Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Never List - Koethi Zan (Audio)

I'd seen a number of great reviews for this book when I got a copy of the audio from Penguin, which was great timing!  Penguin Audio is the bomb!  I'm always curious and excited when I hear of a strong debut mystery thriller novel.

The eerie thing about the release of this novel is that its premise...about a group of women held hostage in a basement by a madman...coincided with the real life story that broke at the same time about the three women in Cleveland who escaped after ten years of a similar fate.  Koethi Zan must have been shaking her head at the coincidence, and served to strike a chord with anyone who reads this book.

Synopsis:  Sarah and her best friend Jennifer, scarred after being involved in a tragic childhood auto accident, have since constructed a extensive list of things to avoid for the sake of their safety.  In a weak moment, however, they accept a cab ride home from a party in college, and are kidnapped and held captive in a basement with two other girls for over three years.

A decade later, Sarah (who has since changed her name) lives the life of an agoraphobic, and has no contact with the other girls who escaped all those years ago.  Sarah is still haunted by the fact that Jennifer never made it out, but her body was never recovered.  When Sarah learns that her captor is up for parole, she decides to take action and try to find Jennifer's body to provide proof of murder, and put the man away forever.

With the assistance of the other two girls, who harbor deep grudges against Sarah, they set off on a quest that forces them to confront their past, a sub-culture of BDSM, torture experimentation, and the truth behind what happened to Jennifer.

My thoughts:  On the surface, I found this audio to be very fast-paced and spine-tingling based on the general plot.  As I said before, there have been enough real-life cases of this nature to make this story all too believable.  The descriptions of what these girls experienced were cringe-worthy.  I don't want to minimize that.

But I had some issues that just didn't sit well with me.  The idea that someone who is scared of people, who is a serious agoraphobe, and doesn't even leave her apartment to get groceries...suddenly decides it was time for action and proceeds to fly all over the country, sneak into warehouses, interview people and chase suspicious characters...really?

And for her to partner up with two other girls that previously HATED her, and cleverly solve mysteries as a team?

It seemed too easy and contrived.  I liked the idea that these women could shake off their past in this way for the greater good, like a damaged version of Charlie's Angels, but I didn't buy it.  Also, in an effort to spin a healthy number of red herrings, there were a number of plot threads dangled in our path, but were never resolved.  The story just felt incomplete.  The author definitely has potential though, and I'm anxious to see what she comes up with next.

A few words about the audio production:  Our narrator Kristin Sieh, appears to be a new voice on the scene (she did also narrate Bristol House, which is on my list), but did a great job here.  She has a great tone...tough sounding, with a hint of vulnerability underneath.  She was a great pick for this book.

Listening length:  8 hours and 39 minutes (320 pages)

3 out of 5 stars

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sunday Salon: The End

Hello everyone from icy-cold Florida!  Well, maybe not icy but we had a "cold front" run through there this week and we are now enjoying frigid temps of 80 degrees during the day and lows around 60.  Woo hoo!  It cracks me up how the TV stations go nuts when this happens.  Bundle up the kids!  Wind chill!  Haha!  They need to go visit New York or Colorado or Canada.

So this was the week from hell, I'm not afraid to admit, and I am so glad it is over.  Hubby was gone all week, so I was solo. Over a 7 day period my son had four football games and two practices.  My daughter had afternoon practices everyday (versus the mornings which are much more convenient) and a Districts meet.  Plus a few other incidents.  So when my husband flew in late yesterday I told him not to expect ANYTHING out of me today.  Maybe not even church.  I want to lay in bed and do nothing.

And if we are going to look at the glass half full, my son lost his playoff game yesterday, HANDILY.  I was really sad to see them end their season this way, but at least now they have a small break before they start another sport.  By the time you get to the end of this football season (which started August 1st) you are ready for it to end.

My daughter and I worked an adoption event last Sunday and I fell in love with another dog.  This one was only 6 months old and was a love muffin.  She was so good, and so affectionate.  I was sternly told NO by my other half.  We have too many cats.  But you can see that I have serious dog sadness.  I go through these phases.  

I've been making progress on the reading.  I finished my last Jack Caffrey book by Mo Hayder on audio, and now I am left wanting.  She does have three stand-alone books (one I've already read) so I guess I have to move on to those.  I then moved on to the audio of "The Woman Upstairs" by Claire Massud.  I was a little hesitant on this one...people either love it or hate it.  I have to admit that the narrator/protagonist is annoying me.  She is quite whiny and pathetic.  We will see if my mind changes.

In print I finished "Rose Under Fire" by Elizabeth Wein and I LOVED it.  It was even better than "Code Name Verity".  Wow that woman can write, and has proved to me that I can still be blown away by a WWII book.  Then I read "The Silent Wife" by A.S.A. Harrison for my book club.  I freaking blew through that one in two days.  Almost a record for me I think.  I liked it obviously, but the ending was not satisfying for me.  There is definitely plenty to talk about and look forward to that discussion.  I am now digging into "Eleanor & Park", the much-beloved.

I want to take a special moment here to let you know that my baby boy will be turning 14 tomorrow!  I know everybody says this, but it is true...I can remember the day he was born.  Those first steps, first words (or in his case sentences), his grade school years, all those teacher conferences (ha), all those hugs and kisses and tears...they just fly by.  Gone - poof!  Now he is looming over me in height, deciding where to go to high school and giving me life advice.  It is scary.  We celebrated last night at our favorite steak house.

So we will see if I am left to decompress in peace today or not.  Hope you all have a great day!      

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Tell the Wolves I'm Home - Carol Rifka Brunt (Audio)

It's really no great shocker that in wrapping up my reviews before I take leave, this one would be the last one that I'd have to write.  I've been allowing the story to brew and stew in my mind, and I'm still a bit tormented about what to say.  I'd seen the reviews for this, but it was Melissa at Avid Reader's Musings that finally convinced me.
Synopsis:  June Elbus is not your average fourteen year-old.  She is socially awkward and shy, is in love with the medieval ages, and is pudgy.  Her older sister is smarter, prettier, is popular and is destined for Broadway.  The only one who understands Junie is her maternal uncle and godfather, artist Finn Weiss.  When Finn dies of AIDS, Junie is left adrift, confused about her family's attitude towards Finn and Finn's "special friend", and confused at why her sister is so hateful towards her.  She is all alone.

But then she strikes up a tentative relationship with Finn's partner Toby, and realizes that there is someone else out there that misses Finn as much as she does.  Although her family believes that Toby was the one who killed Finn, Junie finds comfort and kinship with him.

With this intense debut novel, Brunt adeptly tells a coming-of-age story filled with friendship, loss, jealousy and healing.

My thoughts:  It is very hard to sum up all the feelings that this story conjured.  The whole coming-of-age thing is complicated and emotionally-loaded all by itself.  Fourteen is a tough age when you are trying to figure out who you are, where you fit in, and what love is.  My heart physically hurt for Janie.

But then you combine the whole stigma of AIDS in the 80's, with everyone trying to figure out the why and the how, and not being comfortable talking about it.  I can't imagine navigating through that as a teenager.

For spice, we then throw in the hurt and anger and jealousy between Finn and his sister (Junie's mother), the hurt and anger and jealousy between Junie and her sister, the resentment of Junie and Finn's relationship, the anger and blame at Finn's partner?  The frustration at being perfect, the frustration at being labeled weird, and the need for human connection?

This book?  It's SAD, people, so much that it will break your heart.  But it is also so tender, and the characters are so delicately drawn.  And at the end, you can sit back and feel a sense of peace for where the author leaves us.  So my advice is, don't let the dire subject matter drive you away from this one.  It is a beautiful story.

A few words about the audio production:  Our narrator for this audio was Amy Rubinate, who was a new voice for me.  Apparently she has a full career in voiceovers for animation, video games, commercials, as well as a career on-stage.  She has a very youthful sound, and is perfect to read for young protagonists.

Listening length:  11 hours and 46 minutes (368 pages)

4.5 out of 5 stars


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Boys in the Boat - Daniel James Brown (Audio)

For some reason, when I received this audio in the mail from Penguin Audio, it didn't initially pique my interest, despite the fact that I do love true stories.  But then I heard that some friends were reading it for a book club, and Kathy told me SHE had listened to it and been blown away.  I pulled the discs off the shelf, loaded them on the iPod, and then waited until I was in a non-fiction mood.

Synopsis:  This is an amazing story about a team of nine boys from the University of Washington...a rag-tag group of farmers and blue-collar workers with a special bond...who trained and competed during their years in college and in their senior year went on to the 1936 Olympics and captured the gold.

The heart of the story is focused on Joe Rantz, one of the rowers who grew up without any support of family. His mother died when he was young, his step-mother had no use for him so he was kicked out of the house as a teenager to fend for himself.  He scrapped for work to pay for college, and refused to accept defeat in any part of his life.  We also get to know the charismatic yet nonverbal coach, the eccentric British genius who designed the team's boats, as well as their other boys.

This inspirational story recounts obstacle after obstacle that these boys encountered...everything from the overwhelming competition of the money and tradition of the Ivy League crew teams, sickness, lack of funding from the university, the Great Depression, and the heavily favored German team on their home turf.  It is a true testament to the tenacity of the human spirit.

My thoughts:  I am so glad I was persuaded to listen to this...what a heartwarming story.  It just doesn't hit any closer to home than this, and makes you stand up a little straighter knowing what can be accomplished if the will is strong.

There is much to be learned here.  The author educates us in the basics of the sport of crew.  I had no idea it was so intense and physically rigorous.  We learn about the engineering of the perfect boat.  We learn about the rumblings of trouble in Berlin, the efforts made to elevate Nazi Germany to world class status, and the documentation of these efforts made by Leni Riefenstahl.

The human perspective was equally as compelling.  The average boy would have admitted defeat had they battled against the odds thrown at Joe Rantz.  One particular story I will never forget...that at the Olympics, one of the rowers was deathly ill - nearly comatose - but the team refused to compete without him.  So they put him in the boat, though he could barely sit up, and everyone compensated for him.  And they still won gold.

This is the type of book that I would compare to "Unbroken" or "Devil in the White City"...pieces of history that everyone should read and appreciate.

A few words about the audio production:  Our narrator for this book was Edward Herrmann, who actually did read "Unbroken" as well as many other non-fiction audios.  His voice doesn't vary much, and does take some time to get used to. Eventually, however, you get accustomed to his style and is actually pleasant to listen to.

Listening length:  14 hours and 25 minutes (416 pages)

4.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sunday Salon: Hangovers

 Good morning my bloggy friends.  I write today with a slightly heavier heart than usual.  No fewer than a half dozen people I consider good friends are having some major troubles going on right now, if not to them, then to people they love.  Everything from illness, surgeries, cancer, troubled teenagers, children taken into protective custody...it is like everyone was drinking from the same tainted water, man.  So before I begin blathering about silly things, please let me send out my heartfelt prayers to those who are suffering.  I'm thinking about you, and you know who you are.

Now as far as hangovers.  You all know I love my wine, but I'm not talking about THAT kind of hangover.  I'm talking about what happens when you immerse yourself in something, become addicted to it, then suddenly it is gone from your life.  The first hangover I had was when I finished the last episode of Breaking Bad last Sunday night.  EPIC ENDING.  But it was over!  I'll never be able to watch it again for the first time, never be amazed at the stunning writing from week to week.  I'll probably never see anything this close to perfection on TV ever again.  I'm not exaggerating.  And no more Jesse!  I cried for over an hour.  My family thought I was nuts.

I also finished the 21-disc audio of "Insomnia", a re-read from my earlier days.  That is a long book.  So much that when I finished (especially after the incredible ending), I was sort of at odds with what to do with myself.  The only solution was more Mo Hayder.  My last in the Jack Caffrey series.  Once I finish this installment, I'll have to wait for her to write another one.  Yet another hangover in the making.

I've also started reading "Rose Under Fire" by Elizabeth Wein.  This is a sort-of sequel to "Code Named Verity", which I read about a year ago and really liked.  I'm about 40% of the way through, and it is excellent.  She writes such strong, young female characters!

We saw Gravity yesterday in 3D IMAX.  It felt pretty Hollywood-y and there wasn't much in the way of character development beyond the surface, but the effects were stunning.  Definitely worth paying a little extra for 3D IMAX for this one.

So the week I'm facing is going to be a humdinger.  It is football playoff time, and my son is facing three or four games this week plus two practices.  My daughter has Cross Country Districts this week.  And my husband is out of town.  Methinks I'll be living in my car for the week.  Thank God for audios, is all I have to say.

Hope you all have a restful, peaceful Sunday!  

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Place at the Table - Susan Rebecca White (Audio)

If done well, there is nothing quite like a book that gives cooking and the healing powers of food a leading role in its plot.  The perfect example that comes to my mind first is "The School of Essential Ingredients"...wow, what a magical book that was.  I truly believe that flavors and textures and smells can be combined to heal and soothe the most tired soul.  Obviously Ms. Erica Bauermeister gets it too, because I'll never forget that story.

So when reviews started popping up for this book, my ears perked up when I learned that one of the central themes was food.  I was lucky enough to nab it on audio from my local library.

Synopsis:  This story focuses on three people who are struggling to find themselves and a place where they belong.  Bobby is a young gay man who grew up in rural Georgia as a Baptist preacher's son, and was ostracized from his family because of his sexual orientation.  He escapes to New York City and lands a job as a sous chef in a well-regarded boutique restaurant.  Alice, the owner of the restaurant, is an African American woman who is a bit of a legend in the culinary world, but has kept her family and her history from North Carolina a secret from everyone, even her closest friends.  Amelia is a Connecticut housewife whose life is upended when she discovers not only her husband's secret life but a few secrets from her background as well.

These three individuals are adrift, lost in a confusing world that they thought they knew.  They converge in an 80's New York City, amidst the AIDS epidemic, and find a communion and comfort in each other's company, as well as friendship that acts as a reinforcement in their darkest hours.

My thoughts:  This is just one of those books that warms the heart.  The paths that these three characters take are not pleasant...they have all had the rug pulled out from underneath them.  White makes you FEEL their pain - all different kinds of pain but all very alienating.  We've got serious issues of racism (against skin color and sexual orientation), AIDS, grief, infidelity and standing strong for who you are.  Heavy stuff.

But when these three find each other, in the presence of Alice and Bobby's Southern comfort food brought to the table of a chic, NYC cafe, it becomes somehow lighter, hopeful and magical.  When Bobby adapts his Meemaw's pound cake (which she sold to her neighbors for years and from which the proceeds funded Bobby's escape to New York in the first place) into a famous dessert at the cafe, I think I gained 5 pounds just from reading about it!

If you are in the mood for a thoughtful, serious but heartwarming read, you really need to pick this one up.

A few words about the audio production:  Each character had their own narrator, which worked really well here.  Robin Miles, George Newbern, and Katherine Powell all did a fantastic job of capturing the essence of each of these characters.  I don't think I've ever heard any of them before, but they made this a very satisfying and entertaining listening experience.

Listening length:  9 hours and 1 minute (336 pages)

4.5 out of 5 stars


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tapestry of Fortunes - Elizabeth Berg (Audio)

This is not the kind of book I immediately grab.  It has a flower, a butterfly and a teacup on the cover!  Ugh!  Really???  But a couple of trusted souls told me it was good for what ailed me.  And up to the point I cranked this one up on the iPod, I'd listened to TWO Mo Hayder books back-to-back and my heart was feeling black and murky.  (Honestly, Hayder is AMAZING but you don't really feel jubilant after you are done with her books.)  So did this book fix me up?  It sure did.

Synopsis:  Cecelia Ross is a middle-aged, unmarried motivational speaker who does not always follow her own advice.  She has recently lost her best friend to cancer, and is at odds with what comes next.  One day she gets a postcard from "the one that got away", saying he still thinks of her.  Hmmm.  Who doesn't have a fantasy of the old boyfriend that was just in your life at the wrong time?  Using this as a catalyst, Cecelia puts her career on hold, volunteers at a hospice facility, sells her house and rents a room in a house with three other women (a sous-chef, a doctor, and a lesbian advice columnist).

Cecelia has a certain way about her...she is warm, she is likable, she is a friend.  Because of this, she bonds with a very sick young man at hospice and brings him out of his shell of depression.  She is instantly friends with her roommates, and soon they are all planning a road trip that is intended to reinvent or resolve an issue that each of them have.  This includes tracking down that love from long ago.

My thoughts:  While I was reading this book, I kept thinking about that commercial where there is an "Easy" button you push when you need thinks to resolve with little fuss.  I think it is Staples?  Anyway, while the characters in this book each have their own struggles - a messy divorce, an angry daughter, a crappy job, a long-ago child given up for adoption, etc. - ultimately things work out perfectly.  As in, a fantasy kind of perfect.

Not that I minded.  I kept asking myself "what if Joni had gotten run over by a car?" or "what if Lise was sued by a patient and lost the house?".  It wouldn't have worked.  This was a book to soothe your ragged heart.

Cecelia was a wonderful main character, and there was chemistry with everyone that came into her life.  Not every author can pull that off.  Each player had so much personality and charisma, I wanted to be a part of their lives.  In that way, this story so reminded me of a Marisa de los Santos or Erica Bauermeister book.  It was precious.  By the end, I didn't really care if things were too good to be true.

A few words about the audio production:  Barbara Caruso was the narrator for this book, and while she was new to me, she has been around the block a time or two in this field (including the narrator for "Anne of Green Gables").  She had the perfect voice for Cecelia.  She was obviously the right age, and she mirrored the warmth and easy nature of Cecelia's character.  Wonderful performance.

Listening length:   7 hours and 5 minutes (240 pages)

4.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sunday Salon: The Accidental Readathon

Happy Sunday everyone!  Busy times at the Nawrot house this week.  I had more than my normal share of animal angst this week it seems.  My wine store friend called me last Sunday and told me there were three kittens living under his bushes, and the mother had abandoned them.  I shut my eyes, steeled myself, and said that we needed to take them to the shelter.  Kittens adopt out quickly there.  I offered to take care of them until that could be arranged.  But when I saw this...

I knew they wouldn't be going to the shelter.  I work there, but I KNOW how things go in that place.  They were just too little and needed too much TLC.  I was able to find a lady in my community that owns a pet store, but also does rescues from her shop.  She agreed to foster them and get them adopted.  There is a special place in heaven for her.  I won't tell you it was easy to turn them over though.  If I didn't already have six bitchy cats, they would have stayed.

Right after that, this same woman told me she had sold a dog to a couple 2 years ago, but they have since had to move into a one bedroom apartment and couldn't keep the dog.  Did I want to give this good boy a forever home?  His name is Sgt. Pepper.


I tell you, I worked and worked on my husband to convince him that we needed this dog.  We had a Lab at one time, but we never replaced her when she died.  All this animal drama was just a little different than what we go through at the shelter each week.  I felt like God was putting them in front of us for a reason.

Instead, we have the aforementioned six bitchy cats including this guy, who is 21 pounds, thinks he is a dog and in full charge of us.  We couldn't resist putting him in this dog shirt (size LARGE)...  

Anyway I digress.  My daughter also had a cross country event in Tallahassee on Saturday morning, so I followed her bus up there (four plus hours one way) Friday and came back late Saturday.  It was nice and crisp up there, the kids ran well, but I got home too late to see my son's football game.  This was a highly-anticipated game as it would be the best team they have come across yet (they were undefeated), and would determine their chances for playoff action.  They played their hearts out and WON 13-7.  I'm so freaking proud.

Anyway, there was a readathon going on this weekend.  It almost never works out for me in the fall because of the kids' activities.  But lo and behold!  I had 8-ish hours in the car between Friday and Saturday, so I made a significant dent in the 21-disc "Insomnia" by Stephen King, which I had started earlier in the week.  I'm having fun re-reading this favorite of mine.  The critics never thought much of it, but I just recall really liking it back when I read it in the mid-90's.  And it is narrated by Eli Wallach (known for his role as Tuco in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, as well as his role in The Godfather series).  He is amazing!

I also had some time to myself in the hotel in Tallahassee, and made a serious dent in Mo Hayder's "Skin", the 4th installment of the Jack Caffrey series.  I'm within 30 pages of finishing it, so I might even wrap it up after I write this post.  Look for a Goodreads update on that one.  I've decided this is my favorite mystery thriller ever.

So I guess I had my own readathon without even meaning to.  I love it when it works out that way!  Today my daughter has a six hour community service fundraiser for cross country, so I've got to get her there this morning, then I'm not sure what is on the agenda.  I'd love to see Gravity.  Hope you all have a great Sunday!  

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Treatment - Mo Hayder (Audio)

After reading "Poppet", the 6th installment of Mo Hayder's Jack Caffrey series, on my vacation this summer, I decided that I was missing out and went back to book #1 to get caught up.  I was thrilled to be able to get both "Birdman" (review here) and "The Treatment" on audio, and I blasted through both of them quickly.  The first book was really dark, and really horrific.  Yet.  It has been weeks since I finished this one, and I'm having a hard time writing down my thoughts.  I'll bide my time a bit with the synopsis, then we will see if I can verbalize my feelings...

Synopsis:  A young boy has been kidnapped after experiencing a horrific few days of being held captive in his home with his mother and father.  The parents are hospitalized and are catatonic, and search teams are desperately trying to find the child presumed to be in the nearby wooded area.  While Detective Jack Caffrey is technically a member of the murder squad, he is called in to assist because after several days of searching, there is not much hope the child will be found alive.

Unfortunately, this case very closely resembles the long-ago disappearance of Jack's little brother, who was never found. Jack is obsessed with solving this case, seemingly to compensate for the demons and the guilt that haunt him to this day. Unsurprisingly, the case brings him face-to-face with his past, as well as a horrific, unspeakable evil in the form of a nest of sadistic pedophiles.

My thoughts:  Well, here we go.  If you know me at all, you know I DIG murder mysteries...body parts and psychopaths are my brain candy.  I love horror films, and I was raised on Stephen King.  I'm jaded as hell when it comes to this genre.  But this?  It stopped me in my tracks.  "Birdman" and "Poppet" were dark and oily and menacing.  This took it ten steps further to the grotesque and highly disturbing.

Now I have to backtrack.  I love the characters in this series.  They are MINE.  They are in my heart, and I love them with all their frailties.  The writing and plotting are smart, and there are always layers.  (I talked about this in my review of "Birdman".) The evil is not one-dimensional - it is spread out in all corners of the novel.  It isn't easy to figure out who the Bad Guy is, because often there is more than one.  Some are well-hidden and some are right out there in front of your face.  This is good, solid stuff here.

But I can't say that I was ready to dive into another Hayder book at the end of this one.  Will I read more?  Absolutely.  For the reasons I just named above, and also because I really cannot imagine her writing another book THIS horrific.  The ending made me want to crawl in bed for a week, and I just needed a break.  I needed love and warmth and happiness for awhile.

So for that reason, I'll just warn you.  If you are jaded and love your murder mysteries bordering on horror...if you don't mind needing to shower after it is all over...then I would HIGHLY recommend this book.  If you fall anywhere less than this on the spectrum, then I'd steer clear.

A few words about the audio production:  We have a return narrator in Damien Goodwin, who also narrated "Birdman".  As I previously stated, he has a wonderful British accent but also hops around to other dialects and accents as well, and does a simply amazing job.  I'm sad to say that it appears he does not return in later books in the series.  Hmmm...maybe this one smoked him out?  I wonder.

Listening length:  13 hours and 44 minutes

4.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Novel Ideas - K. B. Dixon

I'm not sure how it all started, but somewhere along the line I began getting K. B. Dixon's books for review.  They are all short novellas, are quirky and different, and I've enjoyed this little reading detour every time a new one arrives.  So far, I've read the following:

A Painter's Life
The Ingram Interview
The Photo Album

Dixon's books all tend to be written in short musings, making them very easy to read.  While the thoughts come in little bursts, they are full of personality, dry sarcasm, and snark.  I've never met the author but I have a feeling his books may be a window into his own disposition.  I get a big kick out of it.

In "Novel Ideas", our narrator is a struggling author, writing notes to a friend of his.  His thoughts range from his current project (true crime?  an essay?  a story about a cheating musician?) to his wife, his in-laws, his friend who just published a memoir, or just simple observations.  Interest levels wax and wane, apathy and distraction are constantly a battle.    

"Why is it always considered a good thing to have a positive attitude.  There are times - many of them - when having such an attitude is nothing more than an expression of delusional mentation."

"Dinner at Oboe's with the Motts - which brings me to a sensitive subject, a recurring issue in this charmed circle:  dessert.  No one but me ever wants to order one, so I am given carte blanche.  Unfortunately, whatever I order will not, in the end, be mine.  When it arrives everyone will remark on how good it looks and eventually jump in for a bite or two.  I come up three-quarters or a dessert short.  This has happened often enough for me to develop a defensive strategy:  I have changed what I order.  Now it is not necessarily what I want or what sounds best to me, but what seems likely to be the largest."  
Inevitably, I ended up chuckling through much of his books.  At the same time, the reader gets a very intimate view into the mind of a frustrated writer, who is surrounded by other writers and the noise of life that drags his mind everywhere but on the task at hand.

For an entertaining couple of hours (in my case, in a doctor's waiting room) you cannot beat it!

3 out of 5 stars 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Sunday Salon: Zombieland

Top 'o the morning to you my friends! I woke up this morning to the same old crappy, steamy heat outside.  I'm REALLY ready for just a wee touch of fall.  Anyday.  That would be great.  You know, to go along with all that wonderful pumpkin stuff out there on the market.  It does look like we dodged a tropical storm this time though.  So all is not lost.

Busy week this week.  I decided to go for broke and cram in a couple of doctor's appointments for myself...orthopedist on Monday and dermatologist on Tuesday. Good news?  Despite my German skin and high school baby oil fixation, I have nothing on me that needs a biopsy.  Bad news is that I have carpal tunnel in the right hand which required a rather painful steroid shot and a splint at night.  Getting old kinda sucks.  Also got a flu shot this week, just for sport.

I also got a rather shitty round of golf in this week (thanks to the carpal tunnel).

We had the weekend off from Cross Country, but the boys played their weekly game and slaughtered their poor opponents 37-0.

Because we sorta-kinda had Friday off, (at least we didn't have to get up the next morning at 4:30) I took the kids to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando.  This is something my daughter and I do every year, but this year the boy came.  As usual, I pop for Express Passes because otherwise it takes 2 hours to get through a haunted house.  It was incredible.  You may remember we watched some movies in preparation, and it paid off.  I think the best house was the one for "Cabin in the Woods".  I think the house may have been better than the movie.  And if you like "The Walking Dead" on TV, you would have loved the hundreds (not an exaggeration) of zombies walking in the dark streets among the visitors.  It was freaking insane.

So reading?  What of reading?  On audio, I wrapped up Rainbow Rowell's "Attachments" which was cute and was one of those books that makes your heart happy.  I'm now about halfway through Diane Keaton's memoir "Then, Again", which focuses on her career and her mother's battle with Alzheimer's.  (I absolutely love some of her earlier movies.  Baby Boom?  My fantasy. Not to mention the awesomeness of The Godfathers and Annie Hall.)

In print I'm still plugging through "Ender's Game" and I love it.  I don't have much time for print reading, but I'm hoping to finish it within the next few days.  This really is an amazing story for it's time, and I cannot wait for the movie.

Today we have church and then my daughter and I have a four-hour adoption event at a local Petco.  Cross your fingers that we are able to find many furever homes for these doggies.

Hope everyone has a wonderful, cool (!), restful day. 


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Birdman - Mo Hayder (Audio)

Not long ago, I reviewed Mo Hayder's book "Poppet", which I found out after the fact was installment #6 in the Jack Caffrey murder mystery series.  The novel was so rich and dark and complex that I felt I was seriously missing out if I didn't go back and read the five installments that preceded it.  As I am print-challenged, I luckily was able to get the first two books on audio.  Enter "Birdman".

Synopsis:  An informal burial ground has been discovered in an abandoned area in Greenwich, England, where lie the bodies of five prostitutes in varied states of decomposition.  This news is disturbing enough, but when it is learned that the bodies have been surgically altered, and once-live birds had been sewn inside their chests, the police know this is no standard investigation.

Enter one Detective Inspector Jack Caffrey, a young up-and-coming investigator with great potential, but suppressed demons (as all great investigators have).  When Jack was a boy, his little brother disappeared and was never found.  Although everyone suspected the pedophile neighbor, no evidence was found.  Jack's parents ultimately alienated themselves from their only son, leaving him to live out his adult life in the cursed home that overlooks the suspected killer.  The obsession to find his little brother, after all these years, is what drives Jack as a murder squad investigator, has imploded every personal relationship he has ever had, and threatens to pull him under completely.

Hayder unflinchingly travels deep into the psychological muck of the mind of a serial killer and the mind of tormented Caffrey, exploring the dark world of mental illness in its most taboo form.

My thoughts:  Hey, I knew Hayder was dark.  And I read murder mysteries as a form of brain candy, and have grown a little inured to crazies, body parts, and damaged investigators.  But this was something else.  Hayder doesn't hold back, and possibly she has cojones the size of Texas.

I always go into a murder mystery series asking myself the question "what makes this different from the hundreds of others vying for my attention?".  In this case, there are two answers. First, it is the depth of the murk to which Hayder dives.  It isn't pleasant, and is cringe-worthy.  Most authors just won't go there, but Hayder does, without hesitation.  Second, I'm starting to see a trend with Hayder's writing.  There is always...more.  More than meets the eye.  More than one mystery.  The mysteries at hand are not one-dimensional, there are layers and more than one right answer.

Another thing that I liked in this particular novel is the fact that we are allowed inside the mind of the psycho.  You don't necessary know WHO the psycho is, but you hear their thoughts.  Which makes it all the more disturbing.

This deal with Caffrey's missing brother.  It is raw, and is an issue that you know will HAVE to be resolved in future installments.  Otherwise Caffrey will crash and burn.  This as well will keep me coming back for more.

To a lover of this genre, what more can you ask for?

A few words about the audio production:  The narrator for this powerful listen is Damien Goodwin (who also appears to have narrated the second installment as well).  Not only does he employ a wonderful British accent for the voice of Jack, but throws in Irish, Cockney and other fun derivations as well.  I almost feel sorry for the guy, who has to pull off everything from a busybody old lady to a depraved killer and sexual predator.  But he does it, and he does it well.  Listening to him was a pleasure.

Listening length:  11 hours and 23 minutes (336 pages)

4.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Girl You Left Behind - Jojo Moyes

The happy surprises just keep coming from She Reads...this month they have selected the latest from Jojo Moyes, "The Girl You Left Behind".  As everyone is probably aware, this is the same author that brought us the incredible (and probably one my favorite reads of the year) "Me Before You".  Once I finished that book, I immediately knew I wanted to read everything she touched.   So this was perfect timing.

Synopsis:  In the midst of WWI in France, Edouard Lefevre, an up-and-coming artist, leaves his young wife Sophie to fight against the Germans.  In the hotel that Sophie and her sister run hangs Sophie's portrait that Edouard has painted.  When a German troop occupies their small town, its Kommandant becomes obsessed with Sophie and the painting.  While it is never a safe bet to be on any German's radar, Sophie decides to risk everything in order to see her husband again.

Fast forward to modern day London.  Liv Halston's talented young architect husband gives her a wedding gift...the painting of Sophie, a bargain obtained from a woman clearing out her late mother's apartment.  Not long after, Liv's husband suddenly dies, and the painting is the anchor that keeps Liv from losing all touch with reality.  But when the painting falls under scrutiny, and is declared to be a piece of artwork looted by the Germans during the war, Liv must put everything on the line to defend herself in court, and keep it from being taken from her.  Together with the charismatic young American ex-cop that she has just met, she must explore the history of the painting, tracing back exactly how it got from Sophie's possession to hers.  She finds herself wondering if she will have anything left after the fight.  Will she have any friends?  A house?  Her painting and last memento from her husband?  Any chance for love again?

My thoughts:  I'll be honest.  For the first hundred pages or so, when we are learning about Sophie, I could barely drag myself through.  It took me two weeks to read those hundred pages.  It was strange, because I love wartime stories.  But I just could not engage.  But suddenly, when the narrative switched to Liv, my interest and reading pace sprung to life.  Now THAT was the Jojo Moyes I remembered!

Liv's life, her personality, her chemistry with the handsome American, and her friendship with the goth girl that crashes at her house...it was charming and alluring.  Once Liv began researching the painting and Sophie's history, that part of the story became much more interesting.  (Just so you know, it seems in some reviews, readers had the opposite reaction.  I think the most important point here is that the two stories were so completely different, they could have been written by two separate people.)

By the end of the story, I had nearly forgotten my frustration and lack of interest earlier, and was completely drawn into the story.  The ending was pretty predictable, but it was heart-warming, and I didn't mind.

Definitely, this was not "Me Before You", but a worthy read.

4 out of 5 stars