Sunday, August 31, 2014

Wordsmithonia Radio, Hits the Sheets

Even though I've been celibate for almost 8 years now, and yes that does make me shudder just a bit, I still know what sex is.  While it may be little more than a fond memory, I'm pretty sure I remember how it's done. And if for some bizarre reason I have forgotten, there is the internet and what can be found on there, I won't bore you with the details.  But even more than that, artists have been singing about it since the beginning of time.  Some of the best songs ever made are about sex, and those that aren't, are normally good to have sex to, Enigma anyone, remember them.  Anyone of a certain age has had sex to one of their songs.

There are songs for that hard sweaty sex,the kind that involves a wall, the floor, and maybe the stairs. It's the kind that leaves you shaking for hours, and your mind incapable of thinking of anything else.  There are songs for the smooth, slow sex, the kind that last for hours upon hours, leaving you relaxed and sated.  Then there are the songs for the spontaneous quickie, when the mood strikes you both out of nowhere.  The playful kind, that has you laughing and smiling while your world is being rocked, there is a song for that as well.

Since sex is on my brain, or at least the lack of it, I though I would take some of that tension, and let you guys in on some of my favorite sex songs.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

House on Haunted Hill - 1959

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) invites five seemingly random strangers to a macabre party in a legendary haunted mansion hosted by his wife, Annabelle (Carol Ohmart).  The guests will receive $10,000 if they agree to spend a night in the house - and survive!  The party-goers, armed with handguns that are presented as party favors, are forced to deal with decapitated heads in a suitcase, a vat of sulfuric acid in the basement and the discovery of Annabelle hanging from the rafters with a noose around her neck. 

I don't even know how many ways I can say, I love this movie.  It's one of my favorite Vincent Price movies, after The Bat and The Abominable Dr. Phibes.  As a matter of fact, Vincent Price is the only actor whose characters appear in my Favorite Fictional Character posts, twice.  Both Dr. Phibes and Frederick Loren have made appearances over the years, and I already have a few others in mine for later posts.  And yes this version, is way better than the 1999 remake.  Even Taye Diggs, who I'm in love with, couldn't save that movie for me.

The concept is pretty simple, and since it's in the synopsis, I won't repeat it here.  What I find fascinating about this movie, are the relationships between the characters.  It's pretty obvious from the get go that Frederick and Annabelle are not living in matrimonial bliss.  Stating that they despise each other, is probably understating it.  The disgust that they feel for one another, oozes out of every word they say, or look they give.  If they could get away with killing each other, which from the looks of things, has already been attempted once or twice, they would in a heart beat.

So it's into that environment that the five guests find themselves in.  One of them, Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook) is familiar with the home.  His brother was brutally murdered in the home, along with his wife.  It's only with the promise of a hefty paycheck, that he is willing to step foot in the house.  Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig) seems to have been randomly picked out of the secretarial pool.  Lance Schroeder (Richard Long) is a test pilot, and in debt up to his ears.  Dr. David Trent (Alan Marshal) is studying hysteria, and seems to have a preexisting relationship with someone else in the house.  And the last guest, Ruth Bridgers (Julie Mitchum) is a columnist, who just happens to have a slight gambling problem.  The one thing they have in common, they all need the money.

It doesn't take long before one of the guests is just about scared out of their mind, and is just about capable of anything.  Come to find out, someone in the house is trying to commit murder, using the the hysterical mind of another.  Tables are turned, people are killed, and someone is going to get away with a murder or two. You will just have to watch the movie in order to know who dies and who killed them.  Of course, it could be the ghosts after all.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Favorite Fictional Character --- Poppin' Fresh

There are so many commercial mascots out there, that narrowing it down this last month was a pretty hard thing to do.  For this last post, I tossed a few around in my head; Snuggle, Ernest J. Keebler, Count Chocula, Mr. Owl, Chester Cheetah, and Dig'em Frog, were all vying for my attention.  I decided on the cutest one of them all, though Snuggle may disagree with that, Poppin' Fresh.  Better known as the Pillsbury Doughboy, Poppin' Fresh is a pop culture staple.

Since I was a kid, Poppin' Fresh has been appearing on my television screen, convincing me that the products he was peddling, were they flakiest, tastiest things around.  I can't look at a crescent roll, biscuit, cinnamon roll, or cookie, without thinking of him.  It doesn't even have to be one of his. If I see a baked good, I hear his giggle  

He's such an adorably cheerful sort of guy, that you can't help but find him cute.  Even if most commercials annoy you, I dare you to sit through one of his, and not smile.  Actually, I double dog dare you.  I can't do it, you can't do it, I bet even Genghis Khan would have cracked a smile or two.  For a little guy who is selling something as filling as baked goods, he has a effervescent lightness to him.  He's bubbly, giggly, and just plain cuddly.

What I find to be the most amazing, is how he can handle random people coming up and poking him in the belly.  Something tells me it's not a sexual thing, he's too innocent for all of that.  I'm just going to assume that he is a true example of the rarest of commodities, a genuinely nice guy.  I have to admire anyone with that much patience

I would keep rambling on about how wonderful, sweet, lively, precious, and scrumptious Poppin' Fresh is, but I think I'm getting hungry for a biscuit.  Or do I want a cookie?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Trapped Under the Sea by Neil Swidey

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

A quarter century ago, Boston had the dirtiest harbor in America.  The city had been dumping sewage into if for generations, coating the seafloor with a layer of "black mayonnaise."  Fisheries collapsed, wildlife fled, and locals referred to floating tampon applicators as "beach whistles."

In the 1990s, work began on a state-of-the-art treatment plant and a 10-mile-long tunnel - its endpoint stretching farther from civilization than the Earth's deepest ocean trench - to carry waste out of the harbor.  With this impressive feat of engineering, Boston was poised to show the country how to rebound from environmental ruin.  But when bad decisions and clashing corporations endangered the project, a team of commercial divers was sent on a perilous mission to rescue the stymied cleanup effort.  Five divers went in; not all of them came out alive.

Drawing on hundreds of interviews an thousands of documents collected over five years of reporting, award winning writer Neil Swidey takes us deep into the lives of the divers, engineers, politicians, lawyers, and investigators involved int he tragedy and its aftermath, creating a taut, action-packed narrative. The climax comes just after the hard-partying DJ Gillis and his friend Billy Juse trade assignments as they head into the tunnel, sentencing one of them to death.

Deer Island Sewage Treatment Plant

One of my biggest joys in having a book blog, is in being able to read nonfiction books I would never have heard of otherwise.  I've always read nonfiction, but in the past, is was on subjects I already knew about, or it was a book someone had suggested, or given to me. Blogging has opened my nonfiction eyes, in ways I never though about, when I started Wordsmithonia.  I've been exposed to people and events I have never heard of, been fascinated by subjects I would never have thought about on my own, and most of all, it's given me a better sense of the way other people view the world.

With Trapped Under the Sea, I feel as if a piece of our country's history, which I would almost bet most people outside of Massachusetts aren't familiar with, has been exposed for all of us to see.  Our national media seems to focus on the latest political scandal, or piece of celebrity gossip.  Stories that should be making national headlines don't.  I think it would be safe to say that more people know about Britney Spears shaving her head, than know the names of the men who lost their lives in the Deer Island tunnel.  And I would also think it's fair to say that even the majority of the people who were exposed to this story in the news, don't remember it now, and probably never knew a ton of the details to begin with.

From what I can gather, this book actually started off as two part story in The Boston Globe Magazine. Running in August of 2009, Swidey delved into the lives of the divers involved, and finally put voice to their story.  What started off as that two piece story, has turned into one of the best examples of narrative nonfiction I've had the privilege to read in quite a while.

Most of you already know that I'm a huge fan of the two Mitchell Zuckoff books that I have read.  Frozen in Time and Lost in Shangri-La, are two of the best examples I can give of what a good narrative flow is in a nonfiction book.  Both, Mitchell Zuckoff and Neil Swidey, have a way of telling a story in its most natural form.  Trapped Under the Sea reads like a well crafted novel.  This is not a dry spewing forth of names, dates, and events.  This is a well written, compelling story of the lives of those affected by the tunnel disaster, and of those that contributed to it's happening.  It's a fascinating look at the decisions that led to this event, and it doesn't shy away from the consequences of it either.  Where most authors may have ended the story at it's logical conclusion, Swidey takes us into the aftermath, chronicling not only the investigation, but how the personal lives of those involved were changed by the events that day.  It doesn't shy away from the messy details, or the negative ways in which the men who survived, spiraled out after the disaster.

I'm sure some are going to read this book as an indictment of the greedy corporate climate, that so many like to point fingers at.  And I'm sure that they would be valid in those thoughts, even if that's not what I took away from this book.  Instead, Trapped Under the Sea, was a celebration of the human spirit and drive that compels so many of us forward..  

It celebrates the men who would even think of going into a 9.5 mile long tunnel under the sea bed.  It glorifies the spirit of those would would do so, even into an environment that has no breathable air, or any safe way out if something were to go wrong.  It makes us proud to be part of a species that can even dream that big, who even thinks of building a tunnel that far out to sea.  It honors all of those who have given up their lives, in the name of human progress and innovation.  It's a testament to what has driven this country since it's founding, but it's also a warning of what happens when the goal becomes more important than the lives of those trying to reach it.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books, for this review.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Lord of Mountains by S.M. Stirling

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Rudi Mackenzie, now Artos the First, High King of Montival, and his allies have won several key battles against the Church Universal and Triumphant.  But still wars rages on, taking countless lives, ravaging the land once know as the United State of America.  Artos and his Queen, Mathilda, must unite the realms into a single kingdom to ensure lasting peace.

If the leaders of the Changed world are to accept Artos as their ruler, he will need to undertake a quest to the Lake at the Heart of the Mountains, and take part in a crowning ceremony - a ceremony binding him to his people, his ancestors, and his land.

Then, once he has secured his place and allegiances, Artos can go forward, and lead his forces to the heart of the enemy's territory....

Book nine of the Emberverse series, and it doesn't look like it will end any time soon.  The tenth book is already out, and at some point in time I really do need to get my hands on it.  Lord of Mountains opens with the ongoing battle with the Church Universal and Triumphant, CUT.  CUT is still being controlled by Sethaz, the son of Theodore Kaczynski, yes the UNABomber.  Of course it appears that a darker power is actually in charge of Sethaz.  A Power opposite of those that anointed Rudi at his birth, and the ones who helped him find The Sword of the Lady.

Rudi and his allies, which there are many now, beat back the CUT forces, and set them running.  It's not as easy as I'm making it sound, and countless men and women lose their lives in the fighting, but it's war so you have to take the long view of things.  Everyone understands that CUT is not gone forever, that Sethaz is still at large, and that the dark powers are still at work.  But right now it's time for Rudi and Mathilda to finalize the allegiances and bonds they have made.  It's for that reason that they journey to the lake, at  it's here that we are given a sneak peek at what the future holds for them.

I'm still not sure I liked that peek into the future.  It took some of the tension out of the air for me, since I knew certain people have to remain alive for the events to happen.  I guess I should consider it a good thing, but I like to have a certain level of unpredictability in my fantasy reading.  At that is my only real criticsim of this book.

Okay, I take that back.  I do have one other negligible gripe, but it's so small, I almost didn't mention it.  When I reviewed The High King of Montival, book eight in the series, I mentioned home the old guard has given away to the new crop of characters.  And it's not like I don't like them, but I wish Mike Havel would have never died, and that Juniper, Eric, Signe, Sandra, the Huttons, and the various other characters that page hogged the first books, would get more page time now.  Those were the characters that got me hooked, and some of them haven't been seen in ages. And now, judging from the synopsis of the next book, this generation of characters is about to take a back seat to their children.  So if Rudi, Mathilda, Father Ignatius, and the rest of their contemporaries are about to be confined to the B bench, what happens to the first group of characters?  I understand series move on, and focus changes, but this series has an over abundance of great characters.  I just wish some of the old timers were still getting their due.

The other point I wanted to touch upon, and it's not one I've made before, but in general, I like the way the author has included gay characters into the series.  Some of the societies treat their gay members better than others, but for the most part, they are included in society, and many hold serious positions of power.  There are numerous gay Mackenzies, but none of them are major characters.  They are accepted and celebrated, and nobody treats them any different.  There is Dr. Aaron Rothman, who is part of the Bear Killers.  Mike Havel saved him during the first migration period after the Change.  This book marked his first appearance in ages, I'm just glad the guy isn't dead.

The Portland Protective Association has the most visible gay characters though.  It's a culture that is dominated by feudal rules and laws, and is heavily influenced by the Catholic Church.  Gay men and women are frowned upon, but considering the characters we are talking about here, nobody will ever say or do anything about it.  Tiphaine d'Ath, is just about the most dangerous and feared women of all the series, and I'm pretty sure nobody wants to be on her bad side.  She is on the good guys side, but even her allies are afraid to step on her toes.  Her lover, Deliah, who is a Wiccan priestess, is admired for her grace and beauty.  Of course those around her don't know she is of the craft.  Of course it helps that she is married to Rigoberte, Baron Forest Grove and Marchwarden of the South.  It's a marriage of convenience since Rigoberte is gay as well.  It gives them both cover, and produces heirs.  And it's created a huge friendship between the three of them.

I'm still waiting for the series to focus on a gay character for a while.  Maybe Rudi's heir could be gay.  He is a Mackenzie so it's not as if he would have a problem with it.  Since I doubt that will happen, I'll have to contented with the gay characters who are there.  Of course in order to enjoy them, I need to get off my ass and get book ten, The Given Sacrifice.  And book eleven, The Golden Princess, comes out later this year.

Other Books In The Series:

Dies the Fire
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
The Tears of the Sun

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Wordsmtihonia Radio: It's All In The Name

Songs are written for and about people all the time.  There are love songs, break up songs, I hate you songs, and don't call me that songs.  Something about using a person's name, makes the song more personal.  It brings the story to life, and gives the listener something to focus on.  By using a name, it allows the artist to tell a story, and it allows that story to grow in ways it won't otherwise.  So for today's post, I thought I would share some of my favorite songs, that call somebody out by name.  There are a few songs I love, but they won't be included because I've recently used them in other posts.  So this time around you won't see "Jolene" by Dolly Parton or "Take a Letter, Maria" by R.B. Greaves.  But I think you will find that the songs I am including, are just as good.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Clue - 1985

Part of Synopsis From Back Cover:

Was it Colonel Mustard in the study with a gun? Miss Scarlet in the billiard room with the rope? Or was it Wadsworth the butler?  meet all the notorious suspects and discover all their foul play things.  

I could write a really short review.  All I would have to say is, frickin hilarious, and leave it at that.  I don't know how many of you have seen this movie, but I'd be willing to bet anything, that there isn't one of you, that doesn't think this is a frickin hilarious movie.  Between the over the top cast, the terrific writing, and the crazy endings, all three of them, there is so much greatness in this movie, it's hard to contain it all.

For those of you who have never seen it, it's a pretty simple premise.  Groups of strangers are invited to a spooky house in the middle of the country, and of course it's storming outside.  They are given code names; Professor Plum, Mrs. White, Miss Scarlet, Colonel Mustard, Mr. Green, Mrs. Peacock, and after a dinner of monkey brains, they are all revealed to be the blackmail victims of Mr. Body.  Once that information is out, it's not soon after that Mr. Body, and a whole slew of victims start to hit the morgue.  By the end, Mr. Body is joined by 5 others, all of them his accomplices in blackmail.  The the big reveal happens, or does it.  If you saw this movie in the theater, you were treated to one of three completely different endings.  Luckily for us, the home version shows all three.  Just pick your favorite one, and go with it.

You can't talk about this movie without talking about the cast.  It's the actors that make the characters, and they are characters I love so much, I did a Favorite Fictional Character post about them.  Lesley Ann Warren is sexy and funny as Miss Scarlet.  She pulls off the vivacious madame vibe, and ramps up the campiness,  It's sheer perfection.  Martin Mull is perfect as the dimwitted, rather bullish Colonel Mustard.  Madeline Khan is Mrs. White.  And that about all you have to say about her.  Madeline Khan had perfect timing, and could do no wrong. She played the neurotic, slightly crazy role to a height, nobody else could have achieved. Michael McKean, who I normally don't like, embodies the prissy Mr. Green.  While the whole playing gay thing for laughs annoys me, for some reason I'm able to overlook it in this movie.  Maybe because they are all so over the top, it's hard to not find it funny. Tim Curry, can do no wrong in my eyes.  Well he can, The Three Musketeers, but he is stellar as Wadsworth, the butler.  Christopher Lloyd, another one I'm not normally a huge fan of, is great as Professor Plum.  He pulls off the slightly sleazy, intellectual type pretty well.  And that leaves us with the fabulous Eileen Brennan as Mrs. Peacock.  Along with Madeline Khan, I think she gives a performance to rival the others.  She is prudish, snobbish, neurotic, fussy, and just about every other adjective you can think of.  She is brilliant, and oh so funny here.

This is a movie that I have enjoyed countless times, couldn't even begin to guess at how many times I've seen it.  This is the type of movie that can get me to laugh, even when I'm in the crappiest of moods.  If you have never seen it, you are missing out of a true comedic gem.  Besides, how can you not love a movie based off one of the greatest board games know to man

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Taste of Love by Andrew Grey

Synopsis From Publisher:

The lunch rush at Darryl Hansen's restaurant, Cafe Belgie, is getting to be too much for one man to handle, and Billy Weaver is a young man in search of a job -- any job -- to support his family.  Billy gains Darryl's respect with his earnest nature and willingness to work hard, but Billy's admiring looks resurrect pain and shame from Darryl's past.  Until Darryl stumbles across Billy's secret, Billy is suffering in silence: his father died a few months earlier, leaving him struggling to raise his twin five-year-old brothers.  Darryl takes Billy and the boys to the restaurant, where they'll stand together to face the smorgasbord of troubles in their future; while Davey, Donnie, and Billy worm their way into Darryl's heart.

Since I first bought this book, I've now read it a few times.  I've actually read the entire series a few times by now, and I'm sure I will again at some point in time.  I'm not really sure what has gotten into me this last year, but I can't get enough romance.  I guess since I'm not getting it in real life, I'm having to find it on my NOOK.  Actually, that is a rather flippant response to my overall, apparent addiction to m/m romance lately.  And at this point in time, I do think it's safe to call it an addiction.

I'm not even going to clue you into how much I've spent on ebooks since I first got my NOOK, but even knowing my own spending habits, I'm a little in shock at the overall price tag. When all you have to do is push an on screen button, it's a little hard to stop yourself.  So I've made myself a promise, I'll only buy one book, every other week.  I'm hoping I can keep myself to that, but even if I have an occasional slip, at least I know I'll probably enjoy what I'm reading.

Almost without exception, I have enjoyed every book I've read from Andrew Grey.  I think of all the author's in this field, he is my favorite out of all of them, and there are some really good ones out there.  He is able to create realistic characters, who even though they all have perfect bodies, come across as authentic.  At least as authentic as romance characters can be.  Darryl and Billy don't deviate from that at all.  Even when they are facing challenges normally not seen outside a soap opera, they respond in ways that feel organic, and truthful to who they are as characters.

More importantly than that, I believe them as a couple.  As individuals, I love them both, but as a couple, I adore them.  Despite all the differences between the two of them, and there are several, they fit together.  Honestly, I'm not sure I could see them with any other character, in all the romance books I've read so far.  I just wish finding the perfect guy, was as easy in real life.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Favorite Fictional Character --- Charlie the Tuna

I think it's almost impossible to predict which commercial characters, will stay in the collective memory of a population.  I can't even begin to imagine the graveyard that would need to be constructed to lay to rest, all of the failed commercial mascots.  Sure, some of you may remember Big Yella or The Noid, but do any of you really remember Waldo the Wizard or Frito Bandito?  Mascots fail for multiple reasons, and I'd quickly bet that the vast majority of them do in fact fail.  Even when they prove to be successful, Spuds MacKenzie, how many of them really last over a long period of time, let alone decades.

Charlie the Tuna, the mascot for Star-Kist, is one of those mascots that seems to be impossible to kill off.  Yeah, his hipster ways seemed to disappear for a while, but he's been back for a while now, and it doesn't look like he is going anywhere soon.  I'm actually a bit surprised that our current crop of hipsters haven't taken to him more.  After all, he was a hipster before most of them were a twinkle in their parent's eyes.  Between the glasses, the hat, the scarf that comes and goes, the way he talks, and his absolute conviction that he a most refined taste; it all screams hipster.  I'm actually rather shocked that today's hipsters haven't adopted the name Charlie.

Of course poor Charlie, no matter how well attuned his own personal taste is, Star-Kist keeps rejecting him. It doesn't matter if you have a keen eye for style, if you don't taste good, you don't taste good.  The country got so used to poor Charlie being rejected, that Star-Kist's response to him, became a regular part of our conversations.  "Sorry, Charlie", is part of our cultural heritage, and something quite a few of us still say to this day.

Charlie already been retired once before, so I won't be surprised if the poor guy is put out to pasture again.  What would surprise me though, is if Star-Kist were to leave him in a nursing home, never to be heard from again.  When a company has a winning mascot, that doesn't offend anyone's sensibilities, it seems rather dumb to not keep him around.  So here's to hoping that Star-Kist keeps rejecting him, and never accepts his application to be canned.  It also helps that I can't stand canned tuna.

Monday, August 18, 2014

World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters

Synopsis From Back Cover:

There are just 14 days until a deadly asteroid hits the planet, and America has fallen into chaos.  Citizens have barricaded themselves inside basements, emergency shelters, and big-box retail stores.  Cash is worthless; bottled water is valuable beyond measure.  All over the world, everyone is bracing for the end.

But detective Hank Palace sill has one last case to solve.  His beloved sister Nico was last seen in the company of suspicious radicals, armed with heavy artillery and a plan to save humanity.  Hank's search for Nico takes him from Massachusetts to Ohio, from abandoned zoos and fast food restaurants to a deserted police station where he uncovers evidence of a brutal crime.

I'm not even sure where to start this review, simply because I'm not sure I'm capable of producing a coherent one.  Or at least I'm not sure I'm capable of writing a reasonable, well thought out, unbiased review that will make me sound all smart and scholarly.  Not that I'm saying anyone reads my reviews, and comes away with the idea that I'm some sort of savant book whisperer.  I'm anything but, and trying to write a review for World of Trouble, just emphasizes that point.

Finishing this book, turning that last page, physically hurt.  It caused me to wince a bit, and I had a hard time even being able to put the book away, once I was done with it.  Leaving Hank behind, a character that I have grown to love and admire over three books, was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do when it comes to my reading life.  It ranks up there with the sadness I felt with Vanyel Ashkevron sacrificing himself in Magic's Price by Mercedes Lackey, the last book in the Last Herald Mage trilogy.  It made me feel that same way I did when I put down The Absolutist by John Boyne once I was done with it.  I felt a physical sense of loss, of something missing.  That something that had become a part of me, no longer was.

I don't think I realized how attached I was to Hank Palace until he was no longer around, that I would not be able to find out how his story ends.  And I think that is the crux of my issue.  I think I know what will happen to him, but the idea of me never knowing for sure, of not being with him at the end, it's a loss I wasn't expecting to feel.  I never know when or how a fictional character will become something more to me, not quite real, but no longer someone I don't care about.  It's one of the mysteries of writing, and I'm pretty sure it can never be planned by the author, or even expected by the reader.  It's a connection that happens rarely, but it's one that I think most authors strive for, and most readers hope for every time they pick up a new book.

I think it's time to move on with the book itself, and I think that part of this review will probably make even less sense to you.  I can't really delve into the story or plot itself, because I'm not sure I can really talk about it without giving too much away.  Of the three books, this probably has the feel of a true mystery, despite the world coming to end.  It's has all the tenseness I love in a well written mystery, and it has more than enough urgency given the circumstance Hank finds himself in, and the search he is on.

What is unlike a lot of mysteries though, is the emotion and heartache threading it's way through the entire thing.  There is so much loss, on micro and macro levels.  How does anyone deal with the pain is beyond me.  Even Houdini, Hank's dog, who I love just about as much, is starting to feel it.

And sadly, this is where I need to end this review.  I would love to be able to tell you what happens, how Hank finds Nico, who he meets along the way, the shocking losses that seem to happen at an almost alarming rate for a while, and how the book ends, but I won't.  This is a story you need to read for yourself. Even if you don't get into mysteries or sci fi normally, I would even be willing to beg on hands and knees, if it would convince you to read this trilogy.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Wordsmithonia Radio Celebrates Madonna's Birthday, A Day Late!

Madonna turned 56 yesterday, and damn does she still look good.  Madonna, after having a 30 year career, is one of those icons that defines my childhood.  While I will never go and say I'm a rabid fan of hers, I do love her and her music, and there is nobody that can touch her.  Much like Michael Jackson, she helped define an entire generation of music fans, and artists.  With no signs of slowing down, I'm pretty sure she is going to continue to spread her influence, and take over the few slivers of the world she doesn't already control.  In celebration of her birthday, I wanted to share my ten favorite songs of hers.  So sit back, and enjoy the trip down memory lane.  And no, I'm not going to be listing them in any sort of order.

Friday, August 15, 2014

How The Hell Did 38 Sneak Up On Me?

I'm really trying to figure out how my 38th birthday snuck up on me like this.  I knew it was coming, I even took two days off to try and enjoy it, but it still got here quicker than I was expecting.  Maybe it's because I'm still frickin exhausted from my demanding work schedule over the last month.  Not that I can do much about it when I'm running two stores because we are so short on management right now.  

I'm not going to do much for my birthday today.  I'll go out to lunch with a friend, maybe go to a bookstore or two, but more the most part I'm just going to relax and enjoy some quiet time.  I'll read a bit, and watch a few movie, but mostly I'll rest.  A nice quiet birthday is just what I need.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Favorite Fictional Character --- Tony the Tiger

I was reminded the other day how the He-Man, Transformers, and G.I. Joe cartoons came to be, back in the 1980s.  They, along with about a bazillion other cartoons back then, were created to sell toys that already existed.  If you think about it, it was a brilliant move on the part of toy manufacturers.  We became so addicted to the cartoons, we had to go and beg our parents for the toys.  

So that got me thinking about all the fantastic characters that were created to sell other stuff to us as consumers.  They pitched everything from raisins, chips, cereal, tuna fish, frozen vegetables, tires, cleaning supplies, and just about everything else you can possibly think of.  

Over the next few weeks I'm going to be sharing some of my favorites; the ones that have stuck in my head over the years, or even just entertained me to no end.  I think a lot of them will be from the food aisles of the supermarket, but who knows who will show up over the next few weeks.

I thought I would start with everyone's favorite Italian-American Tiger, Tony the Tiger.  The Kellogg's Frosted Flakes mascot, has been on the job since 1951, and he's still looking good.  I could sit here and lie and tell you that I fell in love with him the first time I ever saw a commercial, but come one now.  The idea of me even remembering the first time I saw Tony is a ridiculous concept.  I was a little kid, how the heck would something like that stick in my brain?  

What I can tell you is how much I begged my mom for Frosted Flakes as a kid, and I can lame all the blame on Tony.  He was so much fun to watch on screen, and I loved the way he talked.  I even vaguely remember various family members making it into the commercials, though they didn't make that much impression on me.  I can also remember asking my mom why he didn't have a regular cartoon.  I just couldn't get it.  Here was a really cool cartoon character, without a cartoon.  It made no sense to me, and I'm still thinking Kellogg messed up when they didn't go all out with him.

To this day, when I'm going down the cereal aisle at the supermarket, I'm just a tad bit tempted to pick up Frosted Flakes.  I don't even like them that well, but my love for Tony, or his magical brainwashing abilities, gets to me every time.  And there are even times, when my inner child is screaming for attention, that I cave in, and Kellogg's Frosted Flakes makes it into the cart.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Countdown City by Ben H. Winters

Synopsis From Back Cover:

There are just 77 days before a deadly asteroid collides with Earth and Detective Hank Palace is out of a job.  With the Concord police force operating under the auspices of the U.S. Justice Department, Hank's days of solving crimes are over... until a woman from his past begs for help finding her missing husband.

Brett Cavatone disappeared without a trace - an easy feat in a world with no phones, no cars, and no way to tell whether someone's gone "bucket list" or just gone.  With society falling to shambles, Hank pieces together what few clues he can, on a search that leads him from a college-campus-turned-anarchist-encampment to a crumbling coastal landscape where anti-immigrant militia fend of "impact zone" refugees.

It's been over two years since I read the first book in this trilogy, The Last Policeman, and I'm really at a loss to explain why it's taken so long to read the second.  I can't even use the excuse that I didn't have the book, I can honestly say I've had this one laying around for far too long.  I'm actually a little embarrassed by it, and feeling just a tad bit of shame.

Obviously I loved The Last Policeman, and I loved Hank Palace.  That love hasn't diminished, it's only grown after reading Countdown City.  Hank Palace is an archetypal character who breaks the mold. He's the hero, but he's still an everyday man, doing the best he can in a world gone to hell.  He is a man of principal and character, and one who does his duty, when most of the world has given up.  He is who I would want to be in that sort of a situation, but I'm almost positive I could not live up to that ideal.  But even more, he's the man I would want at my side, in any capacity, should the world be close to ending.  And yes, he will have his very own FFC post at some point in time.

Even with a stellar character, and a plot that continues to move along at a steady pace, no book it guaranteed to be a winner.  When you factor in the author, Ben H. Winters, you are guaranteed a winner.  I'm in love with the way he writes, and the way he develops his worlds. I fell in love with him when I read Bedbugs for the first time, a book I still view as one of the best horror novels ever written.  In all three books of his that I've read, he has created a fully realized 4-D environment.  He used the simplest details and descriptions to create a truly believable world, given the parameters he is creating it in.  His prose has a lyrical simplicity, that allows the reader to truly get immersed in the writing, and in the world.

With only 77 days until a massive comet slams into the world, producing an event that will cause the extinction of the human race, the tension is ratcheted up from the previous book.  Everyone seems to be more on edge, and humanity is starting to give in to it's basest nature.  It's in that environment that Hank is at work, trying to find the missing husband of a former babysitter, and crush.  He is having to rely on, and work with those he may not have much in common with, or particularly like, but he's given his word, and a man like Hank does not go back on that.

I could ramble on for another twenty paragraphs or so, but I'm not going to subject you to that.  Instead I'll hit a few more points.  Brett is a lot like Hank, despite his running off on his wife.  He is another archetypal hero, and one that I was sorry to see not sticking around.  We get to see Hank with his sister again, probably the most important relationship in his life, and I was glad to see her.  I really want to stress that this isn't your typical mystery novel.  It explores themes that most authors shy away from, let alone genre writers.  This book is about our relationships with each other, and to society in general.  It's also about the strengths, and weaknesses, of the human condition.  It explores who we are in the face of adversity, and almost certain death.  But most of all, it's a book about love and hope in the face of hardship.

You will never hear me not recommend this series, or any book by Ben H. Winters.  So please go out and get The Last Policeman.  Then follow it up with Countdown City and the third book, World of Trouble.  I have a review of that one coming up next week.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Wordsmithonia Radio Pays Tribute to Queen

I'm not sure how it happened, or what I was thinking, but for some odd reason, when I did my post on my favorite bands of all time, I somehow left of Queen.  They were one of those bands that I loved as a kid, I would beg my mom to play their albums, I simply could not get enough of them.  I'm not even sure who I would have kicked off the posted list, but the fact that I dissed Queen in such a way, I should hang my head down in shame.  It's an inexcusable offense, and I just hope that Freddie Mercury can forgive me.  The

To make it up, I thought I would devote an entire post to my favorite Queen songs.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Ministry of Fear - 1944

Part Of Synopsis From Back Cover:

On his way to London after being released from a mental asylum, Stephen Neale (Ray Miland) stops at a seemingly innocent village fair, after which he finds himself caught in the web of a sinister, possibly Nazi-connected underworld.

I'm almost positive that Yvette of in so many words... is responsible for me seeing this movie, at least the first time around.  She reviewed it on December 28th, 2010.  I read her review on December 29th, and watched the movie on February 2nd, of 2011.  I only know this because I just went back and read the comments I made on her post.  I've always found Ray Miland rather dashing, and I'm in love with him in The Uninvited, so when she wrote up her review, I knew I had to watch it.

The Criterion Collection just released it on Blu Ray last year, and I'm pretty sure I bought it the week it came out.  How can you not love a movie that starts off with Ray Miland's character being released from an asylum, where he was committed for two year after buying the drugs his wife used to killer herself.  She was dying a horrible death, and she asked for his help in ending it.  Once he bought the drugs, he was unable to go through with the plan, but she got a hold of them anyway, and that was that.  So he was there for two years, and the first thing he does is hope decide to hop on a train for London.  Once he is at the station, he sees a little fete across the way, and since he has time he joins in.

Long story short, he ends up with a cake, meant for someone else.  He is followed onto the train by a fake blind guy steals the cake, jumps off the train, and Ray Miland starts chasing after him.  The guy is killed by a German bomber, dropping bombs on the innocent countryside.  Which if you think about it, a German spy getting killed by a German bomb, is rather hilarious.

Once in London, Milan decides to look into the charity that hosted the fete, he meets the Austrian refugees who run the organization, and the games really begin.   For the rest of the movie, we are treated to some of the craziest, most convoluted actions on the face of the planet.  The plot just takes off, and if it can be twisted and turned, it is. But that's the genius of the movie, it's takes the most outrageous plot twists it can, and somehow you still buy into it.  You really believe that a cabal of German spies, has been able to infiltrate every level of society, stealing military secrets and using a tailor to pass them along.  The characters are over the top, just the way they should be in such a story, though some of the acting itself is rather stilted and some of the casting choices, Marjorie Reynolds, doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Hillary Brooke on the other hand, who I also adore, is brilliant as Mrs. Bellane, one of the cabalists, and a fake medium.  It's through here that we are treated to one of the most memorable seance scenes I've ever seen on screen, the tension is thick through the entire thing, and the way light is used, sheer genius.  Actually, the entire movies uses light and shadows brilliantly.  There are a few scenes where the absences of light is used to it's fullest effect, two of the better ones are at the end.

Did I forget to mention that this is all taking place in a London that is in the middle of war, dealing with nightly German bombardments?  I also want to make sure I mentioned the many gun fights, an apartment explosion, and one of the coolest book stores (also a Nazi front), that I've ever seen.  I won't get into how many characters die, or the one who has to die twice.  I won't even mention the lack of resolution concerning some of the characters, such as Mrs. Bellane.  You just have to assume that in the end, they are all rounded up.

What I will say, is that with every viewing, I find myself falling in love with this one more and more.  Fritz Lang, though the movie is supposed to be quite different in tone from the Graham Greene book it's based on, directed a terrific example of Noir, and it plays those tropes to the hilt.  It is quickly becoming one of my favorite movies, and I'm sure it is one that will have many more viewings in my home.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Blade of the Samurai by Susan Spann

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

June 1565: Master Hiro Hattori receives a pre-dawn visit from Kazu, a fellow shinobi working undercover at the shogunate.  Hours before, the shogun's cousin, Saburo, was stabbed to death in the shogun's palace.  The murder weapon: Kazu's personal dagger.  Kazu says he's innocent, and begs for Hiro's help, but his story give Hiro reason to doubt the young shinobi's claims.

When the shogun summons Hiro and Father Mateo, the Portuguese Jesuit priest under Hiro's protection, to find the killer, Hiro finds himself forced to choose between friendship and personal honor.

The investigation reveals a plot to assassinate the shogun and overthrow the ruling Ashikaga clan.  With Lord Oda's enemy forces approaching Kyoto, and the murderer poised to strike again, Hiro must use his assassin's skills to reveal the killer's identity and protect the shogun at any cost.  Kazu, now trapped in the city, still refuses to explain his whereabouts at the time of the murder.  But a suspicious shogunate maid, Saburo's wife, and the shogun's stable master also had reasons to want Saburo dead.  With the shogun demanding the murderer's head before Lord Oda reaches the city, Hiro and Father Mateo must produce the killer in time... or die in his place.

I've been sitting here trying to figure out what to say about Blade of the Samurai.  Much like the last book I reviewed, All I Love and Know by Judith Frank, I'm of two mind on this one.  Where a relationship flaw threw me in that previous book, it's the setting that I'm having a hard time with in this one.

Part of the reason why I wanted to read Blade of the Samurai, was because of how much I enjoyed the first book in the Sugawara Akitada series by I.J. Parker,  The Dragon Scroll.  It's another series set in feudal Japan, and I fell in love with the feel of the entire book, even if the characters where a bit stiff and formal in their behavior, dictated by the setting.  The author brought that time period to life for me, and I couldn't imagine the story or those characters living at any other time, or in any other place.

I didn't get that with this book.  The author used the language and even some of the cultural differences to frame her story, but I never got that total immersion experience I was looking for. The entire time I was reading it, I would occasionally forget about the setting, and I was able to picture it somewhere else, in another time.  It just never felt like a fully fleshed out real world to me.  And I'm sad to say, I was a little disappointed by that.

On the other hand, I loved Hiro and Father Mateo, and just about every other character in the book.They were fun to hang out with, and I'm really looking forward to their next mystery.  And as far as mysteries go, while there was nothing that really stood out for me, it was a nice solid story, that kept moving along.  There were no plot holes, or odd jumps of logic.  Everything progressed in a linear fashion, and I really did enjoy the story overall. I just wish the setting would have been a little bit more concrete, allowing me to really lose myself in it.

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

Monday, August 4, 2014

All I Love And Know by Judith Frank

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

For years, Matthew Greene and Daniel Rosen have enjoyed a contented domestic life in Northampton, Massachusetts.  Opposites in many ways, they have grown together and made their relationship work.  But when they learn that Daniel's twin brother and sister-in-law have been killed in a Jerusalem bombing, their lives are suddenly, utterly transformed.

The deceased couple have left behind two young children, and their shocked and grieving families must decide who will raise six-year-old Gal and baby Noam.  When it becomes clear that Daniel's brother and sister-in-law wanted Matt and Daniel to be their children's guardians, the two men find themselves confronted by challenges that strike at the heart of their relationship.  What is Matt's place in an extended family that does not competently accept him or the commitment he and Daniel have made?  How do Daniel's complex feelings about Israel and this act of terror affect his ability to recover from his brother's death?  And what kind of parents can these two men really be to children who have lost so much?

The impact that this instant new family has on Matt, Daniel, and their relationship is subtle and heartbreaking, yet not without glimmers of hope. They must learn to reinvent and redefine their bond in profound, sometimes painful ways.  How does a family become strong enough to stay together and endure when its very basis has drastically changed?  And are their limits to honesty or commitment - or love?

When I finally got around to reading this book, I read it in one sitting.  I read all 420 pages, and did not put the book down once.  I didn't get up to go to the bathroom, I didn't quench the thirst I started to feel half way through, I ignored my phone, and I told everyone to leave me alone.  And strangely, I had this reaction to a book I'm not all that in love with, and I'm not even sure I realized that until I typed it.

And now that I've let the cat out of the bag, I guess it's on me to try figure out why I was so engrossed in a book, that I didn't love.  Normally, even when I'm really enjoying a book, I don't get so engrossed that I can't put it down.  And the two most recent times before this, The Absolutist by John Boyne and Gillespie and I by Jane Harris, were books that I truly loved.  They were books I would recommend to anyone and everyone, and will reread for the rest of my life.  I'm not sure how often I would recommend All I Love and Know, and I'm really not sure if it is a book I will ever reread.  And quite frankly, I'm still not sure I can tell you why, so I think I just wasted this entire paragraph.

I think part of this issue is my somewhat conflicted view of the entire Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  Like Matt and Daniel, I think what Israel has done to the Palestinians is pretty much the same as Apartheid in South Africa.  I think the idea of an entire Ethnic/Religious group, who has been subjugated by other for centuries, turning around and doing the same thing themselves, I find it puzzling and just a tad bit revolting.  It makes no sense to me.  But at the same time, I agree that Israel has every right to defend themselves against those who don't want them to exist as a nation.  But most of all, I don't have an answer.  I don't know what either side should do, though I think the fighting is taking its toll on way too many innocents.

But I think my general unease has more to do with the relationship between Matt and Daniel.  It's messy and complicated, they have a quasi open marriage, which I still do not understand, though I know it happens. And I think it's in that one little facet of their relationship, my own personal issues with it, that prevents me from loving this book.  With everything going on in their lives, with all the pain and conflict, I get why maybe turning outside the relationship for comfort would be something that could happen.  Especially when one of the partners is doing everything that he can to make it work, and the other has shut down and withdrawn so deeply into his pain, that neither one can see straight anymore. I get the need for connection in the face of pain, and I get the urge to get it anywhere you can when you are no longer getting that sense of worth from the man you love.

What I don't understand is how they allowed this to happen before the events of the book.  The openness, though maybe not occurring very often, and with a ton of rules, still went on.  They were happily in love, living together, but allowed each other to be intimate with other people.  Call me a prude, old fashioned, or naive, but I've never been able to understand relationships like that.  I try not to judge those who are in open relationships, and for the most part I don't, but I still don't get it.  And I understand it's not my place to get it, since I'm not in the relationship, but it does stop me from investing to much emotion into a fictional couple that I really wanted to love.  And I really don't understand why the author uses that openness as a vehicle for the couple to implode, or at least the proverbial last straw breaking the camel's back..

Since you can tell from the synopsis that it all works out in the end, I don't feel as if I'm spoiling anything for you, when I tell you that it does in fact have a happy ending.  And I can even go as far as saying that I'm happy it ended that way, and that I adore both Matt and Daniel.  I can even go a step further and tell you that I enjoyed the book, that I became invested in both the story and the characters, that I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with Matt and Daniel. I'm even willing to admit that it's my own personal hangups that kept me from loving what I read.

And now that I'm done typing, I'm even willing to concede that maybe I loved this book more than I did at the beginning of the review.  Maybe its as simple as uttering my relationship hangups out loud, albeit in type.  Could actually admitting your issues, no matter where they come from, allow you to get over them, to not let them cloud your judgement? Maybe it is that simple, or maybe, just maybe actually sitting down to write a review actually forces you to rethink the entire process over again.  No matter the reason, I'm now willing to admit that I loved the book, and that I would highly recommend. it.  I just hope you guys don't think I'm too schizophrenic now.

I want to thank Trish of TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read/review this book.  Please visit the tour page to read other reviews, hopefully they will be more coherent than mine.