Monday, October 3, 2016

The Haunting of Timber Manor by F.E. Feeley, Jr.

Synopsis From Publisher:

While recovering form the recent loss of his parents, Daniel Donnelly receives a phone call from his estranged aunt, who turns over control of the family fortune and estate, Timber Manor.  Though his father seemed guarded about his past, Daniel's need for family and curiosity compel him to visit. 

Located in a secluded area of the Northwest, Timber Manor has grown silent over the years.  Her halls sit empty and a thin layer of dust adorns the sheet-covered furniture.  When Daniel arrives to begin repairs, strange things happen.  Nightmares haunt his dreams.  Memories not his own disturb his waking hours.  Alive with the tragedies of the past, Timber Manor threatens to tear Daniel apart. 

Sheriff Hale Davis grew up working on the manor grounds.  Seeing Daniel struggle, he vows to protect the young man who captured his heart, and help him solve the mystery behind the haunting and confront the past - not only to save Daniel's life, but to save his family, whose very souls hang int he balance. 

You guys know I love a good Gothic, haunted house story.  There is nothing like getting lost in an house that plays with your head, forcing you to see things that aren't there, turning you into a blithering cry baby, huddled in the corner of the smallest closet you can find. Timber Manor is as devious and mind warping as Hill House, and almost as violent and blood thirsty as Belasco House.  It's a house full of the most damming family secrets.  They are the kind of secrets that slither through time, wrapping the present inhabitants in a shroud of despair and death.  It's the kind of house that I've always wanted to live in, but I've never been sure if I would have the spine needed to do so.

Daniel is one of those guys, that as soon as they appear on the page/screen, you instantly love them. He is the guy you want to root for, the guys you pray survives until the end of the movie.  In Hale, he finds the perfect partner, someone to love and watch over him, and the guy who will protect him from the buried past roaring back through time.

The author did a freaking fantastic job at framing his story, creating a fully realized world that wasn't hard to picture in my head. This is one of those books that I would do almost anything to see adapted to the big screen.  The entire time I was reading it, every single page appeared in celluloid glory in my head.  I'm pretty sure my wishes here won't ever be realized, but a boy could dream.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

29 Days Until Halloween

So needless to say, September was not the month that things got back to normal around here.  I had every intention of throwing myself back into blogging, then they demoted my assistant manager, and I'm stuck working 76 hours a week right now.  That appears to be what my life is going to be like for the foreseeable future, so not looking forward to it.

What I am looking forward to is Halloween, and I'm going to make a commitment to post something Halloween related everyday, right up to the big day itself.  Some days it may be a simple Youtube video of a favorite Halloween song or Halloween cartoon.  Other days will feature a book review or a movie review.  And I'm going to try my damnedest to get some Halloween themed Favorite Fictional Characters thrown in there for good measure.  And I'm not going to kill myself getting it done, but I feel as if I need to make a 2016 list of sexy vampires.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Wordsmithonia Radio --- The Songs Currently Stuck In My Brain

There are a few songs that I can't seem to stop listening to lately.  Whether I have Youtube pulled up on the computer, listening to iTunes, playing a CD in the car, or humming in my head, they are songs that, for whatever reason, seem to be stuck on repeat.  Some of them are new, or newish, some of them are fairly old, but every single one of them are relentlessly bouncing around my head, including a television theme song (because of a game I'm playing). So with no further ado, here is the current soundtrack of my life.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Door by Mary Roberts Rinehart

Synopsis From Back Cover:

How little you know about the people who are closest to you... This is what ran through Elizabeth Bell's mind on the night of April 18th.  Sara Gittings, the family nurse, had just been brutally murdered.  And all thoughts of a homicidal maniac running amok were banished when the evidence revealed that Sarah had know and trusted her murderer.

Who would have anything against timid, sweet Sarah? But as Elizabeth Bell was about to discover, her staid and orderly household harbored more than one suspect with a motive - and, unfortunately, more than one victim. 

It's been a long time since I've read a Mary Roberts Rinehart book, so I felt it was long over due.  For the most part, it was simply that I had run out of "new" books at the used bookstore.  Every time I went in, I would check for them, but ones I hadn't seen before stopped showing up.  When I found The Door, I jumped for joy, went home and put the book away.  It then languished on the shelves for almost a year, and while I would think about it, I would get busy with something else.  The one time I did pick it up, it wasn't holding my attention so I put it away, and didn't pick it up again until another bazillion months had passed.  I picked it up once again, not that long ago, and while it still wasn't holding my attention, I forced myself to persevere and get it done.

I'm really not sure why I didn't get into this one as much as I have most of her other books. The mystery itself was well plotted out, the characters were engaging, and the tension was thick enough that a power saw would have been needed to cut it in half.  Elizabeth was a hoot to read, and I loved how involved she got into he whole thing, including the destroying of evidence, so I can't lay the blame at her feet.  I'm kind of at a loss to explain why this one didn't do it for me.  Maybe the pacing was a little slower than the previous books.  Maybe the weighing sense of claustrophobia that I've enjoyed with some of her other works, wasn't as present in this one.  Maybe I just didn't like the title and that fact it takes most of the book to understand where it came from.  I don't know, I'm kinda of grasping at straws here.

And I don't want to leave you with the feeling I didn't like it, because by the time it was over, I did.  It's not my favorite and I probably won't read it again, but it will stick around collecting dust for years to come.  Much in the way I feel about Agatha Christie's work, I would still put this one up against most of the cozy, cookie cutter stuff being written today.  I just wouldn't put it up against my favorite Rinehart books.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Back To Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

August sucked!  I'm not willing to say it's the worst month I've ever had, but it definitely ranked in the top five worst months of my life.  Because of how the month hit me in the gut, I wasn't around as much as I would have liked, and I'm deeply sorry for it.  I'm sorry for all the posts I never got written, and I'm sorry for all your posts that I never got to read.  It was an exhausting month, and I simply didn't have the energy to log in the way I wanted to.

It's always a busy time at work, but for whatever reason, this coming Tuesday will be my first day off since July 17th.  My average work week was right around 60-65 hours, and I barely had time to do laundry, let alone read.  If it had just been a crazy schedule, I could have coped a bit more, but it wasn't.

For those of you I'm friends with on Facebook, you already know that I lost my grandma on August 12th, just three days before my birthday.  It's been hard to deal with, especially the guilt of not being able to get back to MN for her service, and for all the visits I put off over the years, swearing I would get up to see her sometime soon.  She was a terrific lady, and I'm going to miss her for the rest of my days.  There was some other family drama during the month, but I'm so tired of thinking about it, that I'm not even going to mention it further.

Now that August is over, work will start going back to normal, 50-55 hours a week and a day off every week.  The weather will start cooling down, and hopefully my equilibrium will soon be back to normal.  I'm pretty sure I'm going to be able to get back to posting on a regular basis, hopefully this week, and I promise I'll get by your blogs, and catch up on with what I missed.  So have a great week and an even better September. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Buried Book by D.M. Pulley

Synopsis From Back Cover:

When Althea Leary abandons her nine-year-old son, Jasper, he's left on his uncle's farm with nothing but a change of clothes and a Bible.

It's 1952, and Jasper isn't allowed to ask questions or make a fuss.  He's lucky to even have a home and must keep his mouth shut and his ears open to stay in his uncle's good graces.  No one know where his mother went or whether she' coming back.  Desperate to see her again, he must take matters into his own hands.  From the farm, he embarks on a treacherous search that will take him to the squalid hideaways of Detroit and back again, through tawdry taverns, peep shows, and gambling houses.

As he's drawn deeper into an adult world of corruption, scandal, and murder, Jasper uncovers the shocking past still chasing his mother - and now it's chasing him too. 

Why does it seem that the vast majority of publishers synopses either exaggerate an aspect of the book, or take you in a totally misleading direction?  Half the time when I sit down at the computer to write a review, I want to rebut an aspect of the synopsis, but I'm going to reign that instinct in this time around.  It's not that the inconsistencies don't bug me, because they do, but it's rather that I'm too tired to write my own synopsis, and the issues I have with the publisher's version aren't bugging me enough to force my hand.

And I think that's the overriding feeling I have towards the book as a whole.  I'm simply apathetic towards the finished product, and I have no clue on what to say about it. If I could state I loved it, or even hated it, that would be one thing.  I could then pull it apart, highlight the reasons behind either feeling, and finish with why I think you should or shouldn't read it.  Rather, I find myself in this rather limbo like existence, and I feel horrible about it.  I didn't like it, nor dislike it, and that's all I can really say about the story itself.

Regardless of my antipathy towards the book, I'm absolutely enthralled by the hero of the book, Jasper.  I don't think it's possible for me to come across a fictional kid, and love them more than I do him.  He has to be the bravest, most stubborn, and determined character I've come across in a very long time.  I do think he acts a little too old at times, and I'm not really sure an actual nine year old would have acted in the manner he did, but I really wish I would have been as brave as him at that age.  If I ever read this book again, it will be because of Jasper.

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

Monday, August 8, 2016

Evensong by Krista Walsh

Synopsis From Publisher:

Author Jeff Powell wakes up to find the impossible has happened.  He is within his own novel - summoned into the fictional world of Feldall's Keep by a spell he didn't write.  One the House enchantress hasn't figured out how to reverse.

When the villain he's been struggling to write reveals himself, unleashing waves of terror and chaos, Jeff must use more than his imagination to save the characters he created - and the woman he loves. 

Trapped within a world of his own creation, he must step outside the bounds of his narrative to help his characters defeat an evil no one anticipated, even if he must sacrifice his greatest gift.  In the end, he has to ask: are novel really fiction, or windows into other worlds?

As a kid, I fell in love with Fantasia and all the promise it held.  For years I would play a game in my head where every character I cam across, be it from books, movies, TV shows, or some other medium, lived in one giant fantasy world.  They formed organizations, opened businesses, built relationships, and fought the bad guys, who happened to be on a neighboring planet.  What all that meant, was that these characters existed outside their creator's mind.  They lived entire lives that were not influenced by their creator's arbitrary decisions.  That last concept is why I fell in love with this book, and why I can't wait to read the rest of the trilogy.

When Jeff wakes up in the world he thought he created, he's just a tad bit confused.  At first he thinks it's an elaborate prank, but quickly decides he is simply dreaming.  He plays along with the characters he though he invented, humoring them when they tell him they brought him there to solve some major problems.  Of course they lecture him a bit on the way he is handling some of the plot points, and quickly inform him that what he's writing is only a small fraction of their daily lives. Over time, as he gets to know them, to understand their history, he realizes that he is in fact in the world he created.  When he is faced wit the death of one of his "creations", a death he did not plan, his world is turned upside down.

To be blunt, I couldn't stand Jeff in the beginning.  I thought he was just a tad bit too egotistical, but he's an author who loves creating worlds, so what else should I expect from someone with a godlike complex.  And for the most part, his characters modeled that attitude.  As he matured, he softened up and I grew to like him.  And oddly, as he became less rigid, so did his characters.  As they turned to face a common threat, they grew as a unit, and really began to understand each other.  The one relationship I never understood or even liked was with the "love of his life."  It made no sense in the structure of the story, and I kept waiting for her to be killed off.  My wish was never granted, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed for the next two books.

I still don't think Jeff, nor his characters, know whether Jeff dreamed them up, or if he just tapped into their world, influencing their actions when he could.  I don't think I have a strong opinion on it either, and I'm okay with it.  I'm just looking forward to what happens next.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Favorite Fictional Character --- Dr. Beverly Crusher

Given which character I'm featuring this week, what I'm about to say is going to sound rather odd.  I'm not a huge Star Trek fan.  I don't hate it, but I would never actively seek it out to watch.  I'm sure it's been at least 15-16 years since I've seen an episode of any of the TV shows, and the only reason I watched the first Star Trek movie with Chris Pine, was because of Chris Pine.  Like any good kid of the 1990s, I got into Star Trek: The Next Generation more than the original, but if I missed a few episodes or a whole season, it was no skin off my nose.  So you are probably trying to figure out why I would be featuring a character from the Star Trek universe, so I'll tell you.  For whatever reason, boredom probably, I recently downloaded the Star Trek: Timelines game, and now I can't seem to stop playing. The universe is dealing with several temporal anomalies, and every single character who ever existed, along with every single version of the character, are now all smashed together. Dr. Beverly Crusher is not one of the characters on my crew as of yet, but I'm hoping I get her at some point in time.

Of every character created for the franchise, she is my all time favorite. She suffered loss after loss in her life, and she always found the strength to come back and beat it.  She lost her parents at a young age, then her husband dies, leaving her to raise a son by herself.  She pours herself into raising Wesley and becoming a Starfleet Commander.  She is a strong independent woman, and she really cemented herself as my favorite when she went to bat for Hugh, the young Borg that was rescued from his crashed ship.  When those around her, including Captain Picard, wanted to use him as weapon, Dr. Crusher defended him, and did everything she could to make sure he had every chance to become his own person.  Time and time again, crisis after crisis, Dr. Crusher proved to be a deeply talented officer, willing to put the needs of others before her own.  I also thought that of all the main characters on the show, she was the one who seemed to grow the most over the years.  By the end of the series, she was a woman & officer who was not only completely comfortable in her own skin, but supremely confident in who she was, and what she had to offer.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Murder Most Yowl by Quinn Dressler

Synopsis From Publisher:

Cat-sitting is a dangerous business.

Cameron Sherwood turned his back on law enforcement the night his investigation lead to the death of an innocent gay man.  Now Cam spends his time running a business that caters to his favorite animal, cats.  But when Cam stumbles upon the body of a friend while feeding her feline, he can't walk away.  Dealing with a sexy yet stubborn sheriff, a matchmaking sister, and a terrifying blind date, Cam must somehow track down a killer, all while keeping the cats around him fed with is gourmet cat treats. 

Let's be frank.  As much as I love a fiendishly plotted mystery, there are times I just want to read something that I don't have to think too much about.  I want there to be a mystery component, but I don't want to strain my little grey cells trying to figure out who the killer is.  I know that this is where you guys are going to start yelling at me, reminding me of my usual distaste of cozy mysteries, and you would have a valid point.  And I'm going to invite you to keep yelling at me after I say this next bit.  In my experience, most "mainstream" cozy mysteries are about as cookie cutter as you can get.  Half the time I can't tell you who the author is, because they all read the same.  The plotting, character development, and writing style all blend together, creating a very forgettable mess.  There are exceptions to that, and there are even a few authors I do enjoy, Rhys Bowen's series with Lady Georgina being one of them. For the most part though, I tend to have to go into the realms or romance to find the type of light, fluffy mystery I can get into, specifically m/m romance.  I'm sure there are some terrific m/f romance mysteries out there, but if I'm going to read romance, I want it to be relevant to my own life experiences.

And before I get yelled at anymore, I'm not saying all m/m romance mysteries are of the light and fluffy kind, because they aren't, not by a long shot.  I absolutely love the Life Lessons series by Kaje Harper, have been blown away by several Josh Lanyon books, and could name another twenty authors I've enjoyed who take a more detailed, plot driven approach to their mysteries.  But that's not the kind of mystery I felt like diving into when I picked Murder Most Yowl.  I wanted cotton candy, and I got it.

The mystery itself is barely structured, doesn't make a whole lot of sense by the time it's solved, and required me to suspend my disbelief on multiple occasions.  And I loved it.  It's has a quirky sense of humor that I found charming, and two leading men I found to be a blast to hang out with.  In Cam and Jake, I found two headstrong men that just seemed to fit together.  I can't imagine witnessing what Cam did when he was on the force, and come out sane.  I would have more than walked away from my career, I would have walked away from my life, and started over on some beach in Brazil where nobody knew me. In partnering with Jake to solve the murder, he is able to come back to himself a bit, which makes the love that develops between them that much sweeter. My one quibble with the romance is in the way the author broke the tension between them, which in turn allowed them to accept their feelings for each other.  The way it's handled was about as realistic as the mystery component, but strangely I'm okay with it.  When it comes to reading a romance, I don't want real life, I want fantasy.  If I wanted real life, I would read Ulysses by James Joyce, or some other tedious volume that nobody actually reads.

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Ninja's Daughter by Susan Spann

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Autumn, 1565:  When an actor's daughter is murdered on the banks of the Kyoto's Kamo River, master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo are the victim's only hope for justice. 

As political tensions rise in the wake of the shogun's recent death, and rival samurai threaten war, the Kyoto police forbid an investigation of the killing, to keep the peace.  Undeterred, Hiro and Father Mateo undertake a secret investigation into the exclusive world of Kyoto's theater guilds, where nothing, and no one, is as it seems.  Their investigation soon reveals a mysterious golden coin, a forbidden love affair, a missing mask, and dangerous link to corruption that leaves both Hiro and Father Mateo running for their lives. 

Before I sat down to start this review, I went back and reread my review for the second book in this series, Blade of the Samurai.  I could cheat, copy and paste that review here, with maybe a few edits, and call it a day.  For the most part, it would be an honest review of this book, but blogger ethics are kicking in.  I figure I better get to writing a fresh review to convince you that no matter what, this is a book, and a series, worth reading.

I should start with the similarities, just to get them out of the way.  I love Hiro and Father Mateo.  I would gladly spend the rest of my life hanging out and talking with them.  I have a preference for Father Mateo, but it's a slight one as both are well written and fascinating to read.  Despite my love for the two protagonists, I'm still wishing I could get lost in the setting more.  While I think the author builds a realistic, and three dimensional world for the reader to explore, I still don't get the impression that Hiro and Father Mateo belong exclusively to feudal Japan.  I could just as easily see them in modern day New York, and while I love them both, I wish that wasn't so.

The biggest difference between the two books for me was the atmosphere of the book.  This was one just a tad bit darker, a little heavier, and I loved it.  I want a mystery book to envelope me when I'm delving into it's pages, and this one did.  It had enough twists and turns to keep me guessing, and I had to force myself to put it down when my attention was needed elsewhere.  I'm really needing to go back and read the two books I've missed in this series, since hanging out with Hiro and Father Mateo is quickly becoming one of my favorite pastimes.

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

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Favorite Fictional Character --- Underdog

I always find it fascinating when a fictional character is created for a single purpose, but ends up being so much more than that. Many times they are created as an advertising gimmick used to sell toys, greeting cards, cat food, and just about anything else you can think of.  Some of them, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as an example, prove to be so popular that most people don't realize they were originally created to by an ad agency. There are some of that never leave the realm of advertising, Tony the Tiger for example, that still somehow manages to become bigger than the product itself.  The guy, while not as huge as Rudolph still managed to follow in his footsteps, and become more than the cereal peddler he started off as.

The superhero who always spoke in rhyming couplets, Underdog was the brainchild of General Mills, the company behind many of my favorite cereals from childhood. He, along with Tennessee Tuxedo, proved to be so popular they got their own cartoons, comic books, and merchandise.  Much like Superman, Underdog hid his greatness behind a mediocre front, Shoeshine Boy. They shared many of the same superpowers, and even had a familiar catchphrase, but that's were the similarities end.

Where Superman was focused on saving the world from extensional threats, Underdog was more concerned about saving his girl from the nefarious villains who just couldn't leave her alone.  And while he did in fact have great superpowers, he could never finish a episode without flying into a building, or causing so much collateral damage that I can't even begin to imagine the cost of his cleanups.  I would have suggested Karate Kat, who was a janitor by day, for cleanup duty, but he didn't come around until decades later. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Mark Park and the Flume of Destiny by Brian Olsen

Synopsis From Publisher:

Mark Park is model-handsome and strong as an ox, but thinking has never been his strong suit.  When everyday machinery turns murderous, Mark will have to strain his brain to keep his friends and family safe.  An amusement park holds a deadly secret and his roommates are in for the rides of their lives, but Mark will have to venture alone into a whole new world, a world where all his strength is useless and only his underused intellect can save the day. Can Mark solve the mystery of the flume before the people he loves are lost to him forever?

I think most of you guys already know about my childhood years spent traveling with a carnival, so when I figured out that an amusement park is one of the star attractions of the book, I couldn't wait to dig in.  I had already read the two previous books, and I fell in love with the roommates and this weird mix of science fiction, urban fantasy, and horror.  The fact that the author has a twisted sense of humor that is evident on every single page, and I knew I would love this one just as much as I did the first two.  I was right.

Mark is one of those guys that can get any woman he wants, and he has, but it's not enough for him anymore.  The events over the last two books has Mark thinking towards the future, and he's tired of sleeping with random women, and not remembering their names the next day.  He's not sure what he wants out of a relationship, or even out of life, but he knows that what he's been doing, isn't working anymore.  It's with this confused outlook on life that Mark is forced to deal with yet another extensional threat to the human race.

This time around he, the rest of the roommates, and their friends, are facing another incarnation of the artificial intelligence born out of Amalgamated Synergy, except this time around "she" has a younger brother.  That's right, another company has spawned it's own mind controlling entity, and this time around he like makes machines do whatever he wants them to do.  Add in the mad scientist from the previous book who is intent on building doppelganger clones of the first mind controlling monster and a dead actress, and the roommates are in trouble.  They have to face a brain erasing carnival ride, a visit from Mark's multi-cultural family, explosions, a body count larger than the two previous books put together, out of control construction equipment, betrayals out the wazoo, and the lead human bad guy, that I'm still in love with, but just can't seem to get his act together.  I really do understand where he is coming from, and I feel so bad for the pain he goes through in this book, but what he's doing is wrong.  He's fighting fire with fire, and the fire he's using, can't be controlled.

But it's Mark that's the star of this show, and boy does he pull it off.  He tests himself in ways that I'm not sure he thought he would be able to pass.  I'm actually pretty sure he was expecting to fail this one.  He saves everyone else, and is ready to get lost in the shuffle, but he shows a strength of will that surprises everyone, himself included.  He comes out stronger for it, and he quickly became my favorite of the four roommates.
Other Books in the Series:

Alan Lennox and the Temp Job of Doom
Caitlin Ross and the Commute from Hell

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Wodsmithonia is 7 Years Old!

I can't believe it, but Wordsmithonia is six days over it's 7th blogoversary.  This time last year, I wasn't sure this milestone would be reached.  My personal, and professional life, had been in upheaval for far too long, and I had already been absent from the blogging world for a few months. More than once, I found myself making the decision to close the blog down for good, but I could never pull the trigger.  The entire time I was gone, I missed the voice I had found through the blog, and I had more than missed the interaction with all of you.  When I finally caved into the inevitable earlier this year, and started to make my first forays back into the fold, you guys welcome me back with open arms, and I can never express how grateful I was for it. Whether you know it or not, you have seen me through some of the worst moments in my life, and helped me celebrate some of the most joyous. I love you guys.  You are the reason I keep doing this, you are the reason I have felt at home from the moment my first post went live on 07/18/2009.  I look forward to another seven years with you guys.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Finding Fontainebleau: An American Boy in France by Thad Carhart

Synopsis From Dust Jacket: 

For a young American boy in the 1950s, Fontainebleau was a sight both strange and majestic.  A provincial town just south of Paris, it is home to France's greatest chateau where Thad Carhart's father was assigned as a military officer.  With humor and heart, Carhart conveys a rich panoply of French life in the '50s: the discovery of a Paris still covered in centuries of black soot; the strange bewilderment of a classroom where wine bottles dispensed ink for penmanship lessons; the excitement of camping in nearby Italy and Spain.  What emerges is an insider's view of a postwar Europe rarely seen or largely forgotten. 

Against this background of deep change for France stands the Chateau of Fontainebleau.  Begun in 1137, fifty years before the Louvre and more than five hundred before Versailles, the Chateau was a royal residence for centuries.  A string of illustrious queens and kings - Marie Antoinette, Francois I, the two Napoleons - added to its splendors without appreciably destroying the imprint of their predecessors.  As a consequence, the Chateau is unique in France, a supreme repository of French style, taste, art, and architecture.  Carhat tells us the rich and improbable stories of these monarchs and of their love affair with a place like no other.

Before I started blogging, I could have counted on one hand the amount of memoirs I had read in my life. Over the last seven years, I have had the opportunity to read/review quite a few memoirs, and I have absolutely fallen in love with a genre I never knew I would.  Reading the lyrical beauty of Finding Fontainebleau has just added to that love affair.

Part memoir, part travelogue, and part history book, Finding Fontainebleau has given me a greater appreciation for France, and for the first time in my life, I want to book a ticket, and get my butt over there.  Mr. Carhart, who is now one of my favorite contemporary writers, has a skill in storytelling that makes me green with envy.  I could only hope to write half as well as he does, though I know that it will never come to be.  He weaves his personal history with that of France and Fontainebleau, and instead of being a fragmented mess, he is able to tie the two stories together.  The narrative undulates back and forth, but never feels out of control.

For the last few weeks, this was the book I would read once I was in bed.  And like any good bedtime story, the melodious tenor of Mr. Carhart's written cadence sent me to dreamland night after night. What I'm reading rarely influences what I dream of, but I can still recall my leisurely stroll through the rooms of Fontainebleau.  I can only hope that I will be able to visit those halls for myself, but if that never comes to pass, I will have Finding Fontainebleau waiting on my shelves.

I would like to thank Lisa of TLC Booktours for the opportunity to read and review this book.  Please visit the tour page to read more reviews.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Favorite Fictional Character --- Popeye

If there is a pantheon of biggest fictional characters of all time, there are a few whose membership should never be doubted.  I dare anyone to not know the names of Superman, Sherlock Holmes, Mickey Mouse, Dracula, Bugs Bunny, or even Scooby-Doo.  These are names, and faces, that are universally recognized and loved.  I could make an argument for twenty or thirty other characters that I could easily names into their ranks, but this post is about one of them in particular.  I'm sure that there are going to be naysayers about this guy, those who say he really isn't as big of a pop culture icon as I believe he is, but I would humbly tell them that they are wrong.

If for some bizarre reason you don't recognize this guy, you can call him Popeye the Sailor Man, Popeye for short.  Popeye, bless his heart, comes across as a crass sailor with very little education.  For the most part, he sort of lives up to that characteristic, but he has these moments that not only defies all expectations, but always made me think his normal attitude was all a front.  Those moments when his intelligence shines, somehow solving problems that flummoxed everyone else, were the moments that made me think we were seeing the real Popeye. Spinach may have gave him super-strength, but I somehow doubt that it gave him super-intelligence as well.  I never understood what he saw in Olive, a woman who seemed to pit him and Bluto against each other, all for her enjoyment.  I guess it proves that when it comes to love, no amount of intelligence can keep you from acting a fool. 

If you doubt his iconic status, just think back on all the comic strips, comic books, movies, TV shows, books, and cartoons that he has starred in over the last 87 years.  That's not counting all the licenses merchandise, video and pinball games, toys and stuffed animals, his stint as a spokesman for Quaker Oats, or his stint as the mascot of the most popular soccer teams in the world at , Flamengo.   If you can name a product, he has been on it.  Popeye is the man, and Mickey, Bugs, and the rest, are making room for him.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Being a Beast by Charles Foster

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

How can we ever be sure that we really know the other? To test the limits of our ability to inhabit lives that are not our own, Charles Foster set out to know the ultimate other: the nonhumans, the beasts.  And to do that, he tried to be like them, choosing a badger, an otter, a fox, a deer, and a swift.  He lived alongside badgers for weeks, sleeping in a burrow on a Welsh hillside and eating earthworms, learning to sense the landscape through his nose rather than his eyes.  He tried to catch fish in his teeth while swimming like an otter, rooted through London garbage cans as an urban fox, and as a red deer he was hunted by bloodhounds and nearly died in the snow. Finally, he followed the swifts on their migration route over the Strait of Gibraltar, discovering himself to be strangely connected to the birds. 

Within the first few weeks of my Freshman year in college, I was approached to take part in what was described as an immersive overnight experience designed to give us an idea of what it was like to be homeless.  They took a handful of college Freshmen down to the "big" city of Wichita, KS, and had them spend the night among those who didn't get to sleep in a warm bed the following night.  Needless to say, I passed on the "learning" experience because I was homeless as a kid, albeit for less than a few months.  I knew what it was like to sleep in a car, and not know where your next meal was coming from.  In my eyes, this night out on the streets was nothing more than a way for middle-class kids, who never wanted for anything in their lives, to spout out false empathy for those they got to leave behind less than 12 hours later.  You can not get a real sense of what it's like to be homeless, when you know you are going back to three meals a day and a warm bed in less than 24 hours. Unless you are really feeling the fear and uncertainty they are feeling, you are just a poser, trying to make yourself look good.  Now had Charles Foster designed this experience, maybe the kids would have really learned something from it.  But in the end, even with months and months spent out in the "field", they still would have gone back to their comfy beds, and three meals a day.  And that's the crux of my issue with this book, no matter what I thought of the experiences Mr. Foster put himself through, the lessons he tried to teach himself, in the end, he's still human.  And no matter what, he still sees through human eyes and rationalizes everything through a human brain.

To give Mr. Foster his due, he is pretty upfront about the limitations he is facing in regards to the experiment he is mapping out.  The entire first chapter is an examination of the pitfalls and problems he is facing in his quest to not only live like a beast, but to think like them, to truly experience the world as they do.  What follows was a extraordinary account of a man, and at times other members of his family, as he submerged himself as much as possible in a world he was never going to fully understand.   He describes his approach and observations with a sense of humor that I found to be off putting at times, but all together charming at the same time.  Mr. Foster is a talented wordsmith, and it shows on every page as he describes the sensory input he experienced.  I swear I was able to taste earthworm in my mouth as he described his culinary experience with them.

I'm still not convinced that everything Mr. Foster put himself through allowed him to experience the world as the beasts do, but I'm not sure such a thing is really possible.  Unless there is a shaman out there that can put his/herself into an animal's body, and live as they do for a few years, I'm not sure any human ever will.  I do think that he has a new understanding of the particular beasts he chose to live like, and that's just as worthy of a goal.  I don't think we need to necessarily become a beast to understand them in some small way, or to appreciate the role they have on Earth.   Being a Beast has given me a greater appreciation for the natural world, even if I'm not going to experience in quite the same way as Mr. Foster did.

I would like to thank Emily with Henry Holt & Company for the opportunity to read and review this book.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Prime Time by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Seasoned investigative reporter Charlotte McNally knows that in the cutthroat world of television journalism every story could be your last.  There's always someone younger and prettier to take your place, always a story more sensational to drive ratings through the roof. 

When Brad Foreman's widow demands to know why Charlie never answered his e-mail, Charlie is confused.  She never received his message.  What did Brad, an accountant at a pharmaceutical company, want to tell her?  As she searches through her computer, she finds an innocent-looking e-mail in her junk mail folder that may turn out to be the biggest story of her career.

Is the encoded e-mail - and the ones that follow - linked to Brad's "accidental" death?  Charlie's investigation leads her to Brad's friend professor Josh Gelston, who is charming and exceedingly helpful - perhaps suspiciously so.

Charlie must decide is she can trust Josh.  Before a multimillion-dollar fraud ring with murder in its arsenal makes her the next lead story. 

Hank Phillippi Ryan is one of those authors that I've seen around for quite a few years, but have never really taken the time to read before.  I've wanted to, cross my heart and hope to die, but other books kept distracting me.  I'm sure that's a situation any voracious reader has found themselves in at least once.  There are just too many books, and there will never be enough time to read all the ones you want.  Luckily for me, the entire Charlotte McNally series is being republished, and when I was contacted by the publicist to see if I wanted to review the first book in the series, Prime Time, I jumped at the chance.

For my long time followers, you already know that I love mysteries, but have a strong preference for Golden Age mysteries.  Oddly, I don't think I really understood that preference until I read Prime Time.  Please don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the read, and had a lot of fun with Charlie.  It has a compelling mystery for her to solve, and seeing the character interaction was a joy to read, and therein lies my moral quandry.

I guess, when it comes down to it, I'm a plot over character kind of guy, at least when it comes to mysteries. And that's what I love about Golden Age authors, their plots were convoluted and complicated, taking twist after twist, but somehow making it all work in the end.  Agatha Christie, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Erle Stanley Gardner, John Dickson Carr, Patrick Quentin, Patricia Wentworth, and many others, were geniuses at writing compelling mysteries.  Of course they had great characters to go with it, but the core of their books were the mysteries themselves.  They weren't character studies, sacrificing plot details in order to focus on character development, and that's what I feel most modern mysteries do.

I'm not saying there is there is anything wrong with that, nor am I saying that all modern day mystery authors make that trade off, but I do think most do.  I've read books by more than one "modern" mystery author, and they do write well developed characters.  Their main protagonists, especially the ones who go to star in their own series, do show great evolution over the course of a book(s).  And please don't misunderstand me, I love well developed characters, but it seems, at least in the mystery/thriller/suspense genre, that some of that character growth, takes the place of the twisted plot developments I love so much. And, sorry for repeating myself with this next line, please don't misunderstand me and think that Prime Time has a weak plot, it doesn't, I just wanted more of it.  It needed to be beefed up a bit in order for me to really sink my teeth into it.

It all boils down to preference, and I'm pretty sure my preference will not change.  I'm still more apt to pick up a book by Agatha Christie than I am anything written in the last few decades, and that's okay.  I'm still going to read the remaining books in this series, because I really do like Charlie, but it won't be a mad dash or a binge read like I did with Mary Roberts Rinehart a few years ago.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Favorite Fictional Character --- Tom & Jerry

Sometimes you need a song in order to get your point across. Whether it's Marvin Gaye, Rob Base, Katy Perry, or the Baker and his Wife, they all have it right when they sing, "It Takes Two." Occasionally, when I'm deciding who I'm going to highlight in a Favorite Fictional Character post, I end up selecting someone that is generally paired with another character.  In most cases, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as an example, I'm able to separate them in order to highlight just one of them.  But every once in a while, I'm having to do a post about more than one character.  The Cast of Clue, Scarecrow & Mrs. King, Waldorf & Statler, and Frank & Joe Hardy, are some of the characters that I've had to do one single post on.  I dare anyone to separate those characters from each other, and love on one of them, but not the other.  It's a task that would make Sisyphus blanch.  And that's the task I was facing when I selected Tom & Jerry. You simply can't take them apart, they are a single unit, and need to be treated as such.

Is there anyone out there that doesn't love Tom & Jerry?  If the answer is yes to that, I want NASA to check them out, and make sure they are in fact human, and not from some distant planet.  Yeah, I know they can be pretty violent.  If Tom wasn't trying to capture Jerry to make him part of his meal, Jerry was busy poking Tom, trying to get him worked up.  I think between the two of them, they have been shot, stabbed, chopped in half, electrocuted, beaten by a variety of weapons, cooked, ran over, blown up, poisoned, frozen, and burned.  They are both clever little guys, but Jerry seemed to get it over on Tom most of the time, but Tom's ingenuity managed to payoff, albeit it in a very intermittent manner.

As antagonist as they could be, one of my favorite aspects of their relationship, was the sense of genuine friendship between them.  Even when they were hurting each other, it felt as if it was more of a competition, rather that true animus.  When one of them was facing some outside foe, or experiencing a problem, the other would be by their side, helping them out.  They could even, from time to time, join forces on a joint adventure.  But it's their fighting that kept me captivated as a kid.  I could watch episode after episode, enraptured by their antics.  

These guys were already a 36 years old when I was born, let alone when I was watching cartoons, but Tom & Jerry are characters that transcend age.  They are characters that are loved by kids today, and I have a feeling they still have a long life ahead of them. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Mad Hatter Mystery by John Dickson Carr

Synopsis From Back Cover:

It began with hats.  Stolen hats, vanished all over London, and re-appeared in the most unexpected places.

First, on the head of a lion in Trafalgar Square.

Then, at the top of a Scotland Yard lamppost.

And finally on the corpse of a young newsman found stabbed to death in the ancient Tower of London.

It looked like the work of a madman.  But how could a madman know about the retired General's habits, a certain-jealous husband and wife, the intimate secrets of a great man's house?

It started with hats and ended with murder as Dr. Gideon Fell tackled one of the strangest cases of his career. 

My foray into the world of John Dickson Carr, started last year with The Emperor's Snuffbox. He is an author that I always wanted to get around too, but never seemed to really find the time for.  I absolutely fell in love with his style, and I was looking forward to delving into his writing more in depth.  I'm just now, over a year later, getting to another of his books, and this time around it features one of his most famous creations, Dr. Gideon Fell.

I'm not sure what kind of doctor he is, it really never gets into it in this book, but it's the second book to feature him, so maybe it's explained in the first, Hag's Nook.  When I did a little internet sleuthing of my own about him, he is described as a lexicographer, so I'm going to assume he's not a medial doctor, but in reality, who knows. He is supposedly based, physically and personality-wise, on G.K. Chesterton, the mystery author and theologian.  And now you know as much about him as I do, at least without you having read the book.  By the way, for a pompous know it all, Dr. Gideon Fell is gentler in his manner, and so far, doesn't get on my nerves the way Hercule Poirot or Philo Vance does.  I'm really looking forward to getting to know him a bit more, as I delve into this world further.

As for the mystery itself, it's a huge convoluted maelstrom that had me me completely turned around by the time it was over, and I loved it.  This was not a straightforward story, there were twists and turns galore, and I'm still baffled by a suicide that happened, but I'm sure I must have missed something, because I'm sure it made sense to anyone who has read the book previously.  That's not to say the mystery, or the book itself, is a confusing mess, it's not.  It's actually a well crafted mystery that kept me guessing the entire time I was reading it, and every single one of the twists it took, only added to the experience.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Favorite Fictional Character --- Mr. Lynn Belvedere

Have I ever mentioned that I'm a sucker for 1980s sitcoms?  Give me The Golden Girls, Night Court, Murphy Brown, Benson, Who's the Boss?Designing Women, Alf, and Mama's Family any day of the week.  Actually, I think I've done Favorite Fictional Character posts for all of those shows, and if I happen to catch them on TV, I'm watching them.  There are still a few shows that I loved back then, that I haven't gotten to yet, but I'm correcting that oversight, at least for one of those shows, today.  The character I'm going to feature today, was one of those characters that I would have loved to have in my own life.  I could have done without an Alf walking into my living room.  But growing up without a father in my life, a Mr. Belvedere would have have been more than welcome.

If you don't remember the show, I'll help you out a bit.  Think of a non-magical, older male version of Mary Poppins, and you get Mr. Belvedere.  I can't remember how he ended up in an American household, but this is a guy who was once a butler for Prime Minister Winston Churchill.  You can imagine how someone like that, would have to reorganize their entire way of thinking, in order to fit into an American family, complete with two working parents and three kids. A lot of the show was about his relationship with Wesley, the youngest of the three kids.  It was antagonist almost all the time, with Wesley always trying to get it over the "stuffy" Mr. Belvedere.  But you could tell there was a lot of love there, as Mr. Belvedere became a counselor to Wesley, and to all the kids.  

I agree with Wesley that Mr. Belvedere was a little stuffy at times.  And I even agree with the father, Mr. Owens, that the Englishman was a bit nosy, needing to know what was going on at all times.  But that's what a good nanny/housekeeper should be.  He should be nosy, he should try to sooth the members of the household when they are upset.  He should help them out with their problems, and how to deal with the various situations they found themselves in.  I kind of wish I had a Mr. Belvedere growing up, but at least I had him on my television screen. 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Security by Gina Wohlsdorf

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

Safety. Luxury. Manderley.

Manderley Resort is a gleaming, new twenty-story hotel on the California coast.  It's about to open its doors, and the world - at least those with the means to afford it - will be welcomed into a palace of opulence and unparalleled security.  But someone is determined that Manderley will never open.  The staff has no idea that their every move is being watched, and over the next twelve hours they will be killed off, one by one. 

I'm going to try and do this without spoilers, but I'm going to be honest upfront, and admit that I may not be able to do that. The simple truth is that I absolutely loved this book, and while I need to convince you guys to read it, I want to keep some of the book's secrets, secret.  My dilemma is this, in order to really get across why I loved this book so much, I'm going to have to talk about one particular aspect of the book, but if I do it too much, I'm going to be talking out of school, so please forgive me know if I spoil anything for you.  Now that I got that rambling out of the way, I'll continue one with my review, slash love letter to this book.

I'll be the first to admit that this book will not be for everyone.  Some of you will not want to read this, no matter how much I end up gushing about it.  In a nutshell it is a gory, violent slasher movie transferred to the page  The victims die brutal deaths, and there are a lot of bodies by the time the action is wrapped up.  Body parts are hacked off, copious amounts of blood get splashed about, and one poor sap is finished off in a clothes dryer.  The violence is not subtle, nor is the author shy in describing it.

If the violence doesn't work as an automatic turnoff for some of you, I think others may be annoyed by the storytelling technique used to relate the narrative.  Manderley, I will get to the name in a second, is a world class hotel, with world class security.  That security includes security cameras, including audio, both visible and hidden, and there isn't a square foot of the hotel they don't show.  All the action is narrated by someone who has access to those cameras, and at times the page splits into sections, as more than one camera is being spoken of at the same time.  It can be jarring at first, but as long as you pay attention to what's going on, and you notice that each chapter starts with the cameras being viewed, you will quickly catch on.

If you could see the blurb at the top of the cover, you would see that it ends with calling this book a wrenching love story.  The dust jacket calls it a multifaceted love story unlike any other.  I would call it one of the most heart breaking and, at the same time, life affirming love stories I've ever read.  It's in this aspect of the book where the spoilers are going to come into play, so I apologize once again, but I'm not going to be able to help it.  And I'm going to be rather wordy, so proceed with caution.

Part of the reason I wanted to read this book, was the reference made, not only in the title of the book, but on the dust jacket as well, to Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.  I've already mentioned the fact that the book is narrated by someone who has access to the surveillance monitors, and is able to see everything going on in the hotel.  In the beginning, you aren't sure what role he/she actually plays in the mayhem going on.  At first, I thought he/she was in on it, but that is disproved about a third of the way in.  It's in that nameless narration, in the secrets revealed, and in it's heartrending love story that du Maurier's influence is most heavily felt.

Our narrator is in fact the head of security for the hotel, all of  the security detail are ex special forces type individuals.  The security office on the 20th floor was actually the first spot hit by the killers, and they were all wiped out pretty quickly.  One of them escaped the office, only to be gutted like a fish not long after.  The narrator has a rather large knife nested in between two of the vertebrae in the neck, enough to paralyze, but not enough to kill.  It's through those eyes that we see what's going on, and learn about the hotel staff.  It's through those eyes that we get to see what kind of people the victims are, their back stories, their personalities, and their loves.  We get to hear the audio of their conversations, but only after it's filtered through the narrator's brain.  It's through the narrator's eyes that we see them cheat, love, and die.  It's because of the narrator that we feel anything for the victims at all.

The vast majority of the reviews I've seen, ignore the love story aspect of this book, and when they do mention it at all, it's dismissive of the relationship they are talking about.  Two of the people trapped in the hotel survive the night, and they have a long and complicated backstory. It's a story fraught with pain and regret, and when they come face to face with each other, for the first time in years, there is a lot to be worked out between them.  Their story, their love story to be precise, should not be ignored or dismissed as meaningless sex, or pushed aside because of their complicated past.  It's a powerful force for both of them, and it's what helps keep them alive.  For me though, it's not their love that drives the story.  Instead it's the love the narrator feels for one of those characters that is the core of this book, and it's the one aspect of the book I haven't seen any review touch upon.

The narrator, who truly does love the other character, is forced to watch them surrender to the love of someone else.  The narrator is given no choice but to watch them make love to someone else, and to hear their relationship described as merely physical, a way to pass the time, and one that was incapable of moving any further.  The narrator, who was thinking marriage, was confronted with the idea that they were only a placeholder.  By the end of the book, it's obvious that the character, I'm trying so hard to not name, cared for our narrator, but not in the same way.

So put yourself in our narrator's shoes.  You are paralyzed and playing possum, sitting in a room with one of the killers, who is also watching the video cameras, and you are not only watching your love slip through your fingers, but you are forced to watch the person you love, fight to stay alive.  You would rage at the unfairness of it all, you would probably shed a tear or two, and your heart would be breaking into a million pieces.  I think a lot of us would have given up, moved the distance needed to finish the job the killer started, and slip into oblivion.  Instead, our narrator does everything they can to help the other two characters out, not only helping them to survive the night, but to have the love and life together that the narrator once dreamed of.  By the end, the narrator has surrendered the life they once dreamed of, so another can have it.  I would like to think I would have done the same thing, that I wouldn't have given into my pain and rage at my world crumbling down, but I'm not sure I would have the strength of character to do it. The narrator is a true example of what a literary hero is supposed to be, and I'm so glad I met them. By the end of it all I was more than half in love with our nameless narrator.  This is a character that will always stay with me, they are snugly nestled in my heart and mind, and I'm more than okay with that.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Recipes for the Good Life by Patti LaBelle

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

Miss Patti is back, as fierce as ever, sharing more than 100 new recipes that will have your mouth watering and your guests begging for seconds!  With dishes ranging from the Over the Top, Top, Top Macaroni and Cheese (with shrimp and lobster!), to the Poaches Salmon with Basil Cream Sauce and Fettuccine, to the Tender and Juicy Barbecued Baby Back Ribs, to the Fried Apple Pie, there's something perfect for every occasion.  She not only walks you through the preparation of her favorite dishes with ease, but also share heartfelt and witty stories about food, family, and life throughout the book.  

I'm a huge fan of all things Patti LaBelle.  She is in my top five list of female vocalists of all time, and while I never got to try the sweet potato pie everyone went crazy for this last holiday season, I'm going to be on the lookout for it this year.

I've had this particular book for years now, and it's one that I seem to go back to time and time again. It's easy to use, has 6 color coded sections, and almost everything I have made from it is absolutely delicious.  I've even given it as a gift to a few friends, and from the feedback I've gotten, they seem to be enjoying it as much as I do.

The one recipe I make more than any other, is for Smothered Pork Chops.  It was the first thing I ever cooked out of this book, and it's one I tend to go back to a handful of times throughout the year.  I've made it so many times, I don't need to look at the recipe anymore.  The gravy with this is so damn good, rich and creamy, the kind of gravy that sticks to your ribs.  I've used it on mashed potatoes, and love to wipe my plate with a piece of toast, just to make sure I get it all.  I do add more mushrooms than the recipe calls for, and I use regular bacon, over turkey bacon.

I'm not a huge dessert person, never have been, never will be, but I'm a sucker for baked pears.  Hell give me a poached pear, and I'm just as happy.  Her version has them wrapped in a layer of pie dough, and stuffed with sugar, cinnamon, raisins, and nuts.  She calls them Pear Dumplings, and just typing this is making my mouth water.  It's been a while since I've made this one, but I'm thinking that will have to be rectified as soon as possible.  She recommends the same preparation for sweet or tart apples, especially Jazz apples, but I haven't tried that yet.  I've played around with using a mixture of brown and regular sugar, instead of just the granulated, and I find my palette tends to enjoy that flavor a bit more.

So now that I've got your taste buds jumping, I'm going to leave you with one of my favorite Patti LaBelle songs.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Favorite Fictional Character --- Heckle & Jeckle

There are certain characters, dreamed up in bygone eras, that I really don't think would find an audience today.  Some of them are products of their times, created to fit into an era's zeitgeist.  They could be too naive, cute, or innocent to find an audience in today's jaded marketplace.  Or they could play to a stereotype that would not be tolerated in today's world.  Others, and I'm thinking of the characters I'm featuring today when I say this, just may be too abrasive to find refuge in the living rooms of 2016.  I could be wrong, maybe these guys could find an audience, but I'm thinking their shtick would have to be tweaked a bit, maybe a lot.  But even their abrasiveness may find a home. I look at some of what's on TV these days, including cartoons, and I'm amazed by the crassness of it all.  Toilet humor runs amok, and intelligence is downplayed.  If I were a kid of today, I would be watching a whole lot of vintage cartoons, not the drivel being produced now.  When all is said and done, I'm thinking Heckle & Jeckle may be a tad bit too mean spirited enough for today's youth, especially with the way bullying seems to be such a huge issue.  Despite it all, I still love them.  It's impossible to watch a cartoon of theirs, without cracking up.

For those of you who don't know Heckle & Jeckle, it's the two magpies in the picture above.  If you go by their accents, one is English, the other is from New York.  Other than that, I'm not really sure anyone could really tell them apart.  They are both temperamental, brash, antagonistic, sarcastic, and at times, a wee bit mean spirited.  They rarely ever aren't the instigators of their little capers, and often times go on the offensive, long before their "foe" knows what's going on.  They both can be devious in their actions, but that's seems to be Jeckle's forte, more than Heckle.  They are grifters and freeloaders, and damn proud of it.  They look out for themselves, and aren't overly concerned about the damage they inflict. 

Even with all those negative things I just said about them, they are the best of friends and have the other's  back, no matter what.  As with all partnerships, they have their sniping moments, but's it's almost impossible to not see the true friendship and camaraderie between the two of them.  They are loyal to each other, like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and if they were real people, they probably would have met a similar fate.  And did I mention, they are frickin hilarious?  Unless I'm gagged, it would be impossible for me to not laugh out loud when I watch them.  I adore them, and if that makes me a mean person, I can live with it.  At least I'm a mean person with a wicked sense of humor. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Caitlin Ross and the Commute from Hell by Brian Olsen

Synopsis From Publisher:

Caitlin Ross is on track to be the action star she's always wanted to be.  She's go the lead in a new play at a downtown theater, she's got a handsome, successful boyfriend, and she's picked up some killer new martial arts skills.  But after a missing teen reappears outside her theater, disfigured and violent, Caitlin finds that there's more to being a hero than just throwing punches.  When mysterious portals start hurling her friends around New York City and into danger, Caitlin will have to make the ultimate sacrifice to keep her loved ones safe.  If she survives long enough to discover the truth behind their teleporting tormentors, can Caitlin avoid the monstrous fate awaiting her in the theater's basement?

Where Alan Lennox and the Temp Job of Doom, opened with a scene direct from a slasher movie, Caitlin Ross and the Commute from Hell, opens with a scene direct from the type of  science fiction horror movie that gave me nightmares as a kid.  I saw The Fly once as a kid, and I have yet to be able to sit down and watch it since.  Because of that movie, we all know what happens to someone when their body is transported from one container, into another container that contains another live body.  So you can imagine what happened to the kid mentioned in the synopsis, when the evil scientist kidnapped him, put him in a transporter type pod, and tried to transport him to another location, using a dog as the other test subject.  Here's the rub, in order to transport someone, you have to break them apart at the atomic level.  In order to recreate them, you have to have some sort of building blocks in place, otherwise the body can't be reconstructed.  It's a gruesome and bloody process, and the horrors of it are on full display, more than once.

There is a lot going on in this book, and once again the action is split between the four roommates.  They have tried to move on from the nightmares created by the artificial intelligence, Amysyn, that tried to kill them in the previous book.  They thought they had beaten her, but humans being the fallible creations that we are, a character you badly want to be a good guy, ends up resurrecting a part of it, in order to try and defeat other intelligences as they develop in the future.  He has his heart in the right place, but the actions he takes, in conjunction with the scientists he partnered with, do so much more harm than good.  One is an egomaniac, willing to sacrifice anyone in order to reach his goals.  The other, is a grieving mother who just wants her daughter back, a daughter who died as a result of her research.  Both of them are bat shit crazy, and blood thirsty in their attempts.  As a reader, you don't realize that he is responsible for all the pain and death that is inflicted in this book, and there is a lot of both, until the end.  And even then, you still want to like him.  The roommates still want to like him, and in many cases, they find that they can forgive him, if not totally trust him.

Between the wormholes opening up, hurtling subway cars to the ground, and old men into shark infested water, to the horrific consequences of the transportation machines, there is a ton of science run amok in this book.  Sometimes the "scientific" aspects of the book felt heavy at times, but the author, doesn't bog the action down with overly elaborate explanations or descriptions.  And while I know this is all science fiction, it fits so well into the world the author created, that none of it felt too far out there.

There are also a lot of new characters introduced, and others that are more fully developed in their second outing.  Certain side characters are turned into heroes, and characters you thought may stick around, end up being cowards, or dying in ways I wouldn't wish on those I dislike the most.  None of them are superfluous, as they all seem to enhance the action, rather than take away from it.

Overall this was a fast paced, humorously bloody and violent romp through New York City.  It was a terrific second book to the series, and it keeps strengthening the four roommates as individuals, and as a team.  I can't wait to read the third and fourth books now.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Broken Hours by Jacqueline Baker

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

In the cold spring of 1936, Arthor Crandle, down on his luck and desperate for work, accepts a position in Providence, Rhode Island, as a live-in secretary/assistant for an unnamed shut-it. 

He arrives at the gloomy colonial-style house to discover that his strange employer is an author of disturbing, bizarre fiction.  Health issues have confined him to his bedroom, where he is never to be disturbed.  But the writer, who Crandle knows only as "Ech-Pi," refuses to meet him, communicating only by letters left on a table outside his room.  Soon the home reveals other unnerving peculiarities.  There is an ominous presence Crandle feels on the main stairwell.  Light shines out underneath the door of the writer's room but is invisible from the street.  It becomes increasingly clear there is something not fight about the house or its occupant.

Haunting visions of a young girl in a white nightgown wandering the walled-in garden behind the house motivate Crandle to investigate the circumstance of his employer's dark family history.  Meanwhile the unsettling aura of the house pulls him into a world increasingly cut off from reality, into black depths, where an unspeakable secret lies waiting. 

I haven't read a lot of H.P.  Lovecraft's writing, nor do I really know much about his personal life, so when I stumbled upon this book in the store, and was captivated by the cover, I knew I had to give it a shot.  Once I got it home, it stayed on my bedside table for a few days, but once I picked it up, I was lost in a world of Gothic madness and fear.

If you have seen the movies Thr3e or Dream House, you will quickly catch on to what's going on, and you will definitely get a good understanding for the title of this book.  If you haven't seen those movies, I'm not going to spoil the book, or the movies for that matter, by explaining what they all have in common.  Just know this, even though I was able to figure out the twist of this book about half way through, it didn't take away from my enjoyment of it, nor did it keep me from buying into the story of Arthor Crandle and his employer.  The clues are there for you to pick up on.  As long as you are paying attention to the side characters, and how they interact with Arthor as he encounters them, you won't stray too far into the woods.

This is one of those books where the atmosphere is everything.  This is a book that you feel enveloped in from the moment you first crack it open.  It's heavy and oppressive.  You feel like you are drowning underneath a layer of unease and tension.  From the moment Arthor appears on the page, you know he is not going to have a an easy time of it, and that he is hiding from his life  The tension and unease all stem from him, like a miasmatic fog wafting over a fetid swamp, you know he is the source of it all.

Of course, like any good Gothic story, the house plays a big role in the tone of the book.  It's falling apart, full of memories and ghosts, and presents the perfect backdrop for Arthor and his secrets.  It's a confusing labyrinth of secretes and misdirection, all built around the goal of playing games with Arthor's, and the reader's, mind.  It's hard to put a finger on what's real, and what's not.  But, as long as you follow the trail of bread crumbs the author leaves behind, I'm sure you will be able to figure it out for yourself.  If you can't, I'm sure Arthor will help you feel at home.