Feeling Bookish: Craving Dick Francis

A friend and I went to see Secretariat tonight – in fact I got back less than an hour ago. I loved the movie to bits – loved the way they built suspense, so that even though you KNOW what the outcome of all those Triple Crown races really was, you’re still completely invested in the story, and bouncing in your seat, waiting for the caller to utter those famous six words: “And down the stretch they come…”

As the credits rolled, I told my friend that I really wanted to curl up with a Dick Francis novel. Those are about the British version of horse racing – steeplechase and grass tracks, not the fast sprints on turf that American racing – but it doesn’t matter. They’re cozy, horse-y novels with great characters, and just enough mystery to be compelling.

Sadly I have no Dick Francis in my library – at some point I must have purged them all…

Time to check the Kindle options, I suppose, because sometimes the best multivitamin there can be is an evening with dogs to cuddle and books to read.

Review: Baby Bonanza, by Maureen Child

Baby Bonanza
Maureen Child

Product Description (from Amazon.com):
Twins? The startling revelation that his affair with Jenna Baker had produced two little boys was almost impossible to grasp. Tycoon Nick Falco had never considered himself the settling-down type, yet now that fatherhood had been thrust upon him, he was determined to give his sons his name. But their mother wasn’t about to let him back into her life…at least not without those three little words Nick had never, ever said.

Sometimes a Silhouette romance can be just as much of a boost to your mood as a multivitamin can be to your health, and this book was no exception. Formulaic? Of course. Dashing hero with feisty heroine in preposterous situation? You bet. But, at the same time it was also a lovely two hours or so of reading on a day when all I wanted was light fluffy stories with happy endings.

Of course, the fact that I got this book in Kindle version for free, didn’t hurt.

Still even with all the “required elements” that a Silhouette Desire novel has to have, and even though I don’t believe a woman finding herself pregnant after a one-night stand would keep the babies, author Child created a lovely mood and I’m seriously lusting after the beach house at the end of the book.

Goes well with hot tea and banana bread.

EcoLibris: Green Books Campaign 2010

Green Books Campaign

Eco Libris Green Books Campaign

From the EcoLibris website:

On Wednesday, November 10, 2010, at 1:00 PM Eastern Time 200 bloggers will take a stand to support books printed on environmental paper by simultaneously publishing reviews of 200 such books.

Launched in 2009 by Eco-Libris, this campaign is aiming to promote “green” books by reviewing 200 books printed on recycled paper or FSC-certified paper. Our goal is to use the power of the internet and social media to promote “green” books and increase the awareness of both readers and publishers to the way books can be printed printed in an eco-friendly manner.

You can learn more about the campaign, or read the lists of books and bloggers, by following this link.

Otherwise, check back here on November 10th to read my review of Dave Thompson’s book Bayou Underground.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

On Teaser Tuesdays readers are asked to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between 7 and 12 lines.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given.

If this was something I planned to submit to directories of book reviews, I’d have to confess that my “current read” really isn’t a book, but a 23-page long short story. But it’s a famous short story, and one most of us never read any more, learning the legend only from movies. Nothing against Johnny Depp’s performance – I own Sleepy Holloy on BluRay, after all, the original is better, moodier, darker, and, well, authentic.

So, for this Teaser Tuesday, which comes during the Halloween week, I offer this excerpt from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow:

The dominant spirit, however, that haunts this enchanted region, and seems to be commander-in-chief of all the powers of the air, is the apparition of a figure on horseback without a head. It is said by some to be the ghost of a Hessian trooper, whose head had been carried away by a cannon-ball, in some nameless battle during the revolutionary war; and who is ever and anon seen by the country folk hurrying along in the gloom of night, as if on the wings of the wind. His haunts are not confined to the valley, but extend at times to the adjacent roads, and especially to the vicinity of a church at no great distance. Indeed, certain of the most authentic historians of those parts, who have been careful in collecting and collating the floating facts concerning this spectre, allege that the body of the trooper, having been buried in the church-yard, the ghost rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head; and that the rushing speed with which he sometimes passes along the Hollow, like a midnight blast, is owing to his being belated, and in a hurry to get back to the church-yard before daybreak.

I should add: this is the piece I gave the young man I tutor in English for his assignment this week. He loved it. And you will too, I’m sure.

Review: Dreams Made Flesh, by Anne Bishop

Dreams Made Flesh
Anne Bishop

Product Summary (from Amazon.com):
The national bestselling Black Jewels trilogy established award-winning Anne Bishop as an author whose “sublime skill…blends the darkly macabre with spine-tingling emotional intensity, mesmerizing magic, lush sensuality, and exciting action.”* Now the saga continues-with four all-new adventures of Jaenelle and her kindred.

While billed as a collection of short stories, Dreams Made Flesh is really four novellas, and even though they’re not full novels, they’re all meaty enough to satisfy even the most ardent lover of the Black Jewels trilogy, containing everything from fighting to sex to romance to baby clothes. Okay, well, maybe not baby clothes, but since one of the four stories is about the early days of Lucivar’s relationship with Marian, and involves setting up his home – their home – there is quite a lot of shopping. We learn, for example, that Lucian’s mother kept the money Saetan provided so that Marian could re-outfit herself, and that Marian herself had such low self-esteem that she had a hard time buying things for herself even when she could.

May I just say how much I love that author Anne Bishop injects so many things into her worlds? I mean, we know that Jaenelle can’t function before her morning coffee, and that even in the twilight and hell regions of this planet chocolate is considered an appropriate guilt gift from men to women. And the clothes…while I don’t know for sure what Earth-period the clothes match, I love the details…the fact that Jaenelle and her friends wear schmata clothes at home, and prefer trousers to skirts most of the time, or – as is the case in the above-referenced story – that the tailors are accustomed to adding wing-slits to the clothing Eyrians purchase, so were unphased about serving Marian.

Of course, the ultimate story in this collection is the post-trilogy story of Daemon and Jaenelle – the return of Witch, as well as the continuation of their romance. It also involves a lot of clothing – in this case dressing for court, and plotting at a party – but it’s more than just a fashion show.

In the seven Black Jewels books that exist, two are not part of the Jaenelle story, and the other is sort of a one-off in Jaenelle’s time, but about Surreal, though there’s another collection of Jaenelle stories coming out next year, I think.

In any case, these stories are a nice bridge, and made for a lovely, entertaining ramble through Kaeleer.

Goes well with: coffee and cheesecake.

Review: Getting the Pretty Back, by Molly Ringwald

Getting the Pretty Back
Getting the Pretty Back: Friendship, Family, and Finding the Perfect Lipstick
Molly Ringwald
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Summary (from Publishers Weekly):
Famous for her roles as an angst-ridden teen in John Hughes classics like Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, Ringwald, now a 40-year-old wife and mother living largely outside the celebrity spotlight, seems a credible source of advice for young women and a likely fount of behind-the-scenes Hollywood anecdotes; unfortunately, she provides little of either in this uninspired self-help memoir. Like a well-meaning but distant friend, the actress shares advice and observations on topics like love, clothes, and food, often focusing on the inane and obvious (souvenir t-shirts are both ugly and ill-fitting; rushing into sex is usually a mistake) rather than the personal or perceptive: “When you’re a teenager, you’re forever thinking: Do they like me? When you’re a grown-up… the question becomes: Do I like them?” Ringwald occasionally involves her personal history, including the fact that the early stages of her romance with husband number two were mostly conducted over email, but she skimps on the details that her fans are probably looking for, with surprisingly little reference to the movie work that made her an icon of suburban youth in the 1980s. Color illustrations.

When my friend Deb told me she had a copy of Molly Ringwald’s book, I immediately asked if I could borrow it when she was through. I finally had a chance to read it earlier this week, and I loved it.

First, let’s be clear, in this book Ringwald gives advice on health, fashion, self-esteem, love and any number of things we women need advice about, without claiming to be an expert in any of those. In fact, she freely admits she’s sharing her own experiences in the hope that others will gain from the life lessons she’s learned. Also? She’s the kind of person – at least as presented here – that you’d be instantly comfortable meeting for a cappuccino, or hanging out with at the bookstore. For an actor, she’s incredibly real and accessible. So, don’t expect her to wax rhapsodic about hoodia gordonii or plastic surgery. She’s all about small, common sense changes.

As to my impressions of the book – I loved it! She’s not telling us anything that Tim Gunn doesn’t tell women every day, but she’s filtering it through her own experiences – especially where turning forty, having children later in life than the current trend, and marrying a younger man are involved. She’s candid in the way that someone you grew up watching in cool movies but isn’t actually someone you know seems candid. She’s playful. She’s self-deprecating.

She’s a thoroughly engaging writer, and this is a thoroughly engaging book.

If you’re over thirty-five, you NEED this book. If you’re under thirty-five, go rent Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, and For Keeps and then go buy this book.

Because it really is a wonderful compilation of whimsical turns of phrase and really good advice.

Goes well with French onion soup and a glass of wine.

Review: Key Lime Pie, by Josi S. Kilpack

Key Lime Pie
Key Lime Pie
Josi S. Kilpack
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Product Description (from Amazon.com):
When Sadie Hoffmiller’s new friend, Eric Burton, receives word that his missing daughter’s body may have been found in Florida, he immediately packs his bags. Sadie is determined to stay home and prove to everyone that she is not a busybody. But when she senses Eric is hiding something, Sadie is compelled to take action. Before she knows it, she’s in the heart of Miami, trying to piece together a trail that might just give Eric the answers he’s so desperately searching for. In the process, Sadie finds herself in the company of some colorful characters and some good ol’ southern cooking. But despite the drama and intrigue, all Sadie really wants is to go home … as soon as she does just one more thing.

Includes eight new mouthwatering recipes, tested and approved by the official bakers of Sadie’s Test Kitchen

While I’ve been reading culinary mysteries for decades now, ever since I first discovered Diane Mott Davidson’s work, I haven’t really read a lot of them recently. I mean, yes, Cleo Coyle’s coffeehouse mysteries do have recipes, but she puts them all at the end of the book. Josi S. Kilpack’s Key Lime Pie is the first I’ve read in a long time that has the recipes after each chapter, and while it took me a while not to find that jarring – it pulls me out of the book – eventually I was able to simply sink into the story.

I like Kilpack’s protagonist, Sadie Hoffmiller, woman of a “certain age” and ersatz detective, a lot. She’s smart, confident about most things, but retains a bit of the reserve that women who aren’t twenty tend to embrace. It’s nice to read a book about adults, and even see the way adults who are a bit older than I am handle relationships. I could see Sadie’s attraction to Eric – he’s a bit younger, a bit of a mystery, a bit of a scoundrel – but I like that she was honest with herself about him, and about her feelings for Pete, the steady, stable cop.

As to the story, while I thought the plot was interesting – follow your friend to Florida and help him find his lost daughter who may be dead – at times I thought things were just a little too convenient, a little too easy. Yes, people were injured, and people were killed, and yes, the ending provided a plausible resolution (I can’t say more without spoilers) – it was probably just me being overly picky as I’d read this novel in the middle of a personal marathon of the first four seasons of Bones (thank you, NetFlix).

Overall, I like Sadie, and I like Kilpack’s storytelling, and I’ll probably go read the earlier books in this series for a better picture of the character and her world.

I did not try the recipes, however. Well, not yet.

Goes well with key lime pie (obviously) and really good coffee.

Booking Through Thursday: Rewrite


On Thursday, October 14th, Booking through Thursday asked:

If you could rewrite the ending of any book, which book would it be? And how would you change it?

Even though I have a laptop and a netbook and an iPhone and a Kindle already, I spent a good part of last night surfing laptop deals lusting over the newer tech I don’t have. I say this because it’s the reason I’m answering “Booking through Thursday” on Friday morning at eleven.

As to rewriting the ends of novels: Sometimes I wish Jane had not returned to Rochester at the end of Jane Eyre, because I don’t think their relationship was terribly healthy. I maintain that J.K. Rowling’s final chapter of the Harry Potter saga, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was a cop-out meant to appease fan-girl shippers. (I also maintain that Snape would have known how to avoid death by snakebite, and in MY world he’s alive, but that’s not the actual ending, just the precursor to it.) I don’t believe that most people marry their high school sweethearts, and I think Hermione would have quickly outgrown Ron – or, as often happens – Ron would have embraced adulthood and grown beyond Hermione – he’s the more well-rounded of the two.

It is Dracula, however, that has an ending which really irritates me, although it didn’t do so until I read Fred Saberhagen’s series of post-novel pastiche/sequels, beginning with The Dracula Tapes. Why does it it annoy me? Read the passage again:

As I looked, the eyes saw the sinking sun, and the look of hate in them turned to triumph.

But, on the instant, came the sweet and flash of Jonathan’s great knife. I shrieked as I saw it shear through the throat. Whilst at the same moment Mr. Morris’s bowie knife plunged into the heart.

It was like a miracle, but before our very eyes, almost in the drawing of a breath, the whole body crumbled into dust and passed from our sight.

If you read it carefully, you note three things:

1) Dracula’s throat was sliced, but he wasn’t beheaded.
2) His heart was pierced by another knife – NOT a wooden stake.
3) He crumbled into dust.

A casual reader would dismiss this as a death scene, except that earlier in the novel when listing Dracula’s powers, Stoker tells us that he can crumble into elemental dust. I maintain, therefore, that the ending of Dracula is flawed because Stoker did not follow the rules of his own world – rules he created. Either the scene needs to make it explicit that the Count’s head was separated from his body, OR, Stoker was leaving it open for a sequel, and I just can’t credit Stoker with that much forethought.

So, yes, I would rewrite Dracula.

Review: When Life Throws You Lemons, Make Cranberry Juice, by Shari Bookstaff

When Life Throws You Lemons...
When Life Throws You Lemons…Make Cranberry Juice
Shari Bookstaff
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Product Description (from Amazon.com):
When my kids were learning to walk, I remember walking behind them, ready to catch them if they stumbled backward. I never dreamed that thirteen years later my kids would be walking behind me, ready to catch me if I stumble backward. I was 42 years old when I was diagnosed with a benign, operable brain tumor in July 2006. Doctors predicted a short hospital stay followed by a speedy recovery. Complications arose, giving me lifelong obstacles that I never could have prepared for. A divorced mother of two beautiful, talented, wonderful children, I had high hopes for a bright and happy future. I tried online dating, which got me a few cups of coffee, but no real dates. A couple of dating disasters later, my dating karma was beginning to change when my brain tumor was diagnosed. My life since that fateful day has been focused on regaining basic human functions: breathing, swallowing, walking, etc. I am working again, and trying to be a good mother to my two beautiful, talented, wonderful children. Putting a positive spin on life’s disasters doesn’t always work, but looking for, and accepting, positive things in spite of life’s disasters works. Instead of making lemonade out of lemons, I add life’s sweet sugar and cranberries to my lemons. This makes life much more palatable.

First I have to say that the title When Life Throws Lemons…Make Cranberry Juice, is perfect. It completely conveys author Bookstaff’s feisty attitude. She’s been through a hellish experience and is still dealing with it, but she’s retained her sense of humor, and that’s admirable.

What I really loved about Bookstaff’s book was that she’s really candid. She talks about how her brain tumor affected her life, her work, her family and while she isn’t bringing us into the bathroom with her, we still get a really good picture of her life, with situations that probably everyone with any kind of disability foes through – friends not knowing how to act, or merely drifting away, having to re-learn to do some of the things most of us don’t even think about, and having to be a support system for her children while needing support herself.

While I enjoyed Bookstaff’s voice in this book, however, there were times when the structure felt a little uneven, as if she’d taken us from point A to point R and then we were backtracking to point C and heading for point W, before getting to the end.

That aside, however, I found this book to be entertaining, educational, and enlightening.

Also, it made me want cranberry juice, with lime.

Goes well with a tall glass of cranberry juice and a slice of lemon pound cake.

Review: Once Wicked Always Dead, by T. Marie Benchley

Once Wicked Always Dead
Once Wicked Always Dead
T. Marie Benchley
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Summary (from Amazon.com);
Molly Madison is unaware of the Sociopath who is on the loose, creating havoc with a sense of their own justice. Her life is shattered by the sudden death of her beloved parents and the revelation of her husband Phillip’s affair – with another man – Molly leaves the life of Country Clubs and the luxury of city life in Florida and heads west to Montana, resolved to run the family ranch, and to move on with her life. Her attraction to Clayton Leatherbe, the ranch foreman, is instant, but before a romance can blossom, the ranch falls prey to sabotage by wealthy land developers determined to drive Molly out, and Clayton learns of a family secret and collides with the Sociopath that could put the ranch – and Molly’s life – in jeopardy.

A sharp mystery that swirls with family secrets, betrayal, love and loss, Once Wicked Always Dead is a strong debut from an author with literary blood in her veins.

I love a mystery, and have been devouring them lately, so when I was offered a copy of T. Marie Benchley’s debut novel, Once Wicked Always Dead, I jumped at the chance.

Let me just say, if there’s anyone who needs to consider buying affordable health insurance, it’s Molly Madison: first her parents die tragically, then her husband’s lover/assistant outs him, and then she has to deal with the pressure of going back to Montana after a less-than-happy life in Florida. Oh, and then there’s that pesky sociopath who spends most of the book murdering men before we actually meet her. It’s enough to make anyone sick.

From any other author, this collection of events would be preposterous, but Benchley manages to weave it all together into a mystery/thriller that also does equal time as a romance novel. While Molly frustrated me at times, I know that there are women like her in the world, who let their husband’s dreams obscure their own. I alternately disliked and pitied Molly’s husband Phillip – hiding your sexuality for so long would twist a person – and loved Clayton Leatherbe, the ranch foreman/manager.

Benchley’s book could easily have been dumbed down and labeled with a Harlequin symbol, but instead, she made the romantic elements take a backseat to the mystery/thriller part of the story, which results in a gripping story, and a fast, entertaining read.

If you love a mystery, you’ll love Once Wicked Always Dead.

Goes well with a perfectly grilled steak and a bottle of wine (I like syrah, but your mileage may vary).