Sunday, September 29, 2013

Daddy Love by Joyce Carol Oates

Dinah and Perry “Whit” Whitcomb seem to have the perfect life with their five year old son Robbie until the day when he is abducted from the parking lot at the mall and his mother is run over by the kidnapper’s van and left for dead.

Although Dinah miraculously survives, crippled and disfigured, none of their lives will ever be the same again.

“Daddy Love” aka the Reverend Chester Cash, a traveling preacher, is a pedophile who has chosen Robbie to be the latest in a long line of sons, all of whom “disappeared” when they were approaching puberty. He takes Robbie to live in a secluded farmhouse and changes his name to Gideon and tells him his parents gave him away because he cost them too much money, he tells him that euthanasia is not a practice reserved solely for unwanted animals, but for orphans too, and he should be grateful that Daddy Love came along and saved him.  Whenever Robbie/Gideon resists or shows any spark of rebellion Daddy Love is always swift to punish him, with a broken finger for refusing to take his hand, or confining him inside a locked coffin-like box or by killing his beloved pet dog.

As the years pass, Robbie’s parents struggle to keep their marriage alive and with it the hope that somehow, miraculously, Robbie is still alive and may someday come back to them, “Whit” enjoys increasing success as a dj and Dinah devotes herself to volunteer work, while Robbie worries that he will disappear like all Daddy Love’s other sons.

By the time he is eleven, Robbie/Gideon is a shy, socially awkward sixth grader who expresses himself in disturbing drawings that catch the eye of his teacher. His “father” explains away his awkwardness and silence by saying he is mildly autistic and suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome. He believes his real parents didn’t want him and that his real mother died of lung cancer and his time with Daddy Love is running out, he’s getting older and Daddy has been dropping hints that he wants a new son. After his teacher talks to Daddy Love about his drawings, and the punishment that follows, Robbie/Gideon begins expressing his anger with acts of arson.

Will Dinah and Whit ever see their son again? Will Daddy Love ever pay for his crimes? Is there a happy ending to this dark, disturbing story? If you’re a regular reader to this blog, you know I won’t tell and risk spoiling it for anyone.

This was an interesting novel, despite the disturbing subject matter about a sick and depraved predator who steals children’s innocence and lives, it realistically tells the story of a child’s abduction from both the side of the captive child and his grieving parents. It’s a very poignant, sad, and ugly story. The first few chapters are also, in my opinion, somewhat annoying, for some reason the author felt compelled to repeat them, each time in a very obvious way yet each time embellishing them, adding more details. This goes on for about four chapters, if I remember correctly, and then stops and the story moves on. I’ve read other novels by Joyce Carol Oates in the past, and I don’t recall her using this technique, so I’m really not sure what to make of it, except that perhaps it has something to do with the way a mother would relive the day her child was adducted over and over again. But that’s just a guess. I know it was annoying enough to stand out and make me question whether I wanted to continue reading the novel, which I obviously did otherwise I would not be writing this review, so I wanted to make sure I mentioned this in case other readers started it and found themselves feeling the same way.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Midnight In Peking How The Murder Of A Young Englishwoman Haunted The Last Days Of Old China by Paul French

If you've been following this blog for awhile, you probably know by now that I have a fascination for unsolved mysteries. This book introduced me to a new one, a long cold case from 1937 when on a cold January morning in 1937 the viciously mutilated body of an English schoolgirl named Pamela Werner was discovered lying at the base of an ancient watchtower, the Fox Tower in Peking, an area said by the superstitious locals to be haunted at night by fox spirits that feed on the souls of the innocent.

Who would want to kill Pamela? The pretty gray-eyed blonde was the daughter of the acclaimed scholar and retired British Consul, E.T.C. Werner. Was the perpetrator a madman, a sex fiend, a Japanese soldier, or one of the fox spirits the natives feared so? Two detectives, one British, the other Chinese, teamed up, to try to solve the crime and bring Pamela’s killer to justice, racing against time as the Japanese steadily advanced on Peking.

The author of this fascinating true crime book spent seven years investigating the case. Through his research, we learn about the supposedly respectable dentist, who operated a nudist colony in the hills and lured innocent young girls to wild sex parties attended by prominent men; rumors of sexual improprieties committed by the headmaster of a prestigious private school; and the theory that Pamela’s murder was in reality a case of mistaken identity and that the real target was a journalist’s wife; through his words we visit dive bars, seedy cafes, and brothels, at a time where cultures clashed, sometimes dangerously, in Peking, while the rest of the world fixated on headlines about Amelia Earhart, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Hitler, the Hindenburg  and the Golden Gate Bridge, as the Japanese conquerors advanced on Peking, and America suffered through the Great Depression.

Eventually Pamela was forgotten. The police gave up and moved on to other cases, and Peking was more preoccupied with the invading Japanese than finding out who had killed a British schoolgirl. But Pamela’s father refused to give up, with the same relentless determination with which he had once studied ancient Chinese scrolls, he studied the case files and pestered the police to keep the investigation active. His persistence paid off and he found clues the police either missed or ignored; clues the author reveals along with what probably happened to Pamela and how and why she died.

This was a fascinating book from start to finish; it vividly recreates a vanished world, and resurrects a long cold case and a victim long forgotten. For both true crime and history buffs, as well as fans of mystery and detective stories, I highly recommend this book.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

In the summer of 1914, Grace, an impoverished young woman from a formerly affluent family, elopes with her wealthy catch, banker Henry Winter, and boards an ocean liner called the Empress Alexandra. When an explosion engulfs the ship in flames, Grace is one of the fortunate few to secure a seat in a lifeboat. Due to the panic and chaos aboard and the rapid spreading of the fire, in which all the lifeboats on the starboard side are burned, Grace’s boat is badly overloaded.

As they drift away from the scene of the disaster, hoping help is on the way, the lifeboat rides so slow that water slops in. To make matters worse, the weather is worsening, and as the days pass, without rescue, their meager supplies of hardtack biscuits and water dwindle.

A power struggle soon erupts in the little boat between Mrs. Ursula Grant, a society matron, and John Hardie, an experienced, and sometimes necessarily ruthless, sailor, with all the passengers being forced to take sides. The hard choices begin almost at once, when they have to leave a small child to drown and beat away desperate swimmers and continue throughout the twenty one days they are adrift upon the Atlantic. As the lifeboat drifts on, the survivors endure panic, hysteria, and paranoia, sunburn, pouring rain, the difficulties of discreetly dealing with urination and menstruation, and having to catch and eat raw fish and dead birds fallen from the sky in order to survive. Their hands blister from rowing and dipping them in the salty water brings only more pain not relief. When some die, their bodies are put overboard to lighten the load, but a time inevitably comes when someone must die if the others are to have a chance at life. And when rescue finally comes, Grace is among those who must justify their actions in a courtroom.

If I wasn't already up all night, this book would have definitely kept me awake. Being a Titanic fanatic, I love reading about ocean liners, and mysteries and disasters at sea. The characters in this book faced a very difficult dilemma no one should ever have to face. In many ways, I was reminded of one of my favorite movies, Abandon Ship!, a rarely seen classic starring Tyrone Power (if you can catch in on Turner Classic Movies it’s worth watching), the characters in that book face the same situation when during World War II the ocean liner they are traveling upon hits a mine and Tyrone Power, as the lone ship’s officer in an overcrowded lifeboat has to decide who will live and who will die and later have to account for it. This book was like Titanic, after the sinking, meets Abandon Ship! and Mrs. Grant and her battle of wills with Mr. Hardie was like a harsher, less likable version of Molly Brown. I highly recommend this one for a tense, historical page-turner that will really make you stop and think and ponder who is right and who is wrong and what, if you were in the same situation, would you do.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Released in the UK Today: The Fallen Queen by Emily Purdy + Giveaway

The Fallen Queen by Emily Purdy (The Queen's Rivals by Brandy Purdy in the USA) was released in the UK today with this beautiful cover. 

From the back cover:

Led by love into the jaws of fate….

Lady Jane Grey is crowned Queen at the behest of Edward VI. Her reign lasts only nine days before she is executed for treason.

Lady Jane’s two sisters, Katherine and Mary, live on into Elizabeth I’s reign but in family misfortune they are bound, inspiring the Queen’s wrath against them.

In secret, Katherine and Mary risk everything and disobey the royal order by marrying the men they love. Will their treachery be discovered? And must they face imprisonment in the Tower of London, just as their sister did before them?

A stunning tale of treachery and treason, The Fallen Queen gives an unforgettable voice to three extraordinary sisters at the heart of a devastating conflict. Perfect for fans of The Tudors and Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen.

US residents who would like a chance to win a copy of the British Edition pictured here, please leave a comment and your contact information. Spread the word on Facebook, Twitter, your own blog etc. and earn an extra entry for every place you post, so make sure and let me know. Tabby will pick a winner on her birthday, September 17th. Contest is open to US residents only.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Special September Discount on ebook Edition of The Queen's Pleasure

From 9/10 to 9/24 the ebook edition of The Queen's Pleasure will be available at a special discounted price of only $2.99 at major ebook retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, and Sony.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Midnight Dreary The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe by John Evangelist Walsh

In 1849 author Edgar Allan Poe traveled alone from Richmond, Virginia to New York City. He disappeared for nearly a week. He was next seen drunk and unkempt in clothes clearly not his own in Baltimore, Maryland. He was taken to a hospital. In and out of delirium, unable to clarify where he had been or what he had done, he died four days later. The then generic cause of death “congestion of the brain” was given, though most assumed drunkenness and debauchery were at the root of it all, and in the years since many other theories have been advanced including epilepsy, rabies, diabetes, heart disease, hypoglycemia, cerebral hemorrhage, meningitis, and violence at the hands of thugs attempting to rig an election. 

The author of this fascinating little book focuses on Poe’s lost week. He also makes a good case for Poe being a binge drinker rather than a habitual one, meaning something would send him over the edge, he would drink and drink, and then feel like hell as he slowly recovered from his excesses. He tells us how after the loss of his young wife, Virginia, to consumption, Poe hoped to start a new literary magazine and was seeking investors, and had begun to woo his childhood sweetheart, Elmira Shelton, a now very well-to-do widow. He also unearths some tantalizing clues about Poe’s lost week and puts forward a theory of his own about the author’s demise.

Although this is not a cradle to the grave biography of Edgar Allan Poe, the author provides enough information for anyone not familiar with Poe’s life to gain a good understanding of the man, and for those intrigued by the mystery surrounding his death this is the only book I’ve seen that focuses solely upon the mystery and explores the various theories in detail. Whether you’re a fan of Edgar Allan Poe or just mysteries in general, this is a great little book to read “upon a midnight dreary.”

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Happy Birthday Tabby!

Tabby will be six years old on September 17th, but because I will be recovering from surgery then we decided to celebrate early this year. Here are some pics of my little girl with her Oreo Cookie Cake. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Special September Discount on ebook edition of The Queen's Pleasure

From 9/10 to 9/24 the ebook edition of The Queen's Pleasure will be available at a special discounted price of only $2.99 at major ebook retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, and Sony.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares

This book revisits the girls from the popular “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” series ten years after the end of the last book. For those not familiar with the series, four pregnant women met in an aerobics class, became friends, and gave birth to daughters in or around the month of September, and their daughters became firm and lifelong friends. In their teens, the girls bought a pair of most unusual jeans at a thrift store, jeans that fit them all perfectly, although they were all very different body types. They believed these jeans were special and had the power to bind them together even when they were apart. Although I haven’t read the books in years, so I don’t feel I can honestly review them on this blog without a more recent reading, I do remember I liked them and would not hesitate to recommend them to others.

In this book, ten years have passed, the girls are on the brink of thirty and all leading separate lives though they do their best to keep in touch. Tibby, who wanted to be a filmmaker, has moved to Australia with her boyfriend, Brian, and the time difference and distance makes it difficult to stay connected with her friends. Lena, an artist and art teacher in Rhode Island, still thinks of Kostos, the boy she met and fell in love with in Greece when she was sixteen, and wonders about what might have been. Carmen, a successful actress in New York, is engaged and the future looks bright. And Bridget, “Bee” to her friends, is living in San Francisco with her longtime boyfriend Eric, who she met at soccer camp the summer she was sixteen, torn between her old, familiar restlessness and the desire to settle down.

Out of the blue, Tibby sends her friends plane tickets to Santorini. It’s time for a reunion. But Tibby herself never shows. Instead, the police come. Tibby has been found dead. It is ruled an accidental drowning, but letters she left behind suggest it might have been a suicide instead and that instead of a reunion this was intended to be a farewell.

Each of the women copes with Tibby’s death in different ways. They stop communicating with each other as each of them stops and takes stock of their own lives and ponder whether they’re on the right course or if changes need to be made.

Will the letters Tibby left behind, addressed to each of her friends, to be opened on certain dates, bring them back together, and help them make the right decisions in their lives? If you liked the “Traveling Pants” series I highly recommend you read this and find out. If you’re like me and haven’t read the original books in years, this novel contains just enough information to refresh your memory so you can go forward and enjoy the story.

Autobiography of Us by Aria Beth Sloss

This is supposed to be the story of two girls who meet in 1958 at the age of fourteen and become lifelong friends. Alex Carrington is a beautiful, mature and sophisticated brunette who dreams of becoming a serious actress and playing roles like Lady MacBeth, Hedda Gabler, and Desdemona, not a sexpot in meaningless Hollywood fluff, while shy bookworm Rebecca Madden harbors secret dreams of becoming a doctor; dreams so secret she never even shares them with her supposed best friend. They inhabit a world where little girls are expected to follow in their mothers’ footsteps and devote themselves to husbands and homes, not careers, to paraphrase Rose’s mother in “Titanic” in their parents’ eyes the sole purpose of going to college is to catch a husband.

Fast forward to 1965, a time of war, race riots, and hippies. Both girls are in college, Alex is pursuing her dream, appearing in plays and has even landed an agent, and Rebecca is secretly taking classes to prepare for medical school. They grow apart as each focuses on her own individual dream until one summer night, at a drunken celebration of a mutual friend’s wedding, Rebecca, under the influence of alcohol, loses her virginity to Alex’s boyfriend and becomes pregnant at a time when being an unwed mother was like standing up and announcing you have leprosy.

Rebecca becomes a social outcast, is sent to a home for unwed mothers run by nuns, though after getting off the bus she changes her mind and arranges to have an illegal abortion instead, and on top of it all loses her chance to go to medical school because her parents object to her “running her life” for “some ridiculous dream” and her professors, despite her good grades, agree.

Immediately after graduation, Rebecca moves to San Francisco, becomes a waitress, and meets a nice lawyer named Paul who she discovers, after having two children by him, turns out to be gay. Over the years she writes letters to Alex that she never bothers to send. When the two meet again, by chance, years later she discovers that Alex never fulfilled her dream either, though why is never revealed, married her college boyfriend, the one Rebecca slept with, and became the mother of twin girls. At this stage in their life, when both are wives and mothers, who, as far as appearances are concerned, dutifully followed in their mothers’ footsteps, and forsook careers and their own personal dreams for hearth and home, they have to stop and think, reevaluate their lives, and decide whether to continue the charade or make a change. And this is where I stop; I’m not going to go any further and spoil the ending for anyone.

I really wanted to like this book. It sounded so promising I made a point of moving it even higher in my Leaning Tower of Pisa “To Read” stack. So I’m sorry to say I had to force my way through to the bitter end. I just wanted it to be over.

First of all, there is the friendship between the two girls…most of the time I could not even understand why these two are even friends. Alex is a pretentious and narcissistic girl who alternately neglects and insults Rebecca. They are such “good” friends that Rebecca is even afraid to tell Alex when she falls under the spell of biology and chooses times when Alex is away to sneak off to the library to read science books, and when they are in college, she conceals what courses she is taking because she is afraid of being ridiculed or losing Alex’s “friendship.” As a person who has never had the good fortune to have a good, loyal, and lasting friendship with someone I could trust and depend on, I have a great respect for the ideal of friendship, and one of my pet peeves is the misuse of the word “friend,” like people who refer to what are really acquaintances as friends just for convenience’s sake, as well as the kind of people who pretend to be someone’s friend in order to use them. Yes, friends go through rough patches, have arguments, and sometimes fall or grow apart, no relationships is all smiles, sunshine, and lollipops, but if you are afraid to be yourself with your best friend, if you’re afraid to talk to that person, tell them how you feel or that they will mock or belittle or even dump you, then I don’t think that person really deserves to be called your friend, certainly not your best friend, even if they are your only so-called friend.

Then there’s the situation that led to the end of this “beautiful” friendship—Alex’s “boyfriend,” one of those rich boys who think the world is their oyster and supposedly attempted to rape Alex one night. She doesn’t seem to love him or to regard the two of them as a couple. She even boasts of having sex with other men to further her career. After Rebecca has been made fun of for being the only virgin left in their set, she gets tipsy at a wedding party and lets herself be seduced by this prize specimen of masculinity and pays a hefty price for it, losing just about everything that matters to her including Alex’s “friendship.” Maybe it’s just me, but if the friendship had been so good and true I would have valued that far more than the guy in this book who led to its end. Given the people involved and the circumstances, after the very natural feelings of betrayal and anger had passed, the friendship, if it were real, should have been the one thing that was saved. But that, and this review, I want to stress, is just my personal opinion. Everything fizzles from that point and goes steadily downhill. No one’s life turns out even remotely like they hoped it would. When Rebecca makes the decision to leave, to make a fresh start in San Francisco, I was on her side, I was hoping she would actually do something with her life, but she just becomes a waitress, let’s one college professor’s lack of encouragement destroy her dreams, just because he says she can’t be a doctor and should consider nursing instead, she gives up on it all and becomes a waitress then does what women of her time are expected to do, gets married and has kids, and then that falls apart too. Same story with Alex. It’s just a very disappointing and disillusioning book in my opinion. Maybe that was the whole point? Or maybe I was completely the wrong person to read it.