Sunday, December 30, 2012

Save Me by Lisa Scottoline




Rose McKeena was working as a volunteer “lunch mom” the day her daughter’s elementary school exploded. Melly, a sweet, shy third grader, was born with a portwine stain birthmark that acts like a bull’s eye for the school bullies. When the tragedy happened, Rose was trying to talk to the girls who were picking on her daughter and had sent her fleeing the cafeteria to hide in the bathroom. This left rose in the unenviable position of having to choose between seeing the mean girls to safety or saving her own child’s life.

Acting swiftly, Rose escorted the girls to what she thought was safety, to a hallway where a teacher was supervising evacuation, and then ran to save Melly. But Amanda, the ringleader, unbeknownst to Rose, ran back into the cafeteria to retrieve her iPod and was injured.

At first Rose is lauded as a hero—five minutes more in the smoke-filled bathroom and Melly would have died—but then accusations arise, and Amanda’s mom blames Rose for her daughter’s injuries. As the press digs in, and there is talk of a trial, secrets from Rose’s past emerge and the strain begins to tell on her marriage.

This was my first Lisa Scottoline novel, so I don’t know if this is typical of her, but if she had continued in this same vein I think I would have enjoyed the book far more. I thought it was an engrossing drama about a woman’s whole life turned upside down by a tragedy and was eager to see how it would all turn out. But then it all changed. When the plot turned to a conspiracy about chocolate-filled pretzel nuggets being made on equipment contaminated by peanuts at the big multimillion dollar snack food company that employs many locals, a cover-up, bribery, and the explosion at the school being a failed attempt on the life of a senator’s pregnant mistress who is the special education teacher there, I just wanted to get off the roller coaster.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Tabby's Christmas Pics

I know I went a little overboard with the presents this year, but she's the only one I have to love.






















Monday, December 24, 2012

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Dog Who Danced by Susan Wilson


Justine Meade has only ever loved two people in her life—her son Tony and her gray and black Sheltie Mack. And she lost them both. Tony, during a rebellion teenage phase, when she thought a summer with his father might help, and he ended up deciding not to come back. And Mack, during a cross-country trip to her childhood home to see her dying father. When Justine lingered too long in the bathroom, Artie, the truck driver who was giving her a ride, drove off without her, and abandoned Mack on the road.

Desperate to find her dog, Justine hitches a ride with a one-legged Harley riding violinist, and tries to catch up with Artie. Meanwhile, Mack is taken in by Alice and Ed Parmalee, a couple still grieving the suicide of their only daughter, a miracle baby born when Alice was forty and had given up all hope of ever having a child.

Mack brings the light back into the Paramlee’s lives and they make only a half-hearted attempt to reunite him with his real owner. For them it is a real struggle, to do what they know in their hearts is right, or to keep the dog that has brought joy back into their lives and brought them back together when they were drifting further and further apart.

If you like sentimental, bittersweet, heartwarming reads, and/or animal stories, this just may be the book for you.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Amazon and B&N Now Accepting Pre-Orders For The Queen's Rivals by Brandy Purdy


As cousins of history's most tempestuous queens, Ladies Jane, Katherine, and Mary Grey were born in an age when all of London lived beneath the Tower's menacing shadow. Tyrannized by Bloody Mary and the Virgin Queen, the sisters feared love was unthinkable —and the scaffold all but unavoidable... 

 Raised to fear her royal blood and what it might lead men to do in her name, Mary Grey dreads what will become of herself and her elder sisters under the reigns of Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I. On their honor, they have no designs on the crown, yet are condemned to solitude, forbidden to wed. Though Mary, accustomed to dwelling in the shadows, the subject of whispers, may never catch the eye of a gentleman, her beautiful and brilliant sisters long for freedoms that would surely cost their lives. And so, wizened for her years, Mary can only hope for divine providence amid a bleak present and a future at the whim of the throne — unless destiny gains the upper hand. 

 A gripping and bittersweet tale of broken families and broken hearts, courage and conviction, The Queen's Rivals recounts an astonishing chapter in the hard-won battle for the Tudor throne.

To pre-order from Barnes & Noble go to:
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-queens-rivals-brandy-purdy/1114002469?ean=9780758265999&itm=1&usri=9780758265999

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash




Nine-year-old Jess Hall is a curious lad who loves to spy on grownups. He is particularly protective of his mute, autistic older brother “Stump.” This book tells the dramatic repercussions that follow when “Stump” sees something he shouldn’t and is then subjected to a “healing” at the snake-handling church his mother belongs to, during which he is killed.

Three narrators move this page turner quickly along. The first is Jess, the second is the town midwife, Adelaide, who left the church and took its children with her, and the sheriff, Clem, who has a painful past of his own. Through their eyes we see the River Road Church of Christ in Signs Following and its charismatic charlatan pastor Carson Chambliss, who urges his congregation to prove their faith by taking up serpents and drinking strychnine, and handling fire. They speak in tongues, lay on hands to heal, and gyrate to pulsing music, and when something goes wrong they decline medical intervention.

This book was very hard to put down and I highly recommend it to anyone seeking something different in a mystery or a thriller.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Coming in July 2013 The Queen's Rivals A Novel of The Grey Sisters by Brandy Purdy


As cousins of history's most tempestuous queens, Ladies Jane, Katherine, and Mary Grey were born in an age when all of London lived beneath the Tower's menacing shadow. Tyrannized by Bloody Mary and the Virgin Queen, the sisters feared love was unthinkable —and the scaffold all but unavoidable... 

 Raised to fear her royal blood and what it might lead men to do in her name, Mary Grey dreads what will become of herself and her elder sisters under the reigns of Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I. On their honor, they have no designs on the crown, yet are condemned to solitude, forbidden to wed. Though Mary, accustomed to dwelling in the shadows, the subject of whispers, may never catch the eye of a gentleman, her beautiful and brilliant sisters long for freedoms that would surely cost their lives. And so, wizened for her years, Mary can only hope for divine providence amid a bleak present and a future at the whim of the throne — unless destiny gains the upper hand. 

 A gripping and bittersweet tale of broken families and broken hearts, courage and conviction, The Queen's Rivals recounts an astonishing chapter in the hard-won battle for the Tudor throne.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Tsar’s Dwarf by Peter H. Fogtdal


Sorine Bentsdatter, is a tough, peppery, sarcastic, independent, and proud little dwarf woman who doesn’t waste time feeling sorry for herself. She has no time for sentimentality and sees the world and the people in it for what they really are.

When the King of Denmark gives her to Tsar Peter the Great, Sorine is sent to Russia to join Peter’s collection of dwarves and other human oddities.  There, renamed Surinka, she meets the Tsar’s favorite dwarf, the perpetually cheerful Lukas. Surinka is infuriated by his habit of always looking on the bright side, but in spite of herself she succumbs to him.  But life in Russia is hard, and Surinka is haunted by the ghost of “the scoundrel” the n’er-do-well drunken lover she lived with who fathered the hare-lipped baby she sacrificed to the river.

She eventually grows disenchanted with Russia and runs away. She attaches herself to a noble family and becomes a combination governess/jester for their children, until the children grow up and lose interest in her, then she boards a ship back to Denmark, arriving just in time to see the Great Fire sweep through Copenhagen, supposedly as God’s punishment for the people’s sins.

 This was an interesting novel, a lot of historical fiction is very pretty, the clothes, the d├ęcor, and jewels, but this was more gritty, and the narrator had a more cantankerous and sarcastic voice, which was, in its way, a breath of fresh air. Sorine/Surinka and her actions weren’t always likeable, but she was definitely a fascinating character.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Cover Art For The Queen's Rivals by Brandy Purdy




THE QUEEN'S RIVALS by Brandy Purdy

In an age when royal blood can be as much a danger as a blessing, Lady Jane Grey and her sisters, Katherine and Mary, are pawns for unscrupulous men. Jane lives for learning and tries to hide her beauty beneath plain clothes. But her parents’ ambitions compel Jane to marry the frivolous Guildford Dudley. When Dudley’s father persuades Edward VI to make Jane his heir and disinherit the princesses Mary and Elizabeth, her fate is sealed…


Jane’s younger sisters have never coveted a crown, yet they are seen as possible rivals for Elizabeth’s throne. Forbidden to marry, they are kept at court under the Queen’s watchful eye. But love will prove too powerful a lure to resist, and each struggles to choose her own destiny—while keeping her life.

To be published in July in the USA and in August as THE FALLEN QUEEN by Emily Purdy in the UK.

I will post a better quality image when I receive one from the publisher.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Rival To The Queen by Carolly Erickson


Ms. Erickson’s latest foray into her light, fluffy, fantasy-laden series of “historical entertainments”  tells the story of the woman Queen Elizabeth I probably hated most, her own cousin, Lettice Knollys, the younger, prettier, sexier version of herself who captivated and later married Elizabeth’s own great love—Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, a man who coveted the throne so much he was even rumored to have murdered his wife, Amy Robsart, in order to free himself to become Elizabeth’s bridegroom and king.


In this novel “Lettie” and her family return from Frankfurt after “Bloody” Mary dies and Elizabeth comes to the throne, making England once again a safe place for Protestants. At court, where she and her sister Cecilia, are appointed maids of honor, to serve the Queen, Lettie soon arouses the queen’s jealousy. The Elizabeth of this novel is a plain, shrill harpy prone to rages, in the throes of one she orders Cecilia’s head shaved to make a wig for herself.

Despite her attraction to the Queen’s lover, Lettie’s family fears that her beauty will lead her into licentiousness and arranges for her to marry hunting obsessed dullard named Walter Devereux, the Earl of Essex. Children swiftly follow and Lettie finds a contentment of a sort managing her husband’s estates while he is away hunting or on business for the Queen in Ireland.

Lettie catches Robert Dudley at just the right moment, after he has had a lovers’ tiff with the Queen, and the two embark on a casual affair and when her husband dies the two decide to marry in secret. Though when the truth comes out Elizabeth’s rage erupts like a volcano and Lettice spends the rest of her life exiled from the court. Although Elizabeth does her best to keep them apart, she and Robert manage to make a good life for themselves, enduring the death of their only son, the Spanish Armanda, Lettice’s attraction to their handsome young Master of the Horse, Christopher Blount, and the decline of Robert’s own health.

After Robert’s death, Lettie isn’t a widow for long, but she has other problems to contend with when her hot-headed son Robert Devereux, the Earl of Leicester, seeks to take his stepfather’s place in the Queen’s heart and take her throne in the process.

If you are looking for more fact-based historical fiction, Ms. Erickson’s “historical entertainments” probably won’t appeal to you, but if you like historical fiction with a lighter, sometimes outrageous or whimsical touch, and don’t mind facts being thrown out the window, sometimes in very large measure to make room for fiction, these books can be quite fun. I think I’ve read them all so far; you can find most of them reviewed on this blog.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys


In 1941 fifteen-year-old Lina is looking forward to a summer at art school and dating boys with her cousin Joana.  But her life is shattered when the Soviet Police burst into her family’s home one June night. Lina, her beautiful mother, her little brother Jonas, and their father, the provost of a university, are sent to a Siberian prison camp as part of Stalin’s ethnic cleansing of the Baltic regions. Lina has to leave in her nightgown with only one suitcase and endure a hellish journey in a cramped train in a car labeled “Thieves and Prostitutes.”

Lina vows to survive and use her art to honor her family and the thousands like them and to document their experiences. She risks her life to send messages to to the camp where her father is held, pictures of hope to let him know they are alive and to help bring them back together.

While they work on a collective farm, sharing a shack with peasants who resent the intrusion, and struggling to survive, Lina looks back on happier times, remembering new dresses and ice cream comes, trips to museums, swimming in the Baltic Sea, and dating cute boys with her cousin. And later they are sent to the Arctic to build a fish factory and bakery, where only the guards are allowed decent shelter, the prisoners must see to their own with whatever scraps they can find’ they are forbidden to use any of the bricks intended for the factory.

This is a heartbreaking and powerful story of human cruelty and degradation, and humiliation, love and loss, and the struggle for personal dignity and survival.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The House I Loved by Tatiana de Rosnay


Paris, 1869, the Emperor Napoleon III has decided the city is in dire need of renovation, and has ordered hundreds of houses, entire neighbors and city blocks, to be condemned, so that Paris can be turned into a truly modern city.

Rose Bazelet, a silver-haired widow of sixty, is determined to save her come on the rue de Childebert. It has been in her husband’s family since it was built in 1715, her children were born there, and she has spent her entire married life there and derives an income from the shops she rents on the ground floor. As the rumble of destruction draws nearer, and the floor shakes under her, she hides in the basement and writes letters to her late husband, Armand, reminiscing about their life together, recalling her wonderful mother-in-law who embraced like a daughter, so different from her own self-centered mother, the daughter she never bonded with, and the beautiful golden-haired little boy she lost to cholera, and her husband’s descent into illness that later claimed his life, and the shameful secret she has harbored for so many years. She is determined to die with the house since she cannot save it.

I enjoyed this novel, I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and stories of families and secrets. I would also recommend it to those who like these kinds of stories but don’t like the big door-stopper sized books. This one is quite short and a quick read.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Healing by Jonathan Odell


On a Mississippi plantation in 1847 Amanda Satterfield, the lady of the house, is driven mad with grief when she loses her twelve-year-old daughter, Becky, to cholera. Her husband, Master Ben, considers cholera a “slave disease,” shameful affliction for whites, and refuses to summon the doctor. Her mind addled by grief, anger, and opium, Mistress Amanda decides to punish her husband by taking an infant slave girl as her own. She christens the girl Granada and as the years pass dresses her up in her dead daughter’s clothes and parades her before Southern high society to humiliate her husband.

At his wit’s end over his wife’s deteriorating mental health, knowing that he is a laughingstock in the eyes of their neighbors, and a mysterious plague that is sweepoing through his slave quarters, Master Ben buys Polly Shine, a slave woman reputed to have miraculous healing powers, learned from an Indian Medicine Man and an African midwife, for the astonishing sum of $5,000, more than he has ever paid for any slave, but he orders her to trains someone so in case anything happens to her he will be sure to get his money’s worth.

Polly recognizes “the gift” in Granada and demands to have the mistress’s little pet as her assistant. And a battle of wills ensues as the spoiled twelve-year-old Granada rebels against having to leave the great house to live in the quarters with Polly and be like all the other slaves. But Polly’s sharp tongue and disturbing predictions only lead to more trouble and unrest.

The story is told in flashback in 1933 as ninety-year-old Granada, called “Gran Gran” a healer who has followed in the footsteps of her mentor Polly Shine, and is now accustomed to wearing shifts stitched out of flour sacks instead of fancy silk and lace frocks, looks back on her own life to try to help a little girl who has lost her mother to a botched abortion.

This was a very interesting novel, for anyone interested in life on Southern plantations and slave culture before the Civil War, herbal healing, midwifery, and the power of belief, this will most likely be a very worthwhile read.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Greyfriars Bobby The Most Faithful Dog In The World by Jan Bondeson





This book tells the true story of the legendary little black and tan terrier who was said to have kept vigil on his master’s grave for fourteen years. This sentimental tale has spawned numerous articles, children’s books, inspired a film starring Lassie, and even a Disney movie. But is it true?

Jan Bondeson does an excellent job of investigating this tale of canine love and loyalty, tracing the story back to its Victorian era roots. Who was the master who merited such loyalty? Was it all just a hoax? A journalistic invention designed to appeal to Victorian sentimentality or help espouse the burgeoning cause of animal rights? Or was it a case of canine cunning—a clever little dog who found a safe shelter in the cemetery and knew the tourists who came to see him would shower him with affection and treats and the owners of nearby restaurants would not let him go hungry?

Mr. Bondeson does a thorough job of investigating the legend of Greyfriars Bobby, though the more sentimental as well as animal lovers may be disappointed with his ultimate conclusions.

The book also includes chapters about legends of canine fidelity and charting the evolution of “The Dog on the Master’s Grave” stories which have been particularly prevalent in France and all parts of the British Isles dating back some centuries.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tabby: Happy Halloween!



Here is Tabby posing with some of her Halloween treats, including the Val Lewton DVD boxset, which includes three of her favorite movies: Cat People, I Walked With A Zombie, and The Body Snatcher.

Lon Chaney The Man Behind The Thousand Faces by Michael F. Blake

To celebrate Halloween, I am reprinting my review of this biography of one of my favorite actors--Lon Chaney. Although he is best remembered today for his roles in horror films, contrary to popular belief, Lon Chaney was not a horror movie actor, he was a great character actor capable of playing many roles in many genres, including westerns, melodramas, and gangster movies; had he not died just as sound films were coming in, he might even have surprised us by doing musicals as he once sang and danced on the vaudeville stage. Being brought up by deaf-mute parents, speaking sign language with his hands and facial expressions, gave him an advantage many silent screen performers did not have. There is an eloquence, an expressiveness, about Lon Chaney that no other actor, in my opinion, has ever matched. I hope you will enjoy my review and perhaps watch some of his films available on dvd or clips on You Tube. I've provided Amazon links to the ones I've seen and I recommend them all.





This cartoon was published as a tribute to Lon Chaney and his many roles and clever makeups after his death in 1930.

Although it's hard to read in this scanned image, the verse on this cartoon reads:

Little Miss Muffet
Sat in a buffet
Eating dill pickles and pies
Along came a spider
And sat down beside her,
'Twas Lon Chaney in a disguise.















This is the first full-length biography to be published about the most brilliant character actor of the silent film era, Lon Chaney, best remembered today for his amazing makeup and his starring roles in the "The Phantom of the Opera" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."

Writing a biography of Chaney is an impressive feat in itself. He was a private man, promoted by the Hollywood studios as a "man of mystery" to explain his persistent refusal to play the Hollywood game and provide fodder for the fan magazines and gossip columns. Chaney gave few interviews and was determined to keep his private life private. He was dedicated to his art and fully immersed himself in his roles, but the movies were primarily a job to earn a living for him. He was a man who came from humble beginnings, the son of deaf mute parents, who worked as a wallpaper hanger and carpet layer before succumbing to the allure of the stage and his fascination with how actors used greasepaint, nose putty, and false hair to transform themselves. His first marriage, to Cleva Creighton, ended unhappily after his wife's career as a cabaret singer, her drinking, socializing, and presumed infidelity with her customers, and a botched suicide attempt in which while standing in the wings of the theatre her husband was then managing she downed a vial of mercury bichloride, thus permanently damaging her vocal cords and putting an end to her singing career. Chaney was granted full custody of their son, Creighton, the future actor Lon Chaney Jr., and eventually remarried, and remained so, quite happily, until his death in 1930 from throat cancer.

Mr. Blake, whose childhood interest in Chaney was sparked by the biographical film "Man of a Thousand Faces" starring James Cagney as Lon Chaney, became an ardent fan and collector of Chaney memorabilia, and himself grew up to be a makeup artist. He spent years researching this book and does a wonderful job of dispelling the many myths that have grown up around Lon Chaney over the decades. The book is also full of fascinating information about the history of makeup in the movies and how Chaney created his extraordinary creations to help bring his characters to life.




See the real Lon Chaney in action on dvd and the bio pic that has inspired so many to pursue careers as movie makeup artists.