January 22, 2017

The Whiskey Sea by Anne Howard Creel --Historical Fiction Wrapped in Formulaic Bows

The Whiskey SeaThe Whiskey Sea by Ann Howard Creel

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think that it was the rum-running aspect of the story that saved this book from being a completely formulaic book, but even with those fun 20s touches, the author was unable to prevent a bit of a shipwreck.

Summary complete with SPOILERS


Outcast girl is raised by kind fatherly man who is no relation. However, when she graduates he suddenly sells the boat she thought would become hers to a man called Hicks. It turns out this is to get the money to send her to secretarial school and because he has kind of promised her to Hicks as a wife. But she is strong and spunky and says no way, Jose! She dashes off to learn how to fix boat engines from the very man who bought her boat, and who of course is devotedly in love with her despite apparently never having spoken to her before. Then for years she works as a mechanic until she finds that she could be making even bigger money by keeping the engine cool for a rum-runner. Surprise, surprise, the mysterious beautiful young man she once glimpsed from a distance and cannot get out of her mind becomes a crew member too, for kicks. Even bigger surprise, she falls for him, goes all girly for him, goes to speakeasies with him, sleeps with him, etc while noticing that he never says he loves her and gets angry at talk about the future. And of course poor old Hicks is still hanging around like a big sad puppy, somehow comforting her. The whole thing is pretty predictable. Her father figure dies, her sister leaves and gets married, beautiful boy shows over and over just what a jerk he can be and exactly what he wants her for, and then the boat explodes and Mr. Beautiful bails on them all. Our heroine goes back to engine repairs after travelling to NYC to say one weird last goodbye to the guy who cared nothing for her, and of course, suddenly realizes it was Hicks who was perfect for her all along. So everyone is happy (except probably the guy who was so injured in that boat explosion) and that's the end.

I would have liked the book better if the heroine (whose name I've already forgotten) had not been so silly. I liked that she was not afraid to get her hands dirty, was in love with the sea, and didn't fear carving out her own path, but she just continually makes stupid choices and ignores the worry of the small handful of people who actually love her. However, stupid choices are part of life for everyone so I am trying to overlook that.
I guess I also would have liked the book better if it hadn't been so easy to figure out, pretty much from the first time she spots the guy whose beauty seems to be his only good trait, exactly what the rest of the book will be. And it is. There are no surprises. How disappointing :(
I have to say, though, that the author has skill for making you see the setting clearly in your mind's eye. And the suspense on the rum-running trips was palpable. I think the choice of subject matter was a good one, as there aren't so many books written about the people who risked all to provide those who could afford it with illegal booze (at a huge profit).

If you love the Roaring 20s I think this is worth reading so long as you don't expect too much.

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August 28, 2016

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory : A Review of Sorts

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the CrematorySmoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A thoughtful, fascinating, and even sometimes funny look at what goes on behind the scenes of death. Read how working with the dead helped a young woman learn to live with purpose and face her own mortality without fear, and how practicing the modern arts of embalming and cremation opened her eyes to the way Americans have come to grasp a false, Hollywood-ized version of death which requires everything from makeup to eye plates to maintain.
The author argues for a return to a more family-oriented approach, in which family members care for their loved one before and after death, and the family members prepare the body themselves, mourning and then having the burial or cremation soon after. As I am a believer in this method myself (though all of my family members have been embalmed), I of course found the arguments compelling. After reading this, I definitely know I do not want anyone else I love to be embalmed, ever. I personally love the idea of being buried in one of the mushroom bags mentioned in the book and elsewhere on the internet.
This book is not for everyone. If someone you care about has died recently, you might want to wait a while before reading. Otherwise, I really think it would be good for all Americans over, say, age 16 to read this book. Everyone will probably find one chapter difficult to get through. As a mother, the chapter about dead babies was hard.
I was surprised, though, at how much gorier the author could have been if she'd wanted. While there are definitely some gruesome descriptions, most of them could have been much worse if she had not held back. I am pretty squeamish where movies and tv are concerned but can usually watch surgeries just fine. Even so, I've only been around carefully prepared dead bodies. I did not expect to be able to finish reading a book on such a subject, though I have recently considered becoming a mortician. As to that... after reading about one process in particular, I have decided that I am not mortician material! But anyway, I was able to handle the book. So if you're a little worried about it, go ahead and give it a try. You can always stop reading if you need to. Just consider having someone around to talk to if you need it.
In many ways, this is a book to share. Read it and then share it with someone you care about and most of all, talk about the things you read in it. It has already contributed to some interesting conversations with my husband.

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August 14, 2016

Crippen Gets the Novel Treatment in John Boyne's Page Turner

CrippenCrippen by John Boyne

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Why do I find murderers so fascinating? I don't even want to kill a deer to eat unless it's an emergency, and I'd rather not then. Anyway, Crippen is such an interesting figure because he seems the last sort of person to do the deed he was convicted of. In fact, there are those who believe him innocent and suspect Ethel LeNeve or even an unknown third party. To which faction does the author belong? I won't spoil that for you, but I did like that he kept his solution under wraps until near the end of the book.
The book begins towards the end of the saga, in Antwerp aboard the Montrose which is bound for Canada. First there is a long scene in which an unpleasant woman demonstrates her claims for the title of Upper Class Twit of the Year, and the reader begins to wonder when the actual story will start. Finally a man and boy calling themselves John and Edmund Robinson appear as fellow passengers to the dreadful woman, and the stage begins to be set. I say "begins," because this is one complicated play.
At first it feels too disjointed as we leave the ship to watch a social climber complain to her husband and dream of becoming a Lady. I grew rather annoyed but kept reading until the connection to the Crippen story was finally made clear--this former dance-hall girl was the woman who first notified police that Cora Crippen had been murdered. Watch as she hounds the police and even pinches a constable's bottom!
And then suddenly, the next chapter has the marriage of yet more people we have not yet heard of. Oh, it's Crippen's parents! So every third chapter or so we're going to go way back in time until finally we catch back up to the present of the other chapters. Great.
Besides really not caring for that chopped-up format (oh dear, what a phrase to use in this particular review! Sorry!) I found some modern sentiments and phrases that were thrown in to be rather jarring. It seemed that a few facts had been played with, but I am not a Crippen expert so I may be wrong on that. I thought some of the characters were very well done and found myself wanting to know more about them. The three main players seemed pretty accurate from what I have read, though I have not come across anything suggesting a true sadistic streak in Hawley Crippen before. It definitely added a creepy touch to the story though. Cora was, if anything, not as terrible here as I expected her to be, but still the sort of person one could easily imagine wanting to kill if one had to deal with her very often. Ethel is much more subtle and really remains rather mysterious, which I liked.
A NOTE FOR THE SQUEAMISH: This murder case is one of most famous because the method of disposal of the corpse was to cut it into pieces and hide them under the basement floor tiles, except for the head which was never found. If you've survived reading that, you'll probably be alright. The book does not go into a whole lot more detail than that.
So did I like the book? Yes, overall I did. I even plan to see if there are any others by the same author at the library. I just hope that his others do not follow a similar patchwork format!

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April 7, 2016

The Great Book of Amber--a Review with No Spoilers

The Great Book of Amber (The Chronicles of Amber, #1-10)The Great Book of Amber by Roger Zelazny

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow, it has taken me a long time to read the whole thing but that's because I've stopped and started, reading a few books at the time over the years. I enjoyed the books very much overall. The messages of family and friendship were surprising given the way everything started out, but I liked that aspect a lot. Amber and Shadow were very interesting and I love the strange places one can end up by walking through shadow. And once the Courts of Chaos get into the mix, anything can happen and often does. Sometimes I felt like the author lost his grip on his creation and it ran away from him, but sometimes those were the best parts. I love the way that situations you thought were explained in the early books turn out to be much more complicated later on. The only thing that I didn't really like was the treatment of women. As is too often the case in fantasy novels, the women are there to seduce, be seduced, be killed, be motherly, or be treacherous. They have little dialogue in most of the books and many are silhouettes at best. There is a lot of lust at first sight and only one real depiction of love. On the flip side you get a lot of interesting male characters, my favourite of course being Corwin (I always love tricksters). Even some inanimate objects seem to have personalities. I really liked the sudden, unexpected touches of humour and wit, some of which had me laughing so loudly that my family asked what was going on. I found the last book disappointing as it promised to tie up a lot of loose endings but instead left most of them dangling. Perhaps there was originally going to be another book? I don't know. Anyway, if you like fantasy at all, you really should give this series a shot, especially if you have a sense of humour.

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January 13, 2016

What Every Motorist Should Have in their Car

The first thing most of us do when we get a new car is start customizing it. We put funny decals on the back glass, hang up our favourite air freshener, and maybe even splash out on cute seat covers and such. What we may forget to do is put in the basics, the things we really are going to need. So here's a checklist to make it easy.

1. Sunglasses. Who likes to drive with their eyes half shut hoping not to run into something because the sun is so bright you can't see? I don't. I try to make sure at least one pair of sunglasses is in the car at all times.

2. Kleenex. It's great for runny noses, cleaning condensation from the back glass, wiping off dipsticks...pretty much indispensable.

3. Baby wipes. Even if you don't have a baby these are a must! They're great for getting sticky stuff (think donut glaze, chocolate, that black goo that rubs off onto us from our car doors) off easily, and they're also great for cleaning up the car interior quickly.

4. A blanket or blankets (depending on how many people you usually ride with). You never know when the heater is going to suddenly stop working or the car is going to break down in winter. In some areas a blanket in the car could save your life!

5. Jumper cables. Because none of us are perfect and sooner or later you are bound to leave your lights on by accident. And because batteries get old or come disconnected. And because it's nice to be able to help others who need a jump.

6. At least one bottle of water for every person who will be riding in the car regularly. Obviously, this is great because if anyone gets thirsty, you'll be ready, but it's even better if you get broken down in the middle of nowhere. It is also important because it gives you plenty of water to put in the radiator or thaw frozen windshields. Just be careful to replace the water as it is used up and change it out often in hot summer months.

7. A first aid kit is best, but if you're like me you may not be able to fit one in under the car seat (or at least, if it goes in, it's probably not going to be able to come back out again). The bare minimum is a box of bandaids of various sizes and some hand sanitizer.

8. Feminine hygiene products. This is mostly for women and those who have female passengers, of course, but I have heard that maxi pads make amazing, life-saving bandages, so guys, think about including some in your glove box too.

9. A bag for garbage. I use a plastic shopping bag hooked around my gear shift and then remove it, tie it up, and throw it away when it is full. It's simple, cheap, and it keeps you from trying to drive with fast food cups floating around amongst your feet!

10. A tire pressure gauge and, if possible, a portable air compressor. I have seen so many cars that were tricked out with the latest speakers but didn't have a tire pressure gauge. Unless you really like the excitement of blowouts and having to wait while flat tires fill up all the time, this really is a necessity. There are cheap air compressors the size of a portable radio, which plug into your car's cigarette lighter. I think mine cost about $20. When you look at how much it costs to use the air at a convenience store, $20 is a bargain.

11. A spare tire and tire iron. I think that one speaks for itself!

12. A pair of comfortable shoes that are good for walking. You don't want to have to hike three miles to the nearest convenience store or call box in high heels or stiff dress shoes!

So there you have it, my top 12 things that you really really need to have in your car. Depending on where you live, you may need to add items like chains and sand bags. I'm a Floridian so I'm a little fuzzy on all of that cold weather stuff.

And did you notice that I did not include a smart phone on this list? That's because, while a phone is good in emergencies, it is not to be used while driving. I wish I had a dime for every time I've nearly been mowed down by someone texting or talking and driving. The drivers never seemed to notice what a close call they had had either. So please be careful, folks, and only use your cell phone when you're safely parked somewhere! "OMG IKR?" makes for pretty pathetic last words.

So what is the item you keep in your car that you couldn't do without? What necessary item did I forget? Let me know in the comments section!