Friday, April 29, 2011

Horns - Joe Hill (Audio)

Once I had established that Joe Hill was Stephen King's son, and then got a taste of his brand of entertainment (Heart-Shaped Box), I didn't need much persuasion to order his newest release "Horns" on audio as well.  "Heart-Shaped Box" was truly creepy, in the best way possible, so I locked all the doors and turned on all the lights when I started "Horns".  But ahhhh.  Not so fast.  It appears we have an author who might just enjoy keeping us slightly off-guard.  (Now what other author does THAT sound like?)

Synopsis:  Ig Perrish really isn't a bad guy.  He is the guy who always tries to do the right thing, to help others less fortunate, and be a good friend.  But when his childhood sweetheart is murdered, and he is demonized by his community for being the one to have killed her, his life slips into the abyss. 

A couple of years into this mess, after a night of drinking, Ig wakes up with horns growing from his head.  Suddenly, he has the power to extract deeply buried confessions from anyone he comes in contact with.  Ig is horrified at what he hears...his family despises him, his friends want to kill him for what they think he did to his girlfriend, and random people admit to the most awful, embarrassing things.  Initially, this is a curse.  But then Ig decides to use his gift to try to determine what exactly happened on the night his girlfriend died.

My thoughts:  Whereas "Heart-Shaped Box" pretty much terrified the reader, this book took us down a different path.  Sure there is plenty of heartbreak and devastation and scenes that made me close my eyes and cringe, but there is also humor and irony and social commentary built into the package.  I wasn't quite sure how to take it all, and I'm not confident in how to DESCRIBE it, but I knew I liked it.

Hill still has kept a couple of important things consistent from this first book - his edge and his insanely real characters.  His prose is rapid-fire, at times crude as hell (alot of eye-bulging from me), and in your face.  And he is completely unapologetic about it all.  Take that, and that, and that, he says.  I felt I had been yanked around alot, because I was sitting there feeling sympathy, then I was enraged, then I was confused, then I wanted to cry, then I was laughing.  You know those Scrambler rides at the carnival?  I think I had messed up hair by the end, and some whiplash.

The characters were just as real and fully realized as you or me.  Hill HAS to have based these people on someone he knows.  They walk right off the page (or in my case, the disc) into your life.  In some cases, you don't want them in your life because they are pure evil.  I've seen evil guys on paper, but one particular guy in this story was off the chart, and he turned my stomach every time he showed up.  You will not finish this book with any emotion resembling apathy.

For those of you who like everything explained and neatly wrapped up in the end, you won't find it here.  I still don't really know what happened totally, although I have my theories.  I'm not sure I am comfortable with the ending.  But I will overlook all of that because Hill has moxie.  He does what he wants, he doesn't pander to common opinion or a formula.  I love that about an author.  He also gets credit for creativity (Horns? Really?).  Must be all that Kiss music he listens to while he is writing. 

A few words about the audio production:  Fred Berman was the narrator for this production, and again this is a new voice for me.  Which I find amazing.  I listen to audios year-round, and 9 times out of 10 I'm listening to someone I've never heard before.  I liked Berman's work in this book, and it appears he has quite an impressive resume. I'd enthusiastically listen to his other work (which includes Skippy Dies).

4.5 out of 5 stars                  

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Oogy: A Dog Only a Family Could Love - Larry Levin (Audio)

ATTENTION!  ATTENTION!  Oogy goes not die in this book!

Isn't that the first thing you think when you see a book with an animal on its cover?  Me too, and I generally avoid them like the plague.  I don't need that kind of crying in my life.  But this story is a happy one, so the only tears you will shed are tears of joy.

Synopsis:  This is the tale of the luckiest and the happiest doggie on earth, Oogy.  Oogy was used as a bait dog for a dog-fighting ring, and was discovered in an alley with one side of his face ripped apart.  Police officers brought him to a veterinary hospital, where it's big-hearted employees made it their mission to save him. 

Larry Levin was in the right place at the right time, when he visited the hospital to put a beloved old pet cat to sleep.  While they were there, he and his twin sons took one look at the dog and knew they were meant to adopt him.  They nursed Oogy through countless surgeries to repair his face, and gave him all of the love he had been missing in the first few months of his life.  Despite all of the abuses he suffered, he never showed any signs of aggression, and proved to be a faithful, gentle and loving dog for Levin's family.

Levin not only tells us the story of Oogy's life, but the tale of Levin and his wife's inability to have children, and their adoption of their twin boys.  Levin finds serendipity in these two stories, and the miracle of having their sons and the dog in his life.  This is one of those rare stories that leave you with a smile on your face.

My thoughts:  It is hard for me to find fault in a story about a poor, pathetic, wounded doggy who was nursed back to health and brings joy to the lives he comes in contact with.  It is a precious story, and one that will do your heart good.

I can't say that the book is exceptionally-written, but it is from the heart.  There is a tendency for Levin to go into too much detail with regards to his daily schedule and his family's challenges, but I understand that there was a point in the telling of his story. 

Bottom line, this is a story that is clean and uplifting, one that anyone in the family would appreciate, especially animal-lovers that cherish their pets unconditionally, no matter what their appearance and no matter what the sacrifice.

A quick word of thanks to Heather (Raging Bibliomania) for loaning me this audio. 

A word about the audio production:  Joe Barrett was our reader for this short, 5-disc audio book.  I've never experienced his work before, but he has narrated some respectable novels, such as The Bonfire of the Vanities and A Prayer For Owen Meany.  His voice was pleasant and easy to listen to.

3.5 out of 5 stars   

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Napa #3

For more Wordless Wednesday photos, click here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

XVI - Julia Karr

A couple of months ago, I read and reviewed Lauren Oliver's Delirium, a story that takes place in a dystopian world where love is considered humanity's undoing, and is surgically sucked out of your soul at a specified age.  It started out feeling silly, but eventually the whole scene (and the boy/girl chemistry) grew on me, and I was nearly giddy at the thought of two more books in the series.

Several weeks ago, my literary twin Jill said she had found an edgier version of Delirium in this book XVI, and that I must read it.  And we must review it in tandem.  And Jill is like Darth Vader, using the force to convince me to read stuff, so off I go.  And you might want to mark this date down, because it is probably one of the few times I didn't share her enthusiasm for a book.

Synopsis:  It is Chicago, in the year 2150.  Big Brother is alive and well, with microchips implanted in humanity for tracking purposes, manipulative advertisements that are blaring 24/7 into the streets, bugged apartments, and mining communities have been formed on Mars.  Prior to any girl's 16th birthday, they are officially off-base for sexual activity.  But once they turn into "sex-teens", they are tattooed and open for business, whether there is consent or not.

Nina and her younger half-sister have been raised solely by their mother.  Nina's father died when she was a baby, and her mother's current ill-tempered boyfriend has little to do with his love child.  When Nina's mother is killed, secrets are revealed on her deathbed that defy everything Nina has even known to be true, and thus begins her quest for answers.  When she meets a handsome young man and his group of friends, she is introduced to a sub-culture of radicals that are at work to overthrow the government. 

My thoughts:  The premise of the story sounds pretty compelling, doesn't it?  I also give extra credit points for creating a world that is only a slight exaggeration from the one we live in now...predatory marketing, glorification of sex, corruption in government, and infringement of rights.  Hey, the idea was there.

Despite this however, the story felt flat for me.  I was instantly annoyed with the slang used.  Sex-teen?  Verts (for advertisements)?  'Letes (for athletes)?  Instead of adding a feeling of immersion or authenticity, it just came across as sophomoric nonsense.  Coincidences (or dare I even call it deus ex machina?) ran rampant. 

Characters felt underdeveloped as well.  We had a deathbed scene, and we had first love, so shouldn't my heart have skipped a beat?  The author failed to inspire passion or investment, and honestly I give these things out pretty freely with the books I read.  Perhaps one of the reasons why I felt left out in the cold was that the dialogue felt circular and basic.  I know these are teenagers we are talking about here, so maybe I should have been a little more patient with them repeating themselves and lacking witty conversation. 

Apparently Ms. Karr is working on a sequel to this novel, as well as a spin-off.  I can honestly say that I have no intention of reading them. 

Want a different opinion?  Go check out Jill's review, which she is publishing today as well!

2.5 out of 5 stars         

Monday, April 25, 2011

Monday Movie Meme - Fuzzy Faces

 In Boston, where our Molly and Andy Bumble live, hockey is a much-loved sport.  These days there is more love than usual flying around because the Bruins are caught up in an exciting series with the Montreal Canadians.  In support of their team, many men grow facial hair in solidarity.  Molly's not too fond of this idea, and I can relate.  My husband has never been able to rock that look.  But some guys in the movies can, and that is why we are here.  Did Molly intend for this to become a drool fest? I'm not sure, but that is exactly what you are going to get here at my place.  Prepare yourself girls.  Yeah baby...


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sunday Salon: Giddy up!

Howdy partners!  A very Happy Easter to y'all.  We are attending the sunrise mass this morning, so I took care to write this post Saturday night.  We went to our first sunrise mass last year, and swore we would have it no other way.  Watching the world wake up while celebrating the risen Christ just doesn't get any better.  Around lunchtime, we will be eating an Easter feast with friends, and whupping it up now that all those Lenten sacrifices are gone for another year.

I stayed busy this week, but it was relatively uneventful.  I was the Lone Ranger, with my husband being out of town, and did plenty of battles with the wild varmints that are my blessed children.  I'd say that the highlight of the week was the Books, Babes and Bordeaux meeting at my house, at which we discussed "Little Face".  Interesting and lively discussions abound, but I can't say we were all in love with the book.  We found inconsistencies in the story, and felt a little screwed by the end.  But more on that in the review!  Next month, we will be reading Lori Roy's "Bent Road" and are thrilled to be able to talk to her at our next meeting!

I did do some reading this week.  I finished up Matt Matthews "Mercy Creek" real quick-like, then dove a dramatic swan dive of my dreams head first into "Outlaw" by Warren Kiefer for James' Hop-a-Long, Git-a-Long, Read-a-Long in May.  Yeah, yeah, I know it isn't May yet, but I could NOT wait.  I'm not what you would call a fast reader, so when I read a 500+ page book in a little over five days, this is big news.  This book is a re-read for me, and it was just as incredible the second time around.  You should seriously think about joining this challenge...just one Western in the month of May.  And if you think you aren't a Western kind of person, then you need to read "Outlaw".  I can't imagine anyone not loving it.

Now I am reading "Buried Prey", the 21st installment in the John Sandford Prey Series.  I got it in the mail from Lydia Hirt and the folks at Putnam as a little surprise last week, and Lydia knows I can't resist Lucas Davenport. 

On audio, I finished "Revolution" by Jennifer Donnelly, and consider me impressed.  Damn that girl can write, and spin a tale that just fired up my imagination (OMG she quotes Pink Floyd!  Love at first read!).  I'm more excited than ever to dig into "The Tea Rose" and "The Winter Rose" on my trip to Poland.  Now I'm getting into "Bloodroot", a pick for my Skype book club that I will miss because of vacation.  That's not stopping me though...this book has been on my list since it's rave reviews in EW when it first came out.

I wish you all a wonderful Easter Sunday.  What is on your agenda today?         


Friday, April 22, 2011

Heart-Shaped Box - Joe Hill (Audio)

I just had an "I'll be damned" moment. Not to be confused with an "oh wow" moment or an "ah-ha moment". This was bigger. Now don't judge me, because I don't get out much. But did you know that Joe Hill is Stephen King's son? And here I thought I was the world's biggest fan of Uncle Stevie, and I didn't even know his son was an author? I should be shamed.

But what was weird was that as I finished "Heart-Shaped Box", I was thinking that this story wasn't just creepy, but Stephen King creepy. Now I get it. Uncle Stevie and his spawn are drinking the same water.

Synopsis: Judas Coyne is an aging rock star who has left a trail of women in his wake, has a record of drug abuse, collects macabre artifacts, and loves a fast hot rod. (Think James Hetfield from Metallica, beard, tats and all.)

Jude is enticed to buy a ghost from an online auction website to add to his twisted little collection of things. The ghost is "attached" to an old suit, which arrives in the mail in a heart-shaped box. Jude doesn't give it much thought, until he actually sees an old man in his house, and the man begins to suggest that Jude kill his current live-in girlfriend and himself. Even more frightening, Jude finds himself wanting to obey.

After a bit of research, Jude discovers that he is being haunted by the ghost of an ex-girlfriend's step-father, who in life, was a hypnotist. The girl committed suicide, presumably because Coyne dumped her, and the dead dude has come back for some seriously sadistic revenge.

So Coyne, his girlfriend and his dogs jump in his souped-up Mustang and drive, partly to try to escape the homicidal ghost (which doesn't work of course), and partly to confront ghosts from their own past that threaten to bring them down.

My thoughts: I was practically born and raised on Uncle Stevie's brand of creepiness, so I am more than capable to deal with stories of this nature. But Hill seems to have learned from the best (and for the record, holds his own just fine), and gave the hairs on the back of my neck a run for their money.

For all of you out there that pooh-pooh anything with a little supernatural in it, trust me when I say that this is fairly hard core and the furthest thing from silly. I would be very much like pooh-poohing The Shining, which is also full of phantoms with evil intentions, and who would do that? I know I don't want the thing in room 217 to get me, thanks.

The writing itself is adequate and readable. What sets this story apart, aside from its level of sinister, are the vivid characters. Who ever writes about a protagonist like this one, really? He has your typical track record, one that makes you feel slimy, but was also sympathetic because of the abuses he suffered as a youth. And, sometimes, he actually showed signs of humanity. His girlfriend was pierced and goth, but also had her own set of baggage and I wanted the best for her. All of the characters, even the ghost, were distinct and three-dimensional.

The plot was three-dimensional as well. Hill digs into topics of sexual abuse, mental illness, and the effect these things have on a person's life. I should mention that there are some graphic language and themes, and while it is isn't gratuitous, there was enough to make my eyes pop a couple times.

Overall, a thoroughly entertaining and deliciously creepy read, and very impressive for a debut.

A few words about the audio production: The narrator for this production was Stephen Lang, who was new to me. His work seems to touch all genres, but he was cast perfectly for this particular role, and was a most excellent listen. In the wrong hands, this audio could have been an epic fail, but Lang was masterful.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tales From Outer Suburbia - Shaun Tan

Having dipped my toe into the magical world of Shaun Tan's "The Arrival", I am moving on to the only other book of Tan's that my library carries, "Tales of Outer Suburbia". While "The Arrival" was wordless, this collection of 15 illustrated stories are full of fanciful tales of magical realism. Tales that on one hand are childlike in their imagination, but contain deeper philosophical undertones that give pause to those of us old enough to understand (or NOT, in some cases!).

For example, take the story "Eric", about a shadowy leaf-like creature that comes to live with a family as a foreign exchange student. Eric prefers to sleep in the pantry (written off as a cultural thing), is curious about unexpected objects, and departs without warning, leaving behind the most precious of gifts as a thank you.

Or how about this scary, silent water buffalo that lives on a vacant lot, that gives directional advice to young children? I'm not a hundred percent sure about the message, but the image of the buffalo is arresting.

One story tells about a dreary community where cement is painted green to simulate grass, there is a shortage of food, and a shortage of money. But then one family discovers a hidden courtyard that can only be accessed through a hole in the roof, a courtyard where everything is lush and beautiful. They discover that all houses have an inner courtyard, if you can find it, and is used as sanctuaries for each family. The imagery is amazing.

There is a community, sometime in the future, where all families are encouraged to each buy their own missile in order to help the government protect their citizens. Each family must keep their missiles functioning and clean and ready to use. But instead, the missiles are slowly disarmed and used for doghouses, tool sheds and planters. Obviously our Mr. Tan is a lover, not a fighter.

As you would expect, the illustrations each have a life of their own, ranging from breathtakingly beautiful to bizarre. This is eye candy that you won't tire of admiring.

The stories aren't all easy to understand. In fact there were some that I scratched my head and just admired the artwork. This is considered to be a children's book, but like "The Arrival" I think it would make more of an impact if some adult assistance accompanied the reading. After reading two of Tan's books, I will attest to the fact that he gets you thinking with the creative side of your brain, and away from literal interpretation, which makes for great discussion with your kids or in a classroom.

4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The UCF Book Festival in a (rather large) nutshell

I think I've made enough of a nuisance of myself raving about the 2nd Annual UCF Book Festival here lately, but I can't let it lie until I 'splain out all the awesomeness that I experienced last weekend. 

So I talked about the Author Reception already, that was held on Friday evening.  That was a fun way to kick off the festivities. On Saturday morning at 9am, they were open for business!

The committee made a concerted effort to make this event much bigger than last year.  One of their objectives was to get local bloggers in on the fun.  Heather (Raging Bibliomania) met Susan Wegmann, an Associate Professor at UCF, at SIBA last fall, which paved our way into this opportunity.  Heather provided my name and Jenny Reed's (Take Me Away) to her, and suddenly we were the festival's official bloggers.  We were provided our own blogging suite and a full page ad in the schedule booklet.    

Above from left to right:  Jenny Reed, me, Heather Figearo

Our suite overlooked the floor of the arena, where the book signings and booths were stationed.  Before the author panels started at 10:00, we scoped out the goodies.  Heather and I bought literary t-shirts from Literary Threads, as well as some bookmarks and some books.  (We're helpless.)

The first panel on my agenda was called "Who Put the Thrill in Thriller", and was attended by mystery thriller authors Tom Lowe (The 24th Letter), Daniel Palmer (Delirious) and Tim Dorsey (Electric Barracuda).  Sorry for the low lighting...we had ambiance.     

I love crime novels, and these guys fulfilled my homicidal, blood-spattered expectations.  My first reaction was...Daniel Palmer, son of Michael Palmer, was quite the handsome dude.  I've been really wanting to read his latest book "Delirious", about which we got some juicy background.  I was more than shocked, however, when he brazenly revealed to us the bad guy of his next novel "Helpless".  How dare he?  He didn't think we would remember this fact once the book is finally published, but trust me, I will.  I wanted to run out of the room screaming with my fingers in my ears.  The real hit, to me, was Dorsey.  I've listened to one of his books (which all take place in Florida) "Atomic Lobster" on audio, and it was freaking hilarious.  His protagonist is a Dexter-ish serial killer with a conscience.  Now I know why his book was so funny.  The guy about made me pee my pants for the entire panel. I wanted to buy him a beer.

My next session, and probably my favorite (sorry I didn't get a picture), was called "Blood and Poison Across the Centuries:  True Tales of Crime & Science".  This session was attended by Holly Tucker (Blood Work), Douglas Starr (The Killer of Little Shepherds) and Deborah Blum (The Poisoner's Handbook). Have you ever wanted to know what it would be like to dig through foreign archives, old moldy boxes and autopsy notes from the 1800's and solve a cold case?  These guys have done it.  Not only that, but this trio acted like they'd been on a publicity tour with each other for three years, they were just lobbing the conversation back and forth seamlessly.  I was SO MOVED by their panel, I went out and bought all three of their books and missed half of the next session so they could sign them.  (she says as she stares at her mountain of books that threaten to fall and crush her)    
The last session I attended was called "Family Secrets", which featured Lori Roy (Bent Road), Susan Hubbard (The Season of Risks) and Eleanor Brown (The Weird Sisters).   

This was a fascinating panel because Lori and Eleanor both just published their debut novels.  Lori used to be an accountant (yay number crunchers!), Susan was a seasoned professor and a writer of both short stories and novels, and Eleanor, well, she was Eleanor!  Like I said in my post Saturday, she is real and candid and hilarious.

After all was said and done, it was time to get the Central Florida blogger community (hot damn guys, we actually HAVE one!) together for an end-of-festival celebration.  As all of you bloggers know, you don't really need to have met someone in real life to have a two hour conversation with them the first time you meet them.  We reflected on the festival, our blogging lives, the books we are reading, and about Florida's bugs.  The poor husbands sat at the end of the table and just shook their heads.      

Left to right:  Jenny's husband and Jenny (Take Me Away), me, Liz (Cleverly Inked), Heather (Book Addiction), Heather (Raging Bibliomania), and Michelle and her husband (My Books, My Life).

So there you have it.  I am already getting excited about next year, and what the festival will bring.  The bigger it gets, the more authors we will attract, and the more attendees will come.  If you are within a driving distance of Orlando (or can figure out a way to coordinate a trip down here at the same time) you must come in 2012.   


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Amaryllis in Blueberry - Christina Meldrum

I had read a couple of reviews for this book, but hadn't been compelled to read it until it was chosen for the May selection of my new Skype book club.  Actually, if I were honest (and I am generally) I'd tell you that I thought it was the April selection, thereby nixing any opportunity for me to read the REAL choice for April, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.  Sorry guys.  Sometimes you have to draw me a picture.

Synopsis:  Amaryllis Slepy is the fourth daughter of a bohemian, self-absorbed mother (Seena) and a distant, pathologist father (Dick).  Yllis has always been different than her three sisters, all named Mary (Mary Catherine, Mary Grace, Mary Tessa).  She is dark skinned, dark-haired, and is an "emotional synesthete"...she senses people's emotions through taste and sight and smell.  When Yllis is 11, she confronts her mother about her parentage, believing that she is the daughter of a local Indian.  Fearing that his subconscious suspicions are true, Dick arranges for the family to move from Michigan to West Africa, where he will act as doctor to an aid organization.

Through narration from each of the family members, we are told of the problems that confront the Slepy family from the moment they step on African soil.  Mary Grace is pregnant, and receives an offer of marriage from a local to prevent scandal.  Mary Catherine is starving herself (for Jesus?  from some trauma?).  Mary Tessa catches dysentery.  Seena and Dick drift farther apart and into their own worlds of self-preservation.  The reader innately knows that all of this is building to a disastrous ending, that results in not only murder but discovery of what truly happened in Michigan that started the Slepy on this path to begin with.

My thoughts:  I am finding it difficult to summarize my thoughts on this book.  First of all, I had an incredibly difficult time in getting through it.  Do I blame it on life's distractions?  I think that would be too easy.

But first, let me back up and start with some positive words.  The writing is simply gorgeous.  I'd be challenged to find words more beautiful.  Here is a snippet:

"Before Africa, I knew feeling:  joy's humming, melancholy's shimmer, the flavor of love.  Because I was joy's humming, melancholy's shimmer and the flavor of love.  But did I feel these feelings?  Or was I merely the bearer of others' joys, brought into the world like a sacrificial lamb, without a father's love?

In Africa, joy and melancholy and love weren't always where they belonged.  When I couldn't get hold of these feelings - when I saw myself without feelings swirling, like I did that snake - I was no longer sure I had a soul."
Some of these passages just made me stop and think for awhile.  This was a very philosophical novel, that laid out a myriad of questions not easily answered.

However, the plot failed to capture my imagination, and I felt like I was viewing all of that beauty from a distance.  Perhaps there was more profound discussion about religion, personal responsibility, identity, and Greek mythology than character development.  Perhaps the scope was just a big too broad and ambitious.  Be that as it may, I had little connection with any of the characters.  By far, the most interesting personality was Yllis, who was sensitive, precocious and wise beyond her years.  But the rest of her family?  I didn't like them - I found them narcissistic, distasteful and flat.

The narration also jumped from person to person, and went back and forth in time.  I had no problem following it, but this technique tended to prevent any kind of flow or momentum to the story.     

I knew from the synopsis that I would want to compare this novel to The Poisonwood Bible, and I tried hard to keep them separate.  But TPB was a masterpiece, and I continuously wondered by any author would even dare come close to a plot with which it could never compete.  Seems like asking for trouble. 

Unfortunately, all of this adds up to a less than fulfilling experience for me.  I'm well prepared to face a book club that may look at me like I have three heads!  It won't be the first time!

3 out of 5 stars   

Monday, April 18, 2011

Monday Movie Meme - Run Like the Wind

Today on the Monday Movie Meme, the Bumbles have the Boston Marathon on their minds, therefore our topic will be all about running.  Although our beloved Bumbles aren't running the marathon, they've lived or worked on the famous route most of their lives.  Today will mark the 115th of this famous race, so get your brains kick-started and try to think of movies that feature some form of running.  Not an easy one!  Here are a few that came to mind:

1. Chariots of Fire - of course.  I feel like this one is the no-brainer, and was tickled that Molly and Andy didn't take it.  Now that darned song is stuck in my head.

2.  The Incredibles - one of the members of this talented family, Dash, had the gift of speed.  I love this movie, but the cherry on top of the whole thing was Sarah Vowell as the voice of Violet.

3.  Juno - it is hard not to think of Paulie Bleeker when you mention running, skinny legs, headband and all.  (I have a fondness for headbands you see.)  Despite the fact that we've got a teenage pregnancy here, I find this movie completely charming, with great acting and the rapid-fire and uber cool screenplay written by Diablo Cody.

4.  Run Lola Run - dare ya to watch this one and not feel tired by the end.  This is a really fun movie about a girl (with killer red hair) that is in a race against time to save her loser boyfriend.      


So now it is your turn!  I realize that Forest Gump isn't on my list, but that is because the Bumbles got first dibs.  Any others? 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sunday Salon: Festivus Maximus

Hola friends!  Small admission...I'm writing this from the blogger suite of the UCF Book Festival on Saturday afternoon.  I'm not likely to be home tonight until close to midnight so it's now or never.  So forgive me if I seem distracted. 

This week wasn't quite as busy as the Busy Sandy week.  It felt a little unproductive with all the running around.  My son had to impersonate John F. Kennedy for a living history presentation, I had to take the kids to renew their passports for our trip this summer (even though the passports didn't expire until August, we still had to renew...what the hell is an expiration date for then???), and various waiting around for appointments at my house AGAIN.  In the process of having a front porch built, they guys blew out our Internet cable, so that was nice.  Thank God for satellite Internet.

The highlight, of course, was the UCF Book Festival, which I touched on yesterday.  We had the Author Reception on Friday night, then the actual event all day Saturday.  From 10:00 to 4:00 there were incredible author panels, plus there was an arena full of booths (literary t-shirts, bookmarks, and books were purchased!).  There was way more going on for this humble little Sunday thing, so I will recap sometime next week.  Suffice it to say, I was buzzing by the end of the day. 

So what of reading?  I wrapped up Michael Harvey's "The Fifth Floor" on audio, a nice quick crime thriller with lots of excitement and a great tour of the local's Chicago.  Then I jumped into Jennifer Donnelly's "Revolution", and I am LOVING it.  OMG.  I am five discs in...sure hope it doesn't slide downhill because there is a potential here for a favorite read for 2011.

In print, I finished Alexandrea Weiss' "Recovery", the sequel to "To My Senses".  And it made my hair stand up on end, in a good way.  Alexandrea!!!  What the HECK are you doing to me???  Ack!  Then I squeezed in a little Shaun Tan with "Lost & Found", which is a collection of three graphic novels published earlier.  Love his stuff.  Then on to "Mercy Creek", a little southern novel sent to me by Hub City Press. 

But I am antsy.  Because James is hosting the Hop Along Git Along Read Along in May.  Just read one Western.  Now don't snicker!  I'm not a Western kind of girl, but one of the best books I've ever read, "Outlaw" by Warren Kiefer, is a Western.  I read it years ago before blogging, and it was borrowed from a friend.  I bought myself my own used copy on Amazon and I'm reading that thing NEXT.  So excited.  You must give it a try, and if you don't believe me, just wait for my review!

So what is going on in your lives these days?  Big plans for today?  I promised my daughter I would take her shopping, so I will smile and I will not complain and I will enjoy it!   

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The UCF Book Festival begins with a bang: The Author Reception

OK maybe I'm just a little bit giddy about being part of the UCF Book Festival, the only cool literary event we've got going on in Central Florida.  I've always been so jealous of all the bloggers that have book festivals happening in their backyard.  The authors!  The signings!  The panel discussions!  The blogger get-togethers!  Heck, we don't even have an indie bookstore in Orlando anymore.

So God bless the folks at UCF for making this grass roots event a reality, and working their tails off to try to make it a huge success.  In the process of their planning, they made a conscious decision to embrace book bloggers, and I'm proud to be a part of it!  You won't find a greater lover of books and supporter of reading than a book blogger.  Joining me in the official blogging capacity is Heather at Raging Bibliomania and Jenny at Take Me Away.


The event was kicked off with an author reception held at the UCF Barnes and Noble on Friday evening from 6pm to 8pm.  The bloggers three arrived not really knowing anyone.  As we stood scoping out the crowd, my eyes bugged out and I whispered to my friends:  "Oh my God, Eleanor Brown (author of "The Weird Sisters") is standing RIGHT BEHIND US!".  She was deeply engaged in a conversation with another woman who had her back turned to us.  So with the ruse of getting a glass of wine, I meandered by and struck up a conversation.  My eyes bugged out again when I realized that Eleanor's friend was Lori Roy, who just released "Bent Road" (reviewed a couple of days ago by Jenny here, and ordered on audio from the library by me yesterday).  Soon the five of us were chatting, gushing over their novels.  Eleanor was SO incredibly happy and open, she felt like an old college buddy.  And both authors love to participate in book club call-ins, so take note! 
We also were thrilled to catch up with Susan Gregg Gilmore, who Heather and I met at SIBA.  She was as gracious and beautiful as ever, I had to tell her how much I loved "The Improper Life of Bezelia Grove", and we promised to meet up on Saturday.  

There was a formal presentation as well, given by the President of UCF, John C. Hitt, and Dean Sandra Robinson.  They talked about the construction of the Morgridge International Reading Center at UCF, and about their plans for the festival going forward.  We were then treated with a reading by Maxine Paetro, a collaborator with James Patterson, of the creepy prologue from The 7th Heaven. 

The best part of all, however, in my opinion, was a group of local children (aged approximately 12 to 15) who performed a little singing, acting performance about the love of reading.  It was spectacular!  And of course I am kicking myself for not taking a video.  You would all have been extremely impressed with these young men and women.  We are hoping that maybe we will catch their act again sometime during the day today.

As bloggers, we felt like we were treated like royalty.  We were given a full page ad in the event booklet, and will have our own blogging suite available all day during the festival.  Stay tuned for more excitement and updates on the UCF Book Festival! 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Spotlight on the UCF Book Festival: The Double Human - James O'Neal

 The last book I will highlight for the UCF Book Festival is "The Double Human" by James O' Neal.  I originally received this signed book at SIBA last fall.  Unfortunately, when I agreed to read and review a number of books for the festival, I bit off more than I could chew and was not able to read this book prior to the event.  Not to worry...I will most definitely be reading it.  But until then, here is the summary from inside the front cover.


Tom Wilner is a cop.  At least what passes for a cop in this shattered world.  Plague and nuclear war have left most of the United States uninhabitable.  Many have fled to safer zones, forcing what's left of the government to wall off cities in an attempt to control mass migration.  The city of Miami is just one of these contained prison states.  But it's the outskirts of this forsaken realm that Tom Wilner calls home.

Amid this chaos, Wilner stumbles into the path of a wild and brutal adversary.  Forced to go undercover in the most frightfully ravaged corners of the Miami Quarantine Zone, Wilner uncovers something he hasn't seen in decades...a serial killer.  But this killer's path is not like any other; he has been active for nearly fifty years without any repercussions.  People call him "the Vampire".  Indeed, this serial killer is not human...and neither are his victims.

Doesn't this sound incredible?  Seven of the ten reviews on Amazon are five star.  If only I had one more week to read this before the festival!  Have any of you read this one?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Distant Hours - Kate Morton (Audio)

Did you know that Kate Morton has got it all going on in the category of creepy? She seems to possess the checklist that one needs to write all things gothic. Spooky mansion. Abandoned nursery. Madness. Spinsters creeping around. Tales from the past involving mysteries, a cold rainy night, and maybe even death. I got a taste of it in The House at Riverton, and so I was on the library waiting list the second I knew this beauty was coming out. My mom listened to it before I did, and she kept teasing me with comments like "I really like this" and "that is not how I thought it was going to end". Gah! So here is a brief summary.

Synopsis: The mystery all started with a long lost letter, mailed in 1941 but not delivered until 1992. When Edie's mother receives the letter, it devastates the normally reserved woman, and Edie longs to know more. Her research takes her to Milderhurst Castle, to where her mother was evacuated and lived during WWII. There live the elderly and eccentric sisters Blythe, Persephone, Seraphina and Juniper, daughters of the famous Raymond Blythe, author of childhood favorite "The True History of the Mud Man".

Through her digging Edie learns of madness, unrequited love, family corruption, lies and secrets, and the story of a heartsick creature who lives in the mud waiting for his love's return. All of which is delivered to you by going back and forth in time, between 1939 and 1992, slowly revealing the truth behind the mystery. Edie must also come to terms with a side of her mother she's never seen, and make peace with the distance that has always been present.

My thoughts: Reading (or listening in this case) to a Kate Morton novel is akin to burrowing down in your comfy sweats on a cold, rainy day and getting lost in an enchanting, creepy universe. So much atmosphere!  If you pay attention closely, you might even feel the chill of a ghost passing by.

One thing about Morton that you need to know is that she makes you work for it. She does not offer her mysteries easily. Instead, she gradually reveals her secrets bit by bit, so don't get anxious. I can promise, though, that it is worth the effort.

Morton is what we like to call in one of my book clubs as "not a lazy writer". This lady digs in deep, to hell with word count, and makes her characters real. She puts her all into every back story, every description, and while this can make her stories feel a little slow, you feel invested when you are through.

Another thing I enjoyed about this story is how Morton throws a bone to all bibliophiles. Edie works for a publisher, and has been obsessed with books, libraries and bookstores since she was a child. Therefore you know this woman. We've all been there, and that familiarity feels comfortable.

A word about the audio production:  The narrator for "The Forgotten Garden" and "The House at Riverton", Caroline Lee, is back again for "The Distant Hours", and I couldn't have been more pleased.  Lee has a lilting, girlish voice with a British accent, and is pleasant to listen to.  She doesn't vary her narration much between characters, but this has never posed a problem for me, and would look forward to hearing her again.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Napa #2

For more Wordless Wednesday photos, click here.