Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Honored Dead by Joseph Braude (Plus Giveaway)

Part of Synopsis From Tour Site:

Joseph Braude is the first Western journalist ever to secure embed status with an Arab security force, assigned to a hardened unit of detectives in Casablanca who handle everything from busting al-Qaeda cells to solving homicides. One day he’s given the file for a seemingly commonplace murder: a young guard at a warehouse killed in what appears to be a robbery gone wrong. Braude is intrigued by the details of the case: the sheer brutality of the murder, the identities of the accused—a soldier—and the victim, a shadowy migrant with links to a radical cleric, and the odd location: a warehouse owned by a wealthy member of one of the few thriving Jewish communities in the Arab world. After interviewing the victim’s best friend, who tearfully insists that the true story of the murder has been covered up by powerful interests, Braude commits to getting to the bottom of it.

This will probably sound a little strange coming from a mystery fan, but I have never really enjoyed reading about real crime.  I have tended to stay away from true crime books, I think mainly because they seem sensationalized to me.  I've always gotten the impression that the author cares more about making money than telling an accurate and fair story.  Because of that bias, I almost passed on this book.  I wasn't sure it would be something I could really enjoy or get into.  I was somewhat familiar with the author's work in journalism, so I was hoping for a little bit more of a story, less "pizazz."  

I was also intrigued by the setting of this book, Morocco.  I'll be the first to admit I know almost nothing about that region of the world other than what I see in the news.  It wasn't a region we really ever studied in school, which I still think the Middle East, Africa, and Asia should get more attention but that's another thought for a different post.  The book itself takes place in the country's largest city, Casablanca.  Now this may sound dumb, but I've never even thought of Casablanca outside the movie, which I've never seen.  So the idea of reading a book set in a country in Northern Africa that I'm not at all familiar with, hooked me.  That was all I needed to set my hesitations aside and dig in.

The book opens after the author has already embedded with the 5th precinct in Casablanca.  He has already witnessed both sides of the way the police force deal with crime and suspects.  Sometimes the heavy hand of violence comes out and others an almost strange emphasis on human rights.  I almost felt as if the police force was schizophrenic in it's approach to the populace of the city.  They can't quite make up their minds on what direction the country should go in.  I will also say that their definition and my definition of human rights probably don't compare very well.

It's not longer after that he is handed a file on the murder of a homeless
Berber man on the property of a Jewish owned warehouse.  The author, who's mother was an Iraqi Jew knows how sensitive of a subject, Judaism and Jews can be in a Muslim country.  The file states that the killer, a member of the military, has already been detained and confessed.  Mr. Braude quickly becomes interested in the case as it deals with cultural, ethnic, religious, and society issues all rolled up into one.  He takes it upon himself to delve into the case further and once he meets the best friend of the murdered man, the author finds himself agreeing to help the friend prove the police are lying about what happened.

The investigation takes them into the shanty towns of Casablanca and rural villages miles away from the city.  They discover that not only are the authorities lying about what happened. but that their are larger motives at work.  It just so happens that they authorities feel that if the truth comes out it will damage societal structures as a whole, so they see it as their duty to hide the truth.

I actually find that concept fairly interesting.  I find the idea of a government or government official covering up the truth of a crime to be rather abhorrent and against what I instinctively feel would happen in this country.  Then I start to think a little more and realize that governments, including ours, constantly try to hide or blur the truth in order to protect "the common good."  What that common good is, I have no idea, but I do know people are always talking about it.  All you have to do is look at the Pat Tillman case and realize that no country is clean of this behavior.

I really got into this book and found myself caring about the case.  I wanted to know what happened to this man and why he had to die.  I found myself sympathizing with him when certain aspects of his life came out.  I would think, but for the fact of where I was born, I could have found myself living the same life.

I even liked the way this book forced me to dust off my sociology degree and delve into the cultural aspects of a country that has so many ethnic and religious layers to it.  It was an insightful look into a way of life and thinking that I'm not at all familiar with, and I thank the author for that.

I would like to also express my thanks to Lisa of TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review this book.  You can read so more insightful (and better written) reviews by visiting the tour page.

Now for the GIVEAWAY!

You will have a chance to win a copy of this book for yourself.  All you have to do is leave a comment with your email address, that's it.  I would love for you to start following the blog as well, but you don't have to.  The giveaway is only open for the US and Canada.

The contest will be open until 11:59 CST on 7/13/11.  After the deadline I will pick a winner using  I will then email the winner who will have 48 hours to contact me with their shipping info.  If they do not, a new winner will be picked.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Favorite Fictional Character --- Kissyfur

I'm of two minds on this weeks FFC post.  First of all, I've really enjoyed this month's theme and all the bear characters I've been able to highlight.  Characters that I love and am so grateful for the opportunity to revisit them.  I'm also a little sad because will this not only be the last post of the month, it will be the last post I write for the next two months.  During July and August there will be 9 different guest bloggers letting us in on some of their favorite fictional characters.  So with no further ado, I'll present you to Kissyfur, the cutest darn bear cub to ever grace Paddlecab County.

Kissyfur, who's  pictured with Beehonie, was a bear cub who started off life with tragedy.  At a young age, Kissyfur's mother passed away leaving him ans his father, Gus, all alone.  They were a circus family and after her death, neither one of them felt like performing anymore.  When their circus train is derailed into a swamp, they use the opportunity, and escape into Paddlecab County.

Kissyfur and his dad settle down and start a new life.  Kissyfur goes to school with other kids who live in the swamp.  He quickly becomes friends with Beehonie, an adorable little beaver named Toot, a fussy pig named Duane, and Stucky the porcupine.  Unfortunately Kissyfur's life isn't without a bully, a pudgy little warthog named Lennie loves to call him sissy face.  Lennie's dad isn't much better, he tries to make Gus' life harder as well.  Gus has started a paddle boat taxi service for residents of the swamp, and Lennie's dad doesn't want it to succeed.  

The best part of this cartoon, other than Kissyfur himself, were the alligators who were always trying to eat them.  Floyd and Jolene, thankfully aren't the sharpest tools in the shed, and they are always bungling their attempts to get a hold of Kissyfur.  They were hilarious spoilers for the young hero and I never got tired of him and his dad outsmarting them.

What I loved about Kissyfur and this show, and not something I really appreciated until years later, was what it taught me about life.  No matter what tragedies happen in your life, you still have a life to lead.  The pain and loss will always be with you, but you have to move on and start a new life.  It's not always the best life you could have had, but you can still be happy and live a full life.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cub Scouts & Skink Bites

Today is the last day of my vacation and knowing myself as well as I do, I will be complaining about going to work tomorrow and bored to tears with not having gone to work for 5 whole days.  I love time off.  Actually I need time off, but right around the 5th day, I start going a little wonky.  I'll probably be cleaning up a storm today, doing laundry, and getting back into work mode.  On my last day off the computer, Heather of Age 30+ ...A Lifetime of Books has graciously agreed to tell us all about her week last week.  After reading her post, I wish I was 8 years old again.  Heather is one of the nicest bloggers I have met and one that has always made me feel welcome.  She has a terrific blog and even though, as she will point out, we don't read all the same type of books, I'm always adding to my wish list after reading her reviews.  Besides, anyone that loves The Wheel of Time series as much as she does is purely fantastic.

When Ryan asked me to contribute a summer-themed guest post I immediately said yes.  See, I love Ryan’s blog. We don’t read ALL the same kinds of books but there is some overlap in our reading tastes and I enjoy reading his posts.  Plus our sons are about the same age, so that’s something else we have in common.   The problem is that I didn’t know exactly what to write about – “summer-themed” is a rather broad topic.  After much thought I decided to share with you what I’ve been doing during this past week, because it has been rather interesting!

Kiddo is going into the 4th grade this year and he is a Webelos (level 1) in Cub Scouts.  For the first time since he joined Scouts our vacation schedule allowed him to attend Cub Scout Camp.  I decided to volunteer for the entire week because I’d get a huge discount on Kiddo’s registration fee.  I wasn’t particularly excited about spending 9 hours each day for 5 days in the 90 degree heat with 300 elementary aged boys, but hey, you do what you’ve gotta do, right? Turns out, this has been a FANTASTIC week for me!

Monday: All 300 boys made their way to my station during one of 8 sessions to create a themed flag for their Den.  I loved seeing how creative each group was.  Some kept up our dinosaur theme by choosing names such as “Killer Raptors” and “Mighty Megalodons” while others chose names like “The Gummies” and the “Killer Teddy Bears.” One obnoxious 7-year-old wrote “sex” on his flag not once but twice, but other than that the boys were all pretty good.

Tuesday: I helped a wildlife rescue group teach the boys about reptiles.  The highlight of my day was holding the critters: an 8’ long red-tailed boa constrictor, a 2’ long corn snake, a very smelly savannah monitor, and a rather large monkey-tailed skink (he’s the one eating from the spoon).  Apparently I smelled a lot like the salad I had for lunch because that lovely skink bit me!  It didn’t really hurt, and it only bled in one spot – I’m kind of proud of my wound.  I texted my husband to let him know about the bite but apparently auto-correct doesn’t like “skink” and changed it to “skunk.” My husband frantically called me to see if I had to go to the hospital to get a rabies shot for my “skunk” bite.  Too funny!

 Wednesday & Thursday: I assisted a deaf woman in teaching all the boys basic sign language.  The first day her daughter translated since we were doing some complicated signs but the second day I was on my own (and I don’t know sign language).  I learned my ABCs in finger-spelling and also learned about 50 signs.  By the end of the second day I was able to have brief but understandable conversations with this woman. It was so much fun!

Friday: That’s tomorrow, and I have no idea what I’m doing.  Maybe I’ll be cooking, maybe I’ll be cleaning, maybe I’ll be manning the store.  It doesn’t matter what they assign me to do; I’ll do it with a smile and I’ll sure learn something new.  I really wasn’t looking forward to this week but I went in with the best attitude I could muster and I am having a blast.  Hot temperatures, high humidity, and the ever-present chance of severe thunderstorms do have me melting a bit (as you can see in the photos) but they haven’t dampened my mood.  It’s hard work and I’m exhausted at the end of the day, but this is a GREAT way to start summer. I just hope Kiddo is having as much fun at Cub Scout Camp as I am!

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Taste For Summer Mysteries

Well it's now Monday and I only have two days left of my vacation.  I'm sure, knowing myself as well as I do, I may end up doing some housework today.  I will probably be cleaning the kitchen and maybe even my bedroom.  Hopefully I will have bought the 4th bookcase I need to get and I'll be rearranging my books. It's amazing how quickly books end up taking up so much room.  Luckily for me, one thing I won't be doing is posting a blog post.  Today, I'm pleased to say that the lovely Tasha at Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books has agreed to do that for me.  If ever I want to read a review on a book that isn't something everybody else is reading, Tasha is one of the bloggers I look towards.  I can't even tell you how many books she has added to my TBR pile.  Today she did it again.  She will be discussing a book by an author I've read, but never this one.  I hope after reading this post, you will be adding it as well.

For me, there's something about summer that makes me want to read mysteries.  I wouldn't call myself a mystery fan, but when I was younger (i.e., elementary and middle school) that was all I read.  I even wrote and illustrated my own mysteries, like "The Body Buried on Boot Hill."

The summer between fifth and sixth grad was big for me.  I'd always spent summers reading, but that was the summer where I was like, "OMG, books are my LIFE."  Except I didn't use OMG because that totally wasn't in the vernacular back then.  Anyway, I read two books that became my straight-up favorite books ever:  The Vampire Diaries by LJ Smith and Night Train to Memphis by Barbara Michaels (a.k.a. as Elizabeth Peters.)

Night Train to Memphis is about an art historian (hmmmm...) named Vicky Bliss.  It's actually the fifth in a series of mysteries about Vicky, but it's the one I read first.  Vicky is asked by the German police and Interpol to go on a luxury archaeology cruise up the Nile as a lecturer--despite the fact that she's a medieval art historian and doesn't know anything about Egyptian art.  Vicky knows there can be only on explanation for this:  her sometimes-boyfriend and professional are thief, Sir John Smythe, is going to be on that cruise, and they want her to identify him before he steals something.  Vicky hasn't heard form John in a while and is worried about his, so she agrees--though with no intention of cooperating with authorities until she figures out what John is up to.

Vicky sees John on the cruise, just as she expects to; but what she doesn't expect is to be introduced to his mother... and his wife.

Michaels had me from that point on.  Even today, reading the book, I'm all like, "Whaaaaaat?  He's married??"  What's John up to?  What is hi in Egypt to steal?  And did he ever really love Vicky?

During the year after I first read Night Train to Memphis, I reread it at least 4 times.  It might have been as many as eleven.  I began rereading it as soon as I finished it.  I LOVE it--I love how it transports you to Egypt and how nothing as as it seems.  I also love the Agatha Christie-ish feel of solving a mystery on a luxury cruise.  It's by far my favorite book in the Vicky Bliss series.

Here's the thing about the book though:  It doesn't work if you've already read the series.  If you have read the other books, then John's actions and motivations don't seem so mysterious, and it's easy to be impatient with Vicky, who thinks she's pretty smart but who can't figure out what's so obvious to the reader.  It took me about five rereads before I was like, "Hey!  This book isn't the greatest."

But it sill kinda is.  It's the only book in the series that I've reread, and I still reread it.  Not every summer of course, but I do think about it.  It's a book that defines what I want in my summer reading.

What books did you read during the summer as a kid?

Have you ever read a book in the middle or at the end of a series that was better because you didn't know what was going on?

The Hypnotist by M.J. Rose (International Giveaway Included)

Synopsis From Back Cover: 

Haunted by his inability to stop the murder of a beautiful young painted twenty years ago, Lucian Glass keeps his demons at bay through his fascinating work with the FBI's Art Crime Team.  Investigating a crazed collector who's begun destroying prized masterworks, Glass is thrust into a bizarre hostage negotiation that takes him undercover at the Phoenix Foundation--dedicated to the science of past-life study.  There, to maintain his cover, he submits to the treatment of hypnosis.

Under hypnosis, Glass travels from ancient Greece to nineteenth-century Persia, while the case takes him from New York to Paris and the movie capital of the world.  these journeys will change his very understanding of reality, lead him to question his own sanity and land him as the center of perhaps the most audacious art heist in history: a fifteen-hundred-year-old sculpture the nation of Iran will do anything to recover.

I'm going to admit right now that I loved the beginning of this book.  It starts with such a violent act that I was a little stunned by the suddenness of it.  As I was reading it, I was struck by the randomness of the act.  It's only later that I found out the killing wasn't so random.

Despite how cool the beginning was, I almost gave up on this one within the first few chapters.  Lots of characters don't normally get annoying as quickly as they did this time out.  There were so many thrown at me so quickly, that I got annoyed rather suddenly.  I stuck with it though and by the end, while I can't say I was in love, I really enjoyed this one.  One thought I had about this was that it reminded me of watching a movie, one that quickly cuts back and forth between scenes in order to familiarize the audience with the players.  It's a technique I never think about when watching a movie, but tends to come across as too heavy in a book.

I loved the mix of art, history, mysticism, and mystery.  Outside of the occasional Dan Brown or Katherine Neville book, I'm not normally reading too much that combines them all.  I enjoy learning while I'm reading and this book allowed me to do that.  Art history is not something I have studied in the past or am likely to study anytime soon.  So I have to get the gleams of knowledge out of books like this.  The parts of this book that dealt with art and it's creation were my favorites.  Once the book got into the realms of hypnotism and reincarnation, subjects I'm unsure of myself, I stayed interested but never fully engaged.

There were some beautifully rendered scenes, when under hypnosis, Lucien is taken back to some of his past lives, lives that played a key role in his current case.  I found it to be a little too coincidental, but from what I understand of reincarnation, it makes sense.  Lucien, if the past lives are to be believed, is caught in a cycle that is forcing him to right the wrongs of his past and protect those who came back with him, something he failed to do earlier.  It's a fascinating subject that one of these days I'll study more and figure out my own beliefs on it.

As average as my feelings are for this book, I liked it but it didn't blow me away, I'm intrigued enough to think about reading the previous two books in the series.  It won't be something I run out and do, but if the opportunity presents itself, I will take it.

I would like to thank Lisa of TLC Books Tours for the opportunity to read/review this book.  You can visit the tour page for me detailed reviews, which I would encourage you to do.

Now for the giveaway!  (International at that!)

One lucky winner will be give the chance to read the book for themselves.  If you live in the US or Canada you will win a physical copy of the book mailed to you.  No PO Boxes will be accepted though.  Now if you live in any other country, you will win a pdf copy of it.  The giveaway will be open from 6/27/11 through 11:59 pm CST on 7/11/11.

All you have to do to enter is leave a comment about the review and your email address.  You will not have to follow the blog to enter, but I hope you would do so anyway.  I will select 1 winner using  Once I have selected the winner, I will notify them by email.  The winner will have 48 hours to respond, if they do not, a new winner will be selected.  Good Luck!

Challenges: M&S

Sunday, June 26, 2011

So Put Another Dime In The Jukebox, Baby!

Well today is Sunday, I'll be having lunch with a really good friend of mine that I don't get to hang out with a lot anymore.  She's getting married in August and we both have kids, so family tends to take up the bulk of our time.  After that I may go to a bookstore or just veg on the couch and watch movies.  The best part, I can do whatever I want.  Thankfully though, my good friend Terri of Alexia's Books and Such... has agreed to stop on by and talk about some of her favorite summer songs.  Those songs that just make you think of hot sweaty days and lemonade.  Terri is always adding to my TBR pile and has even "dumped" some of her old book off with me, not that I'm complaining.  She is a great blogger and I would encourage you to go on over and give her a big hello and wish her a great summer.

Please don't tell Ryan, but I'm not really a big fan of summer. It's hot. It's humid. There are bugs. Did I mention that it's hot? I'm more of a spring kind of girl, with the cool breezes and everything reawakening after a long, cold winter.

But one thing that summer has over all the other months is great songs! None of the other seasons have so many great songs dedicated to them, so thought I'd highlight some of my favorites! So here they are, in no particular order, the songs that make summers bearable:

While the original version by The Lovin' Spoonful is good, Joe's version is my favorite! Not a very good video, but every time this song comes on the radio, I crank it up and sing along!

Think Bananarama is the ultimate Summer Girl Group! Love them!

A new addition to my Summer Playlist, but you can't beat Kid Rock!

Summer means that schools out! Woot! Another song I crank up when it comes on the radio!

While it doesn't technically have summer in the title, I don't think that anyone would disagree that this is the ultimate Ode to Summer, what's more summer-y than baseball?

There are so many other great summer songs out there, but I didn't want to go crazy. But what would summer be without "Summer Nights" from Grease, or Mungo Jerry's "In The Summertime"? And I love Bryan Adams "Summer of '69"!

Curious to find out your favorite summer songs that I might have missed - care to share?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Friendship, Beaches, & Tissues

As of right now I'm planning on going to the Wichita Art Museum this morning and maybe to the flea market later on in the afternoon.  I may even stop in at the farmer's market or I may just veg and read all day, who knows.  Right now I would like to give a big welcome to Michelle of red headed book child.  For those of you who may not know her, Michelle is a wonderfully warm person who's opinions I've come to cherish.  If you have never been, go on over to her blog and tell her hi and wish her a great summer.  So for now I'll turn it over to Michelle as she talks about one of her favorite movies, one that always makes me cry.

When Ryan asked me to do a post on Summer, it didn't take too long for Beaches to spring to my mind.  He said to pick a book, movie or music that reminded me of Summer.  There are certainly tons of books I remember reading as a kid during those long hazy summer months, me tucked in a tree, no shoes on my feet.  But the movie Beaches holds a special place in my heart.

For those of you who have not had the pleasure of watching this movie, it stars Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey and in brief, here is a description from IMDB.

When the New York child performer CC Bloom and San Fransisco rich kid Hillary meet in a holiday resort in Atlantic City, it marks the start of a lifetime friendship between them. The two keep in touch through letters for a number of years until Hillary, now a successful lawyer moves to New York to stay with struggling singer CC. The movie shows the various stages of their friendship and their romances including their love for the same man.

CC Bloom is played by Better Midler as an adult and she has always been one of my favorite actors.  She is brash, sassy, full of big red hair and the center of attention;  kind of like me as a child.  (okay, a bit more brave!  I just had the big red hair and I thought I was sassy!)  Hillary is more refined, quiet, smart ,curious and a bit shy.  They clash at times but seem to fit together like a glove and grow to be best friends. 

This story and movie hit very close to home because these two girls were very similar to me and my best friend Melina growing up.  Melina was definitely the quieter one, the smarter one and came from a far more privileged family.  We met in 3rd grade and were best friends until she moved in 10th Grade.  We remained close after that for some time, lost contact during college years and now have reconnected due to the joys of Facebook!

Beaches reminds me of summer because of all the time we spent together as kids.  This was one of our favorite movies.  Summers were not only time for us to watch our faves, it was also time for us to hang out at her house near the lake.  Swimming, sun and bonfires! 

The soundtrack to the movie is also special to me because during a particular rough patch in our friendship, she wrote me a beautiful letter, and included the cassette tape of the soundtrack.  She noted that "Wind Beneath My Wings" song and no matter how we grew up and apart, we would always mean the world to one another.

I couldn't have asked for a better best friend growing up.  And that's the power of the movie Beaches.  Friends that you meet as a child and keep through adulthood are precious. 

I watch it now and then and I still cry.

I have the soundtrack in my car and I still know all of the words to all of the songs.  And "Wind Beneath My Wings" can still bring me to tears.  Here it is for your listening (and crying) pleasure.

Beaches is the perfect feel good movie for the summer.  It will remain a favorite of mine and bring up wonderful memories of childhood summers and best friends.

Thanks for Ryan for asking me to write this special post.

Have a Wonderful Summer!

red headed book child

Friday, June 24, 2011

Take Me Out To The Ball Game

By the time you are reading this I'll be off on my vacation, enjoying the time I get to spend all by myself.  For someone who works in retail, that is a blessing.  Today's guest post is from Carol of Carol's Notebook.  Carol's is one of the first blogs I started to read on a regular basis not only for her book reviews but for her game reviews and the posts she does of her daughter's artwork.  Please go on over and say hi and happy summer and with that I will turn it over to Carol as she explains her love for America's favorite summer pastime.

I love summer. The heat, the sun always make me feel good, and there’s so much to do in the summer that you just can’t do other times of the year: cook-outs and picnics, trips to the amusement park, fishing and fireworks, reading on the hammock, veggies fresh from the garden, softball and ice cream cones. And Pirates games.

I admit it. I’m a Pirates fan. We’ve been going to the games each summer for as long as I remember. I’m not a big sports person, but there’s nothing like watching a baseball game live. I don’t listen to them on the radio (too confusing) or watch them on TV (too boring), but I love going to the games. Not just when we’re winning either. The Pirates haven’t had a winning season in like 18 years, since I was in high school, but this year they’re doing pretty well, hovering around .500. The games aren’t all about who wins and who loses, it's fun no matter what, but it’s always nice when we win. The last game we went to was downright exciting, the best game I’ve seen for a while.

I love the whole experiences. PNC Park is just gorgeous and a truly enjoyable place to be. We always park in a garage and walk across the bridge, picking up water and peanuts from the stand at the corner to take in with us. There’s some great food in the park too. In addition to the standard hot dogs and fries, there’s my favorite, Primanti’s amazing sandwiches: a sirloin beef patty, coleslaw, tomato and French fries, all piled between two slices of Italian bread. There’s the cheering, the wave, the organ playing, and yes I'll be clapping and yelling along with everyone else. The parrot shoots hot dogs into the crowd at one inning break and t-shirts at another. And I can’t forget the Pierogi race; my favorite is Jalapeno Hannah. On special nights, fireworks follow the game. (Pittsburgh loves its fireworks!) Then it’s a walk back across the bridge, where the saxophone man is always playing so we drop some change into his case.

You just can’t beat a summer night at a ballgame.

“Take me out to the ball game, take me out with the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks, I don’t care if I never get back.”

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Tower Treasure by Franklin W. Dixon

When Frank and Joe Hardy are almost ran off the road by a speeding car, little do they know that it's just the beginning.  Being the sons of a famous private eye, mysteries are nothing new to the two boys.  They have just never tried to solve one on their own.  When the father of a friend is accused of stealing thousands in jewels, the boys are determined to find out the truth.  When it becomes clear that the speed demon who almost killed them is involved, everything comes full circle.

Unlike the Nancy Drew books, which I devoured as a kid, I never read all that many Hardy Boys mysteries.  I don't remember if it was because I didn't like them or if it had to do with the fact the library I used didn't have as many.  I'm thinking it's the former, because I don't see how I didn't like these as a kid.  Especially when I loved this book so much as an adult.

I had this one sitting around for a few weeks now, sitting unread.  I had already read the Nancy Drew book that I bought at the same time, but since I wasn't feeling the same sense of nostalgia, I wasn't in a hurry to read it.  The other night though, Father's Day actually, I was missing Aidan and none of the other books were keeping my attention.  I know him spending time with his great-grandparents for the summer is a great thing, but it takes me a while to get used to not having him around.  Anyway, I picked it up on the off chance it would do more for me, and it did.

It grabbed and held my attention from the start when the boys are forced off their motorcycles when a speeding car almost takes them out.  That is followed quickly by a stolen car, a holdup, stolen jewels and a crazy hobo.  What made it even better though was I knew two different things.  First, this book was aimed at young people so I knew that despite whatever action was taking place, nobody was in any actual danger.  Secondly, there are 58 books in the original series.  That means I have a lot of fun ahead of me.  I'll be waiting for Aidan to come home so I can sucker him into reading these with me.

Challenges: M&S, VM

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Come Visit Me At SFF Chat

The lovely Simcha of SFF Chat is celebrating her two year blogoversary (Congratulations!) and she has graciously asked me to participate in an interview.  I had a ton of fun answering the questions.  I know we would both love it if you stopped on by and checked it out

Favorite Fictional Character --- Yogi Bear

"Look at the bears! Look at the bears! Look at the bears!"  I feel like the annoying kids driving through Jellystone Park right about now.  Until this month I never knew I loved this many bears or how popular bear characters are in our culture.  Well our next guest is none other than the self described "smarter than the average bear," Yogi Bear.

I really can't recall a time in my life when I didn't know who Yogi Bear was.  I'm sure when my only concerns where eating, pooping, sleeping, and burping, I wasn't paying that much attention.  Once I was old enough to watch TV though, I fell in love with the pic-a-nic basket stealing bear.  How can you not love a character who has only two concerns in life?  That was a rhetorical question so don't feel the need to answer it.

When Yogi wasn't trying to discover the goodies humans brought into the park, he was trying to get out of it. I've never seen someone try to do something so hard and fail so many times at it.  Well, maybe Wile E. Coyote, but that was another post entirely.  What is so great about Yogi though is he doesn't get mad or give up.  He is bound and determined to get out of the park and stay out.  You have to admire someone with that much dedication and drive.  Just imagine what he could have accomplished if he would have set that mind to science.  Maybe he could have been the first bear to walk on the moon.  He may even have been able to cure cancer.  Alas, we will never know since the last time I checked, Yogi was still trying to get out of the park.

Yogi has even become a part of our Christmas traditions.  Every year on Christmas Eve, Boomerang airs "Yogi's First Christmas."  We hunker down on the couch with a big bowl of popcorn and watch it.  Poor Yogi is trying to get some rest but he is dragged into Christmas merrymaking and mystery anyway.  One of these days I will find it on DVD so I won't have to rely on Boomerang.  It's really one of the last Christmas specials that I want but don't own.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Vacation & Guest Post News

I am finally taking a little break from work and life later on this week.  I'm not doing anything exciting but I am going to try and relax and enjoy myself for 5 days of absolutely no responsibility.  My son has been in MN with my grandparents since the middle of last week, so I"m going to get to do whatever it is I want!  What that means for the blog is that I will be offline from Friday the 24th through Tuesday the 28th.

I have even better news to tell you though.  Thanks to some wonderful fellow bloggers the blog will not be sitting silent.  Five fantastic bloggers have agreed to write guest posts, one per day, that will give you a little hint of what summer is for them.  There will also be a book review of The Hypnotist going up on the 27th.  So that means you will have 6 fantastic posts to read while I'm gone.

But that's not all!  I have even more great news to share.  Since July & August are the two busiest months of  the work year for me I decided to farm out even more guest posts.  For those two months, 9 weeks total, the Favorite Fictional Character posts will be done by guest bloggers as well.  I've already gotten some of them emailed to me and I must say that characters picked so far are fantastic.

I'm really excited for all the guest posts.  There will be 14 different guest bloggers, all of them fabulous individuals and writers.  I can't wait to see what everyone comes up with.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Mailbox Monday for 5/20/11

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

I received a trade paperback of The Blue Light Project by Timothy Taylor for an upcoming TLC Book Tour.

Happy Father's Day

I Wanted To Say A Quick Happy Father's Day To All The Fathers Out There Who Are Doing Everything They Can To Take Care Of And Inspire Their Children.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene

What started off as a routine favor for her father, ended up with Nancy Drew having her first case.  A chance encounter with a moving van and the little girl it almost hits, sets Nancy on an adventure she won't forget anytime soon.  Missing wills, greedy relatives, and furniture thieves are just some of the dangers facing Nancy as she sets out to find a missing clock that holds the key to everything.

Can I say how excited I was to read my first Nancy Drew book since about the 5th grade.  I devoured these book throughout the school year and I really think Nancy gets some of the credit for my lifelong love affair with mysteries.

Underneath that excitement was just a small amount of fear.  I haven't read this book in 25 years so I was scared that it wouldn't live up to the memory.  It wouldn't be the first time that I reread a book I loved when I was younger only to find out that I really didn't care for it as an adult.  What if that were to happen now?  Would I suddenly find myself ditching mysteries and take up historical romance?  I shuddered at the thought then and now, it's just not pretty to think about.

On the other hand I knew it wouldn't be the same, and it wasn't.  Compared to the mysteries I read now, this was pretty tame and simple.  It was a fast and easy read.  It wasn't bogged down in complicated plots involving more characters than you can count.  Nobody was killed and despite a few scares nobody was really ever in danger.  I loved it almost as much as I did in the 5th grade.  It was for different reasons though.  As a kid I was caught up in the mystery.  I had to know where the will was hidden and that the bad guys would be punished.  I wanted to know that the good relatives would get their inheritance so they could live happily eve rafter.

As an adult, this book served as a palate cleanser.  It was just the thing I needed to reset my brain and get me out my more serious frame of mind.  It was pure escapism.  I was able to read simply for the pleasure of it.  I didn't have to think about or analyze what I was reading.  I didn't have to deal with emotionally complex characters that left me drained at the end.  I got to read a story that was simple and fun, a story that left me happy at the end.  I can't wait to do it again.

Challenges:  A-Z, M&S, VM

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Wall by Mary Roberts Rinehart

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Beautiful Juliette Ransom did not want to return to Sunset House.  The old island mansion held only bitter memories, and no one would welcome her back to this grim place.

But Juliette Ransom did a man whose love was turned to a woman consumed by vengeful a girl filled with vicious mockery.  For Juliette Ransom had to uncover the fearful secret of this house of evil - or else fall victim to the revelation of horror hidden somewhere behind THE WALL...

I almost didn't use the above synopsis because it's so over the top.  Sunset House is not a house of evil, it's actually the vacation beach home of Marcia Lloyd and her brother Author and his family, the last of a long line of wealthy New Yorkers.  There is no horror hidden behind a wall, though there are a few dirty secrets hidden away.  The pure hype of it though is why I couldn't pass on using it.  It fits the era of when this book was published and it just has a way of grabbing your attention.

Much like The Swimming Pool, this book is narrated by one person after the detailed events have already passed.  Marcia Lloyd, our narrator, is a young woman who has come out to open Sunset House for the summer season.  Normally the season is full of house parties, rounds of gold, yachting, and gossip.  The summer was already off to a odd start since all the servant's bells in the house would go off when nobody was in the room.  When  Juliette Ransom, Arthur's ex wife, shows up for an extended stay, all bets of a normal season go out the window.

It's clear from the start that Juliette is running from something.  She's scared and nervous, not the way Marcia is used to her being like.  When she demands that Arthur pay one last lump sum on her alimony instead of her regular payments, they know something is wrong.  When the stalemate ends days later with Juliette missing, Marcia and Arthur are anything but joyed.  When her body is found days later in a shallow grave, the fun is just about to begin.  When two more bodies get added to the mix before the summer is up, this island community will never be the same again.

There are plenty of suspects to go around.  Nobody liked the woman and most women would have gladly killed her for the way she went after their husbands.  Arthur is the main suspect though it quickly comes to light that the local, married golf pro had a past relationship with the deceased.  Even the young painter that Marcia has been coyly flirting with has a past with Juliette, one that involved vehicular manslaughter and prison time.  The clues point in every direction and nobody but the sheriff and Marcia seemed to be concerned with finding the real killer.  Most just want it all to go away before they are swept into the maelstrom.

I know I'm sounding like a broken record by now, but I'm so in love with Mary Roberts Rinehart.  She is an expert with creating just the right atmosphere.  She has an ability to make even the biggest place feel small and claustrophobic, trapping the characters in situations beyond their control.  I don't think I'll ever get tired of praising or reading her work.  I can't wait until I buy more.

Challenges: FFM&S, VM

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Favorite Fictional Character --- Smokey Bear

One of the greatest public service mascots of all time has to be our next guest.  I can't remember a time when I didn't know about him.  Though his message of "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires"  has changed to "Only You Can Prevent Wildfires", Smokey Bear is still there helping us protect our national forests.

Growing up in Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington State, I was always around large areas of forest.  Even now, living in prairie Kansas, I miss everything about it.  I miss that smell and sense of calm that only a forest can bring you.  I miss seeing deer and bear in my backyard.  I don't think there is much I don't miss about them.  One of the things I miss the most though is Smokey Bear.  I know he is still around and even has new commercials, but here in Kansas, there isn't a lot of need for them.  My son barely knows who he is.  For someone who grew up with the commercials, school visists, books, comic books, toys, and even cartoons, I think that's a shame.

Born in 1944, Smokey Bear, with his ranger's hat and shovel quickly got on the job.  He wanted everyone to know the dangers of forest fires and what happens to the forest denizens when fires get out of control.  He taught millions of us that it's important to care about what happens to the environment.  The fact that he was one of the residents stuck with me in a way that a human telling me the same message wouldn't have.  Because of Smokey, every time we went camping as a kid, I was the one that would make sure the campfire was completely out.  I would dump buckets of water over it and for good measure, I would shovel dirt on top of water logged ashes.  

I never forgot the lessons learned at the feet of Smokey Bear and I hope that kids everywhere are still learning them. He was the perfect mascot for the United States Forest Service and I hope that he has no plans to retire.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Synopsis From Back Cover:

In the 1970s, Larry Ott and Silas "32" Jones were boyhood pals in a small town in rural Mississippi.  Their worlds were as different as night and day:  Larry was the child of lower-middle-class white parents, and Silas, the son of a poor, black single mother.  But then Larry took a girl to a drive-in movie and she was never seen or heard from again.  He never confessed...and was never charged.

More than twenty years have passed.  Larry lives a solitary, shunned existence, never able to rise above the whispers of suspicion.  Silas has become the town constable.  And now another girl has disappeared, forcing two men who once called each other "friend" to confront a past they've buried for decades.

When I first turned the last page, I sat there for a bit trying to figure out what I felt about the story I had just read.  I was expecting a story that mainly focused on the mystery, that of two different missing girls twenty years apart.  What I ended up reading was a wonderfully written exploration of male friendship and what it means to be a friend.  I've seen and read a bazillion books that explore all the pitfalls of female friendship and how they can turn on a dime.  It's rare, at least in my experience, to find a story that does the same thing for men.  So when that theme is explored in a mystery backdrop that also touches on race, I'm in love.

Both of these men are so damaged by what happened to that first missing girl, that is dictates their behavior for over twenty years.  Silas, who recently came back to town from the military, is now the town constable and hasn't spoken to Larry since that first girl disappeared.  Larry, the town pariah, has continued to run his father's mechanic shop, never getting a customer.  Nobody wants anything to do with him, and that suspicion is only fueled further when the second girl goes missing.  He reads horror novels and fends off the occasional drunken teenager who heads out to his home to start trouble.  It's only been recently that he has formed a friendship with another damaged young man.  That man will be the cause of even more suffering before the book is over.

Silas has been keeping a secret all these years, a secret he's kept to protect himself despite what it's done to Larry.  Their friendship was a brief one.  A friendship that ended with a fistfight and the N word, neither of which they knew how to get around.  When the went their own ways in high school, Silas became the star baseball player, never fully accepted by the white kids.  Larry became that slightly nerdy kid, that doesn't really have friends but isn't despised either.  The story of the night the first girl disappeared is slowly filled in.  It's a story of a sexual relationship that never should have been going on and of manipulation.  Silas has held the key the entire time, but it wasn't until Larry was laying in a hospital bed with a gunshot wound, that he was willing to spill the beans.

The emotions that both men go through were realistically told and a pleasure to read.  Larry's sense of betrayal by Silas and his desire to reconnect with the only real friend he's know are heartbreaking to read.  Silas' inner turmoil as he deals with the fallout of not only his old friend laying in bed fighting for his life, but having to tell the secret at long last, is so well done that I felt I was with him the entire time.  In the end, both men are able to reconnect and through a family secret that they both long suspected, are able to put the past behind them and renew their friendship.

The sides relationships were just as interesting for me.  Silas' with his girlfriend  is such a base of support and strength for him that it allows him to finally come clean about what he knew and never shared.  Larry's with his "friend" and shooter is such a great example of a destructive relationship built on fear and loneliness.  They both illustrate why we crave contact with others, why as a species we need to form bonds with others.

I'm not sure I can ever say enough positive things about this book, so I think I'll end this now.  I really hope that everyone has a chance to read a brilliant look into friendship that also has a great mystery hook.

I would like to thank Trish of TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read/review this book.  You can read other reviews by visiting the tour page.

Challenges:  A-Z, M&S

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mailbox Monday for 5/13/11

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

I received an ARC of State of Wonder by Ann Patchett for an upcoming TLC Book Tour.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Case of the Velvet Claws by Erle Stanley Gardner

Part of the Synopsis From Back Cover:

Perry Mason had been warned that Eva Griffin was too beautiful for her own good.  He had also been warned that she was an out and out liar.  Perry took her case anyway.  It looked to intriguing...

In her wide-eyed, "innocent" way, Eva had been rather indiscreet with a gentleman who was not her husband.  Now her secrets were to be revealed by a paper called Spicy Bits.  Eva was ready to do anything to keep her name out of print.

What I did not know at the time I bought this book was that it's the very first Perry Mason mystery.  By now I think everyone knows that I'm a fan of both the books and the TV show.  The books I only discovered last year and this was my 4th one read.  To be honest I wasn't expecting  this book to be all that much different from the others, but boy was I wrong.

The Case of the Velvet Claws reads more like a typical "hardboiled" detective story than the others I've read. Perry is harder and more willing to get his hands dirty in order to serve the interests of his client.  There is s rather sharp edge to him that had been softened up just a bit in subsequent novels, though I'm not sure when the change happened.  He's angrier and doesn't have any problems showing it.  He's willing to blackmail and create false leads in order to get what he wants, all in the interest of the client.

That brings us to Eva Griffin.  Eva Belter is her real name, Griffin was an assumed name she took when she met Mason for the first time.  Della Street, Mason's secretary, takes and instant dislike to the woman.  It reminded me of a cat raising it's hackles at someone every time it sees them.  She warns Mason to not take the case, that Eva means nothing but trouble.  She was right.  Eva is a lying seductress who uses her looks and sex appeal to get what she wants.  She normally has no problems wrapping men around her little finger.  Mason is different though.  He sees through her and seems to have no problems ignoring the eyes and her killer body.  He takes the case simply because he is intrigued by it.

Eva and a politician had been spotted at a hotel bar after a homicide occurred and the police showed up.  Harrison Burke, the pol, was able to keep their presence out of the official report but somehow a gossip rag got a hold of his name but did not know that name of the woman.  Eva was desperate to stop the rag from printing her name, she was a married woman and it would destroy everything she had worked for.  Mason quickly learns that it's her husband who owned the paper, though he not publicly know to be.  The magazine was really a blackmail scheme, demanding money for "advertising space".  The advertiser would then have a say in what was printed.

When Eva's husband is found shot through the heart, she quickly comes up with a scheme to get her name out of it.  She fingers Mason as the man she heard arguing with her husband right before the shooting occurred.  The rest of the mystery involves Mason not only trying to keep his back stabbing client out of jail, but trying to clear his own name as well.  He gets down and dirty in the process.  In true Mason style he comes through in the end, proving both his and his client's innocence in the end.  There is not a court room scene in the book, though that will later become a trademark of the series.

I loved this book.  It's harder, grittier, and sexier than the others I've read in the series.  I almost wish Gardner had kept the character like this, though I appreciate the softer edges to Mason as well.  I also like the relationship with Della.  There is true physical chemistry between the two of them, a chemistry that is toned down in future books.  I was waiting for them to make that connection, it came close but never really got there.

I was trying to find a video of the TV episode of this one, I couldn't.  What I found interesting though is that even though this is the first book, it wasn't made into an episode of the show until the sixth season.  What I did find though, was the trailer for the 1936 movie adaptation.  From what I can see of the trailer, it follows pretty closely, though Mason and Della had just gotten married.  I tried to embed it, but for some reason it wouldn't play.  Here is the link instead.

Challenges: M&S, FF, VM