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.