Tuesday, May 31, 2011

On China by Henry Kissinger

Part of Synopsis From TLC Book Tours:

In On China, Henry Kissinger turns for the first time at book length to the country he has known intimately for decades and whose modern relations with the West he helped shape. Drawing on historical records as well as on his conversations with Chinese leaders over the past forty years, Kissinger examines how China has approached diplomacy, strategy, and negotiation throughout its history and reflects on the consequences for the global balance of power in the twenty-first-century.

I am not by any stretch of the imagination a foreign policy genius.  I'm not an Asian studies major, nor am I a history or political science scholar.  What I am though, is a political junkie who chose to read this book so I could, maybe, get a better grasp on our relationship with China.  I was hoping to gain a little bit of insight into the U.S.-China relationship.  By doing so, I was hoping to understand, even a tad, why both countries act they way they do where the other one is concerned.  China is going to be major player for years to come, a player the U.S., especially it's citizens, will have to learn more about.

Now because of my limited knowledge of U.S. policy toward China, I'm pretty sure I'm not going to be able to give you an in depth review of this book and all it has to say.  Instead I'm going to give you my reaction to the book, all of this in pretty layman's terms.  I would strongly suggest visiting the TLC Book Tour Page for this book and checking out some of the wonderful, fully fleshed out reviews to get a better grasp of everything Secretary Kissinger had to say on our history with China.

I'll be the first one to admit that despite my love of history, I've never really read all that much about what took place on the Asian continent.  I couldn't have told you the different empires and countries that have risen and fallen since the dawn of mankind.  I couldn't have discussed the wars and the inevitable treaties that came after them.  I couldn't even have told you the names of the ruling monarchs in history, at least not the way most American kids can do with European royal families.  What I appreciated about this book is that it did give me a basic understanding of ancient China and how they viewed themselves in the grand scheme of things.  It was very interesting to learn about their creation mythology and how that myth dictated how they viewed everyone else.  I learned more about China's history in the first few chapters of this book, then I have for my entire life.  For that I'm grateful.  What I do wish this book had done more of, and I do understand this is a foreign policy book, is give me a better insight into other aspects of Chinese culture and how that influenced their history and modern lives.  For that I will have to go elsewhere, but this book gave me the desire to do so.

I'm afraid that when it came time for Secretary Kissinger to discuss the U.S. history with China in modern times, with heavy emphasis on the Nixon administration, I found myself checking out.  This was the whole reason I wanted to read this book, and maybe it's because of the Secretary's ego, I just could not convince myself that I should pay attention.  I finished the book, but by the end I was wishing I had chosen another one to read instead.  This could be my own personal political biases at work, I'm not really sure about that.  What I do know is that while the subject material was fascinating, the voice was annoying.  I have every intention to read more about China, and I'm pretty sure I will find myself going back to this book for clarification, it just won't be my first choice.

I would like to thank Trish of TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read/review this book.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Mailbox Monday for 5/30/11

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at The Printed Page and is being hosted all this month by Mari at Mari Reads.

I received a trade paperback of The Hypnotist by M.J. Rose for an upcoming TLC Book Tour.

I received a trade paperback of The Summoner by Layton Green from the author for review.

I bought Three Little Pigs on DVD from Wal-Mart for $10.  I includes 6 other classic short films.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Monsters - 2010

Official Synopsis:

Six years ago NASA discovered the possibility of alien life within our solar system.  A probe was launched to collect samples, but crashed upon re-entry over Central America.  Soon after, new life forms started to appear there and half of Mexico was quarantined as an infected zone.  Today, the American and Mexican military still struggle to contain the "creatures"... 

I don't remember when I first heard about this movie, or even how I heard about it.  What I do remember, is watching the trailer for the first time and falling in love.  Then I read more about the movie, saw a clip of it and decided I had to watch it.  For the most part, I'm not a huge fan of sci fi movies.  Generally, especially newer ones, tend to be epic special effects orgies that sacrifice the story for the visuals.  I'm sure we can all think of more than one example that fits that.  What I loved about everything I discovered about this movie was that this looked more like a love/road story set against the backdrop of a alien monster invasion.  The creatures and the devastation they wrought was there, but they weren't the overriding story.  Thankfully, what I thought I was getting, I got.

The story takes place six years after the probe crashing back to Earth.  Somehow those samples sprouted new life in the form of giant octopus like monsters, think Cuthullu but smaller, that the governments of the U.S. and Mexico are trying to contain in the top half of Mexico.  The U.S. has built a massive wall along it's entire Southern border and nobody is allowed to cross over that wall.  Photojournalist, Andrew Kaulder, has been south of the infected zone trying to capture that one shot that will make him money.  After the hotel the daughter, Samantha Wynden, of his boss was staying in was attacked by one of the creatures, Andrew is tasked with getting her to the coast and on a ferry back to the U.S.  The movie really tells the story of Andrew and  Samantha's journey.

This is a love story more than it is anything else, both of these characters are in Southern Mexico because they are running away.  She is trying to hide from a fiance that she really isn't in love him.  He is trying to escape the pain of finding out his son, really wasn't his.  They are both damaged people who learn to trust each other and fall in love on the way home.  Their physical journey home, and this may sound cliche, mirrors their emotional journey with each other.

For a budget of just around $15,000, the monsters and the wreckage they leave behind is almost breathtaking in scope.  Entire towns are seen in ruins, with abandoned buildings being taken back over by the jungle.  They resemble ancient temples that serve as lasting reminders of a people who have vanished long ago.  There are some beautiful shots in this movie that I really wasn't expecting to see in such a low budget.  The director has an eye for setting the mood and framing in a way that keeps the eye's attention.  The monsters themselves, especially the end sequence are gorgeous.  Probably some of the most beautiful creatures I've seen on screen for a long time.

I really can't grouse about much of anything with this movie.  The film is a visual treat, the acting is subtle and believable, and the storyline kept me engaged the entire time.  My one quibble, and it is a very small one, is that I'm not a huge fan of tying the opening scene in with the closing scene.  I don't like to know what will happen before it does.  I know this is a trend in both movies and TV, but I wish it would go away.  It didn't take away from what I was watching, especially since I didn't realize it until the end, but it was slightly annoying anyway.

I would strongly encourage everyone to see this movie.  Just don't expect large explosions, 20 minute scenes of monster carnage, or overly gorgeous actors trying not to look too dirty while they are on the run.  If you like well told stories told against a backdrop a little out of the norm, I think you will love it as much as I did.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Favorite Fictional Character --- Charles Gunn

I had about 20 different Buffy/Angel characters enter into my head for consideration for this, the last Buffyverse FFC post of the month.  The problem with narrowing it down, is that there are so many great characters, many of which will get their own post someday, that it's really hard to weigh them against each other.  Today, I decided to go with Charles Gunn, the street warrior turned lawyer from "Angel".

When we first meet Gunn, he is the leader of a vigilante street gang who hunts down, and kills vampires.  By the end of his television journey, he is a former lawyer for an evil law firm and is dying in a back alley after taking that firm on.  It's that journey in between such opposite personalities that makes Charles Gunn a captivating character.

From an early age, Gunn is taught how to fight vampires by his grandmother.  The area of L.A. he grew up in, the Badlands, is a desolate section abandoned by those who should have protected the civilian population.  Because of that lack of attention, vampires and other demons have been allowed to have an almost free reign and are only kept in check by those willing to take them on.  Gunn kills his first vampire in her kitchen.  Along with his sister, Alonna, Gunn quickly raises through the ranks and eventually takes over the leadership of his own gang of vampire hunters.  Despite his tactical knowledge and skills as a fighter, Gunn quickly let the mission take over his life, he no longer valued himself as anything other than a killing machine.

When he first meets Angel, he tries to kill him.  All he saw was a vampire roughing up a human and Gunn assumed the worst. Since the show continued to air, Gunn failed at his attempt and over a period of time the two of them began to form a tenuous sense of trust.  They would come to each other for help.  Sadly, their tentative friendship did not happen in time to keep Alonna from being turned into a vampire, which causes Gunn to stake her.

That single event, which haunts him for the remainder of his days, caused Gunn to refocus on his life and take a long hard look in the mirror.  He had to decide if his way of doing things were the right thing or if maybe, just maybe Angel may have had the answers all along.  He joins the time, though he doesn't really sign on full time for a while.  He still feels torn between his new allies and his old gang.  Those divided loyalties eventually come to a head and Gunn realizes that he is happy and at home with Angel investigations.

Gunn fits in easily with the rest of the team and falls hard for Winifred "Fred" Burkle who they had rescued from a demon dimension.  His relationship with her allows him to look at himself as more than just the team's muscle.  Because Fred is a genius, Gunn begins to want more for himself, mainly because he doesn't think he deserves Fred's affections.  Gunn has a lot of self doubts and some of them come true when he is forced to kill the man who sent Fred to the dimension, in order to spare Fred from doing it.  Instead of it bringing them together though, it tears them apart.  Fred can't forgive herself of Gunn for what happened, and it drives home that maybe he is just the muscle.

When the team join Wolfram & Hart, the evil law firm, Gunn has an infinite knowledge of law downloaded into his brain, making him the one team member that seems to fit flawlessly into the firm.  He thinks he has finally discovered his place on the team, that maybe now they will look at him as something else, someone as smart as they are.  Through various events, including the death of Fred due to his own actions, Gunn realizes that being a super lawyer isn't all it's cracked up to be.  It's only through a lot of soul searching and self sacrifice that Gunn finally accepts who he is and his role in life.  It's because of that actual self acceptance that Gunn is able to face the end, even when he is mortally wounded taking out one of human puppet masters behind the firm.  When we last see him on screen, he is standing side by side with Angel ready to face an army of demons bent on destroying them.  At that moment, Gunn has finally come into his own as a true mythical hero.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The After House by Mary Roberts Rinehart

Ralph Leslie, a recent graduate from medical school, is recovering from typhoid and is bored as can be.  Penniless, all he can think about is getting out of the hospital and sailing on the yacht that he has been watching outside his hospital room window.  With a few favors from a good friend, Leslie signs up as a member of the crew.  Little does he know that on it's maiden voyage as a pleasure cruise, blood will be shed by the innocent and fear will reign supreme until they are able to return to port.

This is a short mystery that recounts the events on board the Ella, a luxury yacht that was created by refurbishing a sailing vessel.  The day it sets sail is a gorgeous sunny day and there is not a hint about what's to come.  When the ship comes back to port, 31 day later, Leslie is the acting captain of the ship, and they are towing a canvas covered lifeboat holding the corpses of three people murdered with an axe.

Because this book is so short, I really can't go into any more detail about the plot without giving too much away.  What I will say is that there is not a wasted word or scene in the 180 pages.  The author brilliantly built up a sense of fear and paranoia on the ship, without laying it on too thick.  The atmosphere on board the ship acts like another character, one that touches upon the lives of everyone on board.  I think that is where the setting works beautifully.  It's such a small area to work with, people are trapped without a real way to get off.  That fear starts to work on them as suspicion falls on several different people, before the killer is finally identified.  The setting, more than anything else, controls the progression of the story.  It dictates the action, forces the hand of the killer in selecting his targets, and forces the characters and the reader to think about what's going on in a new light.  You can't read this book as you would a murder mystery set on land.  The circumstances are different, so you have to approach it differently.  The logical thing to do in a house does not apply to a ship out to sea.

The love story, and you know there has to be one, is a hoot to read.  There is so much back and forth between Leslie and Elsa Lee, the sister-in-law of the ships owner, Marshall Turner.  One minute you think they are going to be going for the jugular, the next you are annoyed that they aren't picking up on their mutual signals as easily as you are.  It was a fun dynamic to read and I loved the fact the author didn't seal the relationship until the last two pages, well after the events on the ship actually took place.  It was told with a great sense of humor and wit, and I appreciate the way the author handled their relationship.

Now this was only my second book by Mary Roberts Rinehart, though I've already finished a third, but I'm really starting to appreciate her writing style.  Her sense of humor and obvious pleasure in what she's doing comes through on every page.  It's a joy to read any author that truly enjoys what it is they do.  I will be reading a lot more of her in the future.

Challenges: M&S, VM

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mailbox Monday for 5/23/11

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at The Printed Page and is being hosted all this month by Mari at Mari Reads.

I received an ARC of Jane Was Here by Sarah Kernochan from the publicist for review.

I received an ARC of The Honored Dead by Joseph Braude for an upcoming TLC Book Tour.

I bought a hardcover of Dracula by Bram Stoker, which is illustrated by Edward Gorey.  It also includes "Dracula's Guest" the short story that Bram Stoker wrote as an almost prologue to the novel.  It was on the bargain table at Barnes & Noble, so I couldn't pass it up.

I found hardcovers of Eragon by Christopher Paolini and Nerds Who Kill by Mark Richard Zubro at the Friends of the Library Book Store for only $1 a piece.

The wonderful Becke of The Mysterious Garden Muse, who is also the moderator of the Mystery Board for Barnes & Noble online book Clubs, unexpectedly sent me a few books.  Among them was a paperback of The Boomerang Clue by Agatha Christie.  I already own it by it's other title, Why Didn't They Ask Evan?, but you can never have too many Agatha Christie books around the house.  She also sent me a hardcover of Trent's Last Case by E.C. Bentley and a paperback of Ten Adventures of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Wizards edited by Jack Dann

Part Of Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

Throughout the ages, the wizard has claimed a spot in human culture - from the shadowy spiritual leaders of early man to precocious characters in blockbuster films.  Gone are the cartoon images of wizened, a gray-haired men in pointy caps creating magic with a wave of their wands.  Today's wizards are more subtle in their powers, more discerning in their ways, and - in the hands of modern fantasists - more likely than ever to capture your imagination...

I'm going to be honest right now, the biggest reason I bought this book was because of the gorgeous cover.  I love the use of color and shading and the way the stars on the wizard's cloak shine with a goldish sparkle.  I love the way the rocky background frames the wizard and draws the eye to him.  Of course the fact that this anthology has contributions from some of the best writers in the genre didn't hurt either.

This is a fantastic colleciton of stories, not one of which I didn't like.  The first story in the anthology is from Neil Gaiman.  "The Witch's Headstone" showcases a young boy who's only friends and teachers are the ghosts inhabiting a old, lonely graveyard.  They teach him history and about life outside of the cemetery.  When he wanders a little outside the boundaries of the consecrated boundaries he meets the ghost of a witch who's only wish is to have a headstone for her grave.  Patricia A. McKillip, one of my favorite fantasy authors, contributes "Naming Day" about a young girl who is going to have to pick her secret, magic name but instead has to deal with one of the worst days of her life.  Other contributors include Garth Nix, Tad Williams, Tanith Lee, Terry Dowling, Orson Scott Card,  and Gene Wolfe.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Graving Dock by Gabriel Cohen

Part Of The Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

In the chill of winter, a homemade coffin drifts ashore in New York Harbor, containing the body of a boy with the letters "G.I." written on his forehead.  As a detective with Brooklyn South Homicide, Jack Leightner finds that corpses are a part of every working day.  But today his attention is riveted on a considerably smaller box, containing an engagement ring for his girlfriend Michelle...

This is one of those books that I picked up for a dollar at the Dollar Tree last year.  Thankfully, I finally got around to reading it recently and I'm now thinking that the Dollar Tree is the coolest place to buy books. What I did not know at the time, and what has added to my wish list, is that this was the second book in the Jack Leightner series.  Other than referencing a few incidents from the first book, this is okay as a standalone read.  I've never been a fan of police procedurals, but since reading In the Woods by Tana French, I've been a little more open to them.  That doesn't mean I'm sold on the genre, as I like detective stories more, but if I keep reading books like this, I'll get there.

Jack, who is recovering from a gunshot wound sustained in the first book, is a man trying to find his equilibrium again.  He has a new relationship that started right before the shooting and has progressed since then.  What I found interesting about it was.....okay, this is going to take a little off the wall thinking.  One thing that I've always found annoying about movies, let's take "Speed" for example, is that a traumatic event brings people together and by the time the credits start to roll you are left with the impression that everything is going to be perfect afterwards.  Logically, what the hell kind of sense does that make?  Do you really think a relationship based on need or adrenaline is really going to work out once the normall day-to-day events start to happen?  Come on, that's just dumb.

Now while Jack and Michelle's relationship is not exactly like Jack and Annie's, it's pretty damn close.  Jack and Michelle did go on a few dates before the shooting, but they really didn't KNOW each other.  Once Jack is shot, Michelle is by his bedside and helping him recover once he's out of the hospital.  The book starts off on a date, where Jack is ready to propose to her, though a missing ring gets in his way.  Jack, who is in his forties, and Michelle seem happy but they are now having to adjust their lives to accommodate Jack going back to work and being away form home for long periods of time.  Michelle, who I think really does love him, doesn't seem to be able to deal with who Jack is and ends up flaking out on him.  Now this is a series, and I've read the synopses of some of the proceeding books, and it looks like things may work out. But in this book, things just kind of blow up in Jack's face.  What I loved about them as a couple, is watching them struggle with trying to get to know each other outside of crisis mode.  The give and take was a treat to read even if things didn't quite go as planned.

As far as the mystery goes, I found it to be well crafted and done in such a way that I actually cared about the reasons the killer was going around killing people, some more mercifully than others.  Jack comes across as a smart, dedicated detective who truly cares about the dead.  He wants to find out what happened to them, to give them their voice back and allow justice to be done.  He, along with a troubled new partner, are trying to catch the killer before he strikes again.  The case takes them to Governors Island, which was used by the U.S. military for basing for over 200 years and had only been empty since 1996 when the U.S. Coast Guard closed it's base.  The case keeps bringing them back to the island;  it's the place the coffin was put into the water, the second body is discovered there, and as Jack keeps digging deeper, he realizes the killer has ties to the island.

As the case progresses, Jack is forced to deal with Michelle and ends up investigating his partner who keeps showing some rather guilty behavior.  It doesn't help that since it's Brooklyn, Jack is constantly in rotation for new cases which must be worked at the same time.  Like a lot of good cops, Jack is able to multitask and he works every lead he can to make sure he solves them before it's too late.  He is thrown some serious curve balls during the investigation, both professional and personal, but like anyone who is dedicated to his job, he doesn't let them derail him.  By the end of the book, he has solved both homicide cases he was working and makes sure the young boy is given a proper burial.

I loved this book and this character, so much in fact that I'm going to have to go out and buy the rest of the books, despite my need to buy other books as well.  Jack is a terrific character and I'm looking forward to getting to know him even more.

Challenges: M&S

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Favorite Fictional Character --- Xander Harris

I think of all the Buffyverse characters, once stand out as being the most "normal".  He is the one that, I think, most of us could identify with, especially in our high school years.  I think for that reason, Xander Harris is probably the most human character of them all.

I think what set Xander apart from the rest of the Scooby Gang, especially in later seasons, was that all though he was part of the gang, he was always a little outside of them as well.  Despite his military knowledge, borrowed from his Halloween Costume, Xander didn't have any special powers.  He wasn't super strong like Buffy, didn't have Willow's affinity for magic, and he definitely didn't have the brains that Giles was gifted with.  What he did have though was a fierce sense of loyalty and courage that I'm not sure I would have been able to display if I was in his shoes.

It was that lack of "specialness", at least in his own head, that made Xander's struggle with maturity that much harder.  The entire arc of his character was him trying to grown up, become a mature, adult male who could not only take care of himself but others as well.  He started off as a little geeky, but like a lot of socially awkward people, he had all the best lines.  He had a sense of wit that I, as witty as I am, was just a little bit jealous of.  His lack of maturity though, and lack of a filter, would allow his mouth to get him in trouble sometimes, but he was always funny.

As the series progressed, especially with episodes like "The Zeppo", Xander started to become more confident in himself and his role in the gang.  He took a more ownership of the decisions and by the last season, he was an almost unofficial Watcher for Buffy.  Like most of us who had that awkward high school stage, Xander eventually discovered who he was and became an adult who was a productive member of a group that acted more as a family than anything else.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Don't Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon

Synopsis From Back Cover:

On a soft summer night in Vermont, twelve-year-old Lisa went into the woods behind her house and never came out again.  Before she disappeared, she told her little brothers, Sam, about a door that led to a magical place where she would meet the King of the Fairies and become his queen.

Fifteen years later, Phoebe is in love with Sam, a practical, sensible man who doesn't fear the dark and doesn't have bad dreams -  who, in face helps Phoebe ignore her own.  But suddenly the couple is faced with a series of eerie, unexplained occurrences that challenge Sam's hardheaded, realistic view of the world.  And they question their reality, a terrible promise Sam made years ago is revealed - a promise that could destroy them all.

Randy Susan Meyers, the author of The Murderer's Daughters, said this book is "...a perverse fairyland where Rosemary's baby could be at home."  I think I could end this review now, just by quoting her, but I'm not sure that would really be fair.  I just wish she hadn't said it, so I would be the first to do so.  Instead I'm going to have to elaborate a bit more and try to tell you what I thought of this one in my own words.  I'm not sure I'm going to be able to do it justice.  So if my review doesn't leave you wanting to read it, just take my word for it and read it anyway.

When we first meet Phoebe, she is twenty years old and not really sure what she is doing.  She is having sex with her married boss who is forty years older than her, and doesn't seem to have a sense of direction to follow.  She appears to be someone going through the motions of life, but never really connecting with anything.  That doesn't seem to change until the day that twelve year old Lisa disappeared inside the confines of an abandoned village in the woods.

Fifteen years later, Phoebe is now dating Sam, Lisa's younger brother, and the past is about to slam them in the face.  Out of the blue, two events happen that are about to shake them to their core.  Evie, Sam's cousin, who was around at the time Lisa's disappears call and asks to meet Sam and Phoebe at a cabin in the woods.  They are going to spend time together over the weekend and talk about old time, namely Lisa's disappearance.  At the same time, Phoebe receives a phone call from a young girl telling Sam where to look for Lisa's book of fairies.  For all intensive purposes, the phone calls seems to be from an unaged Lisa.

When the weekend trip takes a turn for the nightmarish, Sam and Phoebe are forced to find out what really happened fifteen years ago.  The journey will shake Phoebe's faith in Sam and in everything else she thought she knew.  She's scared to death to tell Sam she's pregnant and is starting to believe the maybe the Dark Man of her childhood dreams is in fact real.  Maybe there really is a magic door under the bed that allows him in to steal you away.  Maybe the King of the Fairies does exist and is just waiting for the right time to snatch her out of the shadows.

I can't give too many other plot points without giving the story away, but I will say what I loved about this the most is the way it left me thinking about it at the end.  I loved the questions it was forcing me to ask as I read along.  What does Evie (the real one) know that she isn't telling?  What secrets are being kept by Sam's mother?  Is the King of the Fairires really going to make Sam keep his childhood promise, give up his first born?   As I read the book, I almost felt as if I was being pulled in two different directions.  On one had you have a horrific story of childhood abduction and the consequences of it.  On the other side I was, at times, almost forced to believe that Lisa really did go with the King of the Fairies, how else would you be able to explain the bizarre,  frightening behavior being displayed by almost everyone involved.

In the end though, the author brilliantly combined a story of one family's dark descent into their own family mythology with just enough "fantasy" to make you believe that maybe, just maybe, fairies really do exist.

I would like to thank Trish of TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read/review this book.  If you would like to read other reviews on it, please visit the tour page.

Challenges: GLBT, M&S

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Mailbox Monday for 5/16/11

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at The Printed Page and is being hosted all this month by Mari at Mari Reads.

I've been looking for Pollyanna on DVD for a while now, so when I saw it at Wal-Mart for $10, I snatched it up.

I bought two paperbacks at a used bookstore for $.50 each.  They were The Case of Jennie Brice and The After House  by Mary Roberts Rinehart.  I've already read them so expect reviews on them shortly.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Favorite Fictional Character --- Rupert Giles

I don't think any journey through the Buffyverse could be complete without our next guest.  I'm not even sure he needs a lengthy introduction.  So with no further ado, may I present to you, one of the sexiest librarians around, Mr. Rupert Giles (Ripper to his friends).

Theoretically, if I were a young teenage girl charged with the slaying of vampires and other demons, I would want someone like Rupert Giles to be there for me.  When Buffy first arrives in Sunnydale, trying to put her slaying days behind her, she realizes that not only can she not escape her destiny, but she also has a new Watcher.  Giles is a third generation Watcher and even though he tried to get away from it in his youth, going as far as demon worship, he found himself in the same shoes as Buffy.  He was destined to be someone he didn't want to be.  Also like Buffy, once he accepted his destiny, he excelled at it.

On the surface, Giles didn't seem all that impressive.  He came across as rather mild mannered, a bit nerdy (despite the good looks), and way too stuffy.  Underneath all of that though lurked a dangerous man, one that you did not want to be on the bad side of.  When he needed to, Giles was capable of a detached sort of violence that none of the other characters came close to.  When he smothered Ben, so Buffy would not have to, he showed a side of him that I think had been hinted at all along but was rarely shown in such a blatant way.  

He was also proficient in both hand to hand combat and magic.  He taught Buffy all she needed to know in order to defend herself and slay anything that made it's way to the Hellmouth.  With the magical training of Willow, things didn't run as smoothly.  Giles was totally against her involvement from the beginning, but when he realized she would progress without him, into dangerous waters, he took her under his reluctant wing and taught her what she needed to know.  In fact, overtime, the pupil outpaced the teacher and I don't think he could have been prouder or either one of them.

I think of all the characters, Giles was the most subtly complex of the lot.  Where a lot of them wore their personalities on their sleeves, Giles did more of a slow reveal of himself.  I don't think he showed off every facet of himself until well into the 6th season.  Regardless of his mistakes, which he did make a few of, Giles was a true father figure to The Scooby Gang.  He loved them and tried to protect them the best he could in a world where any of them could be killed on any given day.  He was a fabulous mentor and friend to them all and I have to admit to being a bit jealous of them for that.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Some More Interesting Links

I've never been all that interested in reading Jane Eyre, but after listening to the Reader's Review of it on The Diane Rehm show, I can't wait to get a hold of it.  Joining Diane on the show was NYT columnist Maureen Dowd, Syrie James (author of The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte), and John Pfordresher (professor of English at Georgetown University).

Another interesting discussion I heard on The Diane Rehm Show was an interview with Geraldine Brooks, the author of Caleb's Crossing.  It's a fictional account of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College in 1665. 

On the NPR show, Here & Now, Robin Young interviewed Daniel Levitin, author of Your Brain on Music.  It's a fascinating look at how music is able to convey emotion and how musicians change the emphasis while playing.

On CBS.com I've been watching a lot of  "Perry Mason" episodes.  I think when I'm done, I'll be watching  old episodes of "The Love Boat".

Mario Frangoulis is one of my favorite male vocalists alive today.  He is a Greek Tenor but also sings in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian.  One of my favorites is his version of "Hijo de la Luna" or "Son of the Moon".  It's gorgeous, I think if you listen to it, you will love it.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mailbox Monday for 5/9/11

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at The Printed Page and is being hosted all this month by Mari at Mari Reads.

I recieved a trade paperback of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin for an upcoming TLC Book Tour.

When I saw this DVD at Wal-Mart for only $5, I had to get it.  I love "Serial Mom" and "Very Bad Things", they are the reason I bought the DVD.  While I've seen "Nurse Betty" and enjoyed it, I'll probably only watch it a few times.  I have never heard of "Your Friends & Neighbors", but the first two movies where well worth the money.

Happy Mother's Day

I Just Wanted To Wish All The Mothers Out There, A Happy Mother's Day.  I Hope You Have A Day Filled With Love And Joy.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Case of the Dangerous Dowager by Erle Stanley Gardner


When Matilda Benson, a cigar smoking and tough talking widow, walked into Perry Mason's office, he had no idea what the next few days were going to do to him.  What started off as a simple request to pay of her granddaughter's gambling debts, ends up as a murder investigation.  It just so happens, that the police and a federal grand jury are interested in charging Perry with that murder.

At this point, after only 3 books, I don't think it's possible for me to get enough of Perry Mason.  There is just something so sexy about a man who is willing to bend the rules a little (sometimes a lot) to serve the interests of his clients and prove them innocent of all wrongdoings.  he is at his best in this one.

When his first attempt to pay off the gambling attempt and collect the IOUs goes horribly wrong, Perry knows that it's only a matter of time before he ends up in trouble.  When on his second attempt he finds the holder of those IOUs dead and his clients granddaughter standing over the body, Perry knows he's in big trouble.  He quickly takes control of the situation, gets her out of there, and arranges things as best he can to protect both the granddaughter and his client.

Unfortunately for Perry, the authorities take his misleading too mean one of two things.  Either he committed the murder himself or he's covering for someone else.  Perry is forced to go on the run and with the help of Della Street and Paul Drake, his secretary and private investigator, Perry is racing around the clock to find the real killer before he himself is nabbed by the police.

Perry has a lot of suspects to occupy his time and brain.  Maybe it is the granddaughter, desperately trying to protect herself against the truth coming out.  It could be her husband wanting those IOUs to prove in their divorce proceedings that she is unfit to handle money and their daughter's trust fund.  Maybe is the deceased business partner who was getting tired of him and wanted the business for himself.  There is still a chance it could be a rival crime boss wanting to move in on his gambling ship operation.  It may even be the Perry's client, Matilda Benson, willing to do anything to protect her family.  Whoever the killer is, Perry uses his brains and double talking ways to get to the truth and clear his name.

My only regret is that I can't find a video of an episode based of this book.  It's rather sad actually because then we could have seen Raymond Burr takes his clothes off two different times.  It's such as sad state of affairs, especially since Raymond Burr was so hot back then.

Challenges: M&S, VM

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Rotters by Daniel Kraus

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

Grave robbing. What kind of monster would do such a thing? It’s true that Leonardo da Vinci did it, Shakespeare wrote about it, and the resurrection men of nineteenth-century Scotland practically made it an art. But none of this matters to Joey Crouch, a sixteen-year-old straight-A student living in Chicago with his single mom. For the most part, Joey’s life is about playing the trumpet and avoiding the daily humiliations of high school.

Everything changes when Joey’s mother dies in a tragic accident and he is sent to rural Iowa to live with the father he has never known, a strange, solitary man with unimaginable secrets. At first, Joey’s father wants nothing to do with him, but once father and son come to terms with each other, Joey’s life takes a turn both macabre and exhilarating.

Since I started book blogging back in 2009, I don't think I've ever been happier to not be a paid reviewer.  If I were, I think I would be racking my brain for days for something to say about this book that would be worthy of being paid for it.  I'm not sure I'm capable of ever expressing how much I loved this macabre blend of my childhood fears of being buried in the ground along with all the adolescent pain and longing for home that so many of us experience.

When Joey's mother dies in a freak accident, he is cast aside by the state and forced to go live with a father he never knew he had, let alone wanted.  He is set adrift in a new town, without his best friend, and forced to deal with a father that seems to be not only cold but just so happens to be the town pariah.  Unfortunately for Joey, this is one case where the sins of the father comes crashing down on the son.  When the kids in his new school find out who his father is, he is never allowed to know a day of peace ever again.  Relentlessly bullied, he is forced to withdraw further and further into himself in order to not feel the pain the building isolation is forcing upon him.  When he does take that all too painful step of reaching out, even in the smallest way, those who reached back are punished by his tormentors.  This causes Joey, like so many others, to continue to pull within himself in order to deal with the pain.  He is a young man who has lost his home and his identity which is enough explanation for what comes next.

Part of Joey's problem is the way he smells.  For weeks, he has been living in what can be called a shack, if you want to be generous about it.  He can't wash his clothes or from what I could tell bathe all that often either, there is such a cloying stench of decay in the house, that it seeps into his pores and never really leaves.  The stench and stigma that comes with it though are fitting, it's almost like the outward symptom of what is happening inside of him.  Between the horrific changes that ripped him away from the only home he knew and the constant pressure squeezing him at all times of the day, the slow decay of his soul and spirit match up with the sweetish, pungent odor of death.

Is it any wonder that when Joey discovers his father's secret, he grasps at that world with all the strength he has left.  Maybe in the world of rotting corpses, long nights, and constant death; Joey will be able to find a place to call his own once again.  His father, reluctant at first, takes Joey under his wing and starts teaching him about the world of grave robbing.  His father, like many before him, view the life in an almost noble, romantic way.  By the time he is done with him, Joey feels the same way.  They are serving a higher purpose by what they do, even it it's misunderstood by the general populace. 

Now if this book was just about grave robbing, as seductively written as it was, I'm not sure I would have loved it as much as I did.  The world of grave robbing though served a bigger purpose.  It served as a comparison for what happens, all to often, when life rips away someone's identity and sense of self worth.  This was a book about a young man who loses everything and through some rather unconventional ways discovers more about himself and his family than he ever wanted to know.  By the end of it, and there is some great action I never even hinted about in the middle, he has picked up the pieces and has maybe found that balance within himself once again.

Now if 6 months ago you would have told me that I was going to read a YA book about grave robbing, written by an author I never heard of before, I would have told you to go away.  It wasn't that I would be turned off by the idea, instead I wasn't sure a YA author could pull it off.  It sounds more like something Poppy Z. Brite would do, and better than anyone else.  Now that I've read Rotters though, I can happily say that Daniel Kraus holds his own against Brite, who was really the first author I read that could make this type of topic both seductive and mesmerizing to the point I would not be able to stop myself.  I don't think she could have told this story any better. 

Rotters is a story of the desire we all have to be somewhere we feel "at home."  It just happened to be told in such a way to keep me up at night with nightmares of a digger in the future bringing up my body and mutilating my corpse for the treasure buried with me.  I've always wanted to be cremated, this book cemented that decision in stone.  This was a world of pain, yearning, and rotting flesh that I would never hesitate to visit again.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Favorite Fictional Characters --- Willow Rosenberg

First of all I can't believe that it's been since July 15th of last year that I've talked about a character from the Buffyverse.  I feel that I've let my favorite TV show of all time down by not talking about them more often.  This month I'm going to remedy that a bit.  For the next 4 Wednesdays, I'm going to highlight one of my favorite characters from either "Buffy: The Vampire Slayer" or "Angel".  Since I've already talked about Buffy, Angel, and Cordelia, this week will be all about my favorite witch, Willow Rosenberg.  By the way if anyone wants to go back and comment on any of those three posts, you are more than welcome to.  Buffy didn't get much response at all, poor girl.

Where do you start with Willow Rosenberg?  I guess it will have to be from the beginning, though I'll try to make this short.  When we first meet Willow, she is the really smart girl in school who doesn't seem to have a clue about anything other than how to solve long equations and spout off answers in class.  What you quickly find out about her though, is so much more.  Beneath the smarts and really bad wardrobe, is a girl who is sweet, unassuming, loyal to her friends, and always willing to help out. 

Once the show got rolling and Buffy's friends learned about her "uniqueness", Willow jumped into the role of researcher and budding witch.  Throughout the show those two things, especially the magic, quickly began to define Willow's role in the Scooby Gang.  As her powers grew, her role grew in fighting demons and monsters and even started to assert herself as a strategist.  That fascination with magic was also one of the biggest hurdles Willow had to face.  Over time, she became addicted to it.  She didn't want to do anything with out it, she let it define her as a person.  As you know, once you allow something to define you, that is all you see yourself as.  She ended up spiraling out of control, that eventually led her to taking the life of someone else using magic.  Now there were severe circumstance that allowed her to go down that road, but it was a decision that would haunt her for years to come.

The other thing that defined Willow for me was of all the characters she was the one that seemed to need to be in a relationship the most.  Now all the characters had issues when it came to love, but I think Willow was the one character that it came naturally to and seemed to need it the most.  Especially in the beginning she seemed to grasp at every offer of affection she received.  At first that caused her to make some bad choices, including leaving The Bronze with a vampire and falling in love with a demon over the internet.  Both of which almost ended her quest for love permanently. 

As the show progressed though, so did Willow and her attitude on love.  When she first met Oz they had an almost cute courtship.  They both were rather odd, quirky characters that fit well together.  The longer they were together the more comfortable Willow became with herself and others.  She seemed to find herself in a way that she hadn't before.  She even dealt with Oz being a werewolf, a situation she knew nothing about in the beginning.  The way she dealt with the problem, helped  her grow as a person and made her stronger.  As in any TV show though, no relationship is allowed to progress perfectly.  After falling back into her infatuation with Xander and almost costing her Oz, he ended up going crazy for a female werewolf and ditching her.  That almost tore her apart but it was needed for her to meet the love of her life, Tara.

With Tara, Willow blossomed as a person and as a witch.  Of all the couples on the show, they were probably the most well balanced and equal partnership.  They complimented each other in a way that allowed them both to become strong, independent adults.  It was Tara that helped Willow realize that she had a problem with magic.  I really think without Tara and her love, Willow would have never been able to break the habit and would have gone down the darker road earlier and longer.   When Tara is taken from her but a gunshot, Willow loses herself and does things she never knew she was capable of.  It was a long, hard road back to herself but through the love of her friends and time, she eventually did.  She even realized that it would not be betraying Tara to be with someone else.

I know a lot of people think Willow is the one character that changed the most and had no problem telling me so when I said it was Cordelia Chase that changed the most.  In reality, I think Willow was the one character that came into her own the most.  She, of all of them, fulfilled her potential and became the woman she was destined to be.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bandits by LM Preston

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Daniel’s father has gotten himself killed. A thief and a mercenary, Daniel is now determined to find the treasure his father snatched. Being a Zukar is all he knows and wants for his future. Up until his father’s murder, his father’s faltering loyalties to the Zukar hung heavy as a rift between them. But now, with his father's blood on his hands, his time is running out to find his father’s killer, the missing treasure… and to save his world.

He wants to go alone to retrieve his father’s stolen treasure, but he is accompanied by his flight school dropout cousin Faulk, his best friend’s stubborn little sister Jade, and his own younger brother Nickel. Jade is off limits since her brother is his best friend, but unfortunately, Jade’s set on changing his mind. Daniel just can’t decide if she’s worth the beating he’ll get from his friend in order to have her.

They’re on the run from the king’s officials and an unknown killer. The king desires to kill any Zukar child who is unprotected and will stop at nothing to get them. Who’s more dangerous, Daniel doesn’t know. All he knows is someone is bent on killing him and taking the treasure he thinks his father died foolishly to protect.

Through the islands of Merwin to an unknown planet, they seek to find the treasure that changed his father’s life – all for a price that is too high. To claim the treasure, Daniel will have to test everything he knows and everything he is or will ever be in order to earn the right to save their lives and the home of those he loves.

This is the third LM Preston book I've reviewed and I must say that I'm really happy with the results.  She is an author that I've come to appreciate and am really enjoying her growth as a writer.  When I read her first book, Explorer X-Alpha, while I enjoyed it, I wanted it fleshed out a bit more.  I felt there was so much in it, that I wanted it explained and detailed more.  When I read her second book, The Pack, I was still wishing the book was set in a fantasy series, though I understood the reasoning of what that would not work.  Now I know that the author wasn't paying all that attention to one reviewers opinions but I must say that Bandits seemed to fulfill both of my issues with the first two books.

Don't get me wrong, this is still a sci fi book set on a alien world, but it almost had a fantasy feel for me.  I think creating the Zukar as an almost futuristic version of pirates, just a little more deadly, is what did it for me.  I have always associated pirates (in literature anyway) as an almost fantasy like element in the same way I would do with dragons.  I know that make absolutely no sense, but what does anymore.  As a kid I was a sucker for pirates and to explore that world again, with a slightly different twist was a lot of fun. 

The other aspect that made this more like a fantasy book compared to something that was strictly sci fi (not that I have a lot of experience with that genre) was the quest aspect of the book.  After Daniel and Nickel's father is killed they set off on a fast paced journey to discover the secret of their father's treasure and why someone would be willing to kill for it.  In typical fantasy tradition they are joined on the quest by their cousin Faulk, a flight school drop out who wants nothing more than to break away from his parent's control and live his own life, and Jade, the younger sister of Daniel's best friend and a possible future love interest.  Their journey takes them off their world of Merwin and into uncharted space to find the origins of the treasure, a treasure that could destroy the planet and all those trapped on it.  Once they arrived on the planet that the treasure came from they are all tested to see if they are worthy to control the secret and save Merwin from destruction.  The fact that this story happens in outer space, far into the future, and involves space craft and aliens; didn't make it any less of a fantasy novel for me.

The other aspect I felt the author did better in this novel was in how she was able to make the characters and plot three dimensional enough to appeal to an adult audience, without writing above the heads of her target audience.  I had some difficulty in relating to the first two books for that reason.  While they were fun and engaging to read, I couldn't connect to characters as much as I would have liked, because they seemed to be more like stock characters instead of fully realised individuals.  That was not the case in this one, though not perfectly written, they were well rounded characters that anyone should be able to get behind and be engaged by their story.  

The same is true for the storyline itself.  This book takes the action, which the author has never been bad at, and blends it within the plot in such a way that I didn't feel as if I was reading two different stories.  The author blended the two in a better fashion than what took place in the first two books.  The story itself wasn't predictable and it kept me on my toes wanting to know what happens next.

I've really enjoyed reading LM Preston's writing grow and mature through each subsequent book.  I'm really excited to read what she comes up with next.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Parker Pyne Investigates by Agatha Christie

Synopsis From Back Cover:

The personal ad posed a simple question: Are you happy?  If not, consult Mr. Parker Pyne.  The answer is a resounding no for a jealous wife who suspects her husband of infidelity...for a lonely widow driven to assume a new identity...for a distraught mother whose son has been kidnapped...and for the fiance of strangely reclusive bride-to-be.  But what sort of detective would solicit in the personals?  The sort who has a knack for investigating affairs of the heart.  For therein lie the darkest motives for murder.  And they are proving most lucrative for the hopelessly romantic - and highly suspicious - Inspector Parker Pyne.

I can't remember when I read this book for the first time, but I know I was in middle school, maybe 5th grade.  Back then there wasn't enough action for me to keep me interested.  I wanted mysteries that involved lots of dead bodies and nefarious plots by overly active evil doers.  For the most part those are not the cases that Mr. Parker Pyne takes.

This is a collection of 12 short stories that run the gamut from a wife wanting her husband back and it working out to a husband wanting his wife back and the same game blowing up in everybody's face.  My favorite story (non murder of course) involved a rich bitter woman who just wanted something to do with her money.  She was a widow and unhappy with life because she thought having all the money in the world would make her happy, it didn't.  Instead she was miserable and bored with life.   By the time Parker Pyne is done with her, a year has gone by, she's poor and planning a new marriage.  At first she was annoyed by the trickery involved, but then she realized she had never been happier.  These are the types of cases that take up the first 7 stories.

The final 4 all revolve around actual crimes, murder for the most part though a jewel theft and kidnapping is involved in the last story.  What I found interesting is that Parker Pyne doesn't react to those cases any differently than those that strictly involve human relationships.  He views them all the same, solves them the same, and ends up with the same results. 

Like Harley Quinn, Parker Pyne is one of Agatha Christie's more fascinating protagonists.  They are both unique characters that some how manage to stay in your mind long after you read the very few books about them.  I wish she had written more than she did.  Since she didn't, the few books she did write about them will have to mean all that much more.  I love the uniqueness she brought to Parker Pyne, I could only wish that other authors could match up to her talent.

Challenges: M&S, VM