9/29/10

Hump Day Classic Movie: Lady in White (1988)

Forget all of those gory horror flicks—this is the quintessential Halloween movie. Set in the 1960s, Lady in White is spooky, scary, and moving without expensive special effects or bloodbaths. And it remains one of my favorite movies of all time.

Yes, it's early for Halloween, but this gives you plenty of time to put this in your Netflix queue, reserve it at your local DVD rental store (if you still have one) or to buy one online and have it delivered.

This is another one of those movies that tends to fly below the radar. Those who've seen it generally have mad love for it. Those who haven't are skeptical about the appeal.

It has a plethora of character actors (Alex Rocco, Len Cariou) and stars Lukas Haas in what I personally consider his iconic role. The retro setting means this movie is kind of timeless. And although it doesn't take place entirely during Halloween, there is a strong Gothic element throughout. The few special effects are, I admit, badly done and the mystery isn't that hard to figure out. But what makes this movie scary is that it taps into what scares us as children and then shows us what we should really have been worried about.

If you haven't seen it yet, you've been missing out!

9/28/10

Review: Warrior by Zoe Archer (Blades of the Rose #1)

Format: Kindle ebook (also available in mass market and other e-formats)
Publisher: Zebra
FTC: Purchased myself (although I did win a print copy on a blog ;) )

The Blurb:

To most people, the realm of magic is the stuff of nursery rhymes and dusty libraries. But for Capt. Gabriel Huntley, it's become quite real and quite dangerous...
In Hot Pursuit...
The vicious attack Capt. Gabriel Huntley witnesses in a dark alley sparks a chain of events that will take him to the ends of the Earth and beyond—where what is real and what is imagined become terribly confused. And frankly, Huntley couldn't be more pleased. Intrigue, danger, and a beautiful woman in distress—just what he needs.
In Hotter Water...
Raised thousands of miles from England, Thalia Burgess is no typical Victorian lady. A good thing, because a proper lady would have no hope of recovering the priceless magical artifact Thalia is after. Huntley's assistance might come in handy, though she has to keep him in the dark. But this distractingly handsome soldier isn't easy to deceive... 

I haven't read a book like Warrior in a long, long time. In some ways, it's very old fashioned. In a good way. In other ways, this book is entirely new and fresh. There are echoes of Rider Haggard, the Amelia Peabody series, the Mummy movies, and even Indiana Jones in this book. The setting is one I haven't read a lot about: Mongolia. But it's clear that the author has done her research. The climate, customs, even the sprinkling of Mongolian words throughout the story all add to a nice sense of authenticity.

I love that this book is hard to pin down to a single subgenre. There's suspense. There's paranormal. There's history. Even some steampunkish elements. But all of it is woven with such subtle skill that no one element dominates any other. It's entirely new, yet borrows from an extensive film and literature lore—which only adds to the richness of the storytelling.

9/27/10

Banned Books Week September 25-October 2, 2010

Have you ever wondered just where in the US books are being challenged? Think you already know? You might be surprised by this map, which shows challenged books by location from 2007-2010. I know I was.
Google Map of Challenges


View Book Bans and Challenges, 2007-2010 in a larger map

9/25/10

Banned Books Week: Day 1

It's the first day of Banned Books Week! Celebrate your freedom to read by helping spread the word about intellectual freedom! Find a book from the long list of challenged books to read, write a letter to the editor of your local paper, sponsor a display at your local library or simply post a blog post highlighting this important event!

9/22/10

Hump Day Classic Movie: The Name of the Rose (1986)

This is the film very loosely based on Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose (Il nome della rosa). It stars Sean Connery and a very young Christian Slater and was directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud . The settings and locations are just gorgeous. Not surprising since they were filmed in Italy and West Germany.

Eco's novel was wildly popular in the early 1980s and many contemporary film critics panned this movie for deviating so far from the book. But I think it has weathered well over time and now can stand on its own without suffering constant comparisons to the source material.

Unlike most of my other Hump Day movies, this isn't a happy, funny movie. It's a murder mystery. So expect a body count.

9/21/10

Quickie Review: Much Ado About Marriage by Karen Hawkins

Publisher: Pocket Star Books (Simon and Schuster)
Format: Mass Market
FTC: Purchased myself

Apparently a rewrite of an older novel published under a pseudonym, Much Ado About Marriage ties both the MacLean curse series and the upcoming Hurst Amulet series together in an Elizabethan romance set in both England and Scotland.

For those really bad with dates, that would be the 1500s aka 16th century. ;)

It's not often I read romances set during the time of Shakespeare. But I think Hawkins pulls this one off for the most part. The ridiculous collars don't seem as out of place. The speech is a nice mix of archaic terms and modern dialogue.

My knowledge of English/Scottish history is...subpar...so I won't even begin to guess about how accurate her depiction of the whole Queen Elizabeth vs. Mary situation was. Or what she tweaked. Clearly she took quite a bit of historical license when describing political events.

I'm pretty sure I haven't read the previous incarnation of this book, but I admit to feeling some serious deja vu while reading it. Maybe it's because I've read the MacLean books, but much of this felt familiar. Not necessarily bad, but a tad distracting.

What I loved about this book was the humor. The heroine, Fia, is a handful. She gives as good as she gets. And knows just how to irritate our hero, Thomas Wentworth, into speechlessness. Much of the humor is characterization and dialogue. Which makes me very happy. There's been a dearth of light-hearted books lately in my reading and this was a welcome change.

My Grade: B

9/20/10

Quickie Review: Born to Bite by Lynsay Sands

I would call this one Vampire Gone Country. It has all of the Argeneau trappings we normally see, except this one is set in the farmland of southern Canada.

I keep hoping for the old Lynsay Sands. The one who wrote laugh-out-loud books for Dorchester. Not the slightly amusing romantic suspense books with vampires in them she seems to write for Avon.

Given the recent problems with Dorchester, it seems Sands made a good move to leave them...but did she have to give up her signature style as well? I don't know if it was pressure from the publisher or a different editor, but every single book since she joined Avon has been...meh. I used to love the Argeneau series. Single White Vampire is probably the funniest paranormal romance ever published. The books since Sands's move to Avon are far too serious to be funny and not gritty enough to be good Urban Fantasy.

There are too many characters in this book and too much backstory (If you haven't read the previous books, don't start with this one!) There's nothing here at all that is surprising or engaging. It was a decent read, but the romance doesn't develop so much as appear and the whodunnit aspect is very predictable. Fans of the series will probably like this one, but Sands has written far better books than this one.

My Grade: C-

9/15/10

Hump Day Classic Movie: The Wind and the Lion (1975)

I've been reading Zoe Archer's Warrior lately and for some reason this movie came to mind.  Something about the exotic locale and sense of adventure, I think.

Taking some serious liberties with an actual historical event that occurred at the turn of the 20th century, The Wind and the Lion is a wonderful and bittersweet adventure movie. Sean Connery does an adequate job as a desert leader, but the real stand out performance here is Brian Keith as Teddy Roosevelt. I'm a huge TR fan and this film is by far the best portrayal of the man I've seen.

Also stars Candice Bergman and John Huston.

9/14/10

Between the Pages

 

If there's one thing I complain about regarding modern technology, it is the demise of the snail mail letter. We still send a limited number of cards, but actual letters have been replaced by email, texting and Facebook. And that, I feel, is a shame. Because there's a certain impersonality and impermanence to electronic mail or comments. There are few (if any) painstakingly handwritten letters anymore to be filed away in someone's keepsake drawer. Or tucked away in the pages of a favorite romance novel...like the set of three letters I rediscovered today.

During my time as a used bookseller, I found all kinds of crazy things stashed in between the pages of books: grocery lists, handmade bookmarks, business cards, cash register receipts, prescriptions...but my favorite discoveries were always letters. The letters I saved. And while cleaning out my office papers today I found my favorite letters of them all: a set of letters between two obviously young people written in 1984/1985. If the handwriting didn't give away the fact that these are teenagers, the content definitely would. But they are still incredibly sweet.

9/10/10

Review: Mind Games by Carolyn Crane

Format: Mass Market
Pub Date: March 2010
Publisher: Spectra (Random House)
FTC: Purchased this book myself
Genre: Urban Fantasy

The Blurb:
JUSTINE KNOWS SHE’S GOING TO DIE. ANY SECOND NOW.

Justine Jones has a secret. A hardcore hypochondriac, she’s convinced a blood vessel is about to burst in her brain. Then, out of the blue, a startlingly handsome man named Packard peers into Justine’s soul and invites her to join his private crime-fighting team. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime deal. With a little of Packard’s hands-on training, Justine can weaponize her neurosis, turning it outward on Midcity’s worst criminals, and finally get the freedom from fear she’s always craved. End of problem.
Or is it? In Midcity, a dashing police chief is fighting a unique breed of outlaw with more than human powers. And while Justine’s first missions, including one against a nymphomaniac husband-killer, are thrilling successes, there is more to Packard than meets the eye. Soon, while battling her attraction to two very different men, Justine is plunging deeper into a world of wizardry, eroticism, and cosmic secrets. With Packard’s help, Justine has freed herself from her madness—only to discover a reality more frightening than anyone’s worst fears.

Mind Games was probably the most hyped book of  Spring 2010. Bloggers everywhere were raving about it. Even those who don't normally wax rhapsodic over anything.  So when I spotted this book at a bookstore, I picked it up intending to read and review it over the weekend.

Three months later, I finally finished it.

9/8/10

The Towering TBR

Most days, I am in the middle of a few different books. Usually one upstairs, one downstairs, one on my Ipod touch and one on my computer. And maybe one in the car... that's (lemme count...um) 5 books max. So imagine my surprise when I checked out my Goodreads status to discover that I'm currently reading 9 books at once. NINE.

I have no idea why there are so many books I'm in the middle of. One book, which I finished today (Praise the Book Gods!), I have been reading for over 3 months. I just couldn't seem to stay plugged in. With the others, I seemed to have developed some rare form of bibliophile ADD. I keep getting distracted by books and lose interest in the ones I'm currently reading.

Now, I wonder if the problem is me or if these books I'm drifting away from just aren't good enough to hold my interest. I could leave the majority of them unfinished without a twitch. Not that they are necessarily bad, but they aren't stay-up-until-the wee-hours enthralling.

Regardless of the reason, I'm hoping finishing this book will have cured me of this annoying TBR madness. And while my To Be Read pile is still gargantuan, I'm hoping I'll be able to keep my currently reading shelf on Goodreads under five. Three would be even better.

What's the maximum number of books you've ever read at one time? Has the TBR madness affected you, too?

9/2/10

Review: Fair Game by Josh Lanyon

Format: Ebook
Publisher: Carina
FTC: Received for review from publisher via Netgalley
M/M Romantic Suspense

The Blurb:
A crippling knee injury forced Elliot Mills to trade in his FBI badge for dusty chalkboards and bored college students. Now a history professor at Puget Sound university, the former agent has put his old life behind him—but it seems his old life isn't finished with him.
A young man has gone missing from campus—and as a favor to a family friend, Elliot agrees to do a little sniffing around. His investigations bring him face-to-face with his former lover, Tucker Lance, the special agent handling the case.
Things ended badly with Tucker, and neither man is ready to back down on the fight that drove them apart. But they have to figure out a way to move beyond their past and work together as more men go missing and Elliot becomes the target in a killer's obsessive game...
When I think of a Josh Lanyon book, I think of two things: terrific characters and a quirky sense of humor. Fair Game has both--as well as a fantastic suspense story.

Elliot Mills is on the road to physical and emotional recovery following the major life changes foisted upon him. Teaching at the local university may not be as thrilling as field work as an FBI agent, but he's adjusted to the slower pace. And only occasionally pines for his old life and his old love.

I love that Elliot is so mature. He's past the pity stage and is content if not happy with his new life. He has a close relationship with his dad--a very liberal retired professor who disapproved of his law enforcement career and is happy to watch his son settle down into academia. He does not really have a social life, though. He's still more than a little hung up on his ex...an FBI agent named Tucker Lance. [Am I the only one immature enough to giggle at that name?]

9/1/10

Rant: Non-readers Aren't Lazy

Obviously, I'm a huge reader. I love books. I love the escape they offer, the ability to travel without leaving my house, the presentations of culture, ideas, emotions that are shared on the page. But what about the people who don't like to read? What is wrong with them?

My answer? Nothing. Reading for pleasure isn't for everyone. And there are a lot of reasons for this. But not everyone seems to understand that. For example:

Jason Pinter asked what can be done to "reach" these TV loving non-readers in a recent tweet.
Wondering if people who watch tv but don't read, or hesitant/non-readers, would find shorter/serialized books accessible. How 2 reach them?
First, I dispute the fact that TV watching people who don't like to read have short attention spans (as seems to be implied by that tweet). TV viewers are a diverse population. Look at the number of channels available and the varied content they have.  Sure, we live in a society that has information overload and shortening patience. But I don't get the correlation between TV watching and the need for shorter books.

We're talking apples and oranges here, Mr. Pinter. Different media. Reading is a relaxing way to spend time for some people. For others, it's work. TV can be mindless, but it isn't necessarily so. One has nothing whatsoever to do with the other.

Why don't people like to read? Some don't have the time. Some don't have the money. Some people don't find it relaxing. Some have learning disabilities that make reading a chore.

On a personal level, my husband is a non-reader.  We recently discussed our reading experiences, and I was astonished to discover that he doesn't experience what I do when he reads. For me, reading is like a TV screen in my head. I get a mental image of the action from a novel in my head as I read. For him, that doesn't happen. But, as we recently discovered, he *does* get that with audiobooks. Making the books shorter won't help him enjoy reading more. Serializing them and making him wait for each installment won't help either.

I don't consider non-readers to be lazy, dumb, or otherwise lacking in attention spans. Accessibility isn't usually the issue. Lack of interest is. I know that most non-readers have hobbies or interests that I don't share, too. And I get quite tired of the literary community looking at non-readers as some form of plague upon the intellectual future of mankind.

Hump Day Classic Movie: The Love Bug (1968)

My youngest child is obsessed with vehicles. Enthralled by anything that moves. And his most recent fascination is Herbie, The Love Bug.

The original Love Bug is a Disney movie about a VW Beetle with attitude to spare. It is really quite a cute little movie, if you aren't subjected to it over and over and over and over...

It's very over the top and silly, but my favorite parts are the glimpses of popular history we see in the film. The love interest, played by  Michele Lee, is an automotive salesperson. A professional. A far cry from the usual stereotype we see of women in "female" careers of secretary or teacher in the 1960s. There's also a brief scene featuring some stoned hippies--which I thought was pretty funny when you think about Disney and their usual lack of humor re: anything racy. Their "altered" state is implied rather than shown, though, so maybe that's how they got away with it.

This is a timeless family movie--and especially great for those with car obsessed sons. It has some depth, lots of humor, and a very cute car.

Gifts for the Baker