Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saturday Snapshot - Oh Deer!

Over Christmas, my husband and I rented a cabin in the nearby Whiteshell Provincial Park. It was very quiet and very relaxing. We had a great time. We were greeted by the "welcoming committee" upon our arrival. Here s/he is Christmas morning at our cabin door:

There were about 15 of these white-tailed deer in the immediate area. Probably hundreds, if not thousands, in the whole park. They are wild animals and are not penned. They are free to come and go as they please. However, the owners of the cabins feed them deer chow, I believe - although not usually by hand.  Because of this, they stay close and have gotten used to having people around all the time. Most of them will eat right from your hand, as seen above.    We were giving them some bird seed we brought along to feed the birds.  It's sort of a nice added attraction for visitors from the city to see "wild" life up close.

Here's another photo:

When we were packing up to go, there were four of them waiting at the cabin door to see if they could get one last handout. I wish I had gotten a picture of that, but the camera was already packed away.

Disclaimer: I don't support feeding wild animals, especially deer. It's actually harmful for the animals and for humans. Once in awhile, though, I lose all reason.

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce of At Home With Books. To participate – post a picture that you've taken (or one taken by a friend, or a family member) then add your link on Alyce’s site using Mr. Linky.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Shut Your Eyes Tight by John Verdon

In Shut Your Eyes Tight, a bride is beheaded at her wedding reception just after she was wed to a prominent psychiatrist. Dave Gurney, a retired homicide investigator can't resist looking into this one. His wife is opposed to the idea and just wants him to enjoy their move out to the country. Once Gurney learns the details, he finds that it's so bizarre and horrific that soon he can't think of anything else. Through his digging he finds evil very close to the surface. However, as he continues to dig the extent of that evil becomes unimaginable.

I loved this book. I love that Verdon doesn't rely on action scenes to make the story interesting or suspenseful. Much like his first book, this is very much a thinking man's mystery. It sucked me in and made me forget about everything else that I should have been doing. It was so intelligently written and meticulously thought out that it was a joy to read. Verdon's storytelling is amazing. I just love it. He reiterated the facts in the case several times without coming across as repetitive or preachy. It just made it easier to follow. I didn't have to flip back once in the book to remind myself of who was who or what had happened previously, even though the book is 500+ pages long.

The storyline did get a little gruesome at times. Thankfully, it did not feature the action of the beheadings, just the aftermaths of them, which was bad enough. The other main topic or subject matter of the story was sexual abuse. Another uncomfortable topic to read about. This time it was especially sad since the both the abused and the abusers were so young.

The main character, Dave Gurney, is a fantastic protagonist with lots of great qualities and numerous flaws. He suffers terrible guilt over his sons and has quite a unique hobby - using his computer to manipulate portraits/mug shots of serial killers. He also lectures at the police academy. I loved both his lectures and the way his students answered his questions. I find Gurney very relatable and easy to understand. I think I like him so much because he's very much like least according to his Myers Briggs evaluation:
His instinctive route to understanding was primarily through thinking...He was fascinated by connecting the dots...He was energized by solitude...observing was just one tool to enable clearer judging. (page 96)
His wife, Madeline, on the other hand, is pretty much his opposite, which is probably why I have a hard time connecting with her. As for the other characters, I didn't like them very much, but I don't think I was supposed to.

If I had to pick one thing that I didn't like, it was the dust jacket. It's very striking with the rose petals, rose stems complete with thorns, drops of blood and the raised and indented lettering. However, the slightly weird texture (a bit rough) bothered me. I didn't like the feel of it. It wasn't exactly irritating, but it wasn't comfortable either. It's strange because now that I compare it to other books, it's not really that different. It did, however, seem very different when I was reading the book and handling it daily.

New words:
shibboleth (page 180): catchword or slogan
amelioration (page 214): improve
scimitar (page 218): Arab or Turkish saber
cupidity (page 242): greed
loquacity (page 268): tending to talk a lot
physiognomy (page 268): facial features
insouciant (page 382): not worrying about possible problems; carefree
condign reparation (page 485): punishment in perfect balance with the offense. Punishment of an ideally appropriate nature (definition from the book).

I've read one other book by Verdon, Think of a Number (my review). I loved it.

Highly recommended. I'll definitely be looking for more of this author's work.

For more information about this book, please visit the Random House website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Random House for this review copy.

Shut Your Eyes Tight: A Novel by John Verdon, Crown Publishers (Random House), ©2011. ISBN 9780307717894(Hardcover), 509p.

Altar of Bones by Philip Carter

In Altar of Bones, Zoe Dmitroff is entrusted with a centuries old very dangerous secret. Just like those who have come before her, this secret will put her life in danger. As she fights to protect it, others will stop at nothing to attain it. The story spans many years, crosses many countries and touches many lives. Even the rich, powerful and famous are not safe.

I enjoyed this one, but only up to a point. It was a good thriller and had the potential to be great, but it's heavy reliance on action sequences, let me wanting. I kept reading because I wanted to hear about this conspiracy in which "everything you believed is wrong...everything you feared is real". Doesn't that sound good? Maybe I was expecting too much and looked at the book the wrong way. Instead of reading to find out about this conspiracy, I should have just relaxed and read the book for what it was...a good thriller. Maybe.

This book offers up another theory (or theories) surrounding the deaths of John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe. I found that very intriguing. However, the theory is so out there and such a small part of the book, relatively speaking, I was a little disappointed. I wanted substance, planning, deception, plotting...all the things of a good conspiracy. Maybe there was some of that here, but it got lost. As far as I'm concerned, with a few changes the conspiracy could have been about any two famous people, say John Lennon and John Belushi, or Natalie Wood and Abraham Lincoln. Again, maybe I'm being too hard on the book.

Back to the action scenes for a minute. I like said above, this book is packed full of action scenes. It would probably translate beautifully into a motion picture. In fact, it's almost like it was written with making a movie in mind. While I don't mind some action in my movies, here it was too much. Much of that action/running around/car chases etc. was wasted on me. While putting the characters in jeopardy as they race around the world added suspense to the story, I wanted to get to the part about Kennedy and Monroe.

Having said all of that, there were parts I really liked. The story might not be probable or even plausible, but it certainly was entertaining. I didn't once think about stopping and giving up on it. I loved how the different characters took turns telling part of the stories. It fit with the overall theme and made it interesting and suspenseful. Also, I really liked the two main characters, Zoe and Ry. I liked the tension in their dynamic relationship.

Favourite quote: I liked this quote because every time my husband and I dig in the garden and a plant is really hard to dig up, I say to my husband "I wish that Chinese person holding onto the root would just let go already?"  It's nice to know that I'm not the only one who thinks like that. 
Babe, they're gonna bury it so deep, the only way it'll ever see the light of day again is if some kid in China accidentally uncovers it while digging around in his backyard. (page 312)
Philip Carter is a pseudonym of an internationally bestselling author. I've heard rumours that it's Dan Brown. It certainly could be. The storytelling and conspiracy angle were not unlike The da Vinci Code. Then again, it could also be any one of a half-dozen other writers out there. Anyone have another theory?

Recommended for its thriller aspects.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit Simon & Schuster's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Simon & Schuster UK for this review copy.

Altar of Bones by Philip Carter, Gallery Book (Simon & Schuster UK), ©2011. ISBN 9780857202062(ARC), 455p.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saturday Snapshot - Dog Sitting

Two weeks ago, we had the pleasure of dog-sitting for our neighbours. Here are a few photos of Dakota:

Isn't she gorgeous?  She's the best dog...ever. She's about 10 and loves to chase (and sometimes catch) squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits.  She's a mixed breed, but I can't remember which ones. She spent 3 days at our house and slept at home. We had a blast!!!

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce of At Home With Books. To participate – post a picture that you've taken (or one taken by a friend, or a family member) then add your link on Alyce’s site using Mr. Linky.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Photo Friday - Depth Perception

For more "Depth Perception" photos, visit the Photo Friday website.

For more of my submissions, please see my PhotoFriday set on my Flickr page.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley

It's Flavia time! In I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, 11 year-old Flavia is busy working on a trap to snare St. Nick and his reindeer, but becomes distracted when the film crew shows up at Buckshaw, her cash-strapped family's mansion, to film a movie starring Phyllis Wyvern, a famous actress. As the whole town gathers to watch the actress perform, a blizzard rages outside. When a body is later discovered strangled with a length of film, the suspects abound. Flavia must once again work her magic to solve this one.

I loved this book! In this 4th book in the series, Flavia is up to her old tricks creating potions and working in her laboratory. I love mysteries like this - the classic locked room type scenario, where the suspects are all trapped in one area by happenstance and the protagonist has to sort it all out, especially when they are as good as this was is.

I was so happy to see Flavia again. She's one of my favourite fictional characters. She's precocious and delightful. I love the way her mind works and love reading her inner dialogue. She's young in age, but seems so mature in her thoughts and dealings with other people. She's seen more dead bodies now than any girl her age should have, yet she's still up for the task of solving the mystery. Besides finding the murderer, she stays true to her passion of chemistry. Her elaborate scheme to catch St. Nick in the act is brilliant!

I'm a huge fan of this series and I love how it's progressing. It doesn't seem to be fading at all and seeing Flavia again is like seeing an old friend. It really doesn't get old. I love that we are learning more and more about the family and their dynamics. I still worry about them between books. I know they are fictional, but I want everything to work out for them. I'm afraid that their future at Buckshaw is in real jeopardy and that Father might not be able to care for the girls much longer. All of those thoughts are for another day, though. They are just too depressing for such a delightful and timely book.

New words:
pantechnicon (page 17): a large moving van (U.K.)
dekko (page 68): a quick look (U.K.)
chaffinch (page 69): European songbird
brambling (page 69): finch (European)
darbies (page 247): British slang for hand cuffs

Other books in the series and my reviews:
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (my review)
The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag (my review)
A Red Herring Without Mustard (my review)

Even though this book is part of a series, it definitely can be read as a standalone book. In fact, this is true for any one of them.

Highly recommended. I can't wait for the next book.

For more information about this book, please visit the Random House website.

For more information about the author, his other books and, of course, Flavia, please visit the Flavia de Luce Fan Club website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Random House for this review copy.

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley, Doubleday Canada (Random House), ©2011. ISBN 9780385668095(Hard cover), 271p.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Christmas Cookie Club by Ann Pearlman

In The Christmas Cookie Club, Marnie and twelve of her girlfriends get together to exchange cookies just before Christmas. Through their interactions at the party, we learn about the women and their loved ones. We see their love and caring as well as their squabbles and troubles.

I'll cut right to the chase. This wasn't my favourite book. Well, I enjoyed parts of it, but others, not so much. With the exception of the prologue, which I'll get to in a minute, it started off really good. I liked the staggered introduction of the characters and that it was all written from Marnie's point of view.

I liked that each chapter was preceded by a cookie recipe and featured one of the club members. I liked that cookie recipes were included at the beginning of each chapter. Who doesn't love cookies? I love to bake and I'm always looking for new recipes to try. However, having them scattered throughout the book makes them hard to find, especially since there's no index or table of contents. Most of them looked delicious, though, so I might end up scanning them in and keeping them with my cookbooks. I was a little disappointed that many of the recipes contained nuts. I really like nuts, but I also like variety. I suppose this happens in real cookie swapping groups as well. (I'm surprised they didn't try to somehow make a rule about that.)

I loved that each chapter finished off with a section about an ingredient: butter, cinnamon, chocolate, salt, etc. These were extremely interesting. It was neat that they, too, were written from Marnie's point of view, but it really wasn't necessary. It's not like they fit in the storyline.

As for the prologue (See? I told you I'd eventually get back to it), I didn't like that the rules were presented at the beginning. They sounded a little harsh and not that much fun. I understand that in order for the group to work the members have to be committed and follow some rules, but if someone had approached me with this list of rules and asked me to join the club, I would have walked away. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't like rules. In fact, I'm a rule follower. Perhaps if these rules had been presented at the end of the book, after I had read the story, they might not have seemed so jarring.

All of the characters were okay, but I didn't really connect with any of them. I think I mostly kept track of who was who, but I may have mixed them up a few times, with the exception of Marnie, the narrator. I don't think it really mattered that much.

Most of the women's stories were also okay, but nothing spectacular. The one bright spot in the stories for me was Sissy's story about her son, Aaron. I don't know why it stuck out above the others, but I was quite taken with it. The story line about Sky, Marnie's daughter, was too drawn out. I know it was done to prolong the suspense, but I didn't think it was realistic. One of them should have called the other instead of waiting for hours without word, especially with such important news.

Overall, it's a good premise, but it missed the mark with me. Others might like it, though.

For more information about this book, please visit Simon & Schuster's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Simon & Schuster for this review copy. Sorry it took me so long to get to it.

The Christmas Cookie Club by Ann Pearlman, Atria Books (Simon & Schuster) ©2011. ISBN 9781439158845(Hardcover), 270p.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Photo Friday - Graceful

For more "Graceful" photos, visit the Photo Friday website.   70s glass piece.  Not quite sure why I removed the colour.  It just looked better. 

For more of my submissions, please see my PhotoFriday set on my Flickr page.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Bah Humbug

Almost Wordless: The I'm-so-frustrated-I-don't-want-to-decorate-the-tree Christmas Tree. It looks like a 5-year-old did it. Actually, my apologies to all 5-year-olds. I'm sure you could do better.  I can't wait until this is's a long story.  More Wordless Wednesday.

One Foot in the Gravy by Delia Rosen

In One Foot in the Gravy, Gwen Katz has inherited her uncle's kosher deli. Things are going well and she's just got her first catered affair contract - a murder mystery party hosted by social butterfly, Lolo Baker. Things are underway and everyone seems to be having fun when a guess crashes through the ceiling and ends up in Gwen's gravy. Gwen knows that this just isn't a great way to start this new side of her business, so she decided to do a little investigating to clear things up as quickly as possible. She soon figures out that Hoppy's two vices, money and women, have landed him in a heap of trouble and sorting them out isn't going to be easy.

What a fun book! This is the second book in the series, but the first one that I've read. This cozy mystery was definitely a delight. It was a quick read and really quite funny. I never knew the deli business could be so interesting. Gwen's heart is being pulled in two different directions, so there's even a little romantic suspense thrown in. I was entertained the whole way through and kept trying to guess who done it right until the very end.

The story contained some good solid characters.  They varied between the ones I loved and ones I loved to hate. Gwen, a transplanted New Yorker gets right to the point with all aspects of her life. She wants this deli business to succeed and she's not about to let a little murder get in her way. I really liked her take charge attitude.

I like it when food related mysteries include recipes. Here there are a few recipes for deli-type items in the back of the book: coleslaw, dill pickles, potato salad. Nothing too fancy, but they are written in a way that will stimulate your funny bone as well as your appetite.

I liked the playfulness of the cover; ones like this always draw me in. However, after I read the story, overall it was a little bothersome. How could a man crash through the ceiling and land under a table?

Favourite quotes:
The lie is best disguised by hiding it in the truth. (page 177)
...the door to hell is locked from the inside. (page 183)
New words:
afikomen (page 44): unleavened bread (in Judaism)
fundament (page 61): founding principle
fealty (page 230): faithfulness

Highly recommended. I'm definitely going to keep an eye out for more of her books.

For more information about this book, please visit the Kensington Books website.

Thanks to those nice people from Kensington Books for this review copy.

One Foot in the Gravy by Delia Rosen, Kensington Books, ©2011. ISBN 9780758241719(Mass Market), 313p, including recipes.