Friday, June 29, 2012

The Reckoning - Alma Katsu

 I was in quite a state when I finished Alma Katsu's "The Taker", the first installment of a trilogy.  What WAS this book?  It was dark and twisted and seductive...and terrifying.  Seriously, I had nightmares about what was lying in wait for me, out there in a dark cold cellar, in the second installment.  The anticipation about drove me mad.

Then I met Alma, who is the most down-to-earth, likable human being you will ever encounter.  What kind of demons was she hiding beneath this normal exterior that she could create such hideous characters?  Well, I don't know and I don't rightly care.  She is simply one talented story-teller, and as I made my way (gleefully, like a kid at Christmas) through "The Reckoning", I started to suspect that she exorcised most of those demons in her first novel and now we are getting a peek at her inner heart.

SPOILER WARNING FOR "THE TAKER":  I didn't say much about the plot of "The Taker" in my review because the book is best consumed blind.  In my ramblings below, there will be some small spoilers of its plot.

Synopsis:  Picking up right where we left off at the end of "The Taker", Lanore McIlvrae is enjoying her life with her new mortal lover Luke.  Then she feels a vibration in her soul that can only mean that Adair, her creator and sadistic master, has escaped the tomb that held him captive for two hundred years.  It was Lanore that entrapped him in order to escape his torture and manipulation, and she knows that now there is going to be hell to pay.  Not only is she in danger, but so is Luke and his children.  She launches a search for Adair's now-scattered minions, trying to get their help.

In alternating narratives, we accompany Lanore in her quest to avoid Adair's wrath while recruiting alliances to destroy him.  We also enter the mind of Adair  as he attempts to understand his feelings for Lanore and navigates through a world completely foreign to him, filled with motor vehicles and Internet.  Large gaps in Lanore and Adair's stories are filled in as well, taking us from France, to London, to Central Asia and covering a millennium of time.  There is even some elbow-rubbing with Lord Byron! It all leads to the inevitable showdown between the forces of love and evil. 

My thoughts:  Nine times out of ten, the middle book of a trilogy is the means to an end.  It exists to fill the gaps, to do a little character-building, to bide time and build anticipation for the final whammy.  This beauty did NOT fall into the middle book malaise.  It swept me away.

First of all, that damned Adair that haunted my sleep?  He speaks!  We get his side of things, his thoughts and motivations.  Not only does it lift the blanket of mystery that surrounds him in the first book, but it enriches his character tenfold.  Not completely sure I completely trust the guy yet...he did some damage to me and my nerves that can't be undone.  But instead of being this scary, black, soulless demon from hell, he has taken on some dimension and color.  I found my eyebrows raising, and going "hmmmmm".

In my review of "The Taker", I snorted at the idea that this was anything close to a love story.  A love story spawned in Hades maybe!  But things take on a different attitude in "The Reckoning", and love does start to stick its head in the door.  It doesn't cross the threshold, mind you, but the presence is there right around the corner.  

Alma hasn't gone completely soft though.  She introduces one particular "action", taken by Adair, that made my skin crawl.  It gives you some pause.  I sat there for a few minutes with my mouth hanging open, muttering "oh he did NOT just do that".  It is the stuff of Stephen King. 

We leave this installment in a different mindset than the first.  Instead of wanting to hide in my closet in a fetal position, I finished with a smile, with my heart swelling.  At the same time, there is a lot of meat still on this bone and many different directions the plot could take.  Some of them pretty exciting and a little scary.  I will wait anxiously for the final installment, "The Descent", coming in 2013.

4.5 out of 5 stars 


Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Informationist - Taylor Stevens (Audio)

All I needed to hear about this book was that the protagonist was Lisbeth 2.0.  I absolutely love strong, female characters that are decisive, smart, and can be outnumbered in a fight and still kick ass and take names.  I don't mind if they have demons and fact, the more flawed the better.  

Then I learned about the background of the author, Taylor Stevens.  She has had one hell of a life, this woman.  One that inspires awe for what she has accomplished, despite the odds.  But I'm not going to talk about that right now.  It actually makes more sense to discuss Stevens' background when I review her second novel in the series, "The Innocent".  So stay tuned for that.  Suffice it so say, this book had me hooked before I even started.

Synopsis:   Vanessa "Michael" Monroe is a beautiful, young, streetwise merchant of information.  She is hired by corporations, governments or individuals with deep pockets for her skills in infiltrating foreign countries or organizations to extract valuable data.  Born to missionary parents and then trained by ruthless gunrunners in central Africa, she speaks over 20 languages and can hold her own in hand-to-hand combat, but has childhood demons that she battles in her nightmares and is a loner.  

One wealthy oil man from Texas proposes a lucrative but unique mission for determine once and for all the fate of his missing adopted daughter who disappeared in the jungles of Africa four years ago.  This would require Vanessa to face some uncomfortable, unresolved issues from her past, but it IS a hell of a lot of money.

Using her knowledge of the African culture and political landscape, her skills at language and finesse of managing personalities, Vanessa pries back the layers of mystery surrounding the missing girl.  But in the process she discovers hidden agendas and deception at all levels, and finds herself abandoned and alone in the jungle, fighting for her life.  The most disturbing question in Vanessa's mind, though, is who can she trust?

My thoughts:  I've always said that a mystery thriller needs a hook to be memorable.  Body parts and a messed up psychopath just won't cut it.  Taylor Stevens has cracked this code.  There are a lot of Lisbeth wannabes out there, because Lisbeth was an incredibly unique anti-hero and everyone was drawn to her.  And I WOULD liken Vanessa to Lisbeth...she is wily, smart and the best in her field.  But she is also more savvy with people, and can take out five armed mercenaries by herself.  So girlfriend has some Jack Reacher in her too.  Call me captivated.

Also captivating was the incredibly likable support cast of Miles Bradford, a security pro who accompanies her on her mission, and Francisco Beyard, an old flame and sexy, badass drug and gun dealer.  These weren't your stereotypical token hunka-hunka bad boys.  They had their issues and you didn't quite trust them, but you liked being around them, and at one point my heart rate perked up at the thought that they might be around for following installments.  

The story itself was mildly intriguing, but far from unique, upping the ante only for the intricate descriptions of Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea.  There were stretches where it seemed like they were forever running around avoiding murderous bands of evil-doers, and I could have done without one or two of them, for the sake of brevity.  There was also some facts about Vanessa's childhood that made me roll my eyes.  Wine aficionado and sex maniac at 14?  Really? I wasn't sure about that.  But overall, I was thirsting for more Vanessa at the end.  Lucky for me, I had installment #2, "The Innocent" loaded and ready to go.  

A few words about the audio production:  Our narrator for this novel, Hillary Huber, was the perfect choice for the voice of Vanessa.  She's smooth (she almost purrs sometimes), her voice is low and sultry and assured.  I'd heard her before in "This Beautiful Life" (her narration was the only highlight with that one) and she made an impression.  She would now rank with me as one the best female voices in the business, in my humble opinion.  You must seek her out.

4.5 out of 5 stars 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Not So Wordless Wednesday: Washington DC #4

Another one of our repeat stops on our DC field trip was Mount Vernon.  Next to the Newseum, this is another favorite.  Unlike in the city, this location is very rural and peaceful, nestled on the banks of the Potomac.  The grounds are gorgeous, and beg for a stroll.  The rockers on the back porch overlooking the river also beg for a book, an iced tea and a nap.  

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn

I never got in on the madness that swept through the blogiverse when Flynn's first book "Sharp Objects" was published.  But boy, it was hard to ignore the rave reviews.  I also did not read her second book "Dark Places".  Too many books, so little time, and all that.  I feel like I need to go confess for these sins.  I know not what I do.  

Because, my friends, after reading this book.  This freaking Tilt-a-Whirl carnival ride of a book.  This INSANE book.  I am shamed.  What.  The.  Hell.  Have.  I.  Been.  Doing.  With.  My.  Life.

Did you see that in the middle of May, a couple of weeks before it's pub date, Entertainment Weekly had this little beauty on its Bullseye List?  In the good part of the Bullseye, I might add, saying it is the one book you need to read this summer?  And the "A" they ultimately gave it, calling it "ingenious and viperish"?  (Seriously, look at this review.)  Well, they weren't lying.  Let's see if I can give you a feel for what you are in for, without spoiling the heck out of it.

Synopsis:  On the morning of Nick and Amy's fifth wedding anniversary, in the small town of Carthage, Missouri, everything starts out business as usual.  Amy makes Nick crepes, then Nick heads out to work at the bar he bought and runs with his twin sister.  A few hours later, however, Amy is missing and there are signs of a struggle at their home.  Amy's parents fly in, the police get involved, and soon the entire nation is praying for Amy's safe return.  It is no surprise that all eyes are on Nick.  Everyone knows that it is always the husband who is the prime suspect.  And Nick has been acting inappropriately, which makes it worse.  

In alternating chapters, we hear from Nick and from Amy through diary entries written prior to her disappearance.  This is obviously a marriage that has taken a wrong turn, and a reader would expect to get two sides of the story.  Marriages go through tough times, after all.  But the reader will NOT expect the sinister, sadistic turn this tale takes halfway through. A character study in chilling, sociopathic behavior?  A psychotic emotional roller-coaster?  A device to force every married reader to look a little closer at their spouse?  A statement on the public's mass hysteria and knee-jerk judgements of cases involving missing women?  This story has it all.

My thoughts:  OK, I've said this a million times before.  I am a huge mystery thriller fan.  Mysteries, murders, psycho-killers...this is my comfort food.  They do all start to run together for me after while, however.  You have to find a niche, set yourself apart to get my attention and force me to remember the plot a week after I've finished it.  

So trust me.  You have never read anything quite like this.  Dudes it is DARK.  Like Cohen Brothers dark.  Maybe even darker.  Into a mile-deep black pit of foul inky sludge you go. 

Holy mind-screw Batman.  I had no idea which was was north.  I was completely incapable of managing my emotions.  I hated Nick, I loved Amy.  I hated Amy, I loved Nick.  I hated them all.  I feared them all.  I didn't know how I felt.  Which team was I on?  I was scared, horrified, but also strangely electrified and consumed by this story and the personalities involved.  I didn't like the people in this book AT ALL, which is normally the kiss of death with me.  But I couldn't take my eyes off them.  They were compelling, beguiling.

So what else do I need to say to get you to read this?  That it will be on my favorites list at year end?  That it would blow the roof off of a book club?  Just.  Go read it, now.  While I go redeem myself as a lover of mysteries and read this author's back list.

5 out of 5 stars               

Monday, June 25, 2012

Monday Matinee: Dream House (2011)

As you all know, I love a good spook fest and I love Daniel Craig,   Thus, I have had my eye on "Dream House" since it was featured in Entertainment Weekly ages ago.  I didn't know much about it, but just that picture of the little girls gives you the creeps, no?

The story starts out innocently.  Will Atenton (Craig) quits his high profile editor job to move to the burbs and write a book.  This will allow him to spend more time with his gorgeous wife (Rachel Weisz, which is now married to Craig) and little girls, aged 5 and 7.  However, as they get settled in their new home, they learn that a brutal murder occurred there five years prior.  A wife and two girls were brutally murdered in the home, and popular opinion is that the heinous crime was committed by the father, who is now locked up in an asylum.

But then reality begins to become confused with conjecture, paranoia and urban legend.  As Will begins to research the crime that occurred in his home and piece together the puzzle, he becomes more confused.  The neighbor lady (Naomi Watts) is acting strange and suspicious.  What really happened five years ago?

First of all, let me just set this straight...this is not a horror flick, which is the way it was advertised.  I might call it a thriller.  A thriller that tries to be clever and twisty, but really just squeezes the last drop out of an overused trick...derivative of other, better movies that I shall not name.  

Even my 12 year-old son declared the ending "lame".  About an hour into the film, when you figure out where they are going, one is inclined to roll one's eyes and say "oh jeez, here we go again".  Despite all this, there is a scene or two that is devastating, and the cast is top-notch, keeping the whole thing from becoming a big hot mess.

Recommended for those with nothing else better to do, or for those who are willing to put up with mediocrity for the sake of some Daniel Craig.

3 out of 5 stars


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sunday Salon: Birthday Blessings

 Happy Sunday to all of you!  I will admit that I have neglected my blogger friends this week, and for this I apologize.  I guess I'm keeping summer hours, plus there has been busy-ness and I've been trying to get caught up a little on review-writing.  Same old story, I know.

But!  This was my birthday week and a lot of fun was being had.  There was some seriously excellent, exhausting working out going on (had to close my eyes and pray when I heard Andre declare that he was going to "break me".  I had to crawl to my car that day.).  But it is all good.  I had to compensate for the debauchery I knew was to come.

My husband's nephew and girlfriend flew into town mid-week, and will be here for about six weeks.  Whenever Polish folk get together, there are lots of gifts and food and drink.  Plus I had my birthday dinner at a wonderful Italian restaurant called Enzo's (more drink) and then again with friends at the Tommy Bahama restaurant (more drink).  Good times!

I also did a bit of shopping in honor of my birthday.  I received gift cards to Dick's Sporting Goods, Banana Republic and Tommy Bahama, so I had to spend them.  And I...uh...BOUGHT A TWO PIECE!  OMG.  Something I haven't done since college I think.  I'll probably be horrified to wear it in public, but it was something I had to do for myself.  Guess I'd better keep doing those sit-ups.  

I also got gift cards to Amazon, so my account is full and ready for Kindle ordering.  On my short list is "Code Name Verity", "Wild", "Beautiful Ruins", "HHhH" and Gillian Flynn's back list.  I'm getting it all baby.  But then I also just received Wendy Wax's newest book "Ocean Beach", and Kathy/Bermudaonion got me the newest Jo Nesbo ARC (HOOOOOAHHHH!!!) so I've got my work cut out for me.  I may not come up for air for months.

I finished listening to Mary's Roach's "Spook" this week on audio, then started "American Dervish" by Ayad Akhtar on the iPod and "First They Killed My Father" by Loung Ung in the car.  All good stuff for the ears.  I also read Alma Katsu's "The Reckoning" (the sequel to "The Taker") and holy crap people, SO GOOD.  So, so good.  I'm going to try to sit down and write that review today.  I just picked up the part photograph/part graphic novel "The Photographer" and hope to get through that quickly so I can start "Ocean Beach".  Life is not bad when you are surrounded by this much literary goodness!

Hope everyone has a restful Sunday.  If you have seen the National weather, you can see that Florida is getting a huge amount of rain, so I don't know how much I will get done outside today, but we will do our turn at the animal shelter later.  Have a great week!


Friday, June 22, 2012

Love Among the Chickens - P.G. Wodehouse (Audio)

I know many of you out there are avid fans of P.G. Wodehouse, a British humorist that has written hundreds of novels, short stories, and poems, all published over a successful 70-year career.  I have a few of his books on my shelves, but have never taken the plunge...this is a style of novel way off my beaten path.

But Heather (Raging Bibliomania) loaned me this audiobook, and it was only a handful of discs.  Often that is all it takes for me.  Heather told me it was pretty funny, and I was sulking around in a foul mood, so I thought it might help my cause.  First I did a little research on the book.

Apparently, this book was first written in 1906, but Wodehouse revised and republished it in 1921.  Wodehouse wrote a number of short stories that featured the gregarious, outlandish entrepreneur Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge, but this was the only full-length novel in which he appears.  

Synopsis:  Jeremy Garnet, our narrator, is an author of moderate success and an old friend of Stanley Ukridge.  One day, Ukridge blows into London with his new wife, and convinces Jeremy to escape to the countryside with them to help set up a chicken farm, his latest get-rich-quick scheme.  Ukridge is convinced that this venture will make them all big bucks.

But Ukridge is not a detail kind of guy, and doesn't anticipate issues like feeding the animals, housing them, or the possibility of illness or having to pay back creditors.    Jeremy does his best to smooth over the ruffled feathers (pun intended) left in Ukridge's wake, while doing quite a bit of the manual labor.  He also partakes of some golfing, meets a beautiful young woman, and sets out to woo her, making many bad decisions along the way.

My thoughts:  I have to admit, I found Wodehouse clever and, had I been in any other mood than foul, I would have been laughing out loud for the entire listening experience.   As it was, however, I found the humor trivial and silly, and I lost patience.  I take full blame.  I should have never even tried to lighten my mood, and gone straight for murder and dismemberment.

I do truly believe in my heart that a phenomenal book can provide an effective attitude adjustment.  This was not that kind of book.  I will most definitely try Wodehouse again, probably in print, in a better mood, and would certainly recommend him to anyone who enjoys quippy British humor.

A few words about the audio production:  Our narrator for this novel was Jonathan Cecil, and it appears that he is responsible for many of the Wodehouse audios.  He had a boisterous, pompous British air about him, which lent well to the story.  But I had a real struggle with the fact that he sounded like he was spitting when he talked.  It was probably the mood again, but I was nearly repulsed.  I'm not sure I could listen to the spitting on a regular basis.

2.5 out of 5 stars        


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Darkness All Around - Doug Magee

The gals over at TLC know their readers, which is why every time they come a-callin', I end up accepting a review opportunity.  This time around, they waved a mystery thriller in front of me (my brain candy) and I bit.  I'd never heard of the author before, but when has that ever stopped me?  Sometimes it is good to bust out of the series habit.

Synopsis:  It has been eleven years since Risa's best friend Carol was brutally murdered and her alcoholic husband Sean disappeared.  She has moved on...Sean was declared legally dead, she has remarried a local politician, who adopted her son Kevin and accepted him as his own.

Everyone's life is turned upside down then, when Sean shows up one day, claiming an accident resulting in brain injury has caused strange memories to come forth...memories that torment him and make him believe that he was the one who killed Carol, not the man convicted.  He intends to turn himself in, which would implode Risa's entire life.  There are so many unanswered questions in Risa's mind as well.  Does she still have feelings for her ex-husband?  How could the man she loved and had a child with been the one to savagely kill Carol?  Plus her husband is acting irrationally.  Is there more going on here than his concern for his political career?

My thoughts:  There are many stories out there right now that deal with memory loss, and mysteries that are complicated by its presence.  The mind is a tricky little plays games and nothing is ever straightforward, which makes it a great plot device. For this reason, the story is intriguing.  Sean is a sympathetic character, and even though he may have murdered someone, you feel his pain in trying to interpret his visions and in wanting to do the right thing.

Overall, however, while the mystery is entertaining and a quick read, it is ultimately forgettable.  Besides Sean, none of the characters inspired any investment on my part.  I found the bad guys two-dimensionally bad and Risa to be under-developed.  There were twists, but in my opinion were predictable in their setup, and you could see the big reveal a mile away.  Still, the pace was fast and the writing flowed easily.

If you want an easy airplane or beach read, or have an interest in a memory loss mystery, you might want to check this one out.  It probably isn't one that will linger in your mind, but sometimes that isn't a requirement.  

3 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Not So Wordless Wednesday: Washington DC #3

One of our stops on our field trip was Williamsburg, a place I didn't mind seeing again.  Certainly the showpiece is the Governor's Palace, which was built in 1721 and took 16 years to construct.  Seven governors lived in this house, including Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson.  It was destroyed by fire in 1781.

I can't imagine the wives had too much to do with this little outpost, based on the decorations.  Hundreds and hundreds of swords and guns hang on the walls in various patterns.  Very manly!  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Le Road Trip - Vivian Swift

Last Friday, I reviewed "When Wanderers Cease to Roam" by Vivian Swift, which was my first experience with the woman who has created her own literary genre.  Part memoir, part graphic novel, part intangible ray of sunshine, Swift knows how to make the heart sing.

Establishing her own genre wasn't enough.  She has brought forth even more substance to her craft with "Le Road Trip" by throwing in some travel advice, a guide to the oft-overlooked side streets of France, and thoughts on relationships.  

You might even hate traveling, hate France, and prefer to be single, but I can almost guarantee this will be one book that you will want to own.  It is a treasure.  Here are some details:

Synopsis:  Vivian has seen it all and done it all, having lived in 23 countries over a time period of 20 years, a great bit of that time spent in France.  When Vivian recently married, her and her husband, a seasoned traveler in his own right, decided to have a French honeymoon.

So Vivian first offers some advice on efficient packing, on planning a trip, and drawing parallels between love and travel.  Expect an infatuation phase, some bumps in the road, then inevitably, all hell breaks loose.  The trick is to survive it!  She shares her stories of courtship with her new husband, and their trip through France, bumps, bliss and all.  

Along the way, we are offered a primer on various types of grapes, of small French towns that are picturesque without the tourist traffic, of the best edible delights known to each region, and little-known historical sites not necessarily included in your Frommers pocket guide.  

But what would a memoir from Vivian be without her gorgeous, whimsical drawings?  Of old castles, a small table in a corner cafe, of her new husband sitting on the beach with his shirt on his head eating a tomato?  Of the rolling countryside, a bed-and-breakfast cat-away-from-home, the sunset in Saint-Malo, or dancers on the Pont des Arts.  Read the book, and you've been there, if only in your mind and heart.

My thoughts:  There was a question asked several weeks ago, I believe through one of the memes, about which book you would like to live within.  As soon as I read this book, I knew I would never have any other answer but one.  This was a multi-emotion, multi-sensation experience.  Instead of being thought-provoking and introspective, like her last book, this one was more informative (as you would expect from a guide) and FUNNY.  I laughed out loud through the entire book, in between my moony, goopy smiles.

Vivian is in love, but she has also been there before.  She has a very practical approach to life, love affairs and travel.  In one illustration, which shows a couple sitting atop a very tall wall having wine and cheese, she says, "I do not think it is romantic to have a picnic hanging off the ramparts of Mont. St.-Michel.  I think it is stupid.  Yes, I know this makes me sound like an old worry-wart.  But the older I get the more I understand that life, and love, and care-free Summer days are against all odds.  People should take better care of them."

I also laughed FOR DAYS when she relayed one portion of their journey, in which they were trying to locate some ancient Celtic standing stones.  This nightmarish day included bad information on transportation, a lot of walking, no water, unhelpful tourists, less than impressive stones, cursing, and silence between the newlyweds for a couple of hours.  She was in full, snarky story-telling mode, and it reminded me of many road trip stories of my own.    
So whether you have ever wanted to visit France, or have lived there, if you are a world traveler, or have never left your home state, I would bet a good bottle of Bordeaux that you would fall in love with this book. Swift is an incredibly witty and talented woman, and makes you yearn for the world as seen through her eyes.  

The last time I was at Barnes & Noble, they were sold out of this book.  No wonder.  I am going to get my hands on two for me, and one as a gift for friends who used to live in France.  And maybe one more copy just to give to anyone I meet who needs a shot in the arm.  So move along quickly and give this one a peek!

5 out of 5 stars

Monday, June 18, 2012

Prometheus (2012)

I don't get too excited about many movies coming out these days.  My pulse might go up a notch or two at the suggestion of a Chris Hemsworth sighting, and I might give pause for a book-to-movie production.  But THIS.  I was jittery about this.

I was probably a victim of the marketing blitz that accompanied the movie.  But hey, I was a child of the Alien culture, an impressionable 13 year-old when Sigourney Weaver kicked it's slimy, drooling, scaly butt.  That movie electrified me!  So the promise of a prequel coming along from the same director put me on high alert.

Let's just address the question of whether this is indeed a prequel.  Ridley Scott, the director, claims this is NOT a prequel, but just that it "has the same genes" as Alien.  I say baloney.  We just re-watched Alien right before we saw this movie, paying very close attention to ship design, corporation names, alien behavior, etc. and this is a damned prequel.  I'm putting it on record, and I'm not changing my mind. 

Anyway, in the year 2089, a team of scientists discover clues in a Scottish cave that indicate intelligent life out in the stars.  These creatures may not only be intelligent, however, but may be the creators of mankind on Earth.  A few years later, a crew embarks on a journey to find the home base of the human "engineers".  When they arrive at their destination, they find that perhaps this monumental discovery could trigger an event that will destroy us all.

The primary casting was excellent.  Charlize Theron plays the ice queen supervisor on board, a representative of the Weyland Corporation who funds the expedition.  She shows very little emotion in the movie, but she exudes bitch - a role for which she already had plenty of practice from Snow White and the Huntsman.  Noomi Repace (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Swedish version) plays the strong female badass ala Sigourney Weaver who is smart and full of intensity and capable of performing surgery upon herself.  (I'll talk about that in a minute.)   
The most memorable, and maybe the most despicably intriguing character, is the on-board android, played by Michael Fassbender.  He studies old movies and quotes his favorite lines, he can speak ancient alien languages, he spies on sleeping crew member's dreams, and only exists to serve Weyland Corporation.  He stole the show in my opinion, and is a much cooler android that the one in Alien.

Some people hated this movie, but from my perspective, it captivated me from beginning to end.  We get to witness the seeds of mankind, an insane galactic storm, and a couple of seriously cringe-worthy scenes of, uh, alien/human interaction, shall we say.  These two scenes (which inspired noises of gleeful revulsion from me) are primarily why the movie is rated R.  One of these scenes was the on-the-go surgery Miss Repace performs on herself.  There is blood and sinew.  There were a few bad words, no boobs, and only an off-screen implication of romantic interludes.  A number of kids in the teenage range, including my own, saw the movie and LOVED it, and have gone back for a repeat screening.  

The movie was shot with 3D technology, similar to Hugo.  Therefore, the 3D experience wasn't a handful of hokey fingers and guns and an alien head threatening to poke (or eat) you, but full immersion.  The planetary landscapes and the storm was awesome.  In this case, the extra cash was worth it.

I can't say enough about this movie - my entire family was blown away.  It won't win an Oscar, but I'm willing to bet I'll go see it again in the theaters before it is all over.  It is just that kind of viewing experience.

5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sunday Salon: Hello? Hello?

 Good morning all of my friends.  *tap tap*  Hello?  Anyone out there?  It sure has been quiet around here lately.  I know this is the nature of are out of school and buzzing about, everyone's on vacation, unplugging from the blog, so it can be expected.  In fact, I'm giving some thought to unplugging myself, in order to fully focus on my family and getting caught up.  I've never done this before and it scares me, but in reality, I'm not sure anyone minds so much.  It might be healthy.  At a minimum, I've planned to eliminate my Friday posts in the month of July.  I'll wait for a Muse to come up and tap me on the shoulder before I determine whether I will fully go dark.

So not much to report for the week.  We've still been deluged with rain, which upset one night of football camp and horseback riding.  Daughter has finished the first session of summer school, and will start round two next Tuesday.  Runs and workouts going well.  Husband is obsessed with the Euro 2012, particularly because some of the games take place in his hometown Wroclaw, Poland.  We had a Cabernet wine tasting last night at my buddy's wine shop, in honor of Father's Day.  Our last two volunteer sessions at the animal shelter have been partially focused on HOLDING RABBITS.  No, the daughter has not given up on this dream, which you may recall me mentioning last year.  Parents are still resisting.  This one in particular was the object of much affection.  Her name is Valentine.

We all saw Prometheus last Sunday evening, and we LOVED it.  Some have disparaged the thing, but we adore these kinds of movies, and it was a serious hit in our family.  It is rated R, primarily for two scenes that effectively grossed me out, but didn't phase my two kids.  There is very little language, and only implied sex (less explicit than their health classes).  My "review" (babbling) is coming tomorrow. 

My reading is so freaking slow, I'm driving myself nuts.  I did finish "The Innocent" by Taylor Stevens on audio, and I'm completely invested in this series at this point.  She rocks.  I'm now working my way through Mary Roach's "Spook" first Mary Roach!  She is a hoot.  I did complete "Burrows" by Reavis Wortham and really enjoyed it - much darker than "The Rock Hole".  This guy has a literary voice that is really unique and I'm all in at this point.  Keep them coming Rev!  I just started Alma Katsu's "The Reckoning" (sequel to "The Taker").  I've been waiting for this one and wish I could just lock myself in a room and READ it, and ignore my duties. Alas, my husband and kids want to be fed and require the toilets to be clean.  The nerve!

Besides horseback riding and church today, I'm having visions of pool-floating and making my husband fish and chips...his request for Father's Day.  We are gearing up for next week, when my husband's Polish nephew and girlfriend comes to visit, and my birthday.  I'm having a hard time coming up with something I need.  I am hoping that my mom goes for the Amazon gift card (refilling my Kindle needs - hint hint mom!), but what to ask of my hubby?  I feel like I have everything I need.  I am blessed.  Unless you can give me some good ideas!  Any suggestions?     

Friday, June 15, 2012

When Wanderers Cease to Roam - Vivan Swift

Just a little over a month ago at Beth Fish Reads, Candace spotlighted a book called "Le Road Trip" by Vivian Swift.  I was instantly taken by this whimsical, illustrated travel diary of the author's vacation in France with her husband.  I knew I had to read it.  I saw in the comments that Kathy loved Vivian's last book (which Kathy reviewed before I knew her), and I was off to the races...or in this case the library website.  

So here are my thoughts on my first journey into Vivianland.  

Synopsis:  Since Vivian was 19 years old, she has traveled the world.  She has worked as a receptionist, gift shop sales clerk, luxury hotel concierge, clothing store manager, book shop clerk, office temp, retail jeweler, auction house executive, and Fabergé expert.  She lived in 23 places over a period of 20 years, and finally decided to settle in a tiny piece of heaven on Long Island Sound.
The book represents her year of rest and staying put, a journal of sorts that reflects on each month of the year, the special significance that month holds in her heart, as well as Vivian's related memories from her days on the road.

Vivian is the true essence of a free spirit.  She takes walks at 4am, she collects tea cups, she loves cats, she is an observer of nature, finding a spiritual renewal in everything around her.  She relishes in her "acre of Earth" further described in the month of September:

*  Everybody gets an acre of Earth when they're born.
*  Parents are the fences.
*  Teenagers think that ugly clothes, uglier hairstyles, and horrible music tears down those fences.  This is pretty funny.
*  Whatever you do in your 20's is just mapping destinations.
*  By the time you're 35 you're probably a battle weary veteran of numbers clashes over territory, a few border wars.  Your acre of Earth's been trampled pretty bad.  It could use some re-landscaping.
*  It takes most of your 40's to clear out the dead wood, plant a nice garden, dredge the swampy bits, observe the seasons.  This is how you discover that there's an Eden on the far side of your acre that you never knew was there.

If you ever feel crowded into a corner by your life, you need to take a better look at your acre of Earth.  It's bigger than you think.

 Vivian delights in collecting lost mittens, in the perfect vintage shirt or skirt from her youth, in old postcards, and in illustrating the 8 kinds of rain that falls in the month of April.  On July 10th, she journals "Another 100 degree day.  I pride myself on my ability to tolerate heat.  What's my secret?  All I need is a ball gown and a little champagne."


My thoughts:  Just like Lynda Barry ("Picture This", "What It Is") who has created her own graphic novel sub-genre, I believe Vivian Swift has done the same.  But how would it be described?  This absolutely charming publication was less a reading experience and more like an entrancing collection of journal entries, reflections, musings, observations, advice on life...all enhanced by beautiful illustration.

I was immersing myself in this book during a stressful time, and opening the pages was like taking a warm bath.  It made me feel warm, introspective and blessed.  It made me want to collect tea cups!  It is the perfect book for a lazy Sunday.  

There were characteristics of Vivian that I saw in myself.  At the same time, she is also everything I am not.  I am way too manic and chaotic, and I have a hard time slowing down and appreciating the simpler things in life.  Also, there is no way I would ever join the Peace Corp and hang out in Tunisia.  For this reason, I'm thinking about actually buying this book to have on hand.  So I can remind myself to appreciate my acre of Earth. 

I have "Le Road Trip" sitting on my nightstand.  I am too restless to read it back-to-back with this one, as this style of entertainment requires stillness and a peaceful mind.  I'm going to devour a little murder and mayhem, then come back for more tranquility afterwards.

5 out of 5 stars  

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Scorpio Races - Maggie Stiefvater (Audio)

Alas all ye who are tired of the endless number of YA titles that are trilogies.  I present to you one that actually tells its tale between the covers of one book.  I was beginning to think that is was an impossible thing to do these days.

So many have raved over this one.  Stiefvater, who made the Shiver trilogy one of the most popular YA series in recent times, has come back with something a bit more sweeping, a bit more epic and a lot less angst-ridden than you will find in most YA dramas.  That description alone should capture your attention, yes?

Synopsis:  Beneath the tall rugged cliffs, along the beach, on the fictional (Irish?) island of Thisby, there is a long-standing tradition that occurs every November...the Scorpio Races.  In these races, each competitor is challenged to tame and ride the vicious, feral water horses called capaill uisce...similar in feature to a regular horse, but with a thirst for blood and an ability to live beneath the sea.  Participating in this race often proves fatal to those who ride the capaill uisce, but stand to win riches that can change their life on an island where nothing comes easy.

Sean Kendrick is a hard-working, stoic young stable hand who is the returning champion with the massive and powerful capaill uisce Corr, to whom he has an indescribable bond.  Sean knows that until he owns Corr outright, and is not a lowly rider-for-hire, he will never be able to get out from under the oppression.  Puck Connolly is an orphan, along with her two brothers, after her parents were killed by cappaill uisce.  On her regular horse Dove, she decides to enter the race in order to save her family home.  She is the first girl to ever do so, so she must not only battle the carnivorous water horses, but overcome odds and prejudice.

Inevitably, these two heroic young warriors cross paths and find an almost spiritual connection in their passion and their mission.  The trouble is, only one person can win, and they both have everything to lose.

My thoughts:  Because of the setting...the cliffs, the dirty, scrappy village, the island, the mystical water horses that are based on a Celtic legend, the state of constant danger...the atmosphere in this novel is almost something you can touch and taste.  All the senses are engaged.  

What is also present in this novel is the author's appreciation for the equine nature and spirit.  Horses have a unique way of communicating with humans.  They make noises when they are excited, interested, or scared.  They become anxious when a person is unsure or nervous around them, they calm when there is confidence.  There is so much power in the muscled body of a horse, and when that power aligns with a rider who understands them, they act as one.  It was apparent that Stiefvater totally gets that.  It was magical to read.

I also loved that the relationship between Sean and Puck wasn't dumbed down to a primal teenage rush of hormones, weeping and drama.  Theirs was a more mature connection, formed at a higher level than trying to get each other's clothes off.  It was truly refreshing.

Points of the story did seem to drag for me at times, but the reasons for loving this story that I've talked about above, plus maybe one of the best endings I've ever read EVER, more than outweighed it.

A few words about the audio production:  Because the story is narrated in alternating voices of Puck and Sean, it was a brilliant move to have both a male and female narrator for the audio.  In this case, it was Fiona Hardingham and Steve West.  Both had gorgeous Irish lilts, were youthful, and reflected the characters' spirit.  It was everything you would want in a listening experience.

4.5 out of 5 stars    


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Not So Wordless Wednesday - Washington DC #2

Again, these pictures were taken at the "Newseum", a museum that seems to play second fiddle to the Smithsonians but was our favorite stop the entire trip.  There is one entire section of the museum dedicated to 9/11, as this was probably the biggest news event in our history.  

The first picture is a piece of wreckage that came from the top of one of the towers.  The second picture is an entire wall full of front pages from newspapers around the world.  Ten years after this tragedy, the emotional impact is almost too much to bear.  There was very little talking in this room, just quiet weeping.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sea Change - Karen White

In the blogger world, Karen White is a rock goddess.  She is gorgeous, she is Southern from her head to her toes, and she writes touching, comfortable women's fiction.  And lucky for us, she is a bit of an overachiever, cranking out at least one book a year, sometimes more.  (Not only that but she juggles a couple of teenagers, a husband and a dog-child.)  I've had a chance to hang out with her over dinner, and she is the epitome of grace.  

I'd like to thank Jessica at Penguin Group for offering me the opportunity to review her latest book "Sea Change".  It took me all of three seconds to hit the e-mail reply button and scream YES.  

Synopsis:  Ava Whalen is embarking on a new journey, starting a new life.  She and her new husband Matthew, who had a whirlwind courtship and quickly eloped, are moving to St. Simons Island, where Matthew lives in the home that has been in his family for generations.  Ava feels that perhaps this is her chance to escape her feeling of never belonging in her own family and her arms-length relationship with her mother.  She also has a terrifying fear of water, but she hopes that Matthew, who is a psychologist, can help her with that.  

But there are secrets she is keeping from her new husband, and secrets he is keeping from her as well.  Determined to get closer to Matthew, Ava begins researching his lineage, wandering the graveyards, and meeting her neighbors.  Soon she feels a strong connection with a woman named Pamela who lived back in the early 1800's.  The more she digs, the more she fears that the past may have the power to destroy her future, but she is compelled to find the answers.

Alternating back and forth in time, between the modern day with Ava, and Pamela in the early 1800's, we follow two strong women who are in love, and would do anything to save their families.  This story is about family, about grandmothers, mothers and daughters, about bonds that extend over generations, and about second chances.

My thoughts:  One of Karen White's signatures in her work is her ability to transport you to a really cool place.  In this case, we travel to St. Simons Island off the coast of Georgia.  This is the Gothic deep South, with salty air and hanging moss and historically-rich landmarks.  What a perfect place to tell a story about mysteries from the past!  

And although I wouldn't classify it as a mystery, we have several we are attempting to uncover here.  There are the rumors about the ghost of a man who walks the beach, pining for his unfaithful wife.  There are Ava's unexplained fears and gaps in her childhood memories, and Matthew has a few unanswered (slightly sinister) questions about himself.  It was a delightful, warm and comfortable untangling of threads that, in the end, was very satisfying.

Often if an author attempts to provide two narratives from different time periods, it falters, breaking up the momentum, or we find ourselves preferring one over the other.  This did not happen here.  I loved both Ava and Pamela, and thought that the pacing between the two was seamless and perfect.

So Karen gives us a little bit of mystery, a wonderful sense of place, a little bit of love, a little bit of history, some intriguing ancestors, some tragedy (to keep us humble), and a little bit of the unexplained.  It all adds up to a very enjoyable summer read, which is exactly what we would expect!

4 out of 5 stars


Monday, June 11, 2012

Monday Matinee: Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

For the first time in awhile, I was coerced by my daughter to see this movie on opening night, standing in long lines and NOT getting my preferred theater seating (right behind the rail so I can prop up my feet!).  I can't say this was high on my list, but I will never turn down an opportunity to see Thor...I mean Chris Hemsworth...strut his stuff.

This story is a darker, twisted version of Snow White.  You've got your mean queen (Charlize Theron), who quickly seduces King Magnus, a recent widower and father of Snow White, then kills him on their wedding night.  She locks up Snow White in the tower, and proceeds to be mean and evil to her kingdom.  Until she sees a wrinkle.  

She summons the presence of Snow White, who is now a young adult with heaving bosom and rose red lips (Kristin Stewart).  Evil Queen intends to suck in and absorb Snow White's youth and beauty, which is her own version of age-defying pro retinol.  Only Snow White escapes.  So the Huntsman (Thor) is hired to chase her into the Dark Forest and kill her.  In return, the queen promises to resurrect the Huntsman's dead wife.  Hey Huntsman, I have some land I'd like to sell you!   

But you see, Snow White is the fairest in the kingdom, she enchants animals and inspires armies to follow her.  And the Huntsman is handsome.  So you can figure it out.  They become allies, they run into some dwarves (who look like gnarly Hobbits) and have adventures and conspire to overthrow the Evil One.  

Yada yada yada.  I'm sure you won't see the movie for the edge-of-your-seat plotting.  So.  Why should you see this movie?  

If you enjoy fairy tale remakes, this one isn't bad.  I always grimace when I hear they have made another because historically they have not been very good.  The effects are respectable, Theron is pretty horrid (but she is also very hot), and Thor...I mean the just so handsome.  There is absolutely no character development, but did we expect it?  Not really.

The problem I had personally is believing that Kristin Stewart had the looks and the charm to conquer all.  She stumbled and tramped and plodded through the entire movie with a pained look on her face.  I think it is the only face she has in her arsenal.  She didn't look pure or enchanting.  She actually looked smelly.

But if you can get past that, and go for pure entertainment value, then you will probably be happy.  Please keep in mind, this is not the Disney version, and isn't for kids.  There is a good deal of blood and violence and scary images.  There isn't anything remotely sexual however, except for the heaving bosoms, Theron's naked back, and a few chaste kisses, nor is their language.  
My 14 year-old did enjoy it.  She likes the fairy tale remakes and romantic notions, and loved the scenes when Snow White draws all of the animals to her.  So take it for what it is worth.

There were two middle-aged women sitting right behind my daughter and I, cackling like chickens the entire movie.  So they found something entertaining.  I think they were having their own little Thor-fest back there.

Will you be seeing this one?  Let me know what you thought.

Recommendation:  Rent on Netflix