Sunday, January 21, 2018

REVIEW: More Night Frights

More Night Frights
Author: J. B. Stamper

Snow is steadily building up outside as I write this review. Since we couldn't go anywhere today (the South shuts down when it snows), I was in the mood to read. Snow days always remind me of my kids. I still have one at home...but I tend to fondly remember the days when all my kids were still in school. One is in Japan with the Navy and the other is in Missouri (Army). For some reason, I got to thinking about those Scholastic book order forms that used to come home with them (my youngest still brought them home about 3 times a year up until he started middle school this year) periodically. In elementary school in the 90s and early 2000s, my oldest son was heavily into Goosebumps and kiddo horror stories. For whatever reason today, in honor of all the snow days spent making him cocoa while he read about haunted amusement parks, ghosts at school, and other kiddo frights, I decided to find some cheesy Scholastic horror to read. I'm glad I did -- it made for some fun reading!

I remember my son having this book (and the original Night Frights). The stories are short. The horror isn't too gruesome. It's definitely middle grade friendly, but still creepy. Several of the stories are based on folklore and urban legend. A bit cheesy, but fun to read. The stories are well-written and between 5 and 8 pages long each. Perfect snow day reading! I still miss my son wayyyy off in Japan on the other side of the world.....but I felt closer to him today as I sipped cocoa and read a Scholastic book. I have several more lined up to read tomorrow. :) My middle schooler has a snow day again.....so I will have some time to read a couple more kids books. Sometimes I'm just in the mood for nostalgia reads or children's stories. Why not? :) I had a great time remembering when my adult kids were still little....and enjoyed some fun stories! It really did make my afternoon brighter, even though the tales are dark and spooky!

More Night Frights includes 13 stories (of course). All of them are short, and the print is large and easy to read. For kids who like a bit of Things-That-Go-Bump-In-The-Night and parents who prefer those bumps to be a bit benign, this will keep everyone happy. Bit of scary....but not too scary. None of them will cause "Mom, I'm scared. Can I sleep with you?'' incidents. For me, it was nice to revisit memories, and this was a perfect quick read for a day when we are all stuck indoors.

Let it snow! I have more books to read! :)


Saturday, January 20, 2018

REVIEW: The Twelve Fingered Boy

The Twelve Fingered Boy
Author: John Hornor Jacobs

Life changes drastically for Shreve when he meets Jack. Well, life started changing when Shreve landed in juvenile detention. But, he feels life in a cell is better than living with his drunk, neglectful mother. One day he's making money selling candy to the other inmates....and the next he's got a new, and very strange, cellmate. Jack not only has 12 fingers .... six on each hand....but he has strange superpowers that seem to manifest themselves when he is angered or threatened. Unfortunately there are some dangerous people who know about Jack and what he can do....and soon the boys will find themselves on the run. But it seems that escaping will be difficult if not impossible, as those chasing after them have powers too.

This is such an action-filled, fun read! I do admit that when I first started reading it, I almost put the book down. I didn't want to read a book about kids who are incarcerated....too difficult for a Mom to read about neglected kids who end up in prison. But the story soon morphed into something entirely different. Then I couldn't put the book down!

I love the strong friendship that grows between Shreve and Jack. And I completely detest the "bad guys'' in this story -- but, I'm supposed to. It's classic good vs evil...with supernatural elements thrown in for good measure.

The Twelve-Fingered Boy is the first book in the Incarcerado Trilogy. I'm definitely going to read the other two books. I have to find out what happens next! :)

John Hornor Jacobs is also the author of The Incorruptibles Trilogy.

Friday, January 19, 2018

REVIEW: THe Glittering Storm (Sarah Jane Adventures)

The Glittering Storm (Sarah Jane Adventures)
Author: Stephen Cole

I have been a Doctor Who fan for a very long time. Way before the new television series. I grew up on the Doctors & companions who are now lumped together as Classic Who. My favorite? Easy answer -- Tom Baker. Doctor #4. And his stalwart companion, Sarah Jane. In fact, when the 4th Doctor regenerated, I was so angry that I stopped watching the show unless it was reruns of Tom Baker episodes. This wasn't too difficult, because back in the late 70s/early 80s the only stations showing Doctor Who were PBS affiliates. The one I had access to played a few episodes of the 3rd Doctor (portrayed brilliantly by Jon Pertwee), all of Tom Baker up to his regeneration, and a few episodes of the 5th Doctor (Peter Davison. Boo! Hiss!  Just kidding.....don't want Peter Davison fans hunting me with clubs and torches. lol. I have since come around to loving all the doctors.....I just liked MY Doctor and the regneration was too much for a tweenie nerd girl to take.) The PBS station only played a couple Peter Davison episodes....then started back at Jon Pertwee again. I never saw anything by the earliest Doctors, or those after Davison until I was an adult.

The Fourth Doctor had other companions that joined him as well, but Sarah Jane, along with the ever faithful robot dog K-9, was my favorite. Spunky, brave and cute, she made the episodes fun to watch.

Zoom forward a couple decades and I absolutely LOVED it when they brought Sarah Jane onto the new Doctor Who, and when she had her own series for a short while. I had no idea at the time that Sarah Jane Adventures stopped abruptly because actress Elisabeth Sladen was ill. I was so happy to see Sarah, K-9, and Mr Smith the Super Computer! The show was fun to watch! I was very sad when Elisabeth Sladen passed away, but they have kept her beloved character going with many books and audiobooks!

With snow falling outside today (pretty much shutting down the southern town where I live), I loaded up a Sarah Jane audiobook and disappeared into the lovely world of Doctor Who. Well, the lovely world of Sarah Jane, rather.  Sarah Jane Adventures is about Sarah's life after the Doctor is gone. She has K-9, an adopted alien son, Mr. Smith, and lots of friends to help her out. She's still on a quest to protect Earth from menacing aliens -- and manages to find trouble quite often!

In The Glittering Storm, westend London housewives and grandmothers are stealing jewelry and gold. They seemingly have no idea what they have done. Sarah Jane catches an older woman in her house at night, rifling through her jewelry looking for the precious metal. Turns out, all the thieves can be traced to the Auriga Clinic, a medical facility that treats muscle and joint pain using gold and titanium injections. When Sarah's teenage friend, Maria, starts to exhibit the same behaviors as the older women, Sarah knows she has to get to the bottom of what's going on!

This was such a fun, interesting audiobook to listen to! Elisabeth Sladen narrates. It was so nice to hear her voice again. Technically, these books are for the middle grade and young adult crowd....but I don't care! I like them, too! It's a great mix of the old Classic Who and modern Who, too (doesn't that sound like a Dr. Seuss sentence? ha!)! The story is perfect length to listen to on a short car trip or while waiting for an appointment. I was doing housework....Sarah Jane kept me company as I cleaned my kitchen and dining room. :) Lots of action and Doctor Who-ish shenanigans going on! Definitely worth listening to!

I'm definitely going to be on the lookout for more Sarah Jane Adventures books and audiobooks!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

REVIEW: 100 Cupboards

100 Cupboards
Author: N.D. Wilson

After his parents disappear, 12-year old Henry York is sent to live with an aunt and uncle he hasn't seen since he was 4. He doesn't wish his parents any harm....but he doesn't really want them to come back either. They are....odd. Henry has learned over the years that his upbringing has been strange and markedly different from other kids around him. He's learned to roll with it and through observation has found ways to fit in and make friends. But just as he arrives and starts to settle in at his relatives' house, he finds more strangeness.  First there is the door to his grandfather's room. It's been locked up tight ever since he died two years before. And nothing seems to be able to open the door. Then there are the cupboards. Not the normal, sitting out in the open type cupboards. These have been plastered over in the attic where Henry sleeps. One night, he wakes up with plaster dust all over his bed....the cupboards are no longer covered. And Henry's life will never be the same.

One word sums up this delightful middle grade story:  Magical. Just like the wardrobe in Narnia, the cupboards have the poiwer to connect to other worlds. Henry and his cousin Henrietta work together to discover the secrets behind their grandfather's door, and what lies beyond the cupboard doors. Just a lovely story! 100 Cupboards is the first book in a trilogy. Great introduction to a series! I can't wait to read the other books!

I listened to the audiobook version of 100 Cupboards. Narrated by Russell Horton, the audiobook is just under 6.5 hours long. Horton reads at a nice, even pace and has a clear understandable voice. I have hearing loss, but was able to clearly hear and understand him.

N.D. Wilson is the author of several other middle grade books including the Ashtown Burials series. 100 cupboards is the first book I read by Wilson. I will definitely be reading the rest of the series, and reading more of his other books!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

REVIEW: Hey! B.C.

Hey! B.C.
Author: Johnny Hart

B.C., Peter, Thor, Wiley, Carp and Curls -- My favorite cavemen! Plus the cavewomen, Fat Broad and Cute Chick! Johnny Hart's prehistoric B.C. cartoon characters have been entertaining readers since 1958. I first came across the cartoons as a teenager in the 80s. This year I want to focus on reading what I enjoy, so I thought it would be a great time to re-read some of Hart's cartoon collections. The topics are still so relevant today....and I'm having a great time revisiting the prehistoric but oh so modern antics of his characters!

The B.C. cartoons poke fun at everyday life in general -- relationships, sex, politicians, sports, transportation, work, hobbies, religion, business.....nothing is sacred. In between his jabs at human foibles, Hart sprinkles in dictionary jokes, ants with marital problems, a philosophical turtle and his bird pal, anteaters on the hunt, and snakes trying to steer clear of cavewomen with clubs.

In Hey! B.C. the cavemen discover the wheel, fire.....and women. They also invent baseball and football. :) Another fun nostalgia read!

Johnny Hart also created the Wizard of Id cartoons (I loved those too!) He created the B.C. characters in the late 1950s. Wizard of Id came along in the 60s. Both cartoons ran in syndication in newspapers and were collected in multiple books until Hart's death in 2007.




REVIEW: B.C. Strikes Back

B.C. Strikes Back\
Author: Johnny Hart

Cartoonist Johnny Hart created his loveable cavemen characters in the 1950s. Over the next few decades his group of dysfunctional prehistoric humans invented the wheel, started the battle of the sexes, attended the first therapy sessions, and created team sports. :) The six cavemen and two cavewomen poke fun at everything from love and feminism to politics and society. Side characters range from ants pursued by hungry anteaters, a turtle and his bird BFF, and cute dinosaurs.

I loved these cartoons when I was in middle and high school. Hart poked fun at just about every part of life and society. In 2018, I am revisiting books and series that I have on my own shelves, or books I remember enjoying in the past. I decided it was time to re-read B.C. and another Hart creation, Wizard of Id. These cartoons are still amazingly relevant. I suppose the basic ponderings and challenges of humanity really don't change all that much. Some of the jokes or interactions between the male and female characters could be seen as a bit sexist....BUT.....it is never disrespectful, just truthful. The cute, sexy cavewoman is treated differently than the overweight, unattractive cavewoman --- but isn't that the way things really are? Might as well poke fun at it! :) Today it might be non-PC to crack jokes at uncomfortable truths....but that doesn't lessen the truth, just hides it. Most of Hart's jokes about the sexes point out the strengths of the women in a humorous way. An example.....while the cavemen are celebrating their invention of the wheel and trying to decide what they might be able to do with it, the cavewomen have already invented the bicycle.

B.C. Strikes back features an introduction by Rod Serling. It's a great collection of Hart's wit and humor. I enjoyed re-reaading this book, I still find the cartoons as funny as I did years ago, although some of the jokes have a bit different meaning for me now.

B.C. ran as a syndicated cartoon in many newspapers from the 1950s up until Hart's death in 2007.



Sunday, January 14, 2018

REVIEW: B.C. A Clam For Your Thoughts

B.C. : A Clam for Your Thoughts
Author: Johnny Hart

In 2018, I am making a dedicated effort to enjoy reading backlist books from my own shelves and to re-visit some favorite nostalgia reads. The B.C. cartoon books by Johnny Hart always made me laugh as a teenager back in the 80s. I decided it would be fun to revisit Hart's hilarious Caveman (and Cavewoman) antics to see what the adult me thinks of the humor. I'm so glad I did.....I had such a good time re-reading this book after so many years! :) Put a big smile on my face.

Johnny Hart's B.C. cartoons feature several cavemen and cavewomen. The two cavewomen are feminists...or at least try to be. One is rather plump and the other is blonde and gorgeous. The six assorted cavemen range from inept idiots to greedy businessmen. There are also snarky ants and a few snakes that get mercilessly bashed by the overweight older cavewoman who is afraid of them. The topics are still very relevant today -- feminism, environmental concerns, insecurity, therapy, and basic human emotions/actions....love, anger, greed, jealousy. I guess the point is that human nature and life has been pretty much the same since the start....so why not poke fun at it? :)

In this particular book, the cartoons range in topic from feminism and relationships to the awkwardness of therapy sessions and strange advice from a greedy palm reader with some snake bashing and sarcastic ants sprinkled in for good measure.

A fun read! I look forward to enjoying more of Hart's artwork and social commentary this year as I re-visit some old favorites!

Johnny Hart also created the Wizard of Id cartoons (I loved those too!). He created the B.C. characters in the late 1950's. Wizard of Id came along in the 60s. Both cartoons ran in syndication in newspapers and were collected in multiple books until Hart's death in 2007.




Thursday, January 11, 2018

REVIEW: The Chalk Man

The Chalk Man
Author: C.J. Tudor


Eddie and his friends -- Fat Gav, Metal Mickey, Nicky and Hoppo -- do everything together. Summer break in 1986 is filled with bike rides, innocent mischief, and playing. All the things 12 year olds enjoy. They even draw secret code messages in chalk to each other. But then the chalk drawings turn much darker.....someone leaves a message that leads to a dead body in the woods. Flash forward to 2016....much has happened in their lives. Then Eddie, now a teacher, receives a letter in the mail. The only thing on the paper is one figure drawn in chalk. Turns out, they all received the same letter.  Eddie starts dredging up old memories and investigating to see if he can finally uncover exactly what happened that summer 30 years before. The summer of The Chalk Man.

A great suspense story has moments that totally catch a reader by surprise. For me, this book had several of those surprising moments. I really wasn't expecting this story to be this good. I am always wary of books that have a lot of hype.....I get all excited, looking forward to really being wowed....only to usually feel disappointed when the story doesn't' match the hype. This time, I am glad to report that the book totally lives up to the hype and great reviews. I was totally taken in by this story from the beginning....and it had shocks in store for me clear up to the very last page. Normally I don't like novels that jump around in time. It just becomes too confusing. This book manages to leap back and forth from 1986 to 2016 with ease. It never became confusing, but added to the suspense of the story. The writing and the story are just top notch! The Chalk Man is an awesomely chilling and creepy story! Great debut  novel! I can't wait to read more by this author!

To learn more about the author, check out her facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/CJTudorOfficial/?ref=br_rs

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Crown Publishing via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

REVIEW: Dead Wake The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

Dead Wake
The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
Author: Erik Larson

The RMS Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-boat on May 7, 1915 just off the coast of Ireland. The ship sank in less than 20 minutes, killing nearly 1,200 people. Many decried the attack on a passenger ship. But German military leaders said the attack was justified because the ship was carrying munitions for use by the British military. It would be decades before it was proven that Germany was correct....the passenger ship was indeed carrying munitions for use in World War I.

Dead Wake not only tells the story of the sinking and great loss of life, but also about the politics, military decisions and mistakes that led to the ship sailing without escort in a war zone. It also talks about the Lusitania, its history, crew and passengers, and facts about the German Navy, U-Boats and early submarine warfare. Because it opened responding ships up to attack by U-boat, orders had gone out that no vessel was to approach and render aid to any ship that had been damaged by a torpedo. Warnings about imminent submarine attacks against all vessels in the war zone had been issued by Germany prior to the attack. Why then did so many passengers, including many children, board the ship, sailing directly into danger? And why were munitions loaded onto a passenger liner, putting thousands of people at risk? This book gives so many interesting facts about the world situation at the time, shipping and war zone issues and the actual event. Erik Larson presents the whole story in an interesting and informative way. This is non-fiction and not a narrative account, but it kept my attention the entire time. Very interesting and well written!!

I think so many people were willing to board the ship, despite repeated warnings from Germany, because it was assumed a passenger vessel would not be targeted. And, it's also human nature to believe that disasters are things that happen to other people. Until the sinking of the Lusitania, the dangers of the war zone were almost a joke with passengers laughing about the possibility and buying life jackets in New York department stores before setting sail. The fact that the shipping line was willing to carry munitions on a passenger vessel further shows that the danger wasn't being taken seriously. With U-Boats actively attacking merchant ships and military vessels with success, it is astounding to me that the Lusitania was allowed to sail that course into the war zone with no escort, no orders to divert to a safer route or to sail in a zig zag pattern. The whole conglomeration of decisions made by passengers, crew, the shipping line and military brought about this disaster. Germany came right out and said WE ARE GOING TO SINK THIS SHIP...DONT GET ON IT -- and thousands still bought tickets and sailed from New York. Foolish. But even more foolish is the fact that it sailed with munitions in the hold without any escort to protect it. Bad, bad, bad decisions!

The sinking of the Lusitania and the deaths of 128 Americans who were on board did not bring the United States into the war immediately. The US didn't join in the World War until 1916. But, the cry of "Remember the Lusitania'' was used as war propaganda and a rallying cry for US troops. I wonder how it might have changed things if the public had known that the hold of the ship contained war munitions that a neutral passenger vessel was not allowed to carry during wartime? The munitions aboard the ship made it a valid target for U-Boats. Larson offers some insight into why this was done, and some pretty nefarious reasons why the ship was not supplied with a military escort or ordered to sail in a zig zag pattern to help it evade an attack. It could be that the 1,200 people that drowned in the sea that day were collateral damage and a part of a hidden agenda to pull the United States into the conflict in Europe.

I listened to the audiobook version of the book (Penguin Random House Audio Publishing). The audiobook runs just over 13 hours and is narrated by Scott Brick. He reads at a nice even pace and is easily understandable. I have hearing loss but had no problem hearing and understanding him.

I learned a lot of interesting facts that were new to me, such as the fact that Captain Von Trapp (of Sound of Music fame) had been a U-boat captain in WWI. At one point, he ordered the torpedoing of a vessel, causing the deaths of more than 600 people. That incident is the reason why he chose to escape rather than be called up to serve again in WWII.

Great book! Anyone interested in maritime or WWI era history will definitely enjoy this book!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

REVIEW: Dark Scream Volume 9

Dark Screams Volume 9
Author: various

I love these collections of creepy, demented stories. Each volume seems to improve on the last. Volume 9 features six horror stories:

Invitation to the party - Kelly Armstrong. Vivienne comes home from work one day and finds an invitation waiting for her. Not just any invite.... The Invitation. An announcement from her employer that she is being promoted to an executive job. But first, she will have to play The Game. This story puts a new spin on the horrors of the corporate world. Great story!

Summer of '07 - Stewart Nan. A Bundy-like predator has fun at the beach. He won't hurt you. Really. A short, but very creepy tale.

The Dead Years - Taylor Grant. Emma Grace has been dead for 15 years. Until her former boyfriend meets her at an art auction. Could it be Emma? Or just her face? Chilling story of the horrors of finding a long lost love.

The Blackout - Jonathan Moore. The police are called to the hospital morgue. A body is missing, but evidence at the scene seems all wrong. Great story! My favorite in this collection!

Variations on a theme from Seinfeld - Peter Straub. Clyde knows when his reflection gets lost that all he needs to do is go through the mirror and fetch it. Sometimes finding his way back is a bit difficult. A bit trope-y, but a good story.

Torn - Lee Thomas. 11-year old Maggie Mayflower leaves her house to go to the park with a friend. She never comes home. Turns out, the person who kidnapped her really is a monster. Great scary story. A bit long....but so enjoyable that I didn't mind the length.

All in all, a varied, creepy and enjoyable horror collection. I can't wait til the next volume comes out! I'm never disappointed.

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Random House - Hydra via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

REVIEW: The Wife Between Us

The Wife Between Us
Author: Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

The blurb for this book says it all:   Assume nothing.

Don't assume this is a book about a woman half-crazed at the failure of her marriage. It's also not about The Other Woman marrying her ex-husband. And it's also not about a husband tiring of his crazy wife and finding a new lover. It's all of those things....and none of them....all at the same time.

This suspenseful story about the disintegration of a woman's marriage had more twists and turns than a soap opera. Just when I thought I knew what was going on suddenly the story would zing me with an unexpected revelation. Skillfully written and masterfully crafted!

I literally could not put this book down. The only word that came to mind as I closed the book is.....WOW. I tried to explain the plot to my husband, and finally stopped trying, telling him that he would just have to read the book. The story is too twisted and complex to pare it down to a quick synopsis.

I am not giving any spoilers about the book here. It's best for readers to come into the story with only basic information. A marriage ended. A new one is about to begin. Then things happen....    Make no assumptions. Just lose yourself in the story and enjoy. :)

This book really made me think about the secrets we all keep, and the assumptions that are so easily made about others. How well do we really know those closest to us? And how much do we just assume we know? If there are two sides to every situation....which side is more truthful? Or could both sides be a lie?

I think what made me enjoy this story so much is I kept thinking "This could happen''.....and that just made the entire thing so much more chilling. I look forward to more from these two authors -- this first collaboration is top notch! 

The Wife Between us will be published by St Martin's Press on January 9th, 2018.

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from St Martin's Press. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

To find out more about the authors check out their websites: http://greerhendricks.com/ and http://www.sarahpekkanen.com/ 


Sunday, January 7, 2018

REVIEW: Life Among the Savages

Life Among the Savages
Author: Shirley Jackson

I was reading The Haunting of Hill House when I discovered that Author Shirley Jackson also wrote humorous short stories about her life in Vermont raising four children in the 40's and 50's. The stories were originally printed in popular magazines and collected in two books, Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons.

I am amazed that an author I love for her incredi-creepy, low key horror stories could also write such funny commentary on being a parent. From her son's daily stories about a naughty kid named Charles at school to her daughter's imaginings of being the second Mrs. Ellenroy who has 7 step-daughters all named Martha, the tales are cute and very entertaining. They are definitely tales from a different era, with Jackson talking about smoking a cigarette while in labor with one of her babies, lamenting her bad luck when hiring household help, and the necessity of purchasing demitasse cups to be a proper host. Her stories of the gigantic old house they rented in Vermont, conversations over bridge with friends, the antics of her children, and her failings as a housekeeper are light and funny. It was a perfect Sunday read for me. I smiled at her tales of household chaos while doing laundry, housework and getting ready for the new week in my own crazy house. :)

Jackson's sense of humor in this book reminds me of Erma Bombeck. She pokes fun at her family because sometimes laughter is needed to maintain sanity. One of my favorite parts of this book is when Jackson's husband is sitting on the sofa alone reading The Wizard of Oz to one of his daughter's imaginary friends, while his daughter is up in her room. Jackson asks her daughter why she isn't downstairs listening to the story. The little girl replies that she got bored so she left...but her friend stayed to listen. Too cute!

Even though they were written decades ago, I think most moms would identify with these stories. I certainly did!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

REVIEW: Star Trek: The Motion Picture - A Novel

Star Trek: The Motion Picture - A Novel
Author: Alan Dean Foster

I remember going to see this movie when it first came out in 1979. My mom was a huge Star Trek fan, and she was so excited that there was a movie after years of watching re-runs of the television show. I liked the show too....but I wasn't sure what to expect from a movie version. I remember being impressed with the special effects. Not quite as flashy as Star Wars.....but really good. And it was nice to see all the familiar cast members again. Especially McCoy...he was always my favorite, probably because he was a bit snarky and not "a damned miracle worker.''

Yeah, yeah, yeah....I know this isn't a movie review.....but a book review. I will get to it! Honest!

My husband is a gamer nerd. And after 15 years of marriage, my nerdiness has increased exponentially under his tutelage. I love to read, and I enjoy Star Trek. As a surprise, he bought me 40 used Star Trek paperbacks at a gaming convention. He was away for the weekend and missed me, so he brought he home books. It was a perfect gift for a bibliophile such as myself. Sadly, though I love books, I have lots of adulting to do, so I have way more books than time to read them. I hadn't' really thought about my large collection of Star Trek books until I discovered several more at a local thriftshop this week for 25 cents each. I stood in front of the shelves checking to see which ones I already had (thanks to my taking the time to list all of my books on Goodreads) and filling my cart with more nerdery. As I added books to my cart, I realized that the Star Trek series would be a great start to my quest to pare down my TBR in 2018! I decided to jump right into book #1.....the novelization of the first Star Trek movie....Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

I always thought the name of the movie was a bit silly. But I guess they wanted to make it obvious that the former television series was moving to the big screen. But stating the obvious as a movie title is a bit lackluster. They could have called it Star Trek: Return to the Enterprise. Almost anything but just The Motion Picture. Bleck.

The basics: James T. Kirk returns to captain the Enterprise because a massive energy cloud is heading straight for Earth. It has destroyed several Klingon ships and a Space Station with an energy weapon of some unknown type. The Enterprise has had an 18-month long refit,and is totally updated, but her repairs aren't all completed. Because it is the only Starfleet ship within interception distance of the strange cloud bearing down on Earth, the crew has to take the ship out anyway. The ship intercepts the cloud and encounters an alien presence, Veger. When the truth about the origins and purpose of Veger are revealed, the crew will be challenged as never before to save themselves, and Earth.

The novelization is exactly what you would think --- a novelization of the movie script. I actually watched the movie as I read the book (realizing that the version I was watching (On Demand from television) had been clipped here and there for time. They removed scenes with dialogue rather than taking out some of the longer special effects scenes of the interior of the cloud, the Enterprise, etc.....what's up with that?? Why not remove scenes that are just eye candy (outdated eye candy too) and leave the dialogue between characters?) I enjoyed reading the extra description about the emotions of the characters, their inner thoughts and extra information on things going on around them. It is a good novelization, but I did notice one thing that was a bit weird. Gene Roddenberry's
 introduction to the book, and in several places in the story, they refer to "new humans.''  This confused me a bit....something about "new humans" being more adaptable to space travel and other differences with non-improved humans. This must have been some early plot point that got dropped from Roddenberry's vision at some point....I don't recall this concept coming up in any other incarnation of the series. There are also a few cringe worthy comments about Kirk's sexuality and relationships in the book as well, especially a footnote about how his friendship with Spock was misunderstood by some as a homosexual relationship. My husband said it was a comment about some early fan fiction that depicted the two men as homosexual lovers. Ummm.....LOL. I very much doubt the horny Captain Kirk who loved women (even green alien ones) would choose his emotionless, overly logical half vulcan science officer to get intimate with. And it would only have been once every 7 years anyway.....as Spock isn't interested except when in Pon Farr. Fan fiction must have been gruesome even back in the 1970s. OK.....back on subject now! I got pulled out of the story several times by weird commentary added to the novelization that seemed out of place, or just bizarre. Why was it necessary to speculate on whether Kirk and Spock ever had sex with each other even if there was fan fiction? And just all the unnecessary footnotes in general. Were those written by Alan Dean Foster, or were those things added by Roddenberry? I found the footnotes to be a distraction, rather than interesting asides.

A lot of  Star Trek fans today agree that the first movie was not very good. At the time, the special effects were amazing, the refit of Enterprise was sweet, and the return of the familiar crew was exciting. But re-watching it today, the story line is pretty ridiculous and the special effects dated. It just plods along.....there are long sequences where very little happens. For me, the novelization is pretty much the same......lackluster plot with some strange commentary added. But, it's still worth a read....and it starts the series of books. I had fun reading the book and watching the film at the same time, while trying not to chuckle at the idea of Kirk and Spock having secret rendezvous in the briefing room. :)

Enjoyable start to my goal of reading books off my own shelf! One Star Trek book down......only hundreds to go. ha ha 

Friday, January 5, 2018

REVIEW: The Girl Who Came Home

The Girl Who Came Home
Author: Hazel Gaynor

The Girl Who Came Home is loosely based on the story of the Addergoole 14.....14 poor Irish from a single village in County Mayo who boarded the Titanic in 1912 to head to a new life in America. They were filled with dreams, hopes and expectations. Sadly, only 3 would survive the sinking of the gigantic ship in the cold, dark Atlantic Ocean.  The names of the 14 passengers, their life stories, the name of the  Irish village and some other facts are changed in the Girl Who Came Home...but the story is obviously built on the true tale of 14 immigrants whose dreams were cut short by an iceberg.

The story jumps back and forth in time from 1912 to 1982. In 1912, Maggie Murphy is 17 years old. Her mother has just died, and her aunt Kathleen travels from America to bring young Maggie home with her. She doesn't want to leave her love, Seamus, but she is drawn to the promise of a life in America and feels a duty to obey her aunt. She hopes Seamus will travel to America later to be with her. She misses him terribly while on board Titanic. The ship is massive and filled with more luxuries than the 14 hopeful Irish villagers have seen in their lives. They laugh, dance and joke about all the rich food...happy and delighted. Then late one night there is a slight bump and the engines go still. The night of horror has begun. In 1982, an 87-year old Maggie tells the story of that night to her great-granddaughter Grace. Grace needs to write a feature story for a Chicago newspaper and her great-grandmother decides it's time to tell someone her story. She has refused to talk about Titanic for decades, still feeling guilt that she survived and so many others died. In the attic there is a small suitcase that she carried with her the night of the sinking. She shares its contents with Grace, and the story about her memories of her life in Ireland, the voyage on Titanic and the aftermath of the sinking.

The Girl Who Came Home is a lovely and sad story. It's well-written and emotional. I listened to the audiobook version....and I think hearing it read in a lovely Irish accent added more depth to the story for me. The audiobook is narrated by Connor Kelly-Eiding and Alana Kerr. They both read at a nice, even pace and are easily understandable. I have hearing loss, but was easily able to enjoy this audiobook with no problems. I normally don't like books that jump back and forth in time as it gets tedious and often confused, but Gaynor pulls it off. I enjoyed this book from start to finish. Beautiful, haunting and just lovely -- a great book! I will definitely be reading more by this author.

I can't truly imagine what it must have been like for those on board the Titanic. For those in the lifeboats, hearing more than 1000 people screaming and dying in the cold water must have been heartbreaking. And for those in the water, it must have been horrific. Hazel Gaynor does a great job of depicting the joys of the lavish ship, the differences between steerage and the first class accomodations, the huge range of passengers aboard, the absolute horror of the sinking, and the depths of despair and loss felt afterwards. I think the most memorable part for me is towards the end....hundreds of family members waiting at the dock in New York in the pouring rain for hours. The Carpathia was due to dock, and it was carrying survivors.Some are happily reunited and others learn the final sad truth about the death of their loved ones. Very emotional scene.

Gaynor is the author of several books including The Cottingley Secret and The Girl from the Savoy.



Wednesday, January 3, 2018

REVIEW: The LIfe We Bury

The Life We Bury
Author: Allen Eskens

College Student Joe Talbert visits a nursing home to interview a senior citizen for a writing assignment. He's supposed to write a short biography on someone. A nurse at the facility says that most of their patients have dementia or other problems that would make them difficult to interview. One, however, is dying from cancer. His memory is fully intact. The nurse says that he might not be suitable.....the patient is a convicted child murderer, having raped and killed a 14-year old girl years before. Talbert decides that Carl Iverson is as good a subject as any for his class assignment. Iverson agrees to be interviewed. Little does Joe know that this meeting will change his life, leading him into danger to prove Iverson's innocence.

This story caught me by surprise. The book started off predictably......student meets killer, killer talks to student, student checks out killer's crime and is disgusted, killer opens up about his life and student asks questions about the murder.....the usual plot.  But this story didn't stick to the usual. This story veered off the trope path pretty quickly and morphed into something much more complex.....much more interesting. Every time I thought I knew where the plot was going, it veered off in another direction. Great suspense! Loved it!

I listened to the audiobook version of this story. The unabridged audio version (Tantor Media) is narrated by Zach Villa. He reads at a nice, even pace and he is easy to understand. I have partial hearing loss, but was able to easily hear and understand his reading. The audiobook is just shy of 8 1/2 hours long. I listened to it on New Year's Day while packing up Christmas decorations and cleaning the house after a busy holiday season.

For more information on this author and his books, check out his website: http://www.alleneskens.com/


REVIEW: Trixie Belden and the Marshland Mystery

Trixie Belden and the Marshland Mystery
Author: Kathryn Kenny

I have been happily re-reading the Trixie Belden series over the past few weeks. When I was in middle school in the 80's, this was my favorite book series. I received new books for nearly every holiday, and babysat my ill-behaved nephew to earn money to buy more of the books. Those trips to Walden Books at the mall to get another Trixie book are what started my love of bookshops! I had the entire series, and I remember being so excited when two new books came out in the late 80s. Then the series came to an end.....and I went off to college. I sold my full set of books to a middle school aged girl at a garage sale for 25 cents apiece. I hope she got as much enjoyment from them as I did!

I didn't think about Trixie Belden for years and years. Then, I found a couple old Nancy Drew books at a local thriftshop. That got me to thinking about books I enjoyed as a kid.....and the first one that popped into my head was Trixie! I decided I needed to re-visit my old pals from Sleepyside, NY. I still enjoy this series, even though I look at things with an adult mindset now and notice things I didin't see when I was a young girl reading them for the first time.

Trixie Belden and the Marshland Mystery is the 10th book in the series. Trixie and her bestie, Honey Wheeler, venture out to a nearby swamp to gather plants. They are going to give them to a teacher, Miss Bennett, whose book of pressed herbs was damaged by a careless student. The plants will allow her to restore her book. Little do they realize they are going to uncover a mystery of sorts in the swamp as well!  Soon their club, The Bob-Whites of the Glen, are hunting for a missing child, looking for lost pirate treasure, and helping an elderly woman.

I'm not sure this story was really a mystery....more of an adventure for the teens and gathering clues to find out what exactly happened to a little girl while she was missing. Trixie learned a few lessons about jealousy, jumping to conclusions and forgiveness. All in all, despite there not really being any "mystery'', this was a fun, relaxing read and a great visit to Sleepyside!

And poor Dan Marsdon appears to have disappeared out of the books entirely. He was introduced as a new Bob-Whites member a couple books back. Then in the book after that he was mentioned only twice. And in this book.....no Dan at all. I guess Dan is a bit like Richie Cunningham's older brother on Happy Days....there one day, went upstairs.....never seen again. He never even got his picture added to the cute illustration of all the Bob-Whites on the pastedown pages at the front of the book. I wonder if he will be back? I have a theory for what happened to Dan.....     The first six books of the Trixie Belden series were written by Julie Campbell. The rest of the series was written by various authors all using the pen-name Kathryn Kenny. So perhaps one author added the Dan character, but the next book was written by someone else....and they didn't like the character? Or the books were written concurrently, and the two mentions of Dan added to the story at the beginning and end of the book were added for continuity. Then...next book, no Dan at all, with no explanation. Poor, unloved Dan. :)

There are 39 books in the Trixie Belden series, written from 1948-1986. The stories, although a bit dated, are fun, quick reads.

On to book #11! Maybe Dan will be back! ha ha :)

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

REVIEW: Snow Lane

Snow Lane
Author: Josephine Angelini

Antoinette Elizabeth Bianchi is the youngest of 9 children.  8 girls and 1 boy live in the house on Snow Lane. Their father works several jobs, and also works on the family farm. The kids help out, too. It takes a lot of work to keep a family of 11 going. Antoinette (called Annie) has multiple health problems. She is dyslexic, and prone to fits of vomiting and fatigue.

Slowly as Annie tells the story of her family, the truth comes out. The older children are forced to act as parents to the younger kids. There is never enough money for clothing, food and basic necessities. The children often feel sick or faint because there isn't enough food to eat. Annie can't invite friends over because she is embarrassed about their house and family life.....and other things that they never discuss. Scary things. Through it all Annie remains cheerful, although she always wonders why she is so slow compared to everyone else. Why her thoughts race at strange things. Why she counts and manipulates numbers in her head to calm herself down. Why is she so different?

I grew up Catholic, so I found it cute that every time Annie said crap or some other "bad'' word she listed the number of Hail Marys she would have to say as penance. :) I also sympathized with her for being the youngest in a large Catholic family. I was the youngest of 5, with the others many years older than me. It was awful. I was never physically abused....but there was mental abuse. This story was a bit hard for me to read because I sympathized with the main character so much. I dealt with similar problems at home and at school. I was never physically beaten, but I had a close friend at school who was. Her mother was very involved in the church, but regularly beat her daughter and locked her in a closet for minor infrractions. Finally my friend got pregnant and married in high school just to get away from her parents. Sad....but true. And in the 80's -- the same time period as this story. I don't know what happened to my friend....I lost contact with her during my college years and have never been able to find her again. I hope she is happy wherever she is. Those similarities in my background really pulled me into this story. I was a bit disappointed with the abrupt ending....the story just stops with nothing fully resolved. But...realistically...a family issue like that wouldn't be insta-fixed. The abrupt ending with things up in the air is the proper ending for this story. Disappointing, but more true than a fairy tale fix. This story is well-written. I normally don't like stream of consciousness type stories....but the author did a fantastic job with this one. I do have to admit that I found it extremely depressing though. Maybe because I identified with the main character so much.

Snow Lane is a hard hitting, masterfully written tale about a family....a family in trouble. But even in the darkness, there are bright spots. Annie is definitely a bright spot. She chooses to find the good in all things.....and that attitude and the promise of the life ahead of her is what leaves hope at the end of this tale.

I think I will try one more time to find my friend from school. This book really has me thinking about her. Maybe this time I will get lucky and one of my old classmates might know where she is. I can only try.....

To learn more about this author and her other books, check out her website: http://www.josephineangelini.com/

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Feiwel & Friends (Macmillan) via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

Monday, January 1, 2018

REVIEW: Call the Midwife

Call the Midwife
Author: Jennifer Worth

I have had this series by Jennifer Worth sitting on my bookshelves for a year. My sister in law let me borrow the five books -- Call the Midwife, Farewell to East End, In the Midst of Life, Shadows of the Workhouse and Letters to the Midwife -- because I enjoy the PBS television show. I got so tied up in adulting, working, reading new releases for review and other books on my TBR stack, that the books sat there on the shelf.  Then I signed up for a 2018 reading challenge.....Beat the Backlist.....that challenges readers to enjoy books published before 2018.  I started looking at my shelves....seeing all the lovely books I had intended to read....some have been on my shelves for years waiting for their chance!  Since I borrowed the series by Jennifer Worth, I decided Call the Midwife would be first! Knowing how busy the holidays are and to squash any excuses, I found the audiobook version from my local library's digital site. I listened while wrapping presents, putting up the tree, travelling to family's homes, running errands....it all worked out perfectly! The book is just as enjoyable as the PBS show! And the show actually follows the book very closely! Excellent!!

Jennifer Worth was a midwife in the East end of London in the 1950s. She and the other midwives rode bicycles to prenatal exams, deliveries and other midwife duties, providing care for the poor women that lived there. The book has tales about problem deliveries, dealing with STDs, vermin and other concerns, domestic violence, large families and antiquated opinions about childbirth and women. The book is heart-warming, alarming and nostaligic, all at the same time. Just a lovely read! I don't know how women survived before modern medical care, birth control and increased opportunities that we have now. Plus, changes in public opinion on some things -- like teenage and single mothers. Unwed mothers are no longer shunned in our western culture and left with nothing, their babies sometimes adopted out without consent. I hope that sort of horror never comes back!

The audiobook I listened to (HighBridge Company) is just over 12 hours long & unabridged. Nicola Barber narrates. Because of my hearing loss, I sometimes have problems hearing and understanding female voices, but I was able to completely understand Barber's narration. She reads at an even pace with great tone and animation in her voice. I loved the audiobook! I kept seeing Chummy wrecking her bicycle,  Fred with his pigs and all the action from the TV series in my head as I listened. :)

I will definitely be reading (or listening) to the rest of the series! Especially since my reading goal for the new year is to read more books off my shelves.  The Midwife series might be a bit of a cheat....  I borrowed the books months ago. And I hate hate hate it when people borrow my books and take ages to bring them back. So, I am going to return my SIL's books.....and borrow the books online to read. I'm still counting them as backlist off my shelf, but giving them back immediately because they belong to someone else. :) Sort of a cheat -- but not really. :)

Given the subject matter....this book does talk a lot about child birth, vaginas, STDs, medical procedures, family problems, etc.....and might not be something to listen to in front of very young children, unless you want to be answering questions. lol.  My son is 13...walked into the room, listened for a moment and ducked out of the kitchen. I heard him telling his dad "Oh mom is doing the dishes and listening to some book about vaginas.'' LOLOLOL   If all it takes to keep the men out of my kitchen when I'm working is to listen to books on vaginas.....I'm going to find more! ha ha

All in all, a great book! I will definitely be reading/listening to the rest of the series!