Wordless Wednesday #26

>> Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Spring!



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We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

>> Monday, March 29, 2010



We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Genre: Fiction
Publication Date: 1962
Pages: 214
Challenges: Support Your Local Library #15
Source: Library



The Short Version:
Haunting story of two sisters and their elderly uncle shunned by the people in town due to suspicions held over from their past.

Why I Read It:
I’d seen a couple of recent reviews that had me intrigued.

The Book:
The story is told by 18 year old Mary Katherine Blackwood. The reader gets her perspective of how she, her older sister and aged uncle are treated by the people in town. The three of them are all definitely different. Mary Katherine (called Merricat) is the only one who ventures into town and lives in what is clearly some sort of combination of fantasy world and children’s’ board game. Her older sister Constance, never leaves the house for reasons not revealed until later. Frail Uncle Julian is dying but pores over his papers in order to attempt to tell the story of the dinner six years ago that resulted in the deaths of four family members.

When Cousin Charles arrives, the change that Merricat fears is put into motion with devastating results.

My Thoughts:
Mary Katherine is supposed to be eighteen, but she seems to be at least six or seven years younger than that as she tells this story. That would coincide with the dinner six years earlier that began the near complete isolation of the remaining three family members from life in the nearby town.

The story is one that I found myself liking better a few days after I finished it than I did as I read the last page. It’s a short book so a quick read, but it’s a story that takes a bit longer than that to fully digest.

Like Jackson’s famous short story, The Lottery, this story also has elements of what an angry and uninformed group of people can perpetrate on those they see as different or suspicious.

It’s not really a horror story or ghost story, but more of a dark little gothic tale that creeps into your head and sets up camp as you read it. It’s a title worth remembering for some Halloween time mood reading.

Rating 4/5

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Pretties by Scott Westerfeld

>> Thursday, March 25, 2010


Pretties by Scott Westerfeld

Genre: YA Dystopian Fiction
Series: #2 in the Uglies series
Publication Date: 2005
Pages: 370
Challenges: Support Your Local Library #14
Source: Library


The Short Version:
This continuation of the story begun in Uglies is more of the same, but with a few twists and turns and a lot of semi annoying ‘pretty talk’.

Why I Read It:
I liked the first book in the series and wanted to read the follow-up to its cliffhanger ending.

The Book:
If you haven’t read Uglies yet, then skip this paragraph and go read it. It’s good and you can come back when you’re done. I won’t be spoilery about Pretties, but I can’t say anything without giving away plot from the first book.

So Tally let herself be made Pretty. The plan was for her to test the possible cure for the brain lesions that cause all the Pretty folk to be so compliant. Now that Tally is one of the New Pretties her life consists of one big party. Her biggest worry is whether or not she’ll be voted in to the same clique as her best friend Peris.

But in the midst of a party, Tally is greeted with a bit of her Ugly past. A clue leads her on one trail to a message from herself and another trail through her own mind to the memories cloaked by her surgery that made her Pretty.

The leaders of this dystopian society are gradually revealed to be even more controlling and manipulative than they were in the first book. Again, there’s a cliffhanger ending that keeps book three on my list to read.

My Thoughts:
The ‘pretty talk’ used by the inhabitants of New Pretty Town was downright annoying at the beginning of this book. It’s used, however, for a specific reason and the author makes up for the overdone pretty slang as the book progresses.

While I liked this book and plan to read the third, it didn’t have quite the impact of the first book since this one is more of a continuation rather than revealing of the major story. It’s clearly the transitional book of the trilogy and setting up a conclusion.

I think Tally is a great heroine and her response to the cure for the brain lesions clearly demonstrates her strength and independence. While the community of Smokies Tally came to know in book one is only minimally present in this book, the new elements to the story provide plenty of interest. Tally’s New Pretty Town love interest definitely complicates things.

Rating 3.5/5

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Wordless Wednesday #25

>> Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cattails in the spring sunshine


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Blood Orange Brewing by Laura Childs

>> Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Blood Orange Brewing by Laura Childs

Genre: Cozy Mystery
Series: #7 in the Tea Shop series
Publication Date: 2006
Pages: 277
Challenges: What’s In a Name 3 #4 (Food), Support Your Local Library #13
Source: Library



The Short Version:
Seventh in a cozy mystery series set in and around Charleston, SC with a tea shop owner as the amateur sleuth means lots of tea info and yummy sounding food. Fortunately recipes are included at the end because this installment was disappointing.

Why I Read It:
When searching for books with a food in the title for the What’s in a Name challenge I started with my next books in series list. This series has been in the enjoyable diversion category for me and it had been a while since I read the last book.

The Book:
Theodosia Browning runs a successful tea shop in the historic district of Charleston, SC. Her co-workers and friends include a stuffy tea expert and a talented chef who is using her cooking skills to put herself through business school. The book opens with them catering a candlelight concert fundraiser organized by another historic district business owner, Delaine Dish (one of my favorite character names ever). Just as the concert is over and the door opened to the room with refreshments, a grisly murder is discovered.

Theodosia, of course becomes involved in investigating the murder. She sees it as helping her friends and perhaps even helping Detective Tidwell of the Charleston Police. Pretty soon the plot twists are coming as fast as the tea references and by the end there are multiple mysteries resolved, but also several loose ends and wild coincidences left hanging.

My Thoughts:
I have read all of the previous books in this series in order (of course!), but I was rather disappointed in this one. I felt that the plot was thin and complicated with a resolution that came out of left field and was not well set up at all. Why Detective Tidwell doesn’t haul Theodosia in for interfering with the investigation is beyond me. The tea information even seemed somewhat awkward in this one. Rather than descriptions that made me want to try a new tea it was repetitive mentions of tea names with one or 2 word descriptions. There were simply too many tea names and not enough about them to make the mentions useful.

At this point I’m likely to drop this series from my active list. Has anyone read the later books and can tell me whether this one was an anomaly or the beginning of a downward spiral?

Rating 2/5

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Chile Death by Susan Wittig Albert

>> Friday, March 19, 2010


Chile Death by Susan Wittig Albert

Genre: Cozy Mystery
Series: #7 in the China Bayles series
Publication Date: 1998
Pages: 208
Challenges: What’s In a Name 3 #3 (Plant), Support Your Local Library #12
Source: Library


The Short Version:
When local businessman Jerry Jeff dies in the midst of judging the local Chili Cook-off, local herb shop owner China Bayles tries to find out if it was a tragic accident or murder.

Why I Read It:
Whenever I sign up for a reading challenge I first scan the list of next books for the many series I’m reading. This one was perfect for the plant category of the What’s in a Name 3 challenge and a perfect opportunity to return to a series I enjoy but haven’t read in a while.

The Book:
China Bayles is a former high powered Houston attorney who left the whirlwind of that career to open an herb shop in a small town in the hill country of Texas. Her boyfriend and perhaps fiancé Mike McQuaid is a former cop so they have more legal and investigative expertise than many amateur sleuths you might find in a cozy mystery series.

This time around, the local Chili Cook-off is rudely interrupted when one of the judges dies in the middle of the judging. Jerry Jeff Cody was a partner in the local insurance firm and well known throughout the area. Was his death a tragic accident or devious murder? China and McQuaid end up working together this time around to find out the truth.

At the same time there is drama at the local nursing home when employees are suspected of theft and possible patient abuse. China is asked to help out a young nurse’s aide who many feel was wrongly fired. It turns out that the facility administrator may have a suspicious past.

Pecan Springs is not exactly a sleepy little hill country town with all the intrigue happening. At the same time China is trying to figure out what really happened at both the Chili Cook-off and at the nursing home, she’s also dealing with running her business, considering an additional joint business venture with a friend and oh, maybe or maybe not getting married to McQuaid.

My Thoughts:
This was one of my favorites of this series so far. There are many things I like so much about this series. China is a likeable character. As I said earlier her legal background gives her a leg up on most amateur sleuths who are in the business mostly because they’re nosy. Her relationship with McQuaid continues to grow and develop as the series continues. It’s not always smooth sailing and the normal ups and downs of their relationship are complicated by both of them alternately seeking and resisting commitment. China also has realistic interactions with McQuaid’s young son and her own mother.

There are quite a few recurring characters in the series, but the most prominent of the secondary characters is China’s best friend Ruby. She runs a new age shop and has plenty of quirky ideas, but she cares deeply for her friend and can be downright dependable when most needed.

I enjoy the way the author intersperses facts and lore about the title plant or herb in every book. This time around it the Chile (the pepper) not to be confused with Chili (the spicy stew). There are lots of little tidbits, legends and facts about both Chiles and Chili throughout the book.

As for the mystery (or in this case mysteries), they’re interesting, well played out, somewhat predictable, but with enough surprises and twists to keep it interesting.

If you’re looking for a fun and interesting cozy mysteries, start with the first one in this series, Thyme of Death.

Rating 3.5/5



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. To see who else is participating go to Beth Fish Reads, Weekend Cooking, here.

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Wordless Wednesday #24

>> Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Pelicans Only Fishing Charter?
Zihuatanejo, Mexico





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The Gold Coast by Nelson DeMille

>> Tuesday, March 16, 2010


The Gold Coast by Nelson DeMille
Genre: Fiction
Series: #1 in the John Sutter series
Publication Date: 1990
Pages: 626
Challenges: None
Source: Purchased Used


The Short Version:
Dark and sardonic look at a marriage and society that are falling apart in tandem that was both darkly humorous and sadly pathetic all at the same time.

Why I Read It:
I read this book for the first time many years ago and enjoyed it. When a sequel was published in 2008, I decided that I wanted to re-read this one before reading the sequel.

The Book:
The Gold Coast of Long Island has been a haven for the wealthy and influential. Huge mansions, old money, old society, traditions and societal rituals are important. That world is changing, many of the old families have moved away, the old mansions are being sold or left vacant because there are no buyers. Still others have been purchased by corporations, or are even worse being subdivided.

John Sutter’s family has been a part of this lifestyle and his Wall Street Law firm has been around nearly as long. He and his wife live in the guest house of her family’s estate while the main house sits vacant. Her parents live in Hilton Head now and wait for a buyer who can pay off the taxes and purchase the estate. John and Susan’s marriage has deteriorated into such dull routine that even their imaginative sex games have become routine.

Things change when the estate adjoining Stanhope Hall is purchased by a well known Mafia Don, Frank Bellarossa. Frank decides that John is the neighbor who will help him become a part of Gold Coast Society, and oh, by the way, also represent him when he’s arrested for murder.

Sutter, who is having enough trouble battling his own mid life crisis finds himself wrapped up in an ever tightening net of suspicion, betrayal and lies.

My Thoughts:
This was one of those re-reads that didn’t quite hold up to the first reading. Maybe it’s because I knew the outcome, maybe because I’m in a different time and place in my life than I was when I read it the first time. This time around I enjoyed the beginning for the darkly sarcastic view of the wealthy, but fading Gold Coast society and the people who cling to it even as it’s dying. I also enjoyed the ending when the storylines all came together in a way that was unexpected the first time I read it and more clearly foreshadowed the second time.

What I didn’t enjoy as much was a big chunk of the middle. John Sutter struggles with clinging to, but at the same time wanting to escape his life and lifestyle. He’s critical of his peers, but grows rather pathetic as he deals (or rather fails to deal with) the things he dislikes about his life.

I did however, like the relationship between Frank and John. John was both fascinated and repulsed by Frank and his way of life. As much as he didn’t want Frank to be a part of his life, he willingly went along with Frank’s overt manipulation that drew him in. The courtroom drama near the end revived my interest, but the long drawn out middle section had me skimming this time around.

I have a copy of the sequel on my bookshelf and will probably read it, but it’s not high on my list right now.


Rating 2.5/5

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Lullaby Town by Robert Crais

>> Friday, March 12, 2010


Lullaby Town by Robert Crais
Genre: Mystery
Series: #3 in the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series
Publication Date: 1992
Pages: 317
Challenges: What's in a Name 3 #2 (Music term)
Source: Purchased Used


The Short Version:
Elvis Cole and Joe Pike take on both the mob and a ninny of a Hollywood director to save a former aspiring actress who is in over her head and trying to live in peace and raise her son.

Why I Read It:
Although I was disappointed in the second book in the series there was positive feedback about the later books in the series that I was unwilling to abandon the series. When I needed a music term in the title for the What's in a Name? challenge, this was already on my TBR list anyway.

The Book:
Brilliant but spoiled and petulant Hollywood director Peter Alan Nelsen hires PI Elvis Cole to find his ex wife and son. He abandoned them 12 years ago because he thought they were keeping him from focusing on his career. Now that he's successful and used to getting everything he wants, he's decided he wants to get to know his son. Finding missing people, even those who have covered their tracks and don't want to be found is routine work for Elvis, but this case soon turns away from the routine.

Elvis quickly finds Nelsen's ex, but it turns out that she's mixed up with some mafia types who are none too thrilled to have Elvis and his partner Joe Pike nosing around in their business.

My Thoughts:
As I said above, after enjoying the first book in this series I was quite disappointed with the second. I knew enough fans who told me the later books were better to convince me to stick with it. I'm glad I did. This was much more enjoyable than the previous book.

Elvis and Joe are just a bunch of fun. They make an interesting and entertaining team. Elvis usually gets himself deeper into trouble by not keeping his mouth shut and Joe is verbally conservative, but dangerously effective in a fight. The client's ex-wife turns out to be a character I liked much more by the end of the book than I'd expected to. The mob guys are such stereotypical characters it's hard to take seriously, and Peter Alan Nelsen and his entourage are simply over the top and ridiculous.

So the book ends up being part detective story and part comedy with a few good fight scenes thrown in here and there for good measure. I just find the formula enjoyable and fun.

Elvis totally won me over early in the book when he didn't refer to his cat as "my cat" and instead called it "the cat who lives with me". Oh that's so true in our house. We have one cat who is our cat and the other cat lives with us.


Rating 3.5/5

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Wordless Wednesday #23

>> Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Flower of unknown species
Ixtapa, Mexico



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Without Fail by Lee Child

>> Monday, March 8, 2010


Without Fail by Lee Child
Genre: Mystery
Series: #6 in the Jack Reacher series
Publication Date: 2002
Pages: 401
Challenges: none
Source: Purchased Used


The Short Version:
Jack Reacher doing what Jack Reacher does best which is being smarter than the government and law enforcement agencies.

Why I Read It:
Because I love me some Jack Reacher. It was next in a series that I thoroughly enjoy.

The Book:
Loner and ex-military policeman Jack Reacher is contacted by a high level Secret Service agent. It turns out that she is the former girlfriend of Jack’s late brother and she asks Jack to assassinate the Vice President-elect (the very man she’s in charge of protecting). She doesn't really want him assassinated, but she wants to test her teams ability to prevent an assassination attempt and says Jack is the man to test them by letting her know if it's possible.

What starts out as a test turns into a reality when Jack learns that the real reason for her request is that there is a very real threat against the Vice President-elect and of course Jack gets involved in the investigation as well as the ongoing protection of the man while the investigation proceeds.

My Thoughts:
As I said, I love me some Jack Reacher. He’s a smart, wisecracking loner who really just wants to be left alone to live his life without really becoming involved in society. He keeps getting involved in solving mysteries and saving people because despite his desires, he can’t seem keep himself from helping out an underdog or old friend. This time around it’s the connection to his brother that draws him in. He still blames himself for his brother’s death and of course it’s no surprise when he starts getting involved with his brother’s ex. Her own unresolved feelings about the breakup (which took place long before the brother’s death) make that an obvious plot element about five minutes into the book.

Unlike most of the other books in this series, the bad guys are not well developed at all. The reader doesn’t really know anything about the people behind the plot ahead of Jack and the rest of the Secret Service and FBI learning about them. It puts the reader in the same place as Jack in terms of knowledge, but it also makes it hard for the reader to really have a ‘bad guy’ in the story beyond the unknown assassination threats.

Maybe I do better with a thoroughly developed bad guy who I can really despise as in an earlier book in this series, Tripwire. That book had one of the most evil and vile bad guys ever written. This time around it’s more of Jack vs. the authorities in how to proceed with both protecting the Vice President-elect and solving the case of who is trying to kill him. Of course, we all know Jack is smarter than they are anyway.


Rating 3.5/5

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Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris

>> Friday, March 5, 2010


Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris
Genre: Mystery / Vampire / Romance
Series: #5 in the Sookie Stackhouse series
Publication Date: 2009
Pages: 295
Challenges: Sookie Stackhouse Reading Challenge #5
Source: Purchased New



The Short Version:
Fun series that’s hard to define with vampires, werewolves, shape shifters and other assorted supernatural creatures who manage to make the life of a small town waitress very very complicated.

Why I Read It:
Next in the series and I'm looking forward to finishing the series by the end of June for the challenge.

The Book:
With any series it’s difficult to discuss plot without giving spoilers to the earlier books so if you haven’t read the others yet, skip the next paragraph.

This time around the story is more about the werewolves and shape shifters than it is the vampires. There appears to be a serial killer on the loose who is targeting the shape shifters who live near Bon Temps, Louisiana. Sookie is worried that her brother Jason is their number one suspect due to his recent life changing experience. She has until the next full moon to find out who the killer is and keep her brother safe. At the same time, her friend Alcide is asking Sookie to be present at the events related to the competition to determine the new packmaster of his werewolf pack. Once again Sookie’s friends are injured or in danger that extends to Sookie. Will she survive long enough to find out the identity of the killer?


My Thoughts:
I’m still enjoying this series even more as I continue reading it. The world of the supernatural creatures is expanded and explained further with every book. Although the Vampires have ‘come out’ and openly joined society, Sookie continues to interact with other creatures who are still living double lives or in hiding. Her telepathic ‘disability’ continues to be exploited and used by her friends, sometimes with her less than willing participation.

I’m really enjoying the continuing storylines of Sookies various friends. The cast of characters has as many fun and quirky members as it does frightening ones. This time around the Fairies provided much of the humor.


Rating 4/5

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Wordless Wednesday #22 (and also where I've been this past week)

>> Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ixtapa, Mexico



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