Saturday, July 31, 2010

Review: The Good Psychologist

Written by Noam Shpancer
Henry Holt and Company, 2010; 240 pages

This review refers to an uncorrected proof of the novel.

In Noam Shpancer's debut novel, The Good Psychologist, the eponymous therapist finds himself taking on an interesting new patient. Tiffany is a stripper (or "exotic dancer") who has developed an extreme case of stage fright. Her livelihood is threatened, along with her plans to recover custody of her young daughter. The psychologist wants to help the dancer, but as they proceed with her treatment, the woman's problems begin to have a dangerous resonance in the doctor's own private life. As he becomes more and more involved in Tiffany's story, his professional objectivity becomes difficult to maintain, and eventually even his personal life is affected, including his relationship with Nina, the former colleague who is also the mother of the daughter he's never met.

I ended up liking The Good Psychologist much more than I expected to in the beginning. At first, the abundant discussion of the field of psychotherapy began to get tedious and I kept getting the feeling I was reading someone's class notes for Psych 101. And the psychologist's world is tightly circumscribed. Mostly we see him in his office, during therapy sessions; or with his students in the university class he teaches in the evening. Occasionally we see him at home, or engaging in a leisure-time basketball game with a group of friends – although those friends are never allowed a real presence in the book. A couple of times, he has very brief meetings with Nina. But everything in the novel is seen from his point of view; basically, we're in his head the whole time. So things began to feel a little claustrophobic after a while.

I was also a little bothered by the fact that the protagonist is referred to, throughout the book, as simply The Psychologist (or "Professor" by his students). I'm not sure why Shpancer should want to distance us from his main character in this fashion – maybe something about the professional distance therapists must maintain when treating patients? Or just a stab at being clever and mysterious? Whatever he had in mind, I don't think it really works in the context of the novel.

But The Good Psychologist has some unexpected surprises along the way. And somewhere around the middle of the book, I found myself really beginning to like the psychologist and became thoroughly caught up in his story. The book has humor, suspense, and a unique narrative voice that I found very appealing. It's a beautifully written work, and a remarkable achievement for a first-time novelist. I hope it finds a wide audience.

Note: I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher, through Library Thing's Early Reviewer program. No other compensation was received, and no one tried to influence my opinion of the book.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Daily Tease: The Hills at Home

For today's Daily Tease I have in mind Nancy Clark's wonderful novel, The Hills at Home.

Here's the description from the publisher:
While always well-stocked with clean sheets, Lily Hill is not expecting visitors. At least not in the numbers that descend upon her genteelly dilapidated New England ancestral home in the summer of '89. Brother Harvey arrives first, thrice-widowed and eager for company; then perennially self-dramatizing niece Ginger and her teenaged daughter Betsy; then, [Ginger's brother] Alden, just laid-off from Wall Street, with his wife Becky, and their rowdy brood of four....

As summer fades into fall, it becomes clear that no one intends to leave. But just as Lily's industrious hospitality gives way to a somewhat strained domestic routine, the Hill clan must face new challenges together. Brimming with wit and a compendium of Yankee curiosities, The Hills at Home is an irresistible modern take on an old-fashioned comedy of manners.
The cover of the paperback edition:

First lines of the book:
Outside, the night blew perfectly foul and all of the Hills had stayed home. Rain flung itself by the fistful against the clapboards, rain spangled the windowpanes, and the rain bore down so hard against the roof that shots bounced up from the slates and rained down again in shattery shards and splinters. The wind wheeled round and the startled rain skidded sideways. The rain sought, the rain battered, the rain invaded. This was an extravagant rain, as if somewhere, somehow, someone, miserly and profligate in turn, had been amassing rain until he possessed enough to hurl down fiercely and decisively upon the helplessly spinning earth.

My thoughts and a few quotes:

I started reading Nancy Clark's The Hills at Home in the summer of 2005. I believe I saw one of those thumbnail reviews in the New York Times Book Review when the paperback edition came out – it sounded intriguing, so I picked up a copy and read a bit before getting sidetracked by one thing or another. Didn't get back to the book until a whole year later. But when I picked it up again the next summer, and read a few pages, I could not put it down – read it straight through in just a few days (rare for me), and then went back to the beginning and read huge chunks of it over again (unheard of). It became one of my all-time favorite reads. The writing is elegant and witty, and the book is full of wonderful personalities and funny, unpredictable events. And Lily Hill became one of those fictional characters I'd most like to be able to meet in real life. I think we could probably become great pals (in a weird-old-broad sort of way).

Here's a sampling of snippets:
The Ben Franklin store started stocking flats of seedlings out front on a board bench a month too early but Lily always fell for a few six-packs, not able to resist the petunia colors and the pansies' expressions. Then, overnight, her field was adrift with nodding daffodils. The lilacs would flower next, and then it would be the irises' turn. Lily had begun to work in her garden, kneeling on a square of newspaper and digging with a trowel in her perennial bed, turning up the seeds of weeds that needed only five seconds of sunlight to germinate, she had read. It was foolish of her, Lily knew, but now and then she allowed a trowelful of earth to sit in the sun as she slowly counted to five. (--Chapter 6: "The Hills Take Wing," pp.411-412)

When Miss Angler arrived and approached Harvey and Lily who stuck to the terrace stones as if to a beachhead, she handed Lily a business card at which Lily glanced. Oh dear, Tina was a Teena, which Lily would rather not have known, although Miss Angler's parents were the ones to blame. The last year she taught school, Lily had had a Hidey in class. Lily had known then, the time had come for her to retreat into private life. (--Chapter 6: "The Hills Take Wing," p.433)

. . . . Lily moved from guest to guest shedding feathers from her hat and hugging a ten-pound bag of Northeast Songbird Mixture to her chest and bidding everyone to scoop up handsful of flax and millet and sunflower seeds to throw after [the newlyweds]. What a grand idea, they were all saying, far better to throw seed than to toss rice or confetti or stones, for one of the Happening side claimed to have been to a wedding where colored aquarium pebbles had been cast at the newlyweds. ("What were they, adulterers?" Alden asked Louis and then wished he hadn't). (--Chapter 6: "The Hills Take Wing," p.472)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Beach Buddies

OK. First things, first. I just want to say this is so unexpected (oops! sorry – that's my Academy Awards speech). I want to say thanks to Deb for using one of my suggestions for a BTT topic. It's sort of a good news/bad news thing, though, because now I have to come up with an answer!

And after a bit of thought, I've decided I'd like to spend my day at the beach with Mary Poppins. She does, after all, come equipped with her own umbrella for keeping the sun off – and since it's a magic umbrella, I'm sure it would expand to whatever size is necessary. Probably has special UV protection built in, as well. And, as Mary is able to float around using the umbrella, we could even use it as transport to find that absolutely perfect spot, away from all the hoi polloi and noise.

Then there's that magic carpetbag, too – perfect for carrying all the paraphernalia I usually schlep with me when I'm spending a day on the sand. Towels, sunscreen, beach blankets, reading matter, even hot dogs, diet soda, iced cappuccino – they could all conveniently materialize right out of that wondrous bag.

And finally, Mary is a Nanny, and a very special Nanny, after all. She'd be the perfect person to have around to apply sunscreen, help with sandcastle building and kite flying, serve refreshments, and keep stray children at bay. She could even read me a story. And wonderful adventures happen whenever she floats into view.

Oh, and maybe we'd finally get her out of those white gloves and flannel nighties. Mary Poppins in a bikini? Now who wouldn't want to get a look at that?

Reading Report: The Daily Tease (Booked To Die)

OK, after yesterday's look at one of the books I read in 2008, today I'll continue the backward stroll, with a glance at 2007. In July of that year I was introduced to John Dunning's Cliff Janeway series of bibliomysteries.

I think I first discovered the books while browsing on eBay, looking for something new and different (and cheap) to read. I hadn't really done much blogging back then, and didn't know about all the great recommendations I could get from book bloggers. Anyway, I managed to find a paperback copy of the first book in the series, Booked To Die, so I was able to get in right at the beginning (which is unusual for me – I generally jump in somewhere near the middle).

Here's the description from the publisher:
Denver homicide detective Cliff Janeway may not always play by the book, but he is an avid collector of rare and first editions. After a local bookscout is killed on his turf, Janeway would like nothing better than to rearrange the suspect's spine. But the suspect, local lowlife Jackie Newton, is a master at eluding the law, and Janeway's wrathful brand of off-duty justice costs him his badge.

Turning to his lifelong passion, Janeway opens a small bookshop – all the while searching for evidence to put Newton away. But when prized volumes in a highly sought-after collection begin to appear, so do dead bodies. Now, Janeway's life is about to start a precarious new chapter as he attempts to find out who's dealing death along with vintage Chandlers and Twains.
And the cover of the paperback edition:

First lines of the book:
Bobby the bookscout was killed at midnight on June 13, 1986. This was the first strange fact, leading to the question, What was he doing out that late at night? To Bobby, midnight was the witching hour and Friday the thirteenth was a day to be spent in bed.

My Thoughts and a few more quotes:

I love whodunits, and I'm a sucker for a book about books. So when I discovered Dunning's Janeway novels, I knew I'd found something of interest. Cliff Janeway is a Denver homicide detective turned rare book dealer who still gets involved in solving crimes. He's not your ordinary book nerd – he's a little rough around the edges, and doesn't suffer fools lightly. But he truly loves the world of books and book collecting.

The novels are a bit more "hard-boiled" and Chandler-esque than I usually like. For instance, in the cozies I generally read, I'm very unlikely to run into passages like this one where Janeway is describing the soothing effect of his apartment with its wall-to-wall books:
"I've been collecting books for a long time. Once I killed two men in the same day, and this room had an almost immediate healing effect." (--Chapter 1, p.12 of the paperback edition)
Or this, from Janeway's description of his fight with suspect Jackie Newton:
I ducked under his next punch and pounded his guts on the inside. He exploded in a hurricane of bad breath. (--Chapter 15, p.156)
One of the nicest things about the novels is the added literary chat and book lore you're treated to, along with the mysteries themselves. Take, for instance, a passage early in this first novel:
It was a quiet day on Book Row. At Seals & Neff a few customers had come and gone and the day was quickly settling into its inevitable, uneventful course. There was a young woman in the store, who had brought in a bag of books. Bookscouts, like dealers, come in all sizes, colors, and sexes. This one was a cut above the others I had seen, at least in the category of looks, but it was clear from what was being said that she had more than a smattering of ignorance when it came to books.

Neff was explaining to her why her as-new copy of Faulkner's The Reivers wasn't a first edition. "But it says first edition," she protested. "Right here on the copyright page...look. First edition. How much clearer can it be than that? Random House always states first edition, right? You told me that yourself the last time I was in here. Now I've got a first edition and you're telling me it isn't a first edition. I don't know what to believe."

"Believe this, honey," Neff said. "I don't need the grief. If you think I'm trying to steal your book..."

"I didn't say that. I'm not accusing you, I just want to know."

"It's a Book-of-the-Month Club first," Neff said, enunciating each word with chilly distinction. "It's printed from the same plates as the first, or maybe the same sheets are even used; that's why it says first edition. But the binding is different, there's no price on the jacket, and the book has a blind stamp on the back board."

"What's a blind stamp?"

"A little dent, pressed right into the cloth. Look, I'll show you. You see that little stamp? That means it's a book club book. Whenever you see that, it came from a book club, even if it's written 'I'm a first edition' in Christ's own blood inside. Okay?"

She sighed. "I'll never learn this stuff. How much is it worth?"

"This book? Five bucks tops. There are eight million copies of this in the naked city."
(--Chapter 6, pp.62-63)

Dunning followed Booked To Die with four more Cliff Janeway mysteries: The Bookman's Wake (my favorite), The Bookman's Promise, The Sign of the Book, and The Bookwoman's Last Fling. (There's also Booked Twice – one volume containing both Booked To Die and The Bookman's Wake.) This initial book in the series was first published in 1992, years before Amazon and the Internet started affecting book publishing and collecting. So, to be fair, the books are a bit dated now (something Dunning himself readily admits). But they're still fascinating reads.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Reading Report: The Daily Tease

So here goes another daily tease: time for another little stumble down memory lane. (Didn't post one yesterday because it was Teaser Tuesday, and I figure one tease a day is really quite enough.)

Monday, I talked about a book I read last summer – The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. So today I'm moving a little further back. In 2008 I read Mark Haddon's wonderful debut novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Here's the description from the publisher:
Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capital cities and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions, and cannot stand to be touched. Gifted with a superbly logical brain, Christopher is autistic. Everyday interactions and admonishments have little meaning for him. "I do not always do what I'm told," he admits. "And this is because when people tell you what to do it is usually confusing and does not make sense. For example, people often say 'Be quiet' but they don't tell you how long to be quiet for..."

At fifteen, Christopher's carefully constructed world falls apart when he finds his neighbor's dog, Wellington, impaled on a garden fork and is initially blamed for the killing. Christopher decides that he will track down the real killer and turns to his favorite fictional character, the impeccably logical Sherlock Holmes, for inspiration. But the investigation leads him down some unexpected paths and ultimately brings him face to face with the dissolution of his parents' marriage. As Christopher tries to deal with this crisis within his own family, the narrative draws readers into the mysterious workings of Christopher's mind.

At once deeply funny and heartbreakingly poignant, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is one of the freshest debuts in years.
First lines of the book:
2. It was 7 minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs. Shears's house. Its eyes were closed. It looked as if it was running on its side, the way dogs run when they think they are chasing a cat in a dream. But the dog was not running or asleep. The dog was dead.
And a couple more snippets. This is Christopher, thinking about the death of his mother:
But Mother was cremated. This means that she was put into a coffin and burned and ground up and turned into ash and smoke. I do not know what happens to the ash and I couldn't ask at the crematorium because I didn't go to the funeral. But the smoke goes out of the chimney and into the air and sometimes I look up into the sky and I think that there are molecules of Mother up there, or in clouds over Africa or the Antarctic, or coming down as rain in the rain forests in Brazil, or in snow somewhere. (pp. 33-34)
And here he is, musing about the mysteries of life:
Eventually scientists will discover something that explains ghosts, just like they discovered electricity, which explained lightning, and it might be something about people's brains, or something about the earth's magnetic field, or it might be some new force altogether. And then ghosts won't be mysteries. They will be like electricity and rainbows and nonstick frying pans. (p. 100)

My thoughts:

You can read my full review of the novel here. But long story, short: I loved it. I'd give it a definite A, maybe even an A+. The book is sad and funny at the same time; beautifully written and sometimes excruciatingly honest. Christopher, even with all his problems, was such an engaging character, I felt almost bereft when the book ended, and I had to take my leave of him.

A-Z Wednesday: "Y"

A-Z Wednesday is hosted by Vicki at Reading At The Beach. To join in, just visit her blog for the guidelines and leave your link in a comment.

This week's letter is "Y." So I went to my shelves, and this is what I pulled out.

Your Royal Hostage
Written by Antonia Fraser
First published 1987

Description from
In her sixth appearance as observant sleuth, Jemima Shore notices details and files them away in her mind for use later on.... Just fired as investigative reporter for Megalith Television in London, Jemima covers the impending royal wedding for Television United States. Princess Amy of Cumberland, aged 22 and poor, will marry French Prince Ferdinand, aged 33 and rich; but a group of Animal Rights people plot to kidnap the princess in order to gain recognition for their cause. The plan goes awry, and Jemima saves the day. Stylishly presented...with a dash of satire.
And the cover of one of the paperback editions:

My Thoughts:

Antonia Fraser has written many fine nonfiction works, including massive biographies of Marie Antoinette, Mary Queen of Scots, King Charles II, and Oliver Cromwell. But, beginning in the 1970s, she also produced a great series of mystery novels featuring TV personality and amateur sleuth Jemima Shore. Jemima is not only beautiful, bright, and successful, she also manages to get herself involved in some wonderfully mysterious (and frequently dangerous) situations. I once read that Fraser (who was married and the mother of six children at the time) tried to make Jemima as different as possible from her own persona. Thus, Jemima Shore is unmarried and childless and has a very exciting and visible career - far removed from Fraser's own life as the aristocratic wife of Scottish MP Sir Hugh Fraser.

There have been, I believe, nine Jemima Shore novels (and one book of stories). Your Royal Hostage is number six, and probably not the most interesting of the lot; but they're all worth reading. My favorite is probably the first one, Quiet as a Nun, which first appeared in 1977, and has Jemima investigating the spooky goings-on in an ancient convent.

The books have also been adapted, twice, as TV series. The shows were done for British TV, but at least one of the series (with Patricia Hodge as Jemima) aired in the US on PBS. Don't know if they're available on DVD or video, but they're definitely worth watching if you get the chance.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays: The Exploding Grandmother

This week my teaser lines come from The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, by Helen Grant. It's a strange book, and I'm enjoying it so far, but it's a bit slow getting started. This snippet comes from the end of Chapter 3 and has the book's main character, eleven-year-old Pia, speaking about her grandmother's death:
My mother was right about a lot of things, but on one topic she was spectacularly wrong, and that was the fascination with Oma Kristel's death. Even now, so much later, and after all that happened that terrible year, I am quite convinced that if you mentioned the name of Kristel Kolvenbach to anyone in Bad Munstereifel, they would instantly say, "Wasn't she the woman who exploded at her own Advent dinner?" (p.14)
Well, that would be a memorable way to exit, now wouldn't it?

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

Monday, July 26, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. If you want to let the world know what books you're going to be reading this week, head on over to her blog and leave your link.

Last Monday I was still at the beach. (Sigh!) And although the weather wasn't perfect while we were there (record heat and humidity all along the Atlantic coast), it was mostly sunny and great for lazing in the sand (with judicious use of sun screen, of course). I only finished two books while we were there, and nearly finished two more. But two books in one week is pretty good for me, especially with all that people-watching and Margarita-drinking to distract me. So, anyway, this is my report for the last couple of weeks.
  • Finished last week:

    Damaged, by Alex Kava (Working on my review of this one.)

    The Egypt Game, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (Read this one for the Banned Books Project, and very glad I did; it's a really delightful – if just slightly dated – story for young folks.)

  • Recent reviews posted:
    Live to Tell, by Lisa Gardner.

    The Angel's Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. (Just a brief report on past reading – something I hope to do more of in the future.)

  • Reading this week:

    The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, by Helen Grant (Still working on this one. Not much more to go, so I should be able to finish it before the end of the week.)

    The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley (Ditto on this one. Loving it, so far.)

    Besides the above two that I'm still working on, I've also just got a copy of Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo from the library (after waiting in the queue for several weeks), and I'll probably be starting in on that.

  • Next up:
    Something will emerge. It always does.

Reading Report: The Daily Tease

Spent some time over the weekend looking back at a few of my old book lists, checking out some of my summer reading from years gone by. And I thought it might be fun to start a little regular report on some of those reads – mainly just to remind myself of books I've enjoyed and also those I don't really remember!

I'll begin with one of the books I read last year, but never reviewed: The Angel's Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Here's the description from Good Reads:
In an abandoned mansion at the heart of Barcelona, a young man, David Martin, makes his living by writing sensationalist novels under a pseudonym. The survivor of a troubled childhood, he has taken refuge in the world of books and spends his nights spinning baroque tales about the city’s underworld. But perhaps his dark imaginings are not as strange as they seem, for in a locked room deep within the house lie photographs and letters hinting at the mysterious death of the previous owner.

Like a slow poison, the history of the place seeps into his bones as he struggles with an impossible love. Close to despair, David receives a letter from a reclusive French editor, Andreas Corelli, who makes him the offer of a lifetime. He is to write a book unlike anything that has ever existed — a book with the power to change hearts and minds. In return, he will receive a fortune, and perhaps more. But as David begins the work, he realizes that there is a connection between his haunting book and the shadows that surround his home.

. . . Zafon takes us into a dark, gothic universe first seen in The Shadow of the Wind and creates a breathtaking adventure of intrigue, romance, and tragedy. Through a dizzyingly constructed labyrinth of secrets, the magic of books, passion, and friendship blend into a masterful story.

First lines of the book:
A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood, and the belief that, if he succeeds in not letting anyone discover his lack of talent, the dream of literature will provide him with a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he covets the most: his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that surely will outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price. (--p. 4, Chapter 1, Act One: City of the Damned)
My Thoughts:

I read Zafon's first novel for adults, Shadow of the Wind, a few years ago, right after it was released, and it immediately became one of my all-time favorites. So I was very excited to receive an advance copy of his follow-up, The Angel's Game. And while I didn't love it as much as that first book, I did end up enjoying this one quite a lot. I found the first half really slow going and a bit of a disappointment, and Isabella, David's young "assistant," was so annoying she almost made me abandon the story more than once.

But the second half of the book was almost as exciting as SOTW. I think I was just a little turned off by the selling-your-soul-to-the-devil plot – seemed a little hackneyed, and just not as suspenseful as SOTW. In the last half of the story, however, the real mystery of the novel began to take shape and it was transformed into a real page-turner. As in his earlier work, the writing is absolutely beautiful, the plotting is ingenious, and the book is filled with wonderful characters. (There are also a few violent scenes that may be a little disturbing to some readers.) I'd probably give it a solid B+; not as riveting as SOTW, but still much more intriguing than most current fiction.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Podcasts

This week Booking Through Thursday asks: Do you ever listen to book-related podcasts? If so, which ones and why?. . . Or, of course, there’s the flip side . . . did you even know that such a thing existed?

OK, I know this is going to sound weird. But I really don't like my computer to talk to me. In fact, I usually have the little speakers turned off, so I don't know if it's talking or not. If your blog makes a noise or plays music or has a spoken greeting of some sort, I probably don't know about it. If I want sound, I'll turn on the radio or the TV or the CD player (yes, I still have CDs). I recently acquired an iPod, but I haven't used it much yet (still in the process of downloading music). I don't mind watching (and listening to) brief videos on You Tube or Facebook, etc.; but anything longer than that I find sort of annoying.

So I think I can safely say I've never listened to a single podcast, book-related or otherwise. I guess you could say that, while I know what they are (in theory, anyway), podcasts don't really figure prominently in my world of books and reading. Don't have anything against them. Just haven't been bitten by the podcast bug yet.

Of course, that might change after I read everyone's BTT posts today.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A-Z Wednesday: "X"

A-Z Wednesday is hosted by Vicki at Reading At The Beach. To join in, just visit her blog for the guidelines and leave your link in a comment.

This week's letter is "X." And I have to admit, I couldn't find a single book on my shelves with a title beginning with X. So I'm using a book on one of my wish lists from a few years back.

X Marks the Spot: On Location with The X-Files
Written by Louisa Gradnitzer and Todd Pittson
Published 1999

Description from
The X-Files was a pop culture phenomenon. When it first hit the airwaves, The X-Files was heralded for being radically different than anything else on television. The rainy, foggy "Wet Coast," which was home to the show, affected the look of the series – dark, haunting, mysterious – and its storylines – paranoid, conspiratorial, fantastic.

Written by the former location managers for The X-Files, X Marks the Spot documents the development of the popular television series into a critical and commercial success by peering behind-the-scenes to see just what made it so different.

Gradnitzer and Pittson reveal the role that sets and locations played in creating and maintaining the X-Files "look," and provide a glimpse into the problems and conventions that the production faced during its growth.

Also in the book are plot synopses from the series' first 5 years, explicit descriptions of locations where scenes were shot, and anecdotes from crew members about life on set and with the stars – stories about producing groundbreaking television.

A collector's item for fans of the show and an informing read for anyone interested in the production of a major television program, X Marks the Spot also includes numerous images from the television show itself, as well as never-before-seen backstage photos by former crew members. It's an essential insider's guide.

My Thoughts:

OK, this is just slightly embarrassing to reveal, but I was a huge X-Files fan back when it was on TV; and I still think it was a fun show. This book is lots of fun, too. And it does make you realize how much the show's distinctive look was a result of the weather in Vancouver and that Pacific Northwest region where the first few seasons were shot. So I suppose all us fans should be grateful to that "Wet Coast" area.

But while I love the style of those early episodes, I definitely couldn't live with all that rain, fog and mist – not to mention all those nasty, green-blooded extraterrestrials crawling all over the place!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays: The Egypt Game

One of the books I read at the beach last week was The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. The book was a Newbery Honor Book in 1968, and tells the story of a very imaginative (and dangerous) game played by a group of children who share a deep interest in the history and culture of ancient Egypt.

This snippet comes from the third chapter, when the two main characters, April Hall and Melanie Ross – both about eleven years old – are meeting for the first time:
. . . after lunch when Melanie showed April her library, a whole bookcase full in her bedroom, she could tell that April liked books more than just a little. . . . She plopped herself down on the floor in front of the bookcase and started looking at books like crazy. (p.28)
Yes, that's what always happens to me in front of a bookcase. You, too?

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Beach Break

Today we're heading out for a few days at the beach. Don't know how much blogging I'll be doing, but I'm hoping to get a lot of reading done. Especially since the weather predictions aren't great for this weekend. This shot is from a couple of years ago, a little glimpse of what I'm hoping for!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A-Z Wednesday: "W"

A-Z Wednesday is hosted by Vicki at Reading At The Beach. To join in, just visit her blog for the guidelines and leave your link in a comment.

This week's letter is "W." So I went to my shelves, and this is what I pulled out.

Wish You Were Here
Written by Rita Mae Brown
and Sneaky Pie Brown
First published 1990

Publisher's Description:
Curiosity just might be the death of Mrs. Murphy--and her human companion, Mary Minor "Harry" Haristeen. Small towns are like families: Everyone lives very close together . . . and everyone keeps secrets. Crozet, Virginia, is a typical small town--until its secrets explode into murder. Crozet's thirty-something post-mistress, Mary Minor "Harry" Haristeen, has a tiger cat (Mrs. Murphy) and a Welsh Corgi (Tucker), a pending divorce, and a bad habit of reading postcards not addressed to her. When Crozet's citizens start turning up murdered, Harry remembers that each received a card with a tombstone on the front and the message "Wish you were here" on the back. Intent on protecting their human friend, Mrs. Murphy and Tucker begin to scent out clues. Meanwhile, Harry is conducting her own investigation, unaware her pets are one step ahead of her. If only Mrs. Murphy could alert her somehow, Harry could uncover the culprit before the murder occurs--and before Harry finds herself on the killer's mailing list.
See my review here.

See the book's page at here.

And a selection of covers of other editions:

Review: Live to Tell

Written by Lisa Gardner
Bantam Dell / Random House Publishing Group, 2010; 400 pages

This review refers to an advance uncorrected proof of the novel.

At the beginning of Lisa Gardner’s Live to Tell, a horrendous crime has been committed. Four members of a Boston family have been brutally murdered, apparently killed by the family’s father who is barely clinging to life in a hospital intensive care unit. Police detective D.D. Warren is assigned to head up the investigation of the case, which at first looks like a murder-suicide; but as the investigation progresses, it appears there may be much more complicated and sinister circumstances to consider.

The novel’s story involves several different crimes which may or may not be related, and it's told from several different points of view with a couple of characters sharing much of the narration duties.

There’s nurse Danielle Burton, a survivor of a similar family drama nearly a quarter century ago, who now dedicates herself to helping troubled children in a tightly secured pediatric psych ward. When the police show up at her hospital, and as the anniversary of her tragedy approaches, she realizes the violence she remembers may be starting all over again. And then there’s Victoria Oliver who fights a daily battle to protect her eight-year-old son Evan from his own violent rages – and to keep Evan from killing her in the process.

At the outset there seems to be no connection between these events and characters, but soon Detective Warren and her crew begin to realize they might have more in common than anyone believed. And the killer might be getting ready to strike again.

Gardner handles all this shifting around between characters and plot elements very adroitly, so that it never becomes confusing or annoying. In fact, one of the things I loved about the book is the way you get to see its main protagonist, police Sergeant Detective Warren, through the eyes of several different characters, in addition to that all-seeing narrator.

This was my first experience with Lisa Gardner’s work (although I’ve seen her on TRU-TV!). I've heard amazing things about her D.D. Warren series, so I was expecting to be dazzled. And I wasn't disappointed. This is a great read, with lots of excitement, suspense and surprises – a real up-all-night-er. Although, to be completely honest, I have to say I found D.D. Warren herself to be not the most appealing of literary heroines. She's very rough around the edges, with many not-so-endearing foibles and character flaws. She also has a way with suspects and possible suspects that would probably land an actual real-life police detective in very hot water. I have a feeling if a cop in the real world handled things the way Warren does in this novel, he/she would end up getting themselves sued, suspended, or killed pretty quickly. But it's a real testament to Gardner's superb story-telling that I was perfectly willing to suspend all my disbelief while reading this terrific thriller.

Note: I received an advance reading copy of this novel, free of charge, from the publisher. No other compensation was received, and no one attempted to influence my opinion of the book.

Teaser Tuesdays: Live to Tell

This week my teaser lines come from Live to Tell, the new Detective D.D. Warren novel by Lisa Gardner. The quote here comes from an ARC of the book, so you have to remember that the finished work may differ.

This is a new series for me, so I'm just getting to know the central character, D.D. Warren. And so far, what I know is that she's a female police detective, and a pretty tough cookie. Even so, she obviously still has all the same feminine worries about the old biological clock, as this excerpt demonstrates:
She was not getting married. She was not having children. . . . So she might as well read the ***** case reports, because this was her life. This was what she had left. Five dead in Dorchester and no one alive to tell the tale. [p.109]
I took out a little questionable language there (this blog tries to maintain its PG-rating), but I did say Sergeant Warren is a tough one. And, yes, it's a bit more than two lines (as usual).

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

Monday, July 12, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. If you want to let the world know what books you're going to be reading this week, head on over to her blog and leave your link.

Well, after all the record-breaking heat here on the east coast last week, I guess we can definitely say summer is here to stay. And all that hot weather has made me really lazy when it comes to reading and blogging. Not getting much done. Only finished one book last week, and didn't get any reviews posted. But I did get all the rest of my summer clothing out of storage, so I don't feel too absolutely slothful (storage problems – one of the nagging issues of apartment living).

So, here's how things stack up this week:
  • Finished last week:
    Noah's Compass, by Anne Tyler (I really enjoyed this one, and hope to get my review up today or tomorrow.)

  • Reviews posted:
    None (that's none)

  • Reading this week:
    The Good Psychologist, by Noam Shpancer (This is an Early Reviewer book from Library Thing. A little strange, but I'm enjoying it so far.)

    The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley (I'm loving this one. Started it last week, and intend to get back to it as soon as I get the Shpancer book out of the way.)

  • Next up:
    Haven't decided yet. We'll be heading to the beach at the end of the week, and I usually read whodunits on vacation. So I'm thinking maybe another Mrs. Murphy mystery (by Rita Mae Brown), or something with a seaside theme. Any suggestions?

Friday, July 09, 2010

Spring Reading Thing 2010: The Wrap-Up

Well, it's been summer for quite a while now – spring is just a fading memory. And speaking of memories, mine seems to be getting fuzzier all the time. I completely forgot about wrapping up the Spring Reading Thing 2010 Challenge, which ended June 20th.

I want to say thanks to Katrina of Callapidder Days for hosting. It was a fun challenge because it didn't put any limits on genre or number of books. I read fourteen books, the same number I read in last year's 2009 Spring Reading Thing (I might not be a fast reader, but at least I'm consistent). And of those fourteen, only one (Fair Maiden by Joyce Carol Oates) was on my original list of possible reads (OK, I'm consistent, but fickle).

Here's what I read (with links to reviews):
  1. Heresy. S.J. Parris
  2. A Stitch in Time. Monica Ferris
  3. A Fair Maiden. Joyce Carol Oates
  4. The Swimming Pool. Holly LeCraw
  5. An American Type. Henry Roth
  6. A River in the Sky. Elizabeth Peters
  7. Live To Tell. Lisa Gardner
  8. The Map of True Places. Brunonia Barry
  9. Tinkers. Paul Harding
  10. The Last Child. John Hart
  11. Innocent. Scott Turow
  12. The Hypnotist. M.J. Rose
  13. The Forgotten Garden. Kate Morton
  14. The Magicians. Lev Grossman
As you can see, I still have quite a few reviews to get written (what else is new?) – working on that now.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

A-Z Wednesday: "V"

A-Z Wednesday is hosted by Vicki at Reading At The Beach. To join in, just visit her blog for the guidelines and leave your link in a comment.

This week's letter is "V." So I went to my shelves, and this is what I pulled out.

Village School
Written by "Miss Read"
First published 1955

Publisher's Description:
The first novel in the beloved Fairacre series, Village School introduces the remarkable schoolmistress Miss Read and her lovable group of children, who, with a mixture of skinned knees and smiles, are just as likely to lose themselves as their mittens. This is the English village of Fairacre: a handful of thatch-roofed cottages, a church, the school, the promise of fair weather, friendly faces, and good cheer -- at least most of the time. Here everyone knows everyone else's business, and the villagers like each other anyway (even Miss Pringle, the irascible, gloomy cleaner of Fairacre School). With a wise heart and a discerning eye, Miss Read guides us through one crisp, glistening autumn in her village and introduces us to a cast of unforgettable characters and a world of drama, romance, and humor, all within a stone's throw of the school. By the time winter comes, you'll be nestled snugly into the warmth and wit of Fairacre and won't want to leave.
See the book's page at here.

And the cover of another edition:

There are dozens of “Miss Read” books, and I’ve only read the first three – Village School, Village Diary and Storm in the Village. These three have been published as one volume, Chronicles of Fairacre:

“Miss Read” is the pseudonym of Dora Jessie Saint (born 1913), an English schoolmistress who began her writing career as a journalist after World War II. Beginning with Village School in 1955, she wrote a series of novels centered on two fictional English villages, Fairacre and Thrush Green. The main character in the Fairacre books, also called “Miss Read,” is an unmarried teacher in the small village school. Through Miss Read’s eyes, we get to take part in all the comedy and drama of village life. The books are very appealing social comedies, filled with a gentle, bucolic humor. Dora Saint is often compared to Jane Austen and Barbara Pym, and there are similarities; but I think her humor is milder and her worldview a bit less acerbic.

I read the first three Fairacre books about twenty years ago, and thoroughly enjoyed them (especially Village School). Might be time for another visit.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays: Noah's Compass

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Wow, already July 6th! Time flies, huh? Hope everyone had a great 4th of July – didn't eat too many hot dogs, didn't collapse from heat stroke or get singed by errant fireworks sparks. Hope you got some reading done, too!

This week my teaser lines come from Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler. It's only the second book by Tyler I've read. I read The Accidental Tourist back in the '80s, but don't have much memory of it. However, I'm enjoying this one enormously. This quote comes from page 112, and has the book's protagonist Liam Pennywell thinking about his new friend (and potential love interest) Eunice:
People like Eunice just never had quite figured out how to get along in the world. They might be perfectly intelligent, but they were subject to speckles and flushes; their purses resembled wastepaper baskets; they stepped on their own skirts.
I can totally identify with Eunice.

How about you? Got a great teaser from a book you're reading right now? Want to play along? Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

Monday, July 05, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. If you want to let the world know what books you're going to be reading this week, head on over to her blog and leave your link.

Wow, Monday again. And already the 5th of July! This summer is zipping right by, isn't it? Hope everyone had a great holiday weekend.

Once again, I didn't get quite as much reading done last week as I'd hoped to, but at least I did manage to finish one book and get one review posted. Hoping to do a little better than that this week, but I guess we'll just have to see how it goes.