Monday, May 30, 2016

Happy Memorial Day

In Loving Memory Of All Those Who Paid The Ultimate Price For Our Freedom.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Frog by Mary Calmes

Synopsis From Publisher:

Weber Yates's dreams of stardom are about to be reduced to a ranch hand's job in Texas, and his one relationship is with a guy so far out of his league he might as well be on the moon.  Or at least in San Francisco, where Weber stops to see him one last time before settling down to the humble, lonely life he figures a frog like him has coming. 

Cyrus Benning is a successful neurosurgeon, so details are never lost on him.  He spotted the prince in a broken-down bull rider's clothing from day one.  But watching Weber walk out on him keeps getting harder, and he's not sure how much more his heart can take.  Now Cyrus has one last chance to prove to Weber that it's not Weber's job that makes him Cyrus's perfect man, it's Weber himself.   With the help of his sisters' newly broken family, eh's ready to show Weber that the home the man' been searching for has always been right there, with him.  Cyrus might have laid down an ultimatum once, but now it's turned into a vow - he's never going to let Weber out of his life again. 

Every once in a while, you come across a book that makes you feel as if you are wrapped in a warm cozy sweater on a harsh winter day, lounging on a couch as you drink hot cocoa, safe and secure from the storm raging outside.  They are books filled with characters that make you feel right at home, surrounded by your nearest and dearest, enveloped by the love that only they can give you.  They are the books you escape into when you need to pretend the outside world no longer exists, that the fantasy playing out on the page is more real than what's outside your front door.  From the first time I read Frog by Mary Calmes, I knew that it would become one of those books for me.  After a half dozen or so readings, it just keeps getting better.

A large part of my love for this book revolves around the way the author writes.  It's in the way she structures her scenes, builds the world her characters inhabit, and in the loving way she brings her characters to life.  This is an author, and I've read quite a few of her books by now, that loves her characters as much as the reader does.  It shows in their personalities and in the way they interact with each other.  It shows in the way they think for themselves, and in the growth they develop.  They are fully formed, four dimensional characters.  They are characters that have a past, present, and future.  They are people that you not only want to be around, but they are men that you want to be.

Weber and Cyrus are perfect examples of what I'm talking about.  Weber is about as perfect of a man as I've come across in all the fiction that I have read.  He is kind, considerate, fearless, loving, gentle, caring, affectionate, comfortable in his own skin, and kids & animals adore him.  He should come across as a stock character, barely discernible from every other romantic lead out there, but he doesn't.  He shines instead.  He is his own unique self, struggling to accept the idea that the man everyone else sees, is not the man he thinks he is.  Weber is that perfect man, who has no clue of his worth to those around him.  He is a man who lost both parents at en early age, then lost the brother who raised him to a war nobody should have been fighting.  He is a man who sees himself in one light, and has come to peace with his version of reality, but doesn't seem to fathom that he is so much more than that.  Through the course of this book, and I leave the details on the how out, he comes to accept that not only is he worthy of loving someone, of building a life with someone, but that he is worthy of that love and that life.

Cyrus is pretty damn perfect too, except that man that Weber knows, is not the man that anyone else seems to know.  Cyrus is that guy who has been responsible his whole life, serious at work and at home.  It's only with Weber that Cyrus really seems to embrace all that life has to offer, and not just the success granted by working hard playing smart.  Where with everyone else, including his family, he's loving but distant, with Weber he has no walls, he is the man he is supposed to be, not the man he is expected to be.  What both men need to accept, and they do by the end, is that regardless of who they think they are, they are so much more than that.  They both learn to see themselves the way others do, and by embracing that reality, they are able to move forward together.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Lincoln in the World: The Making of a Statesman and the Dawn of American Power by Kevin Peraino

Part Of The Synopsis From Publisher:

This is the story of one of the most breathtaking feats in the annals of American foreign policy—performed by one of the most unlikely figures. Abraham Lincoln is not often remembered as a great foreign-policy president. He had never traveled overseas and spoke no foreign languages. And yet, during the Civil War, Lincoln and his team skillfully managed to stare down the Continent’s great powers—deftly avoiding European intervention on the side of the Confederacy. In the process, the United States emerged as a world power in its own right. 

Engaging, insightful, and highly original, Lincoln in the World is a tale set at the intersection of personal character and national power. The narrative focuses tightly on five distinct, intensely human conflicts that helped define Lincoln’s approach to foreign affairs—from his debate, as a young congressman, with his law partner over the conduct of the Mexican War, to his deadlock with Napoleon III over the French occupation of Mexico. Bursting with colorful characters like Lincoln’s bowie-knife-wielding minister to Russia, Cassius Marcellus Clay; the cunning French empress, Eugénie; and the hapless Mexican monarch Maximilian—Lincoln in the World draws a finely wrought portrait of a president and his team at the dawn of American power. 

Somehow in all the reading I've done on American Presidents, I've managed to skip over President Lincoln,  I've never read anything about him, including one of President Obama's favorite books, Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin.  I've read more about former First Ladies, than I've read about our 16th president.   I'm glad that with reading Lincoln in the World, that glaring oversight has been taken care of.

President Lincoln's foreign policy tends to be overshadowed by domestic policy in most school history books, which is understandable given the plethora of issue that gave rise to the Civil War. To be quite frank, I can't remember a thing from either high school or college on the subject., and that's assuming they even taught us anything about it, and that's highly doubtful. With Lincoln in the World, I was given a chance to not only learn the history of what took place during his administration, but it's given me some insight into some of the foreign policy issues that are still facing us today.

This could have been a dry, boring book, spouting off dates and names.  Instead, while it was meticulously researched and presented, it was engaging.  The author took a ton of information, and was able to not only condense it, but explain it in such a way that made me feel like Goldilocks.  Nothing was over my head, nothing was being dumbed-down to make me understand the implications of what I was reading, it was just right.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books, for this review.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Favorite Fictional Character --- Orko

In the world of long gone, Saturday morning cartoons, the sidekick reigned supreme.  Off the top of my head, I can think of 20 to 30 that served alternately as comic relief, and as their show's conscious.  They could quickly become the heart and soul of show, and at times, they overshadowed the main characters.  Some of them have gone on to be remembered with fondness, and other with derision, if they are even remembered at all.  Then there are the ones who have become cultural icons, instantly recognized by the masses.  They can be found merchandised to the hilt, in other works of fiction, and as a stand in for some sort of cultural ideal.  In the world of the cartoon sidekick, one of my favorites of all time comes from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, a cartoon that existed to solely sell toys.  Oddly, Orko, the hero of this post, was the only character who started off on the show, before ending up as a toy.

Orko is one of those characters that has continuously bridged the line between annoying and heroic.  On one hand, the writers, when they couldn't think of any other way to get the action started, would have Orko screw something up, and the rest of the show would be him, and others trying to fix the problem.   The rest of the time, he was the one would somehow save the day, rescuing He-Man and the other Masters out of some predicament they found themselves in.  It was as if they could never really get a real handle on who Orko was, or at the least, couldn't figure out the way to use him. 

It's that bizarre dichotomy of character, that has endeared him to millions of us that grew up with him on our TV screens. He's so earnest, so eager to do the right thing, you can't help but find his bumbling charming, and forgivable.  He ended up on Eternia by accident, with no way of getting home.  Where many of us would have hunkered down, and wallowed in self pity for a while, he decided to make the best of the situation, even though he found himself at a disadvantage in his new home.  On his home planet, he was a powerful wizard, on Eternia, who has different natural rules, that magic doesn't work as well as it should. But he never gives up, he never feels sorry for himself, at least not for too long, and he's always willing to give all of himself when it's asked of him.  If you think about it, he is the whole reason He-Man even exists.  If he hadn't saved a young Adam in the swamp, Skeletor would have conquered Eternia long ago.  And if you take that logic to it's next level, that means Orko is in fact the hero of the show, not He-Man.

They tried to reboot the show, and the characters in the early 2000s, but it never recaptured the heart of the original.  Part of that was due to the changes they made in the characters personalities, including in Orko's, and part of it was simply bad writing and even worse animation.  Orko, at least for me is a cultural icon that can not be reproduced.  While I wish they would have done a better job of defining who he was as a whole character, not just good for a laugh or two, Orko is the one who has stuck with me all these years later.  Now I just need to see if I can find his action figure one of these days.  Besides, how can you not love a guy who is responsible for bringing Christmas to Eternia.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Ghost of a Smile by Simon R. Green

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Meet the operatives of the Carnacki Institute - JC Chance: the team leader, brave, charming, and almost unbearably arrogant; Melody Chambers: the science geek who keeps the antisupernatural equipment running; and Happy Jack Palmer: the terminally gloomy telepath.  Their mission: Do Something About Ghosts.  Lay them to rest, send them packing, or just kick their nasty ectoplasmic arses...

A distress call was received from the private research centre of one of the biggest drug companies in the world.  The police went in - and never came out.  A national security team stormed the place.  No-ones's heard anything further from them, either.

Now it's in the hands of the Carnacki Institute's rising stars. They have the wrong equipment. They have no idea what awaits.  And they have the clock ticking in the background.  But they also have a secret weapon; JC's very lovely - and very dead - girlfriend...

Part of the reason I love Simon R. Green's book so much, are the names he gives to his creations. Whether they are the good guys, or bad, they all just have cool names.  It can be a name that is very specific to the type of person they are; personality, abilities, that sort of thing. They can be bad-ass names, that come straight from a dark and twisted comic book.  Or they can be a simple definition of what the character is, as in the case of the main, terrifying villain in Ghost of a Smile, The Flesh Udying.

I've never really thought about it, but names truly are a powerful thing.  Yeah, we have all read a book, or watched a movie, where the bad guy is vanquished by the hero learning the true name of their foe.  If a demon is involved, the name hunt is going to come up, it's a sure thing.  Hell, just ask Superman and Mr. Mxyzptlk, names are important.

But that's not the importance I'm placing on names in these books.  After reading numerous Simon R. Green's books, nine of them now, I've learned, anew, how powerful names truly are. Sure, the whole vanquishing through uttering a name cliche has come up in his books, but it's more in the way he uses names that I've become intrigued by.  Since I don't know the author, I'm not going to say this as a definite statement, but I'm pretty positive that he puts some thought in to the names, and that they aren't picked out of a hat.   Each name he picks seems to have a very specific function.  And I appreciate that.  These are names that give me insight into the characters's personality.  They help me understand the character's thought processes, and their motivations.

I've always appreciated the author's style and humor in his writing.  He blends satire, horror, fantasy, and science fiction, just about better than anybody I've ever come across.  Ghost of a Smile, the second book in the Ghost Finders series, is a continuation of my love affair with his work, and it's the book that finally got me to look at the naming of his characters, and the insights those names give into what's going on on the page.  It's a madcap ride through a locked building, think a traditional haunted house story set in an office building, and involving a lot more than a ghost or two. Think more on the primal level, and you may get an idea of what our ghost finders are facing.  If you think of the name he gave his main monster in this one, The Undying Flesh, you get an even better idea of what it is they faced in that building.  Like they always say, names have power, and Simon R. Green is genius at utilizing that power.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Worlds Elsewhere: Journeys Around Shakespeare's Globe by Andrew Dickson

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

Ranging ambitiously across four continents and four hundred years, Worlds Elsewhere is an eye-opening account of how Shakespeare went global.  Seizing inspiration from the playwright's own fascination with travel, foreignness, and distant worlds - worlds Shakespeare never himself explored - Andrew Dickson takes us on an extraordinary journey:  from Hamlet performed by English actors tramping through the Baltic states in the early sixteen hundreds to the skyscrapers of twenty-first-century Beijing and Shanghai, where "Shashibiya" survived Mao's Cultural Revolution to become a revered Chinese author. 

En route, Dickson traces Nazi Germany's strange love affair with, and attempted nationalization of, the Bard, and delves deep into their history of Bollywood, where Shakespearian stories helped give birth to Indian cinema.  In Johannesburg, we discover how Shakespeare was enlisted in the fight to end apartheid.  In nineteenth-century California, we encounter shoestring performances of Richard III and Othello in the dusty mining camps and saloon bars of the Gold Rush. 

No other writer's work has been performed, translated, adapted, and altered in such a remarkable variety of cultures and languages.  Both a cultural history and a literary travelogue, Worlds Elsewhere is an attempt to understand how Shakespeare has become the international phenomenon he is - and why. 

I'm going to put this out there before we even get started, I'm not a huge Shakespeare fan. It's not that I don't like him, but I can't say I would ever go out of my way to read one of his plays.  In college, I played Philostrate in a production of A Midsummer's Night Dream, set in feudal Japan.  I've enjoyed a few movie versions of Much Ado About Nothing, and I love the movie version of Titus Andronicus that I've seen.  And outside of mandatory reading in high school and college, that's the extent of my dabbling with Shakespeare  So for you die hard fans, I'm sorry that I'm not in love with the Bard, at least not as much as you are.

That lack of exposure to Shakespeare, is why I agreed to review this book.  I was intrigued by the concept; the author traveling the globe, learning how particular cultures absorbed and interpreted his works for their own.  For the most part, I really enjoyed the journey that Andrew Dickson took me on.  I do wish he would have been able to visit a few other countries, but I get that finances dictate how much global traveling you can really do.  And while there were moments that felt bogged down in detailed minutiae, I appreciated the work he put into the book, and his love for the subject shines through on every page.

After finishing the Worlds Elsewhere, while I can't say that my interest in Shakespeare's work has been increased, I will admit to having a little more respect for him, and the influence he has had on a global scale.  I don't think I truly had an appreciate, or understanding, of how popular he was across the globe, and how adaptable his works are to other cultures, at least not on the level I was exposed to in this book.  For that alone, for gaining a new appreciate for an author who is globally loved, I'm grateful for reading this book.

I would like to thank the publisher, Henry Holt, for providing a copy of Worlds Elsewhere, in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Favorite Fictional Character --- Bookworm

Sidekicks are a tried and true archetype in the fictional world.  They don't always stand out, nor are they all that noticeable at times, but they all serve the same function.  They may perform that function in different ways, but they are all there to make their partner more relatable to the audience.  They do it through humor most of the time, but they can also act as storytellers and interpreters for their partners.  In other ways, and when they are utilized at their weakest level, they are simply there as a prop, something for their stronger counterpart to play off of.  That is the worst kind of sidekick, and one that a reader/viewer will never pay attention to, which is a waste of potential.  It robs the character of being memorable, and it robs the audience of a character they could care about.

On character that hovers around the line between being a great sidekick, and an almost overlooked one, is Bookworm from a few Merry Melodies cartoons.  He is the occasional sidekick for Sniffles, another character I absolutely adore, and though he never utters a word, he's frickin adorable.  We first meet him in Sniffles and the Bookworm from 1939, as they wind their way through various adventures in a closed bookshop, as book characters come to live.  Where Sniffles is a talkative little guy, Bookworm uses facial expressions and hand gestures, pantomime, to get his point across.  He is expressive and charming, and I wanted nothing more to hang out with the two of them as a kid.

Sadly, he was only used a handful of times, but he was the right anchor for Sniffles.  He would be scared, if Sniffles needed to be brave.  He would be cautious, if Sniffles needed to think things through a bit more.  Whatever Sniffles needed to be, Bookworm was the right catalyst for him.  Between the two of them, Bookworm is probably the one who sticks in the minds of most people, at least those reading this blog, because he was probably the more relatable to our lives.  He was a quite sort of guy, happier when he could bury his head in a book to read adventures, rather than living them himself.  At the same time, he was a true friend for Sniffles, never letting him face the world alone, ready to face his fears, if that's what was asked of him. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Alan Lennox and the Temp Job of Doom by Brian Olsen

Synopsis From Publisher:

Alan Lennox has been assigned yet another soul-crushing temp job, keeping him from his first loves - drinking, playing video games, and looking for a boyfriend.  But Alan's new job proves to be anything but boring when his co-workers start turning up dead.  The mysterious megacorporation Amalgamated Synergy has taken a deadly interest in Alan and his three roommates, and the hapless quartet are woefully unequipped to deal with the psychotic secretaries, murderous middle managers, and villainous vice-presidents hunting them down.  Their investigation leads them deep into Amalgamated Synergy's headquarters, but can Alan and his friends stay alive long enough to discover who - or what - waits for them on the top floor?

Picking a book, totally on a whim, can have it's drawbacks.  Often times, especially if it's a book you haven't really heard of before, a synopsis can sound promising, but the book itself leaves you cold.  You end up kicking yourself in the ass for even giving it a try, and swear with your last breath, you will never be so reckless is choosing your next read.

Then there are those rare times that the whim pays off, and pays off in spades.  I'm not even sure how I ended up spotting Alan Lennox and the Temp Job of Doom, but it's not something I would normally give a second glance to.  I've had mixed results with urban fantasy, so I tend to stay clear of it, unless it's series or author I'm already familiar with.  There was something about this cover, and yes, I'm going to blame the cover, that just grabbed me.  It also helps that the book was free at the time, so I figured what the hell, it won't be like I'm out any money.  So I downloaded the book, started to read, and didn't put it down until I flicked past the last page.

The book opens with a classic horror scene.  A single, lonely individual, stuck at work in her Tokyo office building, long past the time when her coworkers have left for the day, is staring at her computer screen.  Naturally she's not working, rather playing a game that simulates working at an office job.  What's better than being an office drone, than playing a game as an office drone?  When she finally shuts off the computer, ready to go home, she is startled to see the reflection of her manager in the dark screen.  Next thing she knows, she is being chased through the building by her murderous boss with a baseball bat, and I'm pretty sure you can figure out the rest.  From Tokyo, the scene shifts to New York City, where the rest of the action takes place.

Alan, the hero of this book, has just stormed out of another boring temp job, and insists on meeting his roommates for a drink at their favorite lesbian bar.  This scene sets up the group dynamic, though we have already met them separately.  Dakota Bell is the ambitious girl, plugging away at her first job out of college, working for Amalgamated Synergy.  She's been there for months, but has never been given a task to do.  Mark Park is a personal trainer, more concerned with picking up women and setting up Alan with a hot client, than he is anything else.  By the way, Amalgamated Synergy is at work in his life too.  The gym he works at is owned by them, the hot chick he picks up is a VP for the company, and the client he sets Alan up with, is lawyer involved in a lawsuit on behalf of a certain game developer.  You know, the game the office drone in Tokyo was playing, right before her brains were bashed in, the game every single character in this book is playing.  Then there is Caitlin Ross, the struggling actress, hellbent on finding the next big gig.  She gets suckered into working for Amalgamated too, as a voice actress.  No reason is given, the director of the shoot has not clue why they are doing it, neither does the corporate exec who shows up to supervise.  And that's sets the scene, though I'm leaving a whole bunch of details out.

What follows is a hilariously gruesome, workplace killing spree.  It takes a satirical look at the modern workplace, poking fun at the size of global corporations, and the hive like mentality they instill in their employees.  Alan Lennox and the Temp Job of Doom, also plays with the precepts of horror, fantasy, and science fiction.  It blends the genres together, breaking all the rules, and has a ton of fun at the same time.  In that regard, it reminds me of Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix, poking fun at not only modern society, but the genre(s) the book is being written in.

I'm hoping the remaining three books of the series, each one features a roommate as the main character, are half as good as this one.  From what I can tell, though the nightmarish situations change, each book will find the roommates fighting for their lives, surrounded by satire and gore.  I can't wait to dive into them.  This was definitely a whim that paid off.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Favorite Fictional Character --- Beaker

Do you ever like something, without really knowing why?  It could be a movie that you can't stop laughing at, but everyone around just wants you to shut up.  It could be a heinously ugly sweater you picked up from a thrift store, but for whatever reason you couldn't leave it behind.  Or maybe it's a really bad rock song from the 1970s, that brings a smile to your face, not matter how long it's been since you've heard it.  Don't get me wrong, I'm sure if you really stopped yourself, and truly thought about it, you would be able to figure where the fascination comes from.  Most of our likes are tied to memory in some way, whether we always make that conscious connection.  Maybe that sweater reminded you of a favorite grandparent, and the song brings up an image of your first crush. No matter what, we like something for a reason, sometimes we just have to stop and figure out why.

For those of you who have no idea of who this guy is, let me introduce you.  Beaker is the unfortunate lab assistant to Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, the resident scientist on The Muppet Show.  When I say unfortunate, I really mean that word in a more cataclysmic way.  I don't think he poor guy has not had something bad happen to him.  If an accident can happen in a lab, it's been done to him.  I think at one point in time, he was even eaten.  I don't know why he stayed around, year after year.  If I had been in his shoes, forced to participate in every wacky experiment Dr. Honeydew came up with, I would have run for the hills long ago. 

I've been contemplating doing a post on this guy for a while now, but have always put it off.  I've always been a huge fan of Beaker, but I could never truly figure out why, at least not enough to truly put down in words.  I know I've filled you guys in on a lot of aspects of my childhood, and I'm betting you don't think there were a lot of happy times, at least not judging by what I've been posting lately  I promise you, there were.  More often than not, I was a happy kid, a socially awkward one, but happy nonetheless.  And when I think about Beaker, it's those times of watching The Muppet Show with my mom and brother that I think about.  It's the memories of uncontrollable laughter, as poor Beaker is submitted to one mishap after another.  It's the auditory experience of hearing a character communicate in nothing but meeps, and still be able to make some sort of sense, at least to a kid  Beaker, and many character like him, remind me of the good points in my childhood, which only helps to put the bad in perspective.  So, while he may not have had a significant impact on my life, or moved me in a profound way, I do know why I like him.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Children's Home by Charles Lambert

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

In a sprawling estate, willfully secluded, lives Morgan Fletcher, the disfigured heir to a fortune of mysterious origins.  Morgan spends his days in quiet study, avoiding his reflection in mirrors and the lake at the end of his gardens.  One day, two children, Moira and David, appear.  Morgan takes them in, giving them free reign of the mansion he shares with this housekeeper, Engel.  Then more children begin to show up. 

Dr. Crane, the town physician and Morgan's lone tether to the outside world, is as taken with the children as Morgan is, and beings to spend more time in Morgan's library.  But the children behave strangely.  They show a prescient understand of Morgan's past, and their bizarre discoveries int he mansion's attics grow increasingly disturbing.  Every day the children disappear into the hidden rooms of the estate, and perhaps, into the hidden corners of Morgan's mind.

Every once in a while I come across a book that is almost impossible to review, not because it's horribly written or boring to read, but because it defies description.  The Children's Home is one of those books that no genre label is really going to fit.  There are elements of horror, fairy tale, fantasy, and science fiction.  Throw in generous helpings of the Gothic and psychological, and you may be able to grasp the sort of book this is.  I'm going to assume, if you were to look for this in your neighborhood bookstore, it would be shelved under the generic Fiction label.  At least that's where I hope you find it after you read this review, and take a car trip to get your own copy.

My reaction to this one, is as close to my reaction to Gillespie and I by Jane Harris, as I've had since then.  I'm gong to simply tell you guys to read this book, pray that you do, and give a big "I told you so", once you do it.  But if I'm expecting you guys to just do what I say, maybe I should try to get across why I loved this one as much as I did.

In Morgan, we are given a narrator who is both deeply flawed, and extremely likable. Morgan is one of those characters that I could easily see myself spending time with, holed up in his mansion, floating from conversation to conversation.  He has a painful family past, and no true familial relationships to ground him.  He is a passive participant in life, though I'm not always sure of that, as glimpses of a "real" Morgan do appear from time to time.  At first, he lives alone, except for some nameless staff, on this massive estate, closed off from the outside world.  In a very Shirley Jackson style way, we are given to know that maybe this is for the best, and that outside those walls, society is falling apart and isn't a place anyone in their right mind would want to be.  His household grows with the inclusion of his housekeeper Engel, who is definitely not all she is purporting to be.  And then the children start to arrive.  And that's when the Shirley Jackson aspects of this book, really start to kick in.

As the reader, you know, without a shadow of a doubt, that something is definitely off about the whole thing.  The children range in age from newborn to early teens, and they just show up.  Some appear on the doorstep, others emerge from the lake, and some just appear out of thin air. You are really never sure, including after the bizarre ending, who these kids are, or where they are coming from.  Are they the ghosts of kids sacrificed for the family fortune? Are they time travelers from the past and future, trying to prevent an even more heinous outcome? Are they from another reality all together, trying to save some aspects of this one?  Regardless of who they are, or where they come from, the bigger question is why are they there.  After the ending at the factory, it's safe to say we know the answer to that, but I'm not totally convinced.  There is an almost dreamlike quality to the scene, I'm not sure if Morgan, Dr. Crane, or I as a reader, can truly trust everything that happened.

With any good Gothic story, there needs to be an element of romance, and we have that with Morgan and Dr. Crane.  The author does a terrific job of navigating their relationship; keeping it on the purely platonic level, but allowing a reader to infer what is really going on between them.  As with the rest of this book, their relationship is open to interpretation.  I can almost bet, 50 of my friends could read this one, and not pick up anything of a romantic nature between the two characters, but it's all I noticed when they were together.  Maybe it's because, after all he's been through, and after the children leave, I want Morgan to have a solid future.  It doesn't have to be a blissfully happy life, but I need for him to be on solid ground, sure of his place and of those in his life.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Favorite Fictional Character --- Aloysius Snuffleupagus

Looking back on my childhood, you would think it would have been chock-full of imaginary friends.  Between the constant moving, and the lack of what most adults would call stability, I don't think anyone would have blamed me if I had a handful, or two, of made up playmates.  But looking back on it, I'm almost positive I didn't have a single one, at least not one I remember now.  If I did have one, and now can't remember them, I would like to take this time and apologize.  It would be a crappy, and an almost unforgivable, thing to do on my part.

No matter what, at least I wasn't in Big Bird's overly large shoes.  Who would want to have a real friend, only to be accused of having an imaginary friend instead?  It was years before any of the adults would start to believe that Big Bird's friend, Mr. Snuffleupagus, Snuffy for short, was a real friend.  I can't begin to imagine the frustration that both of them must have felt at times.

For those of you who don't know who Snuffy is, that's him above.  He rather looks like a woolly mammoth, sans tusks and ears, but he's not.  Snuffleupagus is not only his last name, but the name of his species as well. As a kid who loved Sesame Street, and what kid didn't, Snuffy was always one of the characters I looked forward to the most.  I knew that if he was on the screen, pre 1985, Big Bird was going to be getting in trouble pretty soon.  Snuffy, I think because of his size, always seemed to be getting into situations, and somehow those situations always fell back on Big Bird.  The adults never seemed to believe Big Bird, and though he was using his imaginary friend as a scapegoat.  It actually got pretty comical for a while, watching Snuffy disappear, seconds before the adults arrived on site.  Once the adults finally saw him, he was welcomed to Sesame Street, and became a regular denizen of the place.

I don't think the mischief the two of them found themselves in was my only draw to Snuffy, I think it was his size as well.   Despite his size, he's such a gentle soul.  Even now, I can imagine myself curling up against him for a nap, feeling safe and secure.  He looks like the best pillow imaginable, and to have a best friend as the perfect cuddler, would be perfection.  It's hard not to smile when I see a picture of him, or hear him say "Ohh, dear."  Snuffy is the perfect friend, imaginary or not. 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Final Admission by Sue Brown

Synopsis From Publisher:

When Ethan Williams lands a job at Bingwell, Brock and Bacon, he realizes his coworkers aren't exaggerating about James Trenchard.  He really is a dick.  But after Ethan is forced to work closely with James, he realizes there's more to the lawyer than meets the eye. 

Vibrant Ethan is a desperate reason to live again as James endures silent guilt and abuse from his husband after an accident.  He calls Ethan for help after a beating, and stolen moments soon become the norm, but they can't hide forever. 

Ethan's coworkers think he got his promotion because James is sweet on him, James is still being beaten despite his family's concern, and the situation is swiftly becoming intolerable.  Ethan and James need to find a way out of the cycle that's hurting them both before their brand new loves suffers a well. 

I'll be the first to admit, that when I first started reading m/m romance novels a few years ago, I wasn't expecting much from them.  I had hoped I would be entertained by the stories, and at the least, be able to get lost in the romance unfolding on the page.  I wasn't even all that concerned about the hotness of the sex scenes, as most of the time, I tend to just skim through them.  I just wanted a few hours of mindless entertainment, and in a few cases, that's what I've gotten.  More often than not though, I have discovered some of the best written fiction out there, and it's not mindless.  So much of it explores themes I wasn't expecting in romance; abuse, drug addiction, mental illness, and a myriad of other subjects.  My eyes were first opened to what this genre can be when I first read The Tin Box by Kim Fielding.  As I've discovered additional authors, I've run across books that keeps opening my eyes, ones of those is Final Admission by Sue Brown

This isn't my first go around with this book, I've actually read it twice before, but because of some of the themes it explores, I was never ready to review it.  Truthfully, I'm still not sure my brain is fully on board, so I'm not totally sure if this is really going to be a review, as much as a rambling narrative of what this book made me think about, and how I reacted to it.  So I apologize if this post goes off on too many tangents, or ends up being incoherent.

Many of you guys know that I grew up in a rather abusive home.  I've hinted at it in different reviews and in explanations for different Favorite Fictional Character posts.  I've even let you guys in on the ongoing, internal conversation I have with myself as I try to figure out a way to let go of the pain of not only what my father did, but in the way I lost him.  Physically abusive relationships have always been a trigger for me in my reading, and viewing for that matter.  What I've never let you guys in on, is that for a brief moment in time, I found myself in an abusive relationship as well.

Much like James in Final Admission, I'm not a small guy, nor am I a pushover.  I'm pretty determined in what I want, and normally have no issue standing up for myself, at least that's the adult version of who I am.  Between 2000 and 2002, I was dating and living with a guy, that while I was never truly in love with him, I was never truly unhappy either.  He was actually a lot of fun when we first started dating, but once we moved in together it changed. He would disappear for hours at time, sometimes until 5 or 6 in the morning.  It was always, he was with a cousin, or in the prayer chapel at church, and I was dumb for not believing him.  Needless to say, after almost a year of that, I went out with friends, and met a hot guy in the Air Force.  Stupidly, I went home with him.  In my mind, I was ending the relationship I was in, and I was ready for it.

When I got home that morning, I was met with a fist.  Growing up in the home I was in, I always told myself I would never let that happen to me, but when you are confronted with it yourself, it's a different story altogether.  This was not the first time I had a guy hit, or try and choke me, but that first time, I didn't feel as if I deserved it, so I got rid of him quick, and never looked back. But this time I froze, and while I won't drag you through all the details, it continued in this fashion for six months. A part of me felt as if I deserved it, as if I brought it on myself, and in that regard, I can understand some of what James was going through.  Where James was feeling guilty for coming through the accident unscathed, when his husband not only had physical trauma, but brain damage as well, I blamed my actions for the way I was being treated.  I brought it on myself for going home with someone else, even though my relationship had been dead for a while.  What I didn't realize is that the emotional neglect, and I can say the emotional abuse, I had been living with for the prior year, conditioned me for the physical abuse that came later.

I never had to deal with the level of abuse James, or even my mom went through, so I know it could have been worse.  And I did eventually start fighting back, something James never felt he could do, as the guilt was too thick.  Where I'm a bit jealous of James, is in his relationship with Ethan. When he meets Ethan, a small part of him grabs the hope he represents. In Ethan, James, who has given up on being happy, and living to a degree, realizes that there is something else out there, another path to chose.  It's not smooth sailing for them by any stretch of the imagination, and I can't imagine what Ethan was mentally going through, but the hope they instill in each other is beautiful to see unfold on the page.

It's actually something I have yet to allow myself to have.  I have been completely single since 2002. I always want to blame my lack of time, my work schedule, or lack of interest, but it's really more about fear.  It's not just a fear of putting myself out there again, it's a fear of what's behind the veneer, once it's wiped away.  Everyone James works with, except for his cousin and his boss, thinks he has the perfect relationship with his husband.  Yes he's a flirt, who enjoys the attention he gets from others, though he normally keeps it's to the girls, but everyone thinks he's truly happy in his marriage. I don't know if his husband was a controlling dick before the relationship, and the brain damage took it to a whole other, horrible level, or if the accident completely changed his personality.  When your husband is trying to kill you, does it even matter.  I'm not sure, given my family and personal history, when I'm going to be ready to take that risk again.  I'm not sure you can ever truly know what another person is capable of, or of who they truly are.  It's that uncertainty I have to let go of, and I have James as a role model to follow.  And yes I know this is fiction, that James and Ethan aren't real people, but seeing a path forward, even a fictional one, is enough to give me hope that I'll be ready someday.

On the short review side of things, please don't think this is a dark or depressing book, because it's not. Yes, it does have some darker moments, but remember, this is a romance novel.  In Ethan and James, you have two men who are drawn together, who truly do end up loving each other.  I won't get into all the details, because I want you guys to read the story for yourselves, but it's a gorgeously written love story.  There are a few hiccups along the way, other than those dealing with James' husband, and while I don't think I would have handled the separation in the way Ethan did, I get the reasons behind it.  The nature of an office romance is well fleshed out, and the ending scene is brilliantly staged.  This is a love story with hope at it's core, and it's one I know I'll end up reading a few more times.