Thursday, September 29, 2011

Guest Review Over At Smexy Books

The lovely Mandi of Smexy Books finally got me to review a m/m romance from a female author.  It's only taken a year an a half.  I would love it if you took a few minutes to read what I had to say.  Here is the link for my review of Stolen Summer by S.A. Meade.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Favorite Fictional Character --- Cade Foster

I was going to do a final All My Children post, but once I sat down to do it, I cam up with a complete blank.  Not because I don't have any ideas, but because I have too many of them.  There are just so many characters that I love, that I could never choose one.  I thought about doing groups, but that was even worse.  So I scrapped the idea all together, but I will miss them all.  Instead I'm going to go with one of my favorite SciFi characters, and one of the hottest.  So with no further ado, I present Cade Foster of the show First Wave.

When Cade first appears on the scene he is a reformed thief who has been trying to get his life back together.  His new life comes to a screeching halt when he is unknowingly picked to be part of an alien experiment.  The Gua have been on Earth for years, experimenting on humans to see what it takes to make us break.  They kill his wife and set him up for the murder.  What they thought would be a study of human frailty under extreme conditions, created their downfall.

Once Cade learns of the plot he sets out to destroy them.  He is helped by a crazy hacker, a rebel leader (played by Traci Lords), and one of the Gua, who has become disillusioned with the cause.  The cool twist on what could have been a normal everyday SciFi show, was the use of the Nostradamus prophecies.  All of the experiments were predicted by the soothsayer.  It's an interesting structure that allows Cade and his friends to figure out what the Gua are intent on.

I love Cade because he takes what could have destroyed another man and turns it around.  At first it's simply for vengeance, he wants them to pay for what they did to his wife.  After a while though, it's because he cares about what happens to the planet and the billions of people living on it.  He slowly changes from the wrathful man into someone that most of us would look up to and follow.  He's the hero we all hope we could be if we found ourselves in the same situation.  Now if I can just make sure he's around when the real aliens decide to invade.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

State vs. Defense by Stephen Glain

Synopsis From Goodreads: 

For most of the twentieth century, the sword has led before the olive branch in American foreign policy. In eye-opening fashion, State vs. Defense shows how America truly operates as a superpower and explores the constant tension between the diplomats at State and the warriors at Defense.

State vs. Defense characterizes all the great figures who crafted American foreign policy, from George Marshall to Robert McNamara to Henry Kissinger to Don Rumsfeld with this underlying theme: America has become increasingly imperial and militaristic.

Take, for example, the Pentagon, which as of 2010, acknowledged the concentration of 190,000 troops and 115,000 civilian employees inside 909 military facilities in 46 countries and territories. The price of America’s military-base network overseas, along with the expense of its national security state at home, is enormous. The bill comes in at well over $1 trillion. That is equal to nearly 8 percent of GDP and more than 20 percent of the federal budget. (By comparison, China, Russia, Cuba, Iran, and North Korea, the five countries Pentagon planners routinely trot out as conventional threats to the national well-being, have a cumulative security budget of just over $200 billion.) Quietly, gradually—and inevitably, given the weight of its colossal budget and imperial writ—the Pentagon has all but eclipsed the State Department at the center of U.S. foreign policy.

In the tradition of classics such as The Wise Men, The Best and the Brightest, and Legacy of Ashes, State vs. Defense explores how and why American leaders succumbed to the sirens of militarism, how the republic has been lost to an empire, and how “the military-industrial complex” that Eisenhower so famously forewarned has set us on a stark path of financial peril.

I don't have the knowledge or the expertise to review this book on the merits or on the facts, so I'm not even going to try.  For the most part, due to my world & political views, I tend to agree with every point this author is making about the disparity between the State and Defense Departments.  I agree that for too long this country has let it's military define our global footprint and I think it's time for the State Department to start doing it's job again.  Despite my inclination to to agree with the state purpose of the book, I'm afraid that I walked away from it with a sour taste in my mouth.  

What I did not like was the tone the author chose to take in discussing the subject.  I didn't like the obvious contempt the author has for many of the people he talks about in the book, it's contempt that I may share, but I don't think it's necessarily helpful.  Anyone who is coming at this book from the opposite point of view is not going to take it seriously.  They are, wrongly in my opinion, going to look at this is a work of the "liberal media" and dismiss it.  They won't take it seriously, something which I think this subject needs.  I think the tone did a disservice to the book, one that was avoidable.  I would have much preferred a book that laid out the facts, with no judgements made, in order for the reader to make up their own mind.  

I do think this is an important look at the players involved and the decisions that have been made in order for us to get to this point in our history.  The State Department has been sidelined too many times for the political or financial gain of those involved in the decision making.  I do think it's time that we allow the diplomatic community to take the reigns once again.  I just hope that this book, despite it's flaws, gets the idea across to enough people.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mailbox Monday for 9/26/11

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at A Girl and Her Books and is being hosted all this month by Leah at Amused By Books.

I receive a trade paperback of Deary Bully edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones for review from PTA.

I received hardcovers of Motor City Shakedown by D.E. Johnson and Instant City by Steve Inskeep for upcoming TLC Book Tours.

I won a hardcover of Creep by Jennifer Hillier from Michelle of red headed book child.

I won a trade paperback of The Ghost of Greenwich Village by Lorna Graham from Tasha of Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books.

I had a wonderful surprise of two paperbacks show up at my house from the lovely Becke of The Mysterious Garden Muse.  She is also the moderator of a few book clubs on the Barnes & Noble site, including the Mystery one.  She sent me The Floating Admiral by Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, G.K. Chesterton and certain other members of the Detection Club.  I also got Unfinished Portrait which Agatha Christie wrote under the name of Mary Westmacott.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Songs That I Can Not Get Out Of My Head Right Now (The Boy Version)

I'm been in a rather 80s/ early 90s frame of mind, musically, for the last few days.  For some damn reason, I've been listening to a lot of the boys, so I thought I would share some of the songs that have been rolling through my brain.

Love, Love, Love this song!

No matter how much I would try to dislike this one, I never could.

Can still sing this one....every single word.

His voice says it all.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Death Of The Mantis by Michael Stanley

Synopsis From Back Cover:

In the southern Kalahari are of Botswana - an arid landscape of legends that speak of lost cities, hidden wealth, and ancient gods - a fractious ranger named Monzo is found dying from a severe head wound in a dry ravine.  Three Bushmen surround the doomed man, but are they his killers of there to help?  Detective David "Kubu" Bengu is on the case, an investigation that his old school friend Khumanego claims is motivated by racist antagonism on the part of the local police.  But when a second bizarre murder, and then a third, seem to point also to the nomadic tribe, the intrepid Kubu must journey into the depths of the Kalahari to uncover the truth.  What he discovers there will test all his powers of detection... and his ability to remain alive.

I'm still not sure how I'm getting myself into these situations, actually I do know the reason. It's simple actually.  I don't due my research before I agree to review a book, at least I don't do it well enough.  How else do you explain my penchant for reviewing books that are actually somewhere in the middle of series.  It is simply that I'm a mystery junkie who takes any opportunity he can to read a good one?  Do I enjoy reading said book and liking it so much that I feel compelled to go back and read the rest of the series?  I think I would have to answer yes to both questions.  I'm just happy to say that this book fell right in with the pattern.

From cover to cover, this was a well crafted mystery novel that kept me engaged the entire time.  No matter how well a mystery is mapped out, how carefully it's constructed, if it doesn't have an enjoyable detective there is no reason to read it.  If the detective is cookie cutter boring, who cares about the what they are doing.  A detective needs to be different enough to stand out in a sea of mystery novels, but not so off putting you want the bad guy to win.

Detective David "Kubu" Bengu is a detective that I really think Hercule Poirot would have enjoyed working with, though he would never admit it.  Kubu, so nicknamed as a child for his size (think hippopotamus,) is one of the most enjoyable "new" detectives that I've come across in a long time.  He seems to have such a wonderfully developed sense of self, without being egotistical (Hercule Poirot) about it.  He knows his limitations, but he trusts his own judgements and follows through with them.  He is dedicated to his family and his job, and though there are tensions between the two, he seems to have found that perfect balance.  It's rare for me to really love a detective that wasn't dreamed up by one of yesteryear's mystery mavens.  So when it happens, I want to dive into every book they are in.  I'll now be going back and reading the books I've missed, and I'll be looking forward to the new ones as they come out.

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

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Favorite Fictional Character --- Jesse & Angie Hubbard

I can't believe there are only 3 episodes left for me to watch of my favorite soap opera of all time.  I think on Friday, I will be crying as the closing credits close on All My Children.  One of the most important couples to ever grace the show were Jess & Angie.  I loved them then and now.

One of the most important super couples of the 80s, Jesse and Angie were two of my favorite characters growing up.  Born on the wrong side of the tracks, Jesse Hubbard quickly falls in love with his fellow teen Angie Baxter, a well born society girl.  Naturally her father doesn't approve and when Jesse is accused of raping Liza, he flees to New York City with his best friend Jenny.  Once Liza recants her story and tells the truth, he returns back to Pine Valley and quickly takes up again with Angie.

Things aren't all sunny for our two love birds though, this is a soap opera after all.  They eventually get married and Angie becomes pregnant with their first child, Franklin, Frankie for short.  Through various misunderstandings the two of them divorce (before the baby is born), kidnap their baby from his adoptive home, get remarried, Jesse cheats on Angie because of his brother, and then the two reconcile.

Through many more years of drama the two of them have their issues but their loves remains as strong as ever.  As they got older, Angie finished medical school and Jesse joined the police department.  He is eventually killed in the line of duty, and after a few years Angie takes Frankie out of town.

This is where is gets interested, Angie ends up on the shows Loving then The City where she eventually meets and marries Jacob Foster, a distant relative of Jesse (the character was played by the same actor.)  The two adopt a young girl named Cassandra and everything seems to be going well for them.

Years later, the two divorce and Angie doesn't return back to Pine Valley until her experience as an infectious disease specialist is needed in a mysterious illness afflicting two patients.  It's not clear until she gets their that one of the patients is her son Frankie, who returned to Pine Vally after spending time in Iraq.  It's around this same time that we find out Jesse didn't die and that he has been in hiding all these years to protect his family from the criminals who tried to kill him.

Over the last few years the family has reunited, and I will admit to shedding a tear when Angie sees Jesse for the first time.  They have gotten remarried and suffered a few setbacks along the way, including blindness and a stillborn child.  Through it all, they have remained a deeply devoted couple that protects their family at all costs.  As a young kid, they taught me that true love can be found and that it will survive the ups and downs.  As an adult, they have reaffirmed that idea for me and in small part, have made me believe in love again.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ivan And Misha by Michael Alenyikov (Plus Giveaway)

Synopsis From Back Cover: 

As the Soviet Union collapses, two young brothers are whisked away from Kiev by their father to start life anew in America.  The intricately linked stories in this powerful debut, set in New York City at the turn of the millennium, swirl about the uneasy bond between fraternal twins, Ivan and Misha, devoted brothers who could not be more different: Bipolar Ivan, like their father, is a natural seducer, a gambler who always has a scheme afoot between fares in his cab and stints in Bellevue.  Misha struggles to create a sense of family with his quixotic boyfriend, Smith, his wildly unpredictable brother, and their father, Lyov ("Call me Louie!"), marooned in Brighton Beach yet ever the ladies' man.  Father and sons are each haunted by the death of Sonya, a wife to Lyov, a mother to his sons.  

First of all, I love short stories.  When they are done right, they are short, brilliantly told glimpses into the character's life as they experience some sort of conflict or decision.  When they are done wrong, they can be chaotic in pace and tell a story so full of holes, it seems you are reading a rather large piece of Swiss cheese.  Thankfully this collection falls into that first category. It's a fascinating novel told within the bounds of unsequential short stories.

What I loved about his book is how it, despite the secondary characters, narrowed in on the rather symbiotic (borderline parasitic) relationship between the two brothers, who are fraternal twins.  Relationships between siblings can often times be complicated, messy things with boundaries being crossed countless times.  Things are no different between Ivan & Misha.  They are constantly involved with the most personal things in each other's lives, sometimes making others a bit jealous.   They had a rather traumatic childhood, involving the the death of their mother and a sudden move to a new country, all at a very young age.  Those two events shaped the rest of their lives in ways both good and bad.

They never knew the truth of their mother's death because their father didn't want to burden them with the sickness that slowly took her life.  Instead he told them that she died after giving birth to them.  I think that's the first mistake he made.  That death, and as a result their mother, took on an almost mythical role in their lives.  The story of a mother who dies in able for her children to be born, becomes an example of love that nothing else can ever possibly reach.  It's an a goal that can never be reached by anyone else.  For me, it's that struggle for love that shapes both of their lives.

Because of that warped sense of what pure loves is, it sends both boys down roads and into relationships with those that can never truly be there for them.  Ivan, at a young age, becomes involved with an older man who can never fully commit and gives him HIV.  His next serious relationship, with Smith, is with a younger man who not only can't really commit to Ivan, despite really loving him, but can't commit to a name or an identity for himself.  Misha craves love from his father and anyone else that will have him.  He has an almost manic need to be wanted by someone, a need that he will turn back around on his brother.  It's that last part that shapes their bond more than anything else.

I know quite a few of the reviews I've read take issue with the way the second story ends in the book.  For some it was an action that came out of the blue or was added for the shock value.  When it first happened, I will admit to feeling a little unsure of it myself.  I wasn't able to understand why it was happening or the necessity for it.  Once I finished the book, it made a little more sense to me.  The action takes place in such a profound moment of grief and despair that they both need something to grasp onto as an anchor to keep them from slipping over the edge.  After getting to know them, I not only don't think it was out of character for their relationship, but I think that it was almost inevitable.  I could be off base and totally wrong, there may have been another reason for it to happen, but I don't think it was for the shock value.

Ivan & Misha was one of those rare books that keeps my attention long after I've finished it.  Michael Alenyikov writes with one of the most lyrical voices I've had the pleasure to read in a very long time.  He is able to create unique characters and put them into a world that I found both real and unsettling at the same time.

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

Now for the giveaway.  One lucky commenter, US/Canada only, will win a brand new copy of the book.  All you need to do is leave a comment with your email address.  If you want to let me know of a short story or short story collection that you loved, feel free to do so.  The giveaway will run until 11:59 PM CST on 10/3/11.

Challenges: GLBT

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mailbox Monday for 9/19/11

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at A Girl and Her Books and is being hosted all this month by Leah at Amused By Books.

I received a trade paperback of Pumpkin Roll by Josi S. Kilpack for an upcoming blog tour.

On my last trip to Borders before it closed I bought 4 books for $10.  There wasn't much left, otherwise I would have gotten more.  I bought a hardcover of Obama's Wars by Bob Woodward, trade paperbacks of The Simple Act of Murder by Raymond Chandler and Rainbow Road by Alex Sanchez, and a paperback of Of Masques and Martyrs by Christopher Golden.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Favorite Fictional Character --- Ryan Lavery

I just finished watching one of the best episodes of All My Children that I have ever seen, I'm so sad that there are only 8 new episodes before Pine Valley, at least on TV, is a ghost town.  Today's featured character is none other than the yummy Ryan Lavery, played by Cameron Mathison.  I tried my hardest not to make this a biography, I've redone it now 3 times.  Instead I tried to got for more of what I think of him.  I think I ended up with a little of both.  Either way, I think you would see he's a great character.

When Ryan first blew into Pine Valley, in 1998, he was a low rent conman looking to score some free money.  On 9/23/11, when the last show airs, he will be know as a devoted family man, business leader, and of of the town's most loved citizens.

Ryan, who came from an abusive home, has tried more than anything to put his past behind him and become a man that he can be proud of.  He was the only one of his siblings to escape the home at a young age, and that decision to leave the others behind came back to haunt him, time and time again.  Almost everything he has done has been an attempt to put his past behind him.

Through the years he has has some crushing losses.  Losses that I think would destroy a normal human being.  He lost his first love, Gillian, to an assassins bullet.  He lost three kids through miscarriage and one shortly after she was born.  He has seen his oldest brother rape a woman and blame him for it.  His younger brother went psycho for a while, shot Ryan and had to have a brain tumor removed before he was normal again.  His sister was killed by a serial killer.  He lost his second true love, Greenlee, not once but twice (she is alive again though.)  One of these things would have brought me to my knees, all of them together, would have killed me.  

Through it all, Ryan has remained a man with a heart of gold who is always willing to go the extra mile for his friends and family.  He as made some horrendous mistakes along the way and he hasn't always treated those around him fairly, but he has always tried to do the right thing.

I'm glad they are ending the show with him in a good place.  Him and Greenlee seem to finally be able to enjoy their lives together.  He has two beautiful children, one with Kendall and one with Annie.  His business is doing well, though they never really talk about it anymore.  He's happy with his life.  If that little abused boy could have pictured a better life for himself, I think this is what it would have been.

Wherever You Go by Joan Leegant

Part Of The Synopsis From Back Cover:

Yona Stern has traveled to Jerusalem form New York to make amends with her sister, a stoic mother of five dedicated to the hard line West Bank settlement cause.  Mark Greenglass, a gifted Talmud teacher and a former drug dealer save by religion, has lot his passion and wonders if he's done with God.  Enter Aaron Blinder, an unstable college dropout with a history of failure who finds a home on the radical fringe of Israeli society.  Wherever You Go tells the story of three Americans in Israel and the attractions  - and dangers - of Jewish religious and political extremism.

I feel a bit like the Batman villain, Two Face, right now.  I feel that I could easily flip a coin and if it lands on heads, I sort of liked the book.  If it lands on tails, I'm not so sure what my response will be.  I would prefer the coin to land on it's side, I'm just not that talented.

When I first decided that this would be a book I wanted to read, I was intrigued by the idea of a fictionalized look at religious extremism that didn't involve a Muslim.  It seems that, at least in this country, we have a habit of assuming all religious extremists belong to the Islam faith.  We tend to ignore, or turn a blind eye, towards those in the Christian of Jewish religions.  All three Abrahamic faiths have their share, a very small minority, of radicals that attempt to exploit their faith for their own ends.  What I normally see depicted though is the extreme Muslim.  So I was eager to read something that explored radicalism in another religion.

Instead of the extremism being the central point to the story, it felt more like a plot devise used to explore some rather annoying characters as they try to figure out what it is they want from life, who they are as individuals, and where they fit into society at large.  Mark was the only one of the three main characters that I actually grew to like.  He seemed to be the most developed and he alone actually grew as a character as the story developed.  The other two seemed to be stuck in the same emotional point throughout the story.

I understand that Yona and Aaron both had their own personal issues that they were wrestling with.  I'm just not sure I really cared all that much.  Yona, until shortly before the very end, seemed like a character punishing herself over a guilt she could not get rid of.  Don't get me wrong, she should feel guilty for what she did to her sister, it's just the whining and self pity got annoying at times.  Aaron on the other hand was a spoiled brat who was trying to get out of the shadow of his famous father.  I've heard a lot of reasons for getting yourself into serious trouble before, but this was just a little much for me.

I don't think it helped that the one gay character in the book was the worst nightmare of what too many straight men think of us.  He obsessed over straight men, forming rather bizarre attachments to them.  The fact he was kicked out of the military for that behavior, just made it worse for me  He was so taken in with one guy that in order to keep a hold of him, he allowed Aaron to talk him into a action that results in the explosion seen on the cover.  Then when things go wrong and the straight man is killed, the gay guy melts down and goes completely crazy.  It plays on some of the worst stereotypes about gay men.  Quite honestly, it pissed me off.

I don't want anyone to go away from the review thinking that they shouldn't read it because I didn't care for it.  I actually think most people would enjoy this one. It just didn't explore the roots of radicalism the way I thought it would.  For me, it was like the first paragraph of a really good persuasive essay that loses it's argument half way through.

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

BBAW Interview Swap: Angie From Angieville

One of the best things about BBAW is that I get to add new (to me) blogs to my reader and meet some great bloggers for the first time.  One of those bloggers, Angie of Angieville, will be the first one added this year.  Even if I don't have time to do any of the other posts, I always sign up for the interview swap.  It's always fun to get to talk to someone I don't know.  Thanks to BBAW I'll be a regular in Angieville now.

1. What got you into reading? Have you been a book lover all your life or did it happen later on?

Quite simply, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe got me into reading. Both my parents have always been avid readers, and they encouraged reading in the home and read to me all the time as a kid. And I, well, I humored them. I'm not proud of this. But I didn't really seek things out on my own as a very young girl. My imagination just wasn't fully engaged until my aunt sent me the Chronicles of Narnia box set for my tenth birthday. I read the first book on a transatlantic flight to Sicily, where we were moving, and nothing was ever the same again. I didn't even get past the dedication before I was a goner. And it's been books, books, books ever since. 

2. What inspired you to start your own blog? What do you like the most about blogging?

My husband is tech savvy, and somewhere around five years ago or so he mentioned that I should start up a blog. I had only the vaguest notions of what they were at the time. I asked him what in the world I would do with it, and he shrugged and said, "What about a book journal?" I thought it was a great idea, and for the first couple of years, the blog was merely a personal record of the books I read (and re-read) each month, with accompanying thoughts and images. Then I started reading other book blogs and--once again--my imagination became fully engaged. And the blogging took off accordingly. 

As for what I like most about blogging? That moment when someone I don't know comments or emails or tweets me to say they read the same book and they felt the same way. It's like they reached out and took my hand in the dark. I never tire of the thrill and I don't think I ever will. 

3. Has your taste in books changed through your life? Have you found yourself reading books you might not have when you were younger? Or are there books you loved in the past and now you can't imaging why?

I guess I'd say my taste has broadened as I've gotten older. I don't think I've ever really turned my back on books or genres I used to like, which is why I'm a serial re-reader. Nothing is as comforting as characters and words you know and love. No one welcomes you home like they do. But I definitely have started reading books I probably wouldn't have when I was younger. These would include books that previously scared me off, specifically horror or romance novels. Though I still read on the tame end, I'm sure. My husband is a die-hard Stephen King fan and finally broke down a couple of years ago and shoved a copy of It into my hands, begging me to read it. I took a deep breath and dove in and what a book. I was unprepared for how much I would love those seven kids and the wonderful writing. I'm so glad to have the book blogging community to tell me what I'm missing out on and to egg me on to try new things and fall in love with new characters and new words and add them to my beloved bookshelf.

4. This is a totally subjective question. What elements do you look for in a book? What makes a book a "good read"?

Two things: I connect with at least one character. And the words are right. And you're correct--it's utterly subjective. The characters I connect with and the words I love are not necessarily the same ones for anyone else. Whether or not the words are right is  a matter of my own taste and aesthetic criteria. My reasons will perhaps not be the same as others'. Occasionally I will connect with a character, but the narrative doesn't do her or him justice, and the book and I don't click. And it has happened that the prose is beautiful but the characters are empty for me, so the book and I don't click. But when those two elements meet--the results are sublime and I will read it through to the very end. Every time. 

5. What book has most influenced the way you see life and your role in it?

My life has been broadly influenced by all kinds of literature. But when I think of the novel that has most influenced the way I see life, I have to go with Middlemarch by George Eliot. It's difficult to overstate the effect it had on me when I read it in grad school. I still remember my throat tightening with emotion and wonder at the way she was able to capture the human experience in such quiet, crystalline moments. It changed me, brought focus to my academic pursuits, and is one of the books of my life. 

6. Other than reading, what do you do for fun? Are you a adventure seeker or do you like something a little closer to home?

I love good food, good music, and traveling to new places. Preferably all three together. 

7. I love the idea of your Retro Friday meme.  I'm a huge fan of older books and I try to read as many as I can.  What made you start the meme?  Was there an older book that you feel in love with that got you hooked on the idea of reading older books instead of the constant stream of new ones?

Thanks! I was looking for a weekly meme to start up on the blog, and I kept coming back to the fact that I spend a huge chunk of time re-reading old favorites when I could be reading newly published works. But I wouldn't want it any other way. In fact, I don't think I could stop it if I tried. I'm baffled by people who don't re-read. How can they not long to go back and spend time inside their favorite stories again? And so I thought, hey, why not review some of the old ones on a regular basis? Maybe it will spark some interest in some under-the-radar books. Maybe I'll even get to talk about them with others who've read and loved them, too. That's how Retro Fridays was born.

8. What are some little known facts about yourself?

Ha! Well, here's one little known (and literary) fact about me. In lieu of having the birds and the bees talk, my mother decided to hand me a copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover and call it good. And, honestly? After reading that book, I had no questions left. 

Thanks for having me!

If you are even a little bit curious, head on over to Angieville to read my answers to her questions.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Mailbox Monday for 9/12/11

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at A Girl and Her Books and is being hosted all this month by Leah at Amused By Books.

I received a hardcover of Killer Stuff And Tons Of Money by Maureen Stanton from the publicist for review.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes

Synopsis From Goodreads:

Once the toast of good society in Victoria's England, the extraordinary conjurer Edward Moon no longer commands the respect that he did in earlier times. Still, each night he returns to the stage of his theater to amaze his devoted, albeit dwindling, audience, aided by his partner, the Somnambulist—a silent, hairless, hulking giant who, when stabbed, does not bleed. But these are strange, strange times in England, with the oddest of sorts prowling London's dank underbelly. And the very bizarre death of a disreputable actor has compelled a baffled police constabulary to turn once again to Edward Moon for help—inevitably setting in motion events that will shatter his increasingly tenuous grasp on reality.

I so wanted to love this book.  I wanted to be submerged in the off-kilter  action and nonsensical setting.  I wanted the atmosphere of the book to overwhelm my senses and take me to a place I've never been before.  What I got instead was a book that reminded me of every other book in the genre.  It was a book full of unlikeable characters and plot twists that seemed to exist more for the sake of showing the cleverness of the writing, as opposed to furthering the story along. 

I' m not saying I disliked everything about it, because I didn't.  I loved the author's vision of London.  He created such a decadent, dark city that I, at times, wanted to step into the page and wander the streets for myself.  Not something I would have done by myself, mind you.  I would have had to drag a friend along.   There is no way I could have walked into a whorehouse staffed by circus freaks, without forcing someone to hold my hand the entire time.  I just wish the setting could have saved this one for me.  I would love to revisit this London, I'm just not sure I can stomach the storyline again.

The story just never felt cohesive to me.  The narrator, who's identity I won't divulge, has an obvious contempt for Edward Moon.  That contempt, which oozes off the page at times, so clouds Edward that I was never able to like the guy.  I think that if I had seen him through other eyes, I may have felt differently about it.  I'm sure it was purposefully done by the author, as was the the sarcasm that spewed from the mouth of the narrator, but it just left me feeling cold at times.  It also got in the way of the action, it felt like the story was being interrupted in order for the narrator to get his point of view across.  It ended up, at least for me, cutting the story up into sections that never really fit back together.  

The book was a disappointment for me, one that I'm not sure I'll ever be able to forgive.  It had such promise, but I think the author allowed the "oddness" of the setting to get in the way of the story.    I think others will like it, I actually know a lot of gifted bloggers who loved this one, I just wish I could count myself amongst them.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Legacy by Katherine Webb

Synopsis From Back Cover:

When they were children, Erica Calcott and hers sister, Beth, spent their summer holidays at Storton Manor.  Now, following the death of their grandmother, they have returned to the grand, imposing house in Wiltshire, England.  Unable to stem the tide of childhood memories that arise as she sorts through her grandmother's belongings, Erica thinks back to the summer her cousin Henry vanished mysteriously from the estate, an event that tore their family to pieces.  It is time, she believes, to lay the past to rest, bring her sister some peace, and finally solve the mystery of her cousin's disappearance.

But sifting through remnants of a bygone time is bringing a secret family history to light - one that stretches back over a century, to a beautiful society heiress in Oklahoma, a haunting, savage land across the ocean.  And as past and present converge, Erica and Beth must come to terms with two shocking acts of betrayal... and the heartbreaking legacy they left behind.

When my roommate saw this book sitting on the kitchen table, he asked me why was I reading a "chick" book.  It told him that wasn't what it was, but I don't think he ever really believed me.  All he would say was, look at the cover.  Based off of that alone, I probably would have agreed with him.  With this cover, I don't think I would have ever picked this one up.  It's a shame really, because if I hadn't, I would have missed out on an amazing story.

As soon as Erica and Beth step out on the page, you know something is horribly wrong.  The tension between them is palpable and Beth seems like she can wilt at any minute.  Something is obviously weighing on, suffocating her to the point that she could be crushed at any second.  Whatever is destroying her has broken up her marriage, kept her from being around her son all the time, and is threatening to consume her.  Erica is at a loss of what to do, she has been trying to keep her sister afloat for years now and she is hoping spending Christmas in the country will somehow cure her.

Erica, already suspecting it, quickly figures out that whatever is eating Beth is rooted in their childhood.  Erica, who can't remember the circumstances behind Henry disappearing, thinks that summer is behind all of Beth's problems.  With the reluctant help of a childhood friend, Erica attempts to uncover the truth and remember what happened.

As she tries to cobble together the truth of what happened all those years ago, she also starts to uncover something she never suspected.  Maybe the reason why her grandmother was such a tyrant was because her mother, Caroline, never showed her love.  And the root of all of it could be found in the picture of Caroline with a baby boy, a boy that nobody knows anything about.

The two stories are intermingled as they build to a climax that will resolve what happened to Henry but will leave Erica with something other than the truth about Caroline and that mysterious baby.  She has a great theory, one that is very close to the truth, but with no concrete evidence, she has to go with the more obvious answer.

I loved the idea of us, the reader, knowing what happened with Caroline and the mysterious baby, but the characters never really knowing the truth.  Erica really never finds written proof to back up what she believes to be the truth, though all the evidence points towards her conclusion..  The fact that it isn't really the whole truth, makes the story all the more believable to me.  Something like this would not have been written down, and for a woman like Caroline to leave it all in black and white on a page, wouldn't have made sense.

Both storylines are compelling and kept me hooked the entire time.  The author built wonderfully developed characters that were believalbe in every way.  She then gave them the perfect, concrete setting that framed the story and the characters wonderfully.

I would like to thank Trish of TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read/review this book.  To read other opinions on this one, please visit the tour page.  If you would like to find out more about the author, please visit her Facebook page.

Favorite Fictional Character --- Arabella "Babe" Carey Chandler

I'm writing this month's posts with a very heavy heart.  One of my favorite shows, one I've watched pretty much my whole life, is ending after being on the air for 41 years.  All My Children has been a staple in my house every weekday for what seems like years.  I would watch it with my mom when I was sick and couldn't go to school.  When I left home, the love for this show came with me.  So this month, with only 13 more episodes to go (counting today's), I'm going to highlight some of my favorite characters.  Since I've watched this show for so long, there is no way I'll ever be able to discuss all my favorites (off the top of my head I can think of over 40), I have picked out some of them that have really stood out for me.  The obvious choice, Erica Kane, was a pick during my first year of blogging.  So with no further ado, I would like to introduce you to the first character....

Arabella "Babe" Carey Chandler did not have the easiest start on her arrival in Pine Valley.  She was a cocktail waitress in San Diego when she met J.R. Chandler while he was off on a merchant marine ship trying to find himself.  They quickly marry and move back to good old Pine Valley, PA.  Oddly, on her first night in town, Babe goes to a party and drinks a little too much.  She ends up sleeping with Jamie, J.R.'s brother.  Once they find out who they are, they try to cover it up, until Babe gets pregnant.

The proverbial shit hits the fan.  Everybody finds their lives in chaos and the next few years are filled with all sorts of trouble for her.  Paternity tests, deep friendship with Bianca, switched babies, and out right baby stealing complicate everything for Babe.  She continues to fall in and out of love with JR, making side romances with Jamie and Josh.  She survives a murder attempt by the Satin Slayer and is eventually killed off by a tornado as she protects the life of her son.  I told you it was complicated.  This is just the quick review, I didn't even get into any of the details about running a cosmetics company, a transgender rock star, dating a psycho who want to kill his sister, or the wonderful relationship she had with her mother, Krystal Carey.

What I loved about Babe, is that she refused to give up.  She grew up dirt poor and wanted nothing more than to make a life for herself.  In the beginning she really didn't care about how she got it, but as she made true friends and really figured out what she wanted in life, she grew up.  She became a strong, independent person who was willing to pay for her mistakes and build a better life for her son.  She was loyal and loving, would do anything to protect those she loved.  

I will admit to tearing up just a bit when she died, both times, though the last and final time put a dent in my love for the show.  She was the one character I never wanted to see leave.  I'm hoping that the rumors of her coming back are true.  I would love to see her grace the show with her presence one again before the final page of that photo album is closed for good.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Bedbugs by Ben H. Winters

Synopsis From Back Cover:

For Rent:  Top two floors of beautifully renovated brownstone, 1300 sq. ft., 2BR 2BA, eat-in kitchen, one block to parks and playgrounds.  No broker's fee.

Susan and Alex Wendt have found their dream apartment.

Sure, the landlady is a little eccentric.  And the elderly handyman drops cryptic remarks about the basement.  But the rent is so low, it's too good to pass up.

Big mistake.  Susan soon discovers that her new home is crawling with bedbugs...or is it?  She awakens every morning with fresh bits, but neither Alex nor their daughter Emma has a single welt.  An exterminator searches the property and turns up nothing.  The landlady insists her building is clean.  Susan fears she's going mad - until a more sinister explanation presents itself:  she may literally be confronting the bedbug problem from Hell.

Normally I love to read horror books once the weather starts to get a little chillier.  There is something about having that nip in the air and the shorter days that makes me want to curl up on the couch, with as little light as possible, and delve into something that will scare the hell out of me.  Sadly, due to time constraints, I had to read this one when it was over 100 degrees outside and not getting dark until after nine o'clock.  For once, that didn't bother me, I was still able to forget about my surroundings and get so lost in the story, that I would be checking my pillows for any scurrying creatures before I would set my head down for bed.

I'm addicted to a lot of the horror novels written in the 60s and 70s, and this one has that retro vibe for me.  Two of my favorites,  Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin and The Sentinel by Jeffrey Konvitz, even start off the same way.  Young couple/single woman moves into a new apartment and everything seems to being going right at first.  Of course there are always subtle hints that not everything is as it should be.  Eccentric neighbors always seem to be around, strange occurrences that only happens to one of them (normally the woman), and a miasma that seemed to hang in the air, slowly suffocating the inhabitants of the apartment.

This book had all of that and so much more going for it.  The author had an almost supernatural ability to balance the home life of the Wendt's with the growing sense of apprehension.  A lot of horror books I've read will sacrifice the characters for the story.  Thankfully Bedbugs isn't one of them.  A story that asks the reader to believe in something so personal as a malignant presence that attacks you in the bed, has to have characters that you not only believe, but care about it.  As a reader, you have to be able to relate to them.  Susan, Alex, and Emma are fully functional, 4D characters that were a treat to know.

The horror was built slowly, it worked it's way towards a simmer, and then boiled over in such a way that the sheer violence of the climax left me holding my breath and gasping for proverbial air.  I was horrified, and thrilled by the conclusion even though I saw it coming a mile away.  A good horror book doesn't have to throw out an ending that comes out of left field.  A good horror novel will allow the reader to figure out the ending, but still horrify them in the end.  It's needs to be believable no matter how outlandish the plot points.  It's hard to write a credible story that will leave a reader altering their bedtime habits. Bedbugs not only pulls it off, but it pulls it off in such a way that you won't know what hit you until you are going to bed the night after and you are still checking for telltale signs of an infestation.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Mailbox Monday for 9/5/11

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at A Girl and Her Books and is being hosted all this month by Leah at Amused By Books.

When I walk into used book stores now, I make a beeline to the mystery section.  I have to check if they have any Mary Roberts Rinehart books.  Luckily for me, the store I went into Friday had three that I didn't already have.  I picked up Paperbacks of Alibi for Isabel, The Great Mistake, and The Haunted Lady.

I received a wonderful picture book, Little Goblins Ten by Pamela Jane, for an upcoming TLC Book Tour.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Ushered into the world by a mysterious pair of Tartar midwives late in the summer of 1877 i the town of Constanta on the Black Sea, Eleonora Cohen proves herself an extraordinary gifted child - a prodigy - at a very young age.  When she is eight years old, she stows away aboard a ship, following her carpet merchant father, Yakob, to the teeming and colorful capital of Stamboul where a new life awaits her.

In the narrow streets of this city at the crossroads of the world, intrigue and gossip are currency, and people are not always what they seem.,  But it is only when she charms the eccentric Sultan Abdullhamid II - beleaguered by friend and foe as his unwieldy realm crumbles - that Eleonora will change the course of an empire.

I think I'm going to make some people howl with this review, if you are one of them, I apologize.  Well, not really, I just thought it would be a nice thing to say.  Getting the apology up front means I don't have to do it later.

To be quite honest with you, I went into this book thinking I would love it.  It had a wonderful concept and was set in a locale that I have always been fascinated with.  My grandfather was stationed in Turkey for a long time, and while I've been to Ankara, Istanbul has always been on the top of my list of places I would love to visit.  About the only thing this book did for me, was make that desire grow in leaps and bounds.

The settings was everything I expected.  The author was able to make the city breathe for me in a way that I found fascinating to read.  I felt as if I was there with Eleonora as she stowed away on the ship her father was taking to the city.  I was holding her hand as she visited the Sultan for the first time.  Everything was brought to life in such a mentally tactile way, that I found myself lost in the sensation of it all.  I just wish it had been enough to save the book for me.

Where I felt let down, was in the characterization.  There was not one character that felt completely real to me.  None of them, Eleonora included, felt as if they were flesh and blood.  Instead they all seemed to be ethereal phantoms that had just stepped out of the author's cerebral cortex, not yet fully formed.  They were mere ideas, not concrete forms.  Normally I can overlook shadowy characters if at least one of them is solid, hopefully the main character.  In this case, while Eleonora was definitely the most opaque of them all, I just couldn't buy her as a real human being.  She was too perfect, too much of the idea, that she never moved beyond it.

Eleonora is a child, but not once, do I ever get the impression that I'm reading about the life of an eight year old.  If her age hadn't been mentioned, on more than one occasion, I'm not sure she would be any different than the adult characters.  She never behaved as if she were a child.  In my experience, there is no such thing as a perfectly well behaved kid.  If you have one, please let me know how you did it.  Every single one of them do things that get them in trouble.  It's part of growing up.  Eleonora on the other hand seems as if she was born an adult.  She's too perfect.  She has no flaws, no personality defects; there is nothing about her that causes any conflict, other than those born of her being perfect.  I guess what I'm trying to say is that she is a boring character.  Unfortunately, that aspect of her influenced the way I felt about the book itself.  There was a sense of shallowness to it all, a dullness that I just couldn't overlook.

The book did leave me with one rather burning question though.  In the book the author compares the twinkling of stars to jellyfish.  I've been trying to figure out what the hell that means ever since.  At first I was thinking about the jellyfish you put in fish tanks with black lights.  I figured that couldn't be it since that part of the book took place in 1885.  So please, if you have any clue what he was talking about, will you let me in on it.

I would like to thank Trish of TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read/review this book.  To read other opinions, please visit the tour page.  To find out more about the author, Michael David Lukas, visit his website.