Friday, April 29, 2011

Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay

Synopsis From Back Cover:

When Nina Revskaya puts her remarkable jewelry collection up for auction, the former Bolshoi Ballet star finds herself overwhelmed by memories of her homeland, and of the events, both glorious and heartbreaking, that changed her life half a century earlier. It was in Russia that she discovered the magic of dance and fell in love, and where, faced with Stalinist aggression, a terrible discovery incited a deadly act of betrayal—and an ingenious escape to the West.

Nina has kept her secrets for half a lifetime. But now Drew Brooks, an inquisitive associate at a Boston auction house, and Grigori Solodin, a professor who believes Nina’s jewels hold the key to unlocking his past, begin to unravel her story—setting in motion a series of revelations that will have life-altering consequences for them all.

When I first started this book I was expecting to read just another typical blend of historical and modern day fiction.  The second part I normally don't have a problem with, it's the first part that has been rather hit or miss for me.  There is just something about the genre that for whatever reason I normally don't connect with.   There have been a few exceptions to that, but they have been few and far in between.  Luckily, this was one of those exceptions.  Actually, the historical flashbacks actually felt more real to me than the modern storyline.

There was something so breathtakingly beautiful about Nina's story in a Russia ruled by Stalin.  From the time she was a child she was taught to believe one thing about her country and the life she would live.  What she didn't know, and what she wouldn't know for years to come, was the truth.  That her life and those of her friends were in constant danger unless they toed the party line. 

Her life in the ballet and with her husband, the poet Viktor Elsin, is told through flashbacks as she is preparing to auction off her jewelery collection.  She is forced, almost against her will, to relive certain moments of her life that are both joyous and painful.  For years she has tried so hard to hide from a perceived betrayal that has been eating at her since it first entered her head.  She slowly comes to the realization that secrets destroy on their own.  That once you hold something inside for so long, it becomes more painful than the initial hurt.

There was nothing about this book I didn't like.  The characters were vivid and seemed to be almost real, despite my knowing this was fiction.  I actually wanted to google Nina Revskaya and see if I could find any videos of her dancing across the stage.  I wanted to read the poems of Viktor Elsin and find the emotion in them.  The settings were almost tactile in the realness.  I could smell the dressing room as Nina and her friends would get ready to dance as if their lives depended on it.  I could hear the music as she dances across the stage.  Everything was real and assaulted my senses in ways that many books are never able to do.

I would like to thank Trish of TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read/review this one.  Please visit the tour page to read other opinions on it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Favorite Fictional Character --- Auntie Mame Dennis (Back Pain Repost)

Right now I'm sitting at the computer and not loving the experience.  I lifted some boxes yesterday, apparently the wrong way, and my lower back has been annoying me ever since.  Because of that I'm not in the mood to sit down and write out a FFC.  Instead I will repost one I've previously done on my second favorite fictional character of all time, Auntie Mame.

I first met and fell in love with Auntie Mame in high school. I was home from school (don't remember why) and happened to turn on A&E. I didn't turn it off for the rest of the day. They were running a movie marathon of "Auntie Mame" starring Rosalind Russell and I was hooked. I must have watched it 3 times that day. My mom by the way thought I was completely crazy but let me do it anyway.

Now this post isn't about the movie or the book. It's about why I loved this character when I first met her and why I still do to this day. It's about the way Auntie Mame connected with a part of me that was craving something I didn't even know I was missing.

This was the mother I always wished I had. I envied little Patrick with a vengeance. Why should he get the perfect (in my view) mother when I didn't get one. I just didn't think it was very fair. Now I didn't give a second thought to the fact that Mame was only getting custody of Patrick because his father (her brother) had just died. Who cared about the reason? I was green with envy.

Mame was the ideal liberal, free thinking woman of her day. She believed in experimental education, couldn't stand snobbery, and was so shockingly outspoken it took your breath away. Even when she lost all her money and lost Patrick to a boarding school all in the same day she rose to the challenge and rebuilt her life anew. She was brazenly resilient and I admired her for it. She never stayed down and never let those around her fall down.

Here was an individual who took control. A woman who wouldn't let someone else dictate to her the way she should live her life. A loving mother who cared for her charge and made sure he grew up to be a man any mother would be proud of. A woman who took in a single, pregnant women in a time when the idea was scandalous.

I could go on and on about parties, fox hunting while wearing boots that don't fit, jingle bell bracelets, world travels, and writing books. There was so much to this woman that I still am amazed every time I watch the movie, read the book (Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis), or even watch the musical with Lucille Ball as Mame.

She has been my inspiration in so many things. In the movie she says "Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death." I believe that's true and I never want to be one of those "suckers". For that is what Auntie Mame Dennis did. She Lived, Lived, Lived.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Lost In Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff

Synopsis From Front Cover:

On May 13, 1945, twenty-four officers and enlisted men and women stationed on what was then Dutch New Guinea boarded a transport plane named the Gremlin Special for a sightseeing trip over “Shangri-La.” A beautiful and mysterious valley surrounded by steep, jagged mountain peaks deep within the island’s uncharted jungle, this hidden retreat was named after the fabled paradise in the bestselling novel Lost Horizon. But unlike the peaceful Tibetan monks of James Hilton’s book, this Shangri-La was the home of Stone Age warriors—spear-carrying tribesmen rumored to be headhunters and cannibals.

But the pleasure tour became an unforgettable battle for survival when the plane crashed. Miraculously, three passengers survived—WAC Corporal Margaret Hastings, Lieutenant John McCollom, and Sergeant Kenneth Decker. Margaret, barefoot and burned, had no choice but to wear her dead best friend’s shoes. McCollom, grieving the death of his twin brother also aboard the Gremlin Special, masked his grief with stoicism. Decker, too, was severely burned and suffered a bloody, gaping head wound.

Emotionally devastated, badly injured, and vulnerable to disease, parasites, and poisonous snakes in the wet jungle climate, the trio faced certain death unless they left the wreckage. Caught between man-eating headhunters and the enemy Japanese, with nothing to sustain them but a handful of candy and their own fortitude, they endured a harrowing trek down the mountainside—an exhausting journey into the unknown that would lead them straight into a primitive tribe of superstitious natives who had never before seen a white man–or woman.

I left a comment the other day, I forget where though I'm sure I'll remember later, about my discovery of great non fiction books being part of the reason I love book blogging so much.  Whether they are books that I have the pleasure of reading or those reviewed by the bloggers I love, I'm finding books about subjects that I either never heard of before or those I'm not all that familiar with.  This book, Lost in Shangri-La, recounts a story I never knew about, but I'm damn glad I do now.

This was a fast paced narrative recounting what happened after a C-47 carrying 24 military personal, 9 of them WACS, crashed into the mountains of Dutch New Guinea.  For some reason I always think that World War II ended after the Allies defeated Hitler.  I almost forget that the military campaign taking place in the Pacific ended later than that.  I forget that we still had men, and sometimes women, fighting and dying as they fought the Japanese.  I forget that the Atomic bombs we dropped on Japan happened later than the suicide of Hitler.  So it's with that forgetfulness of knowledge that I entered into this book.

Those 24 military personnel that crashed landed into a mountain as they were taking a short respite from duty, were brave men and women who were willing to give of themselves to defend this country.  They were flying to see, most of them for the first time, a remote mountain valley that had recently been discovered.  In that valley, locked away from the rest of the world, lived thousand of native villagers locked in countless wars between villages.  They lived with very little clothing, raised their children, grew sweet potatos, raised pigs, and warred on their neighbors for reasons they forgot long ago.  They believed in sky spirits that one day would come back and change their world forever.  Little did they know that when they encountered the three survivors of that plane crash, that the "sky spirits" were going to be the cause of such monumental change that things would never be the same again.

What I love about this book is how the author recounts not only what happened, but who it happened too.  Throughout the book he introduces not only the three survivors but the other 21 people who did not walk away from the crash.  It's not just the names that are listed though.  Where they are from, who they loved, their goals in life, the details needed to make them real, where what was given.  He made me feel as if I was walking along with the 3 of them as they struggled and fought to walk away from the plane and those they knew and loved.  He brought to life how they lived amongst the natives as they waited for rescue.

He also helped me to learn about the individual native members of the Dani people as they try to figure out the actions of these "sky spirits" that have been thrust upon them.  He was able to recount the way certain natives and the survivors got to know each other and how they often times misunderstood what they other group were doing.  Like with the survivors we find out what has happened to them in the years after the rescue and weep at how their valley has "progressed" into the modern world.

This was also the story of the brave men who risked life and limb in order to rescue the three and bring them back to safety.  This was no small feat since their was almost no logistical way that didn't have dire consequences if things didn't go right.  They had to parachute in then hike to the area the survivors where in.  The author brings their personal stories to life in a way that made me want to read more about the Filipino-American soldiers who fought, for whatever reason, against the Japanese.

I loved getting to know all the people involved and I certainly plan on reading/discovering more about them.  I really hope that the movie(s) planned shortly after the event happened becomes a real thing someday.  Everyone involved deserves the recognition and gratitude that tends to come from a great story being told on the silver screen.

I would like to thank Trish of TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read/review this book.  I would highly encourage everyone to visit the tour page to read more opinions on the book.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Mailbox Monday for 4/25/11

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at A Girl And Her Books and is being hosted all this month by Amy at Passages to the Past.

I received a trade paperback of Don't Breathe A Word by Jennifer McMahon and a hardcover of On China by Henry Kissinger.  Both of them are for upcoming TLC Book Tours.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happy Easter Everyone

I Just Wanted To Say That I Hope You All Have A Wonderful And Happy Easter

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Bat by Mary Roberts Rinehart

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Someone - or something - is trying to frighten Cornelia Van Gorder to death.  But the plucky patrician doesn't scare easily.  Neither the unearthly sights in the courtyard nor the unnerving sounds creaking in the attic can budge her from her isolated country mansion.

Even rumors of an escaped lunatic known as The Bat only bring out Cornelia's fondness for murder mysteries, and a secret longing to play detective.  But when she stumbles upon a corpse on storm-swept night, Cornelia realizes she's involved in a most dangerous game - one she's playing alone, and in the dark, deadly shadow of.... The Bat.

I really don't remember what my first mystery book was or even what age I was when I first opened one.  More than likely it was a Nancy Drew or Encyclopedia Brown book.  It wasn't until I read my first Agatha Christie book that I truly became a fan for life.  I was such a fan of her that I tended to ignore other well known authors and even moved onto Fantasy for a while.  Now as an adult I'm having a great time discovery authors that have made names for themselves in the mystery genre.  One author that I never heard of until Yvette, of in so many words..., reviewed a book of hers.  Her name is Mary Roberts Rinehart and because of Yvette I figured out that she wrote the inspiration for one of my favorite Agnes Moorehead movies.  That inspiration was The Bat, and luckily I found it in a used bookstore.  Once I got home I couldn't help but get started on it and I finished it rather quickly.

Now this book is actually a novelization of the stage play "The Bat" that Rinehart wrote along with Avery Hopwood. The funny thing is, the play was actually the stage adaptation of her novel The Circular Staircase. I think that fact that this book came from a stage play is what made it a blast to read. It has the ebbs and flows of a stage play as the characters enter and exit the stage. That aspect actually reminded me of "Noises Off" as characters constantly exit and enter as certain key characters are doing the opposite. Chance encounters and even chance misses are part of what makes this book feel like a romping travel through a very scary house.  Now I just need to see if I can get a hold of the play as well.

Obviously since I love the movie so much it was a little hard for me to separate the movie from the book.  This was the same problem I had with The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett.  While the problem was the same, my reaction to it was a little different. this time around.  I was able to keep them separate in my head and not compare the two of them as much.

When Cornelia Van Gorder decides to leave NYC for the Summer she drags her VERY Irish maid Lizzie Allen, and her niece Dale Odgen along with her to a rented mansion out in the country.  The owner of the mansion, Courtleigh Fleming, had supposedly died while he was out of town on his business.  He was president of the local bank.  After his death, Richard Fleming,  his nephew, decided to rent the place out for the Summer.  Now while that seemingly innocent transaction was taking place, other mischievous was afoot.  The Bat, the most elusive criminal ever know has been spreading terror throughout the area.  Every attempt has failed to bring his string of theft and murder to an end.  When an ambitious detective decides to attempt what has already gotten one of his colleagues killed, the capture of The Bat, the game is on.  Throw in a bank theft, from Courtleigh Fleming's bank, that a cashier is being charged with and you have the makings of a great thriller.

Fortunately, at least for her, the estate she rented was in the middle of The Bat's territory.  It doesn't take long before strange sights and sounds are bothering the residents of the house.  Men without faces, weird tapping noises in empty rooms, and glowing eyes are just some of the odd things that are bothering the residents of the house.  Because of all the strangeness the servants up and quit except for the hysterical (I mean that in both senses of the word) and Courtleigh Flemings Japanese butler, Billy.  Both of them have seen and heard things that scare them, but for reasons of their own, they won't leave.

Cornelia, who refuses to be scared by anything, quickly becomes convinced that the missing money is hidden somewhere in the house and that someone is looking for it.  She is joined in the house by the detective who arrives just as the action start heating up.  Before we know it there are characters (three of which I haven't even talked about) all over the house, some of whom end up dead before the mystery is solved.  The solution is fantastic and one of the best I've seen done in this type of mystery book.  It was slightly different from the movie version I'm used to, so while I wasn't surprised by it, I felt a little annoyed I didn't figure it out earlier than I did.  Now I will say I figured it out before the reveal, but it was still a lot of fun.

There are at least three movie versions of this story, one of them a silent film that I just discovered and will be watching soon.  The one I love though was made in 1959 and starred Agnes Moorehead as Cornelia Van Gorder and Vincent Price as Dr. Wells, one of the characters I didn't talk about in the book review.  His character, friend and physician to Courtleigh Fleming is the same, though the movie fleshes him out a bit more.  I love the movie and while I may do a review of it someday I just wanted to say that I would encourage everyone to watch it.  I found the full version on youtube and since I can't embed it, I'll include the link to the movie and keep my fingers crossed that someone will watch it.  They also have the 1926 silent movie version as well.

Challenges: M&S, VM

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Favorite Fictional Character --- Signe de Barbentain

I have been having a hard time narrowing my favorite female fantasy characters down to just four.  There are so many outstanding characters that I feel I will be leaving many out that deserve the recognition.  One character I definitely wanted to showcase is Signe de Barbentain from A Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay.  This is a book that explores art, culture, gender politics, and the role of religious war in a society very much like Medieval France. 

Signe de Barbentain is the Countess and ruler of Arbonne.  A sun drenched country filled with troubadours, courtly love, and goddess worship.  She is threatened by her northern neighbor and it's high cleric who is bent on destroying "woman ruled" Arbonne.  She is also a widow, thrust into power that she never really wanted but handles with a deft and style all her own.   She has been charged with protecting a country that is not only threatened by outside forces but by internal divisions as well.

Signe had two daughters by her late husband.  One of them Aelis de Miraval, died in childbirth bearing the child of her lover, not her husband.  Her oldest, Beatrice de Barbentain blinded herself and became the head Priestess of the Goddess Raine.  Though Beatrice is a power in her own right, it was Aelis that had the biggest influence on the current events.  It's the ramifications of that betrayal that is threatening to destroy Arbonne at the time of her greatest need. 

The way Signe handles the internal politics and the outside army ready to destroy her, is what makes her such a great character.  Though she doesn't get as much page time as a lot of the other characters, it's Signe that is quietly arranging events and people to protect her country.  She deftly arranges the help of the son of her enemy, handles the relationship with other countries that are currently on the sidelines, and puts into motion the plan that will save them all.  She does it all without compromising herself or her nation.  She is a strong ruler and woman.  She is someone that a few politicians should look towards for inspiration.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Stitches In Time by Barbara Michaels

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

When an antique bridal quilt appears under mysterious circumstances at the vintage clothing shop where Rachel Grant works, she is fascinated. She has never been able to resist handmade textiles from the past, for she believes that through the ages, women wove protective magic into their fabrics in order to mark the important events of their lives: birth, marriage, and death.
But there is more than good in the quilt's magic power. Day by day Rachel sees and feels the power growing, as she senses the quilt influencing her thoughts and actions. Much as Rachel's logical mind longs to deny the supernatural, the aura of evil coming from the quilt is terrifyingly real, and it seems to carry a sinister legacy into the lives of the people Rachel loves.

This was a little different than the 3 previous Barbara Michaels' books that I have read.  Where the supernatural is sometimes hinted at, this was the first one I read that featured it as a main plot element to the story.  It still takes a secondary role to that of the mystery itself and the interpersonal relationships of the characters, but it's still rather important to the story.  It's actually what drives those relationships.  What I enjoyed about it though was the way it was treated.  It wasn't scary in the horror movie, in your face way that seems to be all the rage right now.  Instead it was more of the underlying tone of the book, very Gothic in feel and it was a treat to read. 

What I'm enjoying about Barbara Michaels' books is the exact opposite of why I like so many other mystery writers, including Agatha Christie.  Where most mysteries keep me interested by telling a finely crafted tale of murder or other crime, peppered with great characters (normally a fantastic detective), and a driving plot that keeps the story moving, her books are different.  Michaels tells a story using a hint of the unknown, highlighting the characters and the way they relate to each other.  The mystery itself is more of the vehicle used to tell their story.  It was never an approach I apprecited before stubling upon her books.  I'll be looking forward to my next one.

Challenges: A-Z, M&S

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Mailbox Monday for 4/18/11

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at A Girl And Her Books and is being hosted all this month by Amy at Passages to the Past.

I received a hardcover of Rotters by Daniel Kraus from the publicist for review.  I know I've been on a YA ban but I think this may be the book to make me change my mind.

I received an ARC of Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff for an upcoming TLC Book Tour.

On a trip to Barnes & Noble I bought a paperback of Parker Pyne Investigates by Agatha Christie.  It's the next book in my Agatha Christie self challenge.

I found a book club hardcover of Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear for $1 at the Friends of the Library Book Store.

I rarely go to used bookstores, other than the one for the library system, but on a whim I stopped by one and picked up two paperbacks.  Thanks to Yvette at in so many words... (I love her blog by the way and I encourage everyone not familiar with it to go visit her) I discovered a new to me mystery writer, Mary Roberts Rinehart.  I also found out one of my favorite movies starring Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead, "The Bat", was based off of one of her books.  Luckily for me I found a paperback of The Bat at the bookstore for $3 so I grabbed it up.  They had a lot of her books, so I'm sure I'll go back for more.  I also picked up a paperback of The Case of the Dangerous Dowager by Erle Stanley Gardner for $1.

Last but not least, Target had season 5 of "Supernatural" on sale for $19.99 and since I missed the entire season I had to get it.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

When Rachael Verinder receives the infamous Moonstone, an enormous yellow diamond of almost mystical beauty, she has no idea of what's to come.  Her uncle had absconded with it as part of war plunder years before, but even before that the diamond had a deadly reputation.  Ever since it was first stolen from a Hindu idol, the diamond has left nothing but bloodshed in it's wake.  On the very evening she received the diamond, it's stolen once again.  Rachael believes that Franklin Blake, her intended, is the one who stole it.  He isn't the only suspect though.  Maybe it's Franklin's rival for Rachael's affection, Godfrey Ablewhite.  It may even be the three mysterious Brahmins that have been spotted more than once.  Regardless of who it is, the diamond will take at least one more life before the story is told.

This was my second attempt at reading this book, an attempt made necessary but my utter failure to get through it the first time.  I'm not sure what my hangup was last year, but I was bored the entire time I had the book open.  My mind kept wandering around and no amount of self pressure could get me past about page 185 of a 472 page book.  Despite my failure, I was sure this was a book that I would enjoy if given the right time.   Well this year, Bev at My Reader's Block is hosting a Vintage Mystery Challenge.  I thought why not give it another attempt.  I'm glad to say, my patience paid off.

What struck me as a rather tedious narrative of a mundane jewel robbery, turned into a majestically told story that took me on a ride that was anything but tedious.  The book is told with the voices of 11 different individuals who were tasked to sit down and write everything they personally experienced that had connection to the missing Moonstone.  These narratives are written well after the case has been resolved, I almost said solved but I'm not sure that would be an accurate word.  The narrators are only allowed to tell what they personal witnessed though they do try every once in a while to sneak some other information in there as well.  They chide themselves for it, but since the words are already written down, the information is out there.  With 11 different voices, some narratives shorter than others, the story reflects the individuals personal biases and personal feelings on what happened.  It's through those personal reflections that the true story of what happened is told.  It's one thing to write down the events in the order they happened, it's quite a different take to get what those involved were actually thinking and reflecting on at the time. 

For me, because of the narrative style used to tell the story, I felt this was more about the people involved and how they related to each other more than the actual mystery of what happened to the diamond.  I enjoyed getting to know the characters not only by what they have to say for themselves, but what others have to say about them.  There is an interesting back and forth between a few of them that allowed me to get even further insight into what they really think of each other.  This was, for me, a character study as much as a mystery tale.

As for the mystery itself, it's a mundane event.  A diamond is stolen on the night the new owner first received it.  What drives and even confuses the mystery, is the way Rachael reacts to the theft.  She is truly devastated but does everything she can to not cooperate with the investigation.  She throws roadblock after roadblock in the way of the investigator.  The impediments she dolls out does the job, the investigator gives up and walks away.  It's only after almost a year has gone by that certain individuals take it upon themselves to find out what really happened.

The conclusion of the mystery and the discovery of who really did steal the Moonstone is a rather interesting one.  Don't worry though, I won't spoil the surprise for anyone wanting to read it.  What I do want to say it that though I'm not sure how believable the solution is, I found the discovery of it to be rather entertaining and almost more fun than the solution itself.  I'm really not sure if the explanation would work in reality, but it fits the bill nicely.

I'm proud of myself for finally finishing this one, from the beginning once again, but I'm even happier for what I discovered.  It's a brilliant novel, that despite its flaws, proves to me that great storytelling really does survive the generations.  I will be looking forward to the time I decide to pick this off the shelf and delve into once again.

Challenges: M&S, VM

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Favorite Fictional Character --- Kerowyn

Anyone who knows me even the slightest bit, knows that I'm a humongous fan of Mercedes Lackey.  I believe I have already done three of her characters for my FFC posts.  Honestly, I could probably do a whole years worth of her characters.  Today though, I'm going to continue to share another one of my favorite female fantasy characters.  Kerowyn appears in quite a few of the books, but it's in her own book, By the Sword, that she truly shines.

When Kerowyn is first introduced as a character, she is the teenage daughter of a minor nobleman who has been running the keep since the death of her mother.  Her brother is getting married to a young lady, Dierna, and it's on their wedding night that Kerowyn's life is changed forever.  During the wedding feast, raiders enter the keep and slay her father.  They also kill or injure every male in the holding and kidnap Dierna.  The whole messy situation was engineered by Dierna's Uncle who would gladly use the incident to take the holding and title for himself.  Kerowyn, who has never been satisfied by the life she had been leading, is the only able body person with the gumption to go after the bandits and rescue Dierna.  She goes to her grandmother, the sorceress Kethryveris for help, which is given to her in the way of advice and in the sword Need.  The sword is semi-sentient and responds to a woman's need for help.  It gives a Mage a bandmaster's skill and a swords woman an ability to ward off magical attacks.

Once the rescue is complete, Kerowyn is treated as a hero but also as someone to be avoided.  She no longer fits in at the keep and goes to her grandmother and Kethry's partner, Tarma, for help.  They train her to be a warrior and when that training is done set her up with a mercenary company, The Skybolts.  She stays with them for many years, proving herself to be a capable leader and fighter.  When she is separated from her group during a dangerous mission, she stumbles upon and rescues (for an agreement of pay of course) the Herald Eldan who was being tortured by a group of Karsite fanatics.  The two of them are instantly attracted and quickly fall in love.  Love never runs smoothly though, once she realizes that the Karsite's are tracking them by following the magic trail left by Need, she sneaks away and draws them off so Eldan can return to Valdemar.

Once she returns back to her company, through leadership and stubbornness she keeps them out of the hands of a horrible Captain and takes charge of The Skybolts herself.  Through ten years of leadership, the mercenary company grows, prospers, and gains an almost immaculate reputation.  She helps secure the successful completion of a major battle that the Kingdom of Rethwellen was fighting against Karse.  She meets up with her former school mate (Kethry and Tarma's school of course), Darren, who just happens to be the brother of the current King.   She accompanies him to court and it's there that she is brought into the Kingdom of Valdemar.  At court, two Valdemar Heralds arrive and beg for help against the war that Karse is waging on them.  Reluctant to help, the King is about to politely decline, when Kerowyn reminds everyone about a large debt that Rethwellen owes Valdemar, a debt the Heralds did not know about. 

The Heralds not only receive the help they need from Darren, who leads the Rehtwellen troops, but the hire The Skybolts (on the advice of Herald Eldan who has been trying to get Kerowyn into Valdemar for years now).  Once they are engaged in the final battle, both Darren and Kerowyn loose their mounts and are chose by Companions, Kerowyn by the reincarnation of the long dead Herald Mage Savil Ashkevron.  With no way out of becoming a Herald, Kerowyn remains in Valdemar and becomes a valued member of the Kingdom.  She eventually becomes the Weapons Master, who is charged with teaching Herald trainees to weapons work in order to defend themselves.  Her mercenary company chooses to remain with her and quickly become a valuable component of Valdemar's defense mechanism.

Kerowyn, who happens to be one of the strongest and mouthiest characters I've had the priviledge to read about, appears in several other books and is a proven Herald who can be counted on to do what needs to be done.  She is also one of only two Heralds that refuses to wear white as it presents an obvious target to those trying to kill them.  She is a lot of fun as a character and every time I get to re meet her in a book is a treasure. 

One good thing about Mercedes Lackey is that she also writes a lot of music that goes along with her books.  Many of her characters are Bards so it makes sense that many of the events that take place in the books would have songs written about them.  "Kerowyn's Ride" is a popular composition that tells the story of Kerowyn's rescuing of Dierna.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry

Synopsis From Back Cover:

A respected Boston psychotherapist, Zee Finch has come a long way from a motherless childhood spent stealing boats.  Bu the actions of a patient throw Zee into emotional chaos and taker her back to places she'd left behind.

What starts as a brief visit home to Salem begins a larger journey.  Suddenly having to care for her ailing father after his long time companion moves out, Zee must come to terms with a strained and awkward relationship that has always been marked by half-truths and haunted by the untimely death of her mother.  Overwhelmed by her new role, and uncertain about her future, Zee destroys the existing map of her life and begins a new journey, one that will take her not only into her future but into her past as well.

After I had read The Lace Reader, Brunonia Barry's first novel, I had already fallen in love with the way she can weave a story.  So when I was given the chance to read The Map of True Places, which is her second novel, I jumped for joy.  Even with that sense of anticipation, I went into this read without overly high expectations.  Oftentimes when I love a debut novel, the follow up effort doesn't always live up to the hype I built up in my head.  Thankfully, with this book, I felt the author surpassed her previous work.

I found myself getting lost in the life of Zee, just not her story.  Zee, short for Hepzibah (one of my favorite names by the way), is a deeply damaged young woman who is forced to deal with feelings that she thought were locked in the past.  The catalyst is the suicide of one of her patients, a patient that she had gotten too wrapped up in.  Throughout the therapy process Zee had started to associate her patients story with that of her mother, who had committed suicide while Zee was still a child.  Zee had actually been the one to discover her mother on the floor, writhing in pain after she had taken strychnine. 

Her mother had been a troubled soul, in love with her husband but never truly loved by him.  Her husband, Finch preferred the company of men, sadly this was before the day that such things could be taken for granted and not hidden away as much as possible.  He started an affair with a slightly younger man, Melville, who would go on to be his long time partner after the death of his wife.  She was a writer of fairy tales, but towards the end she started to blur the lines between tale and reality.

Her mother's schizophrenia and suicide is what compelled Zee to become a therapist and the suicide of her patient compels Zee to go back home to Salem  and against her will, deal with her past.  With her father slowly dying and losing his mind to Parkinson's disease, Zee slowly realizes that she is going to have to map out a new life to follow.  It's a life that will bring her love and pain.  A life that will heal the past and allow her to finally move on with the future.

Obviously there is much more to the story, but I'm not sure that I would be able to tell you anything else without giving too much away.  What I will tell you though is that Zee's journey is one that I think a lot of us with damaged childhoods can relate to.  No matter how much you think you have put it behind you, it will creep back up when you least suspect it.  That is when you will discover that no matter what the past is going to be there, that you need to deal with it, and then you can finally move on.  But once you do finally deal with it, your life is set on a new course with a brand new map waiting for you to explore.

It's a beautifully, lyrical book that was pure pleasure to read.  The author's style and choice of words had me captivated from the beginning, and I actually found this one easier to read than The Lace Reader.  The narrative was more straight forward, though it had an almost fairy tale feel to it.  It helps that Zee's mother was a writer of fairy tales so the feel doesn't seem forced or contrived.  Rather I'm not sure any other style would have allowed her to tell the character's stories as beautifully. 

I think I'm going to end this now, before I start using even more descriptive language to say what I've already said.  Simply put, I loved this one and think everyone who enjoys a well crafted tale needs to discover Brunonia Barry's Salem for themselves.

I would like to thank Trish of TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read/review this book.  Please take the time and visit the tour page for more reviews of this one.  I promise you that they are not as long winded and rambling as this one was.

If you are in the area, Brunonia Barry is going to be making several appearances in the MA area.

Wednesday, April 27th, 7:00 PM: Book club discussion; MORSE LIBRARY; Natick, MA

Friday-Saturday, April 29th-April 30th: NEWBURYPORT LITERARY FESTIVAL; Newburyport, MA

Thursday, May 5th, Time TBD: Women’s Lunch Place Boston, BOSTON, MA

Saturday, June 4th, 1:00 PM: Reading & signing; BAYSWATER BOOKS; Center Harbor, NH

She'll also be on the Book Club Girl on Air Show on Wednesday, April 20th, 7 pm EST:

Sunday, April 10, 2011

So Close the Hand of Death by J.T. Ellison

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Talent borrows. Genius steals. Evil delegates.

It's a hideous echo of a violent past. Across America, murders are being committed with all the twisted hallmarks of the Boston Strangler, the Zodiac Killer and Son of Sam. The media frenzy explodes and Nashville homicide lieutenant Taylor Jackson knows instantly that The Pretender is back…and he's got helpers.

As The Pretender's disciples perpetrate their sick homages—stretching police and FBI dangerously thin—Taylor tries desperately to prepare for their inevitable showdown. And she must do it alone. To be close to her is to be in mortal danger, and she won't risk losing anyone she loves. But the isolation, the self-doubt and the rising body count are taking their toll—she's tripwire tense and ready to snap.

The brilliant psychopath who both adores and despises her is drawing close. Close enough to touch.…

I've somehow gotten myself into a habit of agreeing to review a book without bothering to find out it's actually part of a series.  Not only that, but they are tending to be books that occur well into the series and not at the beginning.  So Close the Hand of Death is now the third book that I've read recently that fits into that category.  It's the sixth book in the Taylor Jackson series, which is now a series I will have to start at the beginning of.

I'm going to assume that much like Love Me to Death by Allison Brennan, this book could be classified as romantic suspense.  I had an inkling of that when I agreed to review it but thanks to the Allison Brennan book, I was prepared to enjoy the story.  What I wasn't prepared for was how much the story line would hook me from the beginning.  This book is both suspenseful and violent, without being over the top.  The action starts at a fast and furious pace and never lets up.  It had me on pins and needles the entire time I was reading it, I loved it.

The characters are not only likable, they are believable, even when dealing with situations that most of us would crumble beneath.  In Taylor Jackson I have found a character that is well developed and from what I could tell from this installment, has a monstrous back story that I can't wait to discover for myself.  She is surrounded by friends and colleagues that aren't always perfect or make the right decisions.  They, like her, are flawed individuals that try to do the right thing but don't always manage to do it cleanly.

My only issue was not reading the books in order.  This one seems to take place almost immediately after the last one, so I felt a little lost at times.  The author does give a little back story so I wasn't totally in the dark, but I think it would be better to start with the first book in the series, All the Pretty Girls.  I for one will get started on that as soon as I possibly can.

I would like to thank the folks at PTA (Planned Television Arts) for the opportunity to read/review this book.

Challenges: A-Z, M&S

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Raising by Laura Kasischke

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Last year Godwin Honors Hall was draped in black. The university was mourning the loss of one of its own: Nicole Werner, a blond, beautiful, straight-A sorority sister tragically killed in a car accident that left her boyfriend, who was driving, remarkably—some say suspiciously—unscathed.

Although a year has passed, as winter begins and the nights darken, obsession with Nicole and her death reignites: She was so pretty. So sweet-tempered. So innocent. Too young to die.

Unless she didn’t.

Because rumor has it that she’s back.

You know that feeling, when you are sitting at your computer and you have nothing.  You have no idea how to even start the review or what you are going to say once you do start typing, this feeling sucks.  I want to try and write a positive review, but I just can't do it.  I can't really write a negative review either because I didn't dislike the book, so I'm kind of stuck in the middle.  This review is going to be short and rather indifferent.

I totally understand why people would like this book.  It has interesting characters that are going through a rather trying time in their lives.  The death of Nicole has some rather lasting ramifications for her boyfriend, her boyfriend's roommate, and two different faculty members.  It's an intricate plot that twists and weaves without getting too complicated.  That's about all I can say about it.

My problem is that despite what could have been a story that kept me glued to the page, it left me feeling a little deflated instead.  There was nothing really wrong with it for me, but it didn't leave me with a positive impression either.  I can't even say that it was fun to read.  Instead, I just have to say, it was forgettable the entire time I was reading it.  I could blame it on my being in the wrong frame of mind, that may be the case.  I don't think it was though.  For what ever reason, I just could not connect with this one.

With all that being said, I really do think most people would like it.  So I don't want to discourage anyone from reading this one if you were already planning on reading it.  Try it out for yourself, I think most of you will end up liking it.

I would like to thank Trish from TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read/review this book.  To read other (mostly positive) reviews of The Raising,  please visit the tour page.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Favorite Fictional Character --- Polgara the Sorceress

I decided that April will be the month to showcase, briefly, some of my favorite female fantasy characters.  Fantasy has long been a genre that has done well at presenting strong female characters, so the choosing of only four is going to be a bit hard to do.  This week I'm going with one of David Edding's iconic characters, Polgara the Sorceress.

When I first met Polgara, I was a slightly nerdy (but still cool) kid in high school who was just starting to fall in love with fantasy.  She was beautiful, intelligent, and thousands of years old.  What's not to love about that combination.

Polgara started out in life as one of twin daughters born to her father Belgarath and her mother Poledra.  Belgarath was one of the most powerful sorcerers around and Poledra was a wolf that had learned to take human form when she chose to.  Now with such great parents you would think that Polgara would have had a wonderful childhood.  Instead her mother faked her own death to fulfill a prophecy, her father was never around, and the twins were raised by two of Belgarath's fellow sorcerers.

Skip ahead a few thousand years and you will find Polgara protecting generation after generation of the Rivan royal family in order to one day see one of them sit on the throne once again and defeat the evil god Torak.    One that boy is born, Garion later know as Belgarion, it's up to Polgara, her father, and those who have been prophesied to protect him, to make sure he fulfills his destiny.

This journey is told throughout ten different books, an "autobiographical" book about herself, and her father's "autobiography".  One I got started on these books I quickly realised what a fantastic character she truly is.  She is loyal and protective of those she loves, and she loves hard.   Despite her age, magic, and intelligence she is quick of temper and has no problem forcing those around her to go the way she wants them to.  she is willful,  stubborn, and willing to compromise all at the same time.  She is one of the most well drawn characters in fantasy and she is one of the reasons why I fell in love with the genre so much.

I would encourage everyone to get started on these books by David Eddings as soon as you can.  Inside them you will meet Polgara and a whole host of other remarkable characters, both good and evil.  You would start with the first 5 books of The Belgariad series, move on with the 5 books of The Malloreon series, then finish with Belgarath: The Sorcerer and Polgara: The Sorceress.  If you decide to take the journey, you won't be disappointed.  Trust me, these book and their characters are way more interesting than this meager post of mine can every get across.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Monster, 1959 by David Maine

Part Of Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

The United States government has been testing the long-term effects of high-level radiation on a few select islands in the South Pacific. Their efforts have produced killer plants, mole people, and a forty-foot creature named K. Covered in fur and feathers, gifted with unusable butterfly wings and the mental capacity of a goldfish, K. is an evolutionary experiment gone very awry. Although he has no real understanding of his world, he knows when he's hungry, and he knows to follow the drumbeats that lead him, every time, to the tree where a woman is offered to him as a sacrifice by the natives.

When a group of American hunters stumble across the island, it's bound to get interesting, especially when the natives offer up the guide's beautiful wife to K. Not to be outdone, the Americans manage to capture him. Back in the States, they start a traveling show. The main attraction: K.

I finished this book weeks ago and I haven't bothered to write a review of it up to this point because I'm still a little conflicted over it.  For the most part this is a book that examines the "King Kong" storyline through the eyes of the monster.  The problem is, this monster has absolutely no coherent thoughts in his head.  He doesn't have an idea of "self", he doesn't really remember things much past when they happen, and he really doesn't understand why things happen to him.  So you really aren't able to get his take on things, instead you get told what he would think, if he could. 

The basic storyline from "King Kong" is there.  Monster falls for sacrifice, her rescuers capture monster, monster is brought to the United States for entertainment purposes, monster escape with woman, and things end badly for everyone involved.  The storyline is used to explore the United States and in some small part the rest of the world during the 1950s.  Obviously it's not the positive attributes of the 50s that are being harpooned by the author.  Instead he uses this opportunity to explore race, violence, science gone to the extreme, and too some extent war during what really was a turbulent time in U.S. history.  This is where I thought the book really didn't work for me.  It was almost too heavy handed at times, the comparisons were a little too much of a stretch at times.  I understood where the author wanted my brain to go, my brain just didn't want to take the trip.

One thought I did find interesting was the idea of "King Kong" being racist.  K. and King Kong both have sacrifices to them on a regular basis, always of native women.  You can read that, and if you read the book or see the movie, as dark skinned women.  It's only when a white, blond woman is sacrificed that the monsters react in a different way.  Suddenly they are finding themselves engaged in a way that has never happened before.  There is something about the white skin that makes them react differently than the darker skin.  It's an idea that I never really thought of before, but the author convinced me that there is some merit there.  I've seen "King Kong" a few times but it's been quite a long time since my last viewing.  Now that I have this idea in my head, I'm not sure I'm really ever going to be able to watch the movie without that running around my brain.

While overall I found this book to be an interesting read, I'm pretty sure I'm not going to bother with a second read.  The entertainment value was almost overwhelmed by the message the author tried to put out there.  Normally, if it's done well, I love a political science message written into the story.  This just wasn't one of those books that meshed the story with the politics well enough for me to enjoy.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Few Interesting Links I Want To Share

I normally don't do these type of posts but I have come across some rather interesting things on the Internet that I feel compelled to share with you.  They have occupied quite a bit of my time and hopefully they will do the same for you.  This may turn into a semi regular thing as I find items that excite me so much that I have to share them.

I have Sheila over at Book Journey to blame for the first item I want to share with you.  She reviewed an audio book of Dracula by Bram Stoker and it reminded me of my favorite version of it.  I have always loved The Mercury Theater on the Air version that Orson Wells produced back in the 1930s.  I own it on CD but I figured I could find it online for others to listen to as well.  I eventually found it as part of a free podcast on iTunes.  It's called The Horror! (Old Time Radio).  You can subscribe to get a new podcast downloaded to your iTunes account every week.  If you don't have iTunes go to and you can not only find The Horror station but many others as well.  I've been listening for days now to old time radio shows that most times are more entertaining than television.  They knew how to tell stories back then.  Today's scribes could learn a lesson from them.  If you want to listen to Dracula go to this page and it's listed along with some other great shows.

I'm a big fan of public radio and one of the shows I listen to quite often is The Diane Rehm Show.  She is an excellent interviewer and can readily discuss politics, economics, defense, movies, literature, and social policy at any given time.  I found two book discussions to be very interesting.  On 3/21/11 she talked with Robert Lane Greene, author of "You Are What You Speak: Grammar Grouches, Language Laws, and the Politics of Identity".  It was an entertaining look at language and the way people use it, most times without thinking about it.  On 3/10/11 she talked with David Brooks, the author of "The Social Animal:  The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement."  I've since seen him on various shows discussing his book, which I really want to read.  If you click on the titles of the books it will take you to the corresponding episode of the show.

I think most of you know that I'm a huge fan of Daryl Gregory, the author of Pandemonium and The Devil's Alphabet.  He has a new book, titled Raising Stony Mayhall, slated to come out in June.  I can't wait to get my hands on it, but in the meantime the author generously put the prologue and first chapter on his site for everyone to read.  After reading it, I was even more excited to get hold of the book.

The last item I want to leave you with is a gorgeous song from Chris Botti.  It features Gladys Knight on vocals.  So please enjoy their rendition of "Lover Man".