Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mini Review: Murder in the Marais

I'm in danger of falling behind on these. Better get cracking.

Today's review is of Murder in the Marais, the first in a series by Cara Black that is set in Paris.

Set in 1993, the story follows Aimee Leduc as she gets involved in something way over her head. While a PI, she normally works computer security cases for private clients. But when a man comes in claiming to know her father, she reluctantly takes his case. All she has to do is decipher an encrypted photo and deliver it to a woman in the Jewish quarter. But when she goes to make that delivery, she finds the woman dead with a swastika carved in her forehead.

The book was okay, but it had some fundamental problems. First was the plot. Several threads weave in and out of each other. But they never quite come together. In fact, they wind up making things much more awkward at the climax then they should have been.

There were several well drawn characters in the novel. Aimee was not amoung them. That made it hard for me to get into the books as well.

However, I was really drawn in by one sub-plot and found those characters very moving.

All this left me with a mixed reaction. I would consider reading more in the series, but I won't be rushing back to do so.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My Nightstand - April 2009 Edition

Why yes, it is the last Tuesday of April. (Hard to believe the year is flying by so fast, isn't it?) Time for this month's What's on Your Nightstand via 5 Minutes for Books.

I just finished Shark Island by Joan Druett. Review still forth coming. It's a historical fiction book set on the Exploritory Expedition the USA sent out from 1838 to 1842. This one involved a murder on a trading ship. The pacing was a bit uneven, but it was still quite enjoyable.

Today at lunch time I passed the half way point in Laura Levine's newest, Killer Cruise. Jaine Austen has landed a gig teaching memory writing on a cruise ship in exchange for a free vacation. It sounds great. That is until she finds out her room is at the bottom of the ship, her cat stows away, and someone on board is murdered. As always, this book is light and very funny.

Up next will be the newest Burn Notice tie in: The End Game by Tod Goldberg.

As I get time, full reviews will be up at my Epinions account and I will be doing mini reviews here as part of the 2009 Spring Reading Thing, so keep checking back.

Monday, April 27, 2009

2009 Festival of Books Report

So, I spent my entire weekend at UCLA. Yep, it was time for the LA Times Festival of Books once again.

I met up with Angelique at 10AM (when it started). We spent the day with our usual author stalking while mystery booth hopping. Unfortunately, it seemed that not only did Book 'Em not show up, but neither did Borders of Barnes and Noble. Taht worries me a bit. Also upsetting was the fact that they didn't have the pin in the festival merchandise like normal. I've been collecting them for the past few years. Guess this year I won't.

But it was still lots of fun. Saturday we got to talk to Jerrilyn Farmer, Sue Ann Jaffarian, and Joanne Fluke while getting the new books by R.T. Jordan and Laura Levine, both before official release.

While walking up to the festival, I discovered that Kristin Chenoweth was there, so I bought her recent memoir (which I had planned to borrow from the library) and stood in line to get it autographed. Unfortunately, I didn't have more than two seconds to tell her how upset I was that Pushing Daisies had been canceled, but it was still fun.

For something different, we both we back for something different. (Yes, I did go to church first.) Sunday was more low key as we'd already seen the majority of authors we wanted to see. I did get signatures from the brothers Goldberg (Lee for the German Monk book he'd sent me last week and Tod for both of his Burn Notice tie ins.) And I got the poster and a shirt for Cream Puff Murder from Joanne.

I left around 2:45 and headed down to Santa Monica to play some beach ultimate. It was cooler and winder than I would have liked (and Saturday for that matter. Saturday, the weather was wonderful) but I had a mostly good time. It was a bit frustrating that some of the people who didn't know me were talking to me like I knew nothing about the game. Which is why I need to play lots more pick up. I know how to play the game. I just need to get my body to do what my mind knows. And believe me, it is frustrating that I am still in that position.

Anyway, left there and went to Joe's for Babylon 5 night. We got a bit of a late start, and then wound up sitting around talking afterward until almost midnight. It was close to 1 before I turned out the light. Believe me, I've been wandering around work in a haze all day. Must get more sleep soon!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Anxiety and Frustration

Saturday night, I got the official word. One of my roommates is moving out here in a couple of weeks. Frankly, I'm not surprised. He's in a one year program here at the college, so I figured he'd move on after he graduated.

Talking to my other roommate Sunday, I found out he will most likely move closer to his college sometime this summer.

Honestly, I thought I was doing pretty well with all of this. In fact, at one point on Sunday, I actually thought to myself, "Maybe I have learned to trust God through the roommate searching process." (Now my new friends Josh and Joe might feel differently since they heard me talking about it Sunday night.)

And at some point Monday it hit me hard. By the time I left work, I was frustrated that I still have to have roommates at my age and very worried about where I would find them and how it would all work out this time around.

Then I opened the book Respectable Sins, which my career group Bible study is going through. And what was one of the chapters we are discussing tonight? Anxiety and Frustration.

My first thought was "Why this week?" Then I just started laughing.

I'd like to say that I will conquer these two sins with the help of the book. But I know me too well. At least I got the excellent reminder I needed at the right time, however.

Now to remember it every day of my life.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Internationally Recognized Reviewer

I just want to let you know how lucky you all are. You are reading the blog of an internationally recognized reviewer.

(Wow, don't I sound pompus?)

Seriously, though, last weekend I got an e-mail from Lee Goldberg, author of the Monk tie-in novels. He was in Germany on business and picked up a copy of Mr. Monk Goes to Germany in paperback. Guess who had two lines from his Amazon review quoted on the back cover? Me!!

Lee bought a copy of the book and sent it to me. Yes, the lines are in German, but I was able to guess what they said with a little help from the actual review.

Anyway, I am quite honored and thrilled, as you can well imagine. This is the first time (I know of, anyway) that my reviews have been quoted on the books themselves. I know parts have been quoted by authors on their websites before, which is also an honor.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Weekend Update

Time for another weekend update on my life. (That is why you all tune in right? To read about my jealousy inducing weekends?)

This Friday night was a rare Friday free. So, how did I start it? By going to see 17 Again, which I mostly enjoyed. When the movie was over, I discovered I had two missed calls from friends inviting me over to play poker. The game hadn't started yet, so I went. It was a cash game, and I broke even, too. (That is, if the check ever comes in the mail.)

Saturday was down to Sherman Oaks to play ultimate Frisbee. Nine of us, which was too bad numbers wise, but I still had fun.

But it was hot! The temps have really soared the last few days. We were breaking records with 100 degree weather on Monday. It's only in the 80's today and supposed to be around 60 on Friday. I hate wild swings like that.

Anyway, Sunday I stayed near the condo and got some laundry done between church and Babylon 5 night.

I got the official word that one of my roommates is moving out in a couple of weeks. I was expecting it since he is graduating. Since the other roommate is his friend, I must admit I kind of expect him to follow through on his plans to move closer to his college and church at some point this summer. So I am now on the hunt for roommates #6 and 7 in a twelve month period. Have I mentioned lately how much I hate the roommate shuffle?

But in much better news, I also got word this week that I got a spot in co-ed Summer League Ultimate Frisbee again this year. Instead of first come first serve, it was a lottory system this year, which had me nervous. Can't wait for that to start in June.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mini Review: In a Gilded Cage

In a Gilded Cage is the 8th Molly Murphy mystery by Rhys Bowen. Molly is an Irish immigrant to New York City in the early 1900's. She is trying to support herself by becoming a private investigator. And she's becoming quite good at it.

This book finds her helping two graduates of Vassar Women's College. The first is Emily. Emily is an orphane who never knew her parents. She hires Molly to find out about them. The second is Fanny who wants proof that her husband is cheating on her. Things are progressing in both cases when one of the women winds up dead. Can Molly figure out who the killer is?

These books are as much about the historical detail as the mystery. And they blend the two together so well. The plot is good and kept me guessing until the end. The overall story of women's place in society is quite interesting considering the conflicts that Molly has with her boyfriend. And, as always, the characters are well developed.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Word Association for April 20th

Hey, I'm actually doing the word association early in the week for a change!

  1. Lease :: Rent
  2. Dead :: and Buried
  3. Removed :: Stain
  4. Broke :: Fix It
  5. Lips :: I Love My Lips!
  6. Flight :: Escape from danger
  7. Three hours :: One Friday (although the book is really Six Hours One Friday)
  8. Give :: and Take
  9. Technical :: Specifications
  10. Hurry :: Up and Wait

Friday, April 17, 2009

Easter Trip Home

Wow, it's been way too long since I talked about my life (or much of anything else around here). Time I started doing some blogging again.

So, I went home for Easter.

Oh, you want to know a little more about it? Okay.

The college gives us a half day off on Good Friday every year, so I left at noon and headed north. I hit the Bay Area in time to meet Donald for dinner. My parents were going to something that night, so I wound up going with Donald to his church's good Friday service. Not my original plan, but I enjoyed it. And that meant I got into Santa Rosa about the normal time.

Saturday was spent pretty much getting ready for Easter dinner. That included me making cheesecake. We did have time to go for a walk around Spring Lake, a reservoir in downtown.

Sunday started with an Easter church service. After ward, we spent a couple minutes talking to my senior English teacher who started going to my parents' church about 6 years ago or so. It was fun talking to him again. His class was by far my favorite that year. And considering it was last period, that's saying something. (And if you've heard me talk about Mr. Bribiescas, this is him).

Then it was home to get ready for Easter lunch. We had some family over for the afternoon, and it was a nice time to really visit and catch up. It did help that the food was good and the cheesecake wonderful.

I actually took Monday and Tuesday off work, so Monday was a play day. We went out to Armstrong Redwoods. The weather out there was perfect. And we always love spending time in the redwoods. We then drove a little ways down the coast, which turned out to be a bad idea. We didn't get out and walk since it was howling windy out there. Should have stayed in the redwoods.

Speaking of wind, I had winds driving both directions, but it was worse coming home Tuesday. I think it was a tail wind at least, but every time I stopped for gas, I just about got blown over. I'm very thankful it wasn't blowing across the highway because that would have made trying to stay on the road bad.

I got to see Donald again for lunch on the way home Tuesday. Unfortunately, I only got to talk to Heather long enough to say "hi" since she was singing in their church's choir on Friday night and had to work Tuesday. Next time.

While in the car, I listened to Mark's Story by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. Take my advise and skip it. While I enjoyed the Left Behind books, this one was horrid. There was no character development and long passages of the book were nothing but long quotes from the Bible. I have no problem reading the Bible, but that's not what I want when I sit down to read (or listen to) a novel.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Reflections on Tea Parties

Okay, so I didn't actually participate in any of the national Tea Parties yesterday. I did drive by and saw the huge crowd around City Hall (and across the street and by the mall) here in town. And yes, I was heartily encouraged to see so many showing their support. Yes, I was lazy and didn't want to deal with the cold wind that was blowing yesterday. I've mentioned I am a Southern California whimp several times already, right?

For those of you who don't know, the tea parties are protests of the current government spending spree that will mean tax increases down the road. The name is taken from the famous Boston Tea Party during the days leading up to the American Revolution.

Now as one person was quick to point out, the original charge of "No taxation without representation" doesn't apply here. These are our representatives who are voting on this massive spending bills.

But the problem still comes down to spending, spending, spending. As I ranted two months ago, the "responsible budget" that our current President has proposed is a joke. A responsible budget is a balanced budget. And a balanced budget is no where in site.

Here in California, we've just had our sale tax increase by a percentage point. And yet we are still in crisis mode.

And that is going to really be true in 10 or 20 years at the Federal level. We can't keep spending money like crazy like we have for decades. And all signs are that it will only get worse. Eventually, we have to pay back the money that we are borrowing. And when that happens, our country will end.

But here's the thing that struck me. The critics of the Tax Day Tea Parties dismissed them as conservative reaction to President Obama. That would be true except for a couple of minor points.

Minor point #1: I was actually more than ready for Bush to leave office because of his spending policies. If he were still in office right now, I'd be just as upset about government waste.

Minor point #2: I honestly believe McCain would be behaving the same way were he in the Oval Office right now. And you know what? I would still support the fight against government waste if he were.

And yes, I will keep supporting this cause no matter who is in charge of what part of government until we get people in office who represent true responsible budgeting. The type of budgeting that everyone in the real world must deal with on a daily basis.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Mini Review: Too Rich and Too Dead

Today's mini review is on Too Rich and Too Dead, the second Murder Packs a Suitcase mystery by Cynthia Baxter.

This book finds travel writer Mallory Marlowe traveling to Aspen, Colorado. Her assignment is to discover if non-skiers would enjoy the area, too. As part of the assignment, she's going to interview former high school acquaintance Carly Cassidy Berman the founder of Rejuva-Juice, the latest health craze.

But the morning after Mallory arrives, Carly is found dead in her health spa. Even though the two had lost touch over the years, Mallory is curious. And the plea for help from the police's suspect certainly helps. Can Mallory find the killer and research the article?

I enjoyed this book as much as the first in the series. The characters are real and Mallory is particular is likeable. I love spending time with her. The writing is so vivid you feel like you got to go on the trip, too.

The only problem I had with the book was the climax of the mystery. It was so rushed that, while all the clues and red herrings were adequately explained, the actions of the characters involved made little sense. It worked for a dramatic climax, but that seemed to be the only reason they did what they did.

Having said that, I will certainly be back for the third in the series. And I really must start reading Cynthia's other series.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Word Association for April 9th

Yep, it's Word Association time again.

  1. Log :: Forrest
  2. Plaything :: Toy
  3. Broom :: Mop
  4. Heels :: Shoes
  5. Smoke in :: Monster on Lost (Guess what I watched last night)
  6. Guests :: Wedding
  7. Attraction :: Disneyland Ride
  8. Shiny:: New Penny (speaking of which, have you noticed the new designs on the penny? And I still haven't seen a 2009 quarter (or Hawaii quarter either))
  9. Risked :: Rewared
  10. Velvet :: Gown (Trixie Belden #29 coming into play here)

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Mini Review: Revenge of the Spellmans

Today's mini review is of Revenge of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz. This is her third book about the wild and wacky Spellman family. They run a PI firm in San Francisco, but put their know how to work spying on each other as well.

This book finds Isabel "Izzy" Spellman, our 31 year old main character, taking a break from the family business tending bar. But she agrees to take on one case for a friend of her boss. The man thinks his wife is having an affair. That's not true, and just as Izzy is about to wrap up the case, she discovers the woman has a second tail. Suspicious aroused, Izzy keeps digging.

But the family is providing plenty of mysteries of its own. Oldest brother David is home at odd hours. High schooler Rae is caught in a scandle involving her PSAT score and potential cheating. And Izzy is squatting in her brother's furnished basement apartment.

All this leads to her being blackmailed and bribed. Now, if she only knew for what, she might be in business.

For those unfamiliar with the series, yes they are comedies. Having said that, I think I found this book the least funny of the series. Yes, I laughed. But many of the jokes felt too familiar.

Also too familiar were some of the characters. While some are growing, others aren't. And their behavior is begining to wear thin.

And yet, I really did enjoy the book. It's hard not to when things are this wild and crazy.

If you haven't read the books, starting with the first, The Spellman Files, is an absolute must. They are well worth your time.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Another Fun Weekend

Are you sensing that all the exciting stuff in my life happens on the weekends right now? There's a reason for that. All the exciting stuff in my life happens on the weekend right now. During the week, it's work and TV watching. I am watching way too many shows. I really need to give something up but I don't want to. Hopefully the networks will help me out by canceling a few of my shows. (But please, not Chuck. Anything but Chuck!)

But come the weekend, all that seems to change. And I love it.

Friday night turned into a game night for the career group. It came together at the last minute, and it was fun. It also started my weekend off on the wrong note. See, I was going to go to bed early Friday night. Real bed time? Around 1AM.

I'd like to say I slept late on Saturday, but that didn't quite happen. I got up late, however. I made it to the library for some books on tape for this coming weekend, but that was all I did productive in the morning. Mid afternoon, I headed down to Sherman Oaks for the new Ultimate game I found. Lots of fun, although the turnout was small. We played four on four the entire time. But I will be back in two weeks.

From there, it was rush home, shower, and head out again. Kurt and Kellie hosted a game night/pot luck. Okay, so they got the pot luck part right. We sat around and talked, ate, then the guys went to the hot tub for about an hour. No games were played, but it was wonderful catching up with that group of friends.

Sunday was the only day I was productive. After church and Sunday School, I came home and did three loads of laundry while watching the final disc of the second season of The Muppet Show and paying bills. That night was the second week of our Babylon 5 group over at Joe's place.

Yes, it was another crazy, fun weekend. The only bad thing was, I didn't get to read all weekend. By the time I got home, it was late and I was tired. Which is making it hard to be able to finish my book by tomorrow. But I'm certainly trying to anyway.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Mini Reviews: Ironwood Tree and Wrath of Mulgarath

I'm going to combine two books for one mini review today. They are The Ironwood Tree and The Wrath of Mulgarath, both written by Tony DiTerlizzie and Holly Black. They are the 4th and 5th books in the Spiderwick Chronicles.

The Ironwood Tree finds the three Grace children (the main characters) enjoying a brief rest from the attack of the fairies. All that ends when Mallory is kidnapped and twins Simon and Jared must rescue her.

The Wrath of Mulgarath opens right after book 4 ends. The Grace kids return home to discover their house a wreck and their mother missing. Can they figure out a way to free her from Mulgarath and end their adventures?

It's hard to talk about these later books in the series without talking about the entire series. The five books in the original cycle form one cohesive story and must be read in order. Having said that, The Ironwood Tree is more a placeholder. It only advances the story at the very end. The Wrath of Mulgarath is action from start to finish and will please any fan of the series. And yes, if you have seen the movie from last year, these two books are very different from what you saw there.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Word Association for April 3rd

If I'm doing this this week, today's the day.

  1. Road trip :: Let's Go!
  2. Pool hall :: Smoke
  3. Extraordinary :: Awesome
  4. Jackson :: Michael
  5. Heartfelt :: Apology
  6. Wet :: Water
  7. Strangle :: Murder
  8. .com :: Internet
  9. Touched :: Healed
  10. Insipid :: Boring

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Mini Review: The Dog Days of Charlotte Hayes

Full disclosure: I bought this kid's book because the author is the sister of a friend. But I am raving about The Dog Days of Charlotte Hayes by Marlane Kennedy because I loved it.

The story revolves around Charlotte Hayes, a sixth grader and the person who takes care of the family dog. Now Charlotte will be quick to tell you, she isn't a dog person. But no one else in the family seems ready to make sure he has food and water, so she does it. She decides the thing to do is find the dog a new home. But her dad claims to love the dog. Can she find a way to "rescue" her own dog?

I, also, and not a dog person. But I fell in love with this book, and the dog in it. It really is a heart warming story with well hidden lessons on responsibility and finding friends in unexpected places.

Yes, the book is perfect for 3rd grade and above. And by above, I mean adults as well.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Special Announcement for Babylon 5 Fans!

You'll never believe what I just heard. Babylon 5, my favorite TV show of all time is coming back on the air on a weekly basis. The entire original cast will be back together to continue the story after the final episode aired!

I so can not wait for this to start airing. I hear it will be ready by April 1st, 2010.

(And before the few readers I have who are Babylon 5 fans get too excited, just remember...

I Slap Floor!)