Sunday, December 27, 2015

'Did You Ever Have a Family'

Stories about death are the last things most people think I need to read.  A year to recover from my daughter's death isn't enough time; there will never be enough time.  But sometimes, a story comes along that not only lifts me, but makes me feel as if someone has read my soul. 

And it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.  I survived, although it took me a while to really get into it.  But I finished it.  I loved it.

It's my choice for 'Book of the Year'. Thanks, Bill Clegg, for 'Did You Ever Have a Family'.

On the eve of her daughter's wedding, June Reid's life is upended when a shocking disaster takes the lives of her daughter, future son-in-law, June's ex-husband, and her boyfriend, Luke.  Her entire family is gone in an instant, with June being the only survivor.

Alone and not knowing what to do, June drives across the country, away from her small Connecticut town.  In her wake, the community emerges into something viable and worthy of sympathy.  Luke's mother, Lydia, the town outcast; the couple running a motel on the Pacific coast, where June eventually settles into a quiet half-life; the wedding caterer, whose bill has been forgotten; the boy who brings us to a tragic discovery.

Although most people I know thought that I would never be able to finish this book, I think I surprised them all.  It is so tragic, yet so uplifting.  It echoed my own feelings about sudden death.  And like June, I just wanted to run away. Forgetting my bills, forgetting my friends and family.  Forgetting every disappointment.  Insulating myself from the people who most wanted to help me overcome the tragedy.

Author Bill Clegg
But, unlike June, I stuck around.  I didn't run away.  I settled my daughter's estate.  I got through her memorial service.  I managed to stay afloat during the first birthday/Christmas/Thanksgiving without her.

This story is full of forgiveness and hope, love and sadness. The characters are ones I wanted to embrace, and I think I did.

Because I know them.  I know them well.

'Did You Ever Have a Family', the remarkable novel from Bill Clegg, and published by Scout Press (an imprint of Simon & Schuster), is available from your local library or favorite bookstore.  
ISBN 978-1-4767-9817-2

Thursday, December 3, 2015

'The Bazaar of Bad Dreams'

The weather's pretty crazy in my part of the country.

It's not even Winter yet, and it's cold enough to _________.  I'll let you fill in the blank.

I haven't been running through books as I usually do at this time of year; that's what illness will do to you.  But the books I do manage to finish are quite interesting.  Especially this one. 'The Bazaar of Bad Dreams', by Stephen King, is a collection of twenty short stories. There are a few that I really wish had been longer, but I feel lucky that I had a chance to even read them.  Some are bazaar (see what I did there?  Did ya?), some are straight fiction 
(and very dazzling, if I might add).  And some of them make you think.

Some of these stories have never been published, and some of which Stephen has revised. He introduces each one with the story of it's origin, or the reason he wrote it. Very enlightening info from a man who doesn't shy away from sharing.

King's 20 short stories have connections: Themes of morality, the afterlife, guilt, what we would do differently if we could see into the future or correct the mistakes of the past.

'Afterlife' is about a man who died of colon cancer and keeps reliving the same life. Other stories address what happens when someone discovers that he has supernatural powers--the columnist who kills people by writing their obituaries in 'Obits', or the old judge who, as a boy, canoes to a small island and sees names written in the sand, the names of people who then die in freak accidents.  

Some of the stories are scary in another way:  They tell of real life and the real horror hidden within the nicest person.
Author 'Little Stevie' King

The story that really stayed with me was 'Ur', and when you read it, you'll know why.  

King's stories tend to become instant classics the minute the ink hits the paper.  He's done a great job with this new collection.  The stories have kept me up all night, and it wasn't because I was scared.

It's the writing.  The writing pulls me in and doesn't let me go.

When it starts pulling me under the bed, I'll send for help.

'The Bazaar of Bad Dreams', published by Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, is available at your local library and favorite bookstore.  ISBN 9781501111679

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

'Beastly Bones'

I'm sorry it's been so long, faithful readers, but I've been taking a hiatus.  A health hiatus. Reading is still one of the best ways I spend my days, but I've had to stand back and think about my future.

And I've determined that this blog is part of it, especially if my dream of owning a book shop comes to fruition.  I'm still working on that.  And if it does happen, I'll most likely stock a lot of Young Adult novels.

Speaking of Young Adult novels, I was overjoyed to find the second book in the 'Jackaby' series by William Ritter while I was roaming around the library not too long ago. I grabbed it, checked it out, and ran, eager to throw myself upon the couch and dig into Ritter's newest story, 'Beastly Bones'.

And I really liked it.  It wasn't as unusual as the first book, but it was entertaining, nonetheless.

In 1892, New Fiddleham, New England, Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer, R. F. Jackaby, are called upon to investigate the latest supernatural incident.  First, members of a particularly vicious species of shape-shifters disguise themselves as a litter of kittens.  A day later, their owner is found dead, with a single mysterious puncture wound to her neck. Then, in nearby Gad's Valley, dinosaur bones from a recent dig go missing, and an unidentifiable beast attacks animals and people, leaving mangled bodies behind. Policeman Charlie Cane, recently exiled to the valley, calls on Jackaby and Abigail for help, and soon all three are on the hunt for a thief, a monster, and a murderer.

Ritter has maintained the same type of humor that was so well-displayed in his first book. But what truly delighted me was learning more about the 'house ghost', Jenny.  She and Abigail have become close friends, and the fact that she loans clothes to Abigail seemed rather strange, yet endearing.

Author William Ritter
The story's pace never lets up, even when there's an incident broiling between two of the antagonists.  I especially love the story's 'Sherlock Holmes' vibe.

But the tentative move toward a romance shared by Abigail and Charlie has taken a few steps. Small steps, I grant you, but at least it's moving forward.  

'Beastly Bones' is a quick read, but I was totally satisfied and am eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.

'Beastly Bones', the second 'Jackaby' book by William Ritter, is now available at your local library or favorite bookstore.  
ISBN 9781616203542

Saturday, October 3, 2015

'A Head Full of Ghosts'

Autumn is now upon us, and for avid readers, it's truly the season of cuddling up on a couch/chair/bed, pulling up a cozy blanket, and sipping from a hot beverage while a few cats sleep on your legs/stomach/head.  But if you're reading a good story, you forget about the cats while your hot beverage grows cold, especially during the Halloween season.

But while I found 'A Head Full of Ghosts', written by Paul Tremblay, intriguing, it just wasn't what I thought it would be; I noticed the cats, and my tea was still hot.

It's been garnering good reviews, and although I don't always listen to critics, I do love a good ghost story.  But this time, I expected something a bit 'spookier'.

Perhaps I didn't 'get' it.  Maybe I should read it again.  But I know I'll feel the same way about the story.  It's well-written, the characters are fully realized, and it was very dark.  It did have strange moments that are hard to explain, but it seemed like a garden variety story of possession. It brought to mind a lesser version of 'The Exorcist'.

The Barretts, a family living in New England, are torn apart when fourteen-year-old Marjorie begins to display signs of acute schizophrenia.  The doctors are unable to stop the teenager's bizarre outbursts and descent into madness.

Author Paul Tremblay
As their home devolves into a house of horror, they reluctantly turn to a local Catholic priest for help.  He suggests an exorcism, and then contacts a production company which is eager to turn the family's plight into a reality series.  The family agrees, and they never imagined that The Possession would become an instant hit.

I do have to say that a great 'reveal' near the end was the story's saving grace. It was then that I felt the pull of it's supernatural content.

Too bad it didn't arrive sooner.

'A Head Full of Ghosts', published by Wm. Morrow (a division of HarperCollins), is available at your local library and favorite independent bookstore.  ISBN 9780062363237

Friday, September 25, 2015

'Lair of Dreams'

It's not easy finding a sequel that is just as good as the first novel.

When I find one, I get very excited to read it.  "Will this keep me reading until the early morning hours?".  If it's good, I take it to work, or I read it in the bath tub.  I'll even forget about Facebook and Twitter.  Who needs social media when you have a solid story waiting to bewitch you?

And especially now.  Halloween isn't far away, and it's time to start reading spooky-scary stories.  One of my current reads is a new collection of Shirley Jackson's stories (but not all of them are spooky-scary.  Some are very ironic, though, which is scary in itself).

But the book I just finished reading is the second novel in Libba Bray's 'The Diviners' series. 

'Lair of Dreams' doesn't entirely concentrate on Evie O'Neill, the protagonist from the first novel.  She's there, alright, but the story slowly showcases two characters, one being new to the group (and I hope to read more about her in the next book).

After a supernatural showdown with a serial killer, Evie O'Neill has outed herself as a Diviner.  With her uncanny ability to read people's secrets, she becomes the star of a radio show and soon earns the title, 'America's Sweetheart Seer'.  As a publicity stunt, she and her friend, Sam, pretend they are romantically involved, which brings both tremendous favor with the public.  But a darkness soon descends, and Evie is pulled in, despite the fact that she prefers to go to various parties and drink until morning.  

Pianist Henry DuBois and Chinatown resident, Ling Chan are two Diviners trying to keep their powers a secret; they can walk in dreams.  And the dream they are both pulled into is but the surface covering of a dark evil that is threatening to take innocent souls hostage via the city-wide 'Sleeping Sickness'.  Henry searches for a lost love, and Ling strives to succeed in a world that shuns her, but once they are pulled into the dream, they find a friendship that can only make them stronger.

Author Libba Bray
Although this book took me a bit longer to read, I still spent two days happily submerged in a story that is set on the cusp of the 1930's. The characters from the first book appear, and I'm glad that Bray didn't abandon them.  I learned more about their backgrounds, I loved watching some of them take charge of their responsibilities (while some tried to run away from them), and I was intrigued by the romantic relationships that bounced back and forth. But, most of all, I loved the mysticism, the eeriness of the whole series.  It was so atmospheric and a great 'pre-Halloween' read.

But a great surprise was the way Bray managed to insert Gemma Doyle (heroine of Bray's 'Gemma Doyle' trilogy) into the story. Just a short appearance, but enough to make me wonder if she'll be included in the third book.

Make it so, Ms. Bray.  Make it so.

'Lair of Dreams' by Libba Bray, and published by Little, Brown and Co., is available in hardcover at your local library and favorite independent bookstore.  ISBN 9780316126045

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

'Finders Keepers'

Little Stevie Kings gets me every time.  

Just when I think he's touched on the distinctive human experience, minus the horrors, he proves that life is nothing but horror.  Everything we go through is nothing but horror; worrying about our children getting home before curfew, not getting called to the principal's office when our kids have done wrong.  The dreaded call from the police when our children have decided to end the constant suffering.

Yeah, it affects me every time.  And I love him for it.  I get in touch with myself, with my daughter.  His current series intrigues me with its compassion and humanity.  I love you, Little Stevie King.  I hope to speak with you some day. Apart from the public, the conventions, the signings.  I'd love to speak with you in a coffee shop; cups in hand, Tabitha sitting back, listening to our exchanges.  You're a real guy.

So, as a sequel (somewhat) to his marvelous 'Mr. Mercedes', I find a great settling of the 'chills' from his previous novel.  But I still don't trust it.  I know there's something dark and thrilling waiting for me.

"Wake up, genius!" Stephen King has written a riveting story about a vengeful reader.  The genius  is John Rothstein, who created a famously beloved character (think Salinger's 'Catcher in the Rye'), Jimmy Gold, but who hadn't published a book in decades.  One of Rothstein's most faithful fans kills him because his non-conformist character, Gold, has sold out for a career in advertising. Morris kills Rothstein, maybe for cash, but his real point is the treasure trove of notebooks that contain at least one more Gold novel.

But Morris hides the money and notebooks before he lands up in jail for a previous crime. Decades later, a young boy by the name of Pete Saubers, finds the money and the novels (and whose father is injured in the previous novel, 'Mr. Mercedes').  Pete discovers he is being rescued by the previous team of Bill Hodges, Holly Gibney, and Jerome Robinson from Morris, who is released after 35 years, and wants his money and his notebooks back.

King's follow-up to 'Mr. Mercedes' is all real, yet fictional, experience; the sweat and tears, the terror, the horror of finally facing up to the final altercation.

But they highlight the infamous Brady Hartsfield in slight little references.  But the reader knows that he will be the focus of the last book in this trilogy.  And that's where the horror comes in.  Fully-fleshed out.  Fully realized, as only King can do.

But 'Finders Keepers' is a rather mundane story.  Kid finds notebooks and money.  Criminal who found it and buried it decades ago.  Criminal is released from jail and begins a journey in order to get back the precious notebooks (he's not concerned about the money).  Kid who refuses to give it all back.  That's the power of this story.  Who deserves it.  Who would use it for their better selves.

King constantly astounds me.  What is good?  And what is bad?  But, most of all, I'm so glad he's provided a sense of the supernatural.  Because that is what makes him so significant, so 'branded'.  I love his horror novels; no one else can convey a special horror as well as Stephen King.

Author Stephen King
It is his sense of every day horror confronted in every day life that has terrified me for so long. His book, 'Gerald's Game' has left me with a strange sense of claustrophobia.  

His brilliance in creating real characters, people we'd see on an almost daily basis, is what always surprises me.  These are people who are 'real'. Breathing, consistent, actual human beings.

That is his genius.  He makes us care.  And you'll care a lot when you read the first two books in his 'Mr. Mercedes' trilogy.

But I'm scared to read that third book. That's how good Stephen King really is. He brings darkness into the sunniest day.

Stephen King's new novel, 'Finders Keepers', ISBN 978-1-50110-0007-9, is available at your local library and favorite independent bookstore.  But make sure you read 'Mr. Mercedes' first.  You'll thank me.  

Thursday, August 27, 2015

'The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins'

Sometimes, I'm in the mood to read strange, wonderful, gritty stories.  Stories that surprise me.  Who, in the name of all that is crazy and holy, doesn't like surprises?

'The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins', by Irvine Welsh (he of 'Trainspotting' fame), is no exception.  

It's rough, it's sexy, it's full of characters who have personalities that turn on a dime.  When I was halfway through it, I thought, "Who needs a plot?"  Welsh is that good.  

When Lucy Brennan, a Miami Beach personal fitness trainer, disarms an apparently crazed gunman who was chasing two frightened homeless men along a deserted causeway at night, the police and the news media are not far behind.  Within hours, Lucy becomes a hero.  But her celebrity is short-lived:  The 'crazed gunman' turns out to be a victim of child sexual abuse and the two men are serial pedophiles.

The only witness, the depressed and overweight Lena Sorenson, is thrilled with Lucy's heroism, and becomes obsessed with her.  She enrolls as a client at Lucy's Body-sculpt gym.

But when the truth comes out about the pedophiles, Lucy's transition from hero to villain is complete.  Although Lucy tries to shake it off, her solution is to imprison Lena and make her lose weight.  When Lucy can't stop thinking about the sex lives of some famous Siamese twins who are in the news, the real problems start.

I found it amazing how well Welsh turned the tables.  You can feel the anger and sexual longing in Lucy, and her dedication to her health and fitness is somewhat alarming.  In Lena, we have an obese artist who, at first glance, seems happier just to stay on the sidelines and eat until her pain goes away. But when Welsh presents the backgrounds of these women on a silver tray, it makes the story even more interesting.  
Author Irvine Welsh

There are more characters, but to me, they were merely window dressing (although that doesn't diminish the author's skill at creating them).  But each one has a place, a set place.

It's all about the two women.  Their strengths and weaknesses.  Their needs and longings. The way they dance around each other, with twists and turns....and surprises.

I loved this book.  And despite its grittiness, you'll like it, too.  Actually, the grittiness gave this story the familiar mark of Irvine Welsh.  

And welcome to the good, ol' U.S.A., Mr. Welsh!

'The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins', published by Doubleday, a division of Random House, can be found at your local library, and your favorite independent bookstore.  ISBN 978-0-385-53938-8

Saturday, August 8, 2015

'Scents and Sensibility'

I know.  You don't have to say it.

Book Hog's been out of circulation for a while.  Okay, okay.  Out of circulation for a long time. The job I held for three and a half years has finally come to a close, and I've been spending a lot of time looking for a new one.  You see, I managed the book section of a non-profit thrift shop, and it was one of the best jobs I've ever had.  Imagine going through boxes and boxes of treasure (well, not all treasure), determining their value, and sometimes finding first edition/first printing, SIGNED books.  Merchandising the section any way you wanted (of course, my boss had to approve all moves).  But I felt appreciated, and we sold quite a few books; I became known as 'The Book Lady'.  I remembered my lessons from the various bookstores in which I worked, and they served me well.  Man, I miss it!

Anyway, I've been searching for a new job, and when it gets discouraging, I read.  

When I received a packet of advance copies from one of my favorite publishers, I was so happy to spot a copy of Spencer Quinn's new one, 'Scents and Sensibility'.  I immediately grabbed it and read it s-l-o-w-l-y.  I hate to see any of the 'Chet and Bernie' books end too quickly, but it's hard to hold myself back sometimes.

I was also very happy to discover that Quinn has moved the action back to the desert, where Chet and Bernie run the Little Detective Agency.  And I was glad to learn more about the pup that looks suspiciously like Chet...

Private Investigator Bernie Little and his canine partner, Chet, return home from their last adventure only to encounter some alarming developments.  First off, Bernie's wall safe is missing, and with it, his grandfather's watch, his most valuable possession.  Meanwhile, old Mr. Parsons, the next door neighbor and owner of Chet's best friend, Iggy, is under investigation for being in possession of a saguaro cactus illegally transplanted from the desert.  Chet and Bernie go deep into the wild to investigate, but will they find that Mr. and Mrs. Parsons have a terrible secret in their past?

Chet and Bernie find worse things happening in the desert, far worse than cactus smuggling, and all connected to a strange desert festival called Cactus Man. Their search uncovers leads that take them back to a long-ago kidnapping, and a criminal who sees at once what Chet and Bernie mean to each other and knows how to exploit it.

Author Spencer Quinn, with Audrey and Pearl
In every C&B book, there is a moment in the story where you find yourself crying (especially if you love animals).  This one is no exception.  But this time, Chet has help from the unlikeliest source.  And learning more about Mr. and Mrs. Parsons and their beloved dog, Iggy, made the story richer. Once you commit yourself to it, you find yourself becoming addicted to a wonderful, funny, and heartwarming mystery series.

I can't get enough of Chet and Bernie.  Read the books.  Wipe away tears, and laugh yourself silly.

And I still think that Spencer Quinn is part dog.

'Scents and Sensibility' is now available at your library and favorite independent bookstore.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

'The Girl on the Train'

Here in Oregon, our Summer has been very hot.  And I don't mean sexy.

Hot, hot, hot.  Hot enough to make breathing difficult.  Hot enough to make a person live inside their air conditioning units.  

For this little Book Hog, it was hot enough to push me to the park, with a book in my hand.

I've had this particular book on my Hold list for quite a while.  I heard that it's comparable to 'Gone Girl', a book I really liked.  So when the library notified me that 'The Girl on the Train' was finally waiting for me, I took my time in retrieving it.  

If I had known then how good this book was, I would have RUN to the library.

Yes, it's comparable to 'Gone Girl', but the tension....lordy, the tension!  When I got to a certain point in the story, I had to put the book down and slowly back away.  I felt uncomfortable, much more than I did while reading 'Gone Girl'.

Rachel take the same commuter train every morning and night.  Every day, while the train stops at the signal, she lets her mind wander as she looks over at a row of cozy suburban homes.  And every day, she sees the same couple having breakfast on their deck.  She calls them 'Jess' and 'Jason', and she pictures them living the perfect life, not unlike the life she recently lost.

But then she sees something shocking, and everything changes.  Rachel goes to the police, but is she really as unreliable as they say?  Soon she is deeply entangled in the lives of almost all involved.

Author Paula Hawkin's was a journalist, and you can certainly tell.  Her sentences are clear and sharp.  Her characters are people you would meet on the street, in your neighborhood, or in the local coffee shop.  And Rachel is deeply flawed, which made this story so good.  You never know if she's in her right mind.  I cared for her; I was worried about her, which isn't unusual when you're so involved in a good story.  

And once you find out 'who dunnit', everything does change.  I was quite surprised.

I loved this story, I give it a hundred thumbs up, and I can't wait to see what Hawkins next brings to the reading table.

'The Girl on the Train' is available at your local library or favorite independent book store.  ISBN 978-1-59463-366-9  

Thursday, June 25, 2015

'A Pleasure and a Calling'

While reading a book, I'm sure that many of us mentally cast the actors for the film version. We dream about the perfect Heathcliff, or the best Harry Potter (actually, the chosen actors were fantastic).

So, while I was reading Phil Hogan's new book, 'A Pleasure and a Calling', who should pop up in my mind but....Benedict Cumberbatch.  Although the character of Mr. Heming remains physically unremarkable (the way he wants it) and unnoticed, Cumberbatch is noticed and very memorable.  But he's a fine actor, a chameleon, actually, and I think he would do the part justice.

But enough about Cumberbunny, and back to this creepy story.  Yes.  Creepy.

The narrator is our antagonist, Mr. Heming, and he's quite a smooth character. He's always a step ahead of the game.  He plots and lies with great confidence.

He's also very creepy.

Mr. Heming loves the leafy English village where he lives. As a local real estate agent, he knows every square inch of the town and sees himself as its protector, diligent in enforcing its quaint charm.  Most people don't pay much attention to him; he fades easily into the background.  But Mr. Heming pays attention to them.  He has the keys to their homes; he has the keys to every home he's ever sold in town.  Over the years, he has kept them all so that he can observe his neighbors, not just on the street, but behind locked doors.

As disturbing details emerge about Mr. Heming's childhood, his disturbing hobby begins to form a clear pattern, and the reasons behind it come into focus.  But when a dead body is found in the backyard of a client's home, Mr. Heming realizes it may only be a matter of time before his secrets are found out.

I kept thinking about Patricia Highsmith's brilliant 'Ripley' series.  Just when we think the anti-hero's movements are going to be discovered, he smoothly covers his tracks.

Mr. Heming is a cool character, sure of himself, yet there are times when he's worried that some people are getting a bit too close. 

I love this book.  I couldn't put it down. Hogan's a fine writer; he kept me turning the pages, and the suspense was killing me.  

Author Phil Hogan
It's made my Summer....creepy.  And it will make your Summer creepy, too.

It just might make you dust off those 'Ripley' books and have a good reread.

But just keep your house key safe because you...never.....know.....

And don't forget to check the attic.

'A Pleasure and a Calling' by Phil Hogan is available at your local library and favorite independent book store.  ISBN: 978-1-250-06063-1

Saturday, June 20, 2015

'Circus Mirandus'

It's been a very crazy month.  Actually, it all started in early May, when I was diagnosed with anxiety.  So, I took some time off, read some books (thankfully, reading calmed me so much), walked A LOT, ate healthy food, stopped drinking caffeinated coffee (I miss it, though), and saw my doctor many times. 

I think I'm doing well, actually.  I'm not letting this anxiety business take over my life.  I'm determined to get through this; I thank my dear friend, Dawn, for getting me into yoga again, and I've found a great psychologist.  My new phone has been keeping me busy, too.  So much for me to explore, stuff that most people take for granted as they scan, download, and text.

As I said, reading calmed me; the books took me out of myself and offered a safe harbor.  I reread all the Harry Potter books, read some great non-fiction, and just yesterday, I finished a most marvelous Independent Reader book.

'Circus Mirandus', the first novel from Cassie Beasley, was delightful.  It carries the theme that magic is everywhere; you just have to pay attention.  There's also love and devotion, and frustration seasoned with a bit of anger.  Friendship comes into play in a big way, but the greatest relationship in this story is the one between the boy and his grandfather.

Micah Tuttle's grandpa Ephraim has always told him wonderful stories about Circus Mirandus, a magical circus he visited when he was a boy.  But now Grandpa Ephraim is dying, and terrible, grouchy Great-Aunt Gertrudis has arrived to take care of Micah. All the magic of Micah's childhood seems lost until Grandpa Ephraim finally tells him the truth:  Circus Mirandus is real, and the Lightbender, the circus's greatest magician, owes Ephraim a miracle.

With his best friend, Jenny, in tow, Micah goes in search of the circus in order to find the man who can save his grandfather's life.

Author Cassie Beasley
Beasley has done a wonderful job in creating characters that grab your heart, or make your blood run cold.  One in particular, Great-Aunt Gertrudis, is the relative from Hell, and she and her brother are as different as night and day.  

And then there's Micah's grandmother.  She's a character you love to hate.

The love between grandfather and grandson is precious, indeed, and their devotion to one another brought tears to my eyes.

I may be on to another book (I'm giving 'The Goldfinch' another try), but I won't forget 'Circus Mirandus'.  Cassie Beasley is a writer to watch.

'Circus Mirandus', written by Cassie Beasley, is available at your local library or favorite book store.  ISBN 978-0-525-42843-5

Monday, June 1, 2015

'Patience is a Virtue'

I wish to take this time to thank all of you for your patience regarding Book Hog's book reviews.

I am going through a rather difficult time right now; maintaining good health can be a tricky thing.

So, thank you so much for enjoying my reviews, and, hopefully, I'll be posting in the near future.

Take care and happy reading!


Sunday, April 26, 2015


If I could, I'd read ghost stories every day.   

Every.  Damn.  Day.

Especially if it's a good one.  Not too scary, yet not absolutely terror-free.  

And it has to have a gothic flavor, even in a modern setting.  A twist ending is nice, too, but I'm asking for a lot as it is.

My fellow book blogger friend (and artist, I might add), Michelle, loaned me a copy of Lauren Oliver's new adult novel, 'Rooms', and I couldn't put it down.  

It wasn't a 'chilling' story, but it did have some suspenseful moments.  The ghosts weren't supernatural terrors (I rather missed that element); they were situated in a home in which they once lived and died.  They were stuck, with no way out.  Both ghosts were very introspective, and their histories made them somewhat tragic figures.

Estranged patriarch Richard Walker has died, leaving behind a country house with many rooms filled with the detritus of a lifetime.  His alienated family--hard drinking, bitter ex-wife Caroline, troubled teenage son Trenton, and unforgiving daughter Minna--have arrived for their inheritance.

But they are not alone.  Alice and Sandra, two long-dead and restless ghosts, linger within the house's claustrophobic walls, bound forever to the structure. They observe the family, trading barbs and reminiscing about their past lives.

The living and the dead are haunted by painful truths that surface with explosive force. But when a new ghost appears and Trenton begins to communicate with it, the spirit and human worlds collide.

Author Lauren Oliver
Oliver is the author of Young Adult and Independent Reader novels (the 'Delirium' trilogy, and 'Liesl & Po', to name a few), and she has a talent for fleshing out characters that could easily be one-dimensional.  Despite their little faults (and nasty habit of keeping secrets from one another), I felt sympathy for each one. Caroline with her drinking, Trenton with his lack of friends, and Minna with her need for constant sexual intimacy. They are all seeking a way to escape, yet, at the same time, craving a sense of family.  The only character that's free of baggage is Amy, Minna's little daughter.  If given the chance, she would have provided great comic relief, something that the story really needed.  

We can't have everything, can we?  It isn't scary.  It didn't make me want to hide under the covers.

But it was a well-written, interesting story.  It flowed, and, as I said before, I honestly couldn't put it down; I was very upset that my coffee breaks only lasted fifteen minutes.

I will keep an eye on Oliver and see what she does next.  She has potential.

A great deal of potential.

'Rooms', written by Lauren Oliver, is available at your local library and favorite independent bookstore.  ISBN 978-0-06-222319-7

Sunday, April 19, 2015

'The Incarnations'

It seems that the older I get, the longer my illnesses last.  Well, at least it feels that way.

I've had a horrible cold for almost a week, and it is just now tapering off.  I still have a scratchy throat and a ton of mucus, but the worst thing of all is that I can't taste anything. Or smell anything.  No chocolate.  No potatoes or chicken. No beer/wine.  No anything.  I feel no joy in eating just enough to keep my engine running.

At least I still have books.   

There are gifted authors who make me think about my past and past pasts in a way that doesn't contain a new age vibe.  I believe in reincarnation and it's evil stepchild, karma, so that's why Susan Barker's newest novel, 'The Incarnations', hit the spot and made me forget all about my big, bad, nasty cold.

The first letter falls into Driver Wang's lap as he flips down the visor in his taxi on Worker's Stadium road in Beijing, a polluted, congested city preparing for the 2008 Olympics.

Who are you? you must be wondering. I am your soulmate, your old friend, and I have come back to this city of sixteen million in search of you.

More letters follow, telling Wang more stories about his previous lives with this past soulmate.  Driver Wang suspects that someone is watching him, and with each letter, he feels the watcher grow ever closer.

I was spellbound from the very first page.  Who is this mysterious 'watcher'? And why is this person suddenly making an appearance in Wang's life?  I never guessed the answer; never came close.  And that's why this story is so, so satisfying.

Barker's powerful voice pulls you into present-day Beijing, and across pivotal points of Chinese history.  It is brutal and heartbreaking and each letter evokes a time of utmost desperation.  

Author Susan Barker
As for her characters, there's a thin line between love and hate.  Wang's father is a brutal, domineering man who has a pathetic karma.  And his second wife is not the easiest character to like, although I found her refreshing, to some extent.  Wang's wife and daughter suffer the pangs of living near the edge of poverty.  You fear for this little family, but, most of all, you fear for the emotional health of Wang, a man stalked by someone he thinks he knows.

It is a story full of love and longing, hatred and revenge.  

This is a novel that is very hard to set down...  

...and hard to forget.

'The Incarnations', by Susan Barker, will be published by Touchstone, a division of Simon & Schuster, in August 2015.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

'The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August'

Time travel books suck me in.  

Sure, they are hard to follow at first (as in 'The Time Traveler's Wife'), but once you get with the program (and make a diagram; I've done it, so don't laugh!), the rest of the story is easy to understand.

And so it was with 'The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August', by Claire North (a pseudonym!  It was really written by Catherine Webb!  Pseudonyms, like bow ties, are cool).

No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry August always returns to where he began--a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before.  Nothing ever changes.

Until now.

As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside and says, "I nearly missed you, Doctor August!  I need to send a message!"

This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.

As I started reading this story, I have to admit that I wasn't sure I wanted to write a review about it.  I honestly couldn't follow it well enough to form an honest opinion.  Harry's back story is a real bear, and you have to relive it several times.  

But things changed about halfway through it.  When the antagonist is introduced, the story takes off and you almost cheer Harry as he dies again and again, hoping to stay ahead of his enemy and vanquish him.

The writing is gorgeous, and very clever.  Very literary, actually.  You can almost taste every era, and you so want to embrace those who share a place in the Chronos Club.

But the antagonist is clever; just when you think he will finally show his basic decency, he fails us and Harry.

If you read this, please stay with it.  As I've said, it takes a while to 'get into it', but it's well worth the effort.  Claire North, a.k.a. Catherine Webb, is such a fine writer, and very dedicated to her craft.  Books like this are rare.

Give it a try.  Give it a chance.  You'll be so pissed off, but very rewarded.

'The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August', by Claire North, is available at your local library and favorite independent bookstore. ISBN 9780316399616

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

'As You Wish'

I love movies.  Especially movies based on books.

I read 'Gone With the Wind' when I was twelve years-old, and I was amazed at how closely the film matched the book (although I still have a beef with the fact that the filmmaker didn't include Scarlett's other children).  Yeah, I love movies.

But as I've grown older, I've found that I absolutely adore 'stupid' comedies.  'Raising Arizona'?  Stupid humor in a brilliant script.  'Fargo'?  Oh, yeah.  Stupid, yet brilliant, also.  Those Coen Brothers really have a most intelligent way of portraying stupid comedy.  Twisted?  Yes.  And brilliant.

But along with the brilliance of stupid comedy comes innocent (yet snarky) comedy, and one of those films I really adore came from a most wonderful book.  'The Princess Bride', written by William Goldman, sucked me in from the first page.  But when the movie showed up years later, I was a bit hesitant to see it. However, once I did, I loved it as much as the book, and I watch the movie a few times every year.  I can't escape it.  It's funny, it's sweet, and it has a fantastic cast.

Brilliantly directed by Rob Reiner, from a script by William Goldman, the movie is one I cherish. I love the humor and innocence, the snarkiness and inside jokes.  There's just something about it that's hard to describe.  Let's just say that if you love 'Monty Python' films, you'll love 'The Princess Bride'.  The humor is contagious, and the cast is unforgettable.

And one of the major cast members has written a wonderful book about this memorable movie.

Cary Elwes, he who played the 'Farmboy' and 'the Man in Black', shares with us many warm memories about working with a perfect cast and a gifted director in his book, 'As You Wish'.

'It truly was as fun to make the movie as it is to watch it, from getting to work on William Goldman's brilliant screenplay to being directed by the inimitable Rob Reiner.  It is not an exaggeration to say that most days on set were exhilarating, from wrestling AndrĂ© the Giant, to the impossibility of playing mostly dead with Billy Crystal cracking jokes above me, to choreographing the Greatest Sword Fight in Modern Times with Mandy Patinkin, to being part of the Kiss That Left All the Others Behind with Robin Wright'.

Yes, the book is sweet.  And, yes, the book gives us quite a bit of inside gossip, but not malicious gossip (God knows I'm really tired of finding malicious gossip all over the internet, so this book was refreshing). Elwes still respects and loves his fellow players, and the 'inside scoops' are rather enlightening.  Although the entire cast didn't work together (i.e., Peter Falk and Fred Savage), they all did a great job of playing off each other.  Director Reiner was sensitive to his players (he has a great acting background, and his father is the phenomenal Carl Reiner), but his greatest coup (in my opinion) was getting his old friend Billy Crystal to play Miracle Max ("While you're at it, why don't you give me a nice paper cut and pour lemon juice on it?") and Carol Kane to play his wife, Valerie.  The memories of AndrĂ© the Giant are very unusual, but funny, and reading of Wallace Shawn's fear of being fired had me thinking that no one else could have played Vizzini with such brilliance.   There are just so many things about this movie that stay with you; almost like the fart scene in 'Blazing Saddles', or anything from 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail'.
Author Cary Elwes

So, I'm sorry to disappoint those who are looking for 'juicy gossip'.  Most of the cast members include their own remembrances, which I feel is a nice touch.

As for me, I love this sweet memoir of such a sweet film.  It makes me adore Elwes even more.

And I adore Robin Wright even more, too, even if she is currently playing the Bitch Queen of the Universe in 'House of Cards'.

With that written, I think it's time to sit back and watch 'The Princess Bride' one more time.  Knowing what I know now, I think it will make the viewing even that more special.

'As You Wish' is available at your local library and favorite independent bookstore.  ISBN 978-1-4767-6402-3  

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


A few years ago, when I was working at our local Borders store, my friend, Heather, strongly suggested that we all read the 'Twilight' series.  "Yeah, yeah," I said. "Someday."  Well, I read them.  And, although I'm not a big vampire fan, I rather enjoyed them, especially 'Eclipse', the third book in the series.  Sure, they were written for young adults.  And, sure, a lot of people have made fun of the series.  But I don't care.  I enjoy reading Young Adult novels, especially the fantasy series.  The Young Adult book world is rapidly expanding to include readers of every age.

And so it goes with 'The Lunar Chronicles', a fantastic series written by Marissa Meyer. As most of you know, I absolutely love all the books and have tirelessly promoted them, even in the thrift shop where I work.  A few people have even asked me to call them if we receive any copies from generous donors.  Sadly, we haven't received any yet, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

It's not often that I get very excited about a series, but I can't say enough about it. This adult loves Young Adult books.  This adult loves Sci-Fi/Fantasy.  

And this adult loves fairy tales.

'The Lunar Chronicles' is an new look at the fairy tales we know and love, only this series carries a moral lesson that is set in a time and place far ahead of ours.  There's evil. There's good.  There's innocence.  There's not-so-innocent. There are age-old characters with whom we've grown up. And there are characters who are totally new.  But this series looks and feels like pure steampunk.  All of the books tie together, and the end result should be quite amazing.  

The first novel is 'Cinder', a wonderful take on the Cinderella legend.  The next is 'Scarlet', which, as most of us know, is Little Red Riding Hood.  The third is 'Cress', a take on Rapunzel. And the villain of the series is Queen Levana, ruler of the Moon; a woman who has come to power in a most devious way, and wants to control the Earth and everyone on it.  These are all powerful, intelligent women, women who can rescue themselves.

As I read these books, I wanted to know more about Queen Levana; how she became so heartless, what her childhood was like, etc.  Meyer has answered my questions in this marvelous novella:

Long before Queen Levana, ruler of the Moon, crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, she lived a very different story--a story full of heartbreak, sorrow, and deviousness. She was the sister to the Queen, and in love with a man who loved another woman.  But with the use of 'glamour' and lies, Levana obtains everything she wants, yet realizes she really has nothing.

This is a great back story and answers quite a few questions about Levana's childhood.  You feel great pity for her, even while she's taking everything she can get in the most malevolent way possible.

Author Marissa Meyer
Although 'Fairest' is a quick read, it was very enjoyable, and it truly helped flesh out the character of the Queen.

Besides, I've been eagerly waiting for the fourth, and last book, in the series, so this was a nice little tidbit to hold me over until the Fall.  I was pleasantly surprised to find the first three chapters of the new book included after the Acknowledgments page.

'Fairest', a novella in the 'Lunar Chronicles' series written by Marissa Meyer, is available at your local library and favorite independent book store.  ISBN 978-1-250-06055-6  Book four in the series, 'Winter', will be published in the Fall of 2015. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

'Shadow Season'

I've been a Paulo Coehlo fan for a long, long time.  In fact, my most favorite Coehlo book is 'The Alchemist', a tale of finding just what you want/need in your own backyard.

It is a simple tale simply told, and it has affected my life in more ways than one.

I thought that I would never find a story like that ever again, but it's wonderful how I can be proven wrong.

A good friend of mine recently sent a book to me, written by her father, and once I started reading this wonderful, mystical tale, I couldn't put it down. Lara, it's great.  Believe me.

'Shadow Season', written by Sigman Shapiro, is the tale of Coyote, Rabbit, and Tortoise, and how they affect each other, and the lessons they teach and embrace.  Coyote, however, doesn't realize (or refuses to admit) that he's growing older.  He no longer attracts females, and his hunting skills aren't what they used to be.  In other words, he's not the threat he once was.

Wise Tortoise tells his student, Rabbit, that she has a mission to undertake: Follow Coyote, observe him, and help him, for his time seems to be running short.

Coyote is baffled.  Where has his great hunting prowess gone?  Are the small creatures of the scrublands actually laughing at him?  Something seems different.  If he doesn't discover the cause soon, he will lose his status on top of the food chain.  Neither his pride nor his belly will allow that to happen.

On a mission from Tortoise, Rabbit is headed to the far away mesa where her vision quest begins.  It is a magic place; a place no rabbit has ever been, but she is truly no ordinary rabbit.  She sniffs the air one last time and hops off towards to unknown.

Together, this unlikely pair, predator and prey, will confront questions of self worth, courage, passion, mortality, and sacrifice in their quest to defeat the mysterious Shadow Creature.

The threat of aging is a constant to us all, especially those of us who are approaching our 'twilight years' (I hate that term, but there you go...), and I have to admit that this story broke my heart at one pivotal point.  But after the tears dried, I continued following Coyote on his path and grew a bit proud of him when he confronted the Shadow Creature.

And Rabbit.  Oh, what a rabbit.  Strong, brave, cunning, and wise.  A follower and student of Tortoise from a very young age, Rabbit learned to curb her impatience and just listen.  And although she was a bit apprehensive to take on the current task, she knew that someone needed her, and she was ready to be there.

You can laugh at Coyote and his posturing, and the steps he takes to attract a mate.  You can wince when things don't turn out the way they should for him. But a strange thing soon happens:  You find compassion for the old guy.  You discover that Rabbit is a brave teacher.

But the heartbreak....oh, the heartbreak.  

The story flows so well, and the characters are simply, yet eloquently, drawn.  

Each reader will take away different things from this story.  As for me, I learned that it takes a great deal of bravery to stand up and face facts, and it takes even more to realize that the end is closer than we think and not an enemy to be feared.

But with a little compassion and support, it needn't be so hard.  No matter what messages we send to others, it's the lessons we receive in return that can change our own lives.

It's the 'circle of life'.  And you aren't the only hamster on the wheel.

'Shadow Season', written by Sigman Shapiro, and illustrated by Brenda Erickson, is an independent publication.  You can find it on  Book Hog would like to thank the author for the chance to read and review his most marvelous story!