"I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library" - Jorge Luis Borges

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Watching: KLAUS

Year: 2019
Rating: PG
Directors: Sergio Pablos, Carlos Martinez Lopez
The first animated feature film to appear on Netflix (after a brief theatrical release) is the long-ago tale of a spoiled, cocky young rich dude named Jesper (voiced by Jason Schwartzman), currently attending the postal academy to become a postman and follow in his family's business, whose laziness and lack of caring make him the worst student in the school's history. To combat this, Jesper's exasperated father decides to teach his son a lesson and sends him off to work as a postman at the most desolate, frozen post office in the world ... in Smeerensburg, which rests on a frozen island in the Arctic Circle. With no choice but to go or forfeit his lavish lifestyle, Jesper is sent with the goal of moving 6,000 letters out of the tiny town before he can leave, but when he arrives finds the inhabitants of Smeerensburg just as cold, unrelenting, and bleak as the town itself. The town is, in fact, stuck in the middle of a feud that's been going on for millennia, the adults all hateful and angry and vindictive and passing these traits onto their awful children - so that even when Jesper learns that hope may lie in the form of a reclusive toymaker named Klaus, who lives on the far side of the island, he must still wonder whether Smeerensburg can even be saved. How I loved this film; the animation style is very unique and old-fashioned, completely fitting with the slightly-tweaked origin story of how writing letters to Santa came to be; according to IMDb, director Sergio Pablos wanted to do a traditionally animated film, but wanted to see how animation might have evolved had computer-generated animation never come along, so he used CGI lighting techniques with hand-drawn animation - and the result, on screen, is quite beautiful, with some scenes that visually took my breath away. The voice acting is terrific (JK Simmons as Klaus and Joan Cusack as the evil Mrs. Krum are total standouts), the script walking that fine line of Christmas sentimentality vs. "too much sugar" without ever toppling over into the latter. Funny, lovely, and touching (yes, a tear or two in the eyes at the end) make this one of the best Christmas animated films I've seen in ages, and one of my favorite films seen in 2019.  9.5/10 stars

Monday, December 2, 2019

Watching: PARASITE

Year: 2019
Rating: R
Director: Bong Joon-ho
I purposefully went into watching Parasite knowing as little as possible about the film, beyond the trailer, and would heartily advise the same to anyone else wanting to see it. Deserving of the hype and accolades? Of being labeled one of the Best Films of the past Decade, let alone 2019? Absolutely. It would appear that, after directing visual and cerebral stunners like Mother, The Host, Snowpiercer, and Okja, (that last one I still have yet to see), Bong Joon-ho has directed his masterpiece. Parasite follows the Kim family - father, mother, and their grown daughter and son - all of whom are unemployed and living in a tiny, rundown lower-level apartment in Korea, subsisting on government aid. When the son, Ki-woo, is offered a job tutoring a high school girl from a rich family, we meet the Parks - father, mother, teenaged daughter and young son - and within a very short time the Kim family ingratiates themselves with the Parks when each takes a job within the household while pretending to no even know each other, let alone admit they are related. But the Kims don't just take over the open positions of driver, therapist, housekeeper, etc.; no, they hatch elaborate plans to first get the people already in these positions at the Park household fired, then finagle their way in as the replacement. That's how without conscience the Kims are, even as somehow - and this is part of Bong Joon-ho's genius - you still root for them to get away with it, if nothing else than maybe in the way the poor always want to stick it to the one-percent. Things, in fact, seem to be going quite well for the Kims, who celebrate in the Park home one evening after the family has gone out of town camping about an hour into the film ... until a genuine "WTF" incident happens that turns both the film and the Kims cushy situation absolutely on its head, the rest of the film a suspenseful, darkly-funny potential train wreck you won't be able to take your eyes from. Parasite is perfectly cast, and directed with Bong's signature artistic edge (you can tell Kubrick was an influence) that makes simple shadows chilling or a sarcastic line said during the tensest moment downright hilarious. It's a film that needs to be seen more than once to pick up everything, visually and stylistically, the filmmakers imbued each line and image with, and it's certainly a film that must be seen without distraction of food or bathroom breaks or anyone talking in your ear; you have to pay attention to this one. For this reason I don't know, how this South Korean gem may work on middle-American audiences, but anyone missing Parasite is missing an extraordinary, one-of-a-kind treat that's also a masterclass in filmmaking.  10/10 stars

Sunday, December 1, 2019

November Wrap-Up: Transitions

Wow, thirty days and only five books read - most of them easy-read kids' ARCs, and a graphic novel I had high hopes for - and not even a single new film watched in November. Good God, what a letdown; the year cannot end like this!
That said, my living situation is still in flux, and am currently staying with friends (soon to change). My normal lifestyle of a lot of "me" time alone, to read and watch films, is no more right now; am constantly surrounded by people and noise and distractions. Not a bad thing, it's a great family with a lot of love for each other yet still enough to share even more with a weirdo like me - but it's just not conducive for any activity done solo, such as reading or writing or watching films.

December will be different. Period!  

Please look for reviews of the five books pictured (to come), as well as some catching up from past months' reviews not yet done. Hope your November/Thanksgiving were terrific, and keep watching this page for more content; I do have some ideas brewing, especially for the new year!

Friday, November 1, 2019

October Wrap-Up: The End of the Road?

October. Good God, when I thought things couldn't get worse in the personal life: tah-DAH! Certainly enough to ruin  my October birthday, but also even trashing Halloween (my second-favorite holiday) in my heart. Maybe that's why I focused on some more Christmassy titles in October.
(I was also without wi-fi through the majority of October, which gave me more time to read, and even write some reviews and get them up; please scroll down, if interested).
Cozy mysteries, graphic novels, and kids books dominated. Also tried to get up to date with some ARCs I was overdue in reading, and to my happy surprise discovered a few of my favorites of the month (maybe even year) that way (click any image to enlarge). 

Even upped the film watching to three for this month. Talk about variety there though, woof.
Please keep checking back, but just a head's up: this may be my last blog post. Without going into detail, I can't say when or even if I will be back. Should that happen - if this is the end of my road - my heartfelt thanks to all who've ever read a post here, or followed me via email, or made a comment. Ya made this goofball feel important. Much love.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Reading: BLACK CANARY: IGNITE - Meg Cabot (writer), Cara McGee (illustrator)

Bestselling author Meg Cabot (The Princess Diaries) offers up her first graphic novel via DC Zoom, telling the story of thirteen-year student Dinah Lance whose interests are as diverse as winning the battle of the bands contest at school and following her Gotham City cop father into the business of taking down bad guys. Dinah's dad forbids the latter and - based on Dinah's voice - even seriously questions her playing in the all-girl band with her best friends. But when Dinah finds her voice - her true voice, which can shatter glass and bend steel and short out electricity - she soon discovers a legacy and power she never knew she had; one that could potentially set her long-term career goal of being a crime fighter into motion, even as the young girl finds herself in trouble at school when she finds herself unable to control her talent ... and is stalked by a figure in black with ties to her mother and "the family secret". This origin story for Black Canary, well-illustrated (if a little "cartoon-y" for me) by the super-talented Cara McGee, paints a realistic portrait of a typical thirteen-year-old full of drama and big dreams and bullheaded determination. Dinah is likable, funny, loyal to her friends - even funny, in her initial reaction to having what she thinks is the most boring superpower ever. The relationship with Dinah and her friends feels right as well, and especially good is the bond between Dinah and her mother, the original Black Canary who ultimately will or will not "pass the mantle" down to her daughter. But while I enjoyed Black Canary: Ignite and it's characters, plot and art, the book always felt very "DC Lite" for me; I never felt bonded with any of the characters on a level that drew me fully into the story. And having had that very experience in a number of graphic novels, this was just the tiniest bit of a letdown for me.  3.5/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Reading: GRETA AND THE GIANTS - Zo Tucker (writer), Zoe Persico (illustrator)

"And a little child shall lead them." Not a Bible quote from this picture book spotlighting Nobel Prize nominee Greta Thunberg, though it nonetheless fits her story. Thunberg is the Swedish teen who became an overnight source of adoration and inspiration when she basically (and very descriptively) told world leaders where to get off because they'd spent decades systematically destroying the environment, the planet, and everyone/everything living on it. This picture book colorfully spins a tale of Greta, who lives in a forest that one day is besieged by "Giants" who unthinkingly and (seemingly) without thought begin plummeting the home of her animals friends of trees, water and other resources for their own gain. Greta comes up with a plan to try and save the day, and the end of the book even has helpful resources for kids wanting to learn more about saving the planet, and helping Greta in her fight. The book is great, beautifully done and with lively art to keep kids interested; my only issue with it is a mild one, in that even before Greta young activists from all over the world - Nigeria, the Amazon, South America, and more - have been stepping up and fighting back to save their world, knowing full well that today's crop of adults have ruined it so it's up to future generations to fix. Sadly, not one of them are mentioned or highlighted in this story, even as back-up to Greta's fight, so for me the book came across a bit like yet another story of how the white child/person is the one to set the tone as the leader, doing it first and best to show others the way - when in reality that's just not true. At best, you see people of color here in a few of the kids who come to take up the fight with Greta. Again, not so much a complaint, as something that just felt off to me while reading it. As if the story wasn't so much about the little child shall lead them as it was the little white child shall lead them. It just would have just been nice to see "reality" represented here a bit more, in what's otherwise a great, informative, maybe even life-changing addition to any child's picture book library.  4/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Reading: ROWDY RANDY - Casey Rislov (writer), Zachary Pullen (illustrator)

Rowdy Randy is a colorful picture book depicting an average day in the Wild West through the eyes of a rather large, rambunctious female horsefly who lives to stir up trouble. In beautiful, gallery-worthy, fully-painted illustrations, we follow Randy as she buzzes the cows and bulls and other animals, even narrowly missing some fatal blowback from an angry fish and nest of rattlesnakes less than thrilled with her attention. Personal highlight: Randy bronco-busting a cranky lizard, which kids should love. While the story seems a bit light even for a picture book (and seemingly - of all things - ends on a cliffhanger no less), Randy is the rootinest-tootinest horsefly in the west, and the lively artwork alone vividly brings her day to life.  3.5/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review. 

Monday, October 21, 2019

Reading: NANCY DREW & THE HARDY BOYS: THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING ADULTS - Scott Bryan Wilson (writer), Bob Solanovicz (illustrator)

If you grew up watching animated TV series from the 1990's to the present, the "Saturday morning cartoon"-style artwork of this mashup of a graphic novel will appeal to the eye. Indeed, some of the images/art could be screen-shot from TV. If you grew up, however, reading and loving the classic Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys mystery novels, this volume may we be a huge let-down. Here, Nancy's the new gal at Bayport High where - soon after meeting the "great detectives" Frank and Joe Hardy - finds herself pulled into a mystery with the guys when all the adults in town disappear on the eve of a major science fair/contest Bayport has with its rival school. Could there be a connection? The road to finding out is a rather silly one, Frank and Joe Hardy (especially Joe) often doing or saying something that makes neither of them come off too bright - even to the boys physically fighting in a Wile E. Coyote ball of dust whenever Frank teasingly calls Joe "Joseph". Nancy comes across as the smart (mature) one, though all do contribute to solving the mystery ... but sadly, the characters you loved from the original novels are just dumbed-down and unrecognizable here. The story - even book - is fine on its own, and would have actually worked better with original characters in the leads. As a vehicle for iconic characters like Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, it simply falls flat on the page.  2/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Reading: BURY THE LEDE - Gaby Dunn (writer), Claire Roe (illustrator), Miguel Muerto (colorist)

One of the more gratifying, intelligent and absorbing graphic novels I've read in years, Bury the Lede centers around Madison Jackson, a young woman who's just landed a prime interning position at The  Boston Lede, the most prestigious newspaper in town. Soon after she starts at the paper, a brutal murder rocks Boston when beautiful celebrity socialite Dahlia Kennedy is arrested for the heinously brutal hanging and stabbing death of her husband. The couple's young son has also vanished without a trace - and Dahlia Kennedy, shocking the world, confesses to both crimes, claiming to have also murdered her son and disposing of his body! Dahlia refuses all requests to talk with the many reporters practically climbing over each other to get her full story ... except Melody Jackson, who the Lede's ace reporter sends in on a whim, figuring the young intern could do no harm. And thus begins a fascinating, can't-tell-who's-lying-and-who's-not mindgame that Dahlia seems determined to play, Melody slowly rethinking the case and unsure if anything is at it seems. It's a genuine cat-and-mouse of each woman thinking she's playing the other, beautifully written onto the page by Gaby Dunn; so much so, often reading this graphic novel feels more like reading a fully-formed, structured novel (though the dark, moody artwork and murky colors help to set the entire mood of this bizarre game between the two women). Definitely for "mature audiences" due to its depiction (and descriptions) of graphic violence, Bury the Lede is brilliantly-written and stylistically impressive, gruesome and raw as whatever is going on between Madison and Dahlia themselves. Here's hoping I can find more graphic novels like it.  4.5/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Reading: THE AMAZING LIFE OF AZALEAH LANE - Nikki Shannon Smith (writer), Mari Lobo (illustrator)

When Washington D.C. third-grader Azaleah Lane takes a field trip with her class to the National Zoo, the little girl has such a great time, later she readily jumps at the chance to make a diorama of one of the endangered species her class saw, for extra credit at school. Setting her entire weekend aside to craft her project so she can knock the socks off her teacher and principal, Azaleah's plans hit a snag when her little sister's favorite stuffed animal, comes up missing. As an older sister with a talent for solving mysteries - with her parents busy at their prospective careers, and Azaleah's own older sister too busy rehearsing for her leading role in the school musical - Azaleah has no choice but to investigate, determined to solve the mystery and still finish her diorama ... all by Monday! This first-in-a-series chapter book by the bestselling #OwnVoices writer Nikki Shannon Smith captures well the frustrations of being a middle child - putting up with your younger sibling while rolling your eyes at the antics of your older, supposedly more mature sister. Though I found Azaleah and her family a bit too picture-perfect on the page, it didn't detract from my enjoying the book, which features bright, colorful illustrations and even a good mystery that should keep young readers guessing.  4/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Reading: HERE COMES SANTA PAWS - Laurien Berenson

Book 24 in the long-running Melanie Travis cozy mystery series is a slim, quick Christmas-time mystery that finds wife/mother/poodle enthusiast Melanie literally called in to help when her close friend Claire finds a dead body. In the rundown gatehouse of an even more rundown estate, Claire's personal shopper client Lila Moran lies dead in her living room, a bullet in her chest. Right away, even during the police's questioning of her friend, Melanie suspects Claire isn't being entirely forthcoming ... and sure enough, soon Claire admits to Melanie that a background check she did on Lila revealed the woman had no history going more than five years back. Melanie sets out to get to the bottom of the mystery, digging into Lila's past even as she puts herself into danger via a killer ready to strike again if needed, in a mystery that, while definitely set in an around Christmastime, never feels 100% fully-rooted in the holiday season; the mystery simply takes place during the holidays, but in no way feels tied into it (also the lack of any snow, oddly enough, felt a bit disconnected from wintertime). That said, one think I truly appreciated, as a new reader to both Berenson and Travis, was Berenson's skilled economy of words that immediately introduced the murder in the story and kept things moving without lapsed for long exposition or description. Melanie's questioning of one suspect leads her to another, and she simply follows the trail, everything tied up neatly and quickly even once the killer was exposed. Even though I guessed who that killer was from the character's introduction on  the page, it never felt like a letdown even when I was proven correct, the book is that smoothly written and takes you on the ride to solve the puzzle with Melanie so easily. Maybe a longer novel would have benefited the mystery more, via the addition of other suspects or a few red herrings (also, the ending was a bit anti-climactic), but for a short,fluffy-light Christmas cozy Berenson delivers exactly that, via her "get in, tell your story, get out" writing style that works well here. Also worth mentioning is the way the author, even through her economy of words, still in so short a novel makes Melanie and Aunt Peg and all the other characters so real on the page. Kudos for that alone!  4/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from  NetGalley and the publisher,  in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Reading: HARLEY QUINN: BREAKING GLASS - Mariko Tamaki (writer), Steve Pugh (illustrator)

While not exactly the characters or background stories I am accustomed to with three such iconic characters from the DC canon, if taken on its own merits that is a LOT to love about Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass, which opens when a 15-year-old Harleen Quinn is sent to Gotham City by her mother to live. In the big bad city Harleen is befriended by the unlikely Mama, a chubby drag queen who ultimately takes the girl under her wing, Harleen adoring her as a surrogate mom as she also bonds with the other drag queens at Mama's club. It's through these new friends, as well as the meeting of a girl named Ivy at school, that Harley comes to learn about the serious divisions between the rich and the poor in Gotham - the rich fully embodied by the evil, selfish, hideously-rich Kane family (the heir of which, teenager John Kane, also taking great pains to taunt Ivy and Harleen in school), who seem determined to own the city, and to and including their efforts at gentrification that could destroy both Ivy's family and Mama's livelihood in almost a single blow ... until Harleen meets yet another new Gothamite friend in the form of a young man wearing a mask he refuses to take off, who appears to want to topple Gotham's elite even at the fire and brimstone-like destruction of the city itself. A man who just calls himself "Joker". While as far as I can tell these are all basically different takes on each character (Ivy a hardcore activist and champion of human rights, Harleen still "out there" but very toned-down/coming across more like a vigilante hero here than an arch-criminal, and - well, let's not get into The Joker), what makes this graphic novel such an engrossing read is how writer Mariko Tamaki has caught the basic personalities of each character so perfectly, each so readily recognizable that you have no problem following any of them onto these strange, altered paths. All of this is only enhanced by Steve Pugh's art, often so reflective of Harleen's childlike mentality or Joker's frenetic insanity or Ivy as the eye of the storm she creates herself, as the situation warrants (even his use of color is a spot-on at creating mood).  I don't know if I can handle a Harley Quinn who almost seems like "the goody guy" in the story, but reading this knowing what and who her character becomes later on poses some fascinating questions about how in the world she gets there.  4.5/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019


In 19th-century Paris (or thereabouts), a poor but talented seamstress/dressmaker gets the opportunity to design a gown for a client that captures both the imagination of Paris fashionistas and the ire of the Paris upper-class. So much so, when the young designer is soon after contacted at her job to possibly work for royalty, she finds herself whisked off where indeed she meets none other than Prince Sebastian of Belgium himself. The young (16) prince is on an extended visit to Paris with his parents, in order for them to find Sebastian a suitable bride to marry, where Sebastian managed to see Frances's controversial gown featured in the local press and wants her to be his personal designer ... not of suits and royal princely finery, but of beautiful gowns and dresses, as Prince Sebastian finally confesses to Frances - that he often sneaks out of the palace at night dressed as his alter-ego Lady Chrystallia, a woman who seems to have at least three times the courage, energy, and passion for life that Sebastian feels when in men's clothing. Frances, out of the good nature of her heart while also understanding what being the prince's personal seamstress could do for her career in fashion, commits to Sebastian's secret, and over the next few months helps to turn Lady Chrystallia into something of a local celebrity via her innovative designs, as well as Sebastian's coming to terms with embracing his gender-fluid lifestyle at last. This is such a brilliant graphic novel, light on dialogue as in many cases author/artist Jen Wang can compact so much emotion into just a character's look or gesture on the page, making nearly every panel have an impact. Sebastian and Frances form a bond of friendship palpable on the page, and even as you feel that things are going to blow up (and open up) sooner or later, you feel for both of these characters, greatly, to come through it all okay. Anxious as heck to figure out where Wang was going with their story (and what the heck would happen when/if Sebastian's secret were discovered) - how many stereotypical endings or over-done tropes she could avoid, in order to bring this to the satisfying conclusion that her richly-drawn/lovable characters deserved - I plowed through the last third of the book fairly holding my breath the entire time. Then I read that last third again. It really is that good; a great story that plays fair with its characters and their story right up to the end, while hitting home some important, very valid points about friendship, loyalty, love, and acceptance. So great.  4.5/5 stars

Friday, October 11, 2019


Growing up weaned on Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys set the stage for my falling in love with Agatha Christie at age twelve, as well as my lifelong infatuation with mystery novels. So much so, upon hearing this was the 80th anniversary of Nancy Drew, I wanted to get back to my roots with my favorite gal detective with a re-read of The Secret of the Old Clock for maybe the first time since reading it originally, as a kid, decades ago. What a joy this was, I loved the book - the experience even more - and if nothing else was happily reminded that, while the stories and characters in Carolyn Keene's iconic novels may feel a bit corny and dated by today's standards, all the Nancy updates and remakes that have come since, bearing the original character (and I am talking whether in book, film, or television form) are fairly ka-ka by comparison. In book one of the original, wonderful series, Nancy sets about solving the mystery of what happened to what may well be a missing will, written by the elderly, eccentric Josiah Crowley who promised those he cared for that they'd be taken care of upon his death ... only to have him pass, and have the last family he lived with - the rich, affluent, vain, and very disliked Tophams - produce a will naming them as the only beneficiary. Knowing in her gut that something isn't right. with her father's guidance Nancy starts her own investigation, soon running into a dangerous band of house thieves in her quest to find the hidden document (not to mention the greedy Tophams themselves), at times even putting herself in danger to get to the truth, as Nancy always does. What I wasn't expecting, though - didn't realize until reading this - was the tightness of the prose; not a word is wasted here, in a novel that keeps you reading, the anticipation mounting without a beat as Nancy methodically asks questions and follows the clues, the action moving along swiftly right up until the book's satisfying conclusion; truly, a lot of mystery writers today could well adapt this trait, and tighten up their plots instead of meandering at times on the page. Before starting, I kind of assumed this would be a great, nostalgic trip down memory lane; never did I realize reading this fast-paced, sparely-written mystery would make me a Nancy Drew fan all over again.  4.5/5 stars

Monday, October 7, 2019

Reading: A CUP OF HOLIDAY FEAR - Ellie Alexander

The 10th (though first for me) Bakeshop Mystery gets the Christmas-obsessed mountain town of Ashland, Oregon so meticulously and perfectly described, you should be able to feel the snow in the air and Christmas lights of every color twinkling around you. Similarly, the book's intro to Torte - the bakeshop itself centered in the town plaza across from the local police station and also dolled up for Christmas - brings to full life the smells and tastes and warmth of the coziest bakeshop in the west, co-run and -owned by Jules Capshaw, who also happens to have a nose for solving mysteries. As a bonus to their employees, Jules and her partner/mother have treated their staff, for Christmas, to the Dickens Feast at the local Winchester Inn on the hill, where a six-course period-correct meal will be served by the likes of Ebenezer Scrooge and Jacob Marley as live carolers sing, in a hotel redecorated in the same era for the occasion (though the book takes awhile to get the reader to that night, which only happens when page after page of description, exposition, and a lot of baking/cooking have gone by). The first quarter of the book paints a perfect, detailed picture of Ashland at Christmastime that you could almost live in - but the problem, for me, was that the lengthy descriptions never stopped. By the time the murder occurs the author has thrown enough at you, you aren't a hundred percent sure who the victim will be (kudos for that) until the person is found dead ... but that's more than a third of the way into the novel, and for me things went a little downhill from there. Readers get yet more detailed descriptions of baking and recipes, while something as important as any clues from the crime scene or body are never covered or cared enough about to be mentioned (indeed, no forensics team even appears to show up; none are mentioned and no such evidence is ever discussed - instead the story coming off like the coroner just came to collect the body, and left again as the cops started asking questions and investigating). Character development of any depth is relegated mostly to Jules or the ongoing cast of characters, even the mystery itself really taking a backseat to the town, its residents, and the season (truly, a romance plot could have replaced the mystery in this book without extensive rewrites). And, of course, the baking. Even worse (MILD SPOILER AHEAD; nothing ruined but be alert!) is the unforgivable sin this book makes of having its killer nabbed "off-screen"; in other words, instead of the murderer's apprehension in the story, in real-time, readers learn the person's fate the same way the main character does - when someone tells her. This robs the reader of all that time and emotional investment in all the pages that came before, only to not actually see justice done on the page (the killer's motive? Also one of the weakest I've ever read, in over four decades of reading mysteries). Very conflicted about this one, a well-written Christmas-themed mystery that works on some levels but definitely not as a mystery. Can't help but feel that a romance subplot would have fit with the rest of the book's tone and worked a lot better.  2/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Reading: BACK TO CHRISTMAS - Dennis Canfield

A very forgiving Santa has shaken things up at the North Pole, virtually eradicating his "Naughty" list by believing that - regardless of their mistakes and weaknesses - people are generally good at heart. This couldn't be worse news for Marmel, Santa's Head Labeling Elf, who doesn't want to lose his job - so is overjoyed when he discovers the Krumwerth family. The Krumwerths, who used to be very loving and do things together as a family unit, have since somehow lost their way, and now rarely communicate with each other, choosing to spend their time glued to phone or game or television screens. Only problem: this will be the Krumwerths third year in a row on the Naughty list - and once you've hit that third time, you're Naughty for good and lose a lot more than presents. It's Marmel's job to warn the family that they have very little time to perform the tasks to get them off the list before sundown on Christmas Day, and he chooses to share this info with 12-year-old Amanda Krumwerth, who - even once she believes him - has no idea how to get her family back. Worse, when Marmel learns his own fate might be tied in with the Krumwerths' dire straits, he has no choice but to try and help correct his own huge mistake ... but can he, even with the help of Santa's younger brother, Reverse Claus, and a group of disheveled flying penguins, find the spirit of Christmas either in himself or a jaded, technology-addicted family? This book is fantastic; lively and funny and with enough heart to induce a tear or two in the end. Sentimental but not sticky, easily enjoyable by kids from eight to eighty-eight, and deserving of its own place alongside your favorite Christmas stories on the bookshelf.  5/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title via NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

September Wrap-Up: Reading Light, Life Heavy

Rarely have I been so glad to have a month over, but September was it. It's difficult to suddenly learn, after nearly two years, that you live with someone with a mental illness; to have that person's newly-acquired second personality actually drive you out of your home is a different story. Just a couple days left until freedom, and may I never, ever have another Jekyll/Hyde roommate like this one again!
Tensions have been so tight the last few weeks, even finding the concentration to read was often tough, so while I am in the middle of about four books right now that I'd hoped to finish in September (now pushed to October, hopefully), instead the month ended up devoted to lighter fair in the reading department; more than a couple graphic novels and children's books on this list. The quality? A mixed bag - in particular one I'd really been looking forward to reading that, ultimately, disappointed (never trust the hype, only your own instincts and tastes)! But definitely some good quality in this group, too (a children's book, in particular, that genuinely blew me away)!
Reviews to come - PROMISE! Just gotta get this move out of the way. October is already starting off better, having just finished my first Christmas-themed book of the year. And quite a good one it was, too.

Amazing, what differences just a month can make. No more like September, hopefully, for awhile. Thank God for books, they keep me sane. Even the one film I watched in September (saw it on the 1st, thinking I was on my way to a better movie month!) was pretty freaking awesome; I don't usually watch a lot of action films, but this series just gets better and better.
Anyway, will let you go. You should be reading, anyway. Please check back for reviews, or scroll down a bit on the left to subscribe for updates! As always, any image here can be clicked on to enlarge, if need be.

October! Spooky month! Hopefully you are getting some awesome Halloween-y type books read while cowering under the covers with a flashlight, ignoring that crack in your closet door that seems to grow wider and wider in the dark. Happy Reading!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Reading: WONTON TERROR - Vivien Chien

Lana Lee seems to be settling into her role as manager of her family's Ho-Lee Noodle House, as well as into the role of girlfriend to her cop boyfriend Adam Trudeau, as the summer season in Cleveland begins with the opening of the night market - a weekly festival of food and fun put on by local merchants and musicians, where customers can stroll past food trucks or tents set up by retailers to get their grub on and sample local wares, all while listening to home-based music. But among setting up the noodle shop's tent with friend and cook Peter, Lana notices throughout the night that Ronnie Chow, owner of the Wonton on Wheels food truck down the way, seems to be arguing or picking a fight with first his wife and then his adult son, prior to opening for business. Later, when the Wonton on Wheels truck explodes, killing the cranky owner who was alone in it at the time, Lana senses immediately that something isn't right within the Chow family (Was wife Sandra deliberately away from the truck when it exploded? Why did son Calvin hurry from the night market with his Uncle Gene just prior to the explosion?), and takes it upon herself to start inquiring into the accident/potential murder ... putting herself into the sites of a killer adept at ending lives with a bang. Though book #4, this was my introduction to the Noodle Shop cozy mystery series, and I really loved it; being my first, I wasn't sure who the recurring versus new characters were, yet all seemed to come 100% to life on the page, each with his or her own voice. Also wonderfully gratifying was to find a cozy series with a predominantly Asian cast of characters - from Lana to her family and friends, to co-workers and other business owners at Asian Village plaza and beyond - that added real depth to the book as subplots and Lana's interactions with family and friends provided peeks into a culture rarely even mentioned in mysteries (unless accompanied by tropes where everything comes off "mysterious" or "exotic"), let alone cozies. You never felt you were reading of Asian characters but of characters - people - who just happened to be Asian, and that was terrific. Chien's writing style is also so fluid and laidback, bringing you into the restaurant or the apartment Lana shares with her roommate Meagan (just two examples) in a way that makes you feel like you belong there; it's a very visual, easy-to-read style that makes the book play like an film in your mind, complete with comic touches. The mystery itself was solid; for a hot minute I thought Lana almost too focused on one particular person as the culprit, but then in the end Lana herself addresses that - and the solution of the murder, while you may get there just before Lana does, makes for no less an impact on the book's suspenseful resolution. Lana Lee and Company have a new fan in me, can't wait to catch up with the series and my only regret is that I can't go to Cleveland right now and hug Kikko or hang out with the Mahjong Matrons for breakfast; that's how real the characters were, at least to me. 4.5/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from the author and publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

August Wrap-Up: Raider of Some Nearly-Lost ARCs!

First of all, the important stuff: THANK YOU! A month ago I was looking forward to breaking 10K in pageviews, now heading into September this blog stands at nearly 11,000 pageviews already! So, so grateful, and thanks to all who have come by; please visit again and again, and sign up for email alerts (scroll down a bit on the left, you'll see it) to be made aware of new posts!

Again - thank you. Hopefully you'll stick with me as the blog continues to grow.
August ended up being a slight catch-up, particularly for graphic novels, on just some of the advanced reader's copies (ARCs) I had to get back to the publishers about, via a read and review, either on or close to publication date (note: you'll still find some reviews missing from July and August; those weren't ARCs, and reviews will be filled in sometime during September). The graphic novels really went the extreme from bad to good and back, but also discovering Ruth Ware for the first time and finally starting V.M. Burns's Dog Club cozy mystery series rounded things out nicely! Again, please check for reviews here, anything missing will be popping up before too long - and as always, click on any image here to enlarge, should you be unable to clearly see any of the books.

The film buff in me? Not so happy. August also saw some transitions in my personal life, including a new job, so - and I can't believe this - I watched NO new films for the month (and still have to get up the review for Slice from July, not to mention other film reviews from, gulp, JUNE that haven't been posted yet!). Seriously ashamed of myself and this trend will stop in September; I love movies too much to go even a month without seeing one.

Meanwhile, wherever and whoever you are, I hope your reading month of September sees you enjoying some great books, as well as some good films that keep you munching popcorn in the dark. Again, thanks for getting me up to nearly 11K, and please keep checking back or following. Welcome September!

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Reading: BARK IF IT'S MURDER - V.M. Burns

Lilly Ann Echosby is still trying to settle into life in Chattanooga with her beloved poodle Aggie in book three of Burns's Dog Club cozy mystery series. Still residing in a hotel room, Lilly's finally found a home she wants and puts in an offer, just in time to be invited by her museum-owner boss as a last-minute replacement on a buying trip to Atlanta. With no wish to burden her best friend Dixie, and her boyfriend Red busy with work, Lilly warily decides to board Aggie at Pet Haven - a lush spa and boarding home-away-from-home for canines - after meeting married owners Kerri Lynn and Dallas Simpson at a dog show. Pet Haven is dog luxury at its finest, the prices reflecting it, and upon learning that part of the benefits are that Lilly can check on Aggie anytime via a "pet cam," from the road or her hotel, Lilly signs her beloved fur baby up, leaving town with only slight reservations ... until from the comfort of her hotel room in Atlanta, during a storm, when she's checking on Aggie via her laptop. All is well with her little one, but when the cameras go wonky Lilly's point of view is shifted to a different camera - just in time for her to see a blond woman in rain gear strangled on-camera, before the power in her room goes out and the screen goes black. The rest of this short, tightly-plotted mystery revolves around whether or not Lilly Ann actually saw a murder committed, or even if she did, is she accurate in who both victim or even killer are? Every one from her best friend Dixie to her friends at dog training class to her son David, boyfriend Red, and daughter's boyfriend, K-9 officer Joe - currently in town on business - is on hand to lend their expertise/help, but as Lilly continues to question both herself and those suspected, Bark If It's Murder follows a very straightforward, linear course to a satisfying resolution ... and even manages to throw a surprise or two in, at the end. A short, to-the-point plotline moves things swiftly, and in Lilly Ann V.M. Burns has created an engaging, kindhearted, passionate woman who puts those she loves ahead of her - and doing what's right above all else. I look forward to reading more of her!  3.5/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Reading: THE TURN OF THE KEY - Ruth Ware

Twenty-something nanny Rowan Caine hadn't even been looking for a new job when she came across the ad seeking a live-in nanny for a well-to-do family in Scotland. Applying out of curiosity, Rowan finds herself no less than astounded to suddenly be standing, weeks later, in the entry hall of Heatherbrae House, way out in the desolate Scottish Highlands, for her in-person interview with mother Sandra Elincourt. The home itself - an odd juxtaposition of half Victorian architecture forcibly conjoined with modernized technology by Sandra's absentee husband Bill, turning the house into its own app-run "smart home" - is beautiful yet oddly unsettling at the same time, as are the rumors that the reason the last four nannies either fled or left their posts with no notice is because the house is haunted. Rowan is too sensible to believe in ghosts, the pay is ridiculously good, and she seems to mesh well with the children - eight-year-old Maddie, Ellie who's five, and infant Petra - right off, so is nothing less than thrilled when, a few weeks later, she lands the job and permanently moves into Heatherbrae House with the help of the hunky handyman staying above the defunct stables. But almost soon as she's installed upstairs, Sandra and Bill leave town on business and the children start to show very different sides to themselves than they displayed the night Rowan met them. Worse, each night Rowan is now kept awake by the distinct sounds of someone pacing upstairs, the floorboards creaking to a rhythm Rowan is soon will surely drive her mad. The problem? Rowan's room is on the top floor of Heatherbrae House, with no attic and just the tiled roof of the house above her; there is no room above her for anyone to be pacing in. Over the next several days the strange incidents will only increase in the house, Rowan seeking to connect with the children even as she leans more and more about Heatherbrae House's sinister history, and grows increasingly alarmed for her own safety, as well as that of the children. The Turn of the Key is Ruth Ware's fifth novel - though my introduction to her work - and opens with Rowan in prison for murder, one of the children (we don't know who) dead, the novel told in letters she's desperately writing to a high-profile attorney Rowan is hoping will take on her case. And while for me there were times when the story kind of bogged down in the middle third of the novel, with not a lot going on (though Rowan's growing paranoia does keep the suspense building, in a passive sort of way), the last third of the novel ... particularly the last few pages of the book, where the loose ends of the story are tied up in a manner that literally had made my jaw drop open and my chest hurt ... are some of the best, most perfectly/deceptively simple writing I've ever read; even guessing what was coming a couple pages prior, finishing the novel just left me sitting there stunned, as if one of the fuses in my head had blown and I had to wait for some back-up generator to kick on. A four-star book, just because of the slight lagging in the middle, easily bumped up a half-star by that unexpected, haunting, brain-slayer of an ending.  4.5/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Reading: OUR BIG LITTLE PLACE - James A. Conan (writer), Nicolle Lalonde (illustrator)

Author James Conan's debut is a wonderful, lovingly illustrated picture book aimed at what you can do with a little effort and a big imagination. It focuses on an unnamed, biracial pre-school-aged boy who lives in a high-rise apartment in a big city, where his parents often comment on how small their apartment is, even as their young son disagrees. Though the balcony views of not just the world around him but the buildings and apartments of his friends nearby are enough for our boy to dream, he also recounts for us readers the various games he plays in the apartment, as well as outside in the yard between the buildings with his many friends (even to relay-racing in the halls outside his actual apartment), that prove his "big" his world really is. Drawing Aunt Elizabeth, who watches him by day as his parents work, or his parents into his games around the house only opens the door to even more adventure, especially on days when it's raining outside and outdoor play isn't practical. Each page of Our Big Little Place is crowded with the young boy's games and imagination, sure to catch the attention and awe of any child exploring the book, and - even more importantly - the diversity represented in this novel, from the boy's interracial parents to one of his friends who gets around via wheelchair to a female-female couple (and other mixed-race pairings) representing the neighbors who gather in the play area outdoors to watch the kid or their dogs, is not only uplifting but also makes for the one picture book I've ever seen to depict the real world of the child protagonist of the story the way it would be/should be, in reality. Charming and colorful, it's the kind of picture book kids (especially "city kids") will come back to again and again, fueling their own imaginations while also preparing them for the fact that people come in all shapes, colors, sizes and lifestyles - but we're still all just people in the end, everyone a potential friend.  4/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Reading: BIG NATE: HUG IT OUT! - Lincoln Peirce

The latest collection of Big Nate comics from author/artist Lincoln Peirce contains - for this reviewer - some of the funniest, most sarcastic moments of the mouthy six-grader's entire career. Unfortunately, the new school year seems determined to grate on Nate's nerves; from annoyingly gabby friends, to a high-scoring rival at the arcade, to having to be tutored by his arch-enemy Gina in order to avoid summer school, to being beaned on the baseball field, to ... gasp! - Cupid striking hard as Nate shares a ride with a girl at a carnival he develops an instant crush on, only to lose her in the crowd afterward without so much as getting her name! Nate certainly could use a hug, and Peirce's sense of humor here, along with Nate's big mouth, are sharp as a razor on nearly every page, while - even with his super-sized personality and ego - Nate still manages to remain one of the funniest, most likable characters in comics. I laughed at nearly every page, and keep a copy bedside in case I ever need to go to sleep with a smile. Keep it up, Nate; in real life you'd probably be a brat in need of a good spanking, but between the pages you are freaking hilarious4.5/stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Reading: AQUAMAN VOL. 1: UNSPOKEN WATER - Kelly Sue DeConnick (writer), Robson Rocha (illustrator)

Following the events of Drowned Earth, this graphic novel combining Aquaman comics #43-47 opens with the hero of the sea washing ashore of the strange community of Unspoken Water - a small village of older adults barely surviving via what they can catch in their fishing nets - with absolutely no memory of who he is, or his past. Donned with the nickname "Andy" by the villagers, Arthur Curry - the Lord of Atlantis - befriends a young woman named Caille who seems obsessed with the sea, otherwise seeking help from the villagers to find out who he is and why he's there (the villagers are sure the sea gave him to them for a reason) ... while at the same time there seems something hidden, almost wrong, with the very people Andy is trying to befriend. Remaining spoiler-free, that's about as much as can be said here ... except that Unspoken Water just might be the most sumptuous, beautifully-illustrated graphic novel this reader has ever read. DeConnick's story, as well, doesn't miss a trick, the mystery of the village and what's really going on building suspense perfectly - as well as playing in a big way into the mythology of Aquaman and his history - before an enemy comes forward and some pretty hard battle lines are drawn (and fought). The strong story and characters only help the reader buy into what's going on, emotional investment in the characters guaranteed - but truly, beautifully, nearly every page of this lush graphic novel is a sensational work or art, doing Arthur Curry's alter ego total justice; whenever water/the sea appears on the page, it's as if it's a separate character of its own, fully come to live. I can't even remember how many times I must have said "Wow" under my breath, turning the pages of this gem, and with a brilliant story and plenty of action and a major super-villain to back it up, Aquaman Vol. 1: Unspoken Water may well be the best DC graphic novel I've ever read.  5/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, August 9, 2019


TokyoPop continues its line of Pixar-inspired manga with this terrific double-bill featuring the basic storylines of Toy Story and Toy Story 2, back-to-back in one volume. The black-and-white artwork leaps off the page, characters rendered perfectly from the films, as we are again introduced to Woody and company, and the day Woody meets Buzz Lightyear, his first rival for Andy's sole attention - and the follow-up tale, which begins when Woody is swiped by a rabid toy collector who wants to add him to his collection. Over 300 pages and I read the entire thing in two sittings (would have been one, but got interrupted), not only reliving the films but also almost wishing, multiple times throughout both stories, that I had a big box of crayons to sit and color in each page as I read it; that's how vibrant and alive and ... cinematic the artwork is to the eye. Whether for a kid new to manga who isn't a big reader otherwise, to a big kid who loves the Toy Story films and would like to take the journey of the first two again in book form. there's nothing not to like about these brilliant renditions of two of the most popular and beloved animated films in pop culture history. Highly recommended.  5/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Reading: SPARROWHAWK - Delilah Dawson (writer), Matias Basla (illustrator), MIguel Mercado (cover artist)

Northunberland, England, 1851. Artemisia is a bi-racial young woman, the illegitimate daughter of a naval captain living with her father's upper class family but enjoying none of its perks or stature because she is half-black. Indeed, with a mostly-absentee father and bigoted stepmother, the girl's only solace is her stepsister. But when an evil  Faerie Queen from another realm tricks Artemisia into trading places with her so she can conquer this realm, the young woman finds herself in an ugly, brutal land of dark magic and monsters, some of whom may help her get out while hiding their darker motives on the side. In order to escape, Artemisia must literally kill her way to enough strength and power to break through the mirror she must use to get back home - the catch being that with every death she causes, Artemisia enjoys the art of killing more and more, turning more violent and even transforming piece by piece into a metallic-like creature with wings after each kill. While I thought the premise interesting enough to give this graphic novel a go, what really sucked me in was the intense, beautiful cover art of the book. Sad to say, the inside art is nowhere near as dramatic or provocative; indeed, the alternate world our heroine finds herself in is all hard lines and harsh colors, as if a paintbox were spill on the original drawings. Sadly, I also couldn't identify or really care about any of the characters, including Artemisia herself. While I understood the corruptive effect this alternate world had on the poor girl throughout the story, with each change I found myself disliking/not caring about the character a little more. An "okay" script and unattractive artwork, even with a gorgeous cover wrapped around it, just made for a disappointing read.  1/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Book vs. Kindle: Okay, We Can Stop Now

To this day, with all the book-chat I find myself reading or engaging in online (particularly social media), I am still (though don't know why) surprised and a bit annoyed when someone brings up the Kindle - or Nook, or e-reader in general - like it's some evil harbinger of doom determined to bring about Armageddon for the printed book ever since Oprah introduced the world to it years ago. Each time I hear this argument I am reminded of my mother, even many more years ago, who wouldn't touch the first microwave oven (about the size and weight of an air conditioner) brought into our home by my father, because she was sure it would give her cancer.

I've been reading since childhood, say 150 years or so now, and even as fascinated as I was, watching Oprah unveil Kindle to the world on one of her Christmastime "My Favorite Things" shows back in the day - newspaper and magazine subscriptions at your fingertips in seconds? you can finish the first book in a series and be reading the second one a minute later?? - to me Kindle potentially signaled the death knell of my beloved bound books as well, and it would take a few years (plus over a year of debate and research, trying to decide between Kindle and Nook) to finally invest in one. Now, maybe ... nine years later? ... I own three Kindles 9with somewhere around 2,000 books stored on them. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Ahh, but here's the kicker - and what most people still treating e-readers like leprosy don't seem to understand: YOU CAN STILL READ REAL BOOKS. Yes, that's right, you can have BOTH in your life, and quite frankly most e-reader owners do! Unlike what many Kindle haters suggest, you do not have to choose between them; like children, you can love both equally. And I won't go into all the conveniences/advantages of owning a Kindle, because most people know them already and doing so usually sends Kindle haters into fits.

But I wanted to do this post to share something I recently learned. First, I have never, ever thought books were in danger of extinction because of e-readers. That's simply not true, and while my heart breaks for every brick-and-mortar store that's closed up, hard-copy books still sell like crazy and independent bookstores are enjoying a resurgence. So no, no matter what the witch hunters shout, THE BOOK is never going to be threatened by e-readers.

What I wanted to share is that quite recently I learned - by accident - a very important reason why. 

The obvious reasons to love a real book, of course, are known to any book lover: the heft of holding a real book, the smell of a new book (is there ANYTHING like it in the world?!), the opportunity to lose yourself in the tranquility of your favorite bookstore - even being able to annotate or take notes right there in the margins (though you can do this with Kindle in digital form, many people LIKE the intimacy of note-taking, etc. in their beloved book). But as I recently have begun to pick up hard-copy books again, as well as reading on Kindle, I am reminded of how since childhood, whenever I put my bookmark in after reading for the day, I would also check out the part of the bookmark sticking out of the top, turning the book this way and that and noting with pride that heck yeah, I made progress today. Can't do that with Kindle (you can bookmark your page, but obviously no visual). 

Even more importantly, I realized that with Kindle, the simple fact is that every book you read looks exactly the same. Assuming you have the font size/style set to what you like, every single book you read on Kindle (and when I say Kindle in this post, I mean any e-reader) looks exactly like every other single book you have on Kindle. No variety, like you get with real books, where you might read a 300-page book now but then a 550-page chunker after that, the margins and font style/size varying, hitting home the fact that book's an all-new reading experience. Maybe it's me, but I found that's what I miss right now with Kindle books over hard-copy ones: the variety. The feel that, each time I finish a book, that adventure is over and I am setting sail on a new adventure ... as opposed to just swiping to another page that looks exactly like the last 3,000 pages I read.

So no, real books aren't going anywhere. And the Kindle haters need to stop hating as hard as they do when they even bring up the subject. To me, we bookaholics should always be celebrating reading, period, no matter in what form someone is doing it. Especially here in the U.S., where so many don't even read a book a year, and illiteracy remains an issue. Bottom line: you do you, long as you keep reading - share that love of reading with anyone around you who will listen (kids/young people especially) - and never criticize someone for what they are reading (or how they're reading it) so much as praise them for taking that adventure.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

July Wrap-Up: Closing in on 10K!

Some genuinely good reading for July, including three novels that debuted just this month (reviews for these get priority, as they are time-sensitive, but you can always check back for more content). Eight books logged for July,though two were children's books easy to breeze through in a day (both very good), as I also continue to become more and more enamored with manga and especially graphic novels; truly, volume one of Lumberjanes Vol. 1 was one of the most fun reading experiences I've had in some time, Mamma Mia! full of both charm and genuinely funny. As always, click on any image in the post to enlarge.
Only one film for the month, the low-budget horror film Slice! starring Chance Bennett - aka Chance the Rapper - so reading definitely took precedent for the month, when the time was there, and am actually glad for it though continue to battle time management issues I need to work on (such as curbing all the scrolling I do through Facebook and YouTube!).
Most of all, am so, so grateful to be fast approaching 10,000 pageviews for this blog! Since starting it there have been time periods when I didn't even post, thinking my voice was too small to be heard; so much so, I never really thought to add an option to follow my posts via email (only added that very recently). But 10K pageviews is pretty cool, inspiring me to go for 10K more.
Meanwhile, hope your summer winds up warm and sunny and full of great summer reading, whether at the beach or curled up in bed or on the front porch with a glass of wine. And thanks for visiting here, fellow film lovers and bookaholics; please continue to help spread the news if you like what you read, and I promise: WILL CATCH UP ON REVIEWS THIS MONTH, at last!

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Reading: THE CHELSEA GIRLS - Fiona Davis

This was my first time reading bestselling novelist Davis (The Address, The Dollhouse), known for centering complex fictional stories around iconic addresses or buildings - her newest novel wonderfully showcasing the infamous bohemian haven for artists known as The Chelsea Hotel in New York City. The Chelsea Girls opens with Hazel's arrival in Naples, Italy in what would be the final months of WWII. A young woman from a theatrical family trying to find her own place in the theater, Hazel has joined the USO tour to escape the understudy hell she found herself trapped in, in New York - and soon meets the loud, flamboyant leader of her small theatrical group of USO ladies, Maxine. Hazel resents Maxine at first, even while sort of envying the woman her boldness and seeming lack of fear, and the two become friends, Maxine soon regaling the more naive Hazel with tales of her stay at The Chelsea Hotel back in her own New York days, making the place sound almost magical to the girl. Flash-forward to post-war New York in 1950, and though Maxine has ventured to California Hazel finds herself a little smothered by the memory of her more outgoing, talented older brother - killed during the war - via her mother, who always favored Ben. After an argument with mom, Hazel decides to break away for a few days' reprieve, remembering Maxine's story of the infamous Chelsea - and indeed, Hazel's arrival there, the reader's introduction to the hotel, is so beautifully written the hotel becomes a character in the novel, as well. It's no wonder that, even though Hazel does make up with her mother, she remains where she is, calling The Chelsea her new home even as the hotel seems to direct Hazel- at last - to her real passion: writing. But things are not entirely at peace in New York - in America - as Senator Joseph McCarthy's witch hunt for communist sympathizers grows in momentum from Los Angeles, eventually heading east as Hazel's hard work pays off in her play's mounting of a Broadway production ... just as Maxine, now a fairly famous film star from Hollywood, arrives back in New York and into Hazel's life as its potential star. Much of The Chelsea Girls deals with the blacklist and its aftermath; the lives, careers, and artistic works destroyed by the winds of fear-mongering and hate in the wake of the red scare. And while my own love for New York made the city and The Chelsea leap from nearly every page in this well-written novel, I just couldn't seem to emotionally connect with either Maxine, or especially Hazel, on a level necessary to be fully engaged in the story - which, I think, is why I was unable to fully suspend disbelief enough for certain twists and turns in the plot that (at least initially) seemed too convenient or unrealistic. As the story builds toward its climax, however, I was able to "buy into" the plot points a lot more (thanks to Davis's strong writing skills), by the end coming to a better understanding of the complexities of the friendship between Hazel and Maxine - but still wish I'd felt more bonded to either/both of these women, who for me never fully leapt to living, breathing life off the page. A wonderfully-written, meticulously-researched novel - also a worthy homage to New York City theater and The Chelsea itself - where maybe some more backstory, or time spent with Hazel and Maxine in their earlier years, might have left me more emotionally invested in their story.  3/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.