I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Friday, April 29, 2016

Mechanica by Betsy Cornwall

This is the Cinderella story you have been waiting for your whole life. I've read the original and it's gruesome and good. I grew up with the empty-headed, impossibly nice blonde Disney version. This is the one you want your sons and daughters to read because it's cool and it rocks.  It takes the story and turns it on its head and creates a whole tumultuous world to put it in.

Nicolette Lampton's mother was an inventor. She made mechanical insects that did household chores but were also pretty enough to wear as an adornment. Her husband sold them, because he was a really good salesman and she was not and because the people of Esting would find it hard to accept a woman inventor. Long ago, a king of Esting went searching for a bride (no one talks about it aloud, but the royals and nobles go to other lands to seek spouses due to inbreeding). He discovered the land of Faerie and since they were stronger, he planted his flag and declared himself in charge of the place. In Faerie, there are no husbands or wives. They live with friends and when they want a child, one is chosen to bear the child and they get together and wish it into being. This is also how they create their officials, who are a combination of everyone.  A human and a fey can also wish a child into being, which the Brethren (the religious order of Esting) see as an abomination. The fey are seen as savages, of course. But they have magic, which Esting can use.  Nicolette's mother's inventions run on that magic.

Nicolette's father spends a lot of time traveling and her mother spends a lot of time in her lab, but her mother does spend time teaching her, and Nicolette works on fixing her mother's machines around the house. They have a housekeeper, Mr. Candery, who is half-fey.  She and her mother have fey wallpaper and drink fey tea. Her father is not so enamored with the fey as his wife who tells him that they can't keep treating the fey the way they do, or there will be consequences. The king's wife Nerali comes down with fey croup (for once the dominated group that usually gets sick from the diseases of those who take over, is the one getting sick). This is a very treatable illness.  A fey doctor is sent for and she is given lovesbane. Unfortunately, she is given too much, which is deadly, and she dies. So the king outlaws lovesbane. Then he outlaws magic and makes all the fey go back to Faerie (but not the half-fey). At this time, Nicolette's mother comes down with fey croup herself and her father refuses to try to get lovesbane to treat her and she dies. Nicolette is nine.

When her father remarries, Nicolette is excited, because she will get two step-sisters, Piety and Chastity, and she imagines all the things they can do together. She makes up their rooms herself with great care. They, of course, trash them.  Her father and new step-mother return early from their honeymoon when Heir Phillip is assassinated. Tensions rise in Esting. The king cuts off all trade with Faerie. No ships are to leave or come into Faerie. Then a skirmish happens in the market, and Nicolette's father is killed.   Nicolette is ten. Mr. Candery comes to her briefly before he is forced to leave and shows her where all the magic powders are stored so she can use them with the machines to make cleaning the house easier.  He also warns her to be very careful of her step-mother. She won't be, of course. Kids never are.

The next six years pass in a haze. On her sixteenth birthday, a letter appears under her door. It is from her mother and says it supposed to be given to her on her sixteenth birthday. She is happy that her step-mother did this for her. When she opens it up, her mother leaves her a message about where to find the key to her secret lab that Nicolette thought had been burned when she died.  She finds the key and opens the door to a wondrous place. It takes some coaxing, but soon the insects and other things come out from hiding to greet her, including a very special horse named Jules II, who seems almost alive, even though he can be held in her hands and is made of glass and copper, with coal in his belly.  There's also a sewing machine, which is great for her, as she hates sewing, and it takes so much of her time. She spends a great deal of time at night in the lab learning as much as she can from her mother's books and from the journals she slowly finds, that tell her more than just how to make something, but also personal information from her mother.

The king has decided to hold an Exposition of Arts and Science with a ball.  He wants to show how Esting can be incredible without magic. The steps are excited because Heir Christopher will have to be at the ball and this is their chance.  The king, worried about another assassination, has kept him hidden from view his whole life.  Heir Christopher will also be judging the inventions. Nicolette couldn't care less about the ball. She's interested in the Exposition. If she can show something there and get a patron, she can leave the steps and make enough money to buy her family's home.

She needs money, though for supplies. So she invents the knitting machine that knits lace. And she has just started learning to blow glass and has some glass beads.  When the steps send her into town to get material for a whole wardrobe to wear in preparation for the teas, luncheons, and of course ball gowns they will need, she goes to Mr. Waters. He is having a great deal of trouble with his sewing machine. It is completely broken and without it, he will go bankrupt. He had always been nice to her and Nicolette sees an opportunity for a swap. She fixes his machine and the only thing she asks for in return is some material for a dress to wear to the Expedition. She knows if she wants to sell her invention, she has to look the part. In her lab, she has hooked up the insects and Jules to the sewing machine and they now sew, but Jules, in seems, can also design clothes too. This frees her up to do other things. With the spare cloth from the clothes, she dyes the beads different colors.

She waits until a Saturday when the steps will be out for the day and heads into Esting, a place she hasn't been to in years. It's Market Day and she has no idea how it works. Luckily, she comes across Caro, a very fair girl, and Fin, a young man with chocolate skin and dark curls. Cari is immediately friendly and Fin is a bit of a flirt, with an easy smile and a wink. He makes gorgeous carvings and she makes music boxes. She calls herself Nick Lark, as Nick is the name the steps call her by, and Nicolette seems too formal for where she is. They make room for her at their booth and she promises to pay her share of the booth rent money as soon as she earns it. She only has one knitting machine, but right away a Lord Alming, whom she remembers reading about in her mother's journals, shows up and wants to buy one. She sells five more and then has to put it away because she can only make so many right now. She also sells out of beads.

When she gets home, she finds that her step-mother has discovered her lab and the steps have trashed it (except for the sewing machine, of course). They now know she is a mechanic. So they dub her Mechanica. They lock her in her room (she knows how to pick locks), but Cora appears at her window and Nick finds a way down. Cora takes her into the forest to a special place that Nick's mother told her about in a story. A long time ago there was an evil king and the Queen of the Forest provided shelter to the people in the treetops for all time.  These shelters still exist. She talks with Cora and Fin about her situation and Cora tells her that she will sell her stuff at the market and buy her her supplies, for a fee. It seems that Cora's mother has the fey croup and is dying and Cora will not accept charity money from anyone to buy lovesbane at the secret Night Market.

Nick cleans up the lab and gets to work. Cora provides more than just supplies; she gives her long letters filled with stories about her large family and such and the two begin a rich correspondence, becoming really close friends.  She also finds herself falling in love with the handsome Fin, who appears to be the bastard son of a foreign nobleman who married a woman from Esting. She has long conversations with him in her head, imagining a possible romance. All the while, she is also working on her special invention for the Exhibition.

Yes, she does go to the ball the night before the big Exposition, in mechanical glass slippers she made herself (this is just one of the reasons why she is way cooler than Cinderella), dances with a prince, loses a shoe, and leaves at midnight. But not for any of the reasons you think. And there's even a reason why the steps don't recognize her. After that, though, you leave the fairy tale in the dust (what there was of it to begin with). In the end, Nick doesn't need a fairy godmother to save her, or a prince. She saves herself, with a little help from her friends. And that is a lesson we should all learn.

I had not yet begun to fathom that when Mother and Father disagreed about something, it meant that at least one of them had to be wrong; it had only recently occurred to me that they fought more often than they did anything else.
-Betsy Cornwell (Mechanica p 26)I was filled with a sudden curiosity and envy. Dance was hardly something Mother would have taught me. There wasn’t much time for it between engineering and theoretical physics, and neither she nor Father had been much for dancing.
-Betsy Cornwell (Mechanica p 53)Of course I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to talk to him too much, which was precisely why I couldn’t think of anything to say.
-Betsy Cornwell (Mechanica p 156)I’d spent so long trying to make the world think I was unremarkable; I realized now that I needed people to think of me that way. If anyone really thought I was special, they would ask things of me, things I didn’t think I could give.
-Betsy Cornwall (Mechanica p 161)Wishing is a frustrating business. There are far too many variables, infuriating for the scientific mind.
-Betsy Cornwall (Mechanica p 197)Nothing exists in your mind the way it does in the real world, she’d said. One must always account for the vagaries of truth.
-Betsy Cornwall (Mechanica p 207)Caro was right. None of us could truly promise the others that we would always be friends.  But always, I knew, was a long time—a time in which mothers could die and fathers be killed, housekeepers be sent away. Steps come and go. A whole life could change, and change again, in the smallest fraction of forever.-Betsy Cornwell (Mechanica p 207)

Link to Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Mechanica-Betsy-Cornwell/dp/0547927711/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1461936626&sr=1-1&keywords=mechanica

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A Test of Wills by Charles Todd

In this first Inspector Ian Rutledge mystery, he has just returned a shell shocked veteran of World War I who hears the voice of one of the men he served with, Hammish, in his head whenever he gets stressed.  In an effort to save his sanity he hopes to drown himself in his work and soon finds himself being set up on a case that could ruin his career.

A Colonel in the British Army whose estate is called Mallows, his found with his head blown off by a shotgun in his fields after his horse returns covered in blood.  The problem is everyone seemed to like the Colonel.  The only man who didn't, Mavers, a malcontent who preaches communism and the oppression of the landowners, has an alibi.  He was in the village square all morning yelling to anyone who could hear his rhetoric. 

The night before the Colonel's murder, a Captain in the British Air Force, Mark Wilton, who is supposed to marry the Colonel's ward, Miss Lettice Wood, has a heated argument and slams the door on his way out with the Colonel screaming "I'll see you in hell first".  The next morning, an hung-over shell shocked veteran witnesses the two arguing with each other in the field.  The problem is, the Captain was awarded the Victoria Cross and is a friend of the royal court.  Arresting him would cause a lot of problems and would likely end Rutledge's career. 

Rutledge worries continuously that his knack for being able to figure out why a person died and therefore leading him to the killer, that he had before the war, is gone.  He can't figure out who exactly the Colonel is or who would want to kill him.  And the word of a drunk, shell shocked vet, isn't worth much in court. 

The only other suspects are Wilton's cousin, Mrs. Davenant, who might have wanted Mark for herself, a local artist, Miss Turrant, whose love affair with a German during the war ended badly perhaps in part to the Colonel, and the mysterious cousins who live in the cottage next to the Mallows estate.  One is a bird watcher who saw Milton on the day in question in an area close to where the road to Mallows was, and the other cousin is an extremely shy recluse.   Also, there's Royston, the man who runs Mallows, who may a secret he doesn't want coming to light.

None of these suspects seem really plausible and the Inspector feels as though he is clutching at straws.  He begins to doubt his sanity and his abilities as a detective, as Hammish babbles in the back of his head, and he tries not to answer him aloud, so that no one my know his secret.  This book is fascinating in that it offers a unique view into the mind of former soldier suffering from shell shock, who is trying to overcome it without resorting to suicide, by delving into a murder that could easily end his career.  I can't wait to read the next one!

 He’d learned, in France, to face dying.  He could learn, in time, how to face living.  It was just getting thought the desolation in between that seemed to be beyond him.
---Charles Todd (A Test of Wills p 6)

…Charles once said that the greatest crime of the war was ruining the French countryside for a 
generation.  Not the slaughter of armies, but the slaughter of land.
--- Charles Todd (A Test of Wills p 24)

Women…They always ken the cruelest way to torment a man for what’s he done, witting or no.
--- Charles Todd (A Test of Wills p77)

It isn’t actually a question of guilt or innocence, is it?  It’s a matter of what the jury believes, once we’ve told them what evidence there is on either side.  Give the proper evidence, we could probably convict God.  Without it, Lucifer himself would walk free!

--Charles Todd (A Test of Wills p 94-5)

You aren’t afraid until you’ve got something to lose.  But when you love someone or something, you’re terrified—there’s so much at stake, then, so much at risk, you see…
--Charles Todd (A Test of Wills p 121)

I don’t hold with Freud’s nonsense about dreams, but I can tell you that nightmares strip the soul.
--- Charles Todd (A Test of Wills p 124)

There are many ways to kill…Cruelty will do very well.
--Charles Todd (A Test of Wills p 172)

He wouldn’t go back to failure.  There were other choices.  There always were.  To a man who feared living more than he feared death.
--Charles Todd (A Test of Wills p 208)

Oh, yes.  I’ve learned that life is never what you expect it will be.  Just as you come to the fringes of happiness, touching it, feeling it, tasting it—and desperately hoping for the rest of it—it’s jerked away.
--Charles Todd (A Test of Wills p 232) 

Link to Amazon:https://www.amazon.com/Test-Wills-Inspector-Rutledge-Mystery-ebook/dp/B000SEGJ94/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1510665389&sr=8-1&keywords=a+test+of+wills

Friday, April 22, 2016

Deadlock by Iris Johansen

Emily Hudson is an artifacts expert for the UN.  Her and her fellow archeologist friend, Joel, have been asked to move museum pieces from a museum to a safer place until the area is safe from bandits intent on stealing them.  Oddly enough, there are no really valuable pieces in this collection, but they move them anyway.  Their military escort is delayed and they travel down the mountains alone.  They find two of their men in the other truck are gunned down on the side of the road.  When they get out to investigate, they get captured by a man named Staughton, who is searching for Zelov's hammer and what is inside it.

Staughton tortures Joel in front of Emily in order to get her to talk and tell him where the hammer is; unfortunately, Emily has never heard of it.  Eventually, Joel is killed and Emily is being sent to the leader of the local bandits as a present.

Garrett has worked for the CIA, MI6, and any organization that will pay him.  He was once a smuggler and has an inside man in Afghanistan.  He speaks nine languages and is a very mysterious man, indeed.  Ferguson of the CIA hires him to find Emily and Joel and bring them home, or Garrett's friend's illegal activity will cause him trouble.

Just as Emily is about to be raped, Garrett arrives and rescues her, blowing up as much of the camp as he could get to.  Emily vows revenge and Garrett promise her that he will help her get it.  They figure the easiest way to flush out Staughton and the people who are funding him, is to find the hammer.

Garrett sends Emily to an island retreat off of Greece where his friend, Irana, a former nun now a doctor, runs a hospital.  It is there that Emily spends time recuperating and healing from her ordeal.  Meanwhile, Garrett and his friend Dardon, look for Straughton and the elusive hammer.  The hammer turns out to something extraordinary, that any man would sell his soul for.

This book is fast paced, action packed, suspense with surprising twists and turns at every corner.  Straughton has become determined to kill anyone who knows about the hammer, or whom Emily or Garrett care about in order to get it.  It's a race against time to see who can kill each other first and find the hammer.  This thrill ride is a great Johansen work and a delight to read.

She won’t pray for herself…She told me once that prayers should be for those who can’t help themselves.  She’s not sure if she wasted them on herself that God would pay attention when she prayed for someone else.
---Iris Johansen (Deadlock p 311)

Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Deadlock-Novel-Iris-Johansen-ebook/dp/B002GYI93I/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1498396183&sr=8-1&keywords=Deadlock

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Self-Defense by Jonathan Kellerman

In this ninth Dr. Alex Delaware series, Detective Milo Sturgis recommends him to a juror, Lucy,  who was on the trial of a sadistic serial killer and whom is now experiencing stress and nightmares.  In the nightmares, she is four and in the woods near a log cabin and her father, the once famous writer Buck Lowell is there with two men who are carrying a woman and digging a grave for her. 

One night, her estranged half brother, Ken, is looking for her junkie brother, Puck, who failed to show up for dinner and finds her with her head in her oven with the gas on and with her nearly dead.  After a stay in the hospital, where she insists that she didn't try to kill herself and that someone is after her (she's been receiving hang-ups, her underwear drawer is mixed up, and a nasty note is left on her kitchen table).

In the late sixties, Buck Lowell opened up a retreat for artists called Sanctuary, which is in the woods and contains log cabins.  Delaware and Sturgis dig into missing persons cases around that time and come across a young girl, Beth, who fits the description of the young girl Lucy sees in her dreams.  Beth, walked out of the diner she worked at and just disappeared.  However, one of the other waitresses there, had a side-line of hiring others to work parties for a friend's catering business.  So, its possible that Beth was working the night of the party that Lucy sees in her nightmare.  Lucy only gets a view of two of the men; her father and a man with a dark drooping mustache.   

Someone doesn't want Lucy to remember any more of her nightmare and those left of the Sanctum, which closed down shortly after Beth's disappearance,  and try to blame it on the dead.  There are two evil forces at work here, which makes this novel, deviously clever and keeps the reader on their toes.  Great Book!

Link to Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/search/ref=sr_nr_n_3?fst=as%3Aoff&rh=n%3A283155%2Cn%3A10457%2Ck%3Aself+defense&keywords=self+defense&ie=UTF8&qid=1461173365&rnid=1000

Monday, April 18, 2016

A Mind To Murder by P.D. James

P.D. James is a classic.  This book was written in 1963 and is the second in the Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh mystery series (the first, Cover Her Face was wonderful; you hated the victim and liked all the suspects).  You don't need to read the first book to read this one. 

One evening, in a psychiatric clinic, the administrative officer is found murdered in the basement file room with a chisel cleanly piercing her heart.  This is a unique take on the locked door mystery, as the porter at the front desk would see anyone coming in, the murder was discovered forty minutes after someone last saw her, and the building was quickly searched and locked up tight.  So the killer has to be one of the psychiatrists, nurses, secretaries, or porters working that night.  Some people alibi each other out, while a few have no alibi at all and nearly all of them had the medical knowledge to stab someone directly in the heart without missing. 

Is it Dr. Baugly the ECT and LSD therapist, whom the victim, Miss Bolan, told his wife about the affair he was having with Miss Saxon, one of the therapists there, and neither of whom have alibis.  Or the Freudian therapist who despised her and went missing right before his 6:15 appointment?  Was it Nurse Bolan, her cousin, who stands to inherit Miss Bolan's sizable fortune?  No one really liked Miss Bolan.

Right before she died, she called one of the Administrators to discuss a matter.  She suspects someone is being blackmailed and perhaps is going down to the records room to find out who and maybe the blackmailer wants her dead before he is found out.

This great mystery has no shortage of suspects and confounds Dalgliesh to the point that he begins to believe that this may be the first case he will not solve.  There are a lot of twists and turns and unexpected surprises in store for the reader.  Good Read!

Link to Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/Mind-Murder-Adam-Dalgliesh-Mysteries/dp/0743219589/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1460989967&sr=1-1&keywords=a+mind+to+murder+p.d.james

Friday, April 15, 2016

A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny

While this is the fourth book in Penny's Superintendent of the Surete Armand Gamache mysteries, you don't have to have read the other books to read this one as it doesn't take place in Three Pines like the others do.  July 1st is Gamache's wedding anniversary and for the past thirty-five years he has taken his wife to the remote luxury hotel, Manoir Bellechasse in Quebec, Canada, made of old wood that has been there since the robber barons.   The Morrow family are there having a family reunion.  The mother remarried a man named Bert Finney, who worked for her husband.  Her children included Thomas, the eldest, then Julia, Peter (who is from Three Pines and you get to see a side of him that is quite ugly), and the youngest Marrianna who named her child Bean and refuses to tell anyone the sex of her child, in order to piss off her mother, not that anyone in the family feel it is a proper thing to ask.  They are there to unveil the statue on a huge piece of marble of their dead father.

"On the outside the Morrows were  healthy, attractive even.  But you can't diminish so many people without diminishing yourself.  And the Morrows, inside, had all but disappeared.  Empty."  This was a family where murder was more acceptable than using the wrong fork or littering.  The mother was distant and each of the siblings hated each other.  Thomas is a businessman, Julia married an insurance tycoon, who defrauded a lot of people and went to jail, Peter is a painter who does ok and accepts no money from either his father's estate when he died or from his mother, and Marrianna is an architect, who makes millions.

One night, the statue falls on top of Julia and kills her.  The big question is not who could have done it, as there is no lack of suspects in her family, but how did a statue made of petrified wood, which is heavier than marble fall on top of her without leaving a scratch on the marble base.

Gamache calls in his team.  "Inspector Beauvoir was the alpha dog, the whip-smart, tightly wound second in command who believed in the triumph of facts over feelings. He missed almost nothing.  Except, perhaps, things that couldn't be seen.  Agent Lacoste...she was the hunter of their team.  Stealthy, quiet, observant.  Gamache, the leader, believed that the key to solving a murder was to uncover the emotions, feelings, and secrets people kept, as it is often these things that drive someone to commit murder.

The longer things go on, the more the tension and emotions begin to rise at the Manoir Bellechasse.  The night Julia died she vented her anger at each member of the family in a tirade that ended with her saying she knew father's secret.  Did one of the Morrow family kill her over that?  And most important, how did the statue fall?  It was to heavy to be pushed by less than twenty football players.  Once Gamache figures that secret out, he realizes who the killer is.

One thing about these books (the first one, by the way is Still Life, and I can't recommend it highly enough, Three Pines is a wonderful town with lively characters) is the food.  It does take place in Quebec and most of the people are considered French and the French pride themselves on their food.  So you have to read about the most amazing food, the luscious croissants , the cheeses, the pastries.  It will make you hungry.

Funny, he thought, how dyed hair, heavy make-up and young clothes actually made a person look older.
---Louise Penny (A Rule Against Murder p10)
She said she’d been flattered at first until she’d read the description in the catalogue.  Eleanor Roosevelt rose: no good in a bed, but fine up against a wall.
----Louise Penny (A Rule Against Murder p35)
She’d taught him that order was freedom. To live in chaos was to live in a prison.  Order freed the mind for other things.
Louise Penny (A Rule Against Murder p 40)

But you want murderous feelings?  Hang around librarians…All that silence.  Gives them ideas.
Louise Penny (A Rule Against Murder p 62)
God murdered Julia Martin?
He is a serial killer.
--Louise Penny (A Rule Against Murder (Jean Guy Beauvoir to a sculptor) p 205)

Link to Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Rule-Against-Murder-Inspector-Gamache/dp/0312614160/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1460750369&sr=1-1&keywords=a+rule+against+murder+by+louise+penny

Mother Can you NOT? (And you thought your mom was nuts...) by Kate Siegel

Kate Siegel is the creator of the Instagram sensation @CrazyJewishMom. It started off simple enough. She just began taking pictures of the crazy texts that took place between herself and her mother, director  Kim Fieldman, and post them on Instagram. Soon enough it took off and she found herself on all the talk shows and being interviewed for various web-news organizations such as The Huffington Post. While this was going on she was working at various magazines. She quit to write this book and do the account full time. Her big dream was always to be a writer anyway and her mother raised her to take risks.

Kate and her mother have what maybe some would say is a very unusually close relationship. She herself calls her mother a stalker. Her mother knows EVERYTHING, because she generally tells her everything (although when she gets older in college sometimes the details get fuzzy or glossed over) and her mother tells her EVERYTHING. And there is nothing Kim Friedman would not do to help her daughter fulfill her dreams, which means Kate learned early on to be careful in what she told her mother what she wanted to do, like when she told her she wanted to be a singer (which she was terrible at) and her mother made a hilarious attempt to have a photo shoot set up that goes horribly wrong. Her mother's dream is of a college degree, a career, marriage to the perfect person, and grandspawn someday, just like any Jewish mother (or any mother for that matter). She just has her own way of going about it throughout the book.

Her mother had given her a vague idea of sex when she was eight, due to a scare at camp. Later when it came time to REALLY tell her she used some weird book to do it that had "Seuss-esque illustrations, and it included the phrase 'This fits here!' I remember screaming 'WHAT! That is DISGUSTING!' Then I shouted across the house to my father and made him join in on the fun. When he opened the door, I shoved in his face a page depicting a cheerful pink man mounting a fuchsia woman.... 'Dad, do you know about this?!' 'I...well...uh' 'Oh my God!!! I am NEVER EVER EVER...doing that!...'Ewwwww, does that mean you peed in Mom to get me?!' 'Well, uh, not exactly,' My dad looked down at his shoes. 'How does that even work? Do you move around?' I conducted an unbridled, Guantanamo-like interrogation, referencing the diagrams that displayed colorful stick figures having sex in every position under the sun. It was the Kama Seusstra. My parents answered all my questions patiently, and then I asked this: 'Well, which position did you guys use to make me?' So "the talk" was going well for my parents!"

She promised she would not tell any of the other kids at school anything she had learned, as her parents explained that each parent wants to tell their kid in their own way at their own time. But with so much information in her head she felt she would burst, so she told her best friend whose mother called her mother and Kate was given the kiss of death from a parent: I am so disappointed in you. It turns out the girl's mother told her daughter that Kate was a liar and and an evil girl and to not be friends with her anymore. She also told the other mothers that Kate was a sexual sicko so no one would be friends with her. This was a grave mistake on her part as it made Kim get involved.  You just do not mess with a mother bear and her cub. Kate says she did always wonder if the girl ever did find out about the whole sex and facts of life thing.  Kate, herself, was a late bloomer and did not have her first period until she was fourteen. When she did she was at school and she called her mother who gave her a light "slap" on the face, as is the Jewish custom known as "The Menstrual Slap" which is supposed to be "a woman's warning to guard her gates against premarital sex" or a reminder that "a woman's life is filled with pain."  She then yelled "MAZEL TOV!" and told her she would pick her up after school. Kate spent some time at the CVS store being embarrassed as her mother asked the MALE clerk what tampon was best. When she got home her dad had decorated the house with crimson balloons, panty liners, a Midol basket, and streamers. It was a "period party" that her mother had likely been planning for years. Her dad (the cook of the family) made clams in red sauce and red velvet cake. They put on a CD with songs centered on "girl power" and while she was embarrassed at first to find out that her dad knew, she had the time of her life that night.

The only thing her mother possibly loves more that her is her pets. I believe right now she has four dogs, two cats, and some fish. When her beloved cat Snowflake died suddenly, her mother had some kind of breakdown. She jumped into the small cat grave and decided there was no way any animal of hers would be put in the cold earth. So her mantel over the fireplace is almost filled with urns. After a respectable grieving period, Kate's dad thought it would be a good idea to help her mom by taking her to the shelter and get another cat.  Her mother's response? "So if you die, I should just go out the next day, find another husband, and pretend you never existed?" Still, they managed to drag her there and a brusque woman named Pat showed them the animals. Suddenly, Kate spotted Snowflake's twin. However, Pat informed them firmly that the cat was not up for adoption because it was too sick and that they were going to put it down. Now, Kim is a bulldozer of a person and she wanted this cat, so she exploded in a rage at Pat and went completely off on her threatening to call news stations and protest. Then when this didn't work, she did a 180 and began sniffling and acting all meek and began bawling on Pat's chest. This made Pat uncomfortable enough to leave, which was Kim's plan all along. She got the cat and placed it in Kate's messenger bag and they sneaked it out of there to a chorus of dog's barking.

Kim could wrangle people into doing things they did not plan on doing. "My mother could convince a sorority girl to eat gluten. Mel Gibson to get circumcised. Bill Cosby to undergo voluntary chemical castration." She says she has thought about starting a support group for her "victims".  A prime example of this was when Hurricane Sandy hit and Kate's dad came to pick her up at her place in New York, because she had no running water or electricity. While they were driving back listening to the radio, they heard Kim pleading for help for her pets. It seems that she when she had gone out to get pet food and tried to come back, there were barriers up preventing her from going back home which was now an evacuation zone. She gave out her personal number, called Governor Chris Christie a "cat killer" and asked if this went on for two weeks would he be able to go without food? When Kate calls her she shouts on the radio "DOES CHRIS CHRISTIE WANT TO KILL MY DAUGHTER TOO?" Kate and her father are trying to talk her down before she gets arrested again (she has a long history of getting arrested for protesting going back decades and includes breaking into the Pentagon).  Her mother clicks off to take another call and when she comes back it turns out that poor Lenny, the fireman, has been caught in her web. He probably offered to do something simple and now has found himself sneaking her across the border to her house to rescue her pets.  She also cannot resist doing anything to help someone that needs it--even perfect strangers. As a matter of fact, the world is her best friend (unless you cross her or her family).

I'd love to tell you about the numerous stories of her mother looking for a man for her, advising her on relationships, the Princeton Rabbi's magical powers, and her overprotective need to keep her safe that leads to an incident with the TSA.  But then you would have nothing to look forward to! This book is just flat out, laugh-yourself-off-the-couch funny. Few women have this kind of relationship with their mothers. I have no relationship with mine and I'm jealous of hers, even if her mom does embarrass the devil out of her to the point that I know I would want a huge hole to swallow me up. This is the kind of relationship that should be celebrated. Not every mother-daughter relationship is made to be this way and some of us may be glad of it. But it is so much fun to read about the ones that are.

Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Mother-Can-You-Kate-Siegel/dp/1101907045/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1465408267&sr=1-1&keywords=mother+can+you+not+by+kate+siegel

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

In 2012 Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor began the podcast called Welcome to Night Vale, set in the "average desert town" of Night Vale, and from what I understand, is done as a radio broadcast filled with such things as Community News, Science Time, announcements from the City Council, and of course words from their sponsors.  The interns at the radio station remind me of the drummers for Spinal Tap and share a bizarre fate. Cecil is the friendly voice people hear who tell you all about the town and the people in it.

The book opens up in the Pawn Shop. Jackie Fierro, who has just turned nineteen for as long as she can remember, runs it.  If you have something you want to pawn, you go in and must first wash your hands and lay the item on the counter. Jackie will offer you eleven dollars for it. You will say nothing. Then she will offer her real price. It may be more money, less money, or something else, such as dreams, experiences, or visions. Then you die, but only for a little while. The item is given a price tag of eleven dollars and you are given a ticket for it you can exchange for the item. You can look at the ticket and remember the item at any time for free. Jackie opens and closes the shop when her gut tells her it's time. This is her life.

One day, Old Woman Josie, who lives with angels (which you are illegal to admit exist), comes in with some wrapped up plastic flamingos she doesn't want anyone to touch. Jackie takes them and gives her a good nights rest in exchange.  A man came in with a Mercedes that was put on top of the shelf (she gave him five dollars). Right before closing Diane Crayton, whom Jackie recognized as one of the PTA organizers, came in. Diane offered a tear and Jackie gave her eleven dollars.  This was when the man in the tan jacket and deerskin suitcase showed up. He looked completely normal and completely forgettable. He gave her a slip of paper with the words KING CITY on it to pawn. She gave him thirty dollars and an idea about time. Then she gave him his ticket, while holding the paper he had given her. Then he was gone.  Jackie would find that she would be unable to remember anything about him other than his tan jacket. Also, she could not get that piece of paper to leave her hand.

There is a house with a personality and a soul with a faceless old woman hidden inside it. More importantly, though, it is Diane and her son Josh's house. Josh is fifteen and can take any shape he wants. His father, Troy Walsh, left when he was born, and now Josh is becoming rather curious about him. Diane tries really hard with Josh and Josh, who does not socialize well, often misunderstands her, as she does him. She is trying to teach him to drive, which is difficult when he refuses to take a form conducive to the task. She really doesn't date and has few friends. Diane works for a company that sends out mailers to people (uh, huh) and her job is to provide the marketing department with information from the database she has created that includes very detailed information about the people of Night Vale, so they can target the right people. At work, everyone is rather worried about two missing people: Dawn and Evan. There's talk of checking in on them at home. Then Evan, acting weird, wearing his usual tan jacket, shows up at her desk and then her phone rings with Evan telling her he can't come in and can she tell their boss Catherine?   When she walks out to where everyone else's desks are, there's Dawn who says she's just been out sick for a couple of days and no one remembers Evan, whose desk is gone.  She also has to sweat it though a meeting with her boss about why she's asking about a person who never worked there and things that never happened. These are things that can get you fired or worse (I guess this is when I mention the Sheriff's Secret Police and the sedans around town with the mysterious people who take pictures, but forget to turn off the flash and ruin the picture. There's also microphones all over the place and mysterious lights in the sky.) and besides, maybe she was wrong.

Jackie is now at the Moonlite All-Nite, the most popular place in town to eat (some of their regulars really are regulars because they are stuck in a time-loop).  They now serve invisible pie, but it's not for everyone. Laura, the waitress, has many branches from which fruit grow that you can pick some if you want.  For Jackie, coffee at the Moonlite in the morning was part of her routine. When she was done, she would whisper into her water glass for the check, get it from under the sugar packets, put the cash under them, and wait for the sound of swallowing to know that the bill has been paid. Then she would open the pawn shop. But she did not do this today. Everything was off since she had picked up that piece of paper. She had tried burning it, taking a shower with it, ripping it up, but it just kept reappearing in her hand. She had no friends, as they had all grown up, but that never bothered her, because she had her life, her routine. Now that was being messed with by this piece of paper, that was also making her only be able to only write the words KING CITY.  She needed to find the man in the tan jacket.

Jackie heads out to see Old Woman Josie and the angels all named Ericka for answers. It seems this man has been giving out pieces of paper all over town and no one can remember much about him. Josie does know more than she can tell Jackie. What she can tell her is that he comes from a dangerous place it may not be possible to come back from. She also tell Jackie that what she is going to go through will be very dangerous and that if she lives though it, she will not be the same person she was before. Josie also tells her she has to go to the most dangerous place in Night Vale if she wants answers: The library. Instead of going to the library, Jackie goes to her mother's house, since her mom had called her earlier. She knew exactly how to get there, but once there, she had no memory of ever being in that house, even as her mother was telling her stories of her childhood that she also did not remember. Instead of going to the library, she next goes to the scientists for answers and only finds out that King City is a place, but it is a place that seems to be totally inaccessible by any means.

One thing Diane and Josh had together was movie night. When they went out one night, Diane saw a man working there who looked just like Troy. Later that week she went back the the theater to ask the ticket girl who he was and when he'd be back. At work, she's now getting little done. She found a notebook in her car and on a piece of it is written in Josh's hand "I want to meet this guy." Below that in someone else's "I'll get you his number, but don't call him yet." "I won't. Duh. Does he have a picture? I want to know what he looks like." "If he doesn't I can get one." "What's his name?" Diane assumes that Josh must be interested in a guy, but how does she bring this up to him considering how she found out? On the way home she is pulled over by a cop who is like a clone of Troy. Later when she goes to the Moonlite, she finds a Troy working there. Getting desperate for answers about Troy, she stays late at work and sneaks into her co-workers computers for information, including her boss's, but finds nothing. The next morning Josh confronts her about why she's been gone so much lately, so she invents a relationship. She takes this opportunity to ask him about the mysterious note, which Josh had been dreading she would find, not because it was about a boy, but because he was tying to find out about his father. When Diane asks about the boy he is interested in, he lies just as she just did. For a moment, they actually had a connection, even if it was based on a lie. Then Josh asks to borrow the car and when she tells him no, he tries to wheedle her a bit, which of course backfires and the two start their days badly.

Later Josh calls Diane and comes clean about looking for his father and wants to know why he can't meet him or know about him and Diane does not have an answer for him. She just knows that its more important than ever to find out why there are so many Troys and what they are up to and want before Josh finds him, and why she is looking so hard for Evan. At this point she gets a text "evan" with a photo. Then, "remember?" She texts back: "evan. I remember, but no one else does. i've been looking for you. where are you." He texts that he'll come to her and the next thing Diane know she is no longer in her house, but in the Moonlite.  She takes pictures of him and he gives her one of those pieces of paper with his name on it and King City.  Evan knows Troy, but won't say how. He wants Diane to give the KING CITY paper to Josh. Then he's gone.

Someone told Jackie that Diane has something to do with the man in the tan jacket. Jackie also saw Troy hanging around her mom's house and has been tracking them down. In this process, her and Diane keep running into each other, which makes Jackie suspicious about Diane, and Diane pissed of about a teenager trying to dig into her business. Both of them come to realize that the information they need can only be found in one place: the place you can always find information (even today--do visit!) The Library.  The two run into each other at the entrance and decide to help each other out. Diane wants to know about Troy and Jackie wants to know about King City. There really is no way to describe the library scene, so I won't. You'll just have to read the book. But I promise. It's totally worth the price of admission.

This book will remind readers of the late-great Douglas Adams in writing style. It has that same absurdest language set in a rather upside down worlds (though this one is on Earth, not in space, but both do have houses), with that undertone of sadness that courses through. It is excellent storytelling and such a well crafted town you have no trouble imagining it. The characters are delightful, dastardly, motherly, teenagerish, bizarre, tough, caring, determined, bull-headed, willingly clueless, and unlike anything you will encounter anywhere else. And you will love them and Night Vale. These are people who accept Night Vale as it is. They say nothing when rules arbitrarily change, the City Council requires a ritual sacrifice, the clouds glow, there are lights glowing above the Arby's, it can be hard to get a job and when you do, it can be a very weird one, or how the byzantine traffic laws are on a need-to-know basis and you can get a speeding ticket in bed. No one ever leaves Night Vale and no ever comes to Night Vale, until the recent arrival of the scientists. And it's all fine.

The good news is that you do not have to wait for another book (who knows when they might get around to another one). They have a pod cast that can take you there anytime you want and they have it archived all the way back to the beginning, so if you are like me who likes to start there you can. They are on iTunes, Stitcher, Podbay.fm, Soundcloud, etc. Also youtube.com/welcometonightvale and welcometonightvale.com. It airs twice a month and is totally FREE! What can be better than that?

Link to Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Welcome-Night-Vale-A-Novel/dp/0062351427?ie=UTF8&keywords=welcome%20to%20night%20vale&qid=1460645670&ref_=sr_1_1&s=books&sr=1-1

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz (based on the true story of Ruth and Jack Gruener)

This fictionalized account of Yanek, who was a boy of ten when the Nazis invaded Poland and took over their town of Plaszow, Krakow.  He survived living in the Jewish ghetto and has his bar mitzvah in a secret warehouse with a small group of men.  Soon after he was sent to his first of ten concentration camps.

"The red armbands belonged to political prisoners.  Green meant criminals.  Black armbands were worn by gypsies, though there were very few of those, as they were usually killed straight off.  Purple meant Jehovah's Witness. Homosexuals wore pink.  And all of them had a little letter in their triangle to tell you where they were from: P meant Polen, or "Pole"; T menat Tschechen or "Czech"; J meant Jugoslawen, or "Yugoslavian".  There was no letter for the Jewish stars though.  No matter where we had come from, we had no country.  We were only Jews."

He meets the only member of his family left, his Uncle Moshe, who tells him he no longer has a name, to not give the Nazis any reason to notice him, and to think only of himself and that will be the way he will survive.  This first camp was run by Amon Goeth, who couldn't eat breakfast without first killing a Jew.  Every day the Jews kept track of how many he had killed that day: Goeth 19, Jews nil.  He often sicced his dogs on prisoners that ripped them to pieces, in a horrid death.

In the camps he strived not to become a Muselmann, one who could barely get up or eat, the way they dragged their feet when they walked and breathed through their mouths in difficult ways.  Muselmanns were the ones that were the walking dead.

He worked in the famous salt mines of Wieliczka, where hundreds of years ago miners carved out salt statues and an alter and vestry for Catholics.  He tried hard to get special jobs, to avoid the hard labor of breaking stones, that killed so many.

Yanek not only survived 10 concentration camps, but also two death marches in the frigid snow.  Each concentration camp was bad, but each was horrid in its own way.  But no matter what they did to the Jews (torturing, killing) they had role call every morning and night, because the efficient Germans insisted on counting them.  He would get his tattoo at Birkenau in 1944, marking him for life.  However, no matter what the Nazis did to him, he survived the hell of the war and would be rescued by the Americans in 1945.  This is technically a Young Adult book, but like most YA novels, can be enjoyed by an adult.  This was a harrowing and amazing book of bravery and the power of the human spirit to not be extinguished.


Life is but a river.  It has no beginning, no middle, no end.  All we are, all we are worth, is what we do while we float upon it—how we treat our fellow man.  Remember this, and a good man you will be.
---Alan Gratz (Prisoner B-3087 p 46-7)

Link to Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Prisoner-B-3087-Ruth-Gruener/dp/054545901X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1460558976&sr=1-1&keywords=prisoner+b-3087+by+alan+gratz

Monday, April 11, 2016

Shadow Spell: Book Two of the Cousins O'Dwyer Trilogy by Nora Roberts

This series keeps getting better and better.  Conner O'Dwyer and Meara Quinn have been best friends and see each other as almost brother and sister, until one night when Connor almost dies, she finds herself kissing him in an un-brotherly way.  Cabhan is back in full force and he is after Connor and Meara.  Connor finds himself dreaming/visiting his ancestor, and Sorcha's son, Eamon.  After saving the boy from Cabhan, they begin to visit each other in the dream world, where Cabhan hopes to kill Eamon and his sisters, since he while he can travel through time, he is stuck to Sorcha's cabin and can't travel far from it and Sorcha's children are far away, but in their dreams, he can attack them through Connor.  

Meara is an Irish Amazon woman with gypsy blood who wields a sword and rides a mean horse.  She can cuss up a storm and drink most men under the table.   Meara has been having troubles of her own for quite some time.  Her mother is a bit of a useless soul, who was better suited to hosting the dinner parties her and her husband held before he left them without a dime.  Meara's sisters want her to move in with her mother, because she really shouldn't be living alone, but Meara turns the tables and sends her mother to live with her sister, who has kids her mother can help watch. 

Connor is the most easy going person in the world.  He's every man's best friend and every woman's dream guy.  He likes to pull her braid in such a cute schoolboy way.  He is also the most patient one in the world, which helps when he realizes that he loves Meara and she thinks she can't love anyone, because she could turn out to be like her dad and not stick around, or worse, her mother, who still pines for a man who didn't stick around.  Connor runs the falconry and his familiar is Roibeard, a falcon. 

After Cabhan comes after Meara and nearly kills her the group realizes they must do something soon to stop him.  When Meara dreamwalked with Connor, she spilled some of Cabhan's blood, so Branna, Connor's sister, has one more ingredient to use in a potion to try to end this on Sabhain, Halloween, when the veil between this life and the after life  is the thinnest. 

I loved reading about Connor and Meara.  I had no idea how they would manage to get together, even though in these books, you know it will happen, because of the way they always treated each other as brother and sister.  This was such a great book.  It was better than the first and the third book, which hasn't been published yet and will feature former teen lovers Branna and Flin, who stopped seeing each other when Cabhan's mark appeared on him on his eighteenth birthday and even though he would have nothing to do with him, she refused to have anything to do with him then.  Now, his help is essential.  I can't wait to read their story, as it will probably be the best one yet.

Link to Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/Shadow-Spell-Cousins-ODwyer-Roberts/dp/0425259862?ie=UTF8&keywords=shadow%20spell%20book%20two%20of%20the%20cousins%20o%27dwyer%20trilogy&qid=1460386428&ref_=sr_1_1&s=books&sr=1-1

Friday, April 8, 2016

Beside Myself by Ann Morgan

Ann Morgan is the author of the acclaimed book The World Between Covers, which she wrote about her year-long quest around the world via books. I'll just jump in now, because this is one of those books that will keep you up all night reading (it did me). Wow. I don't like to use such language, but this book is a real mind f***. Not for you the reader, but for the character. When twins Helen and Ellie are six, Helen talks Ellie into playing a prank on an elderly neighbor and switching their clothes and hairstyles (Helen wears hers in a plait, while Ellie has hers in two bunches) and pretending to be the other one. It's so much fun when it works that Helen thinks they should try to pull the prank on their mother. When they get home though, their mother has a surprise for them. Akela Greene, her new boyfriend, is moving in with them. Now it is time for the game to be over. But Ellie doesn't want to change back.  Helen tries to tell her mother about the switch and that she is Helen, not Ellie, but her mother does not believe her. Helen is the smart, well behaved, leader of the two. While Ellie is the slow, bad behaving twin who always needs to be taught a lesson, and whom, Helen finds out later, is prone to telling tales. But now, Ellie is acting just like Helen and all she can do is wait for Ellie to mess up like she always does.

Her one hope is that at school her friends will know who she is and Chloe, the one who works with Ellie, will as well. But Ellie convinces her friends that she is Helen and when she tries to explain to Chloe about the switch and how horrible the whole thing is, Chloe believes she is telling another tale. And that is when Helen begins to go down the rabbit hole. The teacher puts Helen in the dumb kids corner of the room to use Ellie's workbook from last year that she didn't finish and Helen watches as Ellie gets good marks and behaves well, just like she would. She watches as Ellie plays with her friends, as Ellie steals her life.  One day while hanging out in the park in the upside down tree, Helen's favorite spot, Ellie tricks her into staying while she leaves and Helen gets into trouble for going missing for a long time. Their mother takes Helen to a psychologist and at this point she has had it with no one knowing who she is, with living the wrong life, and she finds that well of anger deep inside of her and it erupts all over the place as she begins screaming and throwing everything around the office in a mad rage. She has effectively been trapped in a cage and put in a dungeon and everyone treats her like she is Ellie and soon she begins acting like the problem child Ellie was, only worse, because someone who has lost everything can be capable of anything.

The book swaps back and forth from the present to the past. In the present is a young woman named Smudge, who is really Ellie, and is living in a crappy flat in London trying to keep the voices in her head away. She has just come out of a long sleep after a marathon painting session, the kind where time ceases to exist. You could easily say that she just went through a manic episode, but lots of creative people do this. Of course, they don't also hear voices in their heads as well. Her phone is ringing and her mother is on the other end telling her that Hellie (as Smudge calls her) has been in a car accident and is in a coma, but Smudge just drops the phone and says nothing. Later, Hellie's husband Nick shows up at her door knocking on it trying to get her to talk to him, but she just can't deal with that. The next day she goes to her ESA interview, where she lies about her not drinking and that everything is going well, when it is far from that and her caseworker is so happy about all the progress she has made, especially working in the community garden, which made it into the paper. She believes Ellie is ready to start looking for work, which would mean ESA would stop depositing money into her account every week, but Ellie hasn't picked up on this as she is trying really hard to appear normal. When she leaves, Nick runs into her on the street and in her attempt to run away from him, she runs into traffic and gets hit by a car and is sent to the hospital.

At school, Helen starts making up stories on the playground to get attention and sympathy from the other kids. She also starts to have darker thoughts about Ellie and ways to get her life back. Her mother and Akela have baby Richard, whom they won't let her touch, because of something they suspect she did. And when Mother, Akela, Ellie, and baby Richard sit together in the living room they look like the perfect family and no notices her anymore, even when she slips out of the house to go to the park by herself. Years pass by and the end has come for this school, which means a kind of talent show. Ellie recites a funny poem doing all these different voices, which is something Helen would have never done. At this point, Ellie has rearranged Helen around to something new, so Helen starts to refer to her as Hellie. And Helen, herself has changed quite a bit. She escapes to the upside tree (which is such an appropriate name, since that's what her life has become) often and meets up with older kids who drink and sniff glue. And one day something happens that will shatter her mind completely, leaving her barely holding on to the pieces. She becomes more and more out of control as Hellie becomes more and more the perfect daughter. When she makes an attempt out of desperation to reach her mother, it almost works, but then her mother lashes out and calls her a monster and that she is toxic and will poison everyone and everything around her. She ends up getting a tattoo on the side of her forehead with the word monster on it. Now no one will ever be able to mix up her and Hellie again.

When Smudge wakes up in the hospital, Nick is there and he tells her that Hellie was on her way to see her when her car crashed. He really wants Smudge to go visit Hellie in the hospital and see if maybe listening to her voice will bring her out of her coma. Smudge tells him that the two of them can't be in the same room together and checks out and goes home. When she goes through her piled up mail, she sees a letter addressed to Helen Sallis in Hellie's handwriting, but she just can't look at it right then. When she goes to try to get cash out of the teller machine, she finds that ESA did not deposit the check and she's broke. Nick had been following her and was there when she passed out on the street and took her back to the doctor. Her wound got infected and she has a fever. He insists she come and stay at his house to recuperate, especially since she has no money. Her mother and Akela are staying there, but she doesn't meet her mother right away. She does, however meet Hellie's little girl, Heloise, who takes to her instantly, but whom Akela and her mother try to keep her away from, which doesn't work of course (how many little girls do you know that always do what they're told). Heloise is such a precocious and observant girl who shows Smudge the little grave where her dead twin lies.

Helen's life just continues to get worse for a while as she floats about lost at sea after her family has well and truly abandoned her. But as Rick tells Elsa "We'll always have Paris", Helen will always have Amsterdam. Then of course, as always, just when things are going well, the world crashes around her, and Helen (actually, after leaving home she changes her name many times, reinventing herself over and over again) becomes Smudge. Most everyone in this book seems to have an angle and is looking after themselves, willing to hurt anyone to get what they want, though not Smudge, she seems to be on the losing end of things too often.

Helen was diagnosed as manic depressive at one point in the book, which is a genetic disease. Helen and Ellie's dad was very likely manic depressive and committed suicide when they were four. The going theory (which some are challenging) is that you can carry the gene, but that it takes some kind of environmental event to trigger the gene to turn on. When you look at Helen's history it's chock full of childhood trauma that would have driven anyone mad even if they didn't have a genetic predisposition for it. Ellie does not get off so easy either. You have to ask the question why did she decide to keep up the charade in the first place? If she had the ability to behave and get good grades why did she not do just that? Close to the end of the book, you will experience a punch to the gut, because people are always able to surprise you, right up to the very end. The incredible thing, you will find, is that even when Helen/Smudge has been laid low and completely given up any hope of anyone believing her or of having a happy life, all it takes is a small match to be struck to light up that hope again in her. The human spirit is amazingly resilient.  Just talk to anyone who has gone though any horrid tragedy, such as the camps or the POWs. No matter how bad it gets, no matter how many times we swear we are giving up, we always seem to find our feet again.

The writing of this book is amazing and quite fascinating. When you read the parts that take place in the past, they are written in the second person (where a some general you is the focus of the narrator's story) and the part written in the present is written in the third person (where the narrator refers to the characters as he and she and can know whatever the author wishes them to know).  Ms. Morgan's unique and careful use of words that conjure up exactly the right thing, is amazing. For example: "And with that, she turned on her heel and bustled away up the ward, her shoes squeaking like basketball players dodging around a court....The sound of a team of basketball players ducking and feinting its way across the court came towards the cubicle."

While reading this book I wondered how Ms. Morgan was able to get the details of manic depression so spot-on accurate. It was like she was able to climb inside someone's head and take notes, or that she was maybe manic depressive herself. I don't believe I've read a more exact, precise, and authentic portrayal of someone with this disease. As far as I know, she is not manic depressive. When I got to the Acknowledgements at the end of the book, it shed a little light. She thanked her family for answering her medical questions and her friends and acquaintances on answering, among other things, questions about living with manic depression. As a person who has friends who are manic depressive, thank you, Ms. Morgan for caring enough to get the detail right. 

Link to Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Beside-Myself-Ann-Morgan/dp/1632864339/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1460040073&sr=1-1&keywords=beside+myself+ann+morgan

Thursday, April 7, 2016

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson

This book, by the author of Devil in the White City about the making of the Chicago World's Fair and the serial killer hidden beneath in 1893 (which is a most excellent book), has written a book about a poor professor called the Cassandra of the Embassy for trying to tell President Roosevelt what Hitler was doing and that America needed to do something about it.  William E. Dodd, from Chicago, became an unlikely Ambassador to Germany in 1933, a very important year in German history, as it is the year that Hitler begins his rise to power.  Most Ambassadors were independently wealthy and spent lavishly on their lifestyles and parties at their homes.  Dodd believed in living within the means he was being paid (around $17, 000) to rent a house and hold important parties.  Dodd had spent some time in Germany in his youth and was surprised to see how it was changing.  As Hitler gained more power even Americans were being attacked in Germany and Dodd was helpless to do anything about it, though he tried his best.  The government just wanted him to get Germany to pay the banks they owed for reparations during World War I.

This book is also about Dodd's daughter Martha, who was to put it bluntly, kind of a slut.  She slept around with different men from the Nazi party and others including Rudolf Diels, the head of the Gestapo, who is surprisingly honorable and has many close calls to getting himself killed by the Nazi Party.  Goring couldn't stand him.  She also had a love affair with a Russian KGB agent who was trying to recruit her to be a spy.  Martha was dazzled by the Nazi Party and all they had done to Germany to bring it back from the brink of despair.  For a long time she ignored all that that they were doing, even when she witnessed an attack on some Americans herself.

This book which takes place between 1933-34, gives a rare account, from Dodd's own diaries and other sources, into what was really going on in Germany and how maybe America could have done something to stop the following events from happening if they had just done something early.

The smell of peace is abroad, the air is cold, the skies are brittle, and the leaves have finally fallen.  I wear a pony coat with skin like watered silk and muff of lamb.  My fingers lie in depths of warmth.  I have a jacket of silver sequins and heavy bracelets of rich corals.  I wear about my neck a triple thread-like chain of lapis lazulis and pearls.  On my face is softness and content like a veil of golden moonlight.  And I have never in all my lives been so lonely.
----Martha Dodd (In The Garden of Beasts: Love Terror, and an American Family in

Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson p 198)
At a time when hundreds of men have been put to death without trial or any sort of evidence of guilt, and when the population literally trembles with fear, animals have rights guaranteed them which men and women cannot think of expecting.  One might easily wish he were a horse.
---William Dodd (In The Garden of Beasts: Love Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson p 336)

Link to Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Garden-Beasts-Terror-American-Hitlers/dp/030740885X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1460062188&sr=1-1&keywords=beasts+in+the+garden

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Red Glove: Book Two in the Curse Trilogy by Holly Black

This series just keeps getting better and better.  Cassel and his mother spend the summer grifting in Atlantic City, until a con goes wrong and they have to leave.  Its now Cassel's senior year at school and the girl he loves, Lila Zachorov, the mob boss's daughter, is going there too, which is a torture to him.  His roommate, Sam, and his girlfriend, and worker's rights advocate, Daneca, is too.  Cassel is still acting as a bookie, trying to pretend that everything that happened last year was an all true nightmare.

Then Cassel is approached by two government agents, who inform him that his older brother, Phillip, has been shot dead, by what appears to be a woman wearing red gloves.  Phillip was going to give them information on the mysterious deaths that he made Cassel do, in exchange for being put into witness protection with his missing wife and son.  Cassel eventually agrees to find the Phillip's killer, who could be anyone: the Zachorov family, his mother (for going to the cops), his brother Barron (who may know more than he has let on about his falsified memories). 

But the feds are not the only ones interested in Cassel working for them, the Zachorov's want him too, as do his mother and brother.  When he figures out who killed Phillip, he realizes he must cover it up and find a way to keep Barron from telling the feds that he is the one who killed all those people.  On top of this, New Jersey is voting on whether or not to make testing for working abilities mandatory, which would destroy a lot of lives.  And his mother is up to something so dangerous, the blowback, may do more harm to workers than anything else.

As you watch Cassel jump from one fire to the next, trying not to get burnt and come out of this alive, you really feel for him who is in a very dangerous situation, that even a con man as good as he is, may not be able to escape from.  This is an excellent trilogy really worth reading.  It easily grabs you into its clutches and will not let go.  I am only sorry that there is only one more book to read from this world.

I’m useless in classes the next day.  I fail a quiz in physics and conjugate my verbs completely weirdly in French.  Luckily, I probably won’t need French in my future assassination career, unless I’m one of those fancy movie assassins who travel the world and also steal jewels.  Physics I might need—got to calculate the trajectory of bullets somehow.
--Holly Black (Red Glove p 91)
Changing is what people do when they have no options left.
--Holly Black (Red Glove p 146)
I thought that I could never betray my family, never work someone I loved, never kill anyone, never be like Phillip, but I get more like him every day.  Life’s full of opportunities to make crappy decisions that feel good.  And after the first one, the rest get a whole lot easier.
--Holly Black (Red Glove p 253)
Lies work when they’re simple.  They usually work a lot better that the truth ever does.  The truth is messy.  It’s raw and uncomfortable.  You can’t blame people for preferring lies.
--Holly Black (Red Glove p 268)
No troubles ever got fixed late at night. Midnight is for regrets.
--Holly Black (Red Glove p 303)
Link to Amazon:https://www.amazon.com/Red-Glove-Curse-Workers-Book-ebook/dp/B003V1WXNM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1499189639&sr=8-1&keywords=red+glove+holly+black

Black Heart: Book Three of the Curse Workers Trilogy by Holly Black

Holly Black, author of the Spiderwyck Chronicles as well as many excellent young adult novels, finishes the Curse Workers Trilogy and I am quite sad to see it end, even though I was really satisfied with how it ended.  It seems every time I read one of her books I want her more books about those characters.  I do not want to let them, or the world they live in, go.

This book opens with everything a complete mess.  Cassell's mom is wanted by the authorities for working Patton, the Governor of New Jersey into supporting the workers and not passing anti-worker legislation.  She is uncovered by his staff and suddenly becomes a bit unhinged and is now possibly pushing to send workers back to camps like they did decades ago.  His mother also stole the head of the Russian crime family, Zachorav's Resurrection Stone, which is said to have been worn by Rasputin and protects the wearer from harm.  She did this years ago and replaced it with a copy, but when she got out of prison and went on the lam, she needed the cash, so she (through an intermediary) tried to sell it back to him.  He figures out it was her and is holding her captive in his penthouse until Cassell can find the stone. 

Daneca and Sam are still not speaking to each other.  It is really complex as only teen romances can be.  Sam was mad at Daneca for not revealing she was a worker and then Daneca got mad at him for not speaking to her about it.  Then she tells him she is seeing another guy and Cassell feels he must do something to bring his two friends back together. 

Cassell is also approached by a mysterious girl at school, Mina, who says she is being blackmailed by someone who stole her camera that had pictures of her nude on it.  Cassell can tell she is lying all over the place, but he doesn't know exactly what she is lying about and what her angle is, because he knows she has one. 

Cassell's brother, Barron, is enjoying working for the Feds, as he is finding ways to scam them. The Feds, with whom Cassell still has not signed up to work for, have him learning to follow someone and learn things that, quite frankly, both learned at an early stage in life.  He chooses Lila to follow, the girl he cannot get over, even though she hates him.  Its interesting that Lila is the one person who truly understands him in a way that even he does not understand himself. 

Soon the Feds have an assignment for Cassell, even though he does not work for them.  He is not sure if they are trying to set him up or not.  He just wants to be a good person and do the right thing.  That's why he chose to make a deal with the Feds and join them after high school.  He thinks they are the good guys.  But what if they are no better than grifters in his family or those in the mobs, who all want to use him for his curse work power?

Cassell is walking on a thin line and any moment he could fall and destroy his life, or worse yet, someone he cares about.  Cassell has come a long way by the time this book ends.  Life is complicated and it's not always easy to see which path to take, especially when you have trouble separating the lies from the truth.  In this last book, Cassell finds his own moral compass and figures out, at least for now, which road to take.  What the future holds for him, I would love to find out, so Holly Black, please keep writing.

Mine.  The language of love is that, possessive.  That should be the first warning that it’s not going to encourage anyone’s betterment.
--Holly Black (Black Heart p 4)
That’s the problem with temptation. It’s so damn tempting.
--Holly Black (Black Heart p 6)
Cassel, she said, you want to know how to be the most charming guy anyone’s ever met?  Remind them of their favorite person.  Everyone’s favorite person is their own damn self.
--Holly Black (Black Heart p 10)
Girls like her, my grandfather once warned me, girls like her turn into women with eyes like bullet holes and mouths made of knives. They are always restless.  They are always hungry. They are bad news.  They will drink you down like a shot of whiskey. Falling in love with them is like falling down a flight of stairs.
--Holly Black (Black Heart p 18)
She’s right, of course.  I’m not a good person.  The funny thing about good people—people like Daneca—is that they really honestly don’t get the impulse toward evil.  They have an incredibly hard time reconciling with the idea that a person who makes them smile can still be capable of terrible things.  Which is why, although she’s accusing me of being a murderer, she seems more annoyed than actually worried about getting murdered.  Daneca seems to persist in a belief that if I could just listen and understand how bad my bad choices are, I’d stop making them.
--Holly Black (Black Heart p 32)

My family are lunatics who set a high bar for lunacy.
--Holly Black (Black Heart p 78)
When we fall that first time, we’re not really in love with the girl.  We’re in love with being in love.  We’ve got no idea what she’s really about—or what she’s capable of.  We’re in love with our idea of her and of who we become around her.  We’re idiots.
--Holly Black (Black Hearts p 82)
Love changes us, but we change how we love too.
--Holly Black (Black Hearts p 82)
 Whatever else I’m shaky on, I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to con the people you love.
--Holly Black (Black Heart p 86)
“You looked at porn with my grandfather?”
“It wasn’t porn!  Your grandmother was one of the ladies.”
Of course she was.
“The costumes were amazing,” he says dreamily. “Feathers and masks and sets like you wouldn’t believe.  Crescent moon thrones and a massive rose with petals that swung like doors.”
“You were looking at the sets?”  Now I’m laughing for real.
“I didn’t want to stare at the women.  I wasn’t sure which ones were your relatives!  And your grandfather was right there!”
--Holly Black (Black Heart p 118)
The problem with cell phones is that you can’t slam them down into a cradle when you hang up.  Your only option is to throw them, and if you do, they just skitter across the floor and crack their case.  It’s not satisfying at all.
--Holly Black (Black Heart p 122)
At the end of a criminal’s life, it’s always the small mistake, the coincidence, the lark.  The time we got too comfortable, the time we slipped up, the time someone aimed a little to the left.  I’ve heard Grandad’s war stories a thousand times.  How they finally got Mo.  How Mandy almost got away.  How Charlie fell.  Birth to grave, we know it’ll be us one day.  Our tragedy is that we forget it might be someone else first.
--Holly Black (Black Heart p 223)
I thought grifters and con men were just born bad.  I thought there was some inner flaw in us.  Something corrupt that meant that we’d never be like other people—that the best we could do was ape them.  But now I wonder—what if everyone is pretty much the same and it’s just a thousand small choices that add up to the person you are?  No good or evil, no black and white, no inner demons or angels whispering the right answers in our ears like it’s some cosmic SAT test.  Just us, hour by hour, minute by minute, day by day, making the best choices we can.  The thought is horrifying.  If that’s true, then there’s no right choice.  There’s just choice. 
--Holly Black (Black Heart p 242)
Simple lies are always better than a complicated truth.
--Holly Black (Black Heart p 259)
A girl like that, Grandad said, perfumes herself with ozone and metal filings.  She wears trouble like a crown.  If she ever falls in love, she’ll fall like a comet, burning the sky as she goes.
--Holly Black (Black Heart p 267)
Do you know what the Turkish say about coffee? It should be black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love.
--Holly Black (Black Heart p 278)
Maybe I should regret that, but I can’t.  Sometimes you do the bad thing and hope for the good result.
--Holly Black (Black Heart p 282)
Link to Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/Black-Heart-Curse-Workers-Book-ebook/dp/B0055OIE2C/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1499189500&sr=8-1&keywords=black+heart+holly+black