Thursday, January 31, 2013

Movie Break - The Life of Pi (2012)

The Life of Pi (2012) (at the Theatre) (3D) (in Edmonton)

I enjoyed this movie but do wish I had read the book first. I had always intended to, but it was the only movie suitable for the mix of people going that evening. I have the book on my kindle and plan on making sure I read it this month now though. As I said I did enjoy the movie but it didn't have as big an impression on me as it did the others I watched it with nor other people who have been talking about it at church. Some people are saying it is a Christian movie but it is not and I found parts of it disconcerting in that sense. I don't really want to over analyze the thing but I must mention my hesitation. The movie is "spiritual" not Christian. The message is that it is good to have religion and believe in "god" but it doesn't matter which religion you have or what "god" you pray to. Hence the inclusion of Hindu along with the "God of Abraham" religions. Finally, people are asking the question "Which story is true? #1 or #2?  I don't believe this is the correct question. This is not the question asked in the movie. The question and answer are: "Which story do you prefer? #1. And so it goes with God." Hence the movie is suggesting to us that people believe in "God" or religion because it is the "better story". Quite against Christian belief if you think about it seriously, and more attuned with new age spirituality. I like that the movie makes one think about God and religion and it certainly leaves Believers feeling good that they know Christ. But if you are really left asking which story is true, the answer is: both of them. #2 is what "really" happened, while #1 is how God helped him deal with the tragedy and survive the ordeal. One can assume that many parts of #1, once Pi was alone, really did happen, the two stories merge as one. The officials write the tiger into the report because they don't want to write down the atrocity of the reality. What is one crazy story from a boy who survived so many weeks at sea? Anyway I'm looking forward to seeing if my impression of the book is the same.

Any other Christians feel the same way I did?

PS - I hated the 3D, there was absolutely no need for this gimmick and it gave me a headache.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

20. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Illustrations by Philippe Munch. Notes by Marc Poree  (US) - (Canada)
The Whole Story Series

Pages: 253
Ages: 16+
Finished: Jan. 23, 2013
First Published: 1818; (this edition, 1998)
Publisher: Viking
Genre: classic, horror, Gothic
Rating:  4/5

First sentence: "To Mrs. Saville, England; St. Petersburgh, Dec. 11th, 17--.  You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings."

Publisher's Summary: "Another outstanding title in the acclaimed series described as "a CD-ROM between covers". A deeply thoughtful study of the ethical dilemmas that knowledge can bring to humankind, Frankenstein also provides a portrait of modern science in Europe almost two centuries ago.

This edition of the enduringly popular tale, with its striking illustrations and extended captions unique to the Whole Story series, provides the background information modern readers could otherwise access only through a broad range of supplemental research. This distinctive approach places Frankenstein, first published in 1818, within the context of its era, bringing it vividly to life. A rich new reading experience is the result: readers can enjoy and understand the story in a way as close as possible to that of audiences when Mary Shelley wrote it."

Acquired:  Purchased new from an online retailer many years ago.

Reason for Reading:  I intend to read the upcoming non-fiction title "The Lady and Her Monsters" which is about the writing and background of the creation of the novel "Frankenstein" so I thought it would be best if I re-read the book to better appreciate the former.

I am a huge Frankenstein fan!  I first watched the Boris Karloff movie as a young child and have since seen it dozens of times.  I've seen all the MGM sequels and have a deluxe DVD edition with commentaries, etc.  I've also seen many, many different remakes, pastiches and parodies of the movie as well as reading Frankenstein themed retellings, comics and pastiches.  I have read this, the original book, once before when I was quite young.  It was one of the first books I took out of the library when I obtained an adult library card with special permission of my father at 12 or 13.  (You had to be 14, or in highschool, to get one at the time).  Needless to say at this point in time 30 years later, the movie version, specifically the James Whale (Boris Karloff) version is the one that I think of when I think of the Frankenstein story.

When I went into reading this book I knew that it was a totally different story than what my mind recalls from the movies but I also remembered that it started in the Arctic with the monster relating his story to Frankenstein.  So from this I was totally blown away with how incredibly different the actual story is to the conceived modern notion of the tale.  The book is told in narrative form from three different points of view and is a story within a story within a story.  Starting off with a mariner writing home letters to his sister as he starts an Arctic expedition and then becomes stuck in ice he recounts his tale and his meeting of Victor Frankenstein who stumbles upon them near death in his mad chase of his creature.  Then Walton, the mariner, recounts the tale that Frankenstein relates to him of his life.  The awful, hideous story of his wretched life.  Halfway through this recounting Frankenstein stops to relate the story the creature pauses to tell him of his life story since he woke from the "spark of life" and wandered into the world on his own.  Then it goes back to Frankenstein's narrative and finally ends again with Walton's letters.  This way we get both Frankenstein and the creature's tales from their own mouths, in their own words as they were related to the person they spoke to.

Neither Frankenstein or the creature are sympathetic which I found surprising, as in the movie I am deeply sympathetic to Karloff's monster.  But in the novel, he is a vile, wicked, murdering beast who at first thinks he has human compassion but quickly is turned from having any and easily finds violence and revenge better to his suiting when he is not treated fairly by others.  Frankenstein himself is simply mad, the quintessential mad scientist.  Obsessed with his creation he thinks of nothing else, working in solitude day and night until he completes his reanimation of life.  Upon first glimpse of this "life" he is so horrified that he runs from it and from this point on he becomes obsessed with finding it and destroying it, however the monster has developed his own lust for destroying Frankenstein and sets out to destroy him also, not bodily but in mind and soul by killing all who mean anything to him.

A frightening tale that shows the futility and madness at playing God with science, even though the book mentions very little about religion.  This edition I read from "The Whole Story" edition is a wonderful annotated edition which really brings the classics to life.  The annotations don't particularly help explain the story any better, though there are some pictures and definitions of some items and devices one may not be familiar with.  The main purpose of these annotations is to set one geographically and historically within the place and era that the book was written. Profusely illustrated with etchings and paintings of place names mentioned in the story one becomes immersed in the scenery and in this book particularly the Gothic feel comes to life.  Historically we see the prisons of the time period, meet the Romantic poets and artists who shaped the life of the author and the mood which carried over into this novel.  I really enjoy and recommend this edition, have several others in the series and would pick up any others I found, but unfortunately they are out of print at this time.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

342. BOOK TOUR & GIVEAWAY: Rally 'Round the Corpse by Hy Conrad

Rally 'Round the Corpse by Hy Conrad (US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)
An Abel Adventures Mystery (1)


Pages:  337
Ages: 18+
Finished: Dec. 23, 2012
First Published: May 2, 2012
Publisher: Seven Realms Publishing
Genre: mystery
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:  "The fussy little man held out a legal-sized manila envelope."

Publisher's Summary: "It's been two years since her fiance's death. Amy Abel needs to start over. And what better way for a shy, risk-averse woman to start than to sink all her savings into a travel agency specializing in adventure. Her first project? A mystery road rally through the European countryside.  
At the starting line in Monte Carlo, Amy finds herself attracted to Marcus Alvarez, the most mysterious of her two dozen game-loving clients. But the rally gets off to a rocky start when an eccentric writer, the only person who knows the game's solution, is himself murdered back in New York.  
So who would kill a harmless mystery geek? And why are weird accidents beginning to happen along the way? To her horror, Amy discovers that this fictional mystery was based on a real, unsolved case, one that Marcus knows too much about. Now she has no choice but to join forces with Fanny, her domineering mother, and solve this on her own, before the killer strikes again."

Acquired:  Received a review copy from the author to participate in Premier Virtual Author Book Tours book tour.

Reason for Reading: When I learned that Hy Conrad was a writer for all eight seasons of one of my favourite TV shows ever, "Monk", I just had to read his book.  I was intrigued by the plot also as I've always been fascinated by car rallies ever since my parents told me about participating in one in the '60s before they got married.

I just adored this book!  It was perfect reading for me the month of December.  A delicious cozy that kept me returning to it during the hectic holiday season when I didn't have a lot of time for reading and I found myself joyously cuddling up for quick breaks with this book.  An entertaining mystery with a unique plot.  I absolutely love the concept of Amy Abel's travel agency extraordinaire.  The opportunity for imaginative plots for future books is bound only by the author's imagination, which he seems to have no short supply of!  The short blurb at the back describing book two already has me salivating for the next one.

I loved Amy as a character.  Down to earth, adjusting to single life after the death of her long-term partner (almost husband), living with her recently widowed and spunky but interfering mother, Amy is a person easy to relate to and sympathize with.  Though she has a lot of baggage on her shoulders she is a quick-witted, competent woman, able to rise to any occasion, not letting anyone get the better of her.  The secondary characters are a cast full of eccentric personalities as one expects in a cozy.  This is the type of mystery where one of the group of participants must be the murderer and the killer within the midst must be found.  As I've mentioned, this is what I call a cozy mystery; it is not fast-paced but pleasantly diverting and amusing.  The mystery at first seems deceptively simple as we are given an obvious scapegoat who on and off becomes both more and less guilty in the reader's eyes; there are also a couple of other obvious suspects and when the true killer is revealed a fancy bit of 'twistery' is a delightful end to a perfectly adorable read.

To win a a print copy of the book direct from the author enter below.  Open to US/Canada Only. An ebook may be chosen upon request, if preferred.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

17. Cezanne Pinto: A Memoir by Mary Stolz

Cezanne Pinto: A Memoir by Mary Stolz (US) - (Canada)

Pages: 279
Ages: 10+
Finished: Jan. 16 2013
First Published: 1994
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Genre: MG, historical fiction, African-American, slavery, Underground Railway, Civil War
Rating:  4/5

First sentence: "In 1860, when I ran from the plantation in Virginia, I decided to be twelve years old"

Publisher's Summary: ``From a Newbery Honor author comes a rich historical novel, at once a fictionalized slave narrative and a riveting adventure story. Near the end of his life, Cezanne Pinto recalls his daring childhood escape from slavery and the varied landscapes of his hard-won freedom.``

Acquired:  Purchased from a local "discount" retailer.

Reason for Reading: I'm always interested in reading books on this topic, from this period and especially when they contain the Canadian connection.  Plus this is a favourite author from my youth.

First, despite the book`s title, this is a work of fiction about a fictional character.  Written as the story of an octogenarian writing a memoir of his life from just prior to escape from slavery until he reaches manhood.  We briefly experience Cezanne`s slavery and then more of it is told in flashbacks later on in the memoir.  He tells of how he and the plantation's cook escaped together from Virginia to Pennsylvania via the Underground Railroad and how freedom was not ensured until they had crossed the border into Canada.  We learn of his time in Canada until he reaches a reasonable age to journey south again to Texas where he knows his mother was sold off to and here he joins the Union Army for a short time before the War comes to an end.  The story continues on with Cezanne's turning ranch hand and finally a cowboy for the remainder of his teen years and this is where the old man leaves off his tale, giving us throughout the memoir some glimpses into what became of him in later life.

The book contains no real-life characters and yet Cezanne is planted firmly in historical context and reference to people of the day is frequently made especially Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.  A truly poignant story from a young black teen's point of view.  The one point of contention with the book that may make it hard for some readers is the heavy use of black southern dialect of the time period.  However, it's use is of import and a fine literary device used to tell this story, which one can appreciate once the book has been read.  I admit it annoyed me at first, for quite some time; but there is a point to it which reflects Cezanne's growth towards freedom and becoming his own man that make it a worthy inclusion to the story.  A great read for upcoming Black History Month and again for those looking for the Canadian connection to this topic.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

16. Bartleby The Scrivener by Herman Melville

Bartleby The Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street by Herman Melville (US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)
The Art of the Novella Series

Pages: 64
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jan. 13 2013
First Published: 1853; (this edition, 2010)
Publisher: Melville House Publishing
Genre: novella, literature
Rating:  5/5

First sentence: "I am a rather elderly man."

Publisher's Summary: "“I would prefer not to.”

Academics hail it as the beginning of modernism, but to readers around the world—even those daunted by Moby-Dick—Bartleby the Scrivener is simply one of the most absorbing and moving novellas ever. Set in the mid-19th century on New York City’s Wall Street, it was also, perhaps, Herman Melville’s most prescient story: what if a young man caught up in the rat race of commerce finally just said, “I would prefer not to”?

The tale is one of the final works of fiction published by Melville before, slipping into despair over the continuing critical dismissal of his work after Moby-Dick, he abandoned publishing fiction. The work is presented here exactly as it was originally published in Putnam’s magazine—to, sadly, critical disdain.."

Acquired:  I joined Melville House's NOVELLA SUBSCRIPTION SERIES and this was one of the two December selections.

Reason for Reading:  I've decided to try the club for 6 months and plan to read the two selections, the month following their arrival.  Hence this is my second January read.

I was not actually looking forward to this.  I once tried to read "Moby Dick" and failed miserably.  I cannot recall if I've run across Melville in anthologies but if I have obviously it is not something that I've remembered.  Melville's writing style is a touch difficult for me and I found this a bit difficult to get into with the first several pages long-winded.  However, this changed quite rapidly and I became quite smitten with this story and must say it was not Bartleby I was most intrigued with but the narrator.  Bartleby is a most curious fellow, one who starts work in his position as a copyist, but gentlemanly refuses to do any other work by politely saying "I prefer not to." to any such requests. Only speaking when spoken to, this solitary man seems to always be present at work and when not working diligently is seen standing staring into space or out the window at a view of a brick wall.  His condition deteriorates until he eventually "prefers not to" work at all, leave the premises, or be let go from his position.  He becomes a peculiar, perhaps mentally unbalanced, perhaps supernaturally guided (what does he live upon?) character.

However, I found my interest laying mostly with the character of the narrator, a lawyer, the Master in Chancery for the state of New York.  At first impressed with his new employee's fast and diligent output of quality work, he starts to notice the man's peculiarities.  When Bartleby virtually refuses to engage in any other work than copying the lawyer is flummoxed, leaving him be and making up reasons for the man's behaviour.  This is in character with the lawyer though as he has done the same with his two other employees, one who is disagreeable in the mornings, the other in the afternoons.  The lawyer has learned to work around this and sympathize with the men by inventing character flaws and health reasons for their behaviour.  Bartleby, however, becomes unfathomable and yet the lawyer continues to show him kindness and think the best of him.  Things become intense though once the lawyer finds Bartleby in dishabille in his chambers early one morning, doors locked from the inside and the lawyer finds that he is allowing himself to walk around the block several times upon Bartleby's orders.  From this point on Bartelby becomes the one with the power and the lawyer eventually must leave his own chambers and move elsewhere to be rid of the man; this then starts a downward spiral of events for Bartleby which he can no longer control nor the lawyer's aid be accepted.

I found this story entirely intriguing and a curious look into the human condition.  I honestly don't know what to make of it; what is the point or moral being made here.  Even though I don't share this viewpoint, I do feel that many readers may find themselves siding with Bartelby and perhaps finding this a story of the downward drudgery of the clerical worker's monotonous plight.  But I felt Bartelby went into this position with a chip on his shoulder and I see it more of a psychological tale of how the lawyer tries to help someone who obviously is in need of help both socially and mentally and yet there is only so much one can do to help another when they are unwilling to help themselves.  Thought-provoking.

Movie Break - The Hunger Games (2012)

The Hunger Games (2012) (Netflix) (in Edmonton)

So it's been about three years since I read the book, and details were a bit fuzzy but I absolutely loved the book and had been wanting to watch this movie since it came out.  My niece and I were alone for the evening so we picked this to watch on Netflix even though she had seen it already (she has read the book too).  It's a great movie; I really enjoyed it but they did leave out some important parts of the book.  The love triangle isn't fully explored; we really don't get a chance to know the participants well enough to really care for them and the games start way too soon that we don't get to understand this world they live in properly.  But at 2 1/2 hours they can't fit everything in and they did a decent job.  I'm just not sure people who haven't read the book will understand how much Peeta loves Katniss.  I absolutely loved Josh Hutcherson as Peeta though.  However I  was very surprised at seeing Woody Harrelson as Haymitch as I'd envisioned him as physically looking like Robbie Coltrain but Harrelson grew on me in the part by the end.  Enjoyable, but the book is better and in this case I'd recommend reading the book even if you've already seen the movie as you'll appreciate it even more.  Can't wait for "Catching Fire" to come out this year.

Monday, January 21, 2013

14. The Big Beast Sale by David Sinden

The Big Beast Sale by The Beastly Boys (David Sinden, Matthew Morgan & Guy Macdonald).  Illustrated by Jonny Duddle (US) - (Canada)
An Awfully Beastly Business (#6, final book)

Pages: 179
Ages: 9+
Finished: Jan. 12, 2013
First Published: 2011
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (ebook)
Genre: MG, fantasy
Rating:  4/5

First sentence: "One cold winter's evening, a man in a long fur coat strode along the snowy streets of Capitol City."

Publisher's Summary: "The sixth title in the exciting adventure-mystery series about a sanctuary for dragons, ogres, werewolves, and other fantastical creatures

Ulf the werewolf is on his most dangerous adventure yet—to Capitol City, where the wicked Baron Marackai is plotting the return of the beast trade and the end of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Beasts (RSPCB). With the public calling for beasts to be banished from the city, or worse still, destroyed, it's up to Ulf to protect them and get to the bottom of the mysterious events. This time, the future of all beasts depends on it."

Acquired: Purchased a copy from an online retailer.

Reason for Reading: Next (and last) book in the series.

I've been reading this series aloud to my son since the first book was published in North America in 2009.  We've been holding off on reading this one, even though we've owned it for over a year, because ds did not want to come to the end of the series.  But he finally decided it was time to go ahead with it.  I don't have a lot to say as the book totally lives up to what we had expected from the series at this point.  The story went into Ulf's past a bit which was satisfying, filling in some gaps about his character and all the regulars turned up and played active roles in the finale.  The other books do follow a similar format and this one veered off that path somewhat to give a complete wrap-up story with both the protagonist and antagonist getting their just rewards in the end.  Ds really enjoyed this book (and the whole series); it has a place of pride on his bookshelf.  I highly recommend it as a fun middle grade fantasy.  One interesting bit of trivia we found out while reading this book:  I was reading a short story where the Scandinavian detective's first name was Ulf and it was explained that "ulf" was the Danish word for "wolf".  So now we know why our main character had such a strange name!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

12. Questions of Life ? by Nicky Gumbel

Questions of Life ? by Nicky Gumbel.  Illustrations by Charley Mackesy (US) - (Canada)

Pages: 208
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jan. 11 2013
First Published: 2007 (revised edition) (2012 printing)
Publisher: Alpha North America
Genre: christian, apologetics, theology, nonfiction
Rating:  5/5

First sentence: "For many years I had three objections to the Christian faith."

Publisher's Summary: "Latest Edition
Get a picture of the entire Alpha course in one book! Packed with humor, anecdotes, wisdom and profound teaching, Nicky Gumbel''''s international bestseller introduces the person of Jesus Christ and invites the reader to discover the Man who has fascinated us for 2,000 years!

This is a must have for both your Alpha Course team members and course guests. Questions of Life is a great gift to give to those wanting to know more about Christ and the Christian faith. 
Foundational reading for anyone involved in an Alpha course. Individual chapters of Alpha-Questions of Life are also available in booklet form to hand out to guests."

Acquired: Received a review copy from the books publicist.

Reason for Reading: I can't really say why.  This is not my typical reading.  I usually only read this type of book when it is written from a Catholic viewpoint however, this particular book called out to me as perhaps being useful in evangelizing although I had never heard of the Alpha course.

My review hear is strictly limited to the book at hand.  I have never had any involvement whatsoever in an Alpha course and cannot say whether I would feel the same way about its presentation.  However this book, based on the course, is a treasure.  This is an introduction to Christianity, what it means to be Christian and how to be Christian.  The book is ecumenical and does not present any denomination as being the "right" or "better" one.  Quotes from great thinkers and leaders throughout the ages from all denominations are included from Popes and saints to Martin Luther and unknown ministers of small protestant churches.  Quotes even come from the most unexpected places such as Sinead O'Connor!  The author is an Anglican (Church of England) priest which in all honesty makes him a perfect candidate for writing an ecumenical point of view.  His denomination is protestant and yet it retains many catholic elements, putting him in the perfect position to speak unbiased of Christianity, outside of denominations.  I had started to read the book armed with a pencil to note anything I found contrary to Catholicism but I put my weapon of choice to use very infrequently and the matters I noted are of little importance to the purpose of this review.

Best recommended for people who are already seeking.  Those who are wavering agnostics and looking for something to help them make the change, baby Christians seeking further understanding of their new way of life and old hands who have lost their zeal.  For these people this book will bring the light into your life.  Describing who is Jesus, why we should believe, how we should pray, why we should pray, what is the holy spirit and how can we be filled with it, what is evil, how is it relevant today and what is the church?  The book is truly extensive. touching on all major aspects without getting into any specific dogmas of any one denomination.  The ideas presented are what ALL Christians believe, it is what makes us Christian and marks the importance of the unity we should be seeking as Christians, brothers and sisters in Christ.  I particularly found the chapters on the Holy Spirit, resisting evil and evangelizing to be the most interesting to myself, a seasoned reader of theology, yet a convert myself who was not raised Christian.  This book is a keeper for my collection and I will be recommending it to the appropriate people I meet in my life.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

10. Captain Awesome and the New Kid by Stan Kirby

Captain Awesome and the New Kid by Stan Kirby. Illustrated by George O'Connor (US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)

Pages: 115
Ages: 6+
Finished: Jan. 9, 2013
First Published: May 8, 2012
Publisher: Little Simon
Genre: early chapter book, superhero, children
Rating:  4/5

First sentence: ""Run!" Captain Awesome grabbed the Frisbee and raced for his life!"

Publisher's Summary: "Captain Awesome and Nacho Cheese Man are up to their old tricks...saving the universe through the defeat of one bad guy at a time. From Mr. Drools to Dr. Spinach, evil doesn’t stand a chance in Sunnyview! But when a new student named Sally Williams joins Ms. Beasley’s class, the boys wonder if she is friend or foe. Eugene also contemplates inviting a new feline friend to join the Squad… much to Turbo’s disapproval.
With easy-to-read language and illustrations on almost every page, the Captain Awesome chapter books are perfect for beginning readers!"

Acquired:  Received a review copy from Simon & Schuster Canada.

Reason for Reading: Next in the series.  My son read aloud to me as his reader.

I continue to be pleased with this series and my son continues to find the stories funny and not childish.  Being a 6th grade struggling reader it is hard to find material on his level that isn't babyish.  This series rarely mentions the ages or grades of the children involved and he never has a clue he is reading something the publisher's recommend for grades K-2.  The books certainly have a much wider appeal than that.  Each book introduces new characters and this one is no exception. Awesome and Cheese Man find a cat and start to adopt it and bring it into the Squad until they find out the cat`s brother is missing.  On the case, they cross paths with the new kid at school whose personality is rather "unique" and we have a funny adventure which ends with the possibility of a new member joining the Squad after all.  Not the best book in the series, (there is always something with 3`s) but still follows through leaving us both interested in reading the next book.  One of the best series around for the 2-3 reading level, no matter what the age of the reader, advanced or struggling.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

9. May Day by F. Scott Fitzgerald

May Day by F. Scott Fitzgerald (US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)
The Art of the Novella Series

Pages: 94
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jan. 7 2013
First Published: 1920; (this edition, 2009)
Publisher: Melville House Publishing
Genre: novella, literature
Rating:  4/5

First sentence: "At nine o'clock on the morning of the first of May, 1919, a young man spoke to the room clerk at the Biltmore Hotel, asking if Mr. Phillip Dean were registered there, and if so, could he be connected with Mr. Dean's rooms."

Publisher's Summary: "Although F. Scott Fitzgerald is known for the kind of subtle, polished social commentary found in his masterpiece The Great Gatsby, his little-known novella May Day is unique in that it is the most raw, direct political commentary he ever wrote, and one of the most desperate works in his oeuvre.

It is a tale of the brutalities of the American class system—of privileged college boys, soldiers returned from a bloody war, and a group of intellectual left-wing journalists, all coming into confrontation in the heart of New York City on May Day at the end of World War I. Fitzgerald’s fine eye for detail is on special display and his relentless plot leads to one of his most shocking climaxes, in what is the first and only stand alone version of this rarity."

Acquired:  I joined Melville House's NOVELLA SUBSCRIPTION SERIES and this was one of the two December selections.

Reason for Reading:  I've decided to try the club for 6 months and plan to read the two selections, the month following their arrival.  Hence this is my January read.

I've read several of Fitzgerald's novels and short stories and find him an interesting author.  This title was new for me and I looked forward to reading it.  The story is explained as a sample of American class systems but I'm not sure I agree with that.  Class structure doesn't really exist in America the same way it does in Britain which I am more familiar with, where your class was a birthright.  Americans earned there way to their class level but then there was (and still is) the problem of the youth, the ones who didn't earn their way into the social position they find themselves.

Anyway this story revolves around several groups of people from different walks of life who all ultimately intermingle one fateful May Day evening and the reader is thrown into their mindsets, thoughts and actions when given the freedom to act of their own free will.  We also see how the end of WWI and the return to 'civilization' has affected these people.  The young college men who left to fight the war, some come back the same, others changed.  Some still belong to their social status, others have lost it and the main character of this story is a young man who has lost his money, his status, his morals and his self-respect.  He has gotten himself in desperate trouble with a lady (what exactly is not mentioned, but it is not hard to imagine)  The woman is presented as malicious, until we actually meet her near the end of the story.  Socialist journalists and carefree debutantes clash with freshly returned soldiers from the lower ranks, marking two extremes in ideology.  All come together in the end where death and tragedy ensue but sympathy (mine at least) does not lie with the one who it is perhaps intended to lie with.  I think the person most injured in this whole tale is the poor woman who had the unfortunate fate of falling in love with the young college man.  An intriguing story!

Movie Break - The King's Speech (2010)

The King's Speech (2010) (British) (at my Dad's)

This movie was an easy pick, I just walked over to the many shelves, stopped in front of one, saw this which I had always wanted to see and asked if Dad was agreeable and he said he hadn't watched it yet either, so we were set.  I LOVED THIS MOVIE!  My eldest son was as early talker but he stuttered until he was six, he grew out of it but the cause for it disappeared from his life too but that has given me an affection for stammerers.  I felt so deeply for King George throughout this movie, have always had a soft spot for the Queen Mum (Queen Elizabeth in the movie) and both were played brilliantly by Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter.  But truly this is Bertie and Lionel's story as they form an unlikely friendship and conquer a speech impediment for a man who must speak publicly as his duty to his country through a most grievous time.  I was pleased that Wallis and Edward were shown to be the selfish people they were as their so-called "love" story is often glamorized on the screen when it was in reality pure self-interest.  While I know a lot about King George V, the Wallis Simpson affair and of course the current Queen and her Mum, I've managed to skip over George VI, since his reign was so short but this movie has really intrigued me about the man himself.  Providence seems to have placed him in this role at the right time.  Was he really as duty-bound as portrayed?  I'd like to find out more and shall be looking for books from this time period that focus on him.  A fantastic movie and the scene of the King's Speech at the end is splendid.  A great speech of the 20th century.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Movie Break - The Colditz Story (1955)

The Colditz Story (1955) (B/W) (British) (at my Dad's)

I'm in Calgary and this is the first movie I watched with my Dad, also my first movie of the year.  Dad let me choose the movie but he has sooooo many DVD's that I said something either epic, war movie or British.  So he brought over a 5-pack of British war movies.  Since I'd heard of this book, I picked this movie.  I usually end up watching a lot of war movies whilst I'm here.  I really enjoyed the movie.  I'm not up on British actors but have seen a lot of British movies so I recognized a lot faces without knowing who the actors were.  Based on a book of a true story of a German POW prison for allied POW's who were prone to escaping this prison was lauded as being escape-proof.  Colditz is famous for being the one prison with the most successful escapes during both world wars combined.The tale tells of the many unsuccessful escape attempts of the prisoners and their morale defeating return to base until eventually they have a success.  The movie ends with the second (assumed) successful escape underway.  Not your usual war movie; no action, blood or killing.  There's a bit of shooting but no war scenes; the entire movie takes place at the Colditz prison.  This is a character tale, with a good story and lots of dry British humour.  One thing I really appreciated about it's production was the use of foreign language.  The prison had prisoners from the UK, France, Denmark & Poland and of course the German guards.  There were many scenes in which the POWs of various nationalities spoke with themselves in their language with no subtitles, only a few select characters of these nationalities spoke English and at the 'meetings' they had, there was a translator for each group.  This made the movie so much more realistic and is not something often found in old movies (or even in newer movies) where we just have to assume they are speaking in their language.  A well done piece of work but would probably be found slow for those looking for the usual 'war movie" fare.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Short Story: "Shaming the Devil" by Mary Sergeant

"Shaming the Devil" by Mary Sergeant
a short story

Illustrated by Norstrand

from WOMAN MAGAZINE, August 10, 1955, pg 9
First Sentence:  "The india-rubber tip of the elephant's trunk nibbled Joanna's palm, then with an insolent swing her threepenny bit was merely one more jingle in the keeper's pocket."

Last Sentence:  "And to me," he whispered. "The most beautiful sense in the world."

Author:  I can't find anything about the author, but I have found two books written by a Mary Sergeant in the early 1950s published in England (as was this magazine).  I can't find any information about the books either but from the titles they sound like romances, perhaps Gothic romance.  Certainly a good chance this is the same author in question.

I actually really enjoyed this story even though it was quite trite.  An orphan brought up by a widowed aunt who suddenly dies at age sixty.  Now the nineteen year old is forced to move to the city and fend for herself.  She has conflicting ideas.  A modern woman of the mid-fifties, she is quite capable of taking care of herself and working and yet, of course, her ultimate goal is to get married.  She finds herself in a desperate situation as she's been fired from her current position as housekeeper for "stealing" and has no where to live.  Fuming, ruminating, planning at the zoo she encounters a man.  The man is jobless also as he's just told his boss what he thinks of him.  A fun little whirlwind of banter as they meet and fall in love.  Quite frivolous and old-fashioned but well written and enjoyable.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

07. Roadwork by Richard Bachman (Stephen King)

Roadwork by Richard Bachman (Stephen King) (US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)

Pages: 207
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jan. 6 2013
First Published: 1981
Publisher: New American Library
Genre: psychological suspense
Rating:  3.5/5

First sentence: "He kept doing things without letting himself think about them."

Publisher's Summary: "They're tearing down Bart Dawes's home, leveling his memories, and destroying his past, all for a new highway extension. Funny what that kind of progress can do to a man. Scary, too."

Acquired:  Purchased the omnibus edition from a used book store.  This is the same edition I bought new when it first came out.

Reason for Reading:  I'm re/reading Stephen King's works in chronological order and this was next in line.

This is my first re-read that I went into it with absolutely no memory of the story whatsoever.  And my copy only has some vague sentence about an angry man fighting back as a summary so I was none the wiser from that.  As I read it really didn't come back to me either, which is strange as I completely remember the other three in this book.

This is a hard book for me to review as it got better as I read it.  Honestly, I was quite bored for the first half and didn't really get hooked until close to the end when the excitement built.  This is a story that tries too hard to show the reader the mental breakdown of a man.  One who looses it and goes out "guns blazing".  When we meet Bart he's already well down the road to no return, hearing a voice and talking with it.  The book takes a long time to slowly let the reader know who this voice is and what the whole story behind it is and this is part of the book's slowness and what made it such a bland read for the most part.  Now, even though I seem negative here; the book wasn't bad; in fact it was good.  This story is a thinker.  Bart is 'crazy' when we meet him and in my mind the deeper he goes into his insanity the saner he becomes, until at the end of the book when he can be viewed as a madman, he is at his ultimate sanest moment in the entire book.   He has taken himself where he wanted to end up even though he didn't know it as far back as a few years ago when "the incident" happened and he's enjoyed these last weeks getting there.  I was satisfied with the read at the end, even though I had a hard time really getting into it.

This is the first Bachman that I truly felt was King.  The writing style, the stream of consciousness, the dialogue are all classic King and thinking back I can see true fans of the time putting the clues together at this point and outing King as Bachman (or at least suspecting) with this book.

When I read a King, I always look out for connections to other books and the only one I noticed here was one of the laundry machines was called The Mangler.  This is the name of a machine (perhaps even the title?) in a short story in "Night Shift".

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Short Story: "Miss Ella" by Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald

"Miss Ella" by Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald
a short story

Painting by Chuck Wilkinson

from LADIES' HOME JOURNAL MAGAZINE, January 1971, pg 78
First Sentence:  "Bitter things dried behind the eyes of Miss Ella like garlic on a string before an open fire."

Last Sentence:  "She drove with Aunt Ella in the afternoons, took an interest in the tiny church, and all the time the rims about her eyes grew redder and redder, like those of a person leaning over a hot fire, but she was not a kitchen sort of person, withal."

Author:  No need to look up who this author is, the wife of author F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I did do some searching to find out about the story though.  The magazine mentions that the story has been "long lost and now happily rediscovered".  In my brief research I found that when mentioning Zelda's short stories this one was often mentioned by name as being of high quality, so it was quite exciting to find its run here in this magazine.  I had not ever read anything by Zelda, though I have read F. Scott.

I can't say I was particularly impressed with the story.  The narrator introduces himself as someone who was in love with Miss Ella once and then he goes on to describe her now.  Then at a certain point he goes back to her past describing her great love story which became a love triangle and the tragedy it ended in leaving Miss Ella a rather pathetic character.  The narrator never identifies himself but the reader can make an assumption to his identity by the end of the story.  I don't believe Miss Ella is written to be pathetic but to be seen more as a victim of the tragedy of love.  A case of "it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all" perhaps.  Personally, I have no sympathy for her.  She made her own decisions and ultimately makes all three of the persons in her triangle unhappy.  One tragically so.  Yet, she is not responsible for another's actions, but the story seems to want us to pity her for taking on the part of the tragic woman.  She could have easily made herself and the other man happy by going on with life, but instead the two of them lead a forlorn, anguished existence instead.  I don't believe any of these people felt "love" for each other.  They get no sympathy from me; some people choose to be unhappy and actually revel in it. The writing was somewhat dramatic and I'm not sure if I'd read her again, on purpose, but would if I came across her in an anthology.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Short Story: "Daydreams" by Merrill Joan Gerber

"Daydreams" by Merrill Joan Gerber
a short story


from LADIES' HOME JOURNAL MAGAZINE, November 1970, pg 106
First Sentence:  "You know how it is about daydreaming.  You're doing something like folding the laundry, having to turn each and every one of your husband's socks right side out, and the only notations on your social calendar for the month are the dentist appointments for the children and the PTA meeting and suddenly a picture comes into your mind of an old sweetheart placing in your arms a dozen American Beauty roses, or of dancing in white satin shoes till the sun rises on a certain New Year's morning."

Last Sentence:  "But that daydream will not be so treacherous as the one that has just left a man, sick to heart, in a phone booth on the other side of the country, simply because a woman wanted to remember when she was young and just beginning to have power."

Author:  Just typing this author in the search bar brings up many pages about this award-winning author of several novels both for adults and YA.  She is also a master at the short story and has numerous published collections.  I had not heard of her before.

This is a fantastic story.  One which really makes you appreciate the short story for what it is.  Taking a moment in a woman's life, an inconsequential slightly selfish moment that turns out tragically to make a man's already sad life even more painful.  Beautifully written, the words just flow and the reader is carried away with the woman, not thinking her actions could be anything but harmless.  The first half of the story one dreams along with her of younger days, no responsibilities.    The second half, though, is a contrast.  When her daydream is over and forgotten, weeks later the thoughtless folly of her actions is made real.  Her content, happy present has made her view of the past one way in her mind, but the man she shared that past with has an entirely different view of it as his present is sad, unhappy and unfulfilled.  Her small action has caused an avalanche in his life. Something she has already forgotten about may cause this man agony for the unforeseeable future.  A terrific piece of writing and I'll certainly be on the look out for this author's name in the future!

Friday, January 4, 2013

03. The Strand Magazine: Nov-Feb.2013

The Strand Magazine Nov.-Feb. 2013 (Subscription)

Pages: 80
Ages: 16+
Finished: Jan. 01, 2013
First Published: Nov, 2012
Publisher: The Strand Magazine
Genre: magazine, mystery, thriller
Rating: 3/5

First sentence: "The very first letter Frederick Lowell slit open and read at his desk Monday morning would, he realized, change the course of history."

Publisher's Summary:  none available.

Reason for Reading: I enjoyed the last issue (my first time reading this magazine) so much I just had to get the next one.

I had heard of every author in this issue and actually read three of them, which made me excited to read all the stories.  Unfortunately, only the first and last stories were excellent, with the middle three being mediocre or less.  However, I wouldn't say I was disappointed with the magazine at all, as I very much enjoy reading the book advertisements throughout and the reviews at the end.  I have no interest in author interviews so do not read them; there is one with Nelson Demille (an author I've never read) and the article is again on the Strand Critics Award which didn't interest me either. I'm sounding negative here but overall as you see by my rating it was an enjoyable experience; Good.  And I'm certainly going to pick up the next issue!

1. The Sequel by Jeffrey Deaver. Illustration Jeffrey B. McKeever - Inspired by last month's "found" story by James Cain, Deaver wrote this story specifically for this magazine about the search for a possible sequel to a 1960s bestselling "Great American Novel".  A longish story this was a great mystery with the late author's lawyer playing amateur detective.  Throw in a cast of eccentric heirs & several twists and you come up with a fun story with an unexpected ending.  I've only read one novel by Deaver (loved it!) and have had him on my tbr list forever.  This story confirms that I must add him to my rotation of current authors.  (5/5)

2.  The Adventure of the Lightless Maiden by Lyndsay Faye. Illustration by Jeffrey B. McKeever - Faye writes Sherlock Holmes pastiches and I enjoyed the story in the last issue very much.  This one here was a let down though.  I like Faye's writing and she presents Holmes and Watson well carrying on Doyle's characters as established yet adding a bit extra to them that I can appreciate as a fan of Holmes.  However this story was so easy to figure out.  I knew what Holmes was about as soon as he did it and when he went to observe the whole situation I knew what was really going on too!  Not very exciting... It also involves Holmes in a case about ghosts and spiritualists, which of course are fakes but to hear Holmes deride them when we know how Doyle actually belonged to this movement just doesn't sit well to me.  (2/5)

3.  Midwinter Interlude by Alexander McCall Smith.  Illustration by Colin Nitta. - I have not read McCall Smith before though he is forever on my tbr list so I was interested in finally sampling him. This was not a great example of his writing though, I presume.  This is a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun with the popularity of Scandinavian crime these days.  This quite short story playfully makes sport of the genre while telling a tale of a Swedish detective.  This is a Christmas story but isn't really a mystery, no crime or anything.  Acceptable. (3/5)

4. Dear Santa by Ray Bradbury - Very short story, two magazine pages including a huge illustration.  Uh, kind of a whimsical story where a boy has to convince Santa (who is just some guy) to believe in himself. Boring and disappointing, as I do like Bradbury. (1/5)

5. A People Person by Michael Koryta -  This author is on my tbr list and I have one of his books which I hope to get to soon so I was looking forward to this taste of his writing.  It did not disappoint.  A crime story and a character study of the number one man to a mafia boss.  A very interesting story and I really liked the character profile.  (4/5)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2013 ARC Reading Challenge - COMPLETED

Once again Teddy is hosting the ARC challenge and though I intend on doing more reading of my own books this year that's not going to stop me reading the ARCs that do come in and I'll still be reading from Mt. ARC as well.  Rules are same as usual and I'll be joining the top level of Platinum of 35+ books.  As usual I am self-imposing a 100 pg minimum on the books I include in this challenge.

Post links here.

1. Fatal Friends, Deadly Neighbors by Ann Rule
2. Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, & Me by Ellen Forney
3. Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, Vol. 12 by Hiroshi Shiibashi
4. Judge Dredd: The Garth Ennis Collection
5. Captain Awesome and the New Kid by Stan Kirby
6. Questions of Life ? by Nicky Gumbel
7. Rally Round the Corpse by Hy Conrad
8. Hating Heidi Foster by Jeffrey Blount
9. Speaking From Amongst the Bones by Alan Bradley
10. Justice League, Vol. 2: The Villain's Journey by Geoff Johns
11. The Starry Window by Patricia Bow
12. Oddkins: A Fable For All Ages by Dean Koontz
13. Alabaster: Wolves by Catilan R. Kiernan
14. The Lady and Her Monsters: A Tale of Dissections, Real-Life Dr. Frankensteins, and the Creation of Mary Shelley's Masterpiece by Roseanne Montillo
15.The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks
16. Shining Agnes by Sara Banerji
17. A Question of Identity by Susan Hill
18. That Boy Red by Rachna Gilmore
19. Captain Underpants and the Revolting Revenge of the Radioactive Robo-Boxers by Dav Pilkey
20. Iscariot: A Novel of Judas by Tosca Lee
21. Curses! Foiled Again by Jane Yolen
22. Night's Child by Maureen Jennings
23. Lou Scheimer: Creating the Filmation Generation by Lou Scheimer with Andy Mangels
24. The Bedlam Detective by Stephen Gallagher
25. Bone: Quest for the Spark, Book Three by Tom Sniegoski
26. Graphic Classics, Vol. 24: Native American Classics edited by Tom Pomplun
27. Legends From China: Three Kingdoms, Vol. 3: To Pledge Allegiance by Wei Dong Chen
28. Jerusalem: The Story of a City and a Family by Boaz Yakin
29. Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee, Vol. 12 by Hiroyuki Asada
30. Mind MGMT, Vol. 1 by Matt Kindt
31. Jungleland: A Mysterious Lost City, a WWII Spy, and a True Story of Deadly Adventure by Christopher S. Stewart
32. Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, Vol. 13 by Hiroshi Shiibashi
33. The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler
34. Barrage, Vol. 1 by Kouhei Horikoshi
35. Picturing Disability: Beggar, Freak, Citizen & Other Photographic Rhetoric by Robert Bogdan
Finished Platinum Level

And Plus:
36. The Nightmare by Lars Kepler
37. The Great Successor: A Political Cartoon by Ha Tae Keung.
38. War Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon E. McKay
39. Criminal Macabre: No Peace for Dead Men by Steve Niles & Eric Powell
40. Fever by Lauren DeStefano
41. Barrage Vol. 2 by Kouhei Horikoshi
42. Sever by Lauren DeStefano
43. Chickenhare by Chris Grine
44. Island of Silence by Lisa McMann
45. Judge Dredd: Origins by John Wagner
46. Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses by Bess Lovejoy
47. Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes by Matt Kindt
48. The Last Council by Kazu Kibuishi
49. Prince of the Elves by Kazu Kibuishi
50. Crash by Lisa McMann
51. Grimm Fairy Tales Presents: Sleepy Hollow by Dick Wickline
52. Doll Bones by Holly Black
53. Zeus and the Thunderbolt of Doom by Joan Holub & Suzanne Williams
54. Poseidon and the Sea of Fury by Joan Holub & Suzanne Williams
55. Hades and the Helm of Darkness by Joan Holub & Suzanne Williams
56. Consuming the Word: The New Testament and the Eucharist in the Early Church by Scott Hahn
57. Wonderland, Vol. 2 by Raven Gregory
58. The Un-Rest Cure and Other Stories by Saki
59. Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen & Faith Erin Hicks
60. Waking Up In Heaven: A True Story of Brokenness, Heaven, and Life Again. by Crystal McVea and Alex Tresniowski
61. Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee, V13 by Hiroyuki Asada
62. Zebrafish: SPF 40 by Sharon Emerson
63. Who Is AC? by Hope Larson
64. Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan V14 by Hiroshi Shiibashi
65. Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan V15 by Hiiroshi Shiibashi
66. Precocia by Dale E. Basye
67. Notes from a Coma by Mike McCormack
68. Library Wars: Love & War, Vol. 9 by Kiiro Yumi
69. Tiger & Bunny Vol. 1 by Mizuki Sakakibara
70. American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1960s, 1960-1964 by John Wells
71. Pepita: Inoue meets Gaudi by Takehiko Inoue
72. White Shanghai by Elvira Baryakina
73. Redemption by Jussi Adler-Olsen
74. Persia Blues Vol. 1 by Dara Naraghi
75. The Truth is Out There Vol. 1: Brendan & Erc in Exile by Amadeus
76. Bluffton: My Summer with Buster Keaton by Matt Phelan
7. Capote in Kansas by Ande Parks
78. Neon Genesis Evangelion 3-in-1, Vol. 2 by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto
79. The Fire Witness by Lars Kepler
80. Neon Genesis Evangelion 3-in-1, Vol. 3 by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto
81. Sunny Vol. 1 by Taiyo Matsumoto
82. Bobcat and Other Stories by Rebecca Lee
83. Wars in Toyland by Joe Harris
84. Captain Awesome Takes a Dive by Stan Kirby
85. Captain Awesome, Soccer Star  by Stan Kirby
86. Hooey Higgins and the Shark by Steve Voake
87. A Bag of Marbles: The Graphic Novel by Joseph Joffo
88. Mr. Monk Helps Himself by Hy Conrad
89. Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell
90. A Tap on the Window by Linwood Barclay
91. The Reason for Dragons by Chris Northrop
92. The Accident by Linwood Barclay
93. Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson by Jeff Guinn
94. Dragonball 3-in-1 (1-2-3) by Akira Toriyama
95. Sleeping Funny: stories by Miranda Hill
96. Children of the Sea Vol. 5 by Daisuke Igarashi
97. Asylum by Madeleine Roux
98. Before Watchmen: Minutemen/Silk Spectre by Darwyn Cooke
99. The Heist by Janet Evanovich & Lee Goldberg
100. Before Watchmen: Nite Owl/Dr. Manhattan by J. Michael Straczynski
101. Lost Cause by John Wilson
102. Before Watchmen: Ozymandias/Crimson Corsair by Len Wein
103. We'll Meet Again: Deathbed Visions - Who You Meet When You Die by Colm Keane
104. The Returned by Jason Mott
105. A Distant Soil: The Gathering by Colleen Doran
106. Hyperion and the Great Balls of Fire by Joan Holub
107. Let Him Go by Larry Watson
108. The Hypnotists by Gordon Kormon
109. Star Wars: Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown
110. A Wilder Rose: Rose Wilder Lane, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Their Little Houses by Susan Wittig Albert
111. MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood
112. Tiger & Bunny, Vol. 2 art by Mizuki Sakakibara
113. Library Wars, Vol. 10 by Kiiro Yumi
114. Tegami Bachi, Vol. 14 by Hiroyuki Asada
115. Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan Vol. 16 by Hiroshi Shiibashi
116. How to be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman
117. Neon Genesis Evangelion (3-in-1) Vol. 4 by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto
118. Joe Victim by Paul Cleave
119. The Masks, Vol. 1 by Chris Roberson
120. Unseen by Karin Slaughter
121. The Tulip Eaters by Antoinette van Heugten
122. Police by Jo Nesbo
123. The Maid's Version by Daniel Woodrell
124. The Facebook Diet: 50 Funny Signs of Facebook Addiction and Ways to Unplug with a Digital Detox by Gemini Adams **
125. Perfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano **
126. Uzumaki:  The Deluxe Edition by Junji Ito
127. Who I'm Not by Ted Staunton

01. Fatal Friends, Deadly Neighbors by Ann Rule

Fatal Friends, Deadly Neighbors and Other True Cases by Ann Rule (US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)
Ann Rule's Crime Files: Vol. 16

Pages: 513
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jan. 1 2013
First Published: Nov. 27, 2012
Publisher: Pocket Books
Genre: true crime, murder, serial killers
Rating:  4/5

First sentence: "One of the questions I am asked frequently is "Don't you have nightmares about the cases you cover?"  Usually, I don't."

Publisher's Summary: "TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT 
It’s a chilling reality that homicide investigators know all too well: the last face most murder victims see is not that of a stranger, but of someone familiar. Whether only an acquaintance or a trusted intimate, such killers share a common trait that triggers the downward spiral toward death for someone close to them: they are masters at hiding who they really are. Their clever masks let them appear safe, kind, and truthful. They are anything but—and almost no one can detect the murderous impulses buried deep in their psyches.  
These doomed relationships are the focus of Ann Rule’s sixteenth all-new Crime Files collection. In these shattering inside views of both headlined and little-known homicides, Rule speaks for vulnerable victims who relied on the wrong people. She begins with two startling novella-length investigations. 
In July 2011, a billionaire’s Coronado, California, mansion was the setting for two horrifying deaths only days apart—his young son’s plunge from a balcony and his girlfriend’s ghastly hanging. What really happened? Baffling questions remain unanswered, as these cases were closed far too soon for hundreds of people; Rule looks at them now through the eyes of a relentless crime reporter. The second probe began in Utah when Susan Powell vanished in a 2009 blizzard. Her controlling husband, Josh, proved capable of a blind rage that was heartbreakingly fatal to his innocent small sons almost three years later in a tragedy that shocked America as the details unfolded. If anyone had detected the depth of depravity within Josh Powell, perhaps the family that loved and trusted him would have been saved. In these and seven other riveting cases, Ann Rule exposes the twisted truth behind the fa├žades of Fatal Friends, Deadly Neighbors."

Acquired: Received a review copy from Simon & Schuster Canada.

Reason for Reading: It's been years since I read this type of true crime.  I used to read it a lot.  I had been wanting to get back into reading something like this and who better to start with than Ann Rule.  I read a couple of her books waaaay back at the beginning of her career, but I had never read one of her crime file collections before.

The publisher's summary and information on the book itself is quite careful in not letting the reader know which cases are discussed in the book, except the Powell case, so I will not reveal that information either.  I really enjoyed this read and the format of 8 separate cases made it easy to pick up and read a chapter at a time once the two beginning 'novella' sized cases had been presented.  I enjoy Rule's writing, she has little sympathy for the offenders and yet on the rare occasion can show compassion *if* it is warranted. Rule does not go into gory details, but she does not gloss over the heinous acts either.  First and foremost her objective is to preserve the victim's dignity while letting the reader know the seriousness of the crime but not crossing over into that which would become voyeuristic.  I appreciated this style of writing and Rule's own concern and compassion for those she writes about is evident.

The book has a theme of murders/rapes committed by friends or neighbours though not every story sticks precisely to that theme.  It starts off with two 'novella' length cases then the next six are short story length.  The first case is the Susan Powell case, an extremely tragic story which started in 2009 and continued right up to the time of the author writing the book.  Next follows a strange tale where the police have closed the case on two deaths that occurred within 24 hours of each other in the same house.  The deaths were ruled as accidental and suicide but the public has taken the death of the six year old to heart not believing it to be an accident and the family of the other do not believe suicide is at all possible.  This is also a recent (2011) case which I found fascinating.  Personally, my thoughts lean towards the boy being an accident and the woman a murder.

The following six stories are mostly from the seventies, some solved, some cold cases.  I learned that back in the seventies they didn't use the term 'cold case' but referred to these cases as 'losers' at the time.  These cases involve murder, rape and missing persons and were all of interest.  I had not heard of any of the stories presented in this book, which was refreshing and Rule picked a great selection of stories to present together.  A quick, light read for the true crime fan.