was first unleashed upon humanity - and nuclear winter has cast the poisoned world into eternal night.  The remnants of the living who were not turned have been subjugated - with many imprisoned in camps to be bred and bled for the sustenance of the Master's vast vampire army.

Yet the fight continues.  Dr. Eph Goodweather, of the Centers for Disease Control's biological threats team; his former colleague and lover, Dr. Nora Martinez; and the exterminator Vasiliy Fet lead a band of freedom fighters aided by Mr. Quinlan, the half-breed offspring of the Master, who now is bent on revenge.  At humankind's darkest our, one of them may hold the key to salvation.  But a traitor is among them.  And who will be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice so that others may live.

This time around, not only did I go back and read my review for the first book in this trilogy, The Strain, I read my review of the second book, The Fall, as well.  What I'm finding interesting about my reviews is how my excitement for the books have ebbed without the flow.  What started off as a great series in the first book, slowed into a much softer middle book, but I was okay with that, it's what normally happens in a trilogy  Middle books are where the action for the finale is being set up, where characters are developed a bit more, and where world building tends to happen.  The middle book is supposed to lead into a much stronger third book, stronger than the first actually.  Sadly, The Night Eternal was even worse than The Fall.

I'm not sure what a happened, how a series that brought vampires back to the dark side, could have left on such a weak note.  The characters seemed to be mere shells of their former selves, and yes I know they have been dealing with a world in chaos.  But do they need to be empty caricatures of what they once were.  All of the major characters seem to be one dimensional, not the well rounded individuals they started off as.  Eph probably got hit in this way the worst of all, he turned into a pill popping alcoholic who doesn't seem to have a clue on what the hell to do.  His son was kidnapped in the last book, so I should cut him some slack, but what the authors turned this man into, it's inexcusable.  What should have been an opportunity to make the character stronger, destroyed him, not something anyone could have seen after the first book.

Besides the ball being dropped on character development, the plot twists seemed to be the most random stuff in the world.  It felt as if they had put some ideas into a hat, drew 4-5 of them out,and decided those where the plot developments that would be in the book.  Nothing really tied together for me, it all fell flat, and I couldn't wait to finish reading the book.

Had I read this book, before doing my review of the second book, that review would have been a little harsher.  I would have realized that what I was missing wasn't what normally happens in a middle book.  Instead it was a precursor showing the what I feel was a developing lack of interest on the part of the authors.  I have never started off a trilogy with such hope and excitement, to only have that balloon popped in such a depressing way.

Other Books In The Series:

The Strain
The Fall

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Fires of Heaven by Robert Jordan


Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

In this sequel to the phenomenal New York Times bestseller The Shadow Rising, Robert Jordan again plunges us into his extraordinarily rich, totally unforgettable world:

....Into the forbidden city of Rhuidean, where Rand al'Thor, now the Dragon Reborn, must conceal his present endeavor from all about him, even Egwene and Moiraine.

....Into the Amyrlin's study in the White Tower, where the Amyrlin, Elaida do Avriny a'Roihan, is weaving new plans.

....Into Andor, where Siuan Sanche and her companions, including the falst Dragon Logain, have been arrested for barn-burning.

....Into the luxurious hidden chamber where the Forsaken Rhavin is meeting with three of his fellows to ensure their ultimate victory over the Dragon.

....Into the Queen's court in Caemlyn, where Morgase is curiously in thrall to the handsome Lord Gaebril.

For once the Dragon walks the land, the fires of heaven fall where they will, until all men's lives are ablaze.

And in Shayol Ghul, the Dark One stirs....

Now that we are talking about book 5, it's time to mention how long these books start to get, and how dense they are.  This is where the action starts breaking off into sections, even more so in the previous four books.  Our heroes are spread throughout the world, and are rarely together for long periods of time.  Which means, the secondary characters continue to grow in size, as do the plot point.  Which by the way, all the plot points would take way too much time to ever fully explain.

A lot of people, who end up complaining about this series, starts their griping with this book.  They feel like all the extra action slows down the books, making them boring.  I'm not one of them, I love this series, and I love get lost in the size and scope that very few authors can ever pull off.  Robert Jordan was one such author, and I think what he was able to do with this series is amazing.

As I said earlier, these won't be reviews, more like comments on what I like and didn't like about certain situations or character development, so here it goes.

It's in this book that I think Mat really starts to take control of himself and accept what he is to become.  That's not to say he does it willingly or happily, but we see him start to grow up a bit here.

The Shaido Aiel, what can I say about them other than that I wish they would have been killed off sooner, and I'm already tired of them by this point in time.  I know I have a long way to go with dealing with them, but I could wish otherwise.

What happens with Moiraine upsets me, though even when I read this book for the first time, I knew that it may not be the final resolution.  So we will see in the future what becomes of her, though I must admit that I really like her, almost more than all the other female characters combined.

Siuan, I love her.  The way she has dealt with being deposed and starts to make a new life for herself is amazing.  Though I wish she could have done it more out in the open, as opposed through subterfuge.

Nynaeve is exploding as a character, trapping one Forsaken and helping eliminate another.  Her temper gets on my nerves, but I'm fond of her.

Morgase, who I never really warm up to, is just annoying and simpering at this point in time.  Even when she wakes up out of her stupor and sees what she has become, I almost don't care.  For all I care "Lord Gaebril" can have her, and I don't see what Martyn sees in her.

It's really odd for me to write these since I already know how everything ends, so trying to remember how I felt after each book, without knowing the future, is a bit hard.  But I'll do my best and give you my thoughts as I had them.

Other Books in the Series:

The Eye of the World
The Great Hunt
The Dragon Reborn
The Shadow Rising

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Tears of the Sun by S.M. Stirling


Synopsis From Back Cover:

Rudi Mackenzie has traveled from the land where the sun sets to the land where it rises and back.  He has found hi weapon - the Sword crafted for him before he was born.  He has made friends from among hi enemies and found enemies where he expected friends.  He has won the heart and hand of the woman he has loved his entire life.

Now Rudi is Artos, the High King of Montival, and his final destiny awaits him.  He must face and defeat the forces of the Church Universal and Triumphant.  Everything in the present, everything in the future, depends on the outcome of the conflict.

And like his father before him, Rudi knows that in winning the war, he might well lose his life....

When I first heard about the TV show Revolution, this series of books by S.M. Stirling was the first thing I thought about.  I guess the idea of turning the electricity off, and letting the human race try to survive is becoming a popular plot device.  Or maybe it's just this new dystopian obsession that is to blame, I mean vampires and zombies were only going to be able to hold the public attention for so long.  I guess society falling apart is the new it thing.

And for the record, I really am enjoying Revolution.  I obviously love the concept, the cast of characters is engaging, and now that the action is starting to pick up, I'm impatiently waiting for it to come back later this month.  As much as I like the show though, I prefer the Emberverse books.  Turning the electricity off is one thing, turning electricity and gun powder off is even better.  It's the one extra step I wish Revolution would have taken.  When all the action needs to be done by blade, bow, staff, or fist, it allows the violence to be a bit more personal, more visceral.  Which raises the stakes even higher.

The other aspect of the Emberverse books that makes a bit more sense to me over the way Revolution is structured, is the size of the lands held by individual rulers.  In a world where electricity no longer works, the larger the territory, the harder it would be to control.  Where the Revolution map is broken into 6 territories, the Emberverse world is fragmented into at least 5 times that number.  I just don't see how you can hold such large swaths of land under your control, without electricity.  It makes way more sense for there to be a lot more fragmentation, plus if you have more cultures/territories to draw from, it gives the author/TV writer more leeway in the characters and customs they can create.  Where Revolution gives you the sense that regardless of the territory, the culture and customs are pretty cohesive all around.  In the Emberverse books, you have feudal societies, castles and all springing up.  You find many of the territories spring up over religion; Wicca, Norse, Catholic, and Buddhism all end up with their own lands, their own customs, and their own laws.

Revolution Map
Emberverse Map
I guess I better actually get to the book before I put anyone to sleep.  The Tears of the Sun is the 8th book in the series, and so far the slowest, though I don't mean that in a bad way.  The purpose of this book, at least for me, was to give Rudi, Mathilda, and the rest of the Questors, along with Montival itself a little bit of breathing room.  The action has been continent wide, and nonstop for the last few books so I think the characters need a chance to regroup and get caught up.  Now that Rudi has his friends have made it back home, they need to figure out what has been going on in the years they were away.  

There is the matter of what exactly happened when Baroness Mary Liu betrayed the kingdom to the CUT, and most of the back story is taken up with that investigation.  It's told in snippets as not only her children but the questers regain their balance and try to get a handle on where the war stands band what need to still be done to protect their land from CUT.  In that regard, this is a filler book.  It allows the reader and characters to find their bearings again, which is always needed in a series of this length.  But that doesn't mean the action is slow, or that the book is boring.  There are battles where the heroes aren't all they are supposed to be, a prison that is brought to it's knees by an evil unexplained, and enough blood and guts to make even the most picky Viking happy.

Other Books In The Series:

The Protector's War
A Meeting at Corvallis
The Sunrise Lands
The Scourge of God
The Sword of the Lady
The High King of Montival

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Freestyle on Wordsmithonia Radio


I'm a huge fan of Freestyle music, have been since I was a kid, and probably will be until the day I die.  Now I know some of you may not know what I'm talking about, so I will give you the basics before I give you a couple of great songs for you to listen to.

Freestyle, or Latin Freestyle, came out of the dance-pop, electronic music of the 80s.  It mainly developed in the Latino communities on the coasts, and many of the greatest stars of the music were from those cultures.  Freestyle music is dance music, it makes you move and puts you in the mood to have a great time.  It includes a lot of percussion and synthesizer, which makes it great for shaking your butt.

Some of my favorite artists from the genre are Stacey Q, Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam, Sheila E, Shannon, Cover Girls, Expose, George Lamond, Sweet Sensation, Stevie B, Safire, Lisette Melendez, Judy Torres, Johnny O, and Cynthia.  It was only a matter of time before artists like MC Hammer, Paula Abdul, and Bobby Brown started to borrow the style for their own.  Freestyle eventually gave away to such movements like New Jack Swing, but can still be heard on a few major radio stations across the country.















Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Sleeping Bride by Dorothy Eden


Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

Aurora, beautiful, glamorous, immensely attractive to men; and her sister Lydia, whose beauty is of a quieter nature.  Although she could have had any man she wanted, Aurora impulsively chose Philip Nash, a young artist she had met only recently.  Then, on the very eve of her wedding, she disappeared without a trace!

In the frantic weeks that followed, Philip and Lydia were together constantly in their search for the missing bride, and it soon became evident to Philip that Aurora's plainer sister was the one he loved.  But could Lydia, aware of her own growing desire for her sister's fiance, dare take what he wanted, as Aurora had always done?  And where was Aurora?  Had she run away voluntarily, or was there something sinister about her life that no one - least of all her sister - had ever guessed.

 I don't know what's happening to me, but I'm rather starting to like my mystery/suspense with a little romance.  I'm not sure how this has happened, but between The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie, various Mary Roberts Rinehart books, and  Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, I'm starting to appreciate the mixture.  That's not counting all the other books I've read lately that seem to be blurring the boundaries between mystery and romance.  I do have a little caveat though, I seem to prefer older books, rather than the romantic suspense stuff that is written today.  I don't know if it's the settings or the writing style, but what annoys the hell out of me in a modern mystery novel, doesn't even phase me in a book written prior to 1960.  I'm sure that some would call this a double standard, and want to question me on it.  They are welcome to question away, because I doubt I have any answers they will like.  I'm not concerned enough over it to sit down and really analyze my feelings on the subject.  I like what I like, I don't what I don't.

The mystery itself was rather tangled, just the way I like them.  Aurora isn't the only one who is missing, it seems she was trying to help an elderly woman who's sister is missing as well.  Did she get too close to the truth, or is her disappearance another matter all together?  What about her boss, who seems to give her expensive presents, but when Lydia meets him, he just doesn't seem to be the type.  Is this who Aurora is supposed to been having an affair with?  And what is being hidden at his country home?  Why are there no servants, except for one man who seems to do it all, and is the bedridden, elderly woman the woman that is missing?  Lydia and Philip put their own lives on the line in order to find out the secrets of that house, and to find Aurora before it's too late.

Challenges:  A-Z, VM (Wicked Women)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Murder in the Mews by Agatha Christie


Synopsis From Back Cover:

How did a woman holding a pistol in her right hand manage to shoot herself in the left temple?  What was the link between a ghost sighting and the disappearance of top secret military plans?  Ho did the bullet that killed Sir Gervase shatter a mirror in another part of the room?  And should the beautiful Valentine Chantry flee for her life from the holiday island of Rhodes?

Hercule Poirot is face with four mysterious cases - each a miniature classic of characterization, incident, and suspense.

It feels good to have a Agatha Christie fix.  It's a pleasure that I have been ignoring, or not partaking in as much as I would like, lately.  That neglect is something I plan on doing something about this year.  In another review I commented on how a favorite book can fee like home.  I'm here to tell you that a favorite author can feel the same way.  No matter what else is going on in my life, even the worst book that Dame Christie wrote, can get me out of a funk and back into reading bliss.

When the first Christie book of the year is a collection of 4 short stories, that bliss is amplified.  While I may thoroughly enjoy her full length novels, I have a soft spot for her short stories.  She is so deft and brilliant at creating a believable plot line, well at least a plot line you can see happening, in her novels, that seeing her do the same thing in a shorter span of time, is a bigger treat.  She is able to form a full mystery story; plot, character development, and enough twists and turns to please even the harshest critic, even though the story may only be 80 or so pages.

I can't say I loved every story equally, because that will never happen.  I could have done without the second, and I absolutely loved the fourth.  Where Agatha Christie rises above the rest, is that even though I didn't enjoy the second story as much as the others, it was still better than most of the crap put out today.  That and the fact that Hercule Poirot is not one of my favorite creations of hers, doesn't help either.  I can only deal with him in small doses, so I don't tear through his books the way I do some of the others.

Challenges: A-Z, VM (Get Out of Jail Free: Short Stories)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Joss Whedon's New Movie: Much Ado About Nothing


First of all, I can't believe I never heard of this project before.  I'm such a huge Joss Whedon fan.  Between Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dollhouse,and Firefly, he is responsible for four of my favorite TV show of all time.  Add into the mix that Nathan Fillion, Alexis Denisof, and Amy Acker are in the movie, and I'm already in seventh heaven.  But it gets even better!  Not only is Much Ado About Nothing one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, but the trailer at least is in b&w.  I am convinced that not enough movies are in black and white.  It looks like the release date on the movie is June 7th, and I will be seeing the movie on that day, or at least within the week.


Friday, March 8, 2013

The Fire by Katherine Neville


Synopsis From Back Cover:

2003, Colorado:  Alexandra Solarin is summoned home to her family's ancestral Rocky Mountain hideaway for her mother's birthday.  Thirty years ago, her parents, Cat Velis and Alexander Solarin, believed they had scattered the pieces of the Montglane Service around the world, burying with the chessmen the secrets of the power that comes with possessing them.  But Alexandra arrives to find that her mother is missing - and that the Game has begun again.

1822, Albania:  Haidee, the young daughter of a powerful Ottoman ruler, embarks on a dangerous mission to smuggle a valuable relic out of Albania and deliver it to the hands of the one man who might be able to save it.  Haidee's journey brings forth chilling revelations that burn through history to present day.

I don't know how the rest of you feel about sequels, but I'm always a little leery of them.  Unless a book or movies was planned to have a sequel to it, then for many reasons that unplanned sequel just doesn't seem to work.  Many times, the problem can be as simple as the new installment not being as interesting as the first.  Or it could go to the extreme of completely changing the first one, leaving the reader/watcher feeling cold towards both of them.  Thankfully, The Fire is closer to the first situation.

What's worse, is I wish I could completely explain my reaction to this book, but I can't.  I loved the first book, The Eight, so much that I have read and reread it many times over the years.  I feel in love with the characters, and the historical flashbacks didn't annoy me the way they normally do.  Sadly, with The Fire, I didn't fall in love with the new characters, and actually was wanting more of the old characters.  Nor did the flashbacks work as well for me.  Despite including Lord Byron in them, they seemed even more convoluted and forced this time around.

I guess my biggest issue with the characters is that I just didn't care about Alexandra as much as I did for Cat and Alexander.  Where the parents kept me invested in what was happening on the page, their daughter, while not a horrible character, didn't do the same.  It's not that I didn't like her, I just kept comparing her to her mother the entire time.  The little page time Cat gets, perked me up and kept me far more engaged during her appearances than at any other time in the book.  And the way Alexander is treated annoyed me.  What happens to him in the beginning, though horrifying, was better than the odd way in which he was returned to the reader.  It was a poor use of him.

If it wasn't for Lily getting a lot of page time in this book, I'm not sure I would have appreciated it as much.  Of the new characters, Nokomis included, they were interesting, but they just didn't have the same punch as the first group.  I didn't dislike any of them, but they never felt real to me.  The villains of the piece were probably the weakest of all the new characters.  They just were never developed in the way they should have been.  At least in The Eight, they were essential to the lives of all the other characters.  This time around, they are more of a peripheral group, all on their own.

My last gripe, and I may be alone on this one, is the way the "teams" seemed to blend and change.  In the first book, it's clear that the black team is good and that the white team is bad.  With The Fire, the author plays with that concept a little bit too much, making individuals on both teams good and bad, blurring the lines and forcing a rethink of the Game itself.  I guess within the context of this book, it makes sense, but it seems to be changing the actual history of the Game in order to get to this point.  It just didn't feel "right" for whatever reason.

Now I'm not saying I hated the book, because I didn't.  I love The Eight so much, that any opportunity I have to revisit the world Katherine Neville created is well worth my time.  And I also think it would be safe to say that if she ever decides to write a third book, I'd read that too.  My only regret is that I didn't love it as much as I did the first one.  I wish I could have not let my feelings for the first, reflect on the way I reacted to the second.  But I don't think there is any way to do that, so what's the point on worrying about it.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan


Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

The seals of Shayol Ghul are weak now, and the Dark One reaches out. The Shadow is rising to cover humankind.

In Tar Valon, Min sees portents of hideous doom.  Will the White Tower itself be broken?

In the Two Rivers, the Whitecloaks ride in pursuit of a man with golden eyes, and in pursuit of the Dragon Reborn.

In Cantorin, among the Sea Fold, High Lady Suroth plots the return of the Seanchan armies to the mainland.

In the Stone of Tear, the Lord Dragon considers his next move.  It will be something no one expects, not the Black Ajah, not Tarien nobles, not Aes Sedai, not Egwene or Elayne or Nynaeve.

Against the Shadow rising stand the Dragon Reborn....

One thing that my break allowed me to do was get the remaining 11 books in the Wheel of Time series read, and in a rather timely manner.  Which is no small feat considering the size of these books, in pages and characters.  With book four, The Shadow Rising, the story continues at a pretty quick pace, though you can tell that it will start to slow down in a bit.  More and more side plots are being added, which of course requires more characters and lands to be introduced and explored.

For the most part this installment focuses on Perrin as he returns to the Two Rivers with Loial and Faile, who I am starting to like at this point in time.  He is having to deal with the death of his family, his changing status in Edmond's Field and the rest of the Two Rivers, and his growing attachment to the wolfs.

Rand, Egwene, Mat, Moiraine, Lan and the Aiel head back to the Waste in order to gather the other clans around him, uniting the People of the Dragon.

Min, Gawyn, and Galad are in the White Tower when Elaida leads a coup against Siuan Sanche and has herself names as the Amyrilin Seat.  This move splits the White Tower, and forces the three characters to choose sides.  One helps Siuan and Leane escape, the other two side with Elaida, though for different reasons.

The Forskaen continue to cause problems, though they are starting to appear to be more and more human in their character.

I'm not hating any of the characters at this point in time, though my disgust of the Seanchan is growing.  I feel contempt for the Whitecloaks, and Padan Fain just gets on my nerves, though I don't hate the idea of him yet.

Other Books in the Series:

The Eye of the World
The Great Hunt
The Dragon Reborn

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Lonesome Gods by Louis L'Amour


Synopsis From Back Cover:

"I am Johannes Verne, and I am not afraid."

This was the boy's mantra as he plodded through the desert alone, left to die by his vengeful grandfather.  Johannes Verne was soon to be rescued by outlaws, but no one could save him from the lasting memory of his grandfather's eyes, full of impenetrable hatred.  Raised in part by Indians, then befriended by a mysterious woman, Johannes grew up to become a rugged adventurer and an educated man.  But even now, strengthened by the love of a golden-haired girl and well on his way to make a fortune in bustling early-day Los Angeles, the past may rise up to threaten his future once more.  And this time only the ancient gods of the desert can save him.

One of the earliest decisions I made about my reading this year, is that I'm going to accept very, very few review books, and concentrate on the books I want to read.  That means I'm going to be rereading a lot of books I haven't touched since I started blogging.  I have missed my visits with old friends, especially those I first discovered as kid.  Zachary & Johannes Verne, Miss Nesselrode, Jacob Finney, Meghan Laurel, and Dona Elena, are characters I first encountered as a wee lad, and I have loved them ever since.

I can say with all honesty, that I am not a Western fan.  I have never been able to get into the genre, movies or books.  My mom on the other hand, is a huge fan.  Growing up, I watched her devour John Wayne movies and Louis L'Amour books.  You can't be a book whore like I am, even at such a young age, and not pick up a book or two that your parents seem to be into.  For the most part, the Louis L'Amour books I read, didn't do anything for me.  But there was something about The Lonesome Gods that has stuck with me over twenty years later.  I have a feeling that it's because the story starts off with Johannes, as a young boy, traveling to California with a dying father.  A child who is facing a unknown fate, and has no clue what will happen to him.  The bravery he shows in the face of death and a black hole of possibilities amazed me the first time I read this book, and still leaves me feeling a little annoyed with myself, thinking I would not have been so brave.

As the book progresses and Johannes grows into a young man who any father would be proud of, the book never looses focus on the danger that still awaits him.  He is surrounded by those who would rather seem him dead, then think of what he means to them.  Luckily for him, he gathers a few close friends around him, friends who are fiercely loyal and will do what needs to be done to make Johannes honors his father's memory.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Eight by Katherine Neville


Synopsis From Back Cover:

New York City, 1972 - A dabbler in mathematics and chess, Catherine Velis is also a computer expert for a Big Eight accounting firm.  Before heading off to a new assignment in Algeria, Cat has her palm read by a fortune-teller.  The woman warns Cat of danger.  Then an antiques dealer approaches Cat with a mysterious offer:  He has an anonymous client who is trying to collect the pieces of an ancient chess service, purported to be in Algeria.  If Cat can bring the pieces back, there will be a generous reward.

The south of France, 1790 - Mireille de Remy and her cousin Valentine are young novices at the fortress like Montglane Abbey.  With France aflame in revolution, the two girls burn to rebel against constricted convent life - and their means of escape is at hand.  Buried deep within the abbey are pieces of the Montglane Chess Service, once owned by Charlemagne.  Whoever reassembles the pieces can play a game of unlimited power.  But to keep the Game a secret from those who would abuse it, the two young women must scatter the pieces throughout the world....

There are certain books that feel like home.  I'm not talking about a physical home, because unless you are a Smurf, I'm not sure you could find one big enough to live in.  Even then, I think it would take a book like War and Peace, to find one big enough to make it work.  What I'm talking about are the books that you have read so many times, that diving back into their pages, feels like you are being welcomed back by family you haven't seen in a while.  When you are feeling down, or in a rut, they are the books you return to in order to make everything right with the world again.  There is never any sort of judgement or restrictions on what you need to make it all good, but those characters, their story, always seems to be what you are needing at that time.

The Eight by Katherine Neville, is one of those books for me.  To tell you the truth, I have a lot of them, since I'm such a huge rereader, but this is one of my favorites.  First published in 1988, Katherine Neville was doing the whole Dan Brown thing, before anyone even knew who Robert Langdon was.  Cat Velis was cool before Laura Croft, and a hell of a lot more interesting.  This is even one of the few books where I'm not bored by the historical flashbacks.  I find Mireille to be just as interesting as Cat, and when their two stories come together in a very physical sense, I'm amazed by how much I'm willing to buy into the concept and storyline.  I think it's a credit to the author that my willingness to suspend disbelief, never waivers.  She has me from the first page to the last, and often times I'm so into the story, that I forget what time of day it is, or even if I've ate anything or not.

That is the power of a good reread for me, that no matter how many times I've delved into a specific world, or ran along with the characters as they are being chased through a desert, I'm never bored.  I'm engaged the entire time, and am already looking forward to the next time I pick the book up.

I was going to leave the review likes this, but then I remembered I have read the sequel to this book, The Fire, recently, and if I want to review that as well, I'm going to have to talk about the action in the book itself.  Otherwise, the upcoming review, will make entirely no sense.  So really quickly, I'm going to touch on a few things, that I will not be able to leave out of the review for The Fire.

As you can tell by the cover, and by the synopsis, chess, in all is facets, plays a huge role in this book.  From the teams, white and black, on down to the various characters who not only play the game, but seem to be masters at it, chess is the lifeblood of the book.  Cat Velis and her begrudging friend, Lily Rad, are drawn into a game of chess played on a global board, with players as pieces, and others pulling the strings for the last few hundred years.  The object of the game is to collect the Montglane chess set; pieces, board, and cover, discover it's secrets, all before the opposing team.  It's a game that has been nonstop for years, and has been played by some major figures in history; Catherine the Great, Voltaire, Napoleon, Robespierre, and Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, to name just a few.  Maurice actually plays a huge role in the life of Mireille, and ends up being a pivotal player of his generation.

That game, with some of the same players, is still going on when Cat is dragged into it.  At first, she has no idea of whom to trust or what the endgame is supposed to be.  Through some great teamwork with Lily, a Russian chess master, Alexander Solarin, and a few others who she grows close to, she is able to bring the game to a point that will allow her side to claim victory for the first time.  The fact the is faced with a duplicitous opposition that will do everything to gain the service for themselves, even murder, doesn't stop her from being a kick ass heroine that would give Allan Quartermain a run for his money.

Challenges: A-Z

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!



Late in the month of February , Michael Buble, Dean Martin, and Frank Sinatra all go their wish, it snowed and snowed and snowed.  I've lived in Kansas since 1994, and I have never seen snow like this here before.  It almost reminded me of my hometown, Two Harbors, MN, which sits on the north shore of Lake Superior.  Here in Wichita, KS, over the period of 6 days, we had 21.2 inches of snowfall.  The snowfall broke a record of total monthly snowfall that was set in 1913.  

Now I personally love snow, so it was nice to see.  I just wish it would have been in December, right around Christmas.  I think we have only had 2-3 White Christmases since I've lived here.  I didn't get out in the snow too much because with the blowing snow, it was a little hard to see, but on a few occasions I did get out and take a few pictures.  So I thought I would share a couple of them.

The first three photos are around 6:00 am, on the morning of the 21st.  This was the beginning of the first storm we had.

That's my car being hidden by the tree.

I included the icicles because I wanted to show you how big they got later on.

Taken of the "yard" that can be seen from the balcony.
The next ten pictures were taken on the same day, during one of the lulls in the snowfall.  I was getting cabin fever and I wanted to walk along the Arkansas River, which is literally a block from where I live.  The walk didn't last very long, I forgot how much of a workout you get when you are walking in almost a foot of snow.

The icicles are starting to get bigger.

First of nine pictures taken along the Arkansas River.






This is by far, my favorite picture that I took.  I love the way the reddish brown colors come through on  the bare branches.

I fell down the steps of a marina, almost into the river, which is how I found the perfect shelter for David the Gnome.


I was wanting to get more picture of the icicles the next morning, because they got really frickin big.  I forgot to do it, so I had to take this picture later on in the day.  They had already started to melt a bit, so imagine this massive sheet of ice, but a lot bigger.  That's not counting the icicles the way they hung down the other side, well past the floor of the balcony.  Some of them even continued inside, but I didn't want to take a picture of my balcony floor.


The night of Monday, the 25th, we were waiting for the second storm to come, and I get impatient at times.  Especially when I'm waiting for snow.  At one point, while I'm looking out the window, I see a rather odd shaped lump sitting on the railing.  I wasn't sure what it was, so I turned on the light, and saw this little guy sitting and staring at me.  I rushed to get the camera and managed to snap off one picture.  Sadly the window is a little dirty, on the outside, and my flash acted wonky, so I wasn't able to get a really good picture.


And I will leave you with a few pictures I took in Maple Grove Cemetery Wednesday, the 27th.  It's my favorite cemetery in town, don't judge, because it's quiet and I'm able to just sit in the car and read.  There is also a gazebo that is a quiet place to relax.  It's always amazing to me how quiet cemeteries can be, even in the middle of the city.  This one is really close to a hospital and is surrounded by major traffic areas, but you hear none of it once you are inside.  I didn't take many pictures of the monuments themselves, because most of the snow had melted off them and it would have been just pictures of grave stones.  

One of my favorite areas of the cemetery is behind a tree line and creek that run along the back section.  It's the only area that is graveled instead of paved, and there is not much back there, except for two smaller mausoleums.  I took quite a few pictures, but didn't like most of them.  One is of the smaller mausoleum, the others are of the creek area.