Friday, January 30, 2015

Jaded by EM Lynley

Synopsis From Publisher:

Gay-romance writer Trent Copeland finds his life in a rut while his boyfriend, Special Agent Reed Acton, is away on an undercover mission.  After attending a special course at FBI headquarters in Quanitco, Trent's eager for another challenge.  He jumps at the opportunity for a trip to Japan to oversee appraisals of two art collections to be sold at the gallery he co-owns.  But the trip isn't all cherry blossoms and Hello Kitty.  When one of the collectors he meets - rumored to be the head of a Yakuza gang - turns up dead, Trent is accused of the murder and thrown in jail.

Reed drops everything to help find out who really committed the crime. He's in unknown territory in Japan, forced to navigate Tokyo's sex underworld to unravel the truth and save Trent.  He poses as a "host" at a seedy late-night club.  When Reed's undercover activities place him at a ruthless Yakuza leader's sex party, he must be willing to go to any lengths to secure Trent's safety and freedom.  But trusting the wrong people brings both Reed and Trent to the Yakuza leader's attention.  If they're ever to have a happy ever after, they'll first have to call on every skill just to stay alive.

This is really going to be more or a rant, than a review.  If you have read my reviews for the previous two books in the series, Rarer than Rubies and Italian Ice, you already know that I really like this author, and that I adore these two men.  Trent and Reed, despite all the issues that have come up between them, are a solid couple, and it's very easy to imagine them still together in 50 years.  The sex is hot, the mystery is well written, and the action is tenser than it's ever been.

My issue with this one, is the same issue I have with quite a few other romance novels. I don't like when an author relies upon the idea of infidelity to cause tension in a story.  If a couple is solid, as are Trent and Reed, putting one of them in a position to cheat, regardless of the reasons, seems like such a cheap way to cause tension in a story.  It happened in Italian Ice, even though nothing ever happened, and the idea was dragged out even further with Jaded.  The lines are pretty blurred here, and while I can't say full fledged cheating happened, it came pretty damn close.  Whether it's a physical cheating, or an emotional one, the trope is used all to often, then glossed over by the end of the book.  I still really enjoy reading them, but I think I would enjoy the books so much more if the authors could come up with something else to cause temporary tension in a relationship.

Challenges: Men In Uniform

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Angel Souls And Devil Hearts by Christopher Golden

Synopsis From Back Cover:

The Gospel of Shadows has been lost, and the existence of vampires has been revealed.  Peter Octavian is trapped in Hell, but he has given his allies a mission - to discover the secret origin of vampires.

Once they were legend.  but now the entire world knows the truth about their nature, their powers... and their weaknesses.  Everything they have fought for centuries to hold on to, including their mortal loves, is in danger.  For human prejudice can be the most powerful evil of all.

The war has begun...

I can't believe it's been a little over four years ago that I first reread the first book in this series, Of Saints and Shadows.  I'm not really sure why it's taken me this long to get around to rereading the second book, Angel Souls and Devil Hearts, but I hope it doesn't take me that long to reread the third book.  I read the first four books of this series when they first came out, and I fell in love with them.  When Christopher Golden decided to continue on with it, they reissued the the first four books of the series, and I decided to read them again since I really didn't remember everything that happened in them.  And since I really want to read what has happened after the fourth book ended, I need to get my ass in gear, read the next two books, then I can delve into the new material.

One aspect of this book, and of this series as a whole, that I did forget, is how perilous these characters lives are.  None of them are safe, even the ones you think will never die, will die.  It's always a little disconcerting to realize an author is willing to kill off any character they want, regardless of how much you like them, or how used you got to having them around.  The body count in this one is rather staggering at times, and for the most part, a lot of them are characters I truly liked.  Characters who shouldn't die do, and for the most, I loved so many of them.  Even the first vampire of them all, who is introduced in this book, loses his life.  John Courage is one of the characters who makes a grand entrance, makes a huge impact, imparts an even bigger secret, and then goes away.  If you want in on that secret, pay attention to his initials.  Let's just say that it's an interesting take on the origins of the vampire race.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Emperor's Snuff-Box by John Dickson Carr (Password Clue)

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Eve Neil, too beautiful for her own good, thought at first that she could keep quiet about her actions at the time that Sir Maurice Lawes was murdered.  True, she and Ned Atwood had seen Sir Maurice from her window, had noted first his absorption in his antique snuff-box, and then had looked again and seen him dead, with someone reaching back a brown-gloved hand to put out the light.  But she could only prove it by telling that Ned had sen it with her, and she preferred not to explain to her fiance and his family that her attractive ex-husband had been in that room with her.  Eve reckoned, however, without the horrifying charge of murder leveled against her by the police. In order to clear herself, she had to tell all her story, compromising or not.  And then, by merciless logic, the very circumstantial evidence that should have proved her innocent was used to incriminate her. 

Finally, I have read a John Dickson Carr book.  This has been one of those authors I've been wanting to read for a very long time, and now that I've finally done it, I can see myself reading a lot more.  This was a mystery that was carefully crafted and full of tension, which is amazing given how short of a period of time the story takes place in.  Normally, or at least in my experience, when a mystery takes place in a short period of time, the book seems to be frantic in it's pacing, almost schizophrenic, not sure where it's supposed to be going.  With The Emperor's Snuff-Box, Carr kept the pace at a steady clip, giving me just enough energy to keep it interesting, without losing the tension that needs to be built up.

I think a large part of that had to do with the character of Eve Neil.  She may not behave in exactly the same manner I would, given the same set of circumstances, but the force of her personality is what the entire books revolves around.  It is impossible for this book to have been written, with a different type of character as the lead, it just wouldn't have worked.  For that matter, there wasn't a weak character in the group, though there were one or two that I could have done without.  I get why they were there, to divert attention away from the truth, but they still annoyed the hell out of me.

There were really three male "leads" in this one: Ned Atwood, Eve's ex-husband, who definitely is more that he appears to be, Toby Lawes, Eve's fiance, quiet and old fashioned, but it's always that kind of man who is hiding something, and then there is Dr. Dermot Kinross, a specialist in the criminal mind.  Ned is a rake, a scoundrel, and just a tad bit dangerous, but you can't help but like him.  Even at the end, when everything is out in the open, part of me wanted the two of them back together.  Toby on the other hand is, on the surface, the kind of man you are supposed to like.  Solid, dependable, and just a tad bit stuffy, he is the stereotypical Englishman.  Too bad he is an immoral snake who can't keep it in his pants. It's a good thing the story takes place in France, otherwise he may have been as stodgy as he appeared.  I never liked him, and I'm glad the book ended the way it did, at least as far as he's concerned.  Then we have the hero, Dermot.  I really enjoyed his character, and I really wish Carr would have continued with him in further books.  Not sure why he didn't, though some of what I read online suggest a bias of Carr's part, but then why did Carr write him to begin with.  Either way, he is the detective of the piece and has no problem getting to the heart of the case, discovering the truth in a most logical way, but still using a bit of instinct to guide him.

If you couldn't tell by now, I loved the book.  The mystery itself was ingenious, and not one I really had a clue about until the big reveal.  But it wasn't an ending that comes out of the blue, yeah, I didn't pick up on the clues, but they were there.  I guess it's just a good thing I'll never be relied upon to solve a murder or two.

Challenges: Password (Emperor), Vintage Mystery Bingo (G2)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Wordsmithonia Radio: It's Time To Eat

If you couldn't tell, today's theme is all about food.  Sometimes the food is a metaphor, and sometimes, it's just there to eat, either way, it makes for a great song. So sit back, and listen to some of my favorite songs that mention food in the title.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Warlord by Jennifer Fallon

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Marla Wolfblade is reeling from the loss of her closest confidant, Elezaar the Fool. who taught her the Rules of Gaining and Wielding Power and helped shape her into a force in Hythria.  But Marla's plans for revenge are disrupted when she discovers she has a dangerous adversary....

On the border, Fardohnya has massed troops for an invasion, and Marla's eldest son, Damin Wolfblade, heir to throne of Hythria, finds his ability to fight back is thwarted by tradition, politics, and the foolishness of the High Prince....

Back in Krakandar, Mahkas Damaran awaits news of the battle and has sealed the city against Damin's return.  With the city on the brink of starvation, it seems only theft on a unprecedented scale can free Krakandar from Makhas's madness and tyranny... and destroy Hythria's web of secrets and lies.

Who the hell lets lose a plague to kill one person?  It hasn't to be the most blood thirsty attempt at assassination I've ever seen, and it didn't even work.  Alija Eaglespike, who has been a bitch the entire series, ramps it up in this, the last of the trilogy.  At least she gets what she deserves by the end of the book.

I guess I should apologize for starting this review off in such a strange way, but seriously, the woman was evil.  And though she has been trying to kill Damin and install her own heir into the chair of the High Prince, the stone coldness was truly on display in this book.  Between her and Mahkas, this book was not lacking villains.  And it seems such a shame.  Considering the power these two individuals wielded, the intelligence that they clearly possessed, it was such a waste of potential.  They could have been courageous, strong leaders, but they let greed and the love of power get in the way.

I continued to love the extended family that Marla built up around herself and Damin.  Though they came into it from different directions and different backgrounds, this is a group of people who truly care about each other, and are willing to stick around when times get tough.  And I have to say, I loved the addition of Galon Miar, the next head of the Assassins Guild.  Such a unique and complicated character.  He is the perfect match for Marla at this time in her life, and he fits into the family with ease.

The two standouts for me in this book, besides Damin who I love, where Tejay and Starros.  They are two characters who don't fit into any easy mold, but have such a core of strength running through them.  They come at life in different ways, have different beliefs, and want different things, but they both shine in this book.

At some point int time this year I will reread and review the previous trilogy, which actually takes place before this one.  If they are half as good as these three books have been, and from what I can remember they are, I'm really looking forward to it.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Fog and Snow

It's been a rather wet winter so far, and it's not all snow.  Actually, I bet most of the moisture we have gotten over the last few months, has been in just about any other form.  We have had sleet, rain, freezing rain, and for some bizarre reason, a ton of fog.  I almost felt as if I was living in the middle of London for a while.  And it's not fog that shows up and burns away within a few hours.  I'm talking about fog that sticks around for days at a time. And I'm not saying we haven't had snow, because we have.  It's actually snowed at least four times already, which seems to be way more than last year. And for the record, I love all this moisture.  I woke up to rain the other morning and I loved it.

I thought I would share a few pictures of what the fog was like, and some of the snow we've had so far.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Simple Way of Poison by Leslie Ford

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Handsome, sympathetic Grace Latham, is placed into the hate-ridden household of the tempestuous Nash family and their hangers-on: cruel Randall Nash; his second wife, lovely Iris, and her equally-lovely stepdaughter, Lowell; his impulsive son, Angus - and their host of craftily-contrived friends, lovers, pensioners, servants, all outwardly innocent, one inwardly, fiendishly guilty!

Yes, I do buy books based on the cover alone.  There is a used bookstore about 10 minutes from my home, and every time I go in there, I have to stop and look to see what Pocket Books they have had come in since my last visit.  Most of the time, they are by authors I've never head of, and since half of them are mysteries, all the plots start to blend in when I'm trying to read the blurb on the back covers.  So most of them time, when it comes to a decision between books, I end up going with the one I like the covers of, and I loved this one.  The colors, graphics, and font all work in harmony, love it.

I've never heard of Leslie Ford before I picked this book up, and from what I can tell it's the third book in the Grace Latham/Colonel John Primrose series.  Set in the shadow of Washington, D.C., it's an interesting glimpse into the lives of the wealthy and politically connected of the time.  Grace is an interesting character.  She's a widow who raised two sons, at least I think that's the number. She's intelligent and has a dry wit.  She has a temper and isn't afraid to say how she feels. She finds herself in the company of Colonel John Primrose a lot, but she doesn't seem to be in that great a hurry to marry him, quite the opposite really.  She really doesn't even give away how she feels about him, though he subtly hints that he wouldn't be amiss to having it go somewhat further.  She is headstrong, loyal to her friends, and probably has way too much curiosity for her own good.  She didn't really solve the case, the Colonel did that, but I'm not sure it would have been solved without her.  And I say that, having no clue what she really did, on her own, to really bring the answers to light.  I like her, and I like her a lot.  She really isn't any different from many of Mary Robert Rinehart's heroines, but since I know this is a series, I think I'll get to know her a bit more.

As far as the mystery goes, this one had me stumped until the end.  I never suspected the killer was going to be who it was, but once the pieces were put together, it made complete and utter sense.  It couldn't have been anyone else.  I'm not sure if the solution was fair or not, there were a couple of hints given, but most of the evidence was gathered off page.  It was a solid read, the language wasn't too dated, even if a few attitudes were, and the narrative flowed naturally.  I think the hardest part is going to be finding other books in the series.

Challenges: Vintage Mystery Bingo (O5)

Monday, January 19, 2015

Bastion by Mercedes Lackey

Synopsis From Back Cover:

When Herald Trainee Mags was abducted by two magical foreign assassins, he spent weeks drugged, robbed of his Mindspeech, and unable to communicate with Dallen, his Companion.  Trapped in terrifying, drug-induced dreams, his only moments of peace came from brief visions of a woman who he felt might be his mother.  Though he eventually managed to escape his captors, he left with many unanswered questions.

Moreover, Mags knows that, after searching for him for years, the assassins will not give up.

Mags has powerful allies in Haven, and together, the heads of Herald's Collegium devised a plan: to send Mags, all of his friends and loved ones, and other trained fighters into the hills to a stronghold called The Bastion.  Banded together, they are less vulnerable to the assassins, less likely to be picked off one by one.

The Bastion is the same stronghold where Mag's parents had been murdered by bandits. The drugs he'd been given opened up memories that couldn't be his - and gave him knowledge of fighting styles unknown in Valdemar.  Perhaps his new found memories will spark recognition in the place where his parents had once been imprisoned.  Mags might unlock the secret of who his parents had been and, in doing so, finally know his own identity.

So we are now on book five of Mag's story, and the fatigue I was feeling after the fourth book, Redoubt, has now passed.   I'm not sure if it's because I haven't visited Valdemar in almost a year, or if it's just because I found the pacing of this one to be a bit better, either way, I'm back in love with Mags.

This time around, Mags is just returning to Haven, after his kidnapping and escape from Karse and his native tribe.  He is just starting to settle down in his new reality, when it's decided to send him and his friends away, and allow him to investigate the last known location of his parents.  Jakyr, the Herald who originally saved him from the slave mines, is the Herald who is assigned as his mentor.  It was nice to see him return to the fold, and it was even better to see his character develop a bit more.

By the end of the book, Mags has a better understanding of his past and of who his parents were.  He meets his cousin, Bey, who I loved by the way.  What a terrific character, too bad he won't get a spin off book.  This whole book can bet treated as the growing up stage of Mags' life.  He is forced outside of his comfort zones, the star athlete and all around good guy.  He feels like he is on the outside looking in, trying to find his way after be away for so long.  It's the way a lot of us feel towards the end of our adolescence, trying to find our way in the world, and sometimes trying to even figure out where we came from.

I believe there is now a series that is following Mags as an adult and full Herald, I'm looking forward to finally getting my hands on the first book.

Challenges: Men In Uniform

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Italian Ice by EM Lynley (Password Clue)

Synopsis From Publisher:

Gay romance author Trent Copeland and former FBI agent Reed Acton head to Italy for a Roman holiday.  What should be a relaxing and romantic vacation is interrupted when Reed's not-so-former boss asks for his help with a case.  Trent's shocked to discover in the six months they've been living together in LA, Reed hasn't been completely honest about his "retirement."

Reed heads for Sicily on the trail of a suspect antiquities-smuggling rig and to find Peter Isett - a former FBI partner he also hasn't been completely truthful about.  Stung by Reed's dishonesty, Trent questions what else Reed might be hiding.  But when he overhears something that tells him Reed's life is in danger, Trent follows Reed to a remote chain of ancient volcanic islands of Sicily's northern coast.  Soon Trent is caught up in the smuggler's web, and Reed must decide between his heart and his mission - a decision complicated by his past with Peter.  Reed's position is perilous: unless he can learn to put the past behind him, he risks destroying everything he's built with Trent.

Italian Ice is the second book of a three part series, unless the author writes another one, which I would be all for, and it's just as good as the first.   There is love, hot sex, diamond smuggling, missing FBI agents, murders, femme fatales, kidnappings, and lots of adventure.  It's like watching a really good episode of Scarecrow & Mrs. King, if both leads were hot gay men.  And now that I think about it, they could even keep the young Bruce Boxleitner in it, they would just have to recast Kate Jackson.

Now this being the second book, you know there is bound to be drama between the two main characters, and boy is there ever.  Reed is having to fight with feelings he still has over his previous partner, and those are all tied together with memories of months of torture.  He is still wrestling with his feelings for Trent, who he does love, but isn't sure he should or does all the way.  You know he does, he is just trying to hold onto his lone wolf status, not needing anyone.  Trent on the other hand, is madly in love with Reed, but isn't sure he can fully trust him.  He has his doubts, especially when he finds out how many secrets Reed has been keeping, but like Kate Jackson always did, he quickly forgives and moves on.

I love these two guys together, and they complete each other in many ways.  I'm not sure it's a relationship where the two of them "need' the other in their lives. It's more of a case where the two of them truly want the other one around, and in my opinion, that's so much better.   They have to get through a lot of turmoil and real physical pain before they both really truly understand that, but in the end, they are more solid then ever, and are more than ready to take on drug dealers, diamond smugglers, lovers from the past, or errant agents; as long as they do it together.

Challenges: Password (Italian), Men In Uniform

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Men In Uniform Reading Challenge 2015

I was trying to not do too many challenges this year, but because of what my reading habits have turned into over the last few years, I figured this one should be a shoo-in for me.  The Book Vixen is once again hosting their Men in Uniform Reading Challenge, and because of all the m/m romance I've been reading along with all the mysteries I read, I figure there is no way I can fail at this one.  I'm even going for the Chief level, which is 16+ books.

If you guys want to join in the fun, please follow the link I posted in the previous paragraph. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe by Agatha Christie

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Even the great detective Hercule Poirot harbored a deep and abiding fear of the dentist, so it was with some trepidation that he arrived at the celebrated Dr. Morley's surgery for a dental examination.  But what neither of them knew was that only hours later Poirot would be back to examine the dentist, found dead in his own surgery.

Turning to the other patients for answers, Poirot finds other, darker, questions....

This will make 21 Hercule Poirot novels put behind me, which means I only have another 16 of his books to go.  I still have plenty of other books to go through in my Agatha Christie self challenge, but knowing I'm over half way done with Poirot is sort of bitter sweet for me.  I make no secret of that fact that he is not my favorite character of all time.  I find him to be rather pompous and aggravating at times.  But despite all that, deep down, I really do like him.  There has not been a character like him, before or after, and I'm really not looking forward to saying goodbye to him quite yet.

With all that being said, One, Two, Buckle My Shoe is not my favorite Poirot novel, not even close to it.  I think I'm getting rather tired of the few characterizations that Christie used in this one, and it's starting to come off as just a tad bit classist to me.  It get we always need to take the times a book was written in, but I'm tired of how she uses one particular character type all too often, and I'm pretty sure it's not always necessary to the story as a whole. All too often there will be a young man, sometimes a young woman, who is not only from a lower class background, but has wildly different political or economic beliefs from those held by the more "respectable" characters.

They are always described in negative ways, both in appearance and in temperament  There is almost nothing about them that is sympathetic or easy to like, though I tend to like them anyway.  They are rarely ever the killer, but they are always suspected, and sometimes suspected strongly.  Even when the detective, in this case Poirot, figures out they had nothing to do with it, the disdain for that particular character is still there.    This book had two such young men, and they do come across as rather angry and crude, but I can't help but think it's Christie's prejudices at work here.

As far as the mystery itself goes, I guess it was a pretty standard, middle of the road Christie story.  And I guess what I mean by that, was while it didn't blow me away, it was solid and well thought out.  It's never going to hold a place in my labyrinth of a brain.  I will never remember the names of the characters, or the pertinent plot twists, but it was still an okay read for me.  You have to remember this is Agatha Christie, so even a mediocre read like this, is ten times better than the average "cozy" mystery being written today.

Challenges: Vintage Mystery Bingo (O2)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Warrior by Jennifer Fallon (Password Clue)

Synopsis From Back Cover:

It is eight years since Marla Wolfblade buried her second husband.  In that time, she has become the power behind Hythria's throne - as much from a desire to control her own destiny in any way she can, as to protect her son, young Damin.

But while Marla plays the game of politics and diplomacy, the High Arrion of the Sorcerer's Collective is plotting to destroy her - and the entire Wolfblade line.

And though Marla's power and fortune are great, they may yet not be enough to protect herself and her family from the High Arrion's wrath - and her only ally and confidant, Elezaar the Fool, is toying with the idea of betrayal, for he has discovered that the infamous Rules of Gaining and Wielding Power are not so useful when his own family is involved....

If you haven't already guessed, Warrior is the second book in the Wolflade Trilogy by Jennifer Fallon.  And I let you in on something else you probably already know about me, I not only suck at reviewing high fantasy, I hate reviewing it about as much.  It's not that I don't love reading it, because I really, really do.  After Golden Age mysteries, high fantasy is my favorite thing to read.  Okay, maybe m/m romance is tied with it, but I've been reading fantasy longer than romance, and that should count for something.

I think I've already explained why I suck at if, but if you need a refresher, just reread the review I did for Wolfblade. It wasn't that long ago, so I'm pretty sure you don't need the refresher, but just in case, it's there for you.  The reasons still hold, so don't expect a great review for this one either.

This is the middle book of the trilogy, and like most middle books, it really acts as a bridge between the first and the third.  That's not to say that there isn't a crap ton of developments that take place in this book, but they are all designed to further the story into the third book, Warlord.

The characters are the backbone of this series, and there is not a one that I don't love for one reason or another.

Marla is now on her fourth marriage, and this husband is the one I like the most.  Despite their different backgrounds, he seems to be a true partner for her, even if it's not true love match.  She has surrounded herself, and her son with a host of children.  Between her own children, the nephews, step kids, foster son, and adopted daughter, she has built up a powerful support system for her son Damin.  As they grow up, they become staunch allies for Damin to rely on, and help him stay in power.

Of all of them I think I Kalan, his half sister, and Starros, the foster son, are my two favorites,  For very different reasons, and in very different ways, they become the two that help Damin become the man he is, and they are probably the two that have his best interests at heart.  I think the entire extended family is there for him, but these are the two that seem to be the strongest, despite anything that may happen between them and him. Kalan comes into her on in this book, and lives up to the promise that she made to herself.  Starros, is the one that has his entire life ripped into shreds, and put back together, mostly in ways he is still struggling to cope with.   Just short of Marla, Alija, and Damin, these are the two characters that are developed the most.

Kalan does get a new ally in Rory, which in fact means the family gets a new ally in him.  He reminds me of Wrayan in more than the obvious ways, and I like him a lot. The other new character I really enjoyed was Tejay.  How can you not love a sword wielding female character, who is breaking all the rules.

Then we have the two villains of the piece.  Alija's is still a bitch, and Mahkas finally shows his hand and lets everyone in and how truly evil he is.  I was going to try and make a rational argument for why Alija is worse than Makhas, how they have two different motivations at play, but then I realized that they really aren't that different.  I think they try to justify their actions in different ways, but in the end, the are the same.  They care about power and prestige, and that's about it. They both think life owes them something, and they are willing to do what it takes to make sure it happens.

Challenges: Password (Warrior)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

I'm Meandering At Book Journey This Morning

While Sheila from Book Journey is away on vacation, she asked a couple of us to babysit the blog for her.  Today is my day, so please feel free to drop by and see what I'm up to today.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Urban Legend - 1998

Synopsis From Back Cover:

When New England college student Natalie finds herself at the center of a series of sadistic murders seemingly inspired by urban legends, she resolves to find the truth about Pendleton's own legend - a twenty-five-year-old story of a student massacre at the hands of an abnormal psych professor.  As the fraternities prepare to celebrate the macabre anniversary Natalie discovers that she is the focus of the crazed killer's intentions in the ultimate urban legend - the story of her own horrific murder. 

I'm a sucker for horror movies, and I tend to enjoy them as long as there are no huge gaps in the story line or over the top gore.  You cold argue that some of the jumps that happen in Urban Legend could be huge gaps, but for whatever reason I choose to ignore them with this one.  And thankfully, this movie was made before the Hostel or Saw movies, so the gore is kept to what's necessary.

I'm almost positive that I saw this one in the theater, and I know I saw the first sequel the same way.  Like most horror franchises, with the exception of the Scream movies, the first is really the only one worth watching.  It took me a few years to finally buy it on DVD, and then it took me a few more years to finally watch it at home.  Since then, I've seen it about a half dozen times, and I find myself enjoying it every time.

This was back in the day when Jared Leto was still hot, Tara Reid was still somewhat sane, Joshua Jackson still looked like a little boy, and Rebecca Gayheart was still "The Noxzema Girl" to most people. It was a time when the slasher genre was on a rise, and horror movies seem to have become just a little tongue in cheek.

Urban Legend is nothing to write home about, but it's not a bad movie either.  It's fun to watch, has a decent plot, and the acting isn't horrible.  As a matter of fact, Rebecca Gayheart is amazing in the movie.  Her performance, and yes, this will be a spoiler for anyone who hasn't seen the movie, as a psychotic college student bent on revenge, is spot on.  I don't think many actors can hold a handle to her when she goes totally batshit crazy.  During the unmasking of the killer scenes, you kind of forget that you are watching a performance.  She does such a bang up job, you really think she's lost it.  Hands down, she is one of the best horror movies villains around.

I know a lot of you guys don't like horror movies, but if you haven't seen this one yet, you should.  I promise it's not over the top scary.  The way the killer takes the victims out, using urban legends, is so ridiculous, that is allows a little levity to enter into those scenes.   Yeah, you are watching someone get killed, but it's done is such bizarre ways, your brain will not allow you to think what you are watching is real.  It's only when Rebecca Gayheart's character is revealed as the killer, that any sense of "reality" will settle in.  Her performance alone is enough to watch this one.  Promise.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Rarer Than Rubies by EM Lynley

Synopsis From Publisher:

When Trent Copeland runs into Reed Acton at a Bangkok airport, he thinks the handsome American is too good to be true.  Why would someone like Reed be interested in a quiet, introverted gay-romance writer?  After all, even an obvious tourist like Trent can see there is more to Reed's constant unexplained appearances in his path than meets the eye.

Reed Acton has one mission and one mission only - he need to get the map that was accidentally slipped into Trent's bag and keep the mobsters who want the priceless artifact from taking deadly revenge.  Trent Copeland is a delicious and damned near irresistible diversion, but Reed can't afford distractions right now, especially if he wants to keep Trent safe.

From Bangkok's seediest back alleys to the sacred north, the two men will fight to stay one step ahead of the bad guys and learn that the only treasure worth finding is... each other. 

Trent has been living a pretty dull life over the last two years.  His previous partner, who happened to be addicted to excitement and adrenaline, was killed feeding that addiction.  His death caused Trent to do the exact opposite, retreat in to himself and not allow and sort of excitement or adventure into his life.  When he is forced to take a vacation by some friends, not even being given a choice in the location, Trent is finally taking that first step out of his comfort zone.

Once he is in Bangkok, almost to the minute, his life is thrust into one long adventure, that is so far outside his comfort zone, it might as well have been on another planet.  In what sounds like a crazy plot, right out of a romance novel, he finds himself linked to a mysterious undercover FBI agent, Reed Acton, who just can't seem to stay out of trouble.  There are bus crashes, kidnappings, killings, hotel rescues, and even buried treasure to found.

Through it all, you see Trent become more comfortable with the craziness his life seems to heading in.  He lets himself fall for Reed, even if he's not sure Reed is telling the whole truth, or can be trusted.  For his part, Reed is changing too.  He's never really wanted anyone, or allowed himself to doubt his choices before this.  You know he has a secret past, which will be revealed in the second book, and you know there is deep pain and regret there, and it's that pain that has caused Reed to close himself off so much.  But in true romance book fashion, the two men seem to compliment each other in ways they never though possible.  And both of them find themselves charting new waters, unsure of their footing, but willing to see where the journey will take them.

Challenges: Men In Uniform

Friday, January 9, 2015

Wolfblade by Jennifer Fallon

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

Marla Wolfblade of Hythria is determined to restore her family's great name, but conspirators surround her:  the Sorcerer's Collective, the Patriots - even members of her own family.  She must make sure her son, Damin, lives to be old enough to restore the Wolfblade name to its former glory.

Elezaar the Dwarf, is a small man with big secrets - but that doesn't matter to Marla Wolfblade.  Her brother is the High Prince of Hythria, and, in this fiercely patriarchal society, her fate will be decided on his whim.  She needs someone politically astute to guide her throug the maze of court politics- and Elezaar the Dwarf knows more than he lets on.

As Elezaar teaches Marla the Rules of Gaining and Wielding Power, Marla starts on the road to becoming a tactician and a wily diplomat - but will that be enough to keep her son alive?

As I've mentioned multiple times over, I suck at reviewing high fantasy.  As much as I love to read fantasy, it's hard to summarize, or even articulate what worked or didn't work for me as a reader.  High fantasy tends to have a huge cast of characters, story lines within in story lines, and generally covers a pretty huge geographical area, and that all tends to become to much to turn into bite sized impressions.

This, and it's two sequels, are a reread for me, and I enjoyed it just as much as I did the first time around.  Marla is one of those characters that you can't help but fall in love with.  Yeah, she does some pretty ruthless things by the end of the book, but it's all done out of a need to protect her child.  She is fiercely loyal to those she holds close, even when they may not deserve it.  She is as intelligent as anyone else around her, if not more so, and she isn't afraid to let others take the credit, if it allows her to keep working to protect her family.

Outside of Marla, there really isn't a weak character in the bunch.  They are all fully fleshed out characters, with strengths and weaknesses.  Even the "bad" guys have dimensions to them.  Even Alija Eaglespike, the one actual bad person in the book, has depth to her.  Yeah, she is about at ambitious and morally bankrupt as they come, but there is a deep love of country behind what she does.  It's all for selfish gain, but she does try to justify it at least.   My only quibble in the way the charaters evolve over time is with Nashan Hawksword.  Here is a guy full of life and promise, who I think really does love Marla, turned into someone you really don't like by the end of the book.  It can all be laid at Alija's feet, but we don't see the corruption on page.  It's all done off page, so you are left not knowing if he really did turn, or if Alija's put a compulsion on him.  Either way he was weak, but he is one character that I really did feel bad for.

And I know I said I had one quibble, but it's really two.  I've mentioned this before, but I really can't stand when an author gives us a strong hero character, only to kill them off half way through a book.  Laran Krakenshield, Marla's first husband and the father of Damin, is one of those men you can't help but admire.  He wasn't in love with Marla when they married, but he did understand the need of it and treated her well.  He was honorable, loyal, strong, and a true nobleman.  Hell, I would have married him in a heartbeat.  And just as I'm falling for him, as a reader, he is killed off.  I get the reasons, I really do, but it still sucks.  His death serves so many functions.  Without it, we wouldn't see the weakness of Nashan or the continued corruption of his brother Makhas.  It allows Damin to become the man he does, and allows a whole host of characters to come on stage later on in the series.  I just wish it hadn't been necessary.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Twelve by Justin Cronin

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

In the present day, as the man-made apocalypse unfolds, three strangers navigate the chaos.  Lila, a doctor and an expectant mother, is so shattered by the spread of violence and infection that she continues to plan for her child's arrival even as society dissolves around her.  Kittridge, know to the world as "Last Stand in Denver," has been forced to flee his stronghold and is now on the road, dodging the infected, armed but alone and well aware that a tank of gas will get him only so far.  April is a teenager fighting to guide her little brother safely through a landscape of death and ruin. These three will learn that they have not been fully abandoned - and that in connection lies hope, even on the darkest of nights.

One hundred years in the future, Amy and the others fight on for humankind's salvation... unaware that the rules have changed.  The enemy has evolved, and a dark new order has arisen with a vision of the future infinitely more horrifying than man's extinction.  If the Twelve are to fall, one of those united to vanquish them will have to pay the ultimate price.

It's been a little over three years since I read the previous book in this series, The Passage, and lord only know when I will get to the third book, The City of Mirrors.  It's not even out yet, it comes out later this year, but I'm pretty sure I won't be able to fit it in anytime soon.  It won't be through lack of desire, because I really do want to read the final chapter on this story.  It's more of the fact that while I loved The Passage, I didn't love The Twelve.  I like it well enough, I'm still enjoying the characters, but I didn't feel that invested in this one, at least at the level I had with the previous book.

I'm even willing to admit that part of it may be my fault.  I may have waited too long in between books, which forced me to feel as if I was playing catch-up for a bit.  I was having to remind myself of who some of the characters were, at least in terms of the relationships between them.  Once I was able to get that all sorted out in my head, I was actually able to relax and enjoy the story.

The rest of the issues I had though, while still personal to me, had more to do with the story, than they did anything else.  I've always had an issue with authors who introduce strong "hero" characters, only to have them killed off half way through the book.  It happened with Brad Wolgast in The Passage, and it happened with Bernard Kittridge in The Twelve.  Both are men that I grew rather fond of, almost from the start, only to have them cut down mid story.  They are noble characters, and in my opinion, they deserved more than what they got.  Especially since they died, doing almost the exact same thing, protecting a child.

And that brings me back to the biggest bone of contention I had with this book, the way Brad Wolgast was brought back in this book.  I understood the point of it.  I even understood the "nobility" of what his role was in this book, but that doesn't mean I like it.  Given the sacrifice he made in the previous book, I think it was a discredit to the man, for him to become what he was.  I understand that for the end of this book to work the way it did, and for Amy to develop into the woman she needed to be, that Brad had to play the role he did.  He had to be what he was, I just wish that weren't the case.

As far as Peter, Alicia, Sara, Michael, Amy, Hollis, and Greer goes, I still love them.  They have all changed so much since the previous book, which is to be expected.  From what I can tell, the books take place five years apart, and for the most part, the friends have gone there own way.  They all meet up for the end though, and it's nice to have them all back together.  They are joined by a couple of new friends, Eustace and Nina.  I wasn't sure what I thought of them at first, but by the end, I really liked them.

There are a lot of changes in store for the characters, at least that's what is implied by the end of this book, so I'm looking forward to seeing the directions they continue to go in.  I'm curious to see how it all ends, how the new characters introduced in this book change along with the old characters, and whether or not humanity ultimately survives the viral plague, though I'm pretty sure I already know that answer to that one.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Favorite Fictional Characters Will Be Back In February

I know you guys have been waiting with bated breath for me to get back to my Favorite Fictional Character feature, so I'm happy to report that it will be back, starting in February.  

The last few months have been rather hectic, and I'm taking this month to get back into the blogging routine.  I already know who the first month will feature, and I hope you guys like them.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Darkness Falls - 2003

Synopsis From Back Cover:

As a young boy, Kyle claimed to have seen the tooth fairy.  He also claimed that she tried to kill him.

Now over twelve years later, Kyle has left the town that never believed him.  He has also left behind the two people who though he was telling the truth, his childhood girlfriend Caitlin and her younger brother.  And when evil again emerges in Darkness Falls, Kyle must return to do battle with the winged creature of doom he saw that night so many years ago.  Because evil is back with a vengeance.  And it's not leaving without Caitlin's brother.

I love a good horror movie, there is no wrong time of year to watch them, and for some reason, I tend to like them even more in the winter.  I'm not sure if the shorter days and longer nights, allows me to get in the mood, or if I just like a good scare, either way, I love horror movies.

I first saw Darkness Falls in the theater when it came out in 2003.  I'm a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer Fan, and I tended to follow the careers of it's main stars, years after the show ended.  When I saw that Emma Caulfield, who played Anya Jenkins, had a new movie coming out, I jumped at the chance to watch it.  It also had two really hot guys in it, Chaney Kley as Kyle, and Sullivan Stapleton as Matt Henry.  On a sad side note, Chaney Kley died from sleep apnea in 2007.

I'm not going to say this movie is horror genius, cause it's not.  What it is, is a solid scary movie, that doesn't rely on a bunch of gore or blood, for those seat jumping moments.  The acting is solid, if not all that memorable, but there really isn't a weak performance in the entire film.  Emma Caulfield is spectacular, as are Chaney Kley and Lee Cromie as young Michael, Caitlin's brother.  Sullivan Stapleton is pretty good too, but he could have been horrible, and I still would have liked looking at him on screen.

As far as the plot goes, innocent woman is condemned for the murder of two children, burned at the stake, and promises revenge.  Come to find out, the children weren't dead, so she was condemned for no reason.  Before her unfortunate demise, she was the neighborhood tooth fairy, exchanging teeth for a coin or two.  When she was disfigured in a house fire, she was forced to wear a porcelain mask, which in turn, turned her into the town pariah.  Why that would be, I never understood, but that's a horror movie plot for you. For whatever reason, when those kids disappeared, she was the logical choice of a culprit, and the rest is history.

She spends the next several decades, haunting her town, and when children lose their last baby tooth, she is on them like nobody's business.  If anyone looks upon her, she will kill them as painfully as possible.  It's what happened to Kyle's mother the night he lost his last tooth, and it's what may happen to Michael if it can't be stopped.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Super Book Password Challenge

I've been going back and forth on whether or not I wanted to give Bev's new challenge a try.  As you may know Bev is the Queen Bee of her own blog, My Reader's Block, and for years know she has been feeding my love of vintage mysteries.  At first I wasn't sure what to make of this particular challenge, even though I thought it sounded like a lot of fun.  Now that she has posted her first clue of the challenge, I think I've finally gotten the gist of it, so here is my sign up post. 

I'll copy and past the instructions here, but if you want to read her original post on it, please do so.

Announcing the debut of a brand-new My Reader's Block sponsored reading challenge. Remember the Super Password game show where partners gave each other clues to words that described an over all secret word or phrase? 
The Super Book Password Challenge is a bi-monthly challenge inspired by the game show and is designed not only to encourage reading a variety of books but also to interact with your fellow challengers.

*Every two months will feature a different Password Category. 
*Your first job as a challenger will be to choose your over all secret word or phrase and then read up to eight books whose titles provide a clue to the secret word/phrase.
*Please email me at phryne1969 AT gmail DOT com with your secret word/phrase before posting your first clue. 
*Titles may not contain any part of the actual secret word/phrase. (i.e. if your famous person were Mark Twain, you could not use a book calledThe Quotable Mark Twain or The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan) 
*Your second job as a challenger will be to check out the clues of fellow Password players and attempt to guess their secret word/phrase. 
*A weekly linky will be provided for clues and for fellow-challengers to guess. 
* Points will be assigned for clues given and correct guesses (see below). I will keep a spreadsheet with participants and point totals and will periodically post the current scores with the post for each new category round.
*In order to claim points for a correct guess on a specific clue, the guess MUST be made before the next clue is posted. 
*You may participate in as many or as few categories as you like. But the participant/s with the highest point total at the end of the year will be eligible for a prize from my prize vault of gently used books. 
*Please sign up on the linky below to indicate your interest in participating--you'll need a challenge-specific blog post to do so. If you have no blog then you will need to comment with your intent to participate.

Example of an Acceptable Entry: 

January/February's Category is "Famous Person"

Clue #1: The Bamboo Blonde by Dorothy B. Hughes
Clue #2: Star Trek Movie Memories by William Shatner 
Clue #3: Falling Star by Patricia Moyes
Clue #4: The Kennedys in Hollywood by Lawrence J. Quick
Clue #5: The Misfits by Arthur Miller

The answer would be "Marilyn Monroe"

Point system 
For the reader: 
20 points for each clue given

And while you will earn more points for giving more clues, please play fair and don't make your clues so vague or obscure that it is impossible for anyone to guess. 

For fellow challengers:
First correct guess registered on the linky will collect the points. 
40 points: correct guess on clue #1 
30 points: correct guess on clue #2 
20 points: correct guess on clue #3 
10 points: correct guess on clues #4 
5 points: correct guess on clues #5-8 

For those who like to plan ahead, here are the monthly categories
January/February: Famous Person
March/April: Historic Event
May/June: Movie Title 
July/August: Musical Group
September/October: A Vacation Destination
November/December: Sports Team

Since this is a brand-new challenge, please bear with me as I launch it. There may be a snag here or there that will need to be worked out. My main hope? That this will be a fun new challenge that we'll all enjoy!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

My Favorite Books of 2014

I'm not trying to say that these were the ten best books from 2014, cause that's just silly.  Some of what I'm including on this list came out  before the year even started, and since I didn't read every book published in 2014, I will never call these books the best.  What I am saying, is that these are my ten favorite books that I read/reviewed during the year.

2014 saw a huge change in not just my reading habits, but in my reviewing habits as well.  For the last few years, I've reviewed every single book that I've read.  2014 was the first year that that became psychically impossible to do.  For whatever reason, I got hooked on romance novels last year, and read over 400 of them on my NOOK.    There is no way I could have reviewed them all, especially since a lot of them were read during my blogging hiatus.  I do occasionally, pick one at random and do a review of it, but that's about as far as I'm getting with those.  Chances are I will never review them all, and that's okay.

So with no further ado, here are my favorite reads of the last year, in order that I reviewed them.

Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson

A Farm Dies Once a Year by Arlo Crawford

The Tin Box by Kim Fielding

All I Know and Love by Judith Frank

World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters

Trapped Under the Sea by Neil Swidey

Horrostor by Grady Hendrix

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries edited by Otto Penzler

Friday, January 2, 2015

In Memoriam: July Through December, 2014

It's almost impossible for any of us to really pay attention to all those that have passed from the public eye.  Whether they are famous or not, every year we seem to lose those that have contributed to society in ways that we may never realize.  They are actors, musicians, entertainers, politicians, activists, scientists, and writers.  They enrich our lives through their works, and without them, our lives would be just a little bit more empty.  I would like to take this time to thank many of them for their contributions.  I obviously can't include everyone on this list, so I will let those I can include, stand in for those I can't.  Whether they are on this particular list or not, we owe all of them a big thank you.

Back in July, I tried to bring to your attention some of those that we lost in the first half of the year, January through June.  This post will be my attempt to do the same thing for the second half of the year, July through December.  I hope we will all take the time, as this year is wrapping up, to remember those that we have lost, whether they were in the public eye, or in our own lives, they will be missed.

July 2014

Louis Zamperini, 1917-2014.  American Prisoner of War during World War II & American Olympian. 

C.J. Henderson, 1951-2014.  American Author of Brooklyn Knight & Central Park Knight

Dave Legeno, 1963-2014.  English Actor, the Harry Potter movies. 

Philip Hurlic, 1927-2014.  American Actor, the Our Gang movies. 

Dick Jones, 1927-2014.  American Actor, the Our Gang movies, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Pinocchio.

Elaine Stritch, 1925-2014.  American Stage And Screen Actress.

James Garner, 1928-2014.  American Actor; The Rockford Files, Maverick, The Great Escape.

Alex Angulo, 1953-2014.  Spanish Basque Actor; Pan's Labyrinth

Margot Adler, 1946-2014.  American Journalist and NPR Correspondent. 

August 2014

James Brady, 1940-2014.  American White House Press Secretary and Gun Control Advocate. 

Robin Williams, 1951-2014. American Actor; Mrs. Doubtfire, Mork & Mindy, Good Will Hunting

Lauren Bacall, 1924-2014.  American Actress; The Big Sleep, Key Largo, Designing Woman

Jim Jeffords, 1934-2014.  American Politician; United States Senator from Vermont. 

James Foley, 1973-2014.  American Freelance Journalist.

Richard Attenborough, 1923-2014.  English Actor, Producer, Director; The Great Escape, Ghandi, Jurassic Park.

September 2014

Joan Rivers, 1933-2014.  American Actress & Comedian; Spaceballs & How to Murder a Millionaire

Richard Kiel, 1939-2014.  American Actor; The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, & Tangled.  

Bob Crewe, 1930-2014.  American Singer, Songwriter, and Manager; "My Eyes Adored You", "Lady Marmalade", "Walk Like A Man", and "Rag Doll."

Buster Jones, 1943-20147.  American Voice Actor; G.I. Joe, Super Friends, The Real Ghostbusters, and Defenders of the Earth

Polly Bergen, 1930-2014.  American Actress; Cap Fear, Cry-Baby, The Winds of War, & War and Remembrance

October 2014

Marian Seldes, 1928-2014.  American Stage & Screen Actress; The Haunting, Perry Mason, & If These Walls Could Talk 2. 

Jan Hooks, 19572014.  American Actress; Saturday Night Live, Designing Women, and Frosty Returns

Elizabeth Pena, 1959-2014.  American Actress; Jacob's Ladder, Blue Steel, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, and Resurrection Blvd. 

Marcia Strassman, 1948-2014.  American Actress; Welcome Back, Kotter, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and Honey, I Blew Up the Kid.

November 2014

Larry Latham, 1953-2014.  American Animator and Director; TaleSpin, Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears, and Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers. 

S. Donald Stookey, 191-2014. American Scientist and Inventor of CorningWare.

R.A. Montgomery, 1936-2014.  American Author of more than 50 of the Choose Your Own Adventure books.

Ken Takakura, 1931-2014.  Japanese Actor; The Yakuza and Black Rain.

Carol Ann Susi, 1952-2014.  American Actress; The Secret of My Success, Death Becomes Her, and The Big Bang Theory.

P.D. James, 1920-2014.  English Mystery Author; The Adam Dalgliesh series & Death Comes to Pemberley.

December 2014

Mary Ann Mobley, 1937-2014.  American Actress and Miss America; Diff'rent Strokes, Match Game, Perry Mason, and Burke's Law.

Norman Bridwell, 1928-2014.  American Cartoonist and Author; Clifford, the Big Red Dog.

Joe Cocker, 1944-2014.  American Singer & Musician; "With a Little Help from My Friends", "Up Where We Belong", and "You Are So Beautiful."

Leelah Alcorn, 1997-2014.  American Transgender Teenager.

Edward Herrmann, 1943-2014.  American Actor; The Lost Boys, Gilmore Girls, Overboard, and Big Business