Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Chinese Turkestan: A Photographic Journey Through an Ancient Civilization by Ryan Pyle

Chinese Turkestan: A Photographic Journey Through an Ancient Civilization by Ryan Pyle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hardcover, 192 pages
Published September 5th 2014 by Ryan Pyle Productions

An interesting book, with an interesting topic. A look at a part of China inhabited predominately by Muslims, with thousands of years of history. Pictures of the people and buildings with the old and ancient beside the encroaching Communist China's signature highrise white apartment/office buildings. I enjoyed the use of black and white photography; it appropriately fit the atmosphere the photographer was presenting. My problem with the book was its design. A photographic essay such as this is usually presented in an oversized book (this is close to a standard sized hardcover). The pictures were squeezed together on pages when they would have been done better justice had they been framed by more negative space on the page. And most annoyingly were photos which spanned across a two page spread landing a good portion of the photos central focus (a person) slap dab in the books gutter. I realize the cost of publishing probably was the determining factor in not using a larger format but could suggest perhaps keeping the size and layout but at least using a lay-flat binding so images aren't lost in the gutter.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Ten apples up on top! by Theo LeSieg

Ten apples up on top! by Theo LeSieg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hardcover, 59 pages
Published by Beginner Books, 1961

Dr. Seuss' Beginner Books

One of my absolute favourite Seuss books! I read it myself as a child and it went through my boys as being a favourite at one time or another also. This is a perfect one for reading aloud because of the rhythm of the verse. You can have a lot of fun with it. Ten Apples is also very basic reading, simple phonetic words, easiest sight words and plenty of repetition and yet it conveys an exciting story which is continuously in motion. From start to finish there is movement on every page. McKie's illustrations are wonderful as well; large simple, bold black outlines. These capture the reader's attention and his pictures carry the physical energy of the story with little action lines but also effectively using slanting lines to carry the movement across and off the page. A lifetime keeper for the classic Dr. Seuss shelf in my home.

Winemaker Detective Series (3) Nightmare in Burgundy by Jean-Pierre Alaux

Nightmare in Burgundy by Jean-Pierre Alaux
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Paperback, 140 pages
Published July 31st 2014 by Le French Book
(first published in French, 2004)

Winemaker Detective Series (3)

The third book in this charming series is not quite up to par with the previous mystery but still brings plenty of murder, mayhem and wine to the table. There is a puzzle, along with two deaths, that must be unravelled; and Benjamin Cooker finds himself calling upon an old dying friend, a monk to help him decipher the Latin clues. I really enjoyed the Catholic aspect of this particular story. The relationship between Cook and Virgile is a warm strong bond between a Catholic and an unbeliever bringing about many interesting discussions. I highly enjoy this duo who casually stumble upon mysteries on their travels as wine critics/tasters. This book, the third, does take some assumption that you will know who the characters are so there is little to no introduction or background on them. Which in my opinion would make this one not suitable as a starting point for the series. A quaint cozy set in the wine country that will please both cozy mystery readers and wine enthusiasts. Looking forward to the next book!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Color of Courage: A Boy at War: The World War II Diary of Julian Kulski by Julian E. Kulski

The Color of Courage: A Boy at War: The World War II Diary of Julian Kulski by Julian E. Kulski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Paperback, 450 pages
Published November 7th 2014 by Aquila Polonica
(first published 1979 as "Dying, We Live"

This is the type of book one really can't review. How do you review the memoirs of someone's life, especially the most troubling time of their life. I finished this about a week ago and needed the time to recover before putting down my thoughts here. The author wrote these memoirs at the age of 16 while convalescing in the hospital after being liberated from a German POW at the end of WWII, at the suggestion of his doctor as an aid in his mental recovery. The memoirs were first published in 1979 and have been thankfully reprinted again. This is a book that should always be available for people to read as an historic reminder of what happened to Poland and the Polish people during the Nazi occupation and Russian invasion, their resilience, then the final backstab as they were handed off to Lenin's Communist Regime from which they didn't break free until 1989 with the leadership of Lech Walesa. Julian was a 10-year old boy when his country was invaded and he describes through a child's eyes what happened in his home, Warsaw, almost daily over the next five years. He goes from being a boy who can't wait to be old enough to join the army, to one who sees the men of his country being loaded onto cattle cars and sent off to labour camps. Then he tells the horrid and inhuman tale of the Warsaw Ghetto as the Jews, including his little girlfriend and her family, are rounded up and starved and slaughtered. His frustration at living in a house amidst his mother, aunts and little sister end with him going to live with his former Scoutmaster who recruits him for the Polish Underground (Home) Army, mostly teens and some children, boys and girls alike, who fought bravely against the occupation and matured quickly to be the ones who led the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. The whole story of Poland under siege, under occupation, is one of a country and a people with a tremendous amount of strength. Through their faith and their pride in the country's heritage they never gave up the fight from oppression, for freedom. Kulski's memoir is particularly heart-wrenching and eye-opening as it gives an eyewitness account of Poland's WWII years through the eyes of a child as he grows to adolescence but never considers himself a victim even though he's imprisoned and 'interrogated' by the SS. Of particular note are this volume's visuals: there are many photographs from the era like nothing I've seen before. The slaughter, the devastation, the armed children at post in uniform, the hangings ... They cause the reader to pause and I did have to put the book down several times get an emotional breather. Plus the publisher, Aquila Polonica, has included several internet links to rare original footage the likes of which were either totally fascinating or heartbreaking. I highly recommend the book and hope this will stay in print for this and future generations to never forget what happened to Poland and how the Polish as a nation responded to oppression. Great thanks to Mr. Kulksi for sharing his darkest moments with the world.

Friday, March 27, 2015

2015 Netgalley & Edelweiss Reading Challenge - COMPLETED

2015 Netgalley & Edelweiss Reading Challenge

I participated last year and it really helped me to read these books that I can't stop myself from requesting.  Same as last year I am self-imposing a rule of not including graphic novels since that would defeat my reasons for participating in this challenge.  Otherwise the sign-up is here. and the rules are:

- The challenge will run from Jan 1, 2015 – Dec 31, 2015.
- Any genre, release date, request date, length, etc. counts so long as it came from Edelweiss or Netgalley.

Last year I signed up for Bronze level and completed that quite easily but never did quite make it to Silver so I'm going to go with the same and hope to make it up to the next level.

Bronze - 10 books


1. Dark Screams: Volume One by edited Brian James Freeman
2. The Settling Earth: A Collection of Short Stories by Rebecca Burns
3. Until You Are Dead, Dead, Dead: The Hanging of Albert Edwin Batson by Jim Bradshaw
4. My Pa the Polar Bear by Jackie French
5. Forsaking Home by A. American
6. Dark Screams: Volume Two edited by Brian James Freeman
7. The Wilderness of Ruin: A Tale of Madness, Fire, and the Hunt for America's Youngest Serial Killer by Roseanne Montillo
8. Grand Cru Heist by Jean-Pierre Alaux & Noel Balen
9. The Governess by Evelyn Hervey
10. Hot Dogs and Hamburgers: Unlocking Life's Potential by Inspiring Literacy at Any Age by Rob Shindler

ETA March 27: I'll now continue on to the next level which I didn't quite make last year.

Silver - 25 books
11. Nightmare in Burgundy by Jean-Pierre Alaux & Noel Balen
12. Deliver Us: Three Decades of Murder and Redemption in the Infamous I-45/Texas Killing Fields by Kathryn Casey
13. Deadly Tasting by Jean-Pierre Alaux & Noël Balen
14. Identity Crisis: The Murder, the Mystery, and the Missing DNA by Jefferson Bass

Hot Dogs and Hamburgers: Unlocking Life's Potential by Inspiring Literacy at Any Age by Rob Shindler

Hot Dogs and Hamburgers: Unlocking Life's Potential by Inspiring Literacy at Any Age by Rob Shindler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Paperback, 206 pages
Published December 1st 2012 by River Grove Books

I love finding little gems like this inspirational memoir. Shindler has a son with severe learning disabilities which mainly make him unable to read. As a father he fails his "experiment" in trying to teach his son to read and decides that if he can learn to teach adults (people he doesn't love) to read with patience he may be able to bring those skills home and put them to use in helping his son read. I was drawn to this little book as I taught both my sons to read, the eldest was advanced and had started on his own by age 3. That was a lot of fun. I just added in the phonics and the rest was natural for him. My second son is autistic and has many learning disabilities, some which sound identical to Schindler's son. He went to elementary school half days and was homeschooled the other half. He has short term memory and teaching him often felt like banging your head on a wall as what he had successfully conquered one day, would be as if he had never heard of in his life the next. Anyway, he's succeeded in being able to read now at age 15, below age level, but he's a work in progress, as are we all. I became an expert in phonics and the school worked on the Dolch words. I found Mr. Schindler's book highly inspiring and related to him greatly. However this little book concentrates more on his teaching the adult literacy classes than teaching his son and these were wonderfully inspiring moments. It's an inside look at who these people are that end up as non-reading adults,why they decide so late in life to learn to read and the determination and success they find in this new atmosphere as opposed to the school system that let them down as kids. Schindler's book often reminded me of episodes from that show starring Judd Hirsch "Dear John" which was an adult class or group of some sort (for divorcees or something). Anyway Schindler's classes had wonderful comedic moments, a cast of eccentric characters and moments that pulled at the heartstrings. A very well-written, uplifting book on parenting, helping others, learning disabilities and keeping dreams alive by remembering you are never to old to learn something new! Along with just how important reading is for a fulfilling life (not novels, but street signs, menus, etc).

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Governess by Evelyn Hervey (H.R.F. Keating)

The Governess by Evelyn Hervey  (H.R.F. Keating)
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Paperback, 254 pages
Published December 20th 2012 by Bloomsbury Readers
first published November 1983

Harriet Unwin Trilogy (1)
Bloomsbury Readers

A Victorian cozy mystery written by H.R.F. Keating under a pen name. This is the first in a trilogy. It was a fun, light, quick read for me. Overdramatic and unrealistic, especially in the portrayal of the stubborn police inspector. However, it was a pleasant romp with lots of atmosphere and dealings with the downstairs goings on in a Victorian household. The mystery was not too complicated being more involved in proving the governess's innocence than in a real secret of who the perpetrator was but, the reveal for motive at the end was amusing. Nothing too stimulating but an entertaining cozy read to which I'd most certainly read the sequels.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Morris the Moose (An Early I Can Read Book) by B. (Bernard) Wiseman

Morris the Moose by Bernard Wiseman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hardcover, 32 pages
Published April 1st 1989 by HarperCollins Publishers
(first published January 28th 1959)

An Early I Can Read Book

I haven't read a book from my "I Can Read" collection for a while! Morris was not a favourite of mine as a child but my youngest son enjoyed his stories. The illustrations are cute, as are most from the '50s, Wiseman has a bit of Syd Hoff style to his animal people. A cute story that has Morris the moose trying to convince a cow that he is a moose since they share many of the same features. Upon asking a deer to solve their disagreement, the deer tells them they both are obviously deer and so on until the animals realize they can be the same and different at the same time. A fun one to read aloud; quite silly and humorous.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Winemaker Detective Mysteries #2 Grand Cru Heist by Jean-Pierre Alaux & Noel Balen

Grand Cru Heist by Jean-Pierre Alaux & Noel Balen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kindle Edition, 104 pages
Published January 27th 2014 by Le French Book
(first published in French, 2004)

Winemaker Detective Mysteries (#2)

This is the second book in a series, I haven't read the first but it was easy to jump in at this point and as far as I could tell no previous mention of the last case was mentioned with the characters being introduced very well. A few others were spoken of but never actually appeared causing me to think they might have been in the first book. I'm not much on cozy mysteries unless they are golden age British ones, but this absolutely delighted me. A very light-hearted, fast read but completely compelling. I loved the main character and his assistant! The mystery isn't exactly the most involved or that hard to figure out but it is a charming read. The atmosphere of this book and the whole series is wine country, wine connoisseurs, cigars and, fine French dining. I'm not a foodie, but I live in wine country myself (Niagara Valley), my husband works in the industry, I love wine and loved being immersed in the exciting French side of it all. I don't smoke but all the talk of cigars made me imagine them being as exquisite as wine. I read the book in one sitting really surprising myself as I thought this might just be a trifle. However, I adored the characters, the atmosphere and the light mystery. Will certainly continue on with the series!

The Autobiography of Jessie H. Pomeroy, Written by Himself, 1875

The Autobiography of Jessie H. Pomeroy, Written by Himself by Jessie H. Pomeroy

ebook, 70 pages, 2002
Published 1875

Link to Free Ebook

After reading "The Wilderness of Ruin: A Tale of Madness, Fire, and the Hunt for America's Youngest Serial Killer" by Rosanne Montillo, I quickly found an ecopy of this public domain document. Originally published over two issues with illustrations in the "Boston Sunday Times", shortly after his guilty verdict and sentenced to hang, the then 16yo Pomeroy wrote this book (long article) whose main purpose is to plead for his sentence to be commuted to life (or even thrown out). He regales us with all the evidence and counter-evidence so to say that he did not commit these crimes, but if he did he was insane. After reading Montillo's book, which uses this document as a source several times I knew the whole story and found this first-hand account of Jesse's fascinating. Montillo's conclusions, through extensive research of the past and with current criminal psychopathologists, resolves that Jessie Pomeroy was a casebook psychopath. For someone with very little schooling, though a self-read person, his writing is highly articulate, verbose and logical. His reasoning skills are fascinating to watch in action as he counteracts all the circumstantial evidence against himself. He does outright lie at certain times, fails to mention his own childhood abuse and fixates heavily on the string on tortures he was incarcerated for as a youth which he now claims he is innocent of despite the fact he made no protestations against when caught at the time. I won't go into the case, as one should read about it first before reading this little historical gem, but it proves insightful reading for one today. Jesse comes across as egotistic, highly intelligent, a pleaser (if there is something in it for him), someone who wants to be liked, admittedly has no empathy, and also admittedly is a schemer. I think some people would have found him to be quite charming while others would have found him unsettling to be around. There is no doubt that Jessie tortured the nine or so little boys when he was 14 and incarcerated in a home for boys, there is also very little doubt that he murdered four-year-old Horace Millen whom he was convicted of murdering and sentenced to hang. However, he is also convicted of the murder of 11yo Katie Curran, there are strange circumstances around both her death and the finding of the body which intrigue me. After having read Ms. Monitllo's book and Jesse's own words here, I find myself amateur sleuthing and wonder if he was indeed guilty of this crime. Regardless of the mysterious findings which Montillo was only able to briefly put aside with modern scientific suggestions while quickly moving on, there is the strong fact that Katie was an 11yo girl and as Jessie states in his own autobiography he was only interested in little boys! Jessie did not sexually attack any of his victims but it is presumed he received sexual pleasure from the sadist nature of his attacks and as we know from modern psychology these kinds of psychopathic criminals usually have a "type" and hardly veer away from it. Katie Curran stands out to me, as being mistyped a Jessie Pomeroy victim. If you read either Montillo's book or "Fiend" by Harold Schector, I'd certainly encourage getting right into the thick of things yourself and giving this contemporary prime document a read.

DNF - The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War illustrated by Jim Kay

The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War illustrated by Jim Kay

Hardcover, 304 pages
Expected publication: April 14th 2015 by Candlewick Press


NOTE: I don't as a rule post my DNF books here on my blog but felt compelled to post my experience with this book as I found it so offensive.

I read three stories then decided to DNF. You'll see why as follows:

1. Our Jacko by Michael Morpurgo - I've really enjoyed the books I've read by this author so was looking forward to this one. It turned me the wrong way though. I found it overly sentimental in a fake emotional way that goes for the heartstrings and is supposed to make the reader all weepy. Frankly, it made me roll my eyes. There was an emphasis on white flowers and the symbolism of them which made me think of the "white poppy" campaign that goes on these days on Remembrance Day, which I am emphatically opposed to. (1/5)

2. Another Kind of Missing by A.L. Kennedy - The war is over and a boy tells of visiting his father in the nearby hospital, a converted Duke's manor and estate. Very morose and depressing, though it honours the servicemen adequately. (2/5)

3. Don't Call It Glory by Marcus Sedgwick - Ugh! This is so dismal and anti-war. While concentrating on a WWI German soldier who died, we are somehow supposed to think that fighting WWII was "futile" and "unjustified"! Tell that to the Jewish and Polish. This story does feature a boy wearing a white poppy on Remembrance Day and actually targets a man selling red poppies as "righteous" and "unshakable". Offensive to the millions who have died in war both the victims and those who served. (0/5)

At this point, I can't stomach to read another story. Obviously the stories are all anti-war, judgemental of the realities of history as it actually happened and propaganda pushing the white poppy.

OF NOTE: While reading this I am currently reading the memoirs a Polish man, Julian Kulski, written when he was 16 years old convalescing in the hospital after WWII.  My review will come shortly so I won't go into much detail.  However, his experience as a boy of 11 to 16 living in Poland under the Nazi Occupation and becoming a member of the Polish Underground Army at 12 and a German POW at 16 is heart-rending, powerful and difficult to read.  To have to read the fiction stories above written by people who were not in WWI (probably not in WWII or any war for that matter) and putting judgemental words into privileged modern-day children's mouths was offensive to me and disrespectful (to say the least) of the suffering of people such as Julian Kulski.

Dear Canada: Days of Toil and Tears: The Child Labour Diary of Flora Rutherford, Almonte, Ontario, 1887 by Sarah Ellis

Days of Toil and Tears: The Child Labour Diary of Flora Rutherford, Almonte, Ontario, 1887 by Sarah Ellis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

219 pages, Hardcover
Published January 1st 2008 by Scholastic Canada

Dear Canada

This is a decent enough story, entertaining and a quick read. It's a simple tale of the daily life of an orphan girl who goes to live with her aunt and uncle, both workers at a textile mill where she also takes a job to support her addition to the family. I didn't find this book nearly as historically interesting as many of the others in this series as it didn't really live up to the subject suggested in the title: "toil", "tears" and "child labour". The picture on the cover looks like a street urchin or a waif, but our main character is certainly not as such, but rather a robust, healthy (though poor) girl living with family who loves her and sees she's taken care of to the best of their ability. The Victorian era is a particular interest of mine and I've read much Dickens, many contemporary Victorian novels, historical fiction and non-fiction on the subject of child labour in the UK and US and it is entirely more of a hardship than this book dares to detail. Rather than speaking of her toils, Flora, describes daily life and spends much more time regaling us with tobogganing, Dominion Day, Victoria's Golden Jubilee, going to church, fairs, festivals and Christmas. I'm not knocking the book, which was entertaining, but the reader is not going to get much insight into the real life of child labourers, Flora is 11 and there is a little girl much younger than her at work also. I usually love the back matter in these books and the author does give more of a real history of child labour and the laws in Ontario at the time (which existed but were largely ignored). However all the photos of actual child labourers were American, and from Southern US at that. Not exactly representative of small town Ontario, which was disappointing. Not a bad slice-of-life historical fiction of a labouring family from the time period but not exactly a portrait of Victorian era child labour.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Wilderness of Ruin: A Tale of Madness, Fire, and the Hunt for America's Youngest Serial Killer by Roseanne Montillo

The Wilderness of Ruin: A Tale of Madness, Fire, and the Hunt for America's Youngest Serial Killer by Roseanne Montillo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

egalley from Edelweiss, 320 pages
Published March 17th 2015 by William Morrow & Company

Like Montillo's first book, "The Lady and Her Monsters", this book is not just simply about one thing. It is a history of a young criminal though two murders does not a serial killer make, named Jesse Pomeroy. Placing the reader in the late 1800s from approximately 1870 onwards, this is a social history of that time in Boston. Many topics are covered and even entire chapters are devoted to Oliver Wendall Holmes, Herman Melville, the history of mental illness to this point in time, the great Boston fire and Boston's World Fair of the 1880s. Jessie Pomeroy's life is detailed from birth to death, most of which he spent in prison in solitary confinement, upwards of fifty years. Mental illness, insanity pleas, the recognition of not being sane, and a backwards look at Jesse as a prime example of a psychopath are all key issues dealt with in this book. Roseanne Montillo has written a very literary volume that explores all the issues of the day at the time Jesse Pomeroy was alive, a social history if you will. It is a particularly in-depth look at "madness" as referred to in the title and how this era seriously began the study and genuine concern and a degree of compassion for people and criminals suffering unbalanced minds. Herman Melville was interested in Pomeroy's case and thus a chapter is devoted to him biographically detailing his obsessions, morbidity and madness. This book deals with main topics I'm interested in from Victorian true crimes to the history of mental illness and I found it a fascinating read. However, it is not a page-turner. As I mentioned, The Wilderness of Ruin, is most definitely a literary work that captivates and compels yet calls for a slower thoughtful pace.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Bluebeard's Egg by Margaret Atwood

Bluebeard's Egg by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Paperback, 304 pages
Published November 1st 1996 by Bantam Dell
(first published 1983)

I'll start off by admitting that I'm a great fan of Atwood's writing but absolutely cannot stand her as a person. This being her earlier work I expected to run into some of the vitriolic, man-hating feminism of hers that I can't tolerate. However, I only came to heads with her a couple of times. I found this collection quite satisfying. Due to my opinion of the author feel free to read my following comments with interest, amusement or offense. These are the thoughts that ran through my mind after reading each story.

A couple of the stories were previously published, but the copyright page gives no further details.

1. Significant Moments in the Life of My Mother - The narrator reminisces about the stories her mother used to tell about her own childhood between the wars. The mother is a wonderful storyteller but, even though the stories are told dramatically and humorously I noticed that each one was really in some way unpleasant. There is talk of what life was like back then when men were men and women were ladies. There is some deeper feminist significance to this that I won't go into. Overall, a very engaging historical fiction. (5/5)

2. Hurricane Hazel - No time is given, but it felt like the fifties to me here as the narrator describes the year she was 14 and had her first boyfriend, a 17yo mechanic. She doesn't have any feelings for him or dating in particular, but does all the things that she feels are expected of her at this stage of her life. It is an innocent relationship that the rather mediocre boy feels will eventually lead to permanence but our narrator never sees it as being anything more that a way to spend her time. A well-written tale I enjoyed reading, with an always rather morose feeling hanging over it. (5/5)

3. Loulou; or, The Domestic Life of the Language - This is a character study of a woman of undetermined age, possibly 40, still good looking in a muscular, earthy way. She is a potter and lives in a cottage with five men: her ex-husband, three ex-lovers, and her current husband; all of them poets. A lot of wordplay goes on amongst this group of people, but Loulou does start to wonder if she needs to move on and experiments with this when she hires a local village man to be her accountant. I think Loulou strings the men along, got what she wanted from them but was not scheming in any way; there was some innocence in her subduction. An interesting peek inside a strange family unit. (4/5)

4. Uglypuss - A depressing tale about a woman scorned. Told from the man's perspective we can take him to be an unreliable narrator but towards the end the woman takes over the narrative and both of them prove they were/are in a dysfunctional relationship. Well-written of course. I don't like Atwood's version of feminism, it doesn't work on me. Here I found the man to be a jerk but the woman was a crack-pot (of her own doing, not by his.) (3/5)

5. Betty - The story of a devoted wife and her charismatic husband who inevitably ends up leaving her for his secretary. An unreliable narration from a woman who knew her as a child and final sentiments on the callousness of all cheating men. A well-paced, well-written story but I disliked both the man and woman and couldn't have cared less. (3/5)

6. Bluebeard's Egg - The titular story of this collection is the longest one so far but is a very fast read. The story flowed very quickly and kept me engrossed. It is a strange tale though. Told by an unreliable narrator, the wife; she starts off talking about her husband and how "stupid" and simple-minded he is up to the point where we think he may be mentally challenged she then discloses he is a heart surgeon. Then she goes on with her story telling how much she loves this man she has been with for quite some time and how endearing his naive and childish character are to her until one day she suspects he might just possibly have been unfaithful to her. Then she has the audacity to say her husband must have been putting on an act and deluding her all these years! A very unlikeable woman indeed! Nevertheless, an engrossing story. (4/5)

7. Spring Song of the Frogs - This is quite depressing, but I like depressing. Told from a man's perspective but not in the first person. We get to know him a bit through three separate occasions. First he is on a first date with some expectations but when he catches the woman looking at herself in the glass of a picture behind him he can't wait for it to be over. Then he visits his niece who is in the hospital with anorexia nervosa. Finally, an old lover visits him for a dinner date at his house. There is a theme of thin, sickly women; this man wanting love but not knowing how to find it and finally his probability of having found it once with the ex-lover but not seizing the moment and now it's too late. (4/5)

8. Scarlet Ibis - This is my favourite story so far. Narrated by a woman who is on a vacation with her husband and youngest, preschool, child in Trinidad because the husband is "under pressure" and "needs rest". She complains a lot about their relationship; of how the husband is irritable and she feels invisible. Being an Atwood story and the way previous relationship stories have turned out in this collection, it is a nice surprise to see them encounter a crisis which ends up revealing to the woman that marriages can have patterns of ups and downs over time. (5/5)

9. The Salt Garden - I think I liked this even better than the last story. Very complicated relationships going on here. First of all the narrator, Alma, has visions of the nuclear explosion (this was written during the Cold War), she also fantasizes about how she and her daughter would survive the end of the world as we know it. Meanwhile, Alma is having an affair with her own husband, as he secretly slips out to meet her away from the girlfriend he is living with. At the same time, Alma has a lover, whom she cares for deeply and her husband knows about. Ultimately Alma would be perfectly happy if things could stay the way the way they were forever. She likes having two men, but being the realist and doomsayer she is she knows they will eventually want change one way or another, or their other women will force it. What Alma fails to realize is that each man is hinting, gently implying that they want her, only her, but she mistakes these gentle proddings of the men trying to discover her true feelings for them as signs that they intend to break off with her. She is a negative person who seems to like having the constant threat of doom hanging over, but she isn't unlikable. An interesting story, to say the least! (5/5)

10. The Sin Eater - Another story I enjoyed. Somewhat different from the rest. A woman is telling us about her interactions with her therapist/psychiatrist (it's never really made clear). He eventually tells her the story of the sin eaters in Wales from long ago who would eat a meal upon the coffin of the deceased. I liked the therapist's methods and his attitude: Life sucks so we must find a way to deal with/cope with it rather than the common attitude of shrinks who say well life is what it is, this is what's wrong with you, now you must change or adjust. Joseph is an interesting man, nice, I liked him but in the end we wonder if he was using his patients for his own therapy. (5/5)

11. The Sunrise - A very readable story but I can only take away from it how incredibly sad and alone this woman is. I didn't really have feelings for her as a real person. (3/5)

12. Unearthing Suite - This is a relaxing, harmonious story with a theme of communing with nature. Not heavy-handed or really even eco-centred, mainly of living off the land from pure want. The narrator is the daughter of a couple; the wife is always on the move, agile, outdoorsy while the husband is some sort of biologist (scientist or teacher) that is never made clear, but he lives outdoors continuously at awe with the minute wonders of plant and small animal life. The daughter grew up this way, but she is inactive, a watcher her whole life. She sees herself continuing to live this way but questions will she be able to make the move from bystander to participant? A pleasant, atmospheric mood to end this collection. (4/5)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker

The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Paperback, 164 pages
Published November 1st, 1991 by HarperTorch
(first published 1986)

I was addicted to watching the movie "Hell Raiser" when I was a young teen, watching it a multitude of times; the sequels never did anything for me, but the original just really captured my imagination. It was the Cenobites, of course, that intrigued me. I don't think I ever really understood the meaning of anything. So anyway, I've wanted to read the original novella ever since then. Unfortunately, I wasn't impressed. The Cenobites play a minor role, there is no character development in the "good guys" though you are made to really dislike the "bad guys". The overall theme is sensual pleasure to a debaucherous level that turns into the utmost degraded sadism possible. It is, after all, a horror story. Even with this theme though there is no sex and I didn't find the story gross or scary or even all that macabre in the end. It's pretty tame by today's standards, a very quick read that bordered on boring.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

No Safe House by Linwood Barclay

No Safe House by Linwood Barclay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Paperback, 464 pages
Published August 5th 2014 by Doubleday Canada

I really must start by saying this is not Barclay's best book when considering the mystery. One must suspend disbelief for this tale just as one does for any action film, say one starring Bruce Willis because that's exactly what this book is: an action thriller. And a roller coaster ride indeed that spans the course of only 24 hours. Several narratives are happening at once: the current action, the events that lead up to the current action and like the author used in the previous book about this family, a running conversation between totally unknown characters which the reader has no idea who they are or what they are talking about until it is slowly revealed in the conversation. I started the book a little in disbelief at how wild the tale was growing but honestly got caught up in the action that I threw belief to the wind and went along for the ride. This is a sequel to "No Time to Say Goodbye". It is about the same family and takes place some years after the events of that book. It is a completely different case and the first book does not have to be read to understand this one, but the events of the first book are mostly disclosed here making reading "No Time for Goodbye" first, for the sake of enjoyment, advisable. The most disturbing thing about the story was the characters' moral ambiguity, not just one but pretty much all of them, are so ambivalent that the characters I liked in the first book became unpalatable here and I lost caring about them. As to the solution, Barclay got me once again and came so out of left-field I would never have seen that coming and still it made perfect sense.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

No Time for Goodbye by Linwood Barclay

No Time for Goodbye by Linwood Barclay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kindle Edition, 482 pages
Published (first published September 25th 2007)

There is just something about Linwood Barclay that always captures me. I started reading and didn't come up for air until the next day! A gripping tale of a somewhat unbelievable crime and yet, it's uniqueness just made the read all that more fascinating. I loved the characters, especially the three main ones, a family. I was hooked from page one and particularly loved the author's use of two narratives. Interspersed amongst the main narrative are short chapters which detail an ongoing conversation between two people, which at first makes no sense at all and very slowly reveals to the reader who they are and what they are up to. There are only a couple of Barclay's backlist I hadn't read yet and I chose to read this now as his current novel is about the same family as here so of course I had to read this first :-)

Dark Screams: Volume Two edited by Brian James Freeman & Richard Chizmar

Dark Screams: Volume Two edited by Brian James Freeman & Richard Chizmar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kindle Edition
Published March 3rd 2015 by Hydra

Dark Screams (2)

This is the second book in this ebook only series that collects five short horror stories by popular authors. Two of the stories in this collection are previously published with the other three being printed for the first time. In the first book, I knew all the authors, this time I only know two of them. However, my favourite story in the collection was by a new-to-me author, Shawntelle Madison.

1. The Deep End by Robert McCammon (1987) - This collection starts with a previously published story by master genre writer McCammon. A typical alien/monster story. Entertaining, I liked it, but the ending was a bit lacklustre. (3/5)

2. Interval by Norman Prentiss (2015) - Starting with a missing plane, which is such a current fear these days, the story progresses into a dark and morbid story of a visit by a demon to those who are going through grief. A genuinely morbid story, well told. (4/5)

3. If These Walls Could Talk by Shawntelle Madison (2015) - I can't say much about this as the story slowly builds up in tension and reveals it's plot at the chilling end. However it deals with a creepy Gothic mansion and one of most people's darkest fears, certainly one of mine. Never heard of this author before. Great story! (5/5)

4. The Night Hider by Graham Masterton (2015) - This was a fun haunting story. A bit creepy but more scary in a fun way, if you kwim. Here we have a haunted wardrobe and not just any wardrobe, but CS Lewis' original wardrobe that inspired the Narnia books! (4/5)

5. Whatever by Richard Christian Matheson (1997) - The second previously published story in this collection and by far, the longest. This is not a horror story by any means, but it is on the dark side. I'm not sure I feel like it really even belongs in the collection. Written as a series of recorded conversations/interviews, magazine articles and the narrator's personal notes this is the story of the rise and fall of a rock band during the span of the seventies. The letters/articles are partly chronological with the occasional one coming in from further ahead in time letting us know how some things turned out at the same time as the story is being told. This story honestly brings the collection to a unsatisfying ending, but I did enjoy it a bit. (3/5)

Looking forward to seeing wo the line-up of authors are for Volume 3!