Friday, August 31, 2012

The Red Lamp by Mary Roberts Rinehart

Synopsis From Back Cover:

When Jane Porter saw the ghostly outlines of the great mansion of Twin Hollows emerging from the rising mist of the huge salt bog, she sensed that the whispered rumors about the old house were true.  A musty odor of evil seemed to hang in its dimly lit rooms and winding corridors, and the spirits of those who had mysteriously died here seemed to moan with the wind from the sea.

Jane's husband had forced her to come here.  Her devotion to this strangely haunted man kept her here.  And as the fearful days and terrifying nights passed, she began to realize that neither she, nor the man she loved, might ever leave alive....


noun Rhetoric .
obvious and intentional exaggeration.
an extravagant statement or figure of speech not intendedto be taken literally, as “to wait an eternity.”

That is the definition of hyperbole as provided by  I think there needs to be a whole section added that discusses the over the top nature of book synopsises.  It may not even be a bad idea to have a special section set aside for mystery novels.  I don't think there is a genre that lends itself to it more.  Now I'm not suggesting that The Red Lamp doesn't live up to the tension and suspense of the synopsis, because it does.  I just can't help but chuckle every time I read the back cover of a vintage mystery novel.

Narrated by Professor William Porter, The Red Lamp is an interesting twist on a haunted house mystery.  The Porters had inherited Twin Towers, a massive estate sitting right on the water, when William's uncle passed away.  Despite Jane's visions and feelings of apprehension, the decide to spend the summer at the estate, though not in the main house.  They will stay in the guest house, while they rent out the house itself.  Jane never quite feels comfortable, though she soldiers on.

It doesn't take long for things to start going wrong though.  A red lamp, used by an infamous medium, is seen glowing from the windows of the main house.  Cattle, then humans, are being brutally killed in the area.  At each scene a strange symbol is left, a symbol that points to the paranormal, and back to William Porter.  The professor is at the top of the suspect list, at least on the list of living suspects.  With the of a trusted few, William is forced to clear his own name, and get to the truth of the eerie happenings.

I'm still trying to figure out what I think of this one.  As you know I love Mary Roberts Rinehart, probably to a fault.  I have yet to be completely unhappy with one of her books, and can normally find a redeeming quality in her writing.  There is a lot I liked about The Red Lamp.  The mystery itself has just enough tension in it, that I found myself not wanting to put the book down.  The atmosphere, which I think Rinehart is a true genius at creating, is brilliant.  The fear floats through the air and keeps the characters in a reactionary stance.  It's hard for them to keep a solid footing, when the action and emotions keep pushing them over.

What I'm not so sure about is the combination of the supernatural with a human murderer.  I'm almost left with the impression that I would have preferred a ghostly or demonic killer, or for the supernatural elements to be explained away as something solidly set in the real world.  What Rinehart gives us instead, is a mixture of the two that I'm not sure really worked.  The strengths of the book saved it for me, but part of me thinks The Red Lamp could have been so much better.

Challenges: VM (Occupational Hazards)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Carol's Favorite Fictional Character --- Miss Scarlet

We have reached the last guest post of the year, and Carol of Carol's Notebook, has chosen to present a truly fabulous character.  For those of you who may not be familiar with Carol or her blog, you are really missing out on something great.  She is such a warm blogger, one who's personality oozes off the screen.  She brings us into her life and allows us to share in her daughter's artwork, share a favorite meal, or go on vacation with them.  She writes terrific book reviews, I can't even begin to tell you how much she has added to my wish list.  She also features her own writing, folk tales, and board game reviews, which I must admit to being one of my favorite features.  It's that love of games, that makes this guest post shine even more.  So please, after  reading this post, head on over to her blog, and say hi.

It’s hard to choose a favorite fictional character, the list of potentials is just so long, from distinctive detectives to a talking frog, from vampires to all-American girls, but there’s one character I’ve loved since childhood, the first femme fatale I knew – Miss Scarlet, from Clue. First, you have to know that I love mysteries, and have for as long as I can remember. My family and friends, both when I was a child and now as an adult, have always played board games and it only makes sense that Blue was one of my favorites. You get to be the detective, trying to figure out who killed Mr. Boddy before anyone else solves the case.  Of course, there’s always the potential that you yourself are the murderer, but that just adds to the suspense. And the character I always chose was Miss Scarlet.
Miss Scarlet’s mysterious, sexy, dangerous, a woman who keeps her own secrets. And her color in the game is red, of course, to match her name, but it also fits her personality, at least in my mind, passionate, more than capable of killing Mr. Boddy, either in moment of rage or as part of a calculated plan.
She has evolved over the years. I guess in 1949, the first British version of the game, she was actually a blonde, but the two versions I’m must familiar with are the original American Scarlett and the Master Detective version from 1988. I still own that game, although no one ever wants to play it with me- more rooms, more suspects, but not as “strategic” as a lot of the newer games out. Miss Scarlet’s personality is even more flushed out in Master Detective.  She’s known as the “Mercenary of Macao,” and is willing to do anything for money. And she’s still smoking here too, which kind of surprises me.  Of course, I guess that was 15 years ago, and we were a little less politically correct when it comes to smoking in kids shows and, apparently, board games.

Through all her incarnations, though, Miss Scarlet is deliciously charming, alluring, and deadly. She’s the kind of woman who could lure you into the library and then shoot you point blank. Or maybe poison. I never thought she would be one to bash Mr. Boddy over the head with a candlestick though or beat him to death with a pipe – just too messy.
Now that I’ve got Miss Scarlet and Master Detective Clue on my mind, I may have to play tonight. I wonder if I can convince my daughter and husband. She can be Miss Peach and he can be Professor Plum.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Blood Eye by Giles Kristian

Synopsis From Goodreads:

For two years Osric has lived a simple life, apprenticed to the mute old carpenter who took him in when others spurned him. But when Norsemen from across the sea burn his village, Osric is taken prisoner by these warriors. Their chief, Sigurd the Lucky, believes the Norns have woven this strange boy’s fate together with his own, and Osric begins to sense glorious purpose among this fellowship of warriors. 

Immersed in the Norsemen’s world and driven by their lust for adventure, Osric proves a natural warrior and forges a blood bond with Sigurd, who renames him Raven. But the Norsemen’s world is a savage one, where loyalty is often repaid in blood and where a young man must become a killer in order to survive. When the Fellowship faces annihilation from ealdorman Ealdred of Wessex, Raven chooses a bloody and dangerous path, accepting the mission of raiding deep into hostile lands to steal a holy book from Coenwolf, King of Mercia. 

There he will find much more than the Holy Gospels of St Jerome. He will find Cynethryth, an English girl with a soul to match his own. And he will find betrayal at the hands of cruel men, some of whom he regards as friends.

My Freshman year in college I took a Introduction to the Arts class during the interim period of January.  Most of the kids where home from break, but I used that month to eat up a gen ed credit.  During that class we were taught the concept of the willing suspension of disbelief.  Naturally it's a concept we all understand from the moment we pick up our first book or watch our first movie.  There has to be a willingness on the part of the audience to put the implausibility of the story aside, and buy in.  The process needs to work both ways though.  Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who coined the term, understood that the burden rests mainly in the lap of the writer.  That it's the author's job to convince the audience, that no matter how fantastical the events are, that it actually may be the truth.  When a writer and his reader can't meet in the middle, both are left with disappointments.

I can't speak to the historical accuracy of a book set in 802 AD.  I know absolutely nothing about Vikings or the English during that time period.  From what I do now, I think it's fair to say the author spent a lot of time researching the time period in order to portray,in detail, the life of an English peasant or Viking warrior during the period.  Where my disbelief started to override the author's writing was in how Osric, aka Raven, changed, and in the speed those changes took place in.

Osric is, which is explained later, a foundling child who was found and because of his permanently blood shot eye is given to the only person in the village willing to deal with a child who is so marked by the Devil.  His age is never really explained, but I would assume he would have been in his early adolescence.  Fast forward a few years and as he is walking towards the shore to fish for mackrel, he spots two Viking ships coming ashore.  Within a few minutes he is starting to understand their language, and in no time at all, he not only understands it, but speaks it's fluently.  It's left to assume that the Norse language is actually his real language, and English was one he learned from the villagers.  My problem with this is that he never knew he spoke this Viking language.  If he was picked up English from the villagers, who feared him, he would still remember his native language and would not forget knowing it.  So unless Odin gives him the gift of language from the very beginning, it's just too far of a stretch for me to make.

The rest of my issues are just an extension of the first.  He learns how to use a sword in within the span of one paragraph.  Within a few chapters (a couple of days of travel), he is not only able to best seasoned warriors during practice, but he is killing men with ease.  That's not even counting the fact that the Vikings killed every grown adult male in the village, kidnapped him and his mute mentor, and threatened their lives more than once.  It takes him little time, or thought really, to throw off the teaching of the Christian church and the little life he actually remembers, and jumps right on board the Viking way of life.  He starts praying to their gods, cursing and killing like it's going out of style, all within a few weeks.  I've seen characters change and adapt to new situations, but I've never seen one due it so casually.

All of this is surrounded by pretty intense violent action and lots and lots of bad language.  Neither of those things are a bad thing, they were actually the more interesting parts of the book for me.  It's a pretty standard coming of age story set in a violent world where Vikings were to be feared and the English couldn't be trusted, at least according to this book.  It's the first of a series that is just now being published in the US.  I'm just hoping that the next book will be just a bit more believable.

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

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Mailbox Monday for 8/27/12

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at Mailbox Monday and is being hosted all this month by 5 Minutes for Books.

I received a hardcover of The Gnome Lexicon by Marcia Lewandowski from the publicist for review.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Neil Armstrong, 1930-2012

I know I've said this before, but I was obsessed with space travel as a kid.  Some of my earliest heroes where the men and women who got to do the one thing I wanted most in the world, go into space and look down at the Earth.  The main reason for that childhood obsession, Neil Armstrong and his heroic walk on the moon.  I can't even imagine the courage it would take to walk out of that spacecraft and take the first step a human ever made on the moon.  Every opportunity I had, I would read about Neil Armstrong and his role in the mission.

As I aged, my desire to go to space faded, but my admiration of the first man to walk on the moon never faded.  Every time I see a news story that covers a new development in space exploration, I think of those earlier men and women who made it all possible.  With his passing, I lost a hero and the world lost a courageous man who dared to be the first.

Friday, August 24, 2012


The winner of Eat the City is...... Emma of Words And Peace!

The winner of Miss Me When I'm Gone is..... Anita!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tasha's Favorite Fictional Character --- Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert

I admire brains almost more than I admire any other attribute, I think that's the reason I enjoy Tasha and her blog, Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books, so much.  I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings, but I'm almost convinced that Tasha is one of the smartest bloggers I've come across.  She has a way of analyzing a book/movie/artwork that never fails to impress and instill a bit of envy in me.  The fact that those brains reside in someone who is so likable, is even better.  So if you don't know her, or her blog, please stop on by and say hi.

Rebecca and Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert by Léon Cogniet, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Although Walter Scott's famous historical novel Ivanhoe is titled after a noble Saxon knight and has several famous characters--including Richard the Lionhearted, Robin Hood, and Prince John--the real star of the book is the dark Templar knight, Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert. Sir Brian is dark not only in his countenance, but in his heart:
They say he is valiant as the bravest of his order; but stained with their usual vices, pride, arrogance, cruelty, and voluptuousness; a hard-hearted man, who knows neither fear of earth, nor awe of heaven.

De Bois-Guilbert, in other words, is a total badass. And although there are many characters in Ivanhoe who are great knights, there's never any doubt that he's the one to beat.

Sir Brian sets the wheel of fate turning when he decides he wants the Jewess Rebecca for himself. Conspiring with Maurice de Bracy, they decide to kidnap the Lady Rowenna and Rebecca for themselves. Not heroic behavior, admittedly. But read Bois-Guilbert's declaration to Rebecca after he's absconded with her:

These pearls are orient, but they yield in whiteness to your teeth; the diamonds are brilliant, but they cannot match your eyes; and ever since I have taken up this wild trade, I have made a vow to prefer beauty to wealth.

Sigh! So romantic! I think, too, what Sir Brian isn't saying is that he admires Rebecca's selflessness and goodness. Sir Brian doesn't believe he is a good person, but there's a part of him that wants to be, and that part is attracted to Rebecca. A flawed and tortured hero! Who can resist? Too bad that Rebecca just isn't that into him. Because she's an IDIOT.

Ciaran Hinds as Bois-Guilbert
Sir Brian's past is mysterious; we never know much about him before his journey to the Holy Land, where he committed many sins in the name of Christendom. Yet the real question surrounding Bois-Guilbert is what separates him from the other Templar knights. They're ALL bad guys who throw their weight around and violate the rules of their order on a regular basis, yet Sir Brian is undoubtedly better than his Templar cohorts. What makes him so special?

For one, even though he admits to violating every precept of his order, he still respects the code of chivalry. Other than the initial kidnapping, which was more de Bracy's idea than his own, he never forces Rebecca into anything. For another, he's more upfront than the other knights. His friend, Albert Malvoisin, might pretend to follow Templar orders while doing whatever he wants, but Bois-Guilbert makes no secret of the fact that he's going to do what he do, and anyone who thinks they can stop him are welcome to try. He's not a hypocrite!

Sir Brian is also egalitarian: he doesn't discriminate against Rebecca because she's a Jewess, and his own personal guard consists of warriors of many different faiths from the Holy Land. 

Finally, Bois-Guilbert is willing to sacrifice everything he values--his place within the Knights Templar and his honor--to save Rebecca. Unfortunately for him, he chose to love the wrong person; Rebecca rejects his offer and he comes to an ignominious end. Still, Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert remains the best and most memorable character in the large cast of Ivanhoe.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The People From the Sea by Velda Johnston

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

Diana Garson had liked the shabby old farmhouse from the moment she crossed its threshold.  The atmosphere seemed friendly and homelike, almost as if it were welcoming her.  David Conway, her friend and neighbor in Manhattan, had heard about the house and persuaded her to rent it for the summer.  Here, in this quiet place on the Long Island shore, she hoped to recover from the emotional blows that had brought her to the brink of a breakdown.   And for a while she did find a soothing peace.  But she also encountered the people from the sea.

Whether they were real in any sense of "real," Diana did not know.  Only one thing we certain:  the evil in which she became enmeshed because of them was very real, as real as the hands that wrapped themselves around her throat one fog-shrouded afternoon on the beach.

There are the moments when you need a certain type of book to get you out of a mood or reading pattern that developed without you knowing it.  Somehow, and I don't really mind it, I've found myself reading a lot of nonfiction lately.  After about the 4th one in a row, I needed something to refresh my palate.  Like most of you, I have hugs stacks of unread books just sitting around waiting for me to pick one of them up.  On a whim, I picked up The People Form the Sea, and a little over 4 hours later, I was turning the last page.

When Diana is talked into renting the seaside cottage, she thinks she's finally in a space she can heal in.  Newly divorced, Diana has been floundering a bit, not sure of what she wanted or where she was heading.  She thinks she is starting to fall for David, but is a little unsure of his intentions.  She is at a turning point in her life, she just has no clue which road to take.

From the moment she is left alone in the cottage, she feels at home and safe, a feeling she hasn't had in a long time.  As she settles in, she finds an old photo album, and quickly gets enmeshed in the lives of the family that used to own the cottage.  A mother and her two grown children, were brutally murdered on board their yacht.  The scars of that tragedy lay deep on the small coastal town, scars that Diana feels she needs to start poling at.

She has seen all three of them in the cottage.  She has danced with the son, and listened as the daughter played the piano late into the night.  She isn't sure if what she is seeing is real, but it's changing her, and not always for the better.  What starts off as a question here and there around town, quickly turns into a full blown investigation into what happened on the boat.  It's a search that will threaten Diana's life, her future with David, and the tranquility of a town she has grown to love.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Phyllis Diller, 1917-2012

As a kid, I always had Phyllis Diller and Lady Elaine Fairchilde confused in my head.  I know one is a outrageous stand up comedian and actress, the other a puppet living in The Neighborhood of Make-Believe, but they looked so much alike.  I'm not quite sure I really thought of how that would have worked, but I was convinced they were the same person.  Needless to say the both scared, and fascinated me.

So I would like to thank Phyllis Diller for the hours of fear tinged laughter that she provided for me.  She was one of a kind, and I must admit, that I'm going to miss the hell out of her.

By the way, one of my favorite Phyllis Diller moments can be found by watching this video.

Following Atticus by Tom Ryan

Part Of The Synopsis From Back Cover:

After a close friend died of cancer, middle-aged, overweight, acrophobic newspaperman Tom Ryan decided to pay tribute to her in a most unorthodox manner.  Ryan and his friend, Atticus M. Finch, would attempt to climb all forty-eight of New Hampshire's four-thousand-foot peaks twice in one winter while raising money for charity.  It was an adventure of a lifetime, leading them across hundreds of miles and deep into an enchanting but dangerous winter wonderland.  At the heart of the amazing journey was the extraordinary relationship they shared, one that blurred the line between man and dog.

I'm the kind of guy who still cries when I watch Old Yeller.  For that matter, Nestor, The Long Eared Christmas Donkey has me in tears every time I watch it.  I even cried when they went deer hunting on Silver Spoons.  Let's just say I'm a sucker for animals.  So stick a cute dog on a cover, and I'm going to agree to anything you say, just so I can read the book.

Because of the adorable Atticus M. Finch on the cover, it was almost a sure bet that I was going to enjoy the book.  What wasn't a given, was whether or not I was going to enjoy the voice used to tell the story.  As much as I love dogs, I tend to not enjoy books written by journalists that feature their own lives as the subject material. I understand that you have to have a bit of an ego to write a book about yourself, but for some reason, journalists seem to revel in their own self importance.  In the case of one book I reviewed earlier this year, the journalist in question was so self involved, I actually lost respect for him after reading the book.  So when I finally found the time to crack the book open and dive in, it was with a bit of trepidation.

At the very beginning, I was almost convinced that I wasn't going to be pleasantly surprised.  When the author talks about his paper and the roll he played in town, I was reading some of the same words as I did in the book I read earlier this year.  It was a little too self congratulatory for my taste.  So I hunkered down to delve into the world of Tom Ryan, hoping that I would get something out of what I was reading.

As I kept on reading though, I started to enjoy the time I was spending with Tom as he meandered his way across town.  The man I quickly judged, just a quickly started to surprise me.  As Tom started to talk more about himself, my brain started to change what I read as ego, into pride.  Pride for what he had built with his paper, and pride and gratitude for the story he was about to relate to his reader.  He opened himself up in ways that few of us would be willing to do.

It's when, first Max then Atticus come into his life, that Tom truly comes across on the page as a humble man who feels blessed to have had these two wonderful dogs in his life.  To my fellow dog lovers out there, you know what a wonderful blessing it is to have a canine friend share your life, both the triumphs and the setbacks.  What Tom shares with his readers as he recounts the time spent with Atticus up in the mountains isn't a travelogue or a manifesto on the joys of mountain hiking.  What I found in the pages of Following Atticus, was a story of two friends who come together and help each other heal in ways that neither could have expected in the beginning.

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

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Mailbox Monday for 8/20/12

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at Mailbox Monday and is being hosted all this month by 5 Minutes for Books.

I received a hardcover of On a Farther Shore by William Souder for review form the publisher.

I received a hardcover of The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan for my birthday.  For some odd reason I was missing this book as well as the next two.  Not sure what happened to them, but it's nice to have this one again.

On a trip to a used bookstore on my birthday I ended up taking 4 books home for less than $5.  I got paperbacks of The Case of the Borrowed Brunette, The Case of the Lucky Legs, and The Case of the Perjured Parrot by Erle Stanley Gardner  I also picked up a paperback of Puzzle for Fools by Patrick Quentin.

When I got home from running errands and eating lunch on my birthday, I had a wonderful package of books waiting for me.  The lovely Becke of The Mysterious Garden Muse and the moderator of the Mystery Board on the Barnes & Noble book club site, was the lovely sender.  She sent along hardcovers of The Corpse With the Eerie Eye by R.A.J. Walling, Secret Letters by Leah Scheier, and The Old Silent by Martha Grimes.  She also sent along a trade paperback of What the Heart Remembers by Debra Ginsberg.  I also got paperbacks of The Lost by J.D. Robb and Change for the Worse by Elizabeth Lemarchand.

I also managed to pick up a hardcover of Level 26 by Anthony Zuiker from The Dollar Tree.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Unconquered by Scott Wallace (Giveaway Included)

Part Of The Synopsis From Back Cover:

Even today there remain tribes in the far reaches of the Amazon rainforest that have avoided contact with modern civilization.  In this gripping first-person account of adventure and survival, Scott Wallace chronicles an expedition into the Amazon's uncharted depths, discovering the rainforest's secrets while moving ever closer to a possible encounter with one such tribe - the mysterious flecheiros, or "People of the Arrow," seldom-glimpsed warriors know to repulse all intruders with showers of deadly arrows.  Danger lurks at every step as the expedition seeks out the Arrow People even while trying to avoid them.

As a kid, the idea of the Amazon River fascinated me.  I would fantasize about swimming in the water, trekking through the jungle, and playing with the jaguars and monkeys.  Let's just say I had an overly romanticized notion of what the Amazon River was all about.  As a recently turned 36 year old, part of me still has an unrealistic idea of what the Amazon River is and what it means to those who call it's many tributaries home.  So when I have the opportunity to read a book, fiction or nonfiction, that takes place on or around the river, I jump at the chance.  At my age, I want to know how my childhood dreams stacks up against the reality.

Come to find out, after all these years, my dreams have been dashed by the reality of the situation on the ground.  I'm pretty sure the point of this book was not to dissuade people from wanting to visit the river, but it's had that affect on me.  I don't want to contribute to the desecration of progressively fragile ecosystem, that seems to be under assault from all sides.  If it's not corrupt government officials, illegal loggers, gold prospectors, poachers, drug runners, or other nefarious individuals raping the land for their own uses, it's the wanton subjugation of the indigenous tribes that have called the Amazon basin home for centuries.  Sitting in my air conditioned apartment in the middle of the United States, I had no idea of the dire situation facing the Amazon and it's denizens.

Now I don't want you to get the idea that this book is a treatise on the ravages of modernization, while it may speak to that, it's really the story of a lifetime, a story that the author simply could not pass up.  When he is asked by National Geographic to accompany a mapping trip, deep in the Amazon rainforest, Scott Wallace is torn in two directions.  Part of him wants to decline in order to rebuild the personal relationships he has neglected through the years as a traveling journalist.  But it's the side of him who simply can't pass up the opportunity of a lifetime to fulfill a dream of going deep into the Amazon.

It's through the travels that he truly begins to the understand what's going on, and how important it is to protect the last few tribes who have decided they want nothing to do with the modern world.  The mission he is accompanying is one that is designed to specify the boundaries of a section of rainforest that will be set aside for the "People of the Arrow" a tribe(s) that has thus far kept itself as far from white men as they can get.  The only way the government agency and it's headstrong leader can do that is by finding out where they live and the extent of their travels.  It's a mission made even harder by the fact that they need to do all this, without making direct contact with the Indians.

This is the story of a gruelling trip that took it's toll on all those involved.  It's a history of the region and the horrors of what has been perpetuated on the tribes that have been contacted by the outside world.  It's the story of a region and it's people that seem to be stuck in this middle area of trying to protect the environment and move a country, Brazil, into the modern world.  But most of all, it's a story of the people involved.  We meet, through Mr. Wallace's eyes, the egomaniac leader of the expedition, a man I grew to dislike and admire all at the same time.  We meet the various Indian and white men who make up the traveling party, and how the changes in the region have radically altered their lifestyle and culture.  It was a story that engrossed and repelled me at the same time.  I'm not sure that's a reaction many will have, but it's the only way I can really describe my feelings after I closed the last page.  It's a story that must be told, but it's also a story that I don't see ending well for anyone involved.  Hopefully I'm wrong, only time will tell.

Now for the giveaway.  I have one copy, generously offered by the publisher, up for grabs.  If you are interested in entering, please leave a comment with your email address.  The giveaway is, I believe, only open to residents of the US.  You will have until 11:59 pm CST, on September 1st to enter.  I will use to pick the winner.

Friday, August 17, 2012

A Puzzle for Fools by Patrick Quentin

When his wife dies a horrific death, Broadway producer Peter Duluth, hits the sauce and puts his once promising career on tenterhooks.  It's only when he's about to hit rock bottom that he checks into an asylum for a little rest and salvation.  When staff and patients start dying in ghastly ways, Peter is looped in by the asylum director and asked to keep his eyes and ears about him.  Someone is tyring to drive him off the case.  He is hearing voices when no one is around, objects are appearing where they shouldn't, and suspicion is starting to fall on the shoulders of a lovely young lady.  Whether is the prospect of death, or the promise of love, Peter is starting to come alive again.  Now he just has to make sure he doesn't end up dead in the process.

If you don't know that I love vintage mysteries by now, I'm afraid you haven't really paid all that much attention to me over the years.  If you are a recent newcomer to the blog, I may let you slide for now.  Despite my love affair of all things Golden Age, I've tended to focus on the female writers of the time.  I've dabbled with the men here and there, but never given them my full attention.  I wish I  could explain the reasons behind it, because when I do explore the more masculine side, I find myself loving it just as much.  I guess it's doomed to be one of the great mysteries of life.

I know I drone on and on about atmosphere and how important it is in a mystery tale, but it really is.  I'm almost to the point of saying that it's the most important aspect of a well written mystery.  A Puzzle for Fools hits the nail on the head and gives one of the creepiest setting I've had the pleasure of reading in a very long time.  I'm almost convinced that an insane asylum is the perfect setting for murder, especially one that is populated by this particular cast of characters.  Of course a sunny feeling is hard to maintain when people are being bound and slaughtered like cattle.  I'm already a huge fan of mysteries set in spooky country houses, on speeding trains or small yachts, now I'm going to have to add insane asylums to that list.  

If you couldn't figure it out by now, I really enjoyed A Puzzle for Fools.  It was one of those tales that grabbed and kept my attention from the get go.  Peter Duluth is the type of guy that I could easily fall for in the right circumstances.  He has taken a lot of hits in a short period of time, and even though he starts a slow descent to the bottom, he has the strength of will to not only admit it, but to do something about it.  Through it all he manages to keep a sense of humor that serves him well on more than one occasion.  Once things start to get a little wonky, he wakes up and realizes more is at stake than his career.  Luckily for me, this is only the first book in a series, so I'm going to get to spend more time with Peter.  I have to share him with that lovely young woman he met in the synopsis, but I'm not an overly jealous man.

Challenges:  A-ZVM (Cherez le Homme)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Blodeuedd's Favorite Fictional Character --- Rand al'Thor

I don't think there is another blogger quite like Blodeudd of Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell.  She shows such a passion for the books she reads and reviews.  I always know that if I want to read a review by someone who seems to put her heart and soul into a review, I can head over to her blog and dive into some amazing writing.  We don't always read the same kind of books, but I know that if she raves about a fantasy novel, I'm going to love the book as well.  The books she reviews are wide ranging and a few times she has came close to convincing me that a new romance book it just what I want.  On her visit today, she is going to talk about a series and a character that I love about as much as she does.  I think it's fitting that she chose a character we both love, it's almost like a birthday present.  So I hope you stick around, read the post, and go on over to her blog and let her know how awesome she is.

I spent a lot of time thinking of who my favorite character is. One part of my brain said Rand, Rand, Rand! But the other part said, you are re-reading the series, and haven’t really fallen yet..but hey brain, it’s still Rand! And I adore him.

I was about 13 or 14 when I met Rand for the first time and fell in love, with the series, and him too. He is the main character in the Wheel of time series by Robert Jordan, and now it’s a series being finished by Brandon Sanderson as Jordan passed away. It’s the old school kind of fantasy, a young shepherd meets a mysterious woman and a warrior and soon he and his friends are going on an adventure. Well ok more like fleeing as baddies are after them. I always liked the farmer/nobody who finds his destiny and becomes something more, and the change is just so great in Rand. At first he is the fumbling farmboy who tries his best to be brave and look after his friends. But who also doubts as the realization of his true fate is bestowed upon him. He is made for great things. He is the Dragon Reborn. The reborn Dragon as the old one almost destroyed the world, and this Rand will do too and fight the big baddie. How will it all end?

And here I still am, many years later, still reading this series! We are finally coming to the last battle, or will in the book that is being published in 2013. And I tell you, if Sanderson kills him then I will throw that last book at the wall. Yes there is a big chance that my favorite fictional character will die and that will not be pleasant for anyone near me. I do fear this fate.

Back to Rand, and why I like him. It’s the change, he matures, he becomes the Dragon, he leads men into battle and he becomes a king. I also have a true weakness for Lews Therin Kinslayer, that’s the old Dragon and he does spend some time mumbling to Rand in his head. What can I say; I like crazy Rand, for Lews will truly drive him insane with his talking and memories. Not to mention that magic, to Rand, is poison that also will drive him insane. You see, he is a lost cause, I have to like him.

At the present I am re-reading the series and something strange has happened. I liked him first when he was naïve, but at the moment I am pretty neutral. Horrible isn’t it. But then again he has not gone insane yet so maybe that is the reason. He still is great through. A true fantasy hero, even if I could have him having less women around. I mean honestly, does he really need that many? Read and see what I mean as I do not want to spoil all things here at once.

I might just be, ok I am, as in love with this series as I am with the characters in it. They are flawed, idiots, real, too good to be true (those are the bigger idiots), and just great. And now I just hope he will live, because in the end you never know with authors and the craziness they will come up with.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Gospel According to the Fix by Chris Cillizza (Plus Giveaway)

Synopsis From Back Cover:

The political world is full of acronyms, verbal shortcuts, and lingoes that stand as a barrier to entry for anyone not in the business.  The onset of social media has only mad that barrier higher, as insiders tweet furiously to one another in a language most of us can't even understand.  Everyday Americans and even political junkies nee a hot-to manual for understanding what words matter in this arena and why.

Enter Brother Chris Cillizza and The Gospel According to the Fix - an essential guide to the wonderfully odd religion of politics.  Based on a highly popular blog, The Gospel According to the Fix will teach you something new about politics, including parables the likes of:

  • Why Ron Paul's candidacy is a lot like the TV show Friday Night Lights
  • What it takes to be Richard Ben Cramer and write the political classic What it Takes
  • The top ten negative campaign ads of all time
  • The top ten issues candidates should be discussing but aren't because of the economy
  • the dos and don'ts of surviving a political sex scandal
This was one of those books that I couldn't pass up.  I'm not sure anyone who is addicted to politics in the way that I am could.  Now I'm not going to sit and pretend that I know everything or that I even given an ounce of my time to learning all there is to know on the subject.  I wish I had the time, or made a different career choice in college, but since I don't and didn't, I have to rely on pundits that I respect.  I'm a big fan of The Fix, the blog written by Chris Cillizza for The Washington Post.  Sow when I saw a book version being discussed on an MSNBC show, I knew I needed to have it.  In an act of serendipity, I had an email waiting in my inbox the next day offering it for review.  I felt like the luckiest lad on Earth.  No joke, I almost squealed like a 12 year old girl at a Justin Beiber concert.

So needless to say that as soon as the book was in my possession, I dug in and rarely came up for air.  I'm one of those individuals who takes politics seriously but still sees the fun to be had by observing the whole process from a distance.  It's one of the reasons I enjoy Chris Cillizza as much as I do, his humor comes across on his blog and on TV, but it shines in this book.  I laughed out loud several times, nodded my head when I read something I agreed with, and couldn't wait to share certain sections with my other politically nerdy friends.  As a matter of fact, I now know what a lot of them are getting for Christmas.

I'm just hoping that he writes a second book sometime soon, so I have next Christmas covered as well.

Now for the giveaway.  I have one copy, generously offered by the publisher, up for grabs.  If you are interested in entering, please leave a comment with your email address.  The giveaway is, I believe, only open to residents of the US.  You will have until 11:59 pm CST, on August 27th to enter.  I will use to pick the winner.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Miss Me When I'm Gone by Emily Arsenault (Giveaway Included)

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Gretchen Waters is most famous for her book Tammyland - a "honky-tonk Eat, Pray, Love," a memoir about her divorce and her admiration for Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, and Dolly Parton.  When Gretchen dies falling on a set of stone steps outside of a library, everyone thinks it was an accident or a botched mugging.  Jamie, Gretchen's best friend from college, certainly has no reason to suspect foul play.  That is, until she becomes Gretchen's literary executor.  Gretchen's latest manuscript is much darker than Tammyland - ostensibly about her favorite classic male country singers, it's really about a murder in her family that haunted her childhood.  From beyond the grave, Gretchen opens up a sinister new world through her writing, and suddenly, her death seems suspicious.  And then Jamie finds herself in danger as well...

When I'm at a loss to how to start a review, I find it's easier if I just admit it up front.  The few times I try and get around that fact, the review just doesn't seem to come out well, and I end up redoing it anyway.  So let me start by saying I'm so stuck on this one that I feel as if my fingers are encased in molasses.  I have no idea  what I want to say, because I have no idea on what I feel towards this book.  I don't want anyone to think that ambivalence means I didn't like it, because if you have read this blog for any length of time, you know I'm not shy about telling you that I didn't like something.  I think I just had no reaction to it.

I really did want to like this book.  As most of you know, I'm a huge mystery fan, which should mean that I end up liking books that fall into the "suspense" category as well.  For the most part, that's proved true, but too often I end up not enjoying the book as much as I wanted.  If that was my only interest in reading this one, I would just chalk it up to trying something knew that didn't work out.  I would move on and let it go at that.  But the other factor that hooked me on giving this one a go, was the country music angle.  I adore classic country stars like Dolly Parton so I said yes before I really thought about it.

I'm afraid that it's the country sections of the book that almost killed this one for me.  The story is told in the first person by Jamie as she reacts to her friends death and tries to fulfill the obligations she feels toward Gretchen.  Over time I got to like Jamie and enjoyed the time I spent in her company.  What threw me off was the way the author chose to insert Gretchen's voice into the narrative.  From the beginning, we get glimpses of Gretchen through excerpts of Tammyland and from her new manuscript.  I almost closed the book for good after the first two chapters because of it.  I'm not normally patient with books that use journal entries, newspaper clippings, book pages, or letters to tell the story.  I think Dracula is about the only book that I ever liked that uses that storytelling device.  So when it's mixed in with first person narrative, it tends to really get on my nerves.  It's hard to concentrate on the story when it's being told in such a jumpy manner.  Dolly, Tammy, and Loretta where the only thing that saved those sections for me.

Where the book worked for me was in the present, and Jamie's attempt to finish Gretchen's book.  What starts off as an attempt to fulfill an obligations she feels toward Gretchen, quickly turns into something more.  By reading the manuscript and notes, listening to interview tapes, and talking to the interviewees themselves, Jamie begins to piece something together.  Gretchen stumbled upon something she wasn't looking for, at least not right away.  Jamie becomes immersed in Gretchen's search for her biological father and what happened to her mother all those years before.  It's a journey that may have ended Gretchen's life and could possibly end Jamie's.

So while I may have liked the underlying story, I'm not a huge fan of the way it was told.  I know I'll be in the minority on that one, and I'm okay with it.  There are plenty of books out there that I love, but other's just don't connect with for one reason or another.  After typing away for a good while, I wish I could tell you what I couldn't say in the first paragraph.  I'm still not sure what I think of this book, I didn't like it, but I didn't dislike it either.  I think it's a wash for me, and I'm okay with that too.

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.

To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment with an email address so I can contact you if you are the winner.  The giveaway is open to US/Canada residents only and will run until 11:59 pm on August 23rd, 2012.  I will use to pick the winner.

Challenges: A-Z

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Terri's Favorite Fictional Character --- Girl at the Window

Whenever I have a hankering for a well written review by someone who I admire and respect, I head on over to Terri's blog, Alexia's Books and Such.  I'm pretty sure I've been following her blog from the very beginning, though I could be off by a week or two.  I don't remember what brought me to her blog, but I've been grateful for it ever since.  Terri has become a good blogging friend, someone who's opinion I will take to heart. She has shown me nothing but kindness, and I thank her for it.  And for this post, she is breaking a boundary that has not been crossed before on this blog.  She is charting new territory when it comes to Favorite Fictional Character posts, and I have a feeling it's territory I will be visiting myself someday.  So please go by her blog and say hi and great job.

This is a Salvador Dali painting, most commonly known as "Girl at the Window."

Seems an odd choice for a Favorite Fictional Character post, doesn't it? A moment in time captured in a painting. An unknown character with an unknown story. How can this be a Favorite Fictional Character? Glad you asked!

When Ryan asked me if I'd be interested in doing one of these posts for him, he said that there were no limitations on where the character could come from and that books, movies, TV shows, poems, songs, or even artwork were all on the table. Artwork? Color me intrigued! And what better artwork to feature than one of my favorites?

I found a poster of this piece many years ago, lying on the floor, at a warehouse sale. Had no idea who he artist was or the title, but I knew that I had to have it!  It "spoke" to me (plus, it was blue and I knew it would look good in my bathroom).  It quickly became my favorite poster!

As you might have guessed from my avatar, there's something about staring out a window that I love....the longing for what's out there....wanting to explore new horizons...wondering if the grass is really greener over the next hill? I have spent plenty of time staring out windows over the years, so I identify with this unknown girl.

I love this picture. Who is the girl? Is she longing for far horizons? I think that she's been at the window for awhile and didn't just stop by to check the weather, as she looks like she's settled in. See how she's leaning on the sill and one of her legs is bent? Like she's shifting her stance to find a more comfortable position. Like she's spent hours at that window....

I think that she certainly qualifies as a FFC, in that I'm able to come up with my own stories for her. Has she had a rough day and wants to escape? Is she just a daydreamer? Does she have itchy feet and longs to travel? I see all of that....and more. Am I nuts and it's just a girl standing at a window? Can you feel her longing? What do you see when you look at this picture?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Eat the City by Robin Shulman (Giveaway Included)

Part Of The Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

New York is not a city for growing and manufacturing food.  It's a money and real estate city, with less naked earth and industry than high-rise glass and concrete.  Yet in this intimate, visceral, and beautifully written book, Robin Shulman introduces people of New York City - both paste and present - who do grow vegetables, butcher meat, fish local waters, cut and refine sugar, keep bees for honey, brew beer, and make win.  In the most heavily built urban environment in the country, she show an organic city full of intrepid and eccentric people who want to make things grow.  What's more, Shulman artfully places today's urban food production in the context of hundreds of years of history, and traces how we got to where we are.

In these pages meet Willie Morgan, a Harlem man who first grew his own vegetables in a vacant lot as a front for his gambling racket.  And David Selig, a beekeeper in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn who found his bees making a mysteriously red honey.  Get to know Yolene Joseph, who fishes crabs out of the waters off Coney Island to make curried stews for her family.  Meet the creators of the sickly sweet Manischewitz wine, whose brand grew out of Prohibition; and Jacob Ruppert, who owned a beer empire on the Upper East Side and the New York Yankees.

Eat the City is about how the ability of cities to feed peoples has changed over time.  Yet is is also, in a sens, the story of the things we long for in cities today:  closer human connections, a tangible link to more basic processes, a way to shape more rounded lives, a sense of something pure.

Naturally, most food and drink consumed by New Yorkers hundreds of years ago was grown and produced within what are now the five boroughs.  Yet people rarely realize that long after New York became a dense urban agglomeration, innovators, traditionalists, migrants, and immigrants continued to insist on producing their own food.  This book shows the perils and benefits - and the ironies and humor - when city people involve themselves in making what they eat.

There are times I like to pretend that I have not been living in the Midwest since about 1990.  Before that I moved around a lot and lived just about everywhere.  I was born on the shore of Lake Superior but have lived in Houston, the Los Angeles area, and gone to school in New Orleans.  I've lived in the country and have lived in a city for over 14 years now, of course comparing Wichita, KS to New York, NY is like comparing a dik-dik to a giraffe.  I guess what I'm trying to say is that I pretend to be more worldly than I am, I like to think I know everything there is to know about living in a "big" city, but books like Eat the City prove me wrong time and again.  They show me what it means to really understand city living, and that most of us have no clue about what's going on in their streets we walk everyday.

How many of us would be comfortable with having several bee hives on the roof or our apartment building?  Would we begrudge our neighbor growing a grape vine up the back of his house?  Would we complain if the vacant lot down the street was taken over by our neighbors who want to grow their own vegetables?  Or would be celebrate the fact that even amongst the miles of pavement and high rises, some of our fellow city dwellers are working with their own hands to produce the food for their kitchen table.  That they are rethinking how our food is produced and deciding that maybe the old days were better for us.  Maybe it's a great idea for those of us who live in urban setting to rethink what we've been doing and allow ourselves to fully appreciate what food means to our culture and our heritage.

Now I'm not saying I'm going to start keeping bees or growing my own tomatoes out on the balcony.  I don't have the space or the time.  That and the was summers have been going, I'm not sure how long those plants would even stay alive.  But I am curious to find out what, if any, local food is being produced in the city of Wichita.  Robin Shulman in her examination of New York and it's history of food production has made me want to know about what took place in and around Wichita over the last 100 years.  I want to know about our past cattle and dairy industry, signs of which can still be found today in and around downtown.  I'm curious to know how many bootleggers roamed the city of Wichita during Prohibition.  I want to know the fishing history of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas rivers as they flow through the city of Wichita, waters of which I would not being eating out of today.  Robin Shulman has not only given me a glimpse of New York, it's history and it's present, but she has given me the desire to know more about my own city and how food has and continues to impact the people of Wichita.

The wonderful people at Crown have allowed me to give one copy of this book away to one lucky winner.  The giveaway is only open to the US and will run until 11:59 pm CST, on August 21st, 2012.  To enter, please leave comment about food.  Is there a local speciality that you love.  Or do you have a memory of your childhood centered around a garden?  Whatever it is, I would love to hear about it.  You also need to leave your email address so I can contact you if you are the winner.  I will use to pick the winner.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Mailbox Monday for 8/6/12

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at Mailbox Monday and is being hosted all this month by 5 Minutes for Books.

I received a trade paperback of Following Atticus by Tom Ryan for an upcoming TLC Book Tour.

I won a trade paperback of The Emperor of Lies by Steve Sem-Sandberg from the Chunkster Challenge Blog.