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Archive for July, 2011

Mystery Monday – An Oxford Tragedy

Monday, July 25th, 2011

An Oxford Tragedy by J. C. Masterson

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage

 

This 1933 novel feels authentic because its author, J. C. Masterson was an academic all his life. Like the historian author, the narrator Francis Wheatley Winn is the Senior Tutor in History at fictional St. Thomas. He probably speaks for the author when he avers “My life is bound up in the life of the college.”

Familiar elements of the classic mystery are a large number of suspects, an amateur detective,  and a lengthy anti-climactic discussion of the puzzle in the last 25 pages.

In A Catalogue Of Crime (1989), critics Barzun and Taylor list it as one of the 90 best mysteries and say of it, “A first rate story, which…projects the genuine atmosphere, establishes plausible characters, and furnishes detection, logic and discussion of ‘method’ in admirably simple and attractive English…a masterpiece.”

I’m not sure I’d go that far. But I heartily recommend it to readers that like classic mysteries set at Oxford-type universities.

It’s rather more intellectual than Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers, with sometimes stiff vocabulary and ruminations on how a quiet community of scholars is rattled by a killing.

It is, however, less flippant than Michael Innes’ The Weight of the Evidence in which while sunning himself in a courtyard Professor Pluckrose is crushed to death by a meteorite that the culprit has shoved out a window.

At least, in this novel, one has a sense that murder has been done and that violence has dark consequences nobody can guess.

Manga Review – Chi’s Sweet Home

Saturday, July 23rd, 2011

Chi’s Sweet Home by Kanata Konami

 

Review by Cyn C. (Cyn-Sama)

 

I’m a cat person.  Always have been, always will be.

So, I was predisposed to like this series going into it.  I just didn’t realize how adorable it would be.

The story is told from the point of view of Chi.  A newborn American shorthair cat.  She gets separated from her mother, only to be found by a caring family.

A caring family who’s apartment does not allow pets.  So, while Chi has found a home, she and her family might loose the home, if Chi is found out.

It’s a simple and sweet story.  What really makes it appealing is Chi’s point of view.  The artist managed to capture the very essence of what it is to be a cat, from sleeping in inappropriate places to traumatic trips to the vet.

The story is also something that can be enjoyed by all ages.  Manga isn’t something that’s just for adults, or just for children.  Yes, there are series that are absolutely not for children (and, that’s mainly what I read), there are great titles out there that will appeal to everyone.

Every time I read this series, I find myself utterly charmed by it, and giggling at the trouble that one little kitten can cause.  It’s obvious that the artist has cats, and is in love with them.

Each volume is a chance for me to escape reality for a short time and enjoy a slice of simple pleasures, and to take time to love on my own itty bitty kitty committee.

 

 

Fantasy Friday – Zenna Henderson Books

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Zenna Henderson’s Pilgrimage and The People: No Different Flesh

Review by Cynthia F. (frazerc

 

I love this series – re-read it regularly!  Most of the stories [but not the thread connecting them] have appeared independently in various science fiction and fantasy magazines and some short story collections.  The two books have also been collected in the omnibus edition Ingathering: The Complete People Stories of Zenna Henderson.

 

Although she was not as well known [or as prolific] as Heinlein and Asimov and Norton, Zenna Henderson is truly one of the Golden Age masters.  Like most great authors she uses her stories to ask – and answer – important questions.  In the case of the People stories that question might be – what if alien people crash land on earth, and what if they are different – perhaps even better than us?

The People are a race from another planet who become marooned on earth, many injured and killed, most of them separated from each other and not knowing if they are the only survivors. The People have the very best of human qualities: love, gentleness, spirituality; and also special powers of healing, levitation and other frequently miraculous abilities.

 

Pilgrimage

Before talking about the story I want to give credit to her skills as a writer.  Her setting simply glows with the color and heat of the American Southwest.  Her people are fully visualized, their emotions vividly portrayed.  The plots of the different stories are intense and page turning.

There is a thread which binds the short stories together – the story of Lea who is suicidal but is dragged back from the brink [literally] by a chance-met member of the people.  The stories she listens to about their past, their Home, and the landing which scattered and shattered them slowly bring her back to feeling hope…

 

No Different Flesh

This book tells the story of a couple, Mark and Meris, who, one stormy night, find a young girl who has fallen in a capsule from the sky, and who has special abilities. Maris and Mark, still grieving the loss of their own baby, must come to terms with the emotional issues that caring for the young girl, Lala, creates in both of them. What follows is a plot that will involve the reader in the magic, compassion and sense of rightness that the People evoke.

In Pilgrimage, as in The People: No Different Flesh, the plot shifts between the present day story, and stories about the People from their past, which comprise the People’s race memory. Included as one of these memories told to Mark and Meris is a short story, “Deluge”, which has appeared in some short story collections. “Deluge” gives the reader a taste of the magical and deeply fulfilling way of life on the People’s home planet and tells how the People came to leave it. Other memories tell us what happened to various individuals of the People as they arrived on earth. These add texture and interest to the present-day story, and include events of terrible persecution of the People as well as stories of personal tragedy and joy.

 

One of the continuing themes in these stories are teachers and teaching and just how much difference they can make in others lives.  As a teacher myself, I reread these books to remind me why I was teaching and to refill the well of compassion which sometimes gets drained pretty dry in all of us.

If you’re looking for Lara Croft or Indiana Jones – these books are not for you.  They will never be made into summer blockbuster movies. These stories frequently require access to the kleenex box but still manage to provide an overall feeling of uplift and hope.  And that’s something we could all use a lot more of.

 

The Help – Movie Pass Winners!

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Nothing beats popcorn and a great movie…. except maybe popcorn and winning free SNEAK PEEK passes to a great movie!  Congratulations to 100 PBS members who won advance tickets to see the movie “The Help”, BEFORE it hits theatres nationwide on August 10, 2011.  Winners will be notified officially by the email address they provided and will receive e-passes to attend the movie next week.  We hope you all enjoy your night out!  Be sure to let us know if the movie does justice to this wonderful book.

Here are our free ticket winners in select cities:

Austin, Texas

wejomo, mamatree, nursesuzyq, lipslady, Delane E., Debbie. R., Robin C., Thomas A., Callie R., Andrea S.

New York, NY

Robin RC., PamNYC,  SophiaNY, Laura E., sugarblossom, pgwisn, althea, Lynecia B., Elizabeth N., Phyllis V.

La Jolla, CA

CozSnShine, Harriet W., Julie C., marieke, Amy E., coheteia, Gregory B., Lauretta6, Maria E., Susan I.

Milford, CT

Key44, Toreth, castlesburning, jennygirl, chikken, Deirdre F., Cindy S., gayle923, pogosmith, ccme

Washington, DC

seeford, Lindsay S., Pamela S., Sheila G., Shervivor, wingy, Darlene G., Stephanie L., Kelly M., novembergirl

Orange Park, FL

Susan H., ashleyslibrary, Nancy T., mrsb, Adair H., wiccanwench, Cathy C., bkwrm, fortheloveofreading, Havana-Bill

Montgomery, AL

outdooralabama, Lynda W., Janet W., cleverlybeverly, mumsy, Amy P., hermanjjb, Lara P., Bookworm42, southern2005

High Point, NC

rojobyerly, eagles, Janet B., Melissa Y., totopeg, lucindad, Denise547, toni, joyreader, bonnies

Campbell, CA

TinkerPirate, colleenareader, dewiggy, Rosemary S., Lydia C., Teresa G., Teri Z., Sharon M., Liz R., Patricia D.

Atlanta, GA

Michelle P., juliemarie773, Arlene H., Carolyn B., libragyrl, Leslie P, Clay R., Cheryl H., beachreadersusan, Meredith H.

Congratulations to all! 

 

Non-Fiction Review – Devoted

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Devoted: The Story of a Father’s Love for his Son by  Dick Hoyt with Don Yaeger

 

Review by Brenna B. (demiducky25

Every now and then you read a book that inspires you to really examine how you live your life.  For me, Devoted is one of those books.  Prior to reading this book I had heard a little about Team Hoyt.  I knew that they were a father and son running team, and I knew that Dick (the father) pushed Rick (the son) through the races due to the fact that Rick is a quadriplegic.  However, what I didn’t know before reading this book is that although Dick is the one doing the physical pushing, it is really Rick who has been the driving force behind the story of Team Hoyt.  I challenge anyone to read this book and not walk away from it with some idea of how you can stop making excuses for why you can’t/ won’t do certain things in your life.

Do not go into this book thinking that it’s just a sports story.  Yes, sports do play a large part in the story of Team Hoyt, but it’s only one part of their story.  The real focus of this story is a father’s love for his son and a son’s love for his father.  Both strive to do whatever it is that they can do to make the other person happy.  The earlier parts of the book detail Dick and his wife’s struggle to learn what it was like to care for a son with cerebral palsy at home during a time when institutionalization was the recommended course to take.  Dick’s wife made serious inroads with pushing certain special education acts into law in Massachusetts, all while raising Rick and his two younger, able-bodied brothers.  With her guiding force, Rick was able to eventually attend public school.  Rick also was able to eventually communicate the intelligence that his parents knew he had through the use of a machine that involved using his head to spelling out words, and later sentences, into a computer.  One day, Rick used this machine to express to his father that he wanted to run in a charity race, and that he wanted Dick to be the one to run with him.  Their goal was to not come in last.  They succeeded in that goal by coming in second to last, but they knew that they could do even better.  From that day on, Dick and Rick began training for a variety of races that have included 5K races, triathlons, marathons, and Ironman competitions.  Each race, especially in the early years, brought about new challenges that Team Hoyt had to overcome.  Some challenges were creating racing chairs that Rick could ride in, others included dealing with race officials that didn’t see Rick as a true competitor and tried to prevent Team Hoyt from racing because they didn’t fit either standard classification of an able-bodied runner or a typical wheelchair racers (one interesting story from the book goes into detail about how Team Hoyt could race in a particular competition, but Dick would have to make the much faster qualifying time for his son’s age group in order for them to do so).  To this day, Team Hoyt is still racing.  Rick is now 49 and Dick is now 71.  Both have expressed the fact that they will not race without the other.  Dick has expressed that without Rick guiding him into racing, he probably wouldn’t be alive today because being in racing shape has helped him overcome a number of health problems that could have been life-threatening.  The last chapter is written by Rick and if what he has to say doesn’t strike an emotional chord with you, nothing will.

What impressed me the most in this book was how Rick’s humor would shine through, and how he always seems to have a positive, sunny disposition, even when his father Dick felt that perhaps the latest struggle might become the one that they wouldn’t be able to beat.  Each of these instances in the book shows how Rick is truly the driving force of the team.  Rick could easily be one of the angriest people on the planet (not to say that there weren’t some darker times in the book where Rick would become frustrated), but overall he would overcome the obstacles in front of him with a dignity and grace that I don’t think most of us are able to do in our daily lives.

This is not a particularly difficult book to read.  After I read it I donated it to the classroom library of an English teacher in my building (late middle school) because I think that our students will enjoy reading a story like this.  The most risqué part of the story involved a teenaged Rick using the fact that he couldn’t control his arm movements to explore the bottoms of college girls during one of his father’s speaking events, but it’s mentioned so briefly that I don’t see it as a problem.    As a result, I think this book could, and should, be read by readers of all ages because there is something that each and every one of us can take away from the story of Team Hoyt.

 

Romance Review – Lady of Light and Shadows

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

Lady of Light and Shadows by C.L. Wilson

 

Review by Jennifer (mywolfalways

 

Elysetta, the daughter of a woodcarver, always dreamed of being whisked away in a Fae tale like those she read in her youth.  Unfortunately, being in a real life Fae tale is more complicated than the ones she read.

In the previous novel, Lord of the Fading Lands, our heroine was saved from a marriage to a nasty neighbor when Rain, the Fae king and legendary Tairen Soul, made claim to her as his true mate.  This novel continues to show her courtship with Rain, her preparation for marriage through exhausting ceremonies in the church, the challenges she faces in learning high social graces, and the prejudices she encounters as she comes to terms with her newfound magical abilities.

When I read the first book, I thought I might be reading another peasant to princess story, but it’s much more than that.  The second book gets more in depth with the characters, the world, and the plot.  Elysetta is an intelligent and generous young woman, who quickly has to mature in this novel due to enemies in court, most of which seem to want to do nothing more harmful than embarrass her.  Rain, a loving and protective man, insists that she be guarded by a quartet of Fae.  Her guards protect her but are also loyal to her through friendship.  As she opens up to them, they teach her how to protect herself in a physical manner.  Once Rain and the others learn of her magic, they encourage her to learn to control it; however, she is somewhat reluctant to do so, having been told all of her life that it is evil.

Having been so long away from the mortal world, Rain is often surprised and frustrated by how easily mortals seem to forget history.  While he has thousands of years to remember personally, humans have at most a hundred.  He has to fight in the court against dangers in a formal manner that he would rather confront directly.  These dangers, of course, soon reveal themselves to be much more dire than anticipated.

Most people in the city are suspicious of Rain and the Fae.  This makes Elysetta’s life difficult enough, but it’s made even worse by her concerned mother, who spares no chance to let her daughter know that she disapproves of the match.  Her father, while concerned, decides he will respect whatever decision Elysetta makes when it comes to her marriage arrangements.

At the climax of the novel I was stunned and felt the sting of Elysetta’s loss.  And when I reached the last page, I knew I couldn’t let my heroine’s story end this way.  I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of the next book.

 

 


Fiction Review – You Know When the Men are Gone

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

You Know When the Men are Gone by Siobhan Fallon

Review by McGuffyAnn M. (nightprose)

 

This debut novel gives an honest glimpse into the possible lives and situations of military families. Author Siobhan Fallon knows, as she is a military wife. Her book, You Know When the Men Are Gone is based on her experiences living in Fort Hood, Texas, while her husband, an Army Major served two tours of duty in Iraq.

 

This book is a collection of stories involving the lives of those left behind, here at home, while their loved ones are gone off to war. We see what their spouses, families, do in their absence, including how, and with whom, they spend their time. We experience the seeming holding pattern they feel they are in.

 

Loneliness is the obvious common thread in these stories. We see how the women come together to keep each other busy, to pick up the slack left in time’s void. They help each other in keeping memories of spouses active with meetings, making group care packages, supporting the spouses gone to war, and each other left at home.

 

While this is a novel, it is based on the reality of the lives of our own military families. We see how those gone to war are affected and need our support, our care. Siobhan Fallon makes us think of those left here, among us. They are in need of our support and care.