Monday, July 30, 2012

Blue Diary by Alice Hoffman

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):  For more than thirteen years, devoted father and husband Ethan Ford has been running from his past. But one day the police show up at his door -- and his life as an irreproachable family man and heroic volunteer fireman begins to come apart...

And here's what I thought:  I recently re-read this book, and it was nice to revisit one of my favorite books by Alice Hoffman.  If you've ever read Alice Hoffman, you know she sometimes works in subtle bits of magic (like in her books Practical Magic, and The Ice Queen).    In this book, there really isn't any magic, and it's a pretty sad story ---- but I really enjoy reading it.

The summary gives a pretty bare idea of what the story is about --- life seems great for Ethan Ford and his wife, and their son, Collie .... until one day, Ethan's past catches up with him.  I'm trying not to give away any spoilers here, so let me just say this: it turns out that Ethan isn't who he says he is, and he did something pretty terrible years ago, right around when he met his wife, Jorie.

This story isn't just about Ethan and Jorie, and how their lives completely get turned upside down, but it's also about their son, Collie, and his best friend, Kat.   The book examines relationships -- whether it's between friends, or sisters, a married couple, or the relationship that Jorie has with the small town they live in.  There is a lot of self-discovery in this story, and we get the viewpoints from Kat, and from Jorie, and even from Jorie's best friend, Charlotte.  What's interesting is that we don't get much from Ethan, himself ---- although what we get is important.  I suppose part of what I enjoy about this story is being a voyeur into all of these people's lives, experiencing the story from different viewpoints.

I also really love Alice Hoffman's writing --- not just her style, but how she creates characters that I can't stop reading about.  I wouldn't say that her writing is for everyone; if you enjoy spare, pointed writing, then her books probably aren't for you.  What I love is how she creates a sentence or a phrase --- sometimes, it's like I'm reading poetry.  I have been known to copy down certain sentences from her books, just so I can savor them over again.  Example: "But a nightmare is a different case entirely, it's a box of black shadows and vicious red stars, something to keep carefully closed, lest the ground below be broken in two." (p 120)    I enjoy getting lost in what she creates in her books, and I also like that there often are no truly happy endings for everyone in the stories (so that even if there are bits of magical realism in her books, there's never a sense that everyone is completely safe).

First lines:  It's the last morning of the month, a brutally gorgeous morning brimming with blue air and the sweet scent of honeysuckle which grows wild in the woods beyond Front Street, when Ethan Ford fails to show up for work.  On this glorious day, the brilliant sky is filled with banks of motionless white clouds, fleecy as sheep, but so obedient and lazy they haven't any need of a shepherd or a fence.

Friday, July 27, 2012


I feel like it's been ages since I posted a real post here .....  but now that Summer Read is winding down at my library, I think I'll have a bit more energy ....

Anyway --- it's Friday, which means not only is it the end of another week, but it's also time for TGIF, hosted by Ginger at GReads!  Every week, she asks a question, and it's always interesting to see what everyone has to say.   Today's question is:  Christmas in July:  If Santa were to come down your chimney in the middle of summer, which books would you want him to leave for you under the tree?   the nice thing is, Santa has magic, and can leave books that haven't been published yet.... 

I'm trying to fill in some gaps in my personal collection, so I'd like the Harry Dresden series books that I'm missing, along with Anne Perry's World War I series books that I'm missing.   However, I'd also like a few things that are shiny and new:

The Curiosities: A Collection of Stories by Maggie Stiefvater, Brenna Yovanoff and Tessa Gratton

- A vampire locked in a cage in the basement, for good luck.
- Bad guys, clever girls, and the various reasons why the guys have to stop breathing.
- A world where fires never go out (with references to vanilla ice cream).

These are but a few of the curiosities collected in this volume of short stories by three acclaimed practitioners of paranormal fiction.  
(summary courtesy of GoodReads)


Angel's Ink by Jocelynn Drake

The series is firmly settled in the urban fantasy genre, set in what I like to call an open world (ie, everyone knows about all the other races and has for a really long time, allowing everyone to live side-by-side in a relative, occasionally strained, harmony.) Some of the races that you meet in this series include, but are not limited to: humans, elves, trolls, dwarves, pixies, werewolves, vampires, ogres, minotaurs, incubus, faeries, goblins, and many many more that are fighting to get their time on the page.

At the center of this mess is Gage Powell, a tattoo artist who owns a parlor in a sketchy little neighborhood in Low Town called Asylum. In a world that is naturally filled with magic, it only makes sense that many of the non-magic folk (like humans) could use an edge. In this world, tattoo artists aren't just tattoo artists. They are also licensed potion stirrers. For the right price, they can help you get an edge. Need courage, love, or luck? A tattoo artist can stir a potion to be placed in the ink of a tattoo that can help you achieve those things.   (summary courtesy of the author, via GoodReads)  

I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone else has on their wish list !!!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wordless Wednesday - teazle and bee

Want more Wordless?  Click here!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Wordless Wednesday - teazles blooming


I never see these spiky, thorny plants in bloom .... but this summer, a lot of them have "popped"

See more WW!

Monday, July 16, 2012

What I've been working on lately .....

Other than working, and hiding in the air conditioning and reading (and drafting up some reviews) .... took a trip to a cemetery over the weekend and took some photos I'm really happy with.    

angel with wasps on wing 2

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Last Policeman by Ben H Winters - with cool book trailer!!!

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   What's the point of solving murders if we're all going to die soon, anyway? 

Hank Palace, a homicide detective in Concord, New Hampshire, asks this question every day. Most people have stopped doing whatever it is they did before the asteroid 2011L47J hovered into view. Stopped selling real estate; stopped working at hospitals; stopped slinging hash or driving cabs or trading high-yield securities. A lot of folks spend their days on bended knee, praying to Jesus or Allah or whoever they think might save them. Others have gone the other way, roaming the streets, enjoying what pleasures they can before the grand finale. Government services are beginning to slip into disarray, crops are left to rot.When it first appeared, 2011L47J was just a speck, somewhere beyond Jupiter's orbit. By mid-October it revealed itself to be seven kilometers in diameter, and on a crash course with the Earth. Now it's March, and sometime in September, 2011L47J will slam into our planet and kill half the population immediately, and most of the rest in the miserable decades that follow.
All of humanity now, every person in the world--we're like a bunch of little kids, in deep, deep trouble, just waiting till our dad gets home. So what do I do while I wait? I work.
Today, Hank Palace is working the case of Peter Zell, an insurance man who has comitted suicide. To his fellow police officers, it's just one more death-by-hanging in a city that sees a dozen of suicides every week. But Palace senses something wrong. There's something odd about the crime scene. Something off. Palace becomes convinced that it's murder. And he's the only one who cares.What's the difference, Palace? We're all gonna die soon, anyway.As Palace digs deeper, we are drawn into his world. We meet his sister Nico and her screwup boyfriend, Derek, who are trying to beam S.O.S messages into outer space; we meet Erik Littlejohn, a "spiritual advisor" helping his clients through these difficult times. Palace's investigation plays out under the long shadow of 2011L47J, forcing everyone in the book -- and those reading it-- to confront hard questions way beyond "whodunnit."  What basis does civilization rest upon? What is life worth? What would any of us do, what would we do, if our days were numbered?

And here's what I thought:  I finished reading this book right around when I finished The Age of Miracles, so I've read two completely different pre-apolcalyptic novels in the last few weeks.  Both of them do ask the same kind of question, though: If you knew when your last day on Earth would be, how would you live the rest of your days?    In this story, Detective Hank Palace chooses to do his job and try to solve a murder, despite the fact that the Earth has six months until disaster.  Most people wouldn't care about this dead man -- after all, who cares?  But Hank Palace cares, and that's part of what made this a pretty compelling read for me.

I liked that Hank's not an open book as a character -- it takes time to get to know him, and even then, I wasn't always sure I really knew him.  I'm fine with that -- it keeps me interested.  The storyline also kept me interested, with Hank solving the murder --- because it soon becomes apparent that there's a lot more to this one man's death than first meets the eye.  I liked that the author gave me some twists and turns, and kept me guessing.  I don't read a lot of mysteries, but when I do, I like to be surprised by the ending.

Going on in the background of the story is the ever-present disaster, and how other people are living out the last six months that they have.  As might be expected, the economy has tanked, and a lot of people don't see the point of going to work and doing their jobs (which makes sense).  I like how the author plotted this, planned an "expiration date," and then shows how the world is reacting -- and how Hank's determination to do his job plays out against all of that.    Even without the impending disaster, however, this is a great mystery story, with an even pace, and well-written characters.  I can see why the author has been an Edgar Award nominee -- this is good stuff!   This is also the first book of a planned trilogy, so I'm already looking forward to the next story.

This book officially comes out on July 10, 2012, so I'd encourage you to look for it at your local bookstore or library.   Thanks very much to Quirk Books for contacting me, and sending me this book.  I'm including the official Book Trailer, as well, so you can take a look, if you're interested (I think it's really well done):

  First lines:  I'm staring at the insurance man and he's staring at me, two cold gray eyes behind old-fashioned tortoiseshell frames, and I'm having this awful and inspiring feeling, like holy moly this is real, and I don't know if I'm ready, I really don't.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Summary (Courtesy of GoodReads): On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life—the fissures in her parents’ marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days obsessively cataloging his possessions. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues.

And here's what I thought:  I believe this is one of the best books I have read this year (so far).

As you can see from the summary, the big issue in this story is that the Earth's rotation is slowing down.  At first, time lengthens by only a few minutes, but as it continues to slow down, the impact on the environment begins to increase.   And the impact of the increase in time doesn't stop with the environment, but starts to affect people directly (which makes complete sense, considering how tied we are to our 24-hour clock).

What I found really interesting about this book was the combination of the scary environmental impact of the slowing rotation (birds begin to die, crops won't grow, etc.), and how those changes affect everyone, and Julia's personal story.  I never got the impression that Julia is self-absorbed --- rather, we experience the story through her eyes, so we understand what is happening to her, personally, but also, what is happening to the world around her.  So, it's a coming-of-age story in a world that is starting to change in terrifying ways.

The inside flap of this book says, "With spare, graceful prose and the emotional wisdom of a born storyteller," the author has created this story.  I don't think I could say it better (which is why I quoted it) -- the way the story is told, and the even pacing, just kept me turning the pages.  I sometimes felt like I was reading faster and faster, rushing headlong into the story, towards disaster ... but I couldn't stop.  I needed to know what was going to happen to Julia, and to the Earth.  The author didn't always go into super-detailed explanations of what was happening environmentally, but gave me just enough to understand what was going on --- and this makes sense, considering the age of our narrator.  A young girl wouldn't have the full scientific explanations and implications, but she'd have the understanding she was getting from the news, her parents, and the people around her.   I also thought the author did a nice job with the characters, and exploring how the slowing of time affects how people react to not only the overall situation, but also to one another.

I have seen various reviews on GoodReads, and  like most stories, some people really like this book, while others didn't find it to be an amazing read.  Personally, it resonated with me, and I really enjoyed it.  

First lines:  We didn't notice right away.  We couldn't feel it.  We did not sense at first the extra time, bulging from the smooth edge of each day like a tumor blooming beneath skin.  We were distracted back then by weather and war.  We had no interest in the turning of the earth.
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