Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mailbox Monday for 4/30/12

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at A Girl and Her Books and is being hosted all this month by Cindy of Cindy's Love of Books.

I received a hardcover of The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones for an upcoming TLC Book Tour

I bought a trade paperback of Ship of Fools by Katherine Anne Porter from Barnes & Noble.  This is a book I've wanted to read since high school, so I'm really looking forward to it.


On a trip to Wal-Mart I picked up a DVD of Disney's Beauty and the Beast since it's going back into the vault at the end of the month.  I also dug around the $5 music bin for a bit and found Don't Be Cruel by Bobby Brown (his second and best album) and Super Hits by New Kids On The Block.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Wielding A Red Sword by Piers Anthony

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Mym was a dutiful son, but his father the Rajah interfered in his love life once too often. Rather than wed without love, he took up the Red Sword, symbol of the office of the Incarnation of War.

At first he thought his efforts could ameliorate some of the suffering caused by Earth's constant petty wars.  But he found that behind all his involvement were the clever traps of Satan.

When seeming mischance placed him in Hell, Mym organized a great rebellion among the Damned.  And Satan seemed to capitulate.  But free again, Mym learned that Satan had been busy stiffing up riots and war.  Now it seemed things had gone too far and Satan must surely win.  There was only one desperate chance....

Ever since I started to reread this series for about the bazillionth time, I've been trying to remember the first time I ever read them.  I want to say it was some time in high school, but I was really never into scifi that much, and whatever else he may be, Piers Anthony falls into that category fairly easily.  So my best guess is even younger, but for all I know, it could have been during my college years.  Needless to say that my brain has just been a little fuzzy lately.

What I do remember though is how much I love the Incarnations of Immortality series, and book four is still a lot of fun after all this time.  Mym is one of those character that every boy wants to be and every girl wants to date.  Well, I would want to date him too, but I digress.  He is both strong and gentle.  He can sweep a girl (or guy) off their feet just by being himself.  He always strives to do the right thing though it gets him into trouble at times.  He never backs down from a challenge.  He's loyal, dependable, intelligent, loving, and he's a prince.  He is an heir to a vast fortune and a life of luxury awaits him and whoever he picks as his consort.  There are just two problems.  One he doesn't want to take his father's place.  He has an older brother so it shouldn't even be an issue, but you never know in these types of things.  Princes get killed all the time.  The other problem, he has a horrible stutter.

So Mym (by the way not his real name) does what any prince in his situation would do.  He runs away and joins a group of traveling performers.  He's ashamed of his stutter so he pretends to be mute and he quickly finds a place among the other misfits.  Now this is the point of the book, within the first few pages actually, that Mym's life begins to change forever.  Traveling with the group is Orb, the daughter of Niobe who is the current Incarnation of Fate.  The two quickly fall in love and Orb even shows Mym a way of getting over his stutter.  All he has to do is sing and the stutter goes away.  It's actually not as cheesy as it sounds.  Alas, their love is not to be.  Mym's brother dies in an accident which forces the Rajah to comes and take him home.

From there Mym is forced into on situation after another, including an arranged marriage.  It's his interactions with that young woman that really makes Mym shine as a human being and as a man.  They are both in love with other people and do everything they can to stop any feelings from developing between the two of them. It's not long before reality takes over and the two eventually fall in love.  From there, it's all down here.

Through a series of events that neither one of them could have ever predicted.  Their marriage is called off which sends Mym into a blind rage.  It's that rage that calls the Red Sword to Mym which makes him the Incarnation of War.  This is where the journey starts to get fun.  The author forces Mym to deal with Purgatory, learning the ropes of his new job, an endless stream of wars, and seductive demonesses sent by Satan to send him down the wrong path.

When that wrong path lands him in Hell with no real way of getting out, Mym does the only thing he knows to do, fight.  He leads a revolt of all the damned souls that haven't been getting a fair trial.  He even enlists, and yes there are animals in Hell, the animals that have been condemned for one crime or another.  He doesn't know it, but the fate of the world hangs in the balance of how Mym fares in his battle with Satan.  Either the world will end on Mym's treatment of a damned princess and a succubus or the human race will be spared total annihilation.

Other Books In The Series:

On a Pale Horse
Bearing an Hourglass
With a Tangled Skein

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Favorite Fictional Character --- Brett Hopper

Now while Taye Diggs may be living the high life on Private Practice, there were two other TV shows that this overly talented actor starred in before it.  He played a lawyer in Kevin Hill and a police detective in Day Break.  Now while I loved both shows, neither one of them lasted all that long.  And while I enjoy all three characters, who wouldn't, it has to be his role as Detective Brett Hopper that is my favorite.  So with no further ado, here is the post I originally had on 9/8/10.

I know I'm probably going to be the only one who even knows about this character, but that's fine, I can live with that.  Detective Brett Hopper, played by the gorgeous Taye Diggs, was the lead character in the short lived TV show, "Day Break".  The show aired for only a few episodes in 2006, but I was hooked right away.  Luckily they wrapped up the storyline for the DVD release which has 13 episodes.

What I like about Det. Hopper, other than how fine he is, is how resilient he is in the face of the bizzaro world he is forced to deal with.  One day he wakes up and discovers that he is being set up for the murder of a state attorney.  He is forced to go on the run and watch as his girlfriend and family are targeted by the bad guys.  The problem is, he's forced to relive the day over and over again until he finds out what is going on.  Over the subsequent days he sees his girlfriend killed, his partner killed, his sister kidnapped, and almost every other thing that can ruin your day.  He's almost killed a few times and when he wakes up he has the wounds and scars to prove it.

Thankfully when he wakes up he is able to remember everything that happened the "day" before and he's able to correct the mistakes he's made.  How many times can you think you know someone only to have them do something that looks like a betrayal? He has his limits pushed to the edge, he doesn't know who to trust, and all he wants to do is save his girl. For most people this would drive them crazy, how many times can you watch your loved ones die without it driving you mad?  But Hopper finds the inner strength to continue on because he realizes that's the only way to make his nightmare end.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia A. McKillip

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

Deep inside a palace on the edge of the world, the orphan Nepenthe pores over books in the royal library, translating their languages and learning their secrets.  Now sixteen, she knows little of the outside world - except for the documents that traders and travelers bring her ti interpret.

Then, during the coronation of the new Queen of Raine, a young mage gives Nepenthe a book that has defied translation.  Written in a language of thorns, it speaks to Nepenthe's soul - and becomes her secret obsession.  And, as the words escape the brambles and reveal themselves, Nepenthe finds her destiny entwined with that of the young queen's.  Sooner than she thinks, she will have to choose between the life she has lead and the life she was born to lead...

Before I read this book, I had only read two other books by Patricia A. McKillip.  I read and reviewed Solstice Wood back in 2010 and I had read another book, can't remember the title, a few years before that.  What I took away from both those books was how exquisitely complex McKillip's grasp of the English language really is.  She is a master wordsmith and Alphabet of Thorn drives that home.

With a storyline that spans thousands of years and involves languages made of thorns, fish, and other such symbolism, Alphabet of Thorn could have been a story that easily lost it's way.  With the skill of a master weaver, McKillip not only kept the story smooth and easy to understand, but she made it an absorbing account of family and magic and how the past has almost total control on the present.  She weaves the lives of Nepenthe and those around her into a tapestry that is both complex and beautiful.

Where McKillip truly shines is in her mastery of language and how Wernicke processes and bounces the sounds of those words around in the reader's imagination.  It allowed me to get lost in the linguistic nature of both the story and McKillip's writing style.  It was one of those books that is a pure pleasure to read for the simple fact of the way the author was able to piece words together into a symphony of story and sound.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Mailbox Monday for 4/23/12

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at A Girl and Her Books and is being hosted all this month by Cindy of Cindy's Love of Books.

I received a trade paperback of the most dangerous thing by Laura Lippman for an upcoming TLC Book Tour

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dick Clark, 1929-2012

I think I can honestly say that I never thought of American culture without Dick Clark being there.  Whether he was on American Bandstand, $24,000 Pyramid, TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes, The American Music Awards, or Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve; he has been in our living rooms since 1952.

I remember watching American Bandstand as a kid and wanting nothing more than to be there, dancing and having a great time.  The show ended before I ever got old enough to wake that dream come true, but that show lived on in my heart for years after.  Now with Youtube, I get to relive some of those dreams all over again.

Dick Clark is one of those pop culture icons that will never completely disappear from the American psyche, nor should he.  He helped shape the musical taste for generations of Americans and has earned not only our respect but our love as well.  He will be missed.

Favorite Fictional Character --- Savil Ashkevron

I'm a huge fan of Mercedes Lackey despite all the critics out there.  She was the first fantasy author I ever read that used positive portrayals of gay and lesbian characters in her work.  The Herald Mage Trilogy stars one of her most popular characters of all time, Vanyel Ashkevron.  He was the first fantasy character I came across that seemed to understand some of the same feelings and issues I was dealing with as a teenager.  He was surrounded by a vast array of supporting characters throughout those three books, and his aunt Savil Ashkevron was my favorite.  I featured her back on 8/4/10 and she didn't seem to get that much attention.  I wanted to give it one more try because she deserves all the attention she gets.

I wish there was a picture of Savil to show you but I'll have to settle for the book cover of Magic's Pawn which is the first book in The Last Herald Mage trilogy by Mercedes Lackey.  The main character of this series is Vanyel Ashkevron, who was actually the focus of my first Favorite Fictional Character post.

So for this post I wanted to talk about Savil Ashkevron, the tough Herald Mage who is Vanyel's Aunt and teacher.  Savil, who never married or had children of her own, is fiercely protective of the Herald Mage trainees who are placed into her care.  So when her overbearing brother sends her his oldest son who he can't make anything out of, Savil is at first annoyed by the intrusion of a spoiled brat into her well run home.  Throughout the course of his stay however she, with the help of her young protegee who quickly falls in love with Vanyel, begins to realize that she has a very scared and emotionally oppressed young man on her hands but doesn't really know what to do about it.  

When the relationship between Vanyel and Tylendel enters into a romantic relationship, Savil quickly learns to see what Tylendel has been sensing all along.  She shelters the two young men and gives them a sanctuary to build their relationship together.  And when that relationship ends in such a way that it leaves carnage everywhere you look, Savil steps up to save Vanyel from himself and others.  

What I love about Savil the most, other than her gloriously overbearing and confident personality, is the fact that when she realized she couldn't give Vanyel what he needed to heal, she admitted defeat and took him to the people that could.  I have mad respect for anyone who understand their limitations and is able to ask for help.  For that request to come from someone who is such a strong character as Savil, makes it that much more meaningful.  

Savil is that tough old broad that we all wish were in our lives.  She speaks her mind but has a mind that is worth being heard.  She gives advice, even the kind you never want to hear.  But the best part of Savil and women like her, is the fact that once they give you their loyalty and friendship, it never waivers.  Savil and all women like her will have your back and fight your fights for you if you can't.  She is a fantastic character and I just hope that everyone will discover for themselves how great she is.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne


The owner of The Red House, Mark Ablett, is know for hosting entertaining house parties.  He is gregarious and overly generous to his guests, who know to walk the party line.  Mark Ablett is also know for his temper, so his guests know when to not push him any further.  When Mark receives a letter from his long lost brother, the guests are sent out on a golfing trip and when they come back, the brother is dead and Mark is missing.

I have to say up front that before I got a hold of this book, I never knew that A.A. Milne wrote a locked room mystery.  Who knew that the voice behind Eeyore, who just happens to be my hero, could put that same talent to work in telling a hilarious and witty mystery.

When Anthony Gillingham shows up on the doorstep of The Red House to visit his friend, Bill Beverly, he happens upon a rather strange site.  A frantic man is banging on the door of a locked room, trying everything he can to get in.  Before he knows it, Anthony is helping the man break in, only to discover a man's body with an extra hole in it.  The man who was breaking into the room, was Mr. Cayley, Mark Ablett's cousin and assistant.  He is the one that brought Mark's brother into the room so Mark could talk with him and find out what he's doing there.  When a gunshot is heard Cayley does everything he can do to get into the room.  It's only by chance that Anthony shows up to assist him in this endeavor.  When they finally get into the room, Mark's brother is dead and Mark is missing.

It's quickly decided upon that Mark killed his brother and fled the scene.  When all the guests are sent home, Anthony and Bill decide to stick around and solve the case for themselves.  Anthony, who came into a rather large sum of money, has been wandering through life the last few years.  He tries out occupations for a while until he decides he's had enough of that job.  When a murder is deposited before him, he decides that detective will be his next career choice.  With the assistance of his very own Watson, Bill, Anthony puts his sharp mind to work to figure out why Mark killed his brother and fled.  With a lot of smart humor at his disposal, Anthony begins to dig into the truth of what really happened that afternoon.  The journey will take him into secret passageways, watery searches, and ghosts out of legends.  By using his brain, witty banter, and a lot of luck, Anthony not only solves the case but allows a rather unusual out of the guilty party.

At the end of the book, I was really wishing that his publishers had allowed Milne to write more mysteries.  The wit, sarcasm, and humor that is so prevalent in the Winnie the Pooh books are all on full display with The Red House Mystery.  It was a fun, light romp of a mystery that was pure brain enjoyment.  The crime itself is far fetched and the characters are over the top, but the I wouldn't have had it any other way.

Challenges: A-Z, VM (Cherchez le Homme)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Mailbox Monday 4/16/12

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at A Girl and Her Books and is being hosted all this month by Cindy of Cindy's Love of Books.

I bought a paperback of The High King of Montival by S.M. Stirling the last time I was in Barnes & Noble.

I found a hardcover of Ultimatum by Matthew Glass for $1 at The Dollar Tree.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Favorite Fictional Character --- Don Music

March of 2011 was the month I decided to revisit some of my favorite puppet/muppet characters from my childhood.  I highlighted some of those characters that never failed to bring a smile to my face or illicit a laugh at the slightest bit of hilarity.  One of those characters was Don Music from Sesame Street.  He was an early victim of parental overreaction that resulted in him not staying around very long.  But when he did light up the screen, this little boy was in awe of him.

For those of you who may not be familiar with Don Music, I'll give you a few introductory details about him.  Don was a struggling music writer who came close to writing some very familiar songs.  He almost finished "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star", came close to completing "Mary Had a Little Lamb", and was almost done with "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" that the royalty money was inches away.  Instead those songs were completed by other, not so gifted song writers.  Don Music went on to write such classics as "Whistle, Whistle, Little Bird", "Mary Had a Bicycle", and the fantastic "Drive, Drive, Drive Your Car".  You may also know his version of "Old MacDonald" which he wrote with a barnyard full of animals.

Don's part time collaborator was the intrepid reporter, Kermit the Frog.  It seems that Kermit was so enthused by Don's creative talent that he would often times do a news story featuring Don as he wrote his newest hit.  Now like any creative soul, Don would occasionally hit a mental block and start feeling sorry for himself.  He occasional banged his head on the keyboard in fits of despair that would leave poor Kermit perplexed and eager to help. 

Where Don normally found himself blocked was in the rhyming of it all.  He often times could not figure out what to rhyme with words like "snow".  Kermit, the eager beaver that he was, would offer suggestions that, though rhyming, would not make sense in the context of the song.  This would cause Don to constantly change one word after another until his creative genius shown through and a new song would be born.

Sadly, due to his younger fans copying his headbanging moves, Kermit's visits grew further and further apart and Don slipped into music obscurity.  It's only with the invention of YouTube that Don's popularity recently started a comeback and I expect that it won't be long until he is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Kamila Sadiqi's life changed overnight when the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan.  After her father and brother were forced to flee, she became the sole breadwinner for her five siblings.  Banned from school, confined to her home, and armed only with determination, she picked up a needle and thread to create a thriving business that saved their lives.

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana tells the incredible true story of this unlikely entrepreneur who mobilized her community under the Taliban.  A story of war, it is also a story of family, faith, and resilience in the face of despair.  These women are not victims - they are the glue that hold families together; they are the backbone and the heart of their nation.  Kamila Sadiqi's journey will inspire you, but it will also change the way you think about one of the most important political and humanitarian issues of our time. 

For those of you who have been reading the blog for a while, it will come as no surprise that I'm a huge fan of NPR.  I listen to it in my car and at work, when I can get away with it.  One of my favorite programs is The Diane Rehm show as she is one of those interviewers who can talk with her guests about any issue.  Politics, war, literature, music, health care, and I would say the kitchen sink, but that may be a bit redundant.   There is nothing she does not discuss on her show.  So needless to say I'm always intrigued when she is interviewing an author about a new book.  I'm constantly writing titles down that I plan on rushing to the bookstore and purchasing as soon as possible.  Well needless to say, I have a rather long list of books that are still not bought.  Thanks to blogging though, I have had the opportunity to not only read, but review, a few of those books on that list.  The Dressmaker of Khair Khana is one of those books.  I heard the interview on March 17th, 2011, and about a year later I was given the opportunity to read it for myself.  I would encourage everyone to click on the link above in order to listen to the interview as well.

I can only imagine what it would be like to have your entire life and country turned upon it's head.  To have your life, which was on one track, be completely altered by things totally out of your control.  Kamila Sadiqi is one of those individuals who not only managed to adapt to a country and it's rulers that wanted her behind closed doors, but she thrived.  When she is told that her education is over, that her career path is no longer valid for a woman in Afghanistan, she is left floundering for a bit.  It doesn't take long before she decides that she needs to do something for her family and eventually her community.

She faces the risks, which included beating, imprisonment, and even death, and starts her own dressmaking business.  From what starts as a her and her sisters sewing dresses to sell to some trusted local merchants, turns into a business that employees and teaches hundreds of women.  She felt a true calling to teach other women to fend for themselves in order to take care of their families.  Kamila is one of those people who manage to inspire me just by being who they are.  She weighed the odds, and in the end decided the risk was worth the danger.

As I was reading the book, I felt as if Kamila was telling the story.  The author does such a wonderful job of pulling her reader into the life of Kamila and her sisters, that despite the first person narrative that she opens the book with, the author was able to convey a sense of such intimacy.  It was a pure pleasure to read, and at only about 243 pages, it was a quick read as well.  I read it every chance I could, and would put other things aside just to pick the book up again.

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

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Greene Murder Case by S.S. Van Dine


Philo Vance finds himself embroiled in a the affairs of the Greene family when the oldest daughter is found shot to death in her bed and the youngest daughter is found laying on the floor of her bedroom, bleeding out from another gunshot.  Philo Vance, his lawyer S.S. Van Dine, the district attorney, and the police continue to be puzzled as other siblings begin dying off as well.  It's up to Philo Vance to figure out what exactly is going on before there are no Greenes alive to inherit their father's fortune.

I'm going to lay it right out in the open that the only reason I wanted to read this book (or any Philo Vance book for that matter) is the brilliant portrayal by William Powell and Paul Lukas in two different movie adaptations.  I have been fortunate to see William Powell play the character in The Kennel Murder Case and Paul Lukas play him in The Casino Murder Case.  Both movies are based off of books, one of which I have to read at a later date, I just wish that the similarities kept on going.

The Philo Vance in the movies is a different breed from the one depicted in this book.  In the movies he is suave, intelligent, kind, and very solicitous.  In the book he is egotistical, puts on a fake British accent, and I don't think there is a subject on Earth that he doesn't know everything about.  He's an expert in languages, literature, art, fencing, polo, dog breeding, archery, chess, and just about everything else under the sun.  I'm not sure what S.S. Van Dine was thinking, but having a character who is great at everything and knows even the most minute detail of any subject is just plain boring.  In the books, Philo Vance comes out as a pompous know it all, and that's the kindest thing I could say about him.

Of course such absurdity should comes as no surprise when the author makes himself a character in the books.  S.S. Van Dine decides to write the events from the viewpoint of the lawyer, who just happens to live with Philo Vance.  They are such good friends, they go everywhere together.  I'm assuming it's supposed to be something akin to Watson speaking on behalf of Holmes or even Colonel Hastings reporting the events of Hercule Poirot.  Where this concept falls apart is that in the latter two cases, the characters are pretending to be anything they are not.  They are purely fictional, relating the events of fictional happenings.  In this case the author decides that he himself will be that chronicler, putting himself in the realm of fiction in the hopes of making the story sound factual.  It's a conceit that fell flat on it's face for me, and one that I got tired of rather quickly.

Now all this cleverness could, theoretically, be excused if the mystery itself is engaging and pulls you into the lives of the characters.  The Greene Murder Case comes close to that all important bar, but just never manages to reach it.  All told, 5 members of the family lose their lives.  I almost wished all of them had.  I have never met a family that deserved death more.  The mother is an invalid who berates and hates her children about as much as could be humanly possible.  When they start to turn up dead in their own bedrooms, all she cares about is how it may change her comfort since she is bedridden.  The siblings themselves, 2 sons, 2 daughters, and one adopted daughter are so caught up in their own lives that there really is no love lost between them.  So if you are doing your math right, only one of these miserable people will be left alive by the last page.  That fact that the one left alive is the most likable, doesn't say much for them.

The mystery itself starts of in a pretty straightforward way.  All 6 members of the family have been forced to live together by the stipulation of the late Mr. Greene's will.  If any of them move out before the specified time, they will be disinherited.  So when they start to show up with bullets through the head, Philo Vance suspects it may be one of them, but all the evidence points to an outsider.  There are mysterious footprints in the snow that lead nowhere, but don't double back to the house either.  It's a puzzling case that just doesn't seem to leave any clear answer.  As the members of the family keep getting bumped off, poor Philo Vance just can't seem to get a handle on the case.  It's only when the murderer is about to take their last victim that Philo Vance's brilliance finally kicks in and the day is saved.

I have two other Philo Vance books to read before the end of the year.  Actually they are the two referenced at the beginning of this review, The Kennel Murder Case and The Casino Murder Case.  I don't know if they will be along the same line as this book was, but if they are I can promise that they will be the last Philo Vance books that I read.  I think the movies will be a safer bet for me.

Challenges: A-Z, VM (Cherchez le Homme)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Favorite Fictional Character --- Mandrake the Magician

I'm not sure if some of you will think I'm cheating this month or not, but here it goes anyway.  As you all know, when I love a character, I really do love them.  Every single character I've featured over the last few years is someone that I have grown to care about and hold dear for one reason or another.  Some have taught me important lessons, others have simply entertained me.  So this month is dedicated to those characters that I've featured before, but never really got a lot of love from my readers.  It will be my second chance to spread the word about some very special characters, and hopefully it will give those characters one more chance to win over some fans.  

Now I may be shooting myself in the foot with this, but I'm hoping that this time around these very special characters will win some new followers of their own.  If even one more person is exposed to them, I'll consider this month to be a success.  So with no further ado, I would love to reintroduce you to a character that I first feature on June 9th, 2010.  He is one that has been around for decades and deserves all the attention he can get, Mandrake the Magician.

Growing up, I was always fascinated by stage magicians.  There was something so wondrous about a elegantly dressed man wearing a a top hat who can make things disappear or appear at will.  So when I came across a bunch of old comic books, during the 4th grade, that showcased a stage magician who not only performed real magic but fought criminals and saved innocents, I was hooked.

Mandrake the Magician started as a syndicated comic strip appearing in newspapers around the country in the 1930s.  He quickly became so popular that he started to appear in his own comic books, the ones I fell in love with plus a radio series in the 1940s and a movie serial from Columbia pictures, which is now available on DVD (I'm so buying them).

Needless to say with all the moving we did as I kid I eventually lost track of those comic books and Mandrake had slowly started to fade in my memory, so when the animated series, Defenders of the Earth, came out in the late 1980s I was hooked once again.  Defenders paired Mandrake up with his old sidekick Lothar (who was one of the earliest black heroes to appear in comic books), The Phantom, and Flash Gordon, both of which where first created by King Features, the company behind the Mandrake comic strip.  I loved this show, these heroes, along with their younger heirs, fought off Ming the Merciless from conquering our world.  It was only on for about one season, but every once in a while I find episodes of it for sale on DVD.

I have a lot of fond memories of Mandrake as he fought evil villains like The Cobra.  He stuck to his guns and never let the situations he found himself in, get the best of him.  He was strong and kind and I owe a big thank you to whoever put those comics in that box, then forgot about then.

A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer Dubois (Plus Giveaway)

Synopsis From Back Cover:

In St. Petersburg, Russia, world chess champion Aleksandr Bezetov being a quixotic quest: launching a dissident presidential campaign against Vladimir Putin.  He knows he will not win, but a deeper conviction propels him forward.  And in the same way that he cannot abandon his aims, he cannot erase the memory of a mysterious woman he loved in his youth.

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, thirty-year-old English lecturer Irina Ellison is on a improbable quest of her own.  Certain she has inherited Huntington's disease - the same cruel illness that ended her father's life - she struggles to find a sense of purpose.  Then Irina finds an old, photocopied letter her father had written to the young Aleksandr Bezetov, in which has asked the Soviet chess prodigy a profound question:  How does one proceed in a lost cause?  Since he had never received an adequate reply, Irina travels to Russia to find Bezetov and get an answer for her father, and for herself.

It's been a long time since I've read a book that is both beautifully written and depressing enough that I didn't want to finish it.  I found myself getting lost in the narrative voice of both Aleksandr and Irina.  Now normally when I say that, it's a good thing.  It would normally mean that the voice being used was so compelling that I became enraptured int he book and could no longer pay attention to anything else going on around me.  This time, it's a different story.  Both characters are so wounded psychologically that I really did want to get lost.  As in, put the book down and pretend it wasn't there.  I wanted to go out into the world of sunshine, kittens, and My Little Pony.  Needless to say I'm not a huge fan of any of those things, so for me to want to seek those things out is a little strange.

Irina was forced to watch her father die twice.  The first death was of his brain, which for both of them, is the most important aspect of living.  Once the mental abilities were gone, Irina observed the slow death of his body.  Now that she is facing the same disease, she kills herself first.  I'm not saying her character is a ghost, because she is still alive, but she isn't living life.  She has already given up, but she forces herself to believe she is doing the "right" thing.  She doesn't want to see pity from others nor does she feel she can really connect with someone else in anyway that is both true and real.  She has chosen to take the false stoic approach, which in my opinion means she's dead in everything but having her body in the ground.

Aleksandr on the other hand has been living in a limbo of his own.  He is in a loveless marriage that is more about habit than anything else.  He hasn't really ever let go of the prostitute he fell in love with as a young man or of his guilty in giving into the party system when he was playing chess.  He is living because of his guilt and anger, trying to correct things that really can never be corrected.  He is a shadow of his past and it's not until the end of the book that he really starts to live in the world again.

Both Irina and Aleksandr are compelling characters that I would have loved exploring on separate terms.  When the two of them were put together, it was just a bit much for me to deal with.  There was just too much life wasting away, not being fully lived.  It was a disheartening, depressing, and not something I could really enjoy at this point in time.  Now with that being said, I do know and can say with absolute conviciton, that one day I will pick this book up again, and I will love it.  I will be in the right frame of mind and be able to really connect with the characters without allowing their sadness to overwhelm me.

I would like to thank Lisa of TLC Book Tours of the opportunity to read and review this book.  Please visit the tour page to read other reviews (most of which raved about the book.)

Now onto the giveaway.  All you need to do is leave a comment (that actually touches on the review) with your email address.  The giveaway will run for two weeks, ending at 11:59 PM on 4/18.  The winner will be selected by random draw and will be contacted by email.  The winner will have 48 hours to email back with their mailing information or a new winner will be drawn.  The giveaway is for US residents only.