Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Secret Garden by Frances H. Burnett

When Mary Lennox is left an orphan, stranded in India, she is shipped off to a distant uncle who lives amongst the moors in Yorkshire.  For a girl who was used to getting her way in everything, servants to dress her and obey her every command, the lonely house is a great change.  She is a bratty child, though that's the result of neglect more than anything else.

When she learns of a secret garden, shut up since the death of her uncle's late wife, she seizes on the idea to discover it for herself.  With the help of an ancient gardener, the younger brother of a house maid, and her long hidden cousin, Mary brings the garden back to life and as a result discovers a new life for herself and her cousin.

Back in July of 2010 I bought a few classic books from Barnes & Noble for $1.79 per book.  I bought five of them, have read two of them, and the rest have been languishing on my shelves ever since.  One of those books, waiting to be read, was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  I'm going to admit, right up front, that even though I bought it and planned on reading it someday, I was never in a hurry to do so.  If it hadn't been less than two dollars for a hardcover, I probably would not have purchased it that day.  I guess I could make some sort of unbiased excuse, but the real reason I didn't feel a fire to read it, I always thought of it as girl's book.  Now what that actually means in reality, I have no frickin clue.  I know that's not a valid reason to not read a book that many consider a classic, but it's the only one I got.  So when Sheila at Book Journey suggested a read-a-long when some of us mentioned on one of her posts hat we haven't read it, I figured I might as well get it over with.

I will even have to admit to finding my line of thinking validated about a third of the way through the book.  I even remember telling a friend of mine who loves this book that I felt like such a "girl" while I was reading it.  I will even have to go as far as saying, part of me was a little embarrassed to tell anyone I was reading it.  Then something a little strange happened.  I started to relax and allow myself to put all my preconceived notions behind me.  I wish I could tell you what triggered that change in my thinking, but I can't.  All I can say is that once I allowed myself to really take in what I was reading, I started to fall in love with Mary and her quest to discover the hidden garden.

I found myself utterly fascinated with the change in temperament and behavior that Mary was undergoing as she started to realize the life may actually be interesting if she gets out and does something about it.  With nobody around who was willing to coddle her and tolerate her bad behavior, Mary started to grow in ways that only her changed environment would ever allow.  Now granted, the book over simplifies the changes show goes through, giving a lot of the credit to physical exercise in the outdoors.  Don't get me wrong, I love being outside. As a kid, I was truly happy camping in the great outdoors, swimming in the lakes of Northern Minnesota, and climbing trees.  I understand the benefits of being outside, I just think Mary's behavioral changes are a little bit much for the catalyst that kicked started it.

The other aspect I truly loved was the discovery and transformation of her cousin.  Much like Mary, Colin starts off as a whiny brat.  His mother died during childbirth and ever since then, he has been coddled and babied in such a way that has left the household in terror of him.  He blames himself, but most importantly, thinks everyone else for the death of his mother.  He thinks he is going to to die young and has a bag that is deformed.  While everyone in the community knows about him, nobody really talks about it.  He is hidden in a separate wing of the house, a wing Mary is told to never visit.  Because of some mysterious crying, Mary discovers her cousin and sees in him, her past behavior.  Because of the friendship that develops between the two of them, they both awaken into the children they should have been given different circumstances.

Now while I really enjoyed and could even say I loved this story, I'm not going to be very good at getting across the way it made me feel.  This was a affirmation for me of the magic of childhood and what it means to be accepted by those around you and how important "home" is to your identity.  It's a celebration of nature and the benefits of being in sync with your environment.  I will also have to admit that had I read this as a kid, I would have loved it, and never admitted to reading it.  Now as an adult, I will proudly proclaim that not only have I read The Secret Garden, but I fell in love with it.

The copy I own is filled with wonderful full color illustrations by Tasha Tudor.  I wish I was able to share all of them with you, but I hope the ones I picked gave a good overall impression of the magical world she was able to capture.

I would like to thank Sheila for the excuse to read the book and share my experience with others who were reading it around the same time.  Please join us for the discussion.  So join us for the garden party over at Sheilas.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Favorite Fictional Character --- Huckleberry Hound

I guess it's time to pull the next, and last, name out of the hat.  I do it with just a bit of sadness since it means there will be tons of dogs that will not get their moment in the sun.  I know I could keep those bits of paper until sometime next year, but that's just an awful mess to hold onto for that long.  I'm actually impressed that I managed to do it for a month.  I've had a lot of fun highlighting some of my favorite canine characters over the last month and I think, though it was through chance, that the dogs selected offer a good overview of man's best friend in the fictional world.  With that being said, I would like to introduce Huckleberry Hound.

I think there is strong argument to make over whether Disney or Hanna-Barbera has contributed the most to pop culture.  I'm not even sure I could pick a winner between the two of them, but if my feet were held onto burning coals, I would have to give the edge to Hanna-Barbera.  When you think of iconic cartoon characters, some of which have been featured on the blog in past years, I will guarantee most of them are Hanna-Barbera creations.  One of my favorites, who I don't think gets the love he deserves, is Huckleberry Hound.  The blue dog with a southern drawl who never seems to have a good grasp on any job, has to be one of those classic characters that brings a smile to my face every time I run across one of his cartoons.

Huckleberry, bless his heart, just can't seem to do anything the way he's supposed to.  He's been a police officer, dragon slayer, cowboy, knight, jungle boy, and just about anything else you can think of.  The fact that he survives these "occupations" has to be attributed to a guardian angel hovering around him constantly. As much as he tries, and he does tries, nothing goes the right way.  But like any true hero, he never gives up or becomes discouraged.  He keeps on keeping on, of course it wouldn't be as much fun to watch if he didn't.

I think I'm going to end this now and go watch a few of his cartoons on YouTube.  Nothing moves me quite the way Huckleberry does when he is singing "Oh My Darling, Clementine."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Simon Ashby was soon to turn twenty-one and the lean years would be over.  After his parent's death, his Aunt Bee had come to Latchetts, the Ashby's small country estate in the English midlands, to care for him, his three sisters, and his twin brother, Patrick, who had later disappeared; it was assumed that Patrick had drowned himself, although his body had never been found.  Now Simon was about to inherit Latchetts and his mother's sizable fortune.  Enter Brat Farrar, who had been carefully coached on every significant detail of Patrick's early life, who imitated is every mannerism and even looked like him.  it seemed an impossible feat:  to pose as someone else before his very family, especially when Simon discovered what was happening and that Brat was out to cheat him of his fortune!  The question of why he wasn't exposed begged to be answered.  Had Simon laid careful plans to foil Brat's game?  Culminating in a final, terrible moment when the two confront one another.

I've been trying to figure out a way to review or explain my reactions to  this without spoiling the whole book for anyone who actually takes the time to read the entire post.  After days of thought and prayer, I'm forced to face the stone cold truth, I can't.  There is no way to explain my reactions to this book without giving away the entire point of the book.  So, that leaves me with three choice.  Don't write a review at all, which isn't going to happen.  I could spill the beans and leave you with no reason to read the book for yourself, which doesn't sound like a lot of fun either.  My third option is simply write a short paragraph saying how much I love the book and leave it at that.  I think it's the third route I'm going to take.

This was one of those books that tries to trick you from the very beginning.  It's gives a wonderful, interest inducing synopsis that makes a reader want to take the book home, curl up on a couch, and read all about the schemes of Brat Farrar.  The title of the book alone should have given me pause to think that not everything was as it appeared to be.  But it wasn't anything I really thought about until I was so suckered into the lives of the Ashbys, that nothing was going to tear me away from this book.  I found it to be compelling, well thought out, and structured in such a way that nothing seems out of character or out of place in the book.

I told you I loved the book, gave a hint at the twists and turns involved in the storyline, and now I'm just going to say that fans of the Golden Age of mystery, should give this one a go.

Challenges:  VM (Occupational Hazards)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Mailbox Monday for 5/2/12

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at Mailbox Monday and is being hosted all this month by Martha of Martha's Bookshelf.

I received an ARC of Let the Devil Sleep by John Verdon, a hardcover of The American Bible by Stephen Prothero, and a trade paperback of A Bitter Truth by Charles Todd for upcoming TLC Book Tours.  

I received a hardcover of Rather Outspoken by Dan Rather from Media Connect for review.

I received a trade paperback of The Pack: Retribution by L.M. Preston for review.

I bought a trade paperback of Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie on my last trip to Barnes & Noble.

I bought the first (and only season) of The River on DVD for $8.89 from BestBuy.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Robert Blair was about to knock off from a slow day at his law firm when the phone rang.  It was Marion Sharpe on the line, a local woman of quiet disposition who lived with her mother at their decrepit country house, The Franchise.  It appeared she was in some serious trouble:  Miss Sharpe and her mother were accused of brutally kidnapping a demure young woman named Betty Kane.  But Miss Kane's claims seemed high unlikely, even to Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, until she described her prison - the attic room with its cracked window, the kitchen, and the old trunks - which sounded remarkable like The Franchise.  Yet Marion Sharpe claimed the Kane girl had never been there, let alone been held captive for an entire month!  Not believing Betty Kane's story, Solicitor Blair takes up the case and, in a dazzling feat of amateur detective work, solves the unbelievable mystery that stumped even Inspector Grant.

After I read Two For Sorrow by Nicola Upson, which features Josephine Tey as the main character, I've been wanting to read Tey's actual work.  I fell in love with the fictional character of Tey, so I wanted to see what her mysteries were really like.  So every time I went to the used bookstore I would be on the lookout for some of her books, but never had much luck at it.  Then I struck pay dirt, one day I went in and they had about ten of her books all ready for me to grab and run out the door.  Now I'm really picky about used paperbacks, so if they are in horrific shape I won't get them.  That left me with two books, one of which is The Franchise Affair.

I really wasn't sure what to expect when I opened up to the first page and started to read about Robert, Marion, and the kidnapped girl.  I was pretty sure I liked the sound of the book, but we all know that those can be rather deceiving.    I will admit that it took me a few pages to get into the rhythm of Tey's writing, but I quickly found myself falling in love with yet another Golden Age mystery writer.

I can't quite put my finger on it, but there is something about the British Golden Age writers that I love so much.  With the exception of Mary Roberts Rinehart, who was writing around the same time, all my favorite mystery authors tend to fall into that category.  Their writing is both complicated and simple at the same time.  The story lines themselves double and triple back on eachother leavening me, as a reader, slightly confused but in awe at the same time.  They, and I include Tey in this, were able to craft richly drawn out mysteries,that kept a reader guessing at every turn, but never got to far ahead of themselves.  They were story lines that kept me intrigued, were never unfair, and anything but dull.

In The Franchise Affair, Tey is able to craft a logical story of a young woman, Betty Kane, who reminds me of Rhoda Penmark.  Nobody really believes her story, but it's so credible that they are forced to go along with it anyway.  Robert is bound and determined to save the reputation of Marion and her mother, of course this being a Golden Age mystery, there is a little romantic impulse behind his actions.  By using his brains, and just a little luck, he is able to figure out the truth of what really happened to Betty Kane during the month she was missing.

I've already finished another of her books, Brat Farrar, so expect that review shortly.  I'm just glad that after I've finished all the Agatha Christie and Mary Roberts Rinehart books, that I have another author to jump into to.

Challenges: A-Z, VM (Golden Age Girls)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Favorite Fictional Character --- Harry, The Dirty Dog

I'm going to assume from the outset that we all have characters that for whatever reason have stuck with us since we were little kids.  They are characters that we may have only came into contact once or twice, but for whatever reason they never seemed to let go of our imaginations.  For me, most of those character come from the books as I read as a wee small lad.  And I read a lot as a kid.  I think I devoured any book that was put in front of me.  One of my favorite books was a about a white dog with black spots named Harry.  And even though I only read two other books he starred in, Harry has been with me ever since.

Harry was a dog that really liked to stick to his own guns.  He hated baths and would do everything he could to avoid them.  But once he decided to hide the scrub brush and go off on his own, he learned that being clean may be worth it after all.  Now don't get me wrong, Harry had a lot of fun on his adventures that day.  He got to play in the dirt, frolic along the railroad, play with other dogs, and even slide down a coal chute.  I think most dogs or even little boys for that matter, would have a grand old time doing those same things.  Of course by the time he goes home, Harry is no longer the white dog with black spots, he's now a black dog with white spots.  How much dirtier can the poor guy get.  Now because of the difference his family doesn't recognize him, despite all the tricks he does for them.  Then just when everything seems to be lost, he gets the scrub brush out of hiding and gets the family to give him a bath.  I don't know if Harry ever got that dirty again, but if he did, I'm sure he made sure that scrub brush was standing by.

As a kid, how could you not fall in love with that story.  Harry appealed to that part of us who wanted to do the exact opposite of what our parents told us to do.  Of course he almost had to pay a huge price for his freedom, but in the end, family and home won out.  It's the same thing with real life.  We want our freedom, but in the end all we really want is the love and safety of our families and the security of our home.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

One late spring evening in 1912, in the kitchen at Sterne, preparations begin for an elegant supper party in honor of Emerald Torrington's twentieth birthday.  But only a few miles away, a dreadful accident propels a crowd of mysterious and not altogether savory survivors to seek shelter at the ramshackle manor - and the household is thrown into confusion and mischief.

The cook toils over mock turtle soup and chocolate cake covered with green sugar roses, which the hungry band of visitors is not invited to taste.  But nothing, it seems, will go according to plan.  As the passengers wearily search for rest, the house undergoes a strange transformation.  One of their number (who is definitely not a gentleman) makes it his business to join the birthday revels.

Evening turns to stormy night, and a most unpleasant parlor game threatens to blow respectability to smithereens:  Smudge Torrington, the wayward youngest daughter of the house, decides that this is the perfect moment for her Great Undertaking.

You know that moment when you go home for the first time after you left.  You may have been away at college for the semester and this is the first opportunity you've had to get back home.  You just know that your mom is going to make your favorite dinner your first night back.  She even told you she was going to do it.  Then you sit down and instead of having her lasagna, it's potato dumplings.  You love them both, but you had been looking forward to the lasagna the entire trip home.  You really can't say your disappointed, but you had to readjust your thinking in about 10 seconds.  That feeling, is the exact same way I felt about this book.

For some reason, after reading the synopsis for the first time, I was expecting something more akin to a mystery novel.  What I got instead is something I can't for the life of me really explain in a way that makes sense to me, let alone anyone else.  I can't say it's a mystery, though there may be slight elements involved.  I think it's more of a cross between a comedy of errors, societal satire, family drama, and urban fantasy (if urban fantasy was regularly set in 1912 England.)  It's this strange, metaphysical dream like book that I absolutely adored.

I really don't think there is one aspect of The Uninvited Guests that I didn't love.  From the characters to the setting, I fell in love within the first 6 pages.  Then Sadie Jones' brilliance as a writer kept that streak of love going until the last page was turned.  She was able to bring to life the complicated, messy night this family is going to have to face.  By the end of the night, they will be different.  They will have faced a past full of secrets and deceptions.  They will have survived a complete transformation of what is socially acceptable.  They will have weathered a vengeful visitor, ravenous hordes, horse manure, and by the end will rediscover what makes them a family.

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 opinions.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Mailbox Monday for 5/21/12

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at Mailbox Monday and is being hosted all this month by Martha of Martha's Bookshelf.

I received a hardcover of Equal of the Sun by Anita Amirrezvani for an upcoming TLC Book Tour.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Donna Summer, 1948-2012

Now I'm too young to have been a fan of Donna Summer's as a kid since she was at the height of her career when I was just wee lad.  It wasn't until I got to be a bit older, college, that I really got into disco music.  And you can't be a fan of disco, without being a fan of Donna Summer.  Now I wasn't one of those that got upset with her over the supposed comments she made about gay people and AIDS.  It happened during the 80s and her haters tried to bring it back up in the 90s, but I really didn't care.  She denied ever saying it, and I have to give her the benefit of the doubt.  Despite the controversy, all I cared about was the music.  It's what she will be remembered for.  It was sad to learn she sucummbed to cancer early this morning.  I hope she is in a better place and is at peace.

Bereft by Chris Womersley

Synopsis From Back Cover:

The year is 1919 and the Great War has ended.  Sergeant Quinn Walker - damaged body and soul by his wartime experiences - decides to return home to the small and desolate town of Flint, Australia, to set right the past.  Ten years earlier, he had fled following the horrific rape and murder of his beloved younger sister Sarah - a crime that everyone, including his family, believes Quinn committed.

When he arrives on the outskirts of Flint, Quinn learns the town is gripped by the deadly flu epidemic sweeping the globe.  And though he is in danger of being hanged if his identity is discovered, Quinn feels compelled to convince his mother - dying of the flu - of his innocence.  As he hides out, working up the courage to confront the tragedy that shattered his life, Quinn meets a mysterious orphan girl, Sadie Fox, whose powers verge on the magical and who seems to know more about the evil that lives in Flint than any child should.

I'm one of those readers that tends to get over involved with the characters in a book.  It's one of those characteristics that cuts both ways.  I can get so lost in the lives of the characters that at times I forget I'm reading a fictional book.  Other times I feel like a 10 year old reading a treatise on the incubation times of typhus in 28 different species of rodents.  In case you didn't get the sarcasm in the last sentence, that's not a good thing.  That means the characters are so unengaging and generic that it destroys any hope of my enjoyment of the reading material.  It also needs to be said that most books fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.  Bereft is one that finds itself on the very fringes of my thinking.

Quinn is one of those characters that draws you in as soon as they appear on the page.  He is such a damaged young man that has seen the worst of the human condition and is still walking.  He saw the man who raped and killed his younger sister, as he cowered in fear.  He ran from home that very day, out of fear and heartbreak.  He saw his fellow soldiers blown to bits and had to do his fare share of battlefield killing as well.  He has made repeated trips to hell, and despite the damage, it ready to face a past that most of us who cower from.

It's who Quinn is as a human being and as a brother that dictates everything he does or will do.  He feels that he failed his sister, failed everyone who has asked him for help since then, and isn't sure what to do now.  Once the war is over, he comes home, not really knowing what to do.  He wants to tell the truth, but quickly realizes nobody is going to believe him.  When he meets Sadie, he is able to rectify some of the mistakes of the past.  He may not have been able to save his sister, but he may be able to help this strange girl escape a similar fate.  Quinn is seeking forgiveness not only from others, especially hi mother, but from himself as well.  He has a drive to correct the uncorrectable, so he needs to do the next best thing in order to move on with his life.

 Bereft is one of those books that is character driven for all the right reasons.  The author, in Quinn, produced a character that is human above everything else.  He could be anyone given the same circumstances.  He is that part of us that needs to be able to fix the past, something that's easier to do in fiction.  He does what we all want to do at some part in our lives.  He will be a character that lives amongst many others that have taken up permanent residency in my imagination.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Favorite Fictional Character --- Pluto

I don't think I can really remember a time as a kid when we didn't have some sort of pet living in the house with us.  Every once in a while it would be a cat, but most of the time we had at least one dog as part of our family.  Above all other choices, dogs just seem to make themselves part of the family faster and easier than any other animal.  They don't have the aloofness that cats seem to ooze out of their pours, unlike hedgehogs they are easier to cuddle with, and are better companions than goldfish.  Our featured dog for this week is one of those dogs.  He is his owners family.  I just can't imagine Mickey Mouse without Pluto.

When I was a kid, I wanted a dog just like Pluto.  I thought Mickey Mouse had to be the luckiest guy in the world to have Pluto in his life.  The relationship was fun to watch and I never tired of seeing them together.   Pluto, at times, seemed to be an extension of Mickey.  They were joined at the hip and their adventures were of the kind I wanted to have.

I wanted to go cut a Christmas tree, bring it home, and then have two little chipmunks take up residence in my home.  Now I may have felt bad for Pluto and the abuse he had to take from Chip and Dale, but I couldn't help but laugh every time I watched it.  Now poor Pluto ended up tearing up the Christmas tree and destroying most of the other Christmas decorations in the process, but he was not going to let the two little creatures get away with it.  In true owner behavior, Mickey got angry at first, but quickly found the humor in his pets behavior.

Pluto wasn't the perfect pet by any stretch of the imagination, but what animal could be.  I think it's perfectly natural for him to get jealous every time Mickey wants to bring a new pet into the home.  I believe most of us would do the same thing in his place.  Dogs, including Pluto, tend to let their curiosity get into trouble.  They don't want to mess up, but they can't help but investigate something new.  It's part of the charm that all dogs have surrounding them.

One of these day I'm going to have a dog just like Pluto, that childhood desire has not gone away.  I just have to remember to inspect my Christmas trees before I bring them home.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Death In The Clouds by Agatha Christie

Synopsis From Back Cover:

From seat No. 9, Hercule Poirot was ideally places to observe his fellow air passengers.  Over to his right sat a pretty young woman, clearly infatuated with the man opposite; ahead, in seat No. 13, sat a countess with a poorly concealed cocaine habit; across the gangway in seat No. 8, a detective writer was being troubled by an aggressive wasp.  What Poirot did not realize was that behind him, in seat No. 2, sat the slumped, lifeless body of a woman.

For what ever reason (Mary Roberts Rinehart) I've been neglecting my Agatha Christie self challenge and I figured I better get that corrected as soon as possible.  If I hadn't decided to read them in order, I think it would have been a bit easier.  Like my mom told me, nothing that's worth it is easy.  So getting back into the amazing imagination that Agatha Christie possessed was a treat.

Now I know you guys know that I'm not a hug fan of Hercule Poirot, I like him, but can only take so much of him.  I always imagine singing "Just a Spoonful of Sugar" when I'm reading his books.  He has a brilliant mind, and a brilliant ego to match it.  I don't know if it's that distance really does make the heart grow fonder, or if I'm actually starting to enjoy time spent with Poirot.  Either way, he didn't grate on my nerves as he normally does, and I found him just a bit endearing in this one.  I think what helped is that he seems to be just as flabbergasted by this murder as the rest of us.

Who knew you that you could create a believable (if just barely) murder that happens in a plane thousands of feet up in the air.  Throw in wasps, blowpipes, enough suspects to fill a dinner party, and you got the makings of one of the funnest mysteries I've read in a long time.  Even the characters know how far fetched the murder is.  It's one of those situations that would never happen in real life, but once it comes out of the pen of Agatha Christie, it somehow makes sense by the end.

My only quibble with it, and it's a small one, is the way the murder is investigated.  The murderer is involved, along the same lines they were in the last book, Three Act Tragedy.  I'm not even sure I would have noticed the similarity if they weren't back to back books.  It didn't get in the way of my enjoyment, I just thought it was odd using the same plot device twice in a row.

Challenges: A-Z, VM (Golden Age Ladies)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mailbox Monday for 5/14/12

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at Mailbox Monday and is being hosted all this month by Martha of Martha's Bookshelf.

I received an ARC of The Girl Below by Bianca Zander for an upcoming TLC Book Tour.

I received an ARC of An American Family by Peter Lefcourt from the publicist for review.

I won a hardcover of The Great Animal Orchestra by Bernie Krause from Beth of Beth's Book Reviews.

And speaking of the wonderfully, glorious Beth of Beth's Book Reviews, I had a lovely surprise waiting at home when I got off work Saturday night.  During the day I had received a package from her containing paperbacks of The Album by Mary Roberts Rinehart, The Yellow Room by Mary Roberts Rinehart, Fer-De-Lance by Rex Stout, The Golden Spiders by Rex Stout, and If Death Ever Slept by Rex Stout.  Needless to say I'm excited for all of them.  She also enclosed a lovely bookmark, that I will be using quite a bit.

Happy Mother's Day

I wish all the wonderful mothers out there, a very happy Mother's Day.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

From Hell With Love by Simon R. Green

Synopsis From Back Cover:

It's no walk in the bloody park, being a Drood - one of the family who has protected ordinary humanity from the things that go bump in the night for centuries.  We're no much liked - even by on another.  Now our Matriarch is dead.  Murdered.  Maybe by one of us.  Maybe not.  It's been left up to me, Eddie Drood, to figure out whodunit.

That's not going to be easy.  You see, opinion is divided evenly between two camps of thought:  those who think the killer was Molly, my best girl, and those who think the killer was actually me.  And I know for a fact that I didn't do it.

I'm not a huge urban fantasy fan by any stretch of the imagination.  I think I name on one had the number of series that I actually enjoy in the genre. Thankfully, for me, one of those is The Secret Histories series by Simon R. Green.  It has to be one of the funnest and exhilarating series I've ever had the privilege to come across.

In the fourth book, From Hell With Love, Eddie is given a monumental task.  Find out how the Matriarch was killed in her bedroom and what caused so many of the family to turn into bloodthirsty "zombies" intent on killing Molly, The Wild Witch of the Wood, and Eddie's girlfriend.  Eddie is quickly thrown for a loop and is forced to deal with the idea of having a traitor within the family.  Of course since half of them thinks he did it, that won't be an easy investigation to undertake.

Are one of the various nefarious criminal organizations behind the bloodshed?  Could it be the fairies or elves bent on revenge?  It's it the petty scientist bent on world domination?  Or is it something even worse, a cancer spreading through the ancient family itself.  Is there someone in the manor who is bent on destroying the family? Of course it could be the mythological AntiDroods.  Is that family who's only major goal is to kill every Drood on the planet real, or do the belong in myth?

The mystery takes Eddie around the world, from Hollywood to the snowy ends of the Earth, he is forced to hunt down the person(s) responsible the death of his grandmother, the Matriarch.  It's a sarcastic, tongue in cheek romp that mixes all the best of James Bond and urban fantasy.

Other Books In The Series:

The Man With the Golden Torc
Daemons Are Forever
The Spy Who Haunted Me

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Favorite Fictional Character --- Scooby-Doo

There is just something about dogs that make me happy.  They are way better than cats (and no I won't apologize for that statement.)  Dogs can be your best friend, counselor, bodyguard, running buddy, wing man, and plate cleaner.  The learn your moods and know exactly what you need, sometimes before you do.  I think that's why I've always been drawn to dogs in fiction, especially when they are almost human in behavior.  They are the dogs that fill your imagination as a kid, and what kid didn't love Scooby-Doo.

Now in the above paragraph I mentioned one of the benefits of having a dog is that you have a built in bodyguard, well if it's Scooby, you can forget that part.  This great dane is not your average dog filled with courage and guts.  If you need him to do more that bark a few times, you better have a box of Scooby-Snacks on hand in order to bribe the help out of him.  Of course the fact that he hangs out with a human, Norville "Shaggy" Rogers, that is about as cowardly as him doesn't help matters.

Come to think of it, I never understood why Fred, Daphne, and Velma ever brought the other two along with them.  I get solving mysteries came be dangerous, and that there is probably safety in numbers, but are two cowards going to make all that much difference.  Of course, it should be pointed out that is was normally Scooby who ended up catching the bad guy, even if it was normally by accident.  I will also have to admit that if were them, I would have felt safer with a dog by my side as well.  Even a dog who hides, eats way too much junk food, and seems to be on mind altering substances more often than not is better than no dog.

Then they had to bring Scrappy into the mix and Scooby was forced to make a few changes.  He had to get a little tougher and braver, how could he be upstaged by the little whippersnapper that was Scrappy.  The toughness of Scrappy forced Scooby to step it up a bit and he did for the most part.  He still had his moments, but he was a braver guy for the most part.  We won't even go into how he changed when Flim Flam and Vincent Van Ghoul took him, Shaggy, and Daphne on a real ghost hunt.  But I will say that despite everything, Scooby remained a dynamic character that never failed to entertain.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Lottery By Shirley Jackson

Synopsis From Back Cover:

"The Lottery," one of the most terrifying stories written in the twentieth century, created a sensation when it was published in 1948.  Today it is considered a classic work of short fiction, a story remarkable for it combination of subtle suspense and pitch perfect descriptions of both the chilling and the mundane.  this collection, the only one to appear during Shirley Jackson's lifetime, unites "The Lottery" with twenty-four equally unusual stories.  Together they demonstrate Jackson's remarkable range - encompassing the hilarious and the horrible, the unsettling and the ominous - as well as her power as a storyteller.

I think everyone remembers the first time they read "The Lottery."  It's one of those stories that never seems to leave the corridors of your brain once the words have soaked in.  It's the type of story, that despite the "normalness" involved leaves you feeling unsettled from the first page.  As the growing feeling of dread starts to creep in, as a reader, you can't help but feel the ground shifting beneath you.  You know that there is something wrong, but no matter how hard you try, you can't seem to place your finger on it.  As each page is turned, that feeling of the world shifting does not go away.  Then the unimaginable happens.  Jackson lets you in on the horror of what the lottery really is.  As the last word is read, you just shake your head and sit there for a moment in shock.  But then you realize something.  It's really not the actions that horrify, it's the attitude of those involved, right down to the children.  It's the shock of what the lottery has done to the human soul that truly leaves you hoping against hope that people are better than this.  What really distresses me as that reader, is that I'm not convinced we are.

Until I had read this collection, I thought that was the extent of my experience with her short stories.  While I have read, and loved, The Haunting of Hill House many times, I didn't think I had read any of her other short stories.  But as I delved into a world that is uniquely Shirley Jackson's, I found myself experiencing deja vu.  At first I wasn't sure why, I'm pretty sure that I've never read the stories before, and except for one of them "Charles," I'm almost convinced I haven't.  Despite that, I could not shake the feeling of something being familiar and different at the same time.  As I got further into the collection, I put my finger on it.  It's not that I've read these stories before, but it's that I've read other authors try to copy Jackson's tone and style in their own writing.  It was like watching a decent remake of a movie, then seeing the original in all it's glory.  The imitators were good, but the real deal, is superb.

Jackson had a talent at taking the ordinary, and turning it into something that would leave a reader feeling as if something is wrong, but unable to vocalize it at first.  She got her characters to behave in ways that at first seemed normal, but would then take on a tone that just didn't mesh with the visuals.  It's a glorious talent to have, and not something most writers possess.  In each of her tales, whether they delve into gender roles, class distinctions, racial stereotypes, or a few hours of someones life, Shirley Jackson creates a fully fleshed out story that leaves the reader with their mouth open and their brain cells trying to process what they just read.

It's the unknowingly racist mother in "After You, My Dear Alphonse," that will have you shaking your head in disbelief.  It's the young wife and mother who can't seem to shake her own fear of respectability and race in "Flower Garden," that will leave you with a big hole in your heart at the missed opportunities to do what's right.  It's the flabbergasted parents who maybe don't know their own child in "Charles," that will make you smile and nod at their blindness.  It's the vitriol, suspicion, and fear instilled in young girls that will leave you with a sense of wanting to slap someone in "Dorothy and My Grandmother and The Sailors."  It's the chance encounter with the deranged in "The Witch," that will make a traveling parent nervous.  But most of all it's the uneasiness and sense of oddness that will stay with you long after you close the last page.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Interesting Links and Useful Information

It's been a while since I've shared some of the stuff that has struck my interest or has me adding to my wish list.  So I thought I would take a few minutes and let you in on some of them.

I've been rather lax in my NPR listening, but I try to catch The Diane Rehm Show as often as I can.  For whatever reason we have a bunch of people at work who like to discuss religion and their feelings on it.  For the most part the discussion stays civil, but I think all of us are rather set in our beliefs, though I also think most of us are willing to listen.  Interestingly, in the last few weeks I have heard discussions over two new books that talk about religion and the way it is changing in our society.  Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics by explores the idea of how people have changed away from "traditional" Christianity and how that is hurting the country.  The New Religious Intolerance: Overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age by Martha Nussbaum explores religious persecution and the fear it instills in everyone.  They are both fascinating discussions with the authors, and I know I really want to read both books now.

Two "newer" social media sites have been sucking my times lately, though one more than the other.  If anyone is on Pinterest or GetGlue, please feel free to follow me on those two sites as well.

And while I'm mentioning other websites to waste time, I have to mention  Now I know it's not new, nor is it a new find for me, but I've found myself going back more often lately to play my favorite games.  Whether it's Monopoly, Boggle Bash, Scrabble, dominoes, or hearts, I'm loving the game play on there again.

A few weeks ago I was complaining to a friend of mine that I don't see many butterflies anymore.  I remember being a kid in MN and seeing tons of them all the time.  Well needless to say, a few days ago a ton of them showed up out of the blue in my neighborhood.  Now I've never been very good about identifying them, so I looked up this website, Butterflies and Moths of North America, and got to work.  I sort of suck at this by the way, and I'm still not sure what I'm supposed to be looking for.  First of all, they are very hard to take pictures of when the winds are blowing, and this is Kansas so winds are always blowing.  I did manage to get three decent pics though.  It's a new camera so the pictures aren't the best.

And last, but not least I would like to share a song that I've been listening to a lot lately.  When Anne Rice wrote her novel, Violin, there was a soundtrack put out as well.  Leila Josefowicz was the violinist chosen to perform on the album, and my favorite song on it was "Moon Over Bourbon Street," which was composed by her and Sting.  I recently started listening to it again.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Sword of the Lady by S.M. Stirling

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

Rudi Mackenzie has journeyed long and far across the land that was once the United States of America, seeking the shore where the sun rises, hoping to find the source of the world-altering event that has come to be known as the Change.

Finally, his goal is at hand.  He has arrived at Nantucket, an island overrun with forest, inhabited by a mere two hundred people who claim to have been transported there from out of time.

Only one odd stone house remains standing.  Within it, Rudi finds a beautifully made long sword seemingly waiting for him.

And once he takes it up, nothing for Rudi - or for the world that he knows - will ever be the same....

This won't be a long review, so those of you who are tired of this series can relax.  It's not that there isn't a lot going on here, obviously there is,  I just have to admit I'm really, really bad about reviewing epic fantasy books.  Actually, scrap that.  It's not the reviewing part I suck at, it's the summing up part that kills me every time.

I'm always a loss to know what to include and what doesn't seem very important.  Of course that is a silly predicament to be in, anyone who is a fan of the genre knows that everything is important.  Even the slightest detail can have massive ramifications down the road.  The wrong decision, no matter how minor, can change the entire course of the story.  I think that's part of the reason that despite the publisher's synopsis being incredibly weak, I'm not going to try and improve on it.  I've met and accepted my weakness, now it's time to move on.

What I do want to quickly mention is how much I adore the author's ability to build a believable world out of the ruins of ours.  Postapocalyptic books, when done correctly, take you on an incredible journey of individuals and society as a whole trying to rebuild their lives.  In a world where all electricity or anything more advanced than a watermill no longer works, it's changes the rules beyond belief.  When you can no longer drive or fly, a cross country trip takes on an epic feel.  Those who survived the chaos had to rebuild their own parts of the country as best they could.  Some better than others, though most of them in a way that would seem harsh to us, but necessary to them.  These different settlements quickly take on the customs, religions, and beliefs of those who lead them through the worst of times.  Some areas turn into a feudal society with knights and castles, others turn militaristic in the hopes of trying to rebuild the United States out of what's left of Idaho.  Others revert to "modern day" vikings, worshiping the Norse gods and taking on those beliefs as their own.  It's a new, complex world that 24 years after the Change is slowly coming into it's own.

I thought for anyone interested I would show you a map of how things have shaken out, territory wise so far:

The other aspect I love about epic fantasy, including this series, are the characters.  In brilliantly written fantasy, it's the characters that drive the story, not the storyline.  This series has been filled with some of the best examples of that.  Because of the length of time it's taken Rudi and his friends to travel across the entire land of what used to be the United States, they have encountered a myriad of people who the author not only fleshed out in great detail, but drew them in such a way that you end up caring for them almost as much as the original cast.  Rudi gains allies and friends along the way, as they lose others.  A journey like this will result in friends not making it all the way.  As a reader, it's always sad to have a character you enjoy die, but it makes the time spent with that character all the more enjoyable.  Don't ask, this is almost bordering on the metaphysical, so I think I should shut up now.

Either way, I hope others, especially fans of the genre, discover for themselves the pure joy this series is.

Other Books In The Series:

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Sheila's Secret Garden Read-A-Long

You know those books you buy or pick up somewhere, but still pay for, that you have languishing around your shelves for years and years, and you feel bad about it?  Come one, you know what I'm talking about.  We all have them.  They are books you want to read, but for whatever reason, other books tend to grab our attention.  Finally, I have the perfect excuse to dust one of those books off and find out the skinny on it.

The lovely Sheila of Book Journey is hosting a read-a-long of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett during the month of May.  From what I can tell it's pretty informal, but there are prizes!  So if you want to join in, which I hope you will, go ahead and visit her sign up post to learn all the details.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Favorite Fictional Character --- Benji

I'm actually a little surprised right now that I haven't thought of this month's theme before now.  I love dogs, they are my favorite animal, and off the top of my head I can probably think of 20-25 fictional dog characters that I adore.  I think that's the reason I've stayed away from this theme for so long.  How can I possibly narrow the list down to my 5 favorites.  So what I'm going to do is right down as many as I can......that ended up being 30 dogs, put the names in a hat, and draw one every week.  So let's see who is up first.....Benji!

I'm going to admit right up front that I haven't watched a Benji movie since I was a kid.  But as a kid, I think I watched three of them at least 10 times each.  I'm such a Benji nerd that I can still pretty much tell you the plot points of all three films.  I would sit on the floor, unmoving, in front of the television every time one of the movies came on TV.  I didn't want to be bugged by my mom or little brother.  All I wanted was to watch my hero save the day once again.

Benji is one of those dogs that does the right thing no matter the danger it puts him in.  He has helped rescue kidnapped kids, run from secret agents in Athens, and save cougar cubs in the wilds of Oregon.  He is fearless and one of those characters that I admired as a kid.  He was willing to do whatever it took to protect those who could not protect themselves.  But most of all, Benji was smart enough to recognize what needed to be done.  Courage is a great think in a hero, but it's the intelligence to recognize the situation, understand the possible consequences, and still go through with the mission that sets true heroes apart from the rest of us.  And that is what Benji is to me, a hero.  He's a hero that I'm really thinking my son needs to be introduced to.