Today's Grateful List/30 August 2015

  • Goofy television
  • Good books
  • Article finished
  • Target
  • August almost over

Monday, August 31, 2015

Total Brain Candy (Just When I Needed It!)

Be forewarned...if you are looking for deep, meaningful reading, The Bourbon Kings is not the book for you. But if you are interested in good escapist fiction that sucks you into the lives of privileged, spoiled rich people, you're going to be pleasantly surprised. I know I was.

First, let's be clear: There is nothing paranormal about The Bourbon Kings, unlike Ward's uber-successful Black Dagger Brotherhood series. This first book in the series instead relies on a deeply dysfunctional family whose ancestors began the Bradford Bourbon Company; a family that features one daughter and three brothers with deep-seeded scars at the hands of their strict, unfeeling father and emotionally distant mother. The main character is Lane, third son, who has had nothing to do with his family for over two years; he's left the old Kentucky home of Easterly and lives in New York, playing poker and avoiding life. But with a phone call that the woman he feels is his true mother is dying, Lane takes a flight back and ends up staring down his demons:  his father, the family business, the woman he loves, and a wife who somehow is still living with the family despite the estrangement between them.

The points of view shift around a bit in this novel, with Lane and Lizzie (the woman he loved and lost), taking the most pages as family secrets, lies, and outright cruelty take center stage. But there are also chapters from Edward, the oldest brother, now physically incapacitated and well on his way to being a full-on alcoholic; Gin, the youngest sister whose libido attacks first and asks questions later; and Sutton, the daughter of the rival bourbon company. I found myself fully engaged each time the point of view moved, ready to find out what atrocity was looming and whose life was about to implode next.

Sure, the storyline is overly dramatic but there's some base satisfaction to be had in knowing that the rich have problems, too, and Ward deals them out in spades. As Lane tries desperately to win Lizzie back, other ugly truths begin to rear their heads, and he realizes the family's problems go way deeper than his being married to a someone he hates. There are several mysteries thrown in, and some flashbacks give insight into what put the dys- into dysfunctional. Life is complicated and overwrought and yet you cannot look away.

There are a few negative points, including the way Ward "borrows" things like the Kentucky Derby and renames them...Yes, I'm aware she probably needed to do so to avoid getting in trouble, but it's still annoying. There are also some misunderstandings that are silly, and everything is over the top. But it's that very thing, the over the top bit, that pulls you in and keeps you turning those pages to learn more.

I admit I'm hooked. It's the whole Dynasty vibe, and it's got me loving the fun. Don't pick it apart; just give it a go for what it is and enjoy the ride.

Blogger isn't letting me upload the I'll give you a link instead.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Pros and Cons

I finished this book last night and admittedly spent too much time afterwards trying to decide how I was going to review it. I've finally decided that the best way to do this is a Pros/Cons list because I'm about equally divided in my thoughts right now.

Pro:  Strong start. I roared right through the first 75 pages or so, needing to know what the big secrets were and how Nina fit into it. GREAT beginning.

Con:  And then...and then...the dragging bit happened. Nina, our heroine, must try to rescue her sister, Melanie, from the clutches of the Church, which runs everything in the demonically possessed world. And we hear about this...and hear about this...and hear about this...

Pro:  Nina is determined to do the right thing, no matter the cost. And sometimes the right thing involves doing some really bad stuff, but you know she's only thinking of what's right.

Con:  Nina's not very likable, unfortunately. She is abrasive and single-minded, even while she is determined and focused. 

Pro:  The whole Church twist is great. It's almost a throwback to the Inquisition, and it's truly scary to think that this could happen (minus the demons). Everyone is taken in, and everyone believes, or is forced to believe. Nina is part of the whole until she realizes what's really going on, and then it's almost too late.

Con:  I really hate Devi.  I know I'm not supposed to like her at this point, but I really hate her which makes me not want to read further. In fact, I'm not a big fan of any of the gang with which Nina aligns.

Pro:  I like the Finn twist. Unique and unexpected. I'd like to see how this ends up.

Con:  The whole exorcist thing.  Where does it come from? Without being too spoiler-y, I will say that I understand that it's the focal point of Nina's story, but I don't get where it came from (though I suppose I'll learn this later on).  I just felt like some parts of it were way too conveniently accepted by Nina, a girl who normally rejects everything.

Pro:  It's a great premise and may yet be really interesting.

Con:  Too many people I just do not care about. I doubt I'll read the next one, which is a shame, as I normally love Rachel Vincent. the math.  I'm giving 3 solid stars for good idea but a sort of messy climax with people I didn't care for. You may come away with more excitement than I did, but I'm just not that enthusiastic.


Saturday, August 01, 2015

Fly Me to the Morgue

Love this series and love Eddie G.! In book 6 of the Rat Pack Mysteries, Fly Me to the Morgue, Eddie's newest life-threatening problem comes when he accompanies Bing Crosby to look at a possible race horse the celeb may want to buy. Having impressed Bing with his horse knowledge a year earlier, Big Jerry is asked along for the ride, but naturally it's far from a regular visit to look at a horse. Instead, the trio meet with the body of the guy selling the horse, and while that's not their fault, one thing leads to another. Once again, members of the Rat Pack and their friends become involved, along with the Mob and other unsavory characters.

This mystery, like the others, isn't particularly deep but it is so engaging, and so page-turning, that I thoroughly enjoyed myself and raced right through it. All our favorites are back, including Eddie, Jerry, Danny, as well as Frank, Dino, and various other celebrities. Randisi continues to weave Eddie seamlessly into the Vegas of the 60s, and I continue to love these books. This one is just as good as the others, and the addition of Bing to the storyline is just icing on the cake. Why aren't you reading these books? They're too much fun!


Friday, July 31, 2015

The Boy on the Wooden Box

Wow.  Just wow. This is the true story of Leon Leyson, a young man whose family lost almost everything in Poland during the Holocaust, yet made it through alive thanks to Oskar Schindler and his famous list. This is a story of the survival of humans through the generosity of those who seem least likely to offer it, and it is a story of bold chances taken and grateful, hopeful people. 

From the first words, Leon draws us into his story of life as a young boy in Krakow, and how that life changed as the Nazis invaded; how his family managed to stay together (mostly) for the duration of the war, and how he was reduced to digging through garbage for food and lying to soldiers to stay alive. But it is a fortuitous meeting of Leon's father with Schindler that ultimately keeps Leon's family alive; one by one they are taken from their camp and brought to work in Schindler's factory. The fact that young Leon, small in body from his years of starvation, was taken into Schindler's group attests to the good this one man was able to do right under the noses of the Nazis hungering for death for all Jews. Leon is mindful of his good fortune but doesn't shy away from the hard, brutal details of life in the Krakow ghetto and the internment camp. The fact that many times it all might have gone even more horribly wrong than it already had is proof of the triumph of spirit, and it is beautiful.

Leon Leyson was a gifted storyteller, and his story is one that will capture you, enlighten you, and uplift you. This is a look at Schindler's List from one of the workers who was saved, and it's a story that we need to know.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Sad Tale of Typhoid Mary

We've probably all heard someone use the term "Typhoid Mary", but many of us likely don't know the truth behind the words. Typhoid Mary was a real person, a cook in the early 1900s, who was accused of spreading typhoid to many through her skills as a cook; she was tracked down, harassed, and imprisoned until the end of her life, though others with similar issues were allowed to remain free. Susan Campbell Bartoletti brings the story of Mary Mallon to life in her children's book on the subject.

I've read a bit about Mary Mallon in the past, and I have to say that Bartoletti's story is well researched and well written; the author doesn't shy away from the more upsetting facts (Mary was demanded to give all sorts of bodily samples, even being locked away in a room until she could no longer wait) and she gives us as much background on the situation as is known. It's very clear that Mary was oppressed by those who should have been in the business of helping her, including the New York Department of Health, and it's also clear that Mary wasn't going down without a fight. Bartoletti provides a balanced view of a horrible situation, with an objective hindsight that gives the reader a sense of the times and a feeling for Mary's personality and circumstances. Well done.


Monday, July 13, 2015

Rat Pack Mystery...Again!

Before I go any further, I have to admit that I absolutely adore the Rat Pack Mysteries: They sweep me away into the Vegas era of the 1960s, with the Rat Pack and various mobsters front and center.  And Eddie G.! What a guy. Okay, I'm done now.

This installment features Ava Gardner, Frank Sinatra's ex-wife. Somehow, Ava turns up after a 40 hour drunken binge, covered in blood with somebody dead. She goes to Frank, but since he's with his children, she tries to quietly slip out of town, but since she's Ava Gardner, that doesn't go quite as planned. Of course our Eddie G is called in to find out what's going on, so he tracks her down in LA, only to find himself in danger now as well. Enter our friend Jerry Epstein, always ready to protect and eat, and soon the trio is traveling around looking for places to hide Ava from whomever is following her while Eddie tries to find out what took place in those missing hours.

This is standard fare for our hero, Eddie, and his pals, and throw in appearances from Frank, Dino, and Sammy, and you've got the perfect mix for a mystery. Randisi name-drops with the best of them, and it's easy to envision strolling through a Beverly Hills Hotel and encountering all the performers of the 60s. The mystery itself develops nicely and involves all our favorites with a couple of interesting surprises thrown in. Definitely another winning entry in this series that has me fully engaged.


A Little Bit of Nightfall

Fourteen years of Day, followed by fourteen years of Night...that's how the inhabitants of Martin's Island have lived for ages. They stay on the island in homes built by someone else, for fourteen years of Day, but as twilight falls, they prepare to leave to travel to the Desert Lands to live. Before they leave, however, they must go through some rather odd preparations, including "leaving the houses without stain." No one questions it; it's just what they do.

Marin and her twin Kana have lived their entire lives on Martin's Island, knowing they would leave at the next Nightfall. Kana's always been slight and blind, but with the oncoming Night, his vision begins to clear and he can feel himself  growing stronger. As they prepare to leave on the few boats coming to take them away, their friend Line disappears, in danger of being left behind. The twins set out on a search and rescue that ultimately leads to all three missing the boats...and being left alone. It doesn't take long for them to realize that something is out there, and something does not want them on their island.

This book has a great premise, and at times is very creepy indeed, especially when the teens are left behind and it becomes increasingly obvious that something is stalking them--and there's no waiting for daylight for things to get better. While I enjoyed it overall, I was left with some big questions, including....spoilers've been warned....what precisely the things are, where they came from, and why anyone would want to live on an island for fourteen years, just to move back and forth as the world changes. I didn't like what was going on with Kana, and found that no matter what, he was the least likable of the three. In fact, none of the teens were particularly engaging. I also felt there were too many coincidences that made things right; these youngsters were remarkably lucky throughout, even though they'd somehow managed to get themselves left behind. Mostly however, my biggest issue is the rather simplistic writing style. This is not a book older teens will get lost inside; sentences like "Line was very sick" seemed out of place and juvenile.

If there is a sequel to this book--and the jury is still out, based on the ending--I'm not positive I'd read it. Though I liked the general plot and the premise, there was just something vital missing in the execution and style of writing that kept me from feeling fully engaged. It's not a bad book, but it's not one I'd feel comfortable recommending to anyone over age fourteen or so. I really wish I'd like the main characters more, but it is what it is.


Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Fairest (The Lunar Chronicles)

Having finished Fairest, a novella of the Lunar Chronicles, I do feel as though I have more insight into Lunar Queen Levana's behavior as we see it in the other books. Fairest follows her from the time she's sixteen and has just lost her parents to assassins; her sister Channary has been named queen. That's less problematic to Levana than the fact that her crush, palace guard Evret Hayle, is married and unavailable. When his wife dies, Levana uses her gifts to ensnare him, but obviously that's not the way to make a happy relationship. The relationship between the two is the main focus of Fairest; the way Levana chooses to ensure that she becomes queen and remains that way is the second, lesser sub-plot. In a short novel, it's easy to see where the plot is going but it's the insight into Levana's thoughts that make this more than just a throwaway story.

All that said, I really wasn't all that thrilled with Fairest. Levana is, of course, the villain in the Lunar Chronicles, but her own self-delusion is really pitiful and her mistreatment of others places her on the same level as the sister she dislikes. I'm aware that I'm not supposed to like her (and I don't) but there was almost a time when I felt sorry for her. It seems whatever she wants, she cannot have, and she takes all this out on the situations and people around her. By the time I was done with the book, I definitely wanted to see her destroyed, not just redeemed (not that I think that's possible). This is a fast read, but not really one that made me think, "Wow, so there's a whole, well-rounded backstory to Levana." I wish it had given me a more multi-dimensional feeling for Levana, because that would certainly have made for a conflicted, exciting next installment.  Instead, it simply reinforces my low opinion and makes me ready to get to Winter...which, I suppose, was the author's intent all along.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Anya's Ghost--A Graphic Novel Adventure

Anya's Ghost is a good graphic novel that pulls the reader into the story quickly, and keeps you turning the pages to find out just what is up with this ghost...Is she really just a friendly ghost who wants out of the well where she's been stuck for nearly a hundred years? Or is there something slightly more sinister going on? 

Built around Anya, a teenager whose mother emigrated from Russia to America when Anya was a child, we follow her through a normal, teen-angsty type day, wherein the boy she likes has no clue she's alive and school is such a bore. Then she trips and falls into an old well, and unable to make herself heard, she realizes she's not alone--there's a skeleton in there, with its ghost still attached. Turns out the ghost belongs to Emily, who died nearly a century ago, and now wants to experience more than her hole in the ground. When Anya is rescued, she finds that somehow she's brought Emily's finger bone home with her, thus enabling Emily to leave the well. The thing is, Emily is pretty handy, helping out in school and giving advice on how to make Sean take notice. But Anya wants to help solve the mystery of Emily's murder, and it's this fact that changes everything.

The story itself is good, and the characterizations are spot on. I really enjoyed the artwork; Emily's pupil-less eyes give a definite creepiness to her appearance, and the black and white theme adds to the ambiance. This graphic novel would most definitely appeal to teens who feel isolated in social situations, and it's got enough depth to the story to make even a reluctant reader want to keep going. I wasn't such a fan of Anya's friend Siobahn (still not really sure what her purpose was, to be truthful), but I loved the way Anya's confidence grew over the course of the story, and I liked the idea that she had difficulty fitting in because she came from another country.  This is one graphic novel with a good story that can easily be recommended to anyone who wants to escape for a bit.


Monday, June 29, 2015

The 19th Wife

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff is really two stories, something I didn't realize when I initially began reading. Not that that turned out to be a bad thing, but going in I thought I was just getting the story of Ann Eliza Young and I ended up with that and more. I'm still not sure the present-day story was needed, or even all that good, really. But interesting? Yes, indeed.

So...This is the story of Ann Eliza, who became the nineteenth wife of LDS leader Brigham Young and later divorced him amid much public turmoil and sensation in the 1870s. We follow the story of her mother, Elizabeth Webb, who was the first wife of Chauncey Webb, and whose faith is strongly shown in her life and the way she raised her children. Ann Eliza is very headstrong, however, and quickly marries James Dee once she's an adult; that marriage, though disastrous and ending in divorce, produces Ann Eliza's two sons. Interwoven with Ann Eliza's problems are those of her brother, Gideon, who ends up at the mercy of Brigham and convinces his sister to marry the leader, even when she does not want to. All of these stories are told from differing points of view, some in several chapters and some in only one, and we even have Brigham's voice telling us his doubts and desires. It's obvious Ebershoff did his research thoroughly and well in the way he illuminates the tenets of the LDS Church and the problems and interests of polygamy.

Bouncing in and out of this story is the present-day mystery of Jordan Scott, whose mother (Number Nineteen in her own marriage) is accused of the murder of her polygamous husband. Jordan doesn't buy this story because he knows his mom; she's not unhappy with her conservative, fundamentalist lot and there are other wives/people with more motive than she has. Jordan, traveling with his dog, Elektra, goes to the town of Mesaville to see what he can discover and finds out that not only is he unwelcome, he's not wrong, either. While he investigates, he also becomes involved with a new boyfriend, Tom, and a fellow runaway/former "First" child, Johnny.

The story of Ann Eliza is well done, and the focal point for most of the book. I loved how we moved among the important people in these events. Ebershoff uses a variety of methods, including newspaper clippings, narratives, and even a wikipedia entry to get his points across, all to good effect. He's brought Ann Eliza to life and given us a fairly accurate (or as accurate as can be) portrait of a woman who had finally had enough and wished to be more than just a number in her husband's harem. She wasn't always likable, and she had her own issues, to be sure, but without her interference, polygamy might have taken much longer to not be recognized in the LDS. 

The modern day story is good, in that it points out that there are still sects that practice polygamy and the subjugation of women, and the children of those unions often turn out disenfranchised and forsaken. I just never really liked Jordan all that much, and didn't get very involved in the overall story. There were too many characters I didn't really care about, and maybe the intention of alerting the  reader to the continuing problem should have been the focus rather than a murder story. It's not bad, and I did find myself trying to figure out what happened. I just don't think it was a necessary component to the overall success of the novel.

If you don't know much about the history of polygamy in the United States, this book will do a pretty fair turn at informing you in such a way as to give several sides to the story and making you think about how/why it happened. It's well written and engaging, and will probably have you looking up more information once you close the last page. I'll be thinking about this one for a while.