Monday, June 30, 2014

A Better Man by Jaime Reese

Synopsis From Publisher:

Matthew Doner is starting over.  After a five-year prison term that alters every aspect of his life, he receives a bequest from his aunt with the stipulation that he use the money to make things right.  Breaking free of the long-standing role he's played and inspired by the few who support him, he decides to create a safe place where people like him can find purpose and start a new life.

Julian Capeletti likes challenges.  He is confidant, brash, stubborn, and just what Matt needs.  Desperate for work after a downturn of luck, he accepts the job to renovate Matt's crumbling building.

Over the course of a year, romance simmers between them as they restore the house.  But there's a bigger renovation that must take place in their hearts.  To become better men, they need to learn to trust each other even when secrets and painful memories they fear may rip them apart.

I'm not gonna lie to you, the main reason I bought this book was the gorgeous man on the cover.  Look into his eyes, and tell me he isn't smoking hot. Scorching. Smoldering. Breathtaking. Stunning. I think I could go on for another fifty or so one word sentences, but I think you get, and agree with my point.  And for those of you who need to pair the cover with a character, that is Julian.

Luckily, once I hit the purchase button, and A Better Man downloaded to my Nook, the story was just as adorable as the cover.  As individuals, Matthew and Julian are dynamic characters.  They come from opposite sides of the track, but they are both damaged by their families, and by circumstances out of their control.  They have both paid fairly heavy prices for the mistakes of others, and neither one of them is quite willing to open themselves up to more pain.

It's that mistrust and fear, that keeps the relationship on a slow simmer for months on end.  Neither one is quite willing to take the next step. Both of them are scared of the consequences, positive and negative, of allowing their attraction to become more than simple lust.  Before they know it, they have already gone beyond lust, into love, and they barely kissed.  It's the slowness to the relationship, the hesitancy behind the movement, that allows them to build a solid base to support them through the setbacks to come.

Once they both decide to take the next step, to allow their feelings out in the open, nothing is going to pry them apart.  They are tested almost from the beginning, but that core strength is there, firmly rooting them to each other.  It's that foundation that allows them to know that this relationship is the One.  They know that there is no expiration date on their time together, that it's a true happily ever after.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Wordsmithonia Radio: My Top Ten Female Vocalists Of All Time

Going forward, Sundays will be all about music on Wordsmithonia.  It could be a song that is stuck in my head, a soundtrack that I can't get enough of, a feature on a favorite artist or genre, a theme that seems appropriate for whatever reason, or like today, a Top Ten List.

After reading, music is one of my great loves.  I use it to relax or get revved up for a night on the town, which rarely happens anymore.  It's an accompaniment when I'm cleaning the house, slaving over a hot stove, or when I'm curled up on the couch, reading.  The weather can dictate what I listen to, or hearing a commercial can have me going on a Youtube binge for hours, pulling up song after song.

Music is such a huge part of my life, and while I've shared some of what I like with you guys over the years, I want to make it a little more central to the blog.  It will give you insight into who I am as a person, as I really do think musical taste reflects personality traits.  I hope it will allow you to discover a love for an artist you have never heard of before, or reconnect with one you haven't paid much attention to lately.  Either way, I hope you enjoy these posts as much as I do.

Today's post will give you a big glimpse into what I like.  It will feature my ten favorite female vocalists of all time, and it wasn't an easy list to come up with.  There are so many great voices out there, narrowing it down was incredibly hard.  I could have easily done a top twenty list, so don't be surprised if you see another list of my favorite female vocalists pop up done the road.

So with no further ado, here are my ten favorite, in no particular order.

Stevie Nicks

Patti Labelle

Julie London

Annie Lennox

Loreena Mckennitt

Rosemary Clooney

Dolly Parton

Linda Eder

Whitney Houston


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Favorite Fictional Character --- Dagwood Bumstead

Today, I'm feeling a lot like the subject of this post.  I'm a little lazy, and would like nothing better to do than curl up on the couch and take a nap.  And I'll admit to being a bit peckish as well, maybe a nice large sandwich would hit the spot.  I would even be up for one of the long, soaking baths he is so fond of, but I'm just a tad bit too tall for that one, at least in the standard sized bathtub.  I also don't seem to have the energy to make, let alone eat, the type of sandwich that he is so know for.  So if I'm going to emulate Dagwood Bumstead at all, it will be taking a quick (or long) nap on the couch.

Growing up, I'm sure that Dagwood did not foresee the adult life he wasn't that far away from.  Growing up in a rather wealthy family, they did own a locomotive company after all, I don't think Dagwood dreamed of working at J.C. Dithers & Company, as an office manager.  Nor do I think he saw himself with two kids, a dog, and a mortgage.  But the life young Dagwood dreamed of, quickly disappeared when he met Blondie Boopadoop, a young flapper out on the town.  The two fell in love, married, and Dagwood quickly saw himself disowned by his parents.

So know he slaves away, working for someone else, just to provide for his family.  His social life now revolves around the neighborhood he lives in, and he has found comfort in lives simple pleasures; food, sleep, and water.  I'm not sure I would have liked the Dagwood of yesteryear, before he met Blondie, but I know that I love the family man that he became.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Death of Lucy Kyte by Nicola Upson

Synopsis From Back Cover:

When Josephine Tey unexpectedly inherits Red Barn Cottage from her estranged godmother, the will stipulates that she must personally claim the house in the Suffolk countryside.  But Josephine is not the only benefactor - a woman named Lucy Kyte is also in Hester's will.

Sorting through the artifacts of her godmother's life, Josephine is intrigued by an infamous killing committed on the cottage's grounds a century before.  Yet this old crime - dubbed the Red Barn murder - still seems to haunt the tight-knit village and its remote inhabitants.  Is it just superstition, or is there a very real threat that is frightening the locals?  Could the truth be related to the mysterious Lucy Kyte, whom no one in the village admits to knowing?

With a palpable sense of evil thickening around her, Josephine must untangle historic tragedy from present danger and prevent a deadly cycle from the beginning once more.

Nicola Upson, Jacqueline Winspear, Charles Todd, and Susan Elia MacNeal, now you may be asking why I'm just listing a bunch of authors at the beginning of a book review, well good question.  For a reasons, I will get to in a second, these authors are all tied up together in my head.  First of all, they are all set around the same time, in the same country.  Basing mysteries in England, around the two World Wars, will automatically link them together.  For me, it's more than that though.  They aren't the only author's who are writing about that time period, nor are they the only authors who are doing it with mysteries, but they are a group of writers who are doing it with a certain narrative style and "feel" to their books.  I've said it about all their books before, but their is a "gentleness" to the narrative, even when they are talking about horrific murders and people destroying lives all around them.  I'm not even sure, nor have I ever been able to, explain what I say, but if you have read their books, I hope you know what I'm talking about.  The easiest way I can say it, these books, though they are mysteries, make me feel comfortable.

This is only the second book I've read in the Josephine Tey series by Nicola Upson.  The first book was Two for Sorrows, and I read that way back in 2011.  Going into it, I was a little hesitant, simply because the main character is a fictionalized version of a mystery writer.  A lot of authors butcher that concept, either changing the character so much, that they have nothing in common with their real life counterpart.  Or they do the exact opposite, keeping so faithfully to who they were in real life, that they just should have written a biography of them.  A good author, which Nicola Upson is, will combine real and fictional, paying homage to the character, allowing them to come back to life for an audience who may not already be familiar with them.

Like Two for Sorrows, the narrative pace is slow and relaxed, which allows the past to mingle with the present.  It allows the two time periods to meld together, which creates a smooth flow to the story.  There is not harsh jumping back and forth, nor is there any sense of disharmony between the two plot points.  For what it's worth, while there is a sense of danger and mystery to what's going on around her, it doesn't over shadow the story of the Red Barn murder, nor that of Lucy Kyte.  It's actually made me want to read about the actual Red Barn murder case.

Even though I'm reading this series out of order, which is making the relationship between Josephine and Marta a little confusing to me, I love the fact that the author is not shying away from Tey's sexuality.  Until recently there has been this habit of whitewashing or ignoring the sexuality of famous gay or bisexual people. I'm glad that we seem to be correcting that wrong, which allows us to fully understand our past, and our literary history.

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.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Why & How I Read

For some odd reason, as I woke up this morning, I was thinking about why I read so much.  Other people have hobbies that they don't seem to obsess over, or take up all their free time doing, so why does it seem that I'm reading so much right now.  Hell, you don't see every stamp collector starting a blog to glorify his hobby, so why was it so important for me to do it?  Reading is the one constant of my day to day life, other than the consumption of food. If I'm not at work, or doing some other activity that precludes the act of reading, I'm reading.

And it's nothing new.  When I was a kid, there were times, even in summer, when I would rather read than play outside.  One summer, I was convinced that I would rather read my great-grandmother's collection of Encyclopedia Britannica than be outside.  They had to force me to go play.  A lot of that had to do with my childhood.  We moved a lot, and when I mean a lot, I had lived in more places by the time I was in 5th grade, than most people live in their entire lifetimes.  And that's not even talking about all the places and schools I went to when we were traveling with a carnival for three years, or the time we spent living with a biker gang in Washington state.

Because of all that, it was hard for me to relate to people my own age.  We never stayed around long enough for me to make real friends, and when I did, it wasn't that long before I would have to say goodbye.  When we were with the carnival, that happened every two weeks for the majority of the year.  Books were constant though.  Whether or not they stayed the same over the years, I always had stories and characters I could escape into, that would be there for me when nobody else could.  In essence, books became a companion and my best friend.

As an adult, while they don't serve the same function anymore, books are still a vital part of my life.  I don't need them to be my friends now, I have enough of those, but I do use them as my greatest resource for stress relief.  When I was in my twenties, I still read a lot, but I used going out, and dancing became my main way to get rid of stress.  Lot's of sex helped in that area too, but that's what gay guys in their twenties do.  For that matter, that's what too many men still do, way into their thirties and forties.  I out grew all of that though, and I found myself gravitating back towards books.  It's the time spent in a new world, surrounded by new and familiar characters, that seems to keep the outside world from getting to big to handle.  The pages of a book are where I go to be myself again, the self I want to be, without all the stress and cares weighing me down.

It's the way I read a book that allows this whole process to happen.  It doesn't matter what genre the book falls into, or whether or not it's fiction or non-fiction, I read them all as if I'm reading a memoir or a history book.  It could be my favorite Agatha Christie mystery, The Last Herald Mage trilogy by Mercedes Lackey, one of the best historical fiction books I've ever read, or even the best general fiction book I've ever read; I read them all as if I'm reading a fantastic biography of an even more fantastic person.

It's the way I'm able to get into the story, to take it all in, that allows reading to be the perfect stress relief.  I have to believe in what I'm reading, if it doesn't come across as true, I lose interest.  When I'm reading about Randy Dreyfus, he feels as real to me as Neil White.  It's the whole reason why I have so much fun with my Favorite Fictional Character feature, it's because they are real to me when I'm spending time with them.  Dagny Taggart is no different from George Washington or Kamila Sadiqi for me, at least not when I'm reading about them.  It's that willing suspension of disbelief that allows the pages of a book to pull me in, and lets me forget about everything else.  It's the way I need to read in order to truly enjoy it, and allow it to keep me sane.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Favorite Fictional Character --- Hagar the Horrible

I had an unusual childhood to say the least, a lot of the details you guys already know, some you don't, but that's not what this post is about.  What it is about is that despite my strange upbringing, I have some really happy memories of that time in my life, and I"m sure yo won't be surprised when I tell you that many of them revolve around books.  We moved around so much, that it was hard for me to make friends, but books stayed with me the entire time.  Of course, they came and went, but they were still constant in a way that other kids never were.  One of the books that stands out so much for me, and I'm thinking it was around the 4th or 5th grade, was a collection of Hagar the Horrible strips.  I had loved him in the funny pages, so my mom bought me one of the books, and I read it cover to cover in a flash.

When I think about Vikings, I'll admit that my first thought is not of Hagar.  Instead I picture a tall Nordic blond god, rippling with muscles, ready to ravage me.  Or, he could be there to kill me and steal all of my property, but I'll keep my fingers crossed for the first option.  But that is the adult fantasy I have in my head, as a kid, it was Hagar all the way.  He was a family man; nagged by a stronger wife, bemused by an intellectual son (the way I saw myself), and in states of panic over the idea of his buxom daughter involved with an idiot of a bard.  He was trying to provide for his family in the only way he knew how, pillage it from others, and he wasn't always that successful at it.

The poor guy wasn't blessed with the brightest mind, nor was he all that much better off with the crew he had, but despite all that, his family was family.  He even managed to keep the dog and duck fed.  Not growing up with a father, or at least not with a father I have great memories of, Hagar was the the kind of father I wanted as a kid.  Strong, caring, gruff but tolerant, willing to bet here when needed... it was a laundry list of what I always hoped my dad could have been.  The only thing my dad had on Hagar, he bathed more than once a year.  Now that I couldn't have handled.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Duets on Wordsmithonia Radio

Mustard and relish, peanut butter and honey, havarti and dill, Absolut Mandarin and sour, books and tea.... life is full of great pairings.  Some are pleasing to the tongue, some are comforting, and others are magical to listen to.

There is nothing more pleasing to the ear, than two unique musicians coming together, making something neither one could have done on their own.  I'm not talking those who always perform together as a group, they have already learned to blend their skills together.  I'm talking about those pairings that come together to make one or two songs together, and they aren't always an obvious fit. Most of the time the result is glorious, sometimes it's not something either one of them should be proud of.

Today, I'm going to share with you some of my favorite duets.  I hope you like them as much as I do.

Trumpeter Chris Botti and Sting, "What are you Doing the Rest of Your Life"

Barbara Streisand and Barry Gibb, "Guilty"

Crystal Gayle & Eddie Rabbit, "You and I"

Kenny Rogers & Sheena Easton, "We've Got Tonight"

Patti Labelle and Michael McDonald, "On My Own"

Brandy and Monica, "The Boy is Mine"

Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson, "Say, Say, Say"

Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, "(I've Had) The Time of My Life"

Queen and David Bowie, "Under Pressure"

Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, "Islands in the Stream"

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Last Starfighter

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Millions of light-years ago, a great frontier was constructed in the universe to protect the Star League from it's enemy, the evil KO-DAN.  But now a defector has given the key to the frontier to the KO-DAN, and Starfighters from throughout the galaxy are needed to defend the peace.  One recruiter, the alien scalawag Centauri (Robert Preston), visits Earth to fill his quota of recruits and finds Alex (Lance Guest), and 18-year-old Earthling with an extraordinary talent for video game wizardry.  Alex is quickly propelled into the regions of outer space to join others from planets throughout the Star League to fight a war to save the universe.

Two things you need to know about me, if you didn't all ready.  First, I'm addicted to movies from the 1980s.  I love them.  I loved them then, I love them know, and I'll love them far into the future.  Secondly, I spent half my childhood dreaming about going to Space Camp.  Sadly, we could never afford it, but I would have done anything to go.  I even signed up for a self fundraiser thing, where they send you a catalog full of tacky, expenisve stuff, and you have to get the adults you know to buy from it.  I even got some orders, but I ended up pocketing the money.  Luckily, it was all family or friends of the family, so nobody ever questioned me about it.  I think after only getting about $30, I gave up, hence the pocketing of funds.  I'm not even sure what I spent it on, probably candy, Garbage Pail Kids cards, and Root Beer New York Seltzer Water.  So watching any movie, within reason anyway, that made me feel as if I was flying through space, was a no brainer.

The Last Starfighter came out in 1984, though I'm sure it was at least a year later that I got to watch it.  And watch it I did, I probably watched it a few times before it had to go back to rental store, and there was nothing about it that I didn't love.  It was so cool that a kid, who loved video games, got to live out my wildest fantasies.  I'm sure the fact that he was older and hot, helped to keep my interest glued to the screen. Alex Logan was the type of guy I wanted to be, and the kind of guy I wanted to cuddle with at the same time.  I may have been 11 or 12 years old, but I already knew what my type was.

Alex is the kind of hero you don't see much of anymore.  He was just an ordinary guy, thrust into a situation way above his pay grade.  And instead of whining and crying about it, or refusing to accept the responsibility, he steps up and does the job asked of him.  Even when all those around him are taken out, knowing what he is about to do could lead to his death, he does it anyway.  He does the right thing, saving billions of people, simply because he can.   Well that and he has to, he is the last Starfighter left.  Hell even after he saves the day, he goes home, picks up his girl, and goes right back to train the new generation of Starfighters.

For those of you who don't know this movie, or aren't a fan of 80s movies, it may not be for you.  The special effects, while cool when the movie came out, can't hold a candle to what modern moviegoers are used to.  The dialogue can be pretty cheesy at times, but what scifi movie isn't.  But it's not just that, there is something almost naive about movies from the 1980s.  There is a sense of innocence and wide eyed wonder that doesn't seem to exist in today's movies, which are considerably more sarcastic than the ones I grew up with.  They are assuredly a product of their time, and I think that's part of the reason I'll never tire of watching them.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Tin Box by Kim Fielding

Synopsis From Publisher:

William Lyon's past forced him to become someone he isn't.  Conflicted and unable to maintain the charade, he separates from his wife and takes a job as caretaker at a former mental hospital.  Jelley's Valley State Insane Asylum was the largest mental hospital in California for well over a century, but it now stands empty.  William thinks the decrepit institution is the perfect place to finish his dissertation and wait for his divorce to become final.  In town, William meets Colby Anderson, who minds the local store and post office.  Unlike William, Colby is cute, upbeat, and flamboyantly out.  Although initially put off by Colby's mannerisms, William comes to value their new friendship, and even accepts Colby's offer to ease him into the world of gay sex.

William's self-image begin to change when he discovers a tin box, hidden in an asylum wall since the 1940s.  It contains letters secretly written by Bill, a patient who was sent to the asylum for being homosexual.  The letters hit close to home, and William comes to care about Bill and his fate.  With Colby's help, he hopes the words written seventy years ago will give him courage to be his true self.

You wouldn't think that a gay romance novel would actually have a social conscience.  Or if it did, you would think it would be a lighter lesson, not a history of the way gay men and women were treated by a medical profession that viewed them as diseased.  And not in the way that would make those same professionals look upon a patient with kindness and compassion, it's the kind of disease that makes the patient immoral, crazy, and dangerous.  As hard of a time it is to grow up gay now, I can't even fathom growing up in a culture that allows the forced imprisonment of gay men and lesbians, that allows every sort of medical experimentation to be preformed upon them, that allows full frontal lobotomies in order to "cure" the perversion that is rotting the brain.  I can't imagine the fear that would instill in someone, constantly looking over their shoulder, having to hide who they are in order to stay alive.  The self hatred that would impose on most people would be heartbreaking by itself, but the fear of falling in love, of allowing yourself to be happy, knowing it could go horribly wrong on so many levels, to keep that as far from yourself as you can, would be a soul shattering way to live.

As a gay man in the here and now, I know that is the life that many gay men and women have to lead in many countries.  Middle Eastern and African countries are rife with stories of men, some in their teens, being killed for kissing someone they are attracted to.  All you have to look is towards Uganda who just made being gay punishable by death, or the way Russia is starting to treat it's gay citizens as lepers and criminals.  I know that those horrors exist in the world, and that while I can still get bashed in this country, I'm not scared of living my life to the fullest.  But that wasn't always the case, it wasn't even 60-70 years ago that these same attitudes existed in this country.  I always joke that I would have loved to be born in the 20s because of the music and movies that came out in the 30s and 40s.  I would have loved to have been around when it was first coming out.  To see the new Thin Man movie the weekend it came out, to go to a dinner club and dance to the beat of my favorite music, would have been heaven to me.  But then reality sets in and I start imagines the rest of my life as a gay man, and I am forced to realize that I was born at the right time.

I don't want to you think that this book is heavy and depressing, because it's not.  I won't lie, reading Bill's letters had me tearing up at times, but the romance between William and Colby made up for that.  You can see a lot of Bill in William, but thankfully, William is living in the right times, even if he is going through some of the same issues of self doubt.  William had already taken the first step by leaving his wife, though he decides to hide out soon after that.  Coming into contact with Colby sort of forces the issue, and the two of them strike up a friendship that grows into something more.  He ends up having the relationship that Bill wanted to desperately in the past, a relationship between two loving adults who don't have to hide how they feel.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Favorite Fictional Character --- Billy

Once upon a time, during a lifetime long since passed, I used to look forward to Sundays for one particular reason.  I loved the comic section of the Sunday paper, loved it!  I would wait patiently for my turn, well if we had the paper on that particular day, so I could dive in and visit my friends that I haven't seen in at least a week.  There were certain strips that I loved more than others, some of which my mom would by book versions of for me to read.  But I read them all, even if it was one that I didn't love all that much, I would still read it, and normally found myself interested despite myself.  So the next four weeks are going to focus on some of my favorite characters to appear in the Sunday comic section, or the Funny Pages, depending on where you are from.

Up to bat first is my favorite 7 year old, Billy from Family Circus.  I would have done anything to trade in my real younger brother for Billy.  Where my brother was mopey, surly, and annoying to be around, I always thought that Billy would be a blast to hang out with.  He's not perfect, and he's constantly getting into trouble, but the kid has such an inspiring outlook on life.  He is willing to throw himself into almost any situation, he comes at the world with so much curiosity and wonder, and he has to have one of the best imagination in the world.  If Billy had been my little brother, I would have been nine to his seven, and I think that would have been so cool, though I'm sure we would have been in even more trouble than either of us got into on our own.

An aspiring artist, as is his father, Billy is never shy to share what his mind is thinking, and quite truthfully, it's one of the best things about this character.  He is open and expressive, and will take twenty minutes to go from the kitchen to his front door.  I'm just wishing I had that much energy now.

Monday, June 9, 2014

2nd Home This Year, Means 2nd Housewarming Party Of The Year

With everything going on in my life, I decided a change of scenery was in order.  I know I had just bought that last house, but dear lord, it was time to go.  That house has seen so much turmoil in the last month, that I felt as if I needed more breathing room.  So when I saw this little gem on the market, I had to snatch it up.  I think I will finally be able to breathe and maybe even get lost for a bit, literally.  

And with a new home, comes a new house warming party.  Sadly my good friends who were able to make it last time, are unable to do so now.  I know it was last minute, but you would think I would be important enough for them to drop their plans, and head on out to see me.  But  no worries, a guy like me has a wide circle of friends.  So it's not a big deal to share the wealth, and invite thirteen different close friends over for the weekend.

I'm hoping the bad weather we are experiencing ends by then, because I'm really wanting to use this huge lake abutting my new home.  I figure we can enjoy a lazy afternoon on the water, maybe even swim for a bit.  I'm also planning a huge fireworks display for the last night they are staying with me, I'm really looking forward to the reflection off the water.  If sure the weekend will be filled with lots of laughter, great food, and enjoyable conversations.  Of course I have a huge library should anyone need some alone time with a good book, and I've made sure the conservatory is ready for any impromptu music performances, that the games parlor is well stocked, and the bar is full and ready.

Since I know you guys are salivating to see who's coming over, I won't make you wait any longer.  I can already see you turning green with envy.

Mary Roberts Rinehart, American Mystery Novelist

Lee Stetson & Amanda King, American Spies

Errol Flynn, Australian Hollywood Legend

Patrizio Buanne, Italian-Austrian Singer

Sherlock Holmes & Dr. Jane Watson, English & American Sleuths

Annie Lennox, Scottish Singer

Steve Kornacki, American Journalist & Political Pundit 

President Bill Clinton & Secretary Hilary Clinton, Former President of the United States & Former Secretary of State of the United States

Agnes Moorehead, Hollywood Screen Legend

Edward Gorey, American Writer & Illustrator

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Regatta Mystery by Agatha Christie

Synopsis From Back Cover:

There's a body in a trunk; a dead girl's reflection is caught in a mirror; and one corpse is back from the grave, while another is envisioned in the recurring nightmare of a terrified eccentric.  What's behind such ghastly misdeeds?  Try money, revenge, passion, and pleasure.  With multiple motives, multiple victims, and multiple suspects, it's going to take a multitude of talent to solve these clever crimes.

In this inviting collection, Agatha Christie enlists the services of her finest - Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, and Parker Pyne - and puts them each to the test in the most challenging cases of their careers.

You already know that I adore Agatha Christie and that I adore short stories, and for the most part, the combination is always a winner for me.  The fact that this collection features Jane Marple and Parker Pyne should have made my enjoyment a slam dunk, a touchdown, and a home run all rolled into one.  Sadly their involvement wasn't enough to save the overall collection for me, Jane only had one story.

I'm not saying I hated it, or even disliked it, because I didn't.  If these stories were written by any other author, I would probably be gushing right about now. Dame Agatha at her worst, is still better than most authors at their peak.  To put it simply, most of the stories were too easy to figure out.  With the Hercule Poirot stories, which there were too many of, I pretty much knew who the killer was going to be from the get go.  The clues weren't subtle enough, the conclusion almost too easy to figure out, and the killer was the obvious choice.  They seemed to lack her usual twists and turns, which she is so good at.  Granted, those twists can be harder to do in such a short piece of writing, but I don't seem to have had the same issue with her earlier short story collections.

Of all the stories, there was one that seemed to be quite a bit different from the vast majority of her writings.  "In a Glass Darkly", does not feature any of her regular characters, nor is anyone murdered.  There is no crime to solve, relationship to untangle, or problem to solve, at least not in the traditional mystery sort of way.  Instead it reads like something that should have appeared on CBS Mystery Radio, slightly dark and suspenseful, with just a touch of the paranormal.  It's so simple in its idea and execution, but it's the story that has the most impact.  After all that, it even ends with a happy ending.  It's the gem of the book, and the one story that will stick me with for a time to come.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Tic Tac Tome by Willy Yonkers

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Tic Tac Tome is the world's first tic-tac-toe playing book:  deceptively simple, endlessly addictive, and (nearly) impossible to defeat.  Turn the pages, match it move-for-move, and watch the book defeat you forward, backward, and diagonally.  There's just one way to win, so choose wisely! It's the smartest book you'll ever cross.

You know those miniature books that clog the tables near the check out counter in almost every bookstore, I tend to ignore them.  Most of the time those tables are crowded with an endless supply of books designed to waste your time, or to go into a Christmas stocking, never to be seen again.  Sadly, Tic Tac Tome would find it's home on one of those tables, and without Eric at Quirk Books, I never would have become so addicted to such a small book.

I don't know about you, but I spent hours of my childhood playing one of the simplest games in the world.  It took me a few years to figure out how to play it really well, at least to the point I wasn't beaten every time I played someone older than me.  And for some reason, it's been a game I've seemed to get away from the older I've gotten.  So when Eric offered me the chance to review this book, it felt as if I was being given a piece of my childhood back.

I had to read the instructions twice, only because I skimmed them the first time, before I was able to follow along with what I had to do.  You simply choose a move, then go to that corresponding page to see the book's counter move, you repeat the process until the game is over.  Once I got the hang of it, I quickly spent over an hour trying to beat the damn book, I never did. I guess I should consider myself lucky that the book never beat me, we ended in a draw every time.  So now I'm just biding my time, waiting for the book to start feeling superior, because maybe then it will get sloppy.  I'm going to beat it at some point in time, I just hope that my gloating doesn't hurt it's feelings.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Favorite Fictional Character --- Snagglepuss

If Hanna-Barbera ever made a gay cartoon character, it would be Snagglepuss.  How else do you explain a pink mountain lion, who is always concerned about making his cave a habitable, comfortable place to live.  I mean, how spoiled can you get, even.  Heavens to Murgatroyd, how else do you account for all the stage directions that litter his dialogue.

I adored Snagglepuss as a kid.  Whether he was with teamed up with Quick Draw McGraw, who will make an appearance in this feature at some point in time, or on his own show, he was a hoot to listen too.  He was even one of my favorite characters on the Laff-A-Lympics cartoon.  He is finicky, hilarious, over the top, and just an all around cool cat.  He even has an Elmer Fudd type hunter after him all the time, and thankfully he is just as bad as poor old Elmer.  It's time to exit stage left, even!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Sweet Tooth by Tim Anderson

Synopsis From Back Cover: 

What's a sweets-loving young boy growing up gay in North Carolina in the eighties supposed to think when he's diagnosed with type 1 diabetes?  That God is punishing him, naturally.

This was, after all, when gay-hating Jesse Helms was his senator, AIDS was still the boogeyman, and no one was saying "It gets better."  And if stealing a copy of a gay porno magazine from the newsagent was a sin, then surely what the men inside were doing to one another was much worse.

Sweet Tooth is Tim Anderson's uproarious memoir of life after his hormones and blood sugar both went berserk at the age of fifteen.  With Morrissey and The Smiths as the soundtrack, Anderson self-deprecatingly recalls love affairs with vests and donuts, first rushes, coming out, and inaugural trips to gay bars.  What emerges is the story of a young man trying to build a future that won't involve crippling loneliness or losing a foot to his disease - and maybe even one that, no matter how predictable, can still be pretty sweet.

One of the things I love about memoirs, whether they are from someone you have heard about before or not, is how they can get you thinking about your own life.  It's amazing how reading the narration of another life, can make you rethink yours, how it can bring memories to the front of your mind that you haven't thought of in years. I'm always surprised and overjoyed when something will trigger one of my memories, especially when they revolve around sex.

Within the first 25 pages of Sweet Tooth, I had already thought of a porn magazine and a church crush, both of which I hand't thought of in years.  I was a little younger than Tim the first time I stole a porn magazine, and sadly it wasn't an actual gay porn one, but it was Playgirl, and I got the same sort of thrill that he had when I got the courage up to stick it down the back of my jeans, and hide it under my shirt.  I can even remember the first time I was alone somewhere, and a bear skin rug was involved, so I could look at it and do what every man does on a regular basis.  It was the first time I really admitted to myself that the sight of a naked man, did it for me.  It was scary, electrifying, and self affirming all at the same time.

As far as the crush goes, I had a huge crush on my pastor's son.  Terry Kent was older, I think he was either a Senior in high school, or a Freshman in college when I first laid eyes on him, and he invaded my dreams for a very long time after that.  One of those dreams involved the baptismal, but you guys don't want those details.  Sadly nothing ever happened, except for a short shoulder rub at church camp, but that touch was enough for me, it was the fuel for fantasies for months afterwards.  When I remembered Terry Kent, I looked him up on Facebook for the first time, and I must say, he didn't age very well.

Sweet Tooth is one of those memoirs that I think anyone who has ever had an awkward adolescence, and who hasn't, should read.  It reaffirms the idea that while all of us are unique and have different lives from one another, we all share a core set of experiences that allows us to relate in ways that we tend to overlook in our day to day lives.  It's the kind of story that helps to remind us that we all share a common humanity, and I want to thank Tim Anderson for sharing his story, and reminding me of that.

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