Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday Salon: Better Late Than Never

Good afternoon friends! A couple of you have asked "where oh where is Sandy's Sunday Salon?". Well it seems last night a nasty little flu bug was able to sneak by my perimeter, and it knocked me flat on my rear end. Up until about 30 minutes ago, I could barely lift my head. Now I am propped up in a chair attempting to move my fingers. But I'm not here to whine, I'm here to talk about my week!

And what a great week it was. The weather (after a horrible storm on Tuesday night) was gorgeous, allowing me to play golf, walk, and enjoy our shortened weekend at Universal. My kids, husband and parents dined at the fabulous Emeril's on Friday night (redfish!), used our fast passes to ride just about everything in the two parks on Saturday, including Harry Potter, hang at the pool and order margaritas from the pool boy, and then dined at Mama Della's that evening and get serenaded "Sway" by their tenors. Because of my bug, we packed up early and came home this morning, which was kind of a bummer for everyone, but we have annual passes so I'm sure we will be back.

We had our Books, Babes and Bordeaux book club meeting to discuss "The Lotus Eaters" by Tatjana Soli, and also talk to Tatjana via speakerphone. Everyone loved the book, and everyone really enjoyed Tatjana, who was gracious and extremely forthcoming and easy to talk to. I was thrilled that Heather (Raging Bibliomania) was able to join us, and hope we can pull her into our little happy group of readers. She brought her AMAZING banana bread with milk chocolate chips, and besides Tatjana, was the hit of the night. I intend to do a special write-up on our evening, once I get my ducks in a row.

Some other exciting news! Heather, myself and Jenny, three local bloggers, have been asked to help promote the University of Central Florida Book Fair which is coming up in April. We will be highlighting the books featured at the fair, and will have access to the author room for interviews. Stay tuned for more information.

My reading was on the slow side, and I'm starting to get alarmed at the lack of posts I have ready and waiting. I'd better get cracking! I did finish "Angelology" on audio, and am almost finished with "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter" as well. It was not really smart for me to listen to this book, when we won't be discussing it with the Heathrow Literary Society until April, but I got excited. And rightly so, because it is an incredible read. No wonder it was an OKRA winner - all that juicy southernness.

I also finished "An Object of Beauty" and loved that, and am about halfway through "Delirium", the new book by Lauren Oliver, author of "Before I Fall". Now for all of you TBR Dare police, this book was requested before December 31st, so I am still remaining true to my mission. I'm not sure this book is going to match up to "Before I Fall", but will reserve judgement until I finish.

OK, well, I'm ready for another nap. I probably won't post a Monday Movie Meme tomorrow, just because I don't think I have the energy. My goal, however, is to be up and running Tuesday in time for the Heathrow Literary Society discussion of "Freedom". I've got opinions, and they are dying to be expressed!

Hope you all had a fine Sunday!!

Friday, January 28, 2011

And the Pursuit of Happiness - Maira Kalman

I saw on the news the other day that Amazon experienced the highest number of Kindle downloads this Christmas Day than all other days combined since its launch. E-readers are soon going to be a household device, and it makes alot of people nervous that this will eventually kill off the printed book, sending it the way of the dodo bird.

But if you have a chance to touch, feel and feast your eyes on this book, And the Pursuit of Happiness, you will know in your heart this is never going to happen. This is the best justification for a printed book I have ever seen in my life. This book is a work of art, meant to be cherished by all of your senses.

Synopsis: I am a bit confounded on how to describe this book. It is a graphic novel, sort of. It is a work of non-fiction, but that sounds dull. Travelogue? Personal musings? A dedication to American democracy? A love letter to the delights of food, and to simple pleasures? Sarah Vowell set to pictures? All of the above!

Maira Kalman, an illustrator and author, takes us along for a journey around the country, exploring little-known facts about our founding fathers, addressing each one and meanderingly related topics each month of the year. Sounds a little strange I know. Let me give you an example.

George and Martha Washington make an appearance. We get to see a picture of the flag he took into battle, learn how he loved Lafayette, had hippopotamus ivory teeth that were too big, and valued his library. Martha wore fancy shoes. Maira ruminates on how to achieve happiness, her answer being working, walking and going to museums.

Of course, we see alot of Lincoln because Maira is in love with him. Lincoln loved people, has 150 impersonators around the country, he had a dog named Fido, he loved apples and Mozart.

Maira ponders on whether there is such a thing as a military gene.

"Don't we need both the warriors and the artists on this planet? What if I were in the Army? Apart from an impeccably made bed, I can't imagine what else I could do. Fly a chinook? Peel potatoes? Or maybe be a hostess?"

We also are treated with a little John Adams, Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, James Buchanan and Benjamin Franklin, who is featured on the cover. Apparently the women were "nuts for him with his brains and his crazy fur hat".

My thoughts: I loaned this book from the library, but I think I may need to own it. It is just beautiful, with its thick, glossy colorful pages and its heft. (I had to weigh it on my postal scale..over a pound!) But more than that, you will love this book for the way it makes you feel. It makes you feel good about our country, about determination and confidence, and about finding happiness in the smaller things in life. Like stately, plump tassels on a curtain, the perfect red eyebrows on a museum guard, or a great piece of pie.

Even thought the book is 471 pages long, you can read it in one sitting, or leisurely browse through it in a day or two. In all honestly, you will want it to last as long as possible, so your eyes can drink in Maira's quirky, rich illustrations and your psyche can soak up her child-like optimism.

This read is in a class by itself. Dedicate a Sunday afternoon to the cause, and I promise you will thank me.

5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Assassination Vacation - Sarah Vowell (Audio)

Two summers ago, on a rather painful car trip through Poland, I had my first experience with Sarah Vowell with The Wordy Shipmates. This audiobook literally snatched me out of the fanged, gaping maw of insanity, and allowed me to escape, if only for a few hours, from incessant loud Polish chattering, whiny kids and stinky dog. God love Sarah Vowell and her squeaky voice and sarcastic wit. It was on my recent trip to Napa when my friend Kathy asked if I'd listened to THIS Sarah Vowell audio. No! How did I miss it? It must be mine! I requested it from the library that very evening.

Synopsis: So Sarah Vowell is back at it again, wandering about, discovering fascinating, little-known facts and sharing them with us as the ultimate tour guide, with a touch of wiseacre political commentary. Her fixation this time are past presidents of the assassinated variety (Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley), their killers, the killers' hobbies and eccentricities, where all of them are buried, the implications of the deaths, the political pressures that perhaps inspired the killings, the exhibits that honor their lives, the personalities of the tour guides...well, you get the picture. Everything you ever wanted to know and more.

My thoughts: While some of the initial enchantment has worn off, I still highly enjoyed my time with Vowell. For history buffs, her work has it all going on. The details! The trivia! Enough to blow my little mind. In fact, there is so much stuff packed into this book, that I suspect I missed at least half of it. (I'm guessing this was also the situation with The Wordy Shipmates, only I was too busy giggling and escaping my surroundings to realize it!).

Still, I laughed. I rolled my eyes too (I know it is political commentary, but she does rage against George W a bit much). Here are a few quotes just to give you a flavor:

"Until that moment, I hadn’t realized that I embarked on the project of touring historic sites and monuments having to do with the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley right around the time my country iffily went off to war, which is to say right around the time my resentment of the current president cranked up into contempt. Not that I want the current president killed. Like that director, I will, for the record (and for the FBI agent assigned to read this and make sure I mean no harm – hello there), clearly state that while I am obsessed with death, I am against it."

Except for the people who were there that one day they discovered the polio vaccine, being part of history is rarely a good idea. History is one war after another with a bunch of murders and natural disasters in between."

"Like Lincoln, I would like to believe the ballot is stronger than the bullet. Then again, he said that before he got shot."

More than a few words about the audio production: I was maybe a little more brief than normal in the previous paragraph, and that is because this book is really all about the audio production. Like Sedaris, Vowell narrates her own work. She has a distinctive voice, maybe one that could get on your nerves, but the comedic timing of the delivery is one that only she could pull off effectively. She has a shockingly packed star-studded cast of guest narrators...Stephen King, Jon Stewart, Conan O'Brien and Dave Eggers, just to name a few. This speaks volumes on her popularity in Hollywood. They all want to go on the vacation with Vowell it seems.

On the downside, the audio version isn't conducive to absorbing all that delicious trivia I was talking about. When there are 5.6 cool facts in each sentence (she has long sentences by the way), even my experienced listening ears just weren't capable of absorbing them all. Similarly to a complicated murder mystery on audio, though, I was able to just ride the wave and get the gist. If absorbing everything is a compulsive requirement for you, I'd grab the printed version. But you'd be missing out.

4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Song of the Sparrow - Lisa Ann Sandell

A day or so after my daughter rifled through my bookshelves, she came back to me and shoved this book in my face and said "Mom! You HAVE to read this book! It is poem-y but it is really good!". In fact, this is one of the signed books I've had on hand for awhile, and is going to be donated to my Adult Literacy League auction. My daughter assured me she read it in a day, and it was quick reading. I had no idea what it was about, but I figured if she loved the book, it had to have some romance in it.

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Elaine has only lived in a world of men, having lost her mother at a young age. She has literally grown up in the (future) King Arthur's army, acting as a healer to not only her father and brother, but all the soldiers. She is perched on the brink of womanhood, secretly harboring a love for Lancelot, who she has been friends with since she was a child.

That is until the lovely Gwynivere arrives. Although Gwynivere is engaged to Arthur, she has stolen Lancelot's heart. Thus ensues a little love triangle that devastates Elaine. But when the soldiers go to war, Elaine and Gwynivere are forced together in a dangerous situation and must fight to survive. The girls' passion and strength and wit are tested, and at the same time they find true friendship in each other. Elaine also grows to understand that true love was right under her nose, in the most unlikely place.

My thoughts: What I didn't say in the synopsis, and something that is a critical element of the book's success, is that the prose in this story is written in verse. This adds a gentle, ethereal quality to the words, and it sung to me. I'd never read anything quite like it. I know, I don't get out much.

There is also something magical about the legend of King Arthur, Lancelot, the Knights of the Round Table, Merlin, Tristan and the gang. I'm not an expert on all that business, but from this newbie's viewpoint Sandell made it all come to life. The characters were human and real, the emotions complex, all under the umbrella of a sweet, uplifting coming-of-age tale. A tale that is safe for a young tween or teen aged girl (it really isn't something a boy would read), but entertaining for her mom as well. This was just a beautiful, beautiful book.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, January 24, 2011

Monday Movie Meme - Sickos

Is there anyone out there that hasn't had a sick person in their house in the last few weeks? It is certainly that time of year where you stock up on your Nyquil, so of course the Bumbles are quick to convert that to a Monday Movie Meme! When you first start thinking about movies about illness, it would be very easy to just make this a post about flicks that make you cry. So many examples of people dying - ack! Steel Magnolias! Terms of Endearment! The tears! But I'm not going to go there, because I think that was a topic a few months ago. Here are some other ideas:

Token cancer movie: My Sister's Keeper - Despite the fact that I watched this one against my will, I'll admit it was a decent movie. There was some good acting, and it provided a twist on the normal movie about losing a loved one to cancer.

Alzheimers: Away From Her - Having lost my grandmother to this horrible disease, this movie hit close to home. The affliction was handled with tact and grace, and I believe it even earned an Oscar nomination or two.

Multiple personalities: Fight Club - Hmmm...maybe I just spoiled this movie a little bit? If I recall this was quite a long movie but I never blinked an eye. The combination of mind-twisting, Edward Norton and Brad Pitt did the trick. Phenomenal movie!

Obsessive compulsive: The Aviator - I believe this was about the time I had to concede that Leo was for real.

Autism: Rain man - It is encouraging that so much attention has been given to autism lately in literature and on film, so there is probably a better example (Temple Grandin?), but this was such a fabulous movie, it made the cut.

Flu/Captain Trips: The Stand - I've never felt quite comfortable about catching the flu since I saw this one. The big question really is, do really want to be one of the survivors?

Drug Addiction: Requiem for a Dream - No contest on this one. I think every person should be required to watch this one before they take that first pill. Seriously shocking stuff.

Demons: The Last Exorcism - I know, it probably won't win any awards, but I had to fit it in here because I just watched it last night. Hey it was pretty freaky! I wouldn't want this illness, thanks.

Just flat out stark raving madness: Repulsion - I remember when my husband and I finished this one, we just looked at each other and said "wow, that is just messed up!". This movie was made in 1965 and remastered recently, and is one fine example of a woman's (beautiful Catherine Deneuve) decent into madness.

Did I miss any? I'm sure I did. Happy Monday morning!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sunday Salon: Who's reading?

Yo peeps! Well, I mouthed off again about our wonderful, mid-seventies weather this week and it quickly turned cold again - as cold as Florida gets anyway. I'm sitting here with cold toes (but a warm heart). Well, it was good while it lasted. While our golf game did end up getting rained out on Monday, my regular Thursday round with my lady friends couldn't have been more perfect. Still, since the kids were home for the Monday holiday, my daughter was home sick for two days this week, and the entire day on Friday was spent babysitting electronic dudes hooking up our sound system, nothing much was accomplished.

See, I am extremely distracted by the fun of having this big ass TV and speakers and stuff hooked up in our future media room. 3D! Streaming Netflix! Streaming Pandora! iPod connectivity! Now all we need is furniture. We watched a movie last night in our lawn chairs, people. Comfort won't be ours until early March. Ahhhh! Think of the movies I will watch! The downside is that I'm focusing on DVD storage, purging old CDs, ordering blinds, and where I'm going to put my displaced cabinet. Who can read with all this going on?

Not me. I did finish "The Cypress House", which I enjoyed immensely. Then I pulled a SIBA book from the shelves called "Exposed", which is a YA novel written in free verse, and it blew me out of my flip flops. Read it in two hours, even with all the chaos in the house. Now I am languishing (in other words, reading verrrrry slowly) in "An Object of Beauty" by Steve Martin. I'm quite taken with it actually. Just need to hunker down and dig in. (Who the hell knew this man could write???)

I'm still listening to "Angelology", and I'm totally loving it. It is just 17 discs long. I will finish it up this next week though, I'm sure. How I'm going to review it, I have no idea...cross that bridge later, with the assistance of Mr. Pinot Noir. But hear ye, hear ye! I received both "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter" by Tom Franklin AND "The Distant Hours" by Kate Morton on audio this week! Hello! More fun than one audiobook junkie can handle almost.

And speaking of Tom Franklin, I received the best news this week. Mr. Franklin (via publicists) has agreed to call in to the Heathrow Literary Society in April to discuss Crooked Letter!!!! You about had to scrape me off the ceiling after I got the news. I will tip my hat to the ever-connected ever-entertaining Rebecca for pointing me in the right direction on that one.

So I hear many of you are participating in Bloggiesta this weekend. I didn't see it coming, but I almost never have that kind of time on weekends. I did manage to catch up with reviews on Friday while the techies were in the house, so I guess that counts. You all did cause me to sit and think about a few goals for the year, primarily copyrighting my blog, and coming up with a review policy.

A couple highlights coming next week. First, Books Babes and Bordeaux will be meeting to discuss "The Lotus Eaters", with Tatjana Soli calling in to talk to us. (I'll post a highlight on that event.) Then my family will be staying at a Universal Studios resort for the weekend, and participating in lots of Harry Potter, rollercoasters, and fine dining, pretending we are on vacation. Woo hoo! I'm sorry in advance if I don't make it around to all your posts. I'll do my best!

I hope you all have a relaxing, productive (for Bloggiesta participants) Sunday. What are you up to today?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

2011 Book to Movie Adaptations - Mark Your Calendars!

Perhaps most of you already read Entertainment Weekly, so please forgive me if I am regurgitating information you already know. But this was just too exciting not to share - don't mind me while I jump around and flap my hands!!! Get out your e-calendars and write these down:

February 18 - I Am Number Four, teen aliens are yesterday's vampires...maybe

March 18 - The Lincoln Lawyer, for all the Connelly fans

April 22 - Water for Elephants, even though I am not buying the Pattinson thing

July 15 - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, then we can all grieve

August 12 - The Help, where I will be first in line baby

November 18 - Breaking Dawn Part 1, not THAT excited, but it was a book

December 21 - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (US), but it won't compare

Which ones are you going to see at the theater? Or will you wait and get it on Netflix? Any predictions on which ones will be blockbusters?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Coming Back Stronger - Drew Brees with Chris Fabry

I think you all know I like football. The closest I've ever come to being "die hard" though is probably with the Indianapolis Colts, since I grew up in Indiana. That allegiance was tested, however, last year when the Colts played the Saints in the Super Bowl. You see, there is this guy named Drew.

Before Drew ripped his shoulder apart when he was playing for the San Diego Chargers, was cast aside as ruined, then picked up by New Orleans, an equally ruined city, he played for Purdue University. Purdue is only about 20 minutes from where I grew up, and Drew was our shining star. He took us to the Rose Bowl in 2001 (which my husband and I attended), our first in something like 68 years. Drew is our claim to fame, and we love him. To see him come back from a potentially career-ending injury and lead the hapless Saints to the Super Bowl was a story that America could get behind, and one I certainly had to support, Colts or not.

Drew came to Purdue last summer on a book tour when I was visiting my parents, and my mom was hellbound and determined we were going to get a signed book. It was an absolute melee. I eventually sent my parents and my kids on to more thrilling adventures, and I sat in a corner and read my Kindle, awaiting my turn to be near his greatness and dudeness.

*Sigh* So where was I? Oh, yes, the book. Whether you give a hoot about football or not, this is one you must read. Seriously. Drew's story is a captivating one.

Synopsis: Great high school football career, until he suffered an injury in his junior year. Busted tail to rehabilitate. He was recruited late by Purdue, and ultimately led them to the Rose Bowl. Met the girl of his dreams at Purdue and married her. Developed a deep spiritual connection with his Christian faith. Recruited by the Chargers, fought to be starting QB against the great Doug Flutie. Messed up his shoulder and was dropped like a bad habit. Busted tail to rehabilitate. Unproven since the injury, he was welcomed with open arms by a city that was recently devastated by Hurricane Katrina. In a matter of only a few years, during which his mother committed suicide, he took the losing team to the Super Bowl and won. Guys, it gives me chills. (Wonder how San Diego feels now?)

My thoughts: These days, it seems very difficult to find a celebrity that lives up to our expectations. They always seem to end up being human and letting us down. I hope and pray that Drew is not going to fall into this category, but rise up above all the cheating and gambling and illegitimate children and underage girls and addictions and give America someone to believe in. If anyone can do it, he can.

I was impressed with his goodness (saintliness?) - his drive to battle adversity, to give back to the community that so warmly embraced him when everyone else turned their backs, his solid Christian faith, and his humility. There is some serious power in this book that each one of us could put to good use, whether you blow out your knee, lose your job, lose a loved one, or just have a really crappy day:

"But in a strange way, I am actually thankful for that injury (in high school), in that it allowed me to learn how to face adversity at a young age. Would I quit, or would I fight through it? From my perspective, it's when the rug gets pulled out from under you that you really find your calling in life. Those defining moments don't have to be tragedies. When they're viewed through the lens of God's plans, they can be points of purpose in your life."

The prose is surprisingly conversational and easy to read. I don't know how much of that is Drew and how much is Fabry, but it was compelling. Some of his pearls of wisdom could be perceived as trite or corny, but in the voice that delivers these messages, you can hear his earnestness. Everything he said made a whole lot of sense, and I was deeply moved.

But it isn't all a big motivational speech either. He talks about his toxic relationship with his mother. His biggest mistakes on and off the field. The town of New Orleans and their loyal fans, and all about that "Who Dat" thing. The vital chemistry of team. Coaches that have touched his life. His marriage, and his young son. And overall he seems very grounded and positive. This is a guy that we would want as a role model for our children.

I love me a good, dysfunctional memoir, but this was a breath of fresh air. It is nice to be lifted up once in awhile, and finish a book feeling like you want to do something, make a difference, and believe in the power of a positive attitude. Drew, you're the man.

5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, January 20, 2011

American Widow - Alissa Torres

I sometimes have to ask "why do I do this to myself?" I have this compulsion to read books and see movies about 9/11. Am I a glutton for punishment? Does it help me find closure? I didn't even lose anyone in the tragedy, but I still lost a piece of my heart that day. Each year I mourn, and with every novel, I cry and my stomach hurts. Still I persist.

So up went my antennae when Carrie from Books and Movies reviewed "American Widow" by Alissa Torres. I felt like I owed it to Alissa Torres to read her story.

Synopsis: Alissa and Eddie met at a New York dance club, under the shadow of the Twin Towers, fell in love, and got married. Eddie was an example of the American Dream...born and raised in Colombia, moved to the US and worked his way up the corporate ladder. Then he lost his job, and was hired by Cantor Fitzgerald, whose offices were in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. His first day of work was September 10, 2001.

Seven months pregnant, Alissa is forced to endure a mountain of paperwork, bureaucratic red tape, and uncooperative "assistance", all while silently grieving for her husband. She is plagued with images of her husband jumping (which the authorities believe he did), of the fight they had the night before he died, of her attempt to provide for herself and her infant son. She is bewildered by the animosity and anger directed towards her because of the monetary help she seeks.

But Alissa is nothing if not strong, and she forges through the muck, fights her fight, and comes out the other side ready to tell her story and her husband's story. Despite my typical stomach ache, it is a story of survival and hope.

My thoughts: Another graphic novel hits the bullseye. Between Torres' candid recall of her loneliness, grief and frustration after her husband's death, to Sungyoon Choi's expressive and emotional illustrations, you have nearly walked in Torres' shoes. My heart goes out to Torres, and wished I could introduce her to the Cantor Fitzgerald widows who wrote "Love You, Mean It", another amazing story of resiliance.

There was one thing that confused me about the story (and in hindsight, I think Carrie mentioned this too) was that Alissa was angry at her husband about something on the evening of September 10, 2001 and the morning after when he left for work. She never tells us why, and I suppose it is none of our business. Maybe it was something trivial, and the bigger point was that she was never able to resolve her differences with him. But in the process of the story, it felt like it was a small missing piece.

Generally, I like to include an illustration or two of graphic novels I review, but I found this feature on Torres and her novel, and thought it was better than any one frame I could show you:

4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Yellow Wallpaper - Charlotte Perkins Gilman (Kindle)

Months ago I downloaded "The Yellow Wallpaper" on my Kindle at the suggestion of Nymeth @ Things Mean Alot. It sounded creepy and gothic, and is often mentioned in the same breath as "Affinity" by Sarah Waters. What more do I need to hear? (Honestly, I have considered having a reading challenge one of these years, where I read everything Nymeth reads. She has amazing, eclectic taste and I trust her implicitly!) So I was stuck somewhere recently without a book, and decided that was a perfect time to pull up this short story on my phone.

Synopsis: First published in 1892 in The New England Magazine, we meet a young woman via her first-person journal. She has been diagnosed by her doctor husband as having a "temporary nervous depression - a slight hysterical tendency", and has been confined to a room at a country rental estate over the summer to rest. Her husband believes that any use of creativity aggravates her condition, so she must sneak to write in her journal.

What begins with a mild annoyance with the ugly yellow wallpaper in her room turns into a descent into total madness. She imagines she sees a woman creeping around behind the pattern of the wallpaper trying to escape, and soon enough, the woman is not only in the wallpaper, but outside in the bushes. She begins to tear at the wallpaper, trying to break the woman free.

While the story is very short, it effectively addresses some serious issues, such as the treatment of women in the late 1800's - their oppression, the minimizing and mistreatment of their emotional issues, and their inability to help themselves. The journal entries also deftly record, first-hand, the deterioration of the mind.

My thoughts: Ah, the delicious fun of an unreliable narrator! And this one has such a personality. The protagonist is an innocent, and is compelled to trust her husband's judgement. Still, she is curious, and has a mind of her own underneath all that smoke her husband is blowing up her butt. I found myself being both tickled at her moxie, and frustrated at her lack of proper medical care for a condition I suspect was a form of post-partum depression. As the story progressed, my smirk over the protagonist's antics slowly morphed into a realization that deep down inside, our narrator was desperately sad, and a sick feeling that things were not going to end happily for this woman.

Adding another layer to this story is the history of the author. Apparently, she was inspired to write this story after her personal experience with mental illness. She was assigned a rest cure for her issues, but ultimately rebelled against the diagnosis and her own confinement. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, you rock girl.

For a thoroughly entertaining, but ultimately disturbing and unsettling hour or two of reading, you should definitely give this one your consideration. I doubt it will be one you will soon forget.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, January 17, 2011

Monday Movie Meme - Roles of Reverence

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr., we celebrate his birthday today in the US. It is on this day we remember his role in the civil rights movement, his humanity, and his powerful public speaking with which he could influence thousands. He was the ultimate Reverend and the world was his congregation. Inspired by the holiday, the Bumbles have prompted us to talk about religious figures in the movies...priests, nuns, minsters, or even the Pope.

I'm not certain what it means when most of the movies that come to my mind fall on the twisted or even evil end of the spectrum! It seems that Hollywood may be slightly enamoured with the contrast of good and evil? Nevertheless, I was able to come up with a couple of positive roles, as well as the negative ones:

The Good Doobies

Sister Maria (Julie Andrews) - The Sound of Music
Karol Wojtila (John Voight) - Pope John Paul II

The Bad Eggs

Padre Manolo (Daniel Giminez Cacho) - Bad Education
Father Oliver O' Grady (as himself) - Deliver Us From Evil
Euliss "Sonny" Dewey (Robert Duvall) - The Apostle
Sister Bridget et al (Geraldine McEwan) - The Magdalene Sisters

Then there are the priests in The Exorcist. I initially put them under the Good Doobies, and I suppose they are if they cured Regan of her pea soup issues, but they still always scared me. The whole movie rattles me, so I'm just going to put it here all by itself, where they can't hurt anybody.

Make sure you visit the Bumbles for their choices...they picked some amazing ones this week!

Sorry for the quick and dirty post today...I'd love to chat about bad priests some more, but I'm in search of a good one that will pray for no rain today while my husband and I head out for a game of golf. Happy Monday!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunday Salon: When did we get old?

Happy Sunday morning friends! Are we warmer yet? I missed another week of golfing because of the darned cold, but it has taken a turn for the better, and I do believe hubby and I will celebrate his birthday and MLK Day with a leisurely round tomorrow. And speaking of celebrating, we did a bit of that last night, raising a glass with a group of friends to toast the 50 years my husband has graced this planet. But seriously...FIFTY YEARS? I remember having a blow-out when he turned 30. Sheesh. I'M not fifty yet, but still, I don't feel old enough to be married to someone this age!

Most of my week was spent nursing my sick child, home for 3 1/2 days with a fever and an ugly cough. Poor baby. I also patiently hosted the delivery of round one of furniture, and the taking away of all old stuff by Salvation Army. But here is the deal. Their logistics people can't do better than "we'll be there between 8 and 5"???? They can't call me an hour before they arrive???? I was stuck home all day Friday waiting on them. Irritated me.

We had a great Heathrow Literary Society meeting, discussing the disappointment of Ape House. We also selected the next four months of books: Appointment in Samarra by John O' Hara (March), Crooked Letter Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin (April), The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova (May), and Lit by Mary Karr (June). Next month we are discussing Freedom. Which, by the way, took me like three hours to review.

I continued to be distracted this week, so I didn't get a whole lot read. I did finish Pray for Silence by Linda Castillo on audio, and despite my lukewarm opinion on the previous book in the series, I think I am warming up. I really liked this one. The question many serial murders can a little Amish community host until it becomes unrealistic? Now I am four discs into Angelology. No opinion yet, but I'm intrigued by the legend the author is building.

I said last week I would finish The Lake of Dreams if it killed me, and I did finish it, and I was glad I persevered. A good read. Now I am engrossed in The Cypress House by Michael Koryta, which releases next week. I enjoyed So Cold the River, and this one has a similar mysterious feel with something evil afoot, set in 1935 Florida! (I think this guy is following me around, first French Lick IN and now in my home state.)

Hope you all have a wonderful rest of the you have Monday off? And please pray for healthy kids, warm weather and productive reading!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Weekend Cooking: Clinton St. Baking Company Cookbook

When it comes to discovering new and exciting cookbooks, I haven't a mind of my own. I just basically follow Julie (Booking Mama) and Kathy (Bermudaonion) around like a hungry puppy, and whatever they review, I order from my library to try. As was this case with the Clinton St. Baking Company Cookbook. Julie reviewed the granola and the cheesy grits, and Kathy reviewed the pumpkin cheesecake. Needless to say, that was all I needed to hear.

Apparently, the Clinton St. Baking Company is THE PLACE to eat breakfast and brunch in NYC. The story of the owners, DeDe Lahman & Neil Kleinberg, who met over fish and chips, fell in love and started a restaurant with the mission to offer the best baked goods in the city, is worth the price of the cookbook by itself. Never mind that neither of them had no pastry experience. Their love of butter and using the freshest ingredients would conquer all! I loved them instantly. They had me at "biscuits".

The recipes cover the gamut of all things that will soothe your soul, but might take you up a jean size. Muffins, scones, pastries, egg dishes, soups, sides, sandwiches and fried chicken, desserts. Ah! Even homemade raspberry jam! Admit it. You want to get your hands on this cookbook. Lahman and Kleinberg are also helpful with their tips and pitfalls in the kitchen, to help you produce the most yummy concoctions. You are guaranteed to learn something you never knew...for example, if you use the heel of a knife to break the bone in a piece of chicken, it will cook faster. Also, don't press down on a burger when grilling it - it will squeeze all the juice out and cook it at the wrong temp.

I tried three recipes. The first was kind of a no-brainer, a Grilled Goat Cheese Sandwich. Except that my brain had never thought of making this sandwich with goat cheese. I made it with my Cuisinart Griddler (one of my favorite gifts this Christmas!), had it with a cup of tomato soup on a cold day, and it hit the spot!

I also tried the Mixed Berry Scones. The kids swore it sounded good, and I am always looking for something to give them for breakfast that will lure them away from Pop-Tarts. But something bad happened. Maybe I stirred the batter too much, maybe I didn't cook them long enough. But my entire family laughed at them, and refused to eat them. Bah!

My third recipe was the Fried Chicken. Now THIS worked! Unfortunately I didn't take pictures, because as soon as the chicken was done, my family pounced like ravenous hyenas and wiped it out.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken


2 cups buttermilk
2 tsp salt
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried thyme


2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
2 TBL salt
2 tsp black pepper

Whisk the marinade and add one whole chicken cut into 10 pieces. Store in an airtight container for 3 to 4 hours in the fridge.

Whisk the coating ingredients in a bowl. Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade - do not drain off the marinade. Dredge in the coating, piece by piece. Coat well, covering all the nooks and crannies. Set aside on a plate. Reserve any extra coating mix.

Fill a saute pan or Dutch oven with canola oil. Heat the oil to 350 degrees over medium heat, using a candy thermometer to make sure the temp is accurate. Heating may take 8 to 10 minutes.

With tongs, gently place the chicken skin-side down in the oil and fry the chicken in batches of 5 to 6 pieces so that they don't crowd the pan. Fry each piece 7 to 8 minutes per side (wings may take less time). After you remove each batch of chicken, the temp of the oil will drop. Make sure you bring the oil back up to 350 degrees before adding the next batch.

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Ape House - Sara Gruen (Audio)

There aren't many people tromping around these days that haven't at least HEARD of "Water for Elephants", Gruen's claim to fame. Maybe they've read the book or they are going to see the upcoming movie, or friends have been raving about it. Here lies the danger, however, for anything that the author writes from here on forward. There is a taste of success, there is pressure for more, and then things fall apart. Which is what seemed to happen in this case.

Synopsis: Our dual storyline starts off merged: The beautiful Isabel, a scientist at a Great Ape Language Lab, is showing off her eerily human, highly intelligent test subjects to reporter John Thigpen, who is enchanted by the experience. Thigpen goes back home to Philly, and that same day the Lab is bombed presumably by terroristic animal rights activists, seriously injuring Isabel and releasing the apes. Bad guys purchase the apes for nefarious purposes, which becomes evident through a public display of very bad taste.

Then our storylines separate for a bit. Thigpen's wife, an unsuccessful author, wants to try to her hand at writing a comedic series in Hollywood. Thigpen is miserable at his job as a newspaper reporter, particularly when an ambitious colleague "steals" his story on the apes. So they move to Los Angeles, Thigpen hires on at a tabloid, and chases down the ape story for himself.

Isabel goes through various stages of recuperation and depression. She breaks up with her slimy two-timing fiance. She longs to be with her apes. She finds out where they are and attempts to make contact.

Then things get...weird. Russian hookers. Exploding meth labs. A porn king. A homeless, farting pit bull. A paternity scare. And then a fairly predictable ending, all perfect and shiny and wrapped up with a big red bow.

My thoughts: I usually try to keep my synopsis fairly neutral but I failed this time. This whole thing went wrong in so many ways. The bad guys were caricatures, with crooked smiles and cold eyes and sinister statements. The plot wandered. Maybe the ape thing wasn't exciting or Hollywood enough, so Gruen had to throw in random action? It was like a twisted Disney movie.

There was a decent amount of seemingly factual information about the Bonobo Apes...their behavior, their ability to communicate through sign language, their higher intelligence. This was pretty fascinating stuff, although I kept asking myself silently "Is this realistic? Do Bonobos really act like this, with this much reason and emotion?". I never dug around on the Internet to obtain an answer to that question. I have to assume that Gruen did her homework. I guess my point is that the behavior of the apes in the book was just edgy enough that I wasted mental effort in wondering if it was truth or exaggeration.

If I hadn't been reading this book for my book club, I would have dropped this one like a hot potato.

A word about the audio production: The narrator for this production was Paul Boehmer, someone who appears to have been around the audiobook block, as well as a minor actor. Personally, however, I found him smarmy and a little too feminine-sounding and he made my skin crawl. I would not choose to listen to him again. I think it is important to note that this did not have any influence over my opinion of the book and its plot. The entire package did not meet my expectations.

Thoughts from the Heathrow Literary Society: This month at book club, it was my turn to facilitate the discussion, and I was worried that my 'tude would be evident. So I just kept quiet and let the people speak. I heard words like "superficial" and "weird" and "I'm indifferent". One member read the book a couple of months ago, and couldn't recall the name of a single character, and had forgotten about the Russian prostitutes. We all agreed the ape angle was interesting, but not enough to squeeze out more than a 2.5 or a 3 out of 5 stars from anyone at the table.

2 out of 5 stars

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Color Trilogy - Kim Dong Hwa

On my never-ending quest for all things graphic (my new form of crack), I was at the library recently and spotted this trilogy. I first read about it over at Gavin's place at Page 247, and I've never forgotten the arresting visuals. I sat down and knocked them all out in a matter of days. (Side note: This is one of many reasons why graphic novels are so incredible, and why you really need to get on this bandwagon. They pack a huge punch emotionally, because they are so visual and often well-written at the same time. And you can normally read them in one or two sittings.)

Synopsis: In Korea, Kim Dong Hwa is highly revered as the standard in graphic novels, called "manhwa". The Color Trilogy is his first work translated and sold in the US, and tells a story of a young girl's coming-of-age in nineteenth century Korea, and her relationship with her widowed mother.

In The Color of Earth, we first meet Ehwa, who lives with her mother in a small village. Her mother runs the local tavern, and is a beautiful but lonely woman. Ehwa has just started feeling stirrings of adolescence, and harbors her first crush on a young monk boy. At the same time, her mother meets a mysterious and handsome traveling artist, and Ehwa observes her mother in love, an emotion in which she is has a sudden interest. The onset of puberty is explored as we see the young monk experience his first wet dream and Ehwa's first period. The novel ends when a new love interest of Ehwa's, a enigmatic student, leaves the village to return to school, and she is crushed.

In The Color of Water, Ehwa becomes a somewhat difficult teenager, and is often moody. She longs to have the attention of a young man, and spends her energy on wondering who she will marry. She becomes agitated (and jealous?) at her mother's obsession with the continuing visits from the traveling artist. Ehwa learns about the birds and the bees from a precocious and promiscuous childhood girlfriend. She finally meets the man of her dreams in Duksam, who must leave at the end of the book to earn money so they can be married.

In The Color of Heaven, most of the plot is spent focused on Ehwa and her mother's constant longing and waiting for the men in their lives to come back to them. They find common ground in their angst, and begin to relate to each other as equals. The men eventually do return, and Ehwa is married.

Not only does this trilogy address all of the confusion and excitement of the transition from child to adult, it also gently reveals many different Korean customs, as well as local foods, roles in the family unit, attitudes towards single women, arranged marriages, sexual taboos and social order. Hwa also incorporates a great deal of symbolism and metaphors with a multitude of text and images dedicated to the blossoming of flowers, ripening fruit, and butterflies.

My thoughts: The Color Trilogy is unlike any of the graphic novels I've read before. It is seeped in Korean culture and beautiful images of the countryside.

The book is also very straightforward in its depiction of sexual awakening. It is a little disarming because there are pictures, but also refreshing in its honestly. For this reason, this could be an excellent book to give to a teenager (I think at 12, my daughter might be still too young) - just make sure you read it first so you can use it as an opportunity to discuss.

The artwork was absolutely gorgeous. It seemed, in some of the frames, that actual photographs had been merged with illustration (not sure if it actually was or not), and the result was breathtaking.

I felt like I was getting a mini-tutorial on traditional Korean culture, of which I was completely uneducated. Hwa even added footnotes to some of the dialogue, with explanations of some of the customs.

On the downside, I did grow extremely weary of reading about flowers and butterflies. I completely understood the point, but it was heavy-handed. And I also have to mention one particular sex scene near the end of the last book, taking place between two older townspeople at the same time that Ehwa consummates her marriage, that left me turned off. I didn't think it was necessary, and did not add to the beauty of the story.

Overall, a wonderful graphic novel experience that I would highly recommend.

4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Today I'm at the Scene of the Blog!!!

Yay! It is finally my turn at this little slice of fun. I am being featured at Kittling: Books weekly feature "Scene of the Blog". Come on over and see all the places I drag my computer and blog on a day-to-day basis. I'll see you over there...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Island - Elin Hilderbrand (Audio)

Perhaps the fate of this book was sealed by the fact that I WANTED to listen to Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell, but my iPod pooped out. (Therefore I was forced to listen to the only audio I had in physical disc form - this one.) Perhaps it was because it was literally freezing outside and this was a beach book. Whatever the case, this audio was defending itself before I ever started it!

Synopsis: Fifty-something sisters India and Birdie, along with Birdie's two daughters Chess and Tate, retreat to the family cabin on Tuckernuck Island for a month to lick their wounds caused by men. Birdie recently divorced her husband of 30 years. Chess suddenly called off her engagement. Tate has never fallen in love. And India's famous artist husband committed suicide two years prior, leaving India questioning her role in his demise. It is a month to reconnect and rejuvenate. After all, the island has no electricity, no cell coverage, no wireless connections...and all supplies must be transported by boat from nearby Nantucket. (And oh by the way, the dude that delivers their supplies is quite handsome, and is a recent widower...)

Each woman takes turn narrating their present state of mind, their past and how they got to this point in their lives, slowly unraveling each of their own secrets and ghosts. Why did Birdie divorce Grant, and what about her new boyfriend Hank? Why did Chess call off her engagement so suddenly? Why has Tate never found Mr. Right? Who is India involved with now, and what will her family think? Their month on the island also is a study in mother/daughter relationships, and sister/sister relationships, and the dangerous, rocky territory that these relationships are built upon.

My thoughts: When someone mentions the term "book for women" or "chick lit", this is the exact type of book I think of. Women with baggage, emotional angst, the hope of new love, buried secrets, handsome boy toys, mean threatening rich bitches, and happy endings. There is really nothing wrong with a plot like this, as long as that is your expectation. It was easy to listen to this book, because while there were some serious issues and tragedy, it still felt light and unencumbered. I might even call it fluffy.

I started out liking the characters well enough. But as the book progressed, I began to dislike some of them. Chess was always brooding and refusing to discuss her "horrible" secret. She was very self-absorbed. Tate was like a hyper dog and was very jealous and immature. Birdie was a little bit of a doormat. Then there were those very predictable situations where, early in a relationship, there are misunderstandings, nervous lovers refuse to just sit down and talk things out, and ALL IS LOST! Or so they think, but then they work things out and live happily ever after. You know what I'm talking about right?

I did indulge in a fantasy of a family home on a remote island. I guess I might get tired of having to boil water for a bath, but I'd get used to it after awhile. The beach, fishing, cooking over a propane stove, happy hour with Sancerre wine? Yes ma'am. Turns out, there really IS a Tuckernuck Island, which I find intriguing.

Bottom line, this is a perfect beach read. Pack it in your duffel, get sunscreen on it if you want, then leave it at the condo you are renting.

A word about the audio production: The narrator for this book was Denice Hicks, who is new to me. I was not altogether impressed with her narration. Her voice was almost too sticky sweet, and it never varied. She was reading for four different characters, and the vocalization never changed. This would have been one audio where four different narrators would have served well.

3 out of 5 stars

Monday, January 10, 2011

Monday Movie Meme - If You Build It, They Will Come

Some friends of the Bumbles are getting ready to take the plunge and build a house (something my husband and I have never attempted!) and were checking out Molly and Andy's handiwork. Which of course inspired Molly to come up with this week's topic...movies about building. And it doesn't necessarily have to be about building houses or skyscrapers. This is a chance to get creative, but there are only so many of those brain cells firing at 5:30 in the morning. This is what you get today from me:

1. The Social Network - building Facebook

2. The Wall - building an imaginary wall between yourself and reality

3. Tucker: The Man and His Dream - building an ultimately ill-fated supercar

4. Iron Man - building a cool flight suit

5. Miracle - building a hockey team that would defeat the Russians and win the 1980 Olympics

I'm excited to see what ideas come from this topic today. What are some of your ideas?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sunday Salon: Repercussions of The Dare

A cold, snowy Sunday to you all out there. How many of you are under? Quite a few I've heard. We aren't "under" per se, but it did get a bit nippy last night. I got a little cocky this week with Caite, bragging about how I could lay out by the pool and drink fruity drinks in the warm Florida weather, so that is what I get. Bad Karma.

So the kids were back to school this week, and not a moment too soon. I got a chance to do some serious walking, attempting to work off lobster tails, cheese fondue, cheesy mashed potatoes and my husband's mixed drinks. Beyond that, I persisted in lining up visits from various worker boys. Estimates on stuff, the all-exciting cable provider visit for an upcoming 3D HD TV, scheduling furniture pick-up, all that business. I am also attempting to finalize the school library volunteer schedule for the last half of the year, with people dropping like flies. New football league for my son, with practices from 6pm to 8pm. I swear I didn't sit down and read for more than five minutes a day, and it is cramping my style.

Anyone getting excited for the new season of American Idol? I am. If only to see if these three can pull off some chemistry and make us forget Simon. And while I am going through my Entertainment Weekly, I must add that I am half-disgusted, half-tickled that they are calling Selena Gomez "Justin Bieber's cougar". I'm easily doesn't take much.

A few books that smacked me upside the head and said "READ ME" (after the TBR Dare, that is): Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (I don't know, it is a Florida thing I guess) and The Sentry by Robert Crais (hard-body, strong-and-silent, tattooed Joe Pike makes my motor hum). And then of course, I got an e-mail from Rhapsody Jill, the temptress, with things I must read after The Dare as well. It is going to take three years to dig myself out of the hole after The Dare, haha!

So, because of the walking, I managed to finish Freedom on audio. If you held a gun to my head, I'm not sure I could tell you how I feel. Gonna have to let it simmer and stew and see what is left. Some good feelings, some not so good. I also completed, in about a day and a half, Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane. Not mind-blowing, but entertaining. Now I am a few discs into Pray for Silence by Linda Castillo, the sequel to Sworn to Silence which I reviewed this week.

And yet I LABOR over the printed novel, The Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards. Going on what? Close to two weeks now? It really isn't bad, but is not captivating enough to make me sit down and focus. The slow pace makes me want to rip out my hairs. You'd think I could work up the cajones to stop the bleeding and cast it aside, but I can't because I've heard good things about the book.

So next week the husband turns 50, so I must cater to him. I've got a book club meeting on Ape House by Sarah Gruen. I'm supposed to facilitate the discussion this time, but it will be difficult since I hated the book! I'm hoping to golf, provided we have decent weather. And I'm going to finish this printed book if it kills me. Goals are our friends!

I hope you are quickly able to dig yourself out of wherever you are. If not, build a fire, make some hot chocolate and read a book!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Fun apps for all your new electronics!

With Apple's attempt (a successful one, I'm thinking) of Total World Domination, I am sure there are a few of you out there that received Devices for Christmas...iTouch, iPhone, iPad? So I thought it would be a good time to offer this public service announcement with a few apps that I've found quite helpful in my day-to-day life:

1. Weatherbug (Free) - Ask my friends, I have an obsession with the weather. Florida, as a rule, is pretty consistent with its temp, but the rain is what drives me crazy, especially with football practice, the golf game, and yard work. Enter Weatherbug. It not only provides the current temp and various stats, but the seven day forecast (hourly if you'd like), the current radar map which you can zoom on to your neighborhood, and even live camera footage from places around town.

2. AllRecipes (Free) and Epicurious (Free) - meal plan on the run! Access thousands of recipes for anything and everything. Epi even will create a shopping list for you from the recipes you choose.

3. Open Table (Free) - I am assuming you have all heard of this, but if not, you must partake. Say you are laying around your house on Saturday at 4:00pm, and you decide you want to go out to dinner. Dang it, it is too late to find an open reservation! Not with Open Table. You plug in what time, how many people, and it will give you all openings for restaurants within a specified mile range. And it will make a reservation for you. You earn points every time you use it, for cash back. Greatest thing since sliced bread.

4. Angry Birds (99 cents) - Beware all you obsessive personalities. Slingshot various angry birds at blockaded pigs that snort and snigger at you. Crush those pigs. It is excellent stress relief and the best buck you will ever spend. (There is an Angry Birds Lite for free...test it out. But it is worth the buck for the full deal.)

5. Have2P (Free) - Have you ever had those moments where you HAVE TO GO and there are no bathrooms to be found? Get this app. Whether you are at a mall or in the middle of nowhere, it will show you the quickest path to relief.

6. Point Inside (Free) - I probably should have given this to you right after Thanksgiving. Sorry. But it has detailed maps for every mall and airport known to man. Never again will you need to race manically through an entire mall to find a Starbucks.

7. .Parking (99 cents) - This is another one that probably would have been useful during the holidays. For any of you that have lost your car downtown, or at a large shopping mall, this will solve your problems. Via GPS, mark the location of your car, and the app will lead you back to it when you are ready to leave!

8. Common Sense Media (Free) - Reviews on movies, video games, websites, apps, books, etc. from a parent's perspective. This provides rankings from one to five on messages, role models, violence, sex, language, consumerism and drugs, and offers what parents need to know, and what families can talk about. My kids are at the age right now where they are attempting to push the envelope, and this app gives me quick and practical advice on what is appropriate and what isn't.

9. Pizza Hut (Free) - Plant yourself in your comfy chair, declare yourself on strike from making dinner, and pull up your Pizza Hut app to order your meal. It is sloth at its best. You will have to register before you order, and I found I couldn't do that on my phone, it had to be done on the computer. Still.

10. Yelp (Free) - You want to find something, you've got it. Plug in the name of whatever (restaurant, theater, attraction, etc.) and not only will you get the address and reviews on the place, but a live map and directions. If you are on a road trip and you need to find a grocery store, just type "grocery store" and it will show you everything in your area. You want pizza, type "pizza" and it will give you choices, with a million reviews on which one is best. It is a beautiful thing.

Which ones are your favorites? I'm always looking for the newest and most clever.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Sworn to Silence - Linda Castillo (Audio)

In a previous life, I was a murder mystery addict. Seriously, that is all I read. And when I locked into a series, I was in it for better or worse. After about ten years of that, I began to get tired of the predictable, formulaic trends I was seeing, and moved onto other pastures. Before I moved on, though, I threw a few of my favorite series into my baggage, and am always on the lookout for new material. Caite recently reviewed Pray for Silence by Linda Castillo, a part of a murder mystery series that takes place in Ohio Amish country. It was enough of a hook to inspire me to try it. Sworn to Silence is the first in the series and luckily found it on audio at my library.

Synopsis: When Kate Burkholder was 14, she experienced a horrifying encounter with a serial killer that left her alive but scarred for life. As a result, she cast aside her Amish heritage and joined the "English" community, became a police officer, and is now the Chief of Police in her hometown of Painter's Mill. In a town where the biggest problem she has is the occasional wayward cow on the road, the community is turned upside down when the body of a naked and slaughtered young woman is found. The body has all the same markings as the serial murder from Kate's past. Could this be the same person?

Although Kate is a smart, competent police officer, she is a woman, and the town's leaders decide to bring in outside help to compensate for Kate's perceived inexperience. Enter BCI agent John Tomasetti, a mysterious, smouldering dude with secrets and baggage of his own. As the killer escalates, the murders get more and more gruesome, and it becomes obvious that Kate may possibly have to sacrifice her career, her family and her long-hidden secrets to save the next victim.

My thoughts: In many ways, I've read this story a thousand times. Everyone has secrets. Attractive, competent woman is instantly repelled by dark, mysterious man. But then they hook up and become a team for the greater good. There are red herrings, and ultimately a really evil antagonist is revealed. A colorful secondary cast of characters. Gratuitous, out-doing the competition gore. Some pretty bad dialogue. I found very little in the story that would be considered a surprise or a plot twist.

But there are also some elements that make this story stand out. The first would be its unique setting of an Amish community. Because the character of Kate lived as an Amish youth, she has insight into their customs, and as a reader, we are treated to a little bit of an education on their way of life. Combine that goodness, that pureness of the Amish people, with a series of incredibly vicious, over-the-top murders? It is a shocking contrast, and one you don't see often in murder mystery literature.

The characters were well-drawn and entertaining as well. Not only is Kate likable, but her staff is as well. Her eager beaver, CSI-wannabe dispatch operator Mona, her semi-retired piss-and-vinegar officer Pickles, and ex-military badass officer Glock all pepper the story with humanity and humor. I wouldn't mind hanging around to see them again.

Are these positives, burdened by an overused plot and trite dialogue, enough to carry a series? Time will tell. I have the second book in the installment, Pray for Silence, on my iPod, waiting to provide an answer.

A word about the audio production: The narrator for Sworn to Silence is Kathleen McInerney, a narrator I've listened to before (Love the One You're With by Emily Giffin) and is experienced in the area of children's literature on audio. I remember enjoying her narration of the Giffin novel, but had small irritations with this one. Her vocal portrayal of the dudeish John Tomasetti was breathy and low, kind of like a lounge lizard, and the ridiculousness of it made me laugh. It instantly turned Tomasetti into a caricature, and it was hard for me to take him seriously. Beyond that however, she did a decent job. I think she would be better suited, however, for women's or children's fiction.

3 out of 5 stars