Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Captivate by Carrie Jones picks up where Need left off: Zara, her friends Issie and Dev, her werewolf boyfriend Nick, and her grandmother Betty (also a were) have captured Zara's pixie father and many of his subjects and trapped them in a house deep in the Maine woods. It's not a perfect plan for how to deal with the problem of the cruel pixies, but it's the best idea they have had to keep their town free of the menace. So it's back to school and the rather normal things of life...until more pixies begin to show up and Zara finds those she loves in dire peril. This sequel is packed with action and emotion, though it does seem like mostly a bridge to the next entry in the series. Zara's love for Nick is strong and fierce, and she's no simpering wallflower waiting to be rescued, taking charge and making hard decisions. This creates tension between Nick and Zara, which makes their relationship that much more believable. Things are complicated by the appearance of another pixie king named Astley; Zara has to determine whether or not she can trust him...which might become a life or death decision in more ways than one. I really enjoyed Captivate, and I liked how Ms. Jones allows Zara to experience the full range of emotions: love, anger, confusion, grief--they're all there in full measure. My main problem with the novel came in its ultimate ending (which is obviously a set up for the next book) since I could not see Zara pausing even a moment from the quest for which she made such a huge sacrifice. Other than that, this book...well, captivated me. I had a hard time finding a stopping point every time I picked it up, and I was drawn into the story completely. I will be waiting excitedly for the next installment to find out just where we're going and how we're going to get there.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Lady in the Tower Review

In The Lady in the Tower, Alison Weir has turned her sights toward that much maligned figure, Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII. Most everyone knows the story of how she captured his attention, igniting the English break with Rome amid a scandal of epic proportions. Ms. Weir has focused this book on the final few months of Anne's life, when her detractors came together and brought her down from the mighty heights she had climbed. Meticulously researched, Ms. Weir shows us, in intimate detail, the events leading up to Anne's arrest and execution, and even gives us a glimpse into the immediate aftermath.
Beginning around the time of Anne's miscarriage of her hoped-for prince in January 1536, Ms. Weir brings to light the machinations of Thomas Cromwell, the King's powerful secretary, in trumping up charges of sexual scandal and treason against Anne. Ms. Weir makes her case very plainly, showing in well-documenteed detail how Cromwell was able to take a few random instances and make them seem much more sinister, thus dooming Anne, her brother George, and four more men to death. She lays a case for the reasons behind his motives, and even gives logical explanations for how Henry was brought to believe his wife, for whom he had given up his religious tradition, had had multiple lovers who had plotted his death. The characters surrounding the tragic events are well drawn out; the reader is able to grasp personalities and see just how Anne was trapped through those about her and her own foolish mouth.
The Lady in the Tower is very well written and very readable; it is advisable to have at least a small working knowledge of the era and the circumstances in order to help keep all the characters straight (and many of them have very similar names to make it doubly hard!). But the style of writing, while academic, is very accessible and easy to follow. A few times I almost felt there was too much information given, but Ms. Weir uses it all to build a very strong case for exactly how Anne's removal transpired. Very informative and interesting, this is a non-fiction book that reads more like fiction. Truly enjoyable.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Seeking Spirits

Fans of SyFy's Ghost Hunters series will know Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson as the two founding members of The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS). SyFy has followed the guys around for five seasons now, watching them debunk hauntings and experiencing the unexplainable. Now they are back with their second book, Seeking Spirits, which details some of the cases they took on before there was a television show, and Grant (notoriously quiet on this topic) finally reveals his own wild experience with the paranormal at an early age.
This book is told by both Jason and Grant, and the cases usually play out within ten pages or less. Some of the tales are about debunkings (I particularly liked the one with the woman who heard late night moanings), and some are of the more spectral sort. I found myself wondering where the tapes are that show, for instance, the shadow stacking pots and pans in a kitchen--it'd be terrific if SyFy used some of the old footage in a new special on the early days. The book is also filled with advice and definitions for those who are interested, as well as the backstories of how Steve and Krysten became active members of TAPS.
Short and intriguing, Seeking Spirits fills in the history of TAPS and gives us inside information on some encounters we may have heard a little about but never fully understood. While it's certainly not a literary masterpiece, it is a quick, fun read that helped me to understand some of the differences in human and demonic hauntings. Jay and Grant have had some wild experiences in their days of investigating the paranormal, and this book helps illuminate the time before they became the famous Roto Rooting investigators they are today.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Looking For Alaska by John Green

When Miles Halter convinces his parents to allow him to attend boarding school, his main goal is to get away from his mundane existence at his former school and to possibly discover his own "Great Perhaps." What he actually gains, however, is far beyond his hopes: a new circle of friends, an entry into the delights of the opposite sex, a nasty taste for cigarettes, and an education that exceeds academics. Oh, and yes, Alaska. Alaska, the girl of his dreams, close yet distant, devious but devoted, sad but confident. But will Miles ever really know her?
John Green is a master storyteller, and Looking for Alaska is no exception. Miles is a fascinating protagonist: his penchant for learning the last words of famous people, his need to belong, his devotion all set him apart from most characters in other writers' novels. The story itself is tragic, hopeful, desperate, funny, and convincing but nowhere does it shine so much as it does whenever Alaska is featured. This is a character so many will identify with and yet feel so distant from, and as her layers are revealed, both Miles and the reader find themselves revealed as well.
One of my favorite things about John Green is that he never writes down for his young adult audience; he infuses his stories with references and statements that will enlighten as well as entertain. Be forewarned, however, that is a young adult novel and as such, is filled with terms and situations that are probably more appropriate for a more mature teen. However, there is so much to be gained from reading Looking for Alaska that reservations about minor content should be set aside. This is a tough look at young love, young loss, and relationships and it is highly, highly recommended.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

Perhaps I've lived in a void all my life, but I really didn't know that the Alice of Alice in Wonderland was based on an actual little girl. So once I heard that Melanie Benjamin had created an historical novel based on the events surrounding the life of the real Alice, I was immediately intrigued. What I discovered upon reading was that Alice Liddell was a great deal like the famous Alice, and that, despite what all she did in her long life, the shadow of that famous tale followed her, for good or for ill.

The story of Alice, her sisters, Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), and their interwoven history begins with Alice as a young child recounting her fascination with Mr. Dodgson. The real Alice was just as forward, just as imaginative as her fictional counterpart, and Mr. Dodgson capitalized on these traits through the photographs he took of her. Precocious Alice's determination to seek the spotlight cause her to buck the restrictions placed on her actions by her Victorian mother, and she finds that even at such a young age, she is in love with Mr. Dodgson. The ultimate break that comes in their friendship is danced around throughout the book, but we're led to believe it's quite bad and ruinous for both parties. Indeed, Alice finds the heavy shadow of that one summer afternoon haunting her throughout her life, affecting even her relationship with the Queen's son Leopold.

Ms. Benjamin has woven a highly believable tale of Alice Liddell and her life through and beyond the Wonderland years, evoking sympathy for a childhood lost and an adulthood filled with what-ifs. I admit I became a little frustrated with the constant allusions to whatever act caused the break between Alice's family and Mr. Dodgson, but ultimately the truth was revealed exactly as it should have been. Ms. Benjamin truly has a gift with words and she conjures the Victorian age, romance, and loss well. I was enchanted with this story, and would actually give it 4.5 stars for my overall enjoyment. Recommended.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Dark Shade Review

Dark Shade is a time traveling story with all sorts of potential. Sixteen year old Maggie Gilmour, honor student and future vet, becomes curious when her friend Kip starts withdrawing more and more after a fire killed his parents. On one of her walking excursions with her dog Digby, Maggie stumbles across a stream that somehow transports her back two hundred years, and discovers that Kip has been escaping his painful present by frequently venturing into the past. But will their presence back in time mess with the current age? Will Maggie's help for the stricken soldier she encounters lead her entire family history astray?

I wanted to like this short book and yet so much was missing. There were passages devoted to the disappointments and expectations Maggie's mother foists on her and yet that is never fully developed. Kip, while obviously suffering from his injuries in the present day, thinks nothing of leaving his remaining family to live with the Lenape Indians he encounters in the past. And so much happens in the past yet only minutes pass in the real world. I also wondered as to the intended audience for this book; with a sixteen year old protagonist, I felt the book should have been aimed for older teens and yet the entire feel of the book was decidedly children's literature.

It's not that this is a bad book; it is quick and readable and does give an accurate (right down to the often unpronounceable names) look at the evaporating Lenape tribe. It's just that so many themes were not explored after their introduction or simply glossed over quickly. I just don't think it would have a lot of appeal to many young readers.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Review of Antiques Roadshow Behind the Scenes

Antiques Roadshow is one of my favorites; I love the stories, the history, the antiques, and the appraisers! So I eagerly snapped up this copy of Antiques Roadshow Behind the Scenes when it became available through Amazon Vine's program, and read it within a day. While it didn't really reveal too much I didn't already know, I can say it has added to my overall enjoyment of the television show to know what all goes into producing just one episode.

Written by producer Marsha Bemko, Behind the Scenes explores...well, behind the scenes of the long running PBS show. We get the details of how sites are chosen, how equipment is moved, and how tickets are obtained. Quite frankly, some of this was not all that exciting, but I did come away with the understanding that what I actually see on my screen is only a tiny bit of what the appraisers and producers actually encounter in a typical shooting day. Bemko gives us the reasons people and items are chosen (it's got to be good tv!) and how the appraisers approach her as to why they should have a segment taped. I especially enjoyed knowing what tips the appraisers gave for getting on air, and what happened to some of the big ticket items after the show aired. I also am alive with curiosity over the items discussed within the book that never made it to air--I want to know more about them! And naturally, the interviews with the appraisers were intriguing and fun. Got to love those Keno brothers!

This book is a wealth of information for all lovers of the television show, and just a plain fun look at what goes on behind the scenes. I can highly recommend it for those who love antiques and especially, Antiques Roadshow! Now if only I can find something valuable lying around my house that will make those appraisers sit up and take notice...