Monday, November 30, 2015

REVIEW | MYSTERY | The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson
The Cold Dish /Death Without Company by Craig Johnson
Publication Year: 2004/2006
Genre: Mystery
Series: Longmire #1 and 2
Awards: None
Format:eBook - I bought the first 4 in the series in a fit of greediness
Narrator: NA

Why?:  Earlier this year I became COMPLETELY obsessed with Longmire the TV show.  If you don't believe me look under Longmire on my TV Shows tab.  Not surprisingly, I wanted to experience the books upon which the show is based.

Walt Longmire is the middle-aged Sheriff of the mostly rural Absaroka County, Wyoming.  He at first seems a little flaky, and disorganized, and he is...a little.  Underneath all that however he is clever and resourceful and he knows his county like an old friend. 

In The Cold Dish a boy is found murdered and not just any boy. The murder victim is one of three boys that had gotten very light/non-existent sentences for gang-raping a Cheyenne girl the year before.  If you are a fan of the show you will recognize the similarity with the first season episode Unfinished Business. While the basic premise is the same everything else is very different including whodunnit. 

Death Without Company is the investigation of the death of Mari Baroja in the Durant nursing home where she and former county sheriff Lucian Connally are living.  Lucian insists that Mari's death is not natural and as Walt begins to investigate, he discovers that Mari's past was a violent and troubled one.  He is also disturbed by her connection with Lucian who is his mentor and a county icon.

Much to my chagrin, I read these books back in June so my memory of the particulars is VERY fuzzy.  I also neglected to take notes. As such this review will be a little more general than I wish because the main thing I do remember is that I loved them. In other words, my delay in writing about the books is not because they weren't fantastic!

I was struck many times at how different the books are from the show but they are equally good if not better.  Like in the show, Walt has lost his wife and it did discombobulate him a bit but at the start of The Cold Dish it is a few years in the past and we find out very slowly that Walt and his wife were no longer really in love.  Vic and Ferg are there but Vic's been around a few years and Ferg is a good bit more competent then he is in the show.  There is a Branch-like character but he disappears quick, Kady exists but lives in PA and Henry Standing Bear is still Walt's best friend.  Probably the biggest difference is that Walt is not quite the same.  Walt of the books is a little friendlier and openly funnier than the dour, serious Walt of the show.  Book Walt comes across as a tad schlubbier as well, perhaps not quite as tormented or physically bad ass though he must be a little easy on the eyes as he has pretty good luck with the ladies in both books.

The thing that really set the books apart however is the quality and style of the writing.  It is beautiful and funny and clever and unpretentious and charming and.... I just absolutely loved it. The perspective is all Walt's and his voice is one that is impossible not to be taken in by.  Being inside Walt's head and knowing what he is thinking is also a big difference from the TV show!  Anyway, here is a sampler - I think the first two are from The Cold Dish and the second two from Death Without Company:
I was going through that little bit of worry that I had said or done something wrong and that she might not want to see me again. I saw me every day, and I wasn’t so sure I was that fond of my company. I promised myself that I would call her up and make a real date, maybe a lunch of lessening expectations.
 I always wondered about men who spent their time trying to anticipate and know a fish in a world where man’s knowledge of each other could only be called scarce. It just seemed to be gratuitously ignorant for any man to think that he could think like a fish. Then there was the high deceit of the artificial fly; subtlety, guile, and sly deception created and instilled only to lure a cautious and tentative fish to its death. They were as bad as drug fiends, living in their shadowy world of aquatic intrigue.
So I used one of my age-old cop tricks and asked her if there was anything else she wanted to tell me. She used one of the age-old mother tricks and just said no. Cop tricks pale in comparison with mother tricks.
Lost Twin is a lot like the other hundreds of pristine, alpine lakes in the Bighorns that seem to be sitting and waiting for calendar photographers. It lies in one of the mountain’s few hanging valleys, and you could easily envision the tributary glacier that had gently cut this hidden one. With their beds of stone, the Lost Twins had given up little to the forces of erosion. It was as if their hearts had been broken by the retreating glacier, and they were not likely to allow such liberties again.
Johnson captures the absurdity of life and the majestic beauty of nature often in the same paragraph.  The books are an absolute pleasure to read.

And what about the mystery?  In The Cold Dish it's fine.  Nothing special but good enough to carry along an interesting enough plot and provide a stage for the wonderful characters and the fantastic setting. I really enjoy mysteries where the solution is tied to a victim's past and Death Without Company uses this "trope" to perfection and with some interesting twists that I didn't guess at.  

I again apologize for such a flimsy, general review but I liked the books so much I wanted to at least put together something to encourage folks to read them!

FINAL VERDICT:   A mystery series notable for the beautiful writing, engaging characters and a unique setting.  Definitely one of my favorite mystery series I've discovered recently and I predict it will become one of my favorite's of all time. If I wasn't such a flake I would've binge-read every single book in this series already. 4 out of  5 Stars

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Saturday in the Garden - Homeowner Triumphs and Failures


I had a plan this holiday weekend to do the final clean-up in the garden but the weather has seemed to have other ideas.  It was rainy/sleety/icy on Thursday and then bitterly cold since.  I still have hope to get out later this afternoon and at least pull the dead tomatoes plants and put the planters and the grill away in the garage.  The thing that really needs doing, however, is raking some leaves to mulch the beds and my two potted blueberry bushes so that the more delicate things don't die in despair at Iowa's harsh winter.  Since the leaves are either sodden or frozen and since usually once the cold temps and bad weather come, they don't leave, I'm afraid I may have really screwed up with my procrastination.  It has been such a weird Autumn.  C'est La Vie. Thus exhausts my knowledge of French.


Here in the U.S. it was thanksgiving week.  I think the thing I am most thankful for this year, is being able to take a few days off of work around the holiday.  It came at just the right time for me to get my head on straight(ish) so I can dive back into what will be a very busy December.  I think at this point I can officially declare 2015 to have been a difficult and not particularly good year - nothing catastrophically life-changingly bad  - but enough to feel pretty emotionally worn down by now.  So a few days off for reflection and to fix my toilet was just what I needed!

Giving myself a gold star:)
Ah....home ownership.  I love it even though I am spectacularly incompetent at it.  The above picture toilet is not to complain that it broke but to show proudly that I fixed it myself!!!!!  I went to the hardware store, bought a new flapper doo-bobber thingamajig and installed it!!  I am a genius!  Basically, I can barely wield a hammer competently so I need to celebrate these small triumphs of self-sufficiency.   Despite this victory, I have definitely realized I desperately need to find a competent and reliable Handy-man/Jack of all trades who will happily bend to my will and do my bidding.  A husband you say?  WAY too expensive, ha ha.  I just need someone I can pay to help from time to time.  In preparation for finding someone, I spent part of my time off wandering around the house and writing down 4 pages of things that need doing on the inside and outside.  A very few are things I can do myself but most are terrifying to me.  I wouldn't even know where to start.  I really don't like to be this helpless but most times I try to fix something myself, it ends in near disaster with the situation being worse or with me having to bring someone in to expensively fix my mistake.

So how about you?  Any reformed incompetents out there that are now semi-professional DIYers?  What did you do to gain confidence around the house?



I've been indulging in some time with dear, vain Hercule Poirot.  As I've watched, one question that has arisen in my mind is how prevalent blackmail is these days?  In Agatha Christie's day it appears absolutely everyone who appeared to have any money at all, was being blackmailed.  I guess we have fewer scandalous things these days? Is this good or bad? I mean it's undoubtedly good if blackmail has taken a bit of a dive but if it's because no one cares anymore that you're an adulterer?  Agatha Christie...revealing society's moral decay.


Finished Last Week: 

Currently Reading:

  • Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling:  *Sniff*  My re-read is coming to an end.
  • End of Days by Susan Ee:  This is the final book in the Penryn and The End of Days trilogy about evil angels and the start of the apocalypse.  I loved the first two books in this YA series and have been sucked in pretty immediately to this one.  I'm about halfway through and things are get INTENSE.
  • Heartless by Gail Carriger:  I'm was listening to this 4th book in the Parasol Protectorate series.  Carriger was having way too much fun with an 8 months pregnant Alexia.   ON HOLD because I was forced to return it to the library. Grr....
  • Still Life by Louise Penny:  This is the first book in a mystery series set in Quebec, Canada and featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache.  A friend of mine recommended this series to me and so far this book is fantastic.  Excellent writing, excellent characters, intriguing mystery and setting.  
  • Winter by Marissa MeyerThe Conclusion to the Lunar Chronicles!!!!

Added to the TBR:

This is a list of books that I have added to my Goodreads TBR list this week.  It helps to burn the books I want to read a little more firmly into my mind, maybe get them on some other folks TBRs and gives me a chance to recognize a lot of the awesome bloggers that add stuff to my TBR!




I'd like to post two reviews and some other kind of fun post.  Top Ten Tuesday this week is the top 2016 debuts I'm looking forward to and since I don't pay attention to stuff like that at all, I'm not sure I'll participate. I do think I discovered some cool books the last time I attempted this topic but I also haven't read a single one of those cool books, lol.  So maybe a list of my own devising and then a review of Cold Dish by Craig Johnson and Skin Game by Jim Butcher.

Have a Great Week Everyone!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

REVIEW | Cold Days by Jim Butcher
Cold Days by Jim Butcher
Publication Year: 2012
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: The Dresden Files #14
Awards: None
Format: Audio (from Library)
Narrator: James Marsters

Why?:  Because despite my occasional grumbling I ADORE this series and I was determined to catch up with all the books (as of this date there are 15 published).

Whenever I read a Dresden Files novel I feel like I am reading two different books and that each one is giving me a vastly different reading experience.  It's a bizarre feeling.  I grumble and curse and even rant from time to time while reading but when I close the back cover, I usually feel quite satisfied and happy with the ride I've been on.  I can't decide if this effect the books have on me is good or bad but I do suspect it is only this way for a "special" kind of reader.  In this context special is not necessarily a positive.  My view of these books' fans is this: there are readers who read the books for the adventure, the interesting lore, the non-stop heart-pounding action and the snark.  They do not wonder about Harry's romantic leanings, they may relish the lascivious descriptions of buxom ladies, they enjoy the characters but don't spend a lot of time thinking about their emotional life.  I sadly am not that reader.  I love the lore and non-stop action but I also can't help dissecting all the character's motivations and relationships, particularly Harry's.  Being this "special" kind of reader makes for a volatile reading experience but in the end it's worth it.  I think.  Check back with me after the next 6 books are published.

With all that said SPOILERS AHOY!  I found it impossible to talk about this book without revealing some pretty major spoilers for the two previous books because while it is book 14 in the wider series it is also the third in a trilogy of linked books that tell one big long story arc.  This arc started with Changes, continues through Ghost Story and ends with this installment.  I don't think there is too much spoilery about this book but there are definitely spoilers regarding Changes and Ghost Story.


All the spoiler phobics gone?  Okay.  So Harry's not dead! Yay!  But he is now officially Queen Mabs's Winter Knight. Damn.  This is a huge change for Harry because he's used to being Mr. Loose-Cannon-I'll-Do-Whatever-Feels-Right-To-Me-Because-I-Answer-To-No-One.  He now answers to someone and is in fact required to do what Queen Mab tells him to do.  On the up side the winter knight gig imbues him with super strength and endurance however these enhanced abilities have a downside as well.  A pretty serious one and one of the main conflicts in the book is Harry's better nature fighting against the strong instinctive and primitive feelings that come along with being the Winter Knight.  

While Harry is adjusting to his new powers as well as the extra libido and violence it comes with, Mab gives him his first assignment and it's a doozy: to kill an immortal.  Of course Harry eats these types of impossible tasks for breakfast these days but this one comes with a whole lot of political ramifications and ends with a great big shake up to the Fairy, as well as, once again, to Harry's, world. 

There was much to like here.  Harry has a lot to deal with on top of his assignment from Mab and the other world-ending things going down. He is struggling with how to re-connect with his loved ones after almost a year of being "dead" and unsure how they will accept his new status as winter knight.   It's cool and intriguing to get a more immersive look at the fairy world which becomes more morally ambiguous with each glimpse.  We learn a little something about Harry; that his most primitive instincts are pretty scary and a little vile but Harry knows this about himself and the thing that makes him, him is that he chooses to act quite differently.  It becomes harder with the winter knighthood giving those instincts strength but he manages to keep them in check.  The book does a nice job of wrapping up the "three part episode" here in the middle of the series, effectively establishing the new Dresden world order while still leaving a lot of questions and conflicts to carry the series forward.

As per usual, the action and the conflict are piled high and the ending action sequence in this book may have been one of my favorites.  It features the Wild Hunt, Kris Kringle and a flying motorcycle driven by a kick-ass Murphy.  Murphy and Dresden make a fantastic team as they take down bad guys and work together flawlessly.  It killed me that Murphy negated the whole awesome action scene by interpreting it as two people destructively egging each other on.

Which brings me to the things that made me curse and gnash my teeth.  The first roughly quarter of this book is pure dude fantasy land.  There is not one but two gorgeous naked women not to mention a "hot nurse" type all of whom want a piece of Harry and all of which are described in lush, lascivious detail.  Being not a dude, I mostly just rolled my eyes during much of this section and I should note that I think it did have a purpose; making it clear that Harry's libido has been ramped into overdrive by becoming the Winter Knight.  It is also worth noting that despite many lustful thoughts about all the beautiful ladies (including Molly later on in what I found to be a very squicky scene/conversation), he does not act on them.  Also?  None of these lustful thoughts are directed at Murphy despite the fact that at the end of Changes he had decided to pursue a more romantic agenda with Murphy.  More about that later however in a special section for weirdos like me who are obsessed with Harry's love life:).

I also, because of my card carrying Murphy fan girl status, hate that Murphy really screws things up in the end.  She doesn't understand all the supernatural rules and machinations and so ends up making a very bad call.  No one blames her for this even a little.  It is not even discussed but I wonder if it is Butcher illustrating that Murphy is in over her head.  Perhaps not as over her head as most ordinary mortals would be but still out of her league.  

Overall the book is a deep one for the Dresden universe.  All three books in the trilogy are.  They are intensely emotional, and the stakes are particularly high.  Dresden is getting farther and farther away from the modest Wizard P.I. from the beginning of the series.  At the finish, there was no doubt I immediately wanted more.

James Marsters is back reading the audio book and it made me so happy.  He really is absolutely the perfect voice for these books. He's got Harry and the tone of  the books down flat.  I highly recommend the audio.

FINAL VERDICT:  This book is intense and more action-packed even then usual, so be prepared for a wild and crazy ride.  3.5 out of 5 stars.

Special Section for the Special Dresden Files Reader - Harry's Romantic Life

So I implied up top that special in this context was not particularly positive but just between you and me?  We're awesome:).  My interest and engagement in Harry's relationships adds a level of anxiety and frustration to reading the series, causing me to take over-the-top ranty notes, but it also adds mystery and some depth to the books. 

So what's up with Harry and his "feelings"?  Back in Changes, just before Harry died, he and Murphy had crossed a line.  They had decided to go on a date or at least hang out together with carnal intentions.  Ghost Story left me scratching my head when Harry left Murphy crying her damn eyes out with grief at losing him with little more than a shrug on his part.  Cold Days muddies the waters even further.  Murphy is practically the only woman in this book Harry does NOT lust after, or at least the reader isn't privy to his lustful thoughts.  As he spends time at the Winter Court, he seems to spare nary a thought for her while he develops tender feelings for his nurse.  So umm... what the hell?

Later, there is a great scene at Molly's place where Murphy asks Dresden some hard questions and is awesome and shows how much she cares.  She will push him and question him when no one else will. Shortly after, however, he and Molly have a conversation where Molly tells him that she can tell how much he wants her and that he doesn't have to hold back, he can have her (while my skin crawls with the serious squickies).  Harry of course has no thought like, "I may find Molly sexually attractive but the person I want to be with is Murphy so not gonna happen".  Nope.  He says it's not gonna happen because it would just be wrong for him to take advantage of Molly.  No kidding but is that the only reason?  Really?

Finally there's the end.  First, Dresden and Murphy have a great scene fighting bad guys on a flying motorcycle (see above) at the end of which they kiss.  A few hours later they sit down and have the most frustrating talk ever where Murphy says she needs time alone to think because she's worried about a) that she's an ordinary woman who will get old and die, while Harry will stay young and live much longer b) that they both like violence too much and they feed each others bad sides and c) Molly and feelings she suspects Harry has for her.  Harry's response in general is basically "okay". No strong denial of having feelings for Molly, no re-assurances that he cares for Murphy and they can deal with the aging thing and the getting off on violence thing together; just yeah you are probably right about all that so see you later.  It is so insanely ambiguous and frustrating for a Murphy-Dresden 'shipper.  Of which I may be the sole crew member.  Seriously, internet searching reveals that most Dresden Files fans either a) don't care about the lovey-dovey stuff lets get back to blowing things up or b) like the idea of Harry and Molly together or to a smaller extent some of his other ex-girlfriends. 

So what the hell is Butcher up to with all this lovey dovey stuff?  I have no idea and I think that is the way he'd like to keep it.  He has set up this triangle with Murphy and Molly and I fear that he is setting up Murphy as just one more traumatic loss for Harry before he finds true love and partnership with Molly.  If he does go this way, I'm not sure if I'd be able to continue reading.  Harry and Molly together makes me feel super uncomfortable and Murphy is my absolute favorite character in the books, probably even more than Harry.  The thing that keeps things so vague is that we almost never see Harry's inner thoughts about Murphy - we do about Molly and many of them are lascivious - but not Murphy.  Butcher might do this to, in fact, keep people guessing but I do have some other, perhaps overly hopeful thoughts.  Harry is not someone who has sex lightly.  He has a LOT of appreciative thoughts about women's bodies and is attracted to many but he never acts on those urges.  He only sleeps with women he cares about.  Murphy is practically the only woman in the series that doesn't get described, in Dresden's mind, in lascivious detail, as a sexual being.  My one hopeful thought is that this is an indicator that Harry's romantic feelings for Murphy are deeper and more substantial than they are for other women including Molly.  There are a lot of beautiful women in these books, a LOT, but the women Dresden has dated and loved have never been the most beautiful ones.  They are the ones he connected with in a different way.  Hmm... we'll see.  I have probably now officially given this much deeper thought than Butcher has ;0). 

There are further developments in the next book Skin Game so until then, that's all for the Murphy Files.

Monday, November 23, 2015

TOP TEN TUESDAY | Giving the Bookish Thanks

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme for bloggers who like books and lists. It's awesome and is graciously hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Being grateful. It always cheers one up, doesn't it?  So I sure am THANKFUL for this prompt from The Broke and the Bookish to reflect on the last year of reading adventures and decide which I am most appreciative of.  Here's the official marching orders from The Broke and the Bookish....

Thanksgiving themed Freebie -- ten books I'm thankful for, authors I'm thankful for, Ten fictional families I'd like to celebrate Thanksgiving with, a personal non-bookish thankful list, etc. etc.
And here's my list!

1. Re-reading!
Of course Professor Snape approves re-reading - I'd bet the series he lives in is one of the most re-read ever.  It had been years and years since I had done much re-reading but in 2015 I resolved to try and make more time for it.  Specifically I have tackled a complete re-read of the Harry Potter series and it has been such a pleasure.  I will definitely continue to make time for re-reading in the future  - maybe go for His Dark Materials to prepare for the upcoming TV show?

2. Media Tie-ins

The last year has really been my year to dive into and really enjoy books based on TV shows (or movies).  I have decided that I am most certainly in favor of these cross overs maybe even a little more than the vice versa phenomenon - TV shows or movies based on books.  This year started with two Veronica Mars mysteries and then got taken over by Doctor Who tie ins!  So glad to have made this discovery!

3. Maggie Stiefvater
It will be no surprise that there will be a few authors on this list.  First up is Maggie Stiefvater.  She has become one of my new favorite YA authors with my discovery of her Raven Cycle series.  I love her writing, her characters and the unique atmosphere of her books.

4. Catching Up With The Dresden Files
I am so grateful to be caught up all the way to book 15 on Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series!  I will be even more grateful if Jim Butcher could see his way to publishing the next 6 books in the series in the next 6 months! Please Mr. Butcher?

5. Sarah MacLean
My new favorite romance author!  Thanks for sweeping in to my life Ms. MacLean.

6. The Illustrated Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone
After severe internet peer pressure, I ordered and received this a couple weeks ago.  I've only just barely dipped into it, enough to see that it is going to be an absolute delight.  I want to wait until I have finished my re-read and have a good stretch of time to really dive into it.  Very thankful I have this to look forward to!

7. Lydia Netzer
I am so so grateful to have discovered Lydia Netzer's two lovely, quirky novels this last year.  How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky and Shine, Shine, Shine.

8. Reading on the Beach
It's not every year that I get to read on a beach which is my absolutely favorite place to read.  I got some good quality time this year on Hatteras Island.

9. Longmire
I discovered both Longmire the TV show and Longmire the mystery book series.  They are BOTH fantastic in their own unique ways.  

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Saturday in the Garden - Winter Unawares

November 21, 2015

I haven't visited the blog in a week and a half mostly because my heart hasn't been in it.  One of my close colleagues at work, only 58 years old, died suddenly late last week.  This sad event has brought with it a lot of emotion of course, grief and shock being primary.  He was someone I looked up to, depended upon and greatly admired.  He was my boss and a leader in our section so there is a lot of fear and uncertainty and worry for the others in my group who also really depended on him.  Finally, is the reminder that life is very short and that every day we and our loved ones have is a gift.  I hope that I can hold onto that as it is an important reminder and one that I can use but I wish it didn't have to come along with such a sad and heartbreaking event.


It happened.  I was lured into (further) laziness and gardening bliss by the long and relatively warm Fall.  Mid-November and no hard freeze yet?!?  Unheard of in this part of the world.  So it was bound to come with a rude awakening as you can see in the pictures.  Snow. A respectable amount. And cold temperatures - low of 9 degrees last night.

I have been avoiding my fall yard/garden chores for weeks and had started in the last two weeks to fret about it.  I knew I was going to regret my procrastination and sure enough this cold spell moved in, in the middle of the week and while I was traveling for work.  Blerg.  I had kale, sugar snap peas and green onions I should've harvested that are now toast.  I needed to mulch my garlic, blueberries and roses to protect them over winter and I will just have to hope this snap of bad weather did not take them out.  It would serve me right if it did though..... There are times when being a lazy gardener does not pay.  On the bright side, I guess this will be a nice little experiment to see how hardy these plants really are.

One fun thing is that the meeting I was out of town for was at a Wildlife Refuge in the city limits of Minneapolis/St. Paul.  The meeting room we were in overlooked the bird feeders where the biggest entertainment was the "urban" turkeys who had figured out that when the dinky birds are at the feeders they toss away as much seed (onto the ground) as they eat.  The turkeys then run around under the feeder and peck it up.  They were hilarious and their antics were much fun to watch - probably better than the meeting, quite frankly. Plus it's appropriate to enjoy of turkeys as we here in the U.S. head towards Thanksgiving.


I haven't been watching much despite really wanting something last week that would help take my mind off of things.  One thing I tried was Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS).  Whoa.  I consider myself a Star Trek fan though nowhere near trekkie status, but it had been a VERY long time since I had watched any episodes from TOS.  The special effects are of course laughable though you can still see why they would've been impressive at the time (1960s).  There was an initial pilot or "test" episode that they made when selling the show that I hadn't seen before and the only cast member/character that remained the same to TOS was Spock.  The most interesting thing was that Number One was a woman who was totally awesome and who was played by the actress who later played Lwaxana Troi and who in real life was the wife of Gene Roddenberry.  I would've liked to have seen her stick around as 1st officer!  The gender politics of the show is also atrocious.  The female cast members wear the most insanely short skirts as their uniform.  All this time is devoted, in both the test episode and TOS, to the sexual tensions between the captain and his female subordinates.  In the test episode a comment is made about still having to "get used to having a woman on the bridge" like in the 1960s they thought that in 300 years women would just be breaking through into "men's" jobs. Glad we've moved a little quicker than that.  William Shatner was a pretty attractive young man and literally every female who encounters him, wants him.  I know that that is the big joke about TOS but I honestly hadn't remembered how front and center it was in EVERY. SINGLE. EPISODE.  Well, at least in the first 4-5 episodes of the series; I didn't get any further than that.  I may watch more some other time when I am a little more in the mood for such antics.


Finished Last Week (well really two):

  • The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James:   A historical mystery set after World War I about a woman working as a temporary who is hired to assist a ghost hunter. I really really liked this one!
  • Murder on Marble Row by Victoria Thompson:   Book 6 in the historical mystery series set in Victorian era New York and featuring a midwife and a police sergeant. I do very much enjoy this series even if Sarah Brandt, the female protagonist, drives me a little batty at times.  The crime in this one involves bombs and anarchists so it was fun and I think one of my favorites thus far in the series.

Currently Reading:

  • Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling:  *Sniff*  My re-read is coming to an end.
  • End of Days by Susan Ee:  This is the final book in the Penryn and The End of Days trilogy about evil angels and the start of the apocalypse.  I loved the first two books in this YA series and have been sucked in pretty immediately to this one.  
  • Heartless by Gail Carriger:  I'm listening to this 4th book in the Parasol Protectorate series.  Carriger is having way too much fun with an 8 months pregnant Alexia.   
  • Still Life by Louise Penny:  This is the first book in a mystery series set in Quebec, Canada and featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache.  A friend of mine recommended this series to me and so far this book is fantastic.  Excellent writing, excellent characters, intriguing mystery and setting. 

Added to the TBR:

This is kind of a new thing I may try, listing books that get added to my Goodreads TBR list each week.  Maybe it will help burn them into my mind a little bit better, get them on some other folks TBRs and it will give me a chance to recognize a lot of the awesome bloggers that add stuff to my TBR!

  • Guardian of the Balance by Irene Radford:  Descendants of Merlin #1. This is an older book I ran across while trying to find a more recent book a friend had mentioned that featured Merlin's descendants.  I never did find the book she mentioned (and haven't had a chance to ask her again) but this looked intriguing.  I am a sucker for anything Arthurian Legend related.



As I mentioned I've been absent from the blog for a bit while dealing with some stuff in real life but there have been two new posts since I last did a "Saturday" post:


We'll see as I'm still lagging behind and all discombobulated.  At the very least, I hope to give some attention to the blog when I have several days off for the holidays.

“The life given us by nature is short; but the memory of a well-spent life is eternal.”
- Marcus Tullius Cicero

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

REVIEW | The Doctor Who Novels | New Who Series 1 and 2 (mostly)


2015 was my year to discover how much I really enjoy media tie in books.  I've read a few in the past (Firefly Graphic Novels come to mind) but it wasn't until I read the first two mysteries in the new Veronica Mars series that I realized how much I really enjoyed this type of fiction.  Then I found the Doctor Who books. 

Doctor Who is one of my favorite shows...or at least it was.  As I ranted about already I've not truly warmed up to the Steven Moffatt era of the show.  Rose is my favorite companion followed closely by Donna and I can't imagine loving any Doctor more than the Ninth and Tenth.  Sure I could go back and watch my DVDs of series 1-4 again but I've seen those episodes SO MANY times.  I wanted new stories with my favorite characters.

Voila!  Doctor Who tie-in novels to the rescue!  These are totally new stories featuring Rose, Captain Jack and the ninth and tenth doctors!  Discovering these was definitely an excessive use of exclamation points moment!

There are twelve novels featuring Rose as companion so I haven't yet read all of them but I've read most (all that my library had basically).  They are generally pretty short, between 200-300 pages, and if you're listening to them, as I have, they run between 3-5 hours roughly. The audio books are read by actors from the show though not always the main cast.  Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler) reads three of the books above and was one of my favorite narrators.  The best of them manage to feel like a Doctor Who episode but with more detailed character development.  So, "FanTAStic" as the Ninth Doctor is so fond of saying.

I am not going to do a major review for each of the above books but will have a sentence or two for each with perhaps a little more for those I especially liked.  Also, the books above are laid out in chronological order as is the list below, at least for the first two series, and I have included the ones I have not yet read.  Hopefully this will be helpful for someone looking to dive into the books. 


The Clockwise Man by Justin Richards | Read by Nicholas Briggs (Voice of the Daleks and Cybermen)

This is a time travel story that takes place in 1920s London and in true Doctor Who fashion everything is just a little bit pear shaped. This was one of the first ones I listened to and it was good but nothing spectacular.  The setting and overall set up was properly atmospheric and intriguing but it didn't end up wowing. It does have a slightly steampunkish flair with clockwork creatures though they were done better in the second season episode "The Girl in the Fireplace".

The Monsters Inside  by Stephen Cole  |  Read by Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler)

The Doctor and Rose get trapped in a future prison camp that stretches across several planets and they run into their old friends from Raxacoricofallapatorius.  They spend much of the book apart as Rose is imprisoned with humans and The Doctor with aliens but they each discover fishy things that are going on that end up dove tailing with each other.  I actually liked this one better then the two-part episode featuring the Slitheen in Downing Street. 

Winner Takes All by Jacqueline Rayner | Read by Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler)

On a trip home, Rose and the Doctor find the whole of London enthralled in a new video game.  Fans of War Games and Ender's Game but who also appreciate goofiness will particularly like this story.  Both  Jackie and Mickey have a role to play here so that's a bonus.  There is a lot of good stuff in here about the Doctor and Rose's relationship too.  They've gotten close and in parts of the book Rose really has to put her trust in the Doctor more than usual- there is friction but it comes out all right.  There is also a lovely side character in this, a young boy who helps the Doctor, that I really enjoyed.  Of the ones I've read thus far this was one of my favorites though you will have to be prepared for some wackiness like giant alien hedgehogs

Deviant Strain by Justin Richards | Read by Stuart Milligan 

Not Yet Read.


Only Human by Gareth Roberts  | Read by Anthony Stewart Head (Giles from Buffy!!!...oh and um...the head Krillitane in the episode School Reunion)

This book does one of the things Doctor Who does best - mix time eras.  In this case humans from the far future have traveled back in time to prehistoric Britain where Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon man live in conflict.  Plus, a Neanderthal man ends up in contemporary Britain which results in all kinds of fun.  Also fun?  Captain Jack is along for this one.  This one is my favorite of those I've read thus far.  The Rose and Doctor are particularly charming together in this one and the future human civilization that has traveled back in time is fascinating.  Addresses the strength and weakness of having emotions much like many of the Daleks episodes do. 
P.S. Fun fact about Anthony Stewart Head  - he has apparently been considered to play the Doctor at least twice!!

The Stealers of Dreams by Steve Lyons | Read by Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler)

In the final adventure with the Ninth, The Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack travel to an unknown planet which houses an unusual human culture where lies of any kind are not permitted, so fiction of all kinds is prohibited.  The three companions end up working separately a lot in this one but each of their stories and efforts is interesting.  The exploration of a society with no fiction is also fascinating and there are lots of arguments about the benefits and dangers of fiction and lying.  This was a solid end to the first series books.


The Stone Rose by Jacqueline Rayner | Read by David Tennant (Ya know...The Tenth Doctor)

Mickey calls Rose, Jackie and the Doctor together to show them an ancient marble statue at the British Museum that is the spitting image of Rose.  This is a mystery that must be investigated and much of the rest of the action takes place in ancient Rome.  This was a weird story that seemed to end and then re-start.  There are lots of clever sleights of hand and the ultimate technology that is causing problems is also pretty intriguing.  Otherwise the story doesn't hang together all that tightly and there is no very interesting character development.  Enjoyable none the less and my favorite of the three series 2 books I've read.

The Feast of the Drowned by Stephen Cole | Read by David Tennant

Unfortunately, since this is one read by Tennant, it is probably my least favorite of all that I've read.  It takes place back home for Rose when one of her friends starts seeing her brother, a sailor, as a ghost begging her to come join him at the feast.  Interesting hook but the exploration of it felt pretty lackluster to me.  

The Resurrection Casket by Justin Richards | Read by David Tennant

The story is pretty fun and this is likely my favorite of the novels thus far featuring Rose and the 10th Doctor (I still have The Nightmare of Black Island and The Price of Paradise yet to read). Not a lot of character development for Rose and the Doctor though which takes it down a notch or two for me.


The Nightmare of Black Island by Mike Tucker | Read by Anthony Stewart Head

Not Yet Read.


 The Art of Destruction by Stephen Cole | Read by Don Warrington (the President of Great Britain in the episode Rise of the Cyberman)

So maybe I just don't like the writing of Stephen Cole because this is probably my second least favorite of all these books.  It is not helped by the reading by Don Warrington which also was the weakest of all those I've listened to though he had a tough job with lots of strange aliens to voice.  Takes place in a future Africa where scientists are trying to figure out how to feed the world reliably and cheaply and instead they uncover an alien stockpile that attracts some unwanted attention.

The Price of Paradise by Colin Brake | Read by Shaun Dingwell (Pete Tyler)

Not Yet Read.


Pest Control by Peter Anghelides | Read by David Tennant

This is an audiobook only publication and was the first one I picked up when I saw it on my libraries digital resources catalog.  The Doctor and Donna find themselves in the middle of a future war on a far away planet between humans and centaurs.  Yup Centaurs.  However these aren't the only two players in the battles on this particular planet though neither side is aware of it.  This one is okay.  An enjoyable read but nothing special.

Phew!  That's a lot of books!  My overall opinion is that they are all worth reading.  Some are better than others of course but the majority will keep you entertained and a couple are really excellent.  I most enjoy that the writing medium allows for more development of the characters and their relationships which is a big reason I love the show.  Don't expect any major revelations but it does add nuance.   My only complaint is that there isn't enough of them.  There are 12 books total featuring Rose across two series of the show and just as many featuring Martha from series 3.  Martha?  Really? Martha's fine but she is literally the least interesting companion so why she proportionally gets twice the number of books, I'm not sure.  Regardless, I will be making my way through all the books that cover the first 4 series at least.  Until next time...

Allons -y!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

RE-READ | Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
This whole re-read of Harry Potter has been like a comfortable reunion with an old dear friend.  There is no memory of imperfections or discord just pure affection and love and a sad reflection on why you just don't make friends like this anymore.  Reading Half-Blood Prince for me was a little like entering into the 6th straight hour or day of the reunion when you start to remember those little quirks and foibles that your friend had that irritated you:0).  I still love this book but it is the first one in my re-read where my unalloyed delight in the reunion has been ever-so-slightly slightly dimmed. 

The most interesting part of my re-read has definitely been re-discovering the character of Snape with the full knowledge of his motives.  I adore nothing more than a good gray character or anti-hero and Snape is a doozy.  Overall, Rowling did such a fantastic job; slowly developing him, dropping hints all along, having Dumbledore flat out tell the reader over and over that Snape is on the side of right but still having the revelation of just how heroic he is being a jaw dropping twist.   It is insane that Dumbledore does not reveal, at the very least to Harry, why he has such faith in Snape's.  Oh, I know there's good reasons for him holding his tongue - Snape would not thank Dumbledore for sharing his personal business and the fewer people that know of Snape's duplicity makes Snape's job of getting close to Voldemort easier.  However, Dumbledore must see the sheer immensity of hatred Harry feels for Snape, even before Harry witnesses Dumbledore's murder, and realize that it is a dangerous distraction that could easily end in disaster.  Of course, the real reason it is kept a secret is to set up the big twist in book 7, which is a totally legitimate reason, but this time around I can feel the manipulation and I resent it just a little.

Still and all.  The way she sets up and describes Dumbledore's murder is pretty perfect.  The hatred on Snape's face which Harry interprets understandably as directed at Dumbledore but which is really directed inwardly and at the horrible thing he must do. And Dumbledore's "please" is not a plea for mercy but one for Snape to follow through on his promise to kill Dumbledore when the time came. Dumbledore seems to be the only friend Snape has ever had and is probably the only person to believe in him  - in other words Dumbledore is as important to Snape as he is to Harry.  In fact, by killing Dumbledore, Snape renders himself alone and completely without support in the middle of an incredibly dangerous and stressful mission.  It had to have been the most difficult thing he has ever had to do.

Okay, as you can see I can get carried away talking about Snape:0).  I feel like he's the hero for the adult readers in many ways.  Harry is lovable of course and while Rowling does not fall into the trap of making him too heroic and perfect, he is still a very straightforward and iconic young hero.  Snape is much more complicated and I would argue that his job is more difficult and the choices he must make could not be made by a child. 

You know what else I can go on about?  How much I really dislike Ron this go round! The first time around I think I liked him a lot and was completely behind the idea of he and Hermione getting together.  This time around I understand why Rowling recanted and said it was a mistake to pair these two.  I couldn't agree more and for all the reasons she cites  - they would have needed counseling.  I don't necessarily think Hermione should have been paired with Harry though their relationship is generally much healthier and happier.  Hermione pushes Harry when he gets too fixated or too lost in his hero complex.  He gets angry with her but ultimately realizes that she's usually right and respects her.  All Ron and Hermione do is bicker and fight and they seem to have little in common but Harry.  Ron's crushing insecurity is worthy of compassion but is also a serious issue when it leads to him being with a girl he doesn't like, even when he knows it is crushing the girl he does like, simply to stroke his fragile ego.  I spent most of this book feeling incredibly put out by Ron and by Harry who keeps begging Hermione to fix things with Ron even though the situation is not even the tiniest bit her fault.

Add the manipulation and Ron's bad behavior to Harry's obsessive (even if he is partially correct) hate and suspicion of Draco and Snape and this book didn't quite come together for me as beautifully as all the others do.  There is of course many good things.  I really appreciated Harry and Dumbledore's conversations particularly the one where Dumbledore impresses upon Harry the role that love has played in his life and how powerful it is:
“By attempting to kill you, Voldemort himself singled out the remarkable person who sits here in front of me, and gave him the tools for the job! It is Voldemort's fault that you were able to see into his thoughts, his ambitions, that you even understand the snakelike language in which he gives orders, and yet, Harry, despite your privileged insight into Voldemort's world (which, incidentally, is a gift any Death Eater would kill to have), you have never been seduced by the Dark Arts, never, even for a second, shown the slightest desire to become one of Voldemort's followers!"
"Of course I haven't!" said Harry indignantly. "He killed my mum and dad!"
"You are protected, in short, by your ability to love!" said Dumbledore loudly. "The only protection that can possibly work against the lure of power like Voldemort's! In spite of all the temptation you have endured, all the suffering, you remain pure of heart, just as pure as you were at the age of eleven, when you stared into a mirror that reflected your heart's desire, and it showed you only the way to thwart Lord Voldemort, and not immortality or riches. Harry, have you any idea how few wizards could have seen what you saw in that mirror? Voldemort should have known then what he was dealing with, but he did not!”
I also really liked learning more about Voldemort, his origins, childhood and rise to power.  Other thoughts:
  • The Felix Felicis scene that gets the memory from Slughorn is really clever and awesome though (see below) there were some things I think the movie did better with this scene.  
  • I love that Harry takes Luna to Slughorn's party and think it is these acts of kindness and acceptance that really embody what makes Harry such a great character.
  • It's very odd that the way Ginny is described, in looks and personality, seems to so closely resemble Lily Evans, Harry's mother.  I'm surely not the only one to have noticed this, right?  It's an odd little Oedipal note.
  • Harry came across pretty ineffectual, at least until the end, during the Horcrux retrieval scene.  He doesn't seem ready to do all this on his own does he?
FINAL VERDICT:  The Half-blood Prince takes the story where it needs to go but I just wish I didn't notice the strings so much this time around.  4 out of 5 stars.

The Movie
I've whined a lot about the last two films, mostly about the fact that they have to cut out HUGE chunks of the books so that the movie isn't 17 hours long.  I think they did a horrible adaptation of Goblet of Fire, got a little better with the Order of the Phoenix and got even a little better with Half-blood Prince.  There are still things I miss, like Fleur and Bill if only because Fleur's scene towards the end of the book where she shows she's not just a shallow, stuck up girl but is as stout-hearted as any of the Weasleys, is awesome.  I'm also disappointed we miss meeting Tom's forebears who promised to have been super creepy and horrible.  And while the films frequently remove or change scenes they don't usually add scenes, so the fact that instead of Harry having a walk around the garden with Scrimjaw (sp?) at Christmas, The Burrow is attacked by Deatheaters who blow it up and then fly away using special evil flying skills seems an odd addition.

Another change the movie makes which I think undermines the scene is not having Harry petrified during Dumbledore's death scene.  It doesn't fit with Harry's character that he would just sit by and let all that go down without recklessly throwing himself into the situation, promises to Dumbledore or no.  I do think Michael Gambon does a good job with his "please", adequately leaving it open for interpretation but making it clear for folks in the know that he is asking Snape to do it rather than not to do it.

I think Gambon does a good job with this despite the fact that I have never really warmed up to him as Dumbledore because he...well...lacks warmth.  He comes across as straight up kooky with no accompanying twinkle in the eye and general feeling of bonhomie that Dumbledore exudes in the books.  For example, the scene in Dumbledore's office after he and Harry have just gone into the pensieve for the first time and they have this oddly flat conversation about how Slughorn would try and "collect" Harry and how Harry should let himself be collected comes across as...creepy.  I think that off tone is set by Gambon.   I like Gambon generally as an actor but think Richard Harris (R.I.P.) played Dumbledore better. 

Moving on to the other actors?  I reflected while watching that I am so happy and grateful that the actors that were chosen to play Harry, Ron and Hermione aren't drop dead gorgeous.  A bit of a crap shoot, of course, hiring them as kids and not knowing how they will look as they grow up and I am in no way implying that any of the actors are ugly. They're just regularly attractive, not CW teen star handsome/beautiful.  It's refreshing.

They also seem to be having a lot of fun in this installment particularly Grint and Radcliff.  This may actually be the funniest of the films which is surprising considering that it's quite sad overall.  Anyway, the film captures the "these kids are finally giving in to their crazed hormones" better than the book does. The discussion between Ron and Harry about Ginny and Hermione's "nice skin" is hilarious and Rupert Grint is laugh-out-loud funny under the influence of the love potion.

My last few small comments are:
  • I don't think Harry and Ginny have much chemistry in the movie which is a shame though romantic chemistry is not something Rowling did particularly well in the books either.  
  • I liked the actor who played the teenage Tom back in Chamber of Secrets better than this teenage Tom though apparently the original actor had aged well out of the part by Half-blood Prince.
  • During the scene where Slughorn reveals his memory to Harry, I love the imagery of a petal that turns into a fish which then later disappears signalling to Slughorn that Lily is dead.  This is not in the book but I think it is an effective way of conveying Slughorn's real affection and admiration for Lily and how sad he was at her death.
FINAL VERDICT:  I liked this film better than the last two and think it did a better job adapting the book despite some weird changes. Overall, I would say, watching the movies this closely to reading the books does not serve the movies well.  I think the books would be much better portrayed with a series of mini-series.  3.5 out of 5 Stars.

Pssst.... There's a bunch of other good blogger folk over at The Estella Society who are also doing an HP re-read.  You may want to check it out! #potterbinge