Sunday, July 31, 2011

We All Fall Down by Michael Harvey

In We All Fall Down, a light bulb filled with a pathogen drops from the ceiling of the subway tunnel in Chicago and people start dying. Parts of the city are sealed off with fences to keep the spread limited to that area while the scientists try to determine how to stop it and figure out what's going on. Private Investigator Michael Kelly goes looking for answers and winds up finding crooked cops, ruthless gangs and a government secret that could destroy many lives.

After reading The Third Rail (my review), I was so looking forward to this book. I was not disappointed at all. I loved it! The story pretty much continues on from where it left off in the previous book. It's hard for me to tell if this book can be read as a standalone book because I read the two books back-to-back. On the safe side, I'd suggest reading The Third Rail before reading this one.

Anyway, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time I was reading this book. I read it in just a few sittings and didn't want to put it down. The overall story is pretty scary and left me wondering what would happen if this were to really take place. Harvey suggests that we are ill prepared to deal with an attack such as this. The information on black biology, the research and the development of bio-weapons, was extremely fascinating. It was just believable enough to add to the scare-factor. I didn't think everything in the book was plausible, but that doesn't make it any less scary.

Once again, Harvey offers insights into the city of Chicago and highlights the problems that the city faces: gang violence, drug use, poverty and corruption. I especially enjoyed reading about the city's underbelly. It's definitely not the kind of thing you'd find in any travel or tourism brochure.

One my complaint is that some of the conversations were a little abrupt. There was a bit too much back and forth with very short sentences. It was sort of like watching a long rally at a tennis match. This appears to be Harvey's style, but I didn't notice it as much in his other book. It was really only a little annoying.

I loved that the last section of the book was called "Loose Ends". Given how the last book ended, I wasn't sure if Harvey was introducing more loose ends or was going to clean up those still outstanding. I won't tell you the outcome, but I will tell you that I was wholly satisfied with the ending.

New words:
stygian (page 254): pitch-black and frightening

Highly recommended. I'd really like to go back and read the first two books (The Chicago Way and The Fifth Floor) in this series. I'll have to keep my eye out for them. Harvey is definitely one of the best thriller writers around.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit the Random House website.

For more information about the author and his other books, please visit Michael Harvey's website.

Thanks to Dana from Kaye Publicity for this review copy.

We All Fall Down by Michael Harvey, Alfred A. Knopf (Random House), ©2011. ISBN 9780307272515(Hardcover), 298p.

A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear

In A Lesson in Secrets, Maisie Dobbs takes an assignment from the British Secret Service and goes undercover as a professor in at Cambridge. She's there to monitor the activities "not in the interests of His Majesty's government". When Greville Liddicote, the founder and principal, is found dead, Maisie investigates and follow leads even after MacFarlane and Stratton, her handlers, tell her to stick to her assignment. That's really hard for her to do since the death appears to be linked to everything else that's going on at the college.

I really enjoyed reading this book. I'm not a huge fan of war or espionage type stories. That stuff just doesn't usually interest me. However, I found this one really good. It helped that it was a quaint British mystery and featured a wonderful lead character, Maisie. This is the 8th book in the series, however, this is the first book I've read. It can definitely be read as a standalone book. However, I'm sure I'd know a lot about more Maisie and her life had I read the others. I'll be looking for the other books in the series.

The story takes place pre-WWII and some of the characters belong to the Nazi party in Britain. While Maisie is suspicious about it, their activities and Hitler himself, apparently others haven't quite caught on yet. It was very interesting reading about the situation as it was back then. It was also quite interesting to read about the pacifists, Liddicote's book and the sensation it caused.

I loved Maisie. She reminded me of both Mrs. Pollifax (featured in mysteries by Dorothy Gilman) and Miss Marple (Agatha Christie) albeit she was a lot younger. She had lots on her plate and was juggling teaching, spying, her friendships, as well as a love interest, James. She handled it all so well without appearing frazzled.

Even though I enjoyed the book, it didn't hold my attention the whole way through. My mind tended to wander while I was reading. I'm not sure why this was happening. I really like these types of books and found the subject matter fascinating. I'm sure I missed some parts of the story because of this.

New words:
comestibles (page 37): food
inculcating (page 41): impress on somebody's mind
counterpane (page 53): quilt
equanimity (page 123): calmness
conchie (page 128): UK - conscientious objector - somebody whose conscience forbids military service
costermonger (page 186): UK - fruit and vegetable seller
frippery (page 187): treat
cheongsam (page 205): Chinese dress
vociferous (page 213): loud
imperturbable (page 232): calm, cool, composed
cloche (page 262): woman's hat with a narrow brim

Highly recommended.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit the HarperCollins website.

For more information about the author and her other books, please visit Jacqueline Winspear's website.

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

A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear, HarperCollins, ©2011. ISBN 9780061727672(uncorrected proof), 321p.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Big Questions by DK Publishing

Geared towards 10-14 years-olds, Big Questions tackles the questions kids might have about life and the world around them.

This book is awesome! I really enjoyed reading it. It wasn't quite what I expected, though. I knew it was going to be tackling some big questions that kids have, but I was thinking more along the lines of "Why do elephants have wrinkled knees?", "Why does the sky change colour?", "Why are my eyes blue?", "How are girls and boys different?". Stuff, like that. However, this book asks even bigger questions and is much more philosophical and analytical than I thought it was going to be.

Questions include:
- What is reality?
- What is beauty?
- What is love?
- What is art/music?
- How do colors make you feel?
- What is imagination?
- Is there a god?
- Does where I'm born make me who I am?
- Can you step in the same river twice?
and many, many more!

Each question (or series of related questions) and answer is written in easy to understand language and is presented on a two-page spread, which makes it easy and fun to read. I loved that the book contains some questions that I hadn't even thought of. Maybe kids are more sophisticated than I was when I was younger; I was amazed at some of the questions that are asked and answered.

I found one question, "So, who wears the pants?" (page 54-55), to be a little odd. The answer/content is quite good and explains the roles of men and women in different cultures. However, I'm thinking that the question is outdated. While it might have been appropriate a generation or two ago, kids today might not even know what this means. If kids did have questions about gender roles, I don't think they'd ask the question in this way.

There are many really good questions and answers in the book, but one of my favourites was the question "Where do phobias come from?" (page 78-79). It was really interesting. I enjoyed learning the names of the different phobias, many of which I didn't know. For example, alektorophobia = fear of birds, chronomentrophobia = fear of time.

The illustrations in the book are quite cute and very colourful. I love all of the little characters and can imagine that many of them will find their way into kids' doodles on notebooks, desks and whatnot!

The book also contains a table of contents, glossary and index. All of these are pretty good.

Highly recommended. Even though the book is geared towards kids, it definitely got me thinking.

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

I'd like to thank Chris at DK Canada for this review copy.

Big Questions by DK Publishing, Dorling Kindersley (DK), ©2011. ISBN 9780756675790(Hardcover), 128p.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Saturday Snapshot - Daylilies

My daylilies have been blooming like crazy. We moved four plants from our old house as we heard that deer don't bother them. So far, so good.

The one pictured below has just finished blooming. (I took this about two weeks ago). This morning, I did the final deadheading and cut back all of the stocks...75 in total. I think each one had somewhere between 4-8 flowers on it. That means there were between 300-600 blooms!!!  Furthermore, this type of daylily will bloom a second time, although so far, I haven't seen any new shoots.   The photo below shows finished blooms, open blooms, and buds waiting to open tomorrow or the next day. 

My other daylilies (here's one) aren't quite prolific, but they are also doing well.

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.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Needlework Tuesday - Rain Chains - The Finished Product

It's time for another instalment of Needlework Tuesday. Yes, I have another non-needlework project. Back in June in this post I mentioned that I was working on a rain chain . Well, I finally finished it and the rock garden where the chain meets the ground. The rock garden could use some tweaking/jazzing up, but it's basically done.

Unfortunately, I didn't take a good before photo of the really awful downspout that was there. It didn't have much support so it sort of just hung there at an odd angle. I'm so glad it's gone.

Here are the photos of the rain chain/rock garden:

There hasn't been any rain to test it out, but we did pour some water into the eaves trough with a watering can. It looked pretty good. It remains to be seen how it's going to perform in a down pour or on a really windy rainy day.

Needlework Tuesday is hosted by Heather on her blog, Books and Quilts. There's an open invitation for other needle workers/crafters to join at any time.

New Michael Harvey Book!

I don't often write about a book I've yet to read, but I'm so looking forward to this one that I can't contain my excitment. Since reading The Third Rail by Michael Harvey last month, I've been anxiously awaiting the next book We All Fall Down, which went on sale last week, July 12, 2011. Harvey left a few things unanswered in the last one and I'm just dying to find out what happens.

Here's the synopsis from the publisher:

Chicago cop turned private investigator Michael Kelly is racing to save his city from a deadly new foe: a biological weapon unleashed underground.

When a lightbulb falls in a subway tunnel, it releases a pathogen that could kill millions. While the mayor postures, people begin to die, especially on the city’s grim West Side. Hospitals become morgues. L trains are converted into rolling hearses. Finally, the government acts, sealing off entire sections of the city—but are they keeping people out or in? Meanwhile, Michael Kelly’s hunt for the people who poisoned his city takes him into the tangled underworld of Chicago’s West Side gangs and the even more frightening world of black biology—an elite discipline emerging from the nation’s premier labs, where scientists play God and will stop at nothing to preserve their secrecy.

It’s a brave new world . . . and the most audacious page-turner yet from an emerging modern master.
From Knopf Publishers.

Doesn't that sound fantastic?

I going to have to bump this one to the top of the to-be-read pile.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Saturday Snapshot - Evergreen?

The flood has brought some new creatures into our backyard.  One of these happens to be a beaver.  We haven't seen this guy yet, but he did make his presence known.

One of our newly planted (last year) evergreens:

Close up of the damage:

He didn't have the decency to use it or take it with him after he chewed most of the way through it.  Little bugger.

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.

Express Housekeeping by Anna Shepard

Express Housekeeping provides detailed instructions on how to clean your house. Whether it's vacuuming, decluttering, doing the dishes, doing the laundry or cleaning every room in your house, this book shows you how to do it correctly and efficiently.

I really enjoyed this book. Reading it was definitely more fun than to do any housework.  It gave me some good tips on how to keep on top of the never ending list of cleaning jobs around the house. I'll be the first to admit that my house is not the cleanest on the block. I don't specialize in housework. I don't take pride in house where you could eat off the floor. Dust bunnies are my friends. Having said that, we don't live in a pigsty. We pick up after ourselves and don't leave things laying around. It's generally tidy, not antiseptic.

The book is filled with lots of great stuff. I really liked the pages picturing the cleaning kits, which show the items need to perform some of the many household chores. For instance, the Oven Kit pictures paper towels, cream cleaner, oven cleaner, laundry detergent, rubber gloves, baking soda and much more. There are also some explanation about what each item is used for.

The book also has some pretty good tip pages that offer a list of tips for doing a particular chore. Using the same chore above, the Oven Cleaning page features 10 tips including wearing rubber gloves, protecting the floor, cleaning the racks etc. The other type of page in the book has the specific steps to perform that chore. Again, sticking with the oven, the Clean the Oven page lists the steps to a clean oven that doesn't need a deep cleaning. That is, it just needs a touch up. I particularly like that the author included an approximate time for each task. A touch up on the oven should take about 15 minutes.

There are also sections on extra tips, what to do before you begin a particular task, what to do when, and lists of bare essentials that are needed for cleaning.

Like I said above, I'm not the best housekeeper. It's not surprising then that I learned a thing or two while flipping through this book. Did you know that you should air out the bed for 30 minutes (page 80) before making it in the morning? I didn't. I also learned how to properly wash whites so that they come out gleaming white instead of dingy, like mine sometimes do.

The table of contents is sparse and only lists the major section headings. The index is definitely more substantial and should be helpful in finding specific items in the book.

Highly recommended. 

This book would be great for those just starting out on their own or people like me who dislike housework and appreciate tips to make the job easier and less time consuming. Even seasoned cleaners might learn something.

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

I'd like to thank those Chris at DK Canada for this review copy.

Express Housekeeping by Anna Shepard, Dorling Kindersley (DK), ©2011. ISBN 9780756671778(Trade paperback), 224p.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Needlework Tuesday - Mosaics

It's time for another instalment of Needlework Tuesday. I haven't been doing much crafting or needlework lately, but I wanted to show you some pieces I did in the past. I recently came across them when I was unpacking some boxes of books.  Yes, I still have some boxes I haven't unpacked from the move 2+ years ago. These were leaning against the wall behind the boxes. Anyway, as you can see they are not needlework. Heather, I promise that one day I'm going to get back to doing needlework so that I can feature it here.

Anyway, today I have photos of the mosaics I did a few years ago. All of them are made with leftover tile; some from projects around the old house or single tiles we acquired from various sources.  They are adhered to plywood and grouted with black grout. 

The green spheres making up "Canada" were supposed to be used for flower arranging. The green tiles in this piece were leftover from our tub surround in our old house.

More green tiles from the tub surround.  The lines are not as fluid as I would have liked.  It's hard to get straight-edged tiles to form a curve.   It's supposed to be reminiscent of waves and/or ripples.  [See the last piece re: my water period]. 

This one was pretty much a disaster.  I left the grout on too long and had a really hard time chipping it off after it dried.  You can see a couple of places where I didn't quite get it all off.   I don't mind the effect that much, but I never made that mistake again.   

This last one is actually the first one I did.  I made during what I call my "water period".  For some unknown reason, I was attracted to water and things associated with it.   Many of the crafts I did at this time, as well as things I bought for the house, all have water in common.   When I saw this fish image on the internet, I knew immediately it would be my first mosaic.  

I'm still working on the rain chain. I added more rings to the chain and we've laid out a basic outline for the "rock garden". We've had some really hot, sunny days here and since that part of the yard happens to be in full sun, we've been procrastinating. It's still on the list to-be-done, though.

Needlework Tuesday is hosted by Heather on her blog, Books and Quilts. There's an open invitation for other needle workers/crafters to join at any time. Please go visit her blog today. She has a wonderful memorial quilting post about her nephew/god son.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Third Rail by Michael Harvey

In The Third Rail, a sniper is killing people in Chicago. Michael Kelly, a former Chicago cop turned Private Investigator, just happens to be on the scene of the first shooting. As more bodies drop, Kelly becomes personally involved when the killer contacts him directly. It leaves him wondering how he could be connected to all of this. Maybe it's something in his past. He becomes even more motivated to find out what's going on when his girlfriend is kidnapped and he must find the killer before Rachel becomes the next to die.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It was so good. There's plenty of action, lots of great characters and a plot that kept me guessing right until the very end. I like how in the Harvey switches point-of-view from Kelly to the bad guys and back again. It sort of gives the reader a leg up on the detectives. This is the third book in the series, but it can certainly be read as a standalone book. I haven't read the other two, but I plan to track them down and read them as soon as I can.

One of my favourite characters was Hubert Russell, the 20-something cyber hacker. You just got to love those guys who can find out anything about anyone at anytime.

The book is based in Chicago and contains lots of details about the city. I really liked all of the city references and felt a little like I had traveled there myself while reading the book. That was pretty cool. However, I've only been to Chicago once. A native or those more familiar with the city will probably enjoy those parts and get more out of them than I did.

There were two chapters in the book that stood out for me, Chapters 24 and 57. In chapter 24, I loved the
explanations of the victims' lives unfulfilled. It was really well done and though provoking. As for Chapter 57, the author eluded to the man's identify. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out if the man's identify was purposely left open or if I was supposed to know who this was. I quickly searched the book looking for a few clues I found in the chapter, but didn't have any luck. Finally, I contacted the publicist who put me in touch with the author. He quickly cleared up everything for me. Thanks so much Michael!

Normally, I like my mysteries all tied up in nice little packages by the end of the book. Harvey doesn't do this, though. He has purposely left a few loose ends. I like the way it was done. Even if those ends are not dealt with in the next book, the tension is tense and I can use my imagination as to what happens next. Having said that, I hope that the next book in the series does continue on with the open storylines and ties up a few of the loose ends. It should be an exciting ride.

Highly recommended. I'm definitely looking forward to the next book in the series, We All Fall Down.

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

For more information about the author and his other books, please visit Michael Harvey's website.

Thanks to Dana Kaye from Kaye Publicity for this review copy.

The Third Rail by Michael Harvey, First Vintage Crime (Random House), ©2010. ISBN 9780307473639(mass market), 366p.

Grace Interrupted by Julie Hyzy

In Grace Interrupted, a group of Civil War re-enactors have set up on the grounds around Marshfield Manor. When one of the them turns up dead, Grace's groundskeeper and love interest, Jack, is suspected of the murder. Even though Grace is convinced he's not guilty, things don't look good when details of Jack's past are revealed. Grace wants desperately to prove Jack's innocence and find the culprit all while keeping things running smoothly at the manor.

I really enjoyed reading this book. Right from the first chapter, there was no doubt in my mind that this was going to be an enjoyable read. Besides the well-paced plot, it had all of the things a perfect cozy mystery should have including a well-written, intelligent, witty, fun to read story and a wonderful, likeable cast of characters.

I like how this series is progressing. In this instalment, Hyzy has introduced two new interesting characters: Davie, Jack's brother, and Bootsie, a tuxedo kitten Grace found on her doorstep. I hope she has plans to keep these two around for awhile. It'll be interesting to see if Davie fits in at the manor. It'll also be great to see what mischief Bootsie gets into as kittens are prone to do. In addition to these new characters, Hyzy has included some more information about Grace, her background and her feelings about her past, present and future. I particularly enjoyed getting to know Grace better.

I really liked Frances, Grace's assistant. Even though she's a little gruff and rough with Grace, I loved her reserved enthusiasm for her undercover work at the camp. Her antics and attitude were entertaining. She's certainly made herself indispensible around the manor.

One thing that I found a little unrealistic was that Grace was able to find who was she looking for at the camp right away, even though there were at least 3000 people there. This happened a number of times. That's quite the talent, considering I have trouble finding my husband in Wal-Mart.

New words:
docents (page 4): tourist guide
peplum (page 208): flared part at the waist (of a jacket or blouse)
snood (page 209): decorative hair net

I've read two other books by Hyzy: Grace Under Pressure (my review) and Buffalo West Wing (my review) and loved them both.

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

For more information about this book, please visit Penguin'swebsite.

For more information about the author and her other books, please visit Julie Hyzy's website.

Thanks to Dana Kaye from Kaye Publicity for this review copy.

Grace Interrupted by Julie Hyzy, The Berkley Publishing Group (Penguin), ©2011. ISBN 9780425241905(mass market), 278p.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Saturday Snapshot - Our New Neighbours

Meet our new neighbours! These guys showed up about 1 week ago and visit us every day. They have been dining on cracked corn and a variety of mixed bird seeds. In return, they are leaving us with lots of "fertilizer", which makes walking in the yard without boots a little hazardous. We don't mind one bit. We don't get to see this kind of thing every day.

Canada Geese with gosling....

...while the others remain on shore. This pair has 5 little ones. They get bigger every day.

Another pair of Canada Geese with 6 much older goslings.

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.

[I hope everyone likes these photos better than the snake ones.  ;)]