Wednesday, September 30, 2009

a review of "A Beautiful Place to Die"

A Beautiful Place to Die by Philip R. Craig
(Avon, ISBN 978-0380711550)

Jeff Jackson, J.W. to his friends, is living a quiet, rather idyllic life on Martha's Vineyard. Retired to his father's old cottage on the island after a shooting left him, in his prime, with a bullet lodged just a bit too close to his spine, he spends his days fishing, selling his catch for some extra money, having a cold beer from time to time and whipping up some tasty dinners like a nice scallops St. Jacques with a loaf of homemade bread and maybe some snap peas from his garden. He even smokes his own freshly caught fish in the backyard.
"I was having breakfast- smoked bluefish, red onion, and cream cheese on a toasted bagel, washed down with coffee- on the porch with the sun coming up over the Sound. The way God intended Man to live."
Add in that he has just met a very nice nurse on the beach who is happy for some surf-casting tips and appreciates his cooking and he is one pretty content man.

Or so it would seem until, as they are fishing on the beach one morning, a boat explodes just off shore, killing one man and injuring the son of one of his fishing buddies. When it seems that drugs may be involved, and a young girl asks for his help for her brother, JW just can't stop those old cop instincts from kicking in. To tourists, Martha's Vineyard may seem like a paradise, but it seems that even paradise has a seamy underside and JW will soon be in the thick of it.

In this, the first in Craig's Martha's Vineyard series, we are treated to an all around good story. A great setting (hmmm..I have mentioned that I enjoy books set by the ocean, haven't I?), a couple of clever, charming characters in J.W. and his new girlfriend Zee, a solid plot, a nice little mystery with a few unexpected twists and I am a happy camper. Throw in a bit of surf fishing for bluefish, a few recipes, some literary allusions and some ideas for building your own backyard smoker from found parts and I think I really have to check out the rest of this series.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Wishes, More Wishes...and Musing Monday

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post, from Just One More Page, is about your wishlist…

Do you keep a book wishlist, either on paper, Amazon/etc, or via a book database site (Shelfari, GoodReads, LibraryThing)? If yes, do you share this list with others (especially coming up to Christmas)?

Been there, done that, on last week's Tuesday Thinger post. Not surprisingly, fan as I am of Library Thing, I have started to use the wishlist feature there. Now that I have been using it a couple of times and it is getting more familiar, there is a real possibility that I will continue to use it. The key is that, for me, Library Thing has become my one stop shop for most booking needs. Keeping track of my library, tagging and categorizing it, checking other's ratings and reviews of a book I am interested in, links to sites for purchase..and yes, now my wishlist as well. For all my book needs, Library Thing is the first place I go. (...and no, I do not work for them or own part of the company. I just want to share something of value with my dear readers.)

Now, as to the second half of the story, do I 'share' my list? Well, not much to share yet, because it is a tiny, two book list. A tiny list that anyone who goes to my LT page can see, but as to actively 'sharing' it, like a gift suggestion list I am not so sure.
Now, of course, if any of you your like to send me one of the two books on my wish list, maybe an old ARC hanging around, who am I to say no? That would be rude! But I don't know that I have ever sought out books as a gift. Isn't that strange? But I see book buying, book choosing, as a very private thing. I have, on occasion, given books as gifts, but with adults at least, I think it is a difficult, dangerous thing with a high possibility of failure. Do they own it already, is it the sort of book they would like?

Now, certainly, that problem would be solved if only one had an account on Library Thing and, most especially, a wishlist. If only..... ;-)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

a review of "Red Hot Lies"

Red Hot Lies by Laura Caldwell
(Mira Books, ISBN 978-0778326502)

In this book, the first in a new mystery trilogy, everything in Izzy McNeil's life seems to be going right. Although she is a fairly new associate at her law firm, she has been fortunate enough to have become the lead entertainment attorney for Pickett Enterprises and millionaire radio station mogul, Forester Pickett. He is more than just her client, but a friend and a mentor and in fact, the one that introduced her to her fiance. And in just a few weeks she and her handsome love, Sam Hollings, will be walking down the aisle.

But then, of course, things start to fall apart. First, Sam does not show up for a dinner engagement, and calling everyone they know, all night long, she can't find out what has happened to him. Then she gets the call that her number one client is dead, from an apparent heart attack. Then finally, it comes to light that it appears that Sam has disappeared with over 30 million dollars in Panamanian real estate bonds that belonged to Pickett. Before you know it, the police and the FBI are at Izzy's door, but since they do not seem very interested in her claim that Pickett was receiving threats, or the idea that there might be some explanation for what Sam has done, Izzy herself will have to get involved in investigating what has happened.

This is not a great book, but it is not a bad book either. The book is well written and the plot is pretty good, even if I think it could have been edited to a tighter, shorter, and better story. And there are some good characters, most of then minor. I liked the detective Izzy hires to try and find Sam and figure out what happened, P.I. John Mayburn, her best friend Maggie, a lawyer who loves defending her drug dealers clients is nevertheless quite fun and a very short appearance by her brother Charlie, who lives to read his books and drink his wine, won me over. I started to wish one of them was the central character, because the largest problem I had with this book is that it rests firmly on the shoulders of "Red Hot" Izzy and I can't say that I really liked her a whole lot. As a lawyer, she seems totally out of her a fiance, she was amazing fast to except the possibility that the supposed love of her life was a thief and maybe a murderer. Without giving too much away, let's say loyalty is not her real strength.

Sort of chick-lit meets murder mystery that might, if the weather was not getting a bit too chilly, make a nice beach read.

My thanks to the Amazon Vine Program for this book.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

a review of "The Year of the Flood"

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
(Nan A. Talese, ISBN 978-0385528771)

Adam One, the leader of the quasi-religious eco-cult caller God's Gardeners, had long predicted the coming of a plague, a Waterless Flood that would destroy all human life and as the story begins, it seems that he has been proven right.
We meet our two heroines, the older, tougher Toby and Ren, a worker in an upscale sex club. Both find themselves, through peculiar circumstances, still alive after what turns out to be a bio-engineered virus sweeps through. In the midst of the horror of the dead, each wonders if they are only person alive and yet also fearing who else, what else, might be out there.

As the story progresses, the chapters move back and forth in time and we learn how these two women came to be where they are. Society, in this future that Atwood speculates about, is bizarre and disturbing, maybe most of all because it is not totally unbelievable. There appears to be no government. The Corporations and their brutal security force, the CorpSEcorps, control the more upscale compounds where science and technology and 'progress' have become the new gods, resulting in all sorts of lovely bio-engineered creatures. Like liobams, the cross between a lion and know the whole lion lays down with the lamb idea...that looks so cute and fuzzy...until they rip your throat out. Or pigs with human brain tissue. Ok, there have been some problems with some of the experiments.

Outside the compounds you have the pleeblands, violent and lawless, where the cultish God's Gardeners reside yet attempt to rise above it all. Both figuratively and literary, since they live on rooftops, easier to defend, raising their gardens and preaching and planning how to survive the flood that will soon come. We learn the backstories of Toby and Ren, both at times dreadful, sad stories, both tied to the God's Gardeners, and both, in their own ways, showing us how they became survivors. Because that is what they both are, survivors, and in the later part of the book we explore, if not totally resolve, what being a survivor in this new world, this world after the Flood, may mean.

Without question, Atwood writes from a certain ideological point of view and if you have read my reviews before, you might have noticed that I hate a heavy handed, preachy novel. Especially if the views it is preaching differs from my But happily, Atwood is a much better writer than that. Everyone, every view, to some degree, is subjected to Atwood's witty and often very amusing treatment. Because yes, this book, while often violent and even gross, is also often very funny and witty. And ultimately, she wraps it all into what I found to be a quite entertaining and compelling story. Also a story with some great characters. A well written, engaging plot, some well defined, affecting characters and the exploration of some interesting questions, all makes for a book that I totally enjoyed. She creates a disturbing and thought provoking image of a future world, an image that may well remain with you long after you have finished enjoying this entertaining book.

Available From Amazon

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

When You Wish Upon A...Library Thing!

Once again, it is Tuesday and I am very excited!! Why am I excited you, my dear reader, may ask. Well, two reasons. First of all, this weeks Tuesday Thinger suggested question, from Wendi's Book Corner, came from me! Ok, as I readily admit, I stole it from this She Is Too Fond of Books post. But still, I was the conduit, so to speak.
Second, I have three very cute pictures of wee Bandit, that I admit I stole from his blog. Hmmmm....I am seeing a pattern here

Questions: Have you explored/used the Wishlist collection on Library Thing yet? If so, have you found it helpful?

I made this suggestion as a question because it is just another of the many ways that you can use Library Thing that I did not realize. Now, you might remember when LT introduced The Collections. OK, unless you are a bit obsessed with Library Thing, like some unnamed people, you may not. But take my word for it, it is a feature that many people were clamoring for for a very long time. Personally, I did not quite understand the excitement, how it would be a plus for me to use.
Until I read She is Too Fond's post. Because one of the preset 'collections' is a wishlist and I need a wishlist.

I can't say that prior to blogging that I had a wishlist. Which might explain why now, after starting to read so many of my fellow bloggers, that my TBR pile has exploded in size. You know how it is. You are out there in blogland, reading all the reviews, the blog tours, the giveaways and you think, "I must have that book!". Now if you are me, and rather impatient, you will go to BookMooch and see if it is available (it will not be, but that is another story) or you will go to Amazon or and see if there is a used copy available. Of course, if it is a new book, that will not work. So then the question is, are you going to buy a new copy? Between the cost and the size of my TBR pile, that gives even me pause. So I need a wishlist, a place to store the info and come back to it at another time, when cooler heads can prevail.

I tried an actual paper list....forget it. I just lose it. And I never have it on hand when I needed it.
I tried an excel spreadsheet....I have too many spreadsheets already about various stuff, and I can only access it on my computer, unless I save it to a flash drive and then where did I put that?
I tried the 'wishlist' feature on Amazon....the most successful of my attempts but still had issues. Well, like I forgot it was there.

So I am happy to see I can use Library Thing once again for my one stop book needs.
I am already familiar with how to find and enter books there on Library Thing, so a small learning curve. That is always good. I just needed to added a "private comment" column to "My Books" page, so I can note where I heard about it or any other bit of info I want to save. And then I had to figure out how to have it on my wishlist but not in my library, since I don't actually own it yet...which is easy once I realized I just need to select the "wishlist" collection and unselect "my library" collection from the book in question. And there is the wonderful option of sharing your list, for possible gift ideas maybe. :-)

I have also just realized that you have the options of making a "private comment", that those who link to your page will not see, or just a regular "comment" column, which others can see..I guess you might have things to say about the book that you don't wish to share.

No neat, so tidy. And I have found if I keep it simple, with just one site to go to for my book related needs, there is a much better chance that I will actually use it. That, after all, is the point!

Now, on the Bandit portion of my Tuesday...better know as Bandit For non-readers of Bandit's Blog (and really, why are you not reading it??), you might not know that it is the one year anniversary of Bandit's Coming Home, as just a wee puppy, so in honor of this date, a trio of wee Puppy Pics. Awwww....

click pics for a bigger view

Monday, September 21, 2009

Run For The Books!

I don't actually live that close to Collingswood, NJ and I certainly do not run 5K races, or any sort of races for that matter, but I loved this video made to promote the Collingswood Public Library's upcoming fund raiser. Have a watch and see if you agree!

A nod to Down the Shore with Jen for this one!

Nature Abhors a Vacuum...and So Does Musing Monday.

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post, from Just One More Page is about reading music…

Do you listen to music while reading? Does this change if you’re reading in or out of your house? Do you have a preference of music for such occasions?

Do I listen to music while reading? Why, thank you for asking, yes, I do.

But then I listen to something while I do just about everything. As our friend Aristotle suggested, nature abhors a vacuum and so do my ears. I live alone and for whatever reason, I just can not stand a silent house. The vast major of the time I am at home there must be some noise, either music or the TV. I am not watching it or listening to it all the time necessarily. I just like the background noise.

Now, while reading, I have found having the TV on does not working. You can peruse any of the other times I have discussed how easily distracted I am to see why. So music it is, but I have to be careful on the music pick. Anything with lyrics, and I find myself listening to them. I like to listen to classical music, with a particular weakness for the baroque composers, but there again, I find myself distracted. So I needed music that would not be the shiny object to divert my attention from the volume in hand. And then I discovered the perfect music.

My TV cable company offers a large number of music channels. Soft Rock, Metal, Reggae, Throwback Jamz (I have no idea what that is...), Hi-Hop Classics (Classics? Really?...) but none of these worked out. Easy Listening, Golden Oldies, R&B, Dance, no none were right. I tried Soft Jazz, but even that was too engaging.
But then I found my perfect station...Soundscapes, which is described in the following way..."Relax, energize, and expand the soul with this rich mix of new age, atmospheric and world-positive music." A lot of pseudo-Celtic-new-age-jazz-lite-electronic noise. I feel neither relaxed nor energized and I suspect it has left my soul the same size it was, but it is the perfect background noise for reading. And it is free, because I would certainly never pay for that stuff!

Which may be why I don't usually listen to music while reading out of the house. The music that I like, the music on my iPod, is too distracting. I wonder if iTunes sells any whitenoise? Or anything that is "world-positive"....

Friday, September 18, 2009

a review of John the Revelator

John the Revelator by Peter Murphy
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN 978-0151014026)

John Devine...what a suitable moniker...was named after John the Evangelist, who, with his bother James, were called the sons of thunder. So fitting, since our young John was born in the midst of a terrible storm. Or so his mother always told him, as she recounted the story of his birth. Of course, we come to find out, that is not the whole truth, as we find out later in the book, as his mother, knowing her time with him is limited, tells him some things about his unnamed father. Actually, he was named after an old folk song, John the Revelator, a song his father had taught her and that she sang to put the crying baby to sleep. Since it worked, she called him John.
Like John the Evangelist, who recounts in the Book Of Revelation, "And I John saw these things, and heard them.", our narrator recounts his experiences growing up as a boy in a small Irish town, filled with his own signs and somewhat bizarre and disturbing dreams.

Young John is a bit of an odd fellow, a loner with no friends, obsessed with things like tapeworms and maggots. His mother, who works as a maid for a number of the more affluent residents of the town, worries about him, while not letting on how serious her own health issues are. Then, one day, John makes a friend, a new boy in town, the very cool Jamey Corboy. Jamey will become his guide and companion for a number of John's firsts; his first cigarette, his first bar and nightclub visit, his first drink, his first attempt to pick up a girl...and his first act of betrayal of a friend.

I had mixed feelings about this coming of age story, things I like and things I disliked. First, the minute you open the first page, you will see that this 250 page story is actually more of a novella, it's length padded with large type and large page margins. I am not saying that is a bad thing, to be shorter, but I just wonder why the publisher was just not direct about that.

Second, I choose this book, at least in part, because as the back cover says, it is set in southeastern Ireland. Now, my father was born in Ireland, I have relatives in Ireland and have been there many times, so that was of interest to me. But anyone looking for a description of the beautiful Irish countryside, or any Irish countryside for that matter, will not find it here. There is virtually no description of the setting, except a bit of the town and of the seaside, when John and his mother take a picnic to the beach one day. Murphy totally captures the feel of an Irish town, but I guess I hoped for more. Perhaps a beautiful countryside would have clashed with his often dark vision, filled with the flaps and crackles of old, black crows and dreams of nuclear destruction.

And then there is the issue of the plot, or lack of it. This is the type of books that the award givers love these days. Character heavy, plot light, but that, to me, is not a great thing.

All that being said, there was also a good bit I liked about this book. There are Jamey's short stories, which he shares with John and we read throughout the book. Also Murphy totally captures these characters and his dialogue is excellent, spot on. His portrayal of Jamey's and John's friendship, through it's ups and downs, is always realistic. Finally, there is the relationship between John and his chain smoking, Bible quoting mother, which I found very moving, not caught in cliches and the highlight of the book.

Fans of so-called literary fiction may love this one and it has gotten some great reviews in the press, but bottom line, I'll end where I started, with mixed feelings about this book.

My thanks to the Amazon Vine program for my copy of John the Revelator.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mary Travers 1936-2009

Now while, without question, Ms. Travers and I differed in our beliefs about a large number of social and political issues, also without question, the music of Peter, Paul and Mary was a large part of the soundtrack of my youth.
And a wonderful soundtrack it was.
No other group that has every existed could quite create the same sound, the same beautiful music, for me.

While I was on YouTube, looking for a video, I read one of the commenters who said you reach a point when more of the influences on your life, the things that shaped you growing up, are gone on rather than still around. With the passing of Mary Travers and the end of Peter, Paul and Mary, yet another of mine is gone. A sobering thought.

My condolences go out to her family and friends, as they do, no doubt, from her many, many fans.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Better a Little Than None

Ok, I am a totally useless Book Blogger Appreciation Week Blogger. Last year, I had just started blogging. This year, it just snuck up on me. Next year, I will get up to speed and get all involved. Especially if I make a short
But a reading meme...that I can do!
The suggestion to be brief in my answers..that I can not promise.

  • Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack? See image to the right. Butter is an issue while reading. Eat with right hand, turn pages with left.
  • Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you? Horrify! Three words- Mini Post-it Notes
  • How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears?Dog ears belong on dogs, not books.
  • Laying the book flat open? Ok, I admit I do that, sometimes.
  • Fiction, Non-fiction, or both? 99% Fiction
  • Hard copy or audiobooks? Hard.
  • Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are youable to put a book down at any point? End of chapter, unless Mr. Sandman overtakes me.
  • If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away? Never happens. I have a HUGE vocabulary. ;-)
  • What are you currently reading? Awww...beside the computer screen? Is that a trick question?
  • What is the last book you bought? Just ordered...let me check my Amazon history...Angel Time by Anne Rice, but it does not come out until next month.
  • Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time? One, unless I don't like the first and need a break. Or misplace the first. See last answer for "organizing" issue.
  • Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read? Free time=Read time
  • Do you prefer series books or stand alone books? Either. No need to limit oneself.
  • Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over? would depend on the recommendee. (Ok, yes, that is not a real word. I would know!)
  • How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?) Organize? Organize..hmmm..that is one word I am not familiar with. Please explain!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tuesday Thinger...What's The Question?

Oh, I am late (working day shift and no blogging at work...) so I finally wandered over to Wendi's Book Corner to check out this week's question, only to find out there is not really a Library Thing question this week...not actually a question at all!

so I realized...
1. I need to try to think of some LT related questions to suggest to Wendi.
2. I am a lazy, complacent blogger. :-)

Ok, I think I may have already realized that second one.
See, this week, Wendi shared with us a number of HTML code tips and some very good links to find some other tips. Several I knew, a couple I could not quite Hey, it has been a long day!
You know, HTML, the thing that helps make a blog pretty and interesting looking. Bolds and Italics and
...justified left and right, with nice links and blockquotes and different colors...
Well, see there is my point. Between Blogger and a little reading, I figured that much out and while I am sure there are many more things I could learn, that seems enough for me for the moment. Maybe my desire to learn too much has reached it's limit. Sure, it's a matter of taste, but I don't want my little blog to look too busy and all sparkly, with blinking, moving things or music or such.

Hmmmm....maybe I could use a bit more sparkle. Where are those links Wendi gave...

Speaking of sparkle, poor Bandit seem to be missing his usual bright eyed look. Ir seems the little fellow has not been feeling up to par the last couple of days. All your fans send their best wishes little fella. You just take a nap Bandit, and we will try and be quiet...shhhhhh.

The Twin Lights at Navesink

Speaking of lighthouses, since before we know it the height of the NJ Lighthouse season, the NJ Challenge, will be upon us, I think it is time to take a look at another one of our wonderful lighthouses. Today it will be a very unique one, one that looks unlike any other lighthouse that exists, the Twin Lights at Navesink.

Now most of coastal NJ is very flat and low to the water, so for the light to be visible far at sea, the lighthouses were built very tall, in the 200 foot range, like the conical towers of Barnegat, Absecon and Cape May. But as you head north and approach the entrance to New York Harbor and the Hudson River, tall cliffs rise out of the water, the beginning of the New Jersey Highlands. As early as 1609, the English explorer Henry Hudson recognized these hills as a marker for the entrance to the harbor and the river that would come to bear his name. Their height made them a natural place to build a signal light to warn mariners as they came near the coast and the many sandbars that form just off shore in the area, and it is believed there was some sort of light made there, perhaps as early as the 1700's.

The first twin lights were built at the spot in 1828, two to make them distinct from the Sandy Hook light that is just 5 miles north from Navesink. The Twin Lights, maybe because of their accessibility to New York, maybe because there were two lights so close together, have always been the sight of lighthouse experimentation. It was there, in 1841, that the first Fresnel lenses from France, a revolution in lighthouse illumination, were installed in the USA, in the original two towers. But, as is so often true, these first towers were badly built and it was decided to replace them in 1862, while the nation was in the midst of the Civil War.

Now come the interesting question of the Twin Lights distinct appearance. Because they are on cliffs, huge towers were not needed. The two towers are about 75 feet tall and built of brownstone with turrets and a very castle like appearance. It is said that this sort of heavy, militaristic look was popular in government building during the period, so that might explain their appearance. Others suggest that the architect, Joseph Lederle, might have been influenced by European lighthouses that sometimes included element of castles in their designs. But my favorite story is that he was a huge fan of the game of Chess and made the two towers to look like two different chess pieces. Because of the ongoing war, no one was really supervising the plan carefully and he was left to design them as he liked, so long as he was within the budget he was given. I like this story it explains the fact that the two towers are different, the south one being a square tower and the north one being an octagon and really do look like chess pieces connected to a center, fort like building. For whatever reason it was built like that, Navesink is the only surviving set of twin lights where the towers are part of a single building. And it is certainly unique in appearance.

Navesink is also famous for being the first American lighthouse that was lit by electricity. In 1898 the Lighthouse Board installed a new test lens at Navesink, a huge bi-valve lens that was made up of 386 separate lenses around a central bull’s eye lens. The bivalve lens was 9 feet in diameter and 5 feet high and resembled a giant clam shell, with an electric light at the center. Between the lens and the electric light, it made it by far the brightest, most powerful light at any US lighthouse, a huge 25 million candlepower. It was also the sight of cutting edge communication technology when Marconi placed an antenna and receiving station there to demonstrate his wireless telegraph, receiving from a ship offshore the results of the America's Cup race that was being held off the coast of New Jersey in 1899. In 1917, it was the sight of the first experimental radio beacon and the first radar tests were held there just before WWII.

Of course, it was these very technologies that ultimately lessened the need for lighthouses and the Twin Lights were shut in 1952. The lighthouse and surrounding grounds are now operated by the New Jersey State Park Service and open to the public. The North tower, which you can climb, still contains a smaller Fresnel lens, and there is a simply beautiful view of the town of Highlands down below, Sandy Hook State Park to the north and, on a clear day, a view of Raritan Bay, the New York harbor and the city skyline in the distance.

Also in the center building between the two towers, once the keeper's house, and in the outbuildings, is a fascinating museum about all the history that has taken place at Navesink. The old brick generator building contains the original, huge bi-valve lens which is just beautiful and remarkable, and a must see if you visit the site. Somehow, it seems I no longer have a photo of that I will just have to make a trip back soon!

Postcard featuring the Navesink lighthouse from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Monday, September 14, 2009

Musing Monday. Why I Love Mysteries Is No Mystery

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post, from Just One More Page, is about reading trends…

Do you find yourself forming trends in your reading? Is this a conscious act, influenced by either your own interests or current publishing fads?

Do I find trends in my reading? Yes, I do and it is a conscious act. Now, if look at the reviews I have written on this blog, you will really be a bit misled about it, because I have read a lot of looks I might not have if left to my own devices. My last review, of The Strain, is a perfect example. Pre-blog, most likely I would never have bought that book. And look, I enjoyed it. Certain the memoirs I have read, for better or worse, would not have been in my line of sight. And look again...I would have missed Homer's Odyssey, which I also loved! Obviously, if left to my normal 'trend', I would have missed a lot. A huge benefit of blogging for me personally.

What is my 'norm'? Well, as I have mentioned before, I have a real weakness for mysteries and thrillers. As to trends, I think that mysteries are always a very popular genre in the publishing world. Certainly not a fad, not a cutting edge trend but a long and well established one. Now, within that genre, I like a wide variety. Police procedurals to cozies to serial killers, I like them all. Trenton to Reykjavik, I love a variety of locales, although I admit I also have a bit of a weakness for books set in cold locations..Alaska, northern Europe, snowy Canada...or by the water. Lakes, rivers, or ocean , especially ocean settings, start a warm glow in my cold, hard heart. Throw in a lighthouse, a cold wind blowing, a storm moving in and I am there! Series or standalones, my answer is yes!

So why mysteries? I like a book with a strong plot and mysteries tend to be plot heavy, and yet the best of them also have very good character development. Certainly a series that I stick with must have both. I also think mysteries, again, the best of them, allow the exploration of a lot of interesting, even controversial topics but within a reassuring, more comfortable framework. I also confess to liking the fact that most mysteries have a distinct moral sense. They are at their heart about good and evil, and usually, good wins out. I admit, that makes me happy.

Did I also mention that some waves lapping up on the shore, some boats or a lighthouse is a plus? Yes, I may

Thursday, September 10, 2009

a review of "The Strain"

The Strain by Guillermo Del Torro and Chuck Hogan
(William Morrow, ISBN 978-0061558238)
They have always been here. Vampires. In secret and in darkness. Waiting. Now their time has come.

In one week, Manhattan will be gone. In one month, the country.

In two months--the world.

It begins in an ordinary enough fashion. Flight 753, from Berlin, lands at New York's JFK airport, just like hundreds of every planes that day. They land, taxi down the runway and are given their gate assignment. They pull off toward the gate and then just stop. The plane is just sitting there, totally dark, not a light inside or outside the plane. The tower calls on the radio to them, asking what the problem is, but not a word in answer. The airport sends someone out to the plane and she knows something is terribly wrong. Not a sound in the plane, every shade on every window drawn shut. As she starts to check things out, she sees that one shade is now up, a shade she was sure was down a minute ago.
"Inside the plane, the darkness stirred. And Lo felt as if something were observing her from within it.
Lo whimpered, just like a child, but couldn't help it. She was paralyzed. A throbbing rush of blood, rising as though commanded, tightened her throat...
And she understood it then, unequivocally: something in there was going to eat her."

As police and fire and TSA, NTSB and Homeland Security surround the plane and stand by, the CDC calls in the people that are charged with being the first strike force for possible disease situations, walking into what might be a contagious site. The Canary program's Doctor Ephraim Goodweather and biochemist Nora Martinez suit up in state of the art hazmat gear, force open the plane door...and walk into something beyond their understanding, something that will change the world.

As the situation at JFK is being played out on the TV screens across the city, one old man, Abraham Setrakian, a pawnbroker in Spanish Harlem, is not surprised. He has know for decades that this day would come and he has been preparing for it. As a boy in the Treblinka death camp during the Holocaust, he though that he had seen the very worst that could happen to a human being. Starved, the ones too weak or sick to work, thrown into a pit and killed. But then something happen that made him realize that he was wrong, that even in the camps, something worse could happen.
And now It is back.

I am now a big horror fan. While I love the stories of Dean Knootz, whose books I consider more paranormal thrillers than horror, I have never read a book by Steven King. I do not see horror movies, not since an unfortunate incident when a wee caite, required by her mother to accompany her Big Brother and his cohorts to a viewing of the movie Thirteen Ghosts, screamed so loud at the sight of blood pouring down the screen in the opening credits that her very unhappy brother was forced to remove her from the theater. A fact he still delights in reminding her of. By the way, it was years later that I realized those credits were in black and white, not my remembered blood red. What can I say, I am a wimp.

That being said, I loved this book! Not a book I would recommend reading very late at night, alone in the house, as I first did. Bad idea.
It seems that Mr. Del Toro first came up with the idea for this book, which is the first part of a trilogy, as a TV series and then a movie, neither of which panned out. But I was happy, because in those format, most likely I would never have been exposed to it. Thirteen Ghosts incident and all. I don't want to give too much of the story away, but yes, there are vampires. Not your typical movie, Bella Lugosi vampires. Certainly not your Twilight, romantic vampires. No, very scary, very creepy vampires...and other scary things. Did you just hear a noise??

My issues with horror aside, it is a great book, with strong compelling characters, a very well written thriller that is very hard to put down once you start. Except maybe just to calm down a bit, to let the sense of creepiness dissipate a tad and to wonder if it is possible to buy silver bullets for a .38 revolver.

Just in case....
..and then there are the rats...

thanks to William Morrow for an Advanced Reader's edition of this book

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tell Me That It's Just a Bad Dream....Please.

photo by svenwerk

Now, I know that a few of you, my dear readers, are fans of the e-book and I may have mentioned that I have an issue or two with the whole subject. Well, an article that I happened upon on The Boston Globe website brought to reality my worst fears of where the Evil E-Readers could lead. Where it will lead if many have their way, like the headmaster of the Cushing Academy.

It seems that The Powers That Be at the Cushing Academy have decided to get rid of all the books in their library. Yes, let me say that again...they have gotten rid of all the books and decided to go totally digital.
“When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books,’’ said James Tracy, headmaster of Cushing and chief promoter of the bookless campus.
In place of the stacks, they are spending $42,000 on three large flat-screen TVs that will project data from the Internet and $20,000 on special laptop-friendly study carrels....And to replace those old pulpy devices that have transmitted information since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 1400s, they have spent $10,000 to buy 18 electronic readers made by and Sony.
Sorry, I need to pause. I can't seem to catch my breath... ((gasp))

It seems that one issue is that books take up too much space, space that can now be used for a "$50,000 coffee shop that will include a $12,000 cappuccino machine."
The librarian is not thrilled to be in charge of a book-less library, the head of the history department is concerned with losing the 'dignity' of the traditional library.
They worry about an environment where students can no longer browse rows of voluptuous books, replete with glossy photographs, intricate maps, and pages dog-eared by generations of students. They worry students will be less likely to focus on long works when their devices are constantly interrupting them with e-mail and instant messages. They also worry about a world where sweat-stained literature is deemed as perishable as all the glib posts on Facebook or Twitter.
One student said “It’s a little strange,but this is the future."

Is it? Is it really?
I think this is one of the most horrible ideas I have heard of, an idea fraught with problems. Lack of illustrations, lack of many graphs and diagrams that are readable on e-formats. Formats that may be totally obsolete in a short amount of time as many computer technologies popular a few years ago are now. But, it seems the kids were not using the library enough, so the best idea is to just get rid of the books! Wouldn't want to address the question of how to instill a lifelong love of reading in the children. No, just get rid of the books. Cheaper, less space used. More room for a cappuccino machine. Oh yes, I can see the glow in the eyes of many an administrator.

I'm sorry, but I am feeling a little faint and need to go lie down for a minute. Then I all going to be sure all my books, my beautiful books, are safe on their shelves.

Can You Have Too Much of a Good Thing? Yes, But Not Tuesday Thinger!

Let's see what we can find out about Library Thing this week! From Wendi's Book Corner...
Questions: Have you explored the Series feature of your Statistics? Were you surprised by how many series you have/haven't read? Were your series mostly complete, or did you find that you had only read one book from a lot of different series? What was the largest number of books in a series? Feel free to answer a few or all of these questions. :)

As usual, I did not explore this feature before. I am starting to prefer to wait for Wendi to point it out to me!

So, how many series have I read books from? 192! Hmm...again, that seems like a lot. I don't really like series, or dislike them. I don't seek them out or avoid them. So that number seems high. But I have issues with some of these series, as they are listed on Library Thing. For example, it lists the Dummies books, like Wine for Dummies, which I actually own, as part of a series. But it is not a series I am actually going to read all the books in. Chihuahuas for Dummies, for example, is not on my reading list. No offense meant to those odd little dogs.

Then there are books I had no idea were part of a series. Like The Winds In The Willows. Seems it is part of a series of 5...or 9. Mr. Toad all over the place, but I think I am a bit past my Toad days. Especially since Disney World got rid of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. As far as I am concerned, that is the end of my Toad-ness.

But as to 'real' series, well, I have noticed something.
I appear to have a series limit. If a series is 4 or 5 or even 6 books, there is a good chance I have read them all. But if the series is say..15, like the Stephine Plum series, then no, I have not. And doubt I will. I am not sure who to blame. Do I just get tired of the series, of the same characters, or at some point does the series just lose something?
I suspect the later. I think sometimes a series that is very popular and very successful (i.e. making a lot of money for the author and publisher) is continued on way past the time it should have been retired. I will not bring up my Patricia Cornwell rant again, but you get the idea.

Yes, I think that maybe at about 5 or 6 books authors should really be considering moving on to greener pastures. Or at least a different pasture. Trade the cows in for horses, so to speak.

Speaking of odd little dogs, as you all know, Tuesday is Bandit Day and Bandit loves Bandit Day, so let's see if we can find a new picture of the little fellow. Oh no, had to change the pic, 'cause that was a repeat. But here is a new one...

Bandit, the Blogger!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Hear Any Good Books Lately? Musing Mondays Has!

From the desk of Just One More Page...
Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about audio books…
What is your preferred method of listening to audio books? Where and when do you listen to them?

Audio books…hmmmmm.
Sadly, audio books and I have a checkered history.
In theory, I love the idea of audio books. Multitasking at its best. You can be doing something like cooking or cleaning, gardening or washing the car or taking a walk or driving….and ‘reading’ a book at the same time. Wonderful! There is always an issue of not having enough time for reading, so this would be great, to be able to ‘read’ while getting done those needed daily tasks of life.

In reality, I really have never found it do-able.

I think I have mentioned in the past that my mind tends to wander a bit. I am easily distracted by bright, shiny objects. With reading a book, it is always an issue unless I find it a very, very good book that totally holds my attention. But I think having to actually use other parts of my body besides my mind, like my hands and eyes, helps keep me focused.

But with audio books, I have found my concentration a huge issue. If I am doing something else as I listen, I become distracted by the task at hand and realize I have totally lost ‘my place’ in the book.
“Oh, look! A pretty birdie. Darn, wait, what did he say to her…where are they going…huh?”
Rewind, listen again, by which time I am probably standing still and not doing the other thing I was doing while I listened to the audio book to start with. So much for multitasking!

So I tried listening to an audio book while not doing something else. Sitting, before going to bed, on a plane.

I fell asleep.

I have often though it would be great on a road trip, in the car.
But since my previous experience with audio books is either becoming very distracted or falling asleep, neither of which seemed like a good idea while driving, I have not actually tried that out.

Yet. ;-)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

a review of "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie"

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (Delacorte Press, ISBN 978-0385342308)

“Unless some sweetness at the bottom lie,
Who cares for all the crinkling of the pie?”
William King, the art of cookery (1708)

A mystery novel with an 11 year old sleuth may not be usual fare, but then our sleuth, the quite precocious Flavia de Luce, is no ordinary 11 year old, not by a long shot. It is the 1950's, and our little Flavia lives in the rather rundown English family estate of Buckshaw with her eccentric, stamp collecting father, the Colonel, and her two older sisters, Ophelia and Daphne, who delight in torturing her almost as much as she delights in torturing them. When not avoiding the questionable culinary creations of the housekeeper Mrs. Mullet or learning useful skills like lock picking from the gardener Dogger, a shell shocker ex-soldier who served with the colonel, Flavia spends most of her free time in her extremely well equipped laboratory. Her specialty is I said, not your typical 11 year old.

The rather quiet pastoral setting of Buckshaw and the neighboring village of Bishop's Lacey are going to be disturbed though. First, Flavia overhears a very loud and hostile argument between a stranger and her father in his library and then very early the next morning she awakes to find a man lying in the garden, moments from death. In fact, saying just one last word to Flavia before he dies. Again, something that would be terribly upsetting to most of us, let alone a child, but not to our soon to be sleuth.
“ I wish I could say my heart was stricken, but it wasn’t. I wish I could say my instinct was to run away, but that would not be true. Instead, I watched in awe, savoring every detail: the fluttering fingers, the almost imperceptible bronze metallic cloudiness that appeared on the skin, as if, before my very eyes, it was being breathed upon by death.

And then the utter stillness.

I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”

Yes, Flavia is a rather unusual child.
So, when her father is arrested for the murder, it is not terribly surprising that our intrepid Flavia will set out on her trustworthy bicycle Gladys to find the real killer and prove her father innocent.

Flavia is a very intelligent and interesting young girl, with a unique view of things, so following her and Gladys on their quest is an entertaining and amusing jaunt. Our narrator is funny and smart and yet, maybe because she is still a child, she is able to admit some of her mistakes as she tries to figure out the crime, which I found made the plot all the more interesting and Flavia all the more endearing. The author has created a very nice setting for this cozy mystery and an engaging cast of characters, even if at times the homestead at Buchshaw and Bishop's Lacey seem a bit more English than the real England could possibly ever be. Maybe because, as I read in an interview the Canadian writer gave, he had never been to England until after the book was published.

You have to be willing to play along with some aspects of the book that are a bit over the top, a bit of a caricature even of the cozy British mystery. For me, the spunky Flavia is the book's saving grace. And since this is the first in what is to be a six book series, no doubt we will have ample opportunity to better get to know our young heroine and her small and charming world.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

It's Never To Early to Buy Christmas Stocking Stuffers!

You might have notice a new banner that I have place over there on my sidebar, a banner for the soaps sold by Dominican Nuns of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit NJ.

I would encourage you to go check out their website and most of all I would encourage you to check out their gift shop and make a few purchases. Because as you can see from their site, the good sisters are in the midst of raising funds for some very needed renovations and sales of these products are one way they they support themselves. They makes some very nice soaps, a very nice lotion, an excellent lip balm...and they have books! And I have bought them all, so I can attest to their

You know, Christmas is coming before you know it and you know you are going to need some more stocking stuffers! Those samplers and gift crates make lovely gifts...and they really need to finish that new kitchen. Be sure to check out the photos...and then buy something!

We NJ folks have to stick together after all!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Hundreds of Places to Go...All With Tuesday Thinger!

It's Tuesday, so let's check out this week's question from Wendi's Book Corner...

Questions: Ever wondered where your books take place? Now you can find out!! Go to your statistics page, look down the column on the left hand side, and find the heading that says Common Knowledge. Then click on the link that says Places. It will take you to a page that will show you the places that your books have taken place in...

Have you explored the Places feature of your Statistics? Do you have any places that have multiple books listed? If you have multiples, are they from different authors, or from the same series?

Ok, I know a few of you might think I am a bit overly fond of Library Thing...and I may be…but it is things like this that once again just speak to my inner geek. All this information that LT makes available to me about my books is just so interesting. And slightly bizarre.

It also never fails to amaze me that I always seem to find a book in “My Books” listed on Library Thing that I totally forgot I owned. Which, of course is why I am in so much need of my dear LT.

Ok, back to my Places. Well, it seems I have 534 places represented in my books. That seems like a fair number, doesn’t it? Now a few are duplicates. New York, for example, shows up several times in slightly different ways. (Hmmm…that needs to be cleaned up…) But even with that it would be over 500.
Do I have places with multiple books? Oh yes…oh yes. There are too many to list unless you, my dear readers, have a great deal of time. So just a few…

Many are in NYC, a couple in a series by Linda Fairstein but most individual books. A bunch in Trenton NJ (Janet Evanovich), several in Philly (Lisa Scottoline) and about 25 in London, a number of them by Charles Dickens but most individual books by separate authors. About a dozen are set in Paris, all by different folks, about a dozen in Boston, many of them Tess Gerritsen books, another group in Richmond Virginia, from when I still read Patricia Cornwell and five are in Middle Earth, oddly all books by Tolkien...and just one in Wootton Major and one in Wootton Minor, both from the same book, Smith of Wootton Major, again from the grand Mr. Tolkien. In fact, many interesting places in my list are connected to his interesting books. Odd places, where only hobbits and Shire folk reside.

I must admit that I have not looked at the statistic page for quite some time.
Oh, I see another great chance to waste some time with this.
But I have looked at it from the other end of the process. See, all those listed places, attached to each book, come from each individual book’s Common Knowledge page. And all that information, the places, the characters, the series, the all come from Library Thing members, like you and I, entering that information on the Common Knowledge page. Again, something I like about LT, that we the members have a real role, small or large, to play in the web site, depending on ones level of OCD.

Recently, I have made an attempt to try and enter some of the Common Knowledge info from my books, usually when I write a review for the book. I think I mentioned my slight obsession with that recently, my quest to get a cyber-Gold Helper Badge. Oh look, so pretty, so shiny, so silly. It is, of course, totally without valve except the warm glow in my heart it will cause when finally I turn in my Silver one for the coveted Gold.

Or that might just be heartburn….;-)

Speaking of something that makes my heart all warm, let's see if we can find a picture of my very favorite little boy, Bandit, the World’s Cutest Doggie…yes, you are Bandit, yes, you know you are…where is my little Bandie…

Well, actually my little Bandie Boy and his mom are back in Florida, going to school. Here is a picture of him in his little travel bag, all ready to go. He only needed to go as far as the driveway and then he got in his car seat...but he was ready to go!