Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Book Review: To the Edge of Shadows by Joanne Graham

To the Edge of Shadows by Joanne Graham

Setting: England

Published: October 31, 2014 (Legend Press)

I received a galley from Legend Press via Netgalley.

Summary: A young woman struggles with coming of age while unable to remember her childhood, lost to an accident-induced head injury and post-traumatic stress.

Meanwhile another girl, weighed down by devastating memories of abuse and neglect, watches her, envying the freedom of not being saddled with childhood memories. This character-driven psychological novel has an element of suspense.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Film Review: The Double

The Double (2013)

Directed By: Richard Ayoade

Written By: Richard Ayoade & Avi Korine; Based on the Novella by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Summary: This is an interesting but ultimately underwhelming art house film, inspired by a novella by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Loosely adapted from Dostoyevsky's novella, which is now on my reading list, The Double features a strong performance by Jesse Eisenberg in an intriguing dual role. He is one player in a terrific cast, including Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, and Noah Taylor. The film effectively creates a dark, surreal mood, and from what I know of Dostoyevsky -- based on having read Crime and Punishment -- it reflects his themes of alienation, frustration, and teetering on the brink of madness. However the strongest feeling it left me with was mild confusion, along with a sense that this probably works better on the page than on the screen.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Book Review: The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

Setting: Pre-Apocalyptic United States

Published: July 10, 2012 (Quirk Books)

Literary Awards: Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original
"The end of the world changes everything, from a law-enforcement perspective."
Summary: This pre-apocalyptic whodunit stands out due to beautiful writing and deft world building. This seamless blend of mystery, science fiction, realism, and dark humor is engrossing and relentlessly entertaining.

Henry Palace has achieved his dream of becoming a police investigator much more quickly than he'd expected. Astronomers have confirmed that the end of the world is only months away, and society is crumbling. This is not a rapid descent into chaos. As people give up and drop out, social institutions are slowly dissolving.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

It's Monday ... What Are You Reading? + Blogger Links

These are the books -- picked from my wishlist -- which I received as Christmas gifts ...

Among Others by Jo Walton

Among Others by Jo Walton

Settings: Wales and England

Published: January, 2012 (Tor Books) (1st Published in Hardcover by Tor Books)

Literary Awards: Hugo Award for Best Novel (2012), Nebula Award for Best Novel (2011), Locus Award Nominee for Best Fantasy Novel (2012), World Fantasy Award Nominee for Best Novel (2012), Mythopoeic Fantasy Award Nominee for Adult Literature (2012) Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award (RT Award) for Best Fantasy Novel (2011), British Fantasy Award for Best Novel (2012)

I don't remember who introduced me to Jo Walton, but I think it was Nymeth at Things Mean a Lot. This author has been on my list for years. Before I delved into Farthing, which I recently purchased, this title caught my eye. Among Others is a fairy tale, of sorts, about a lonely, precocious fifteen-year-old bibliophile growing up in the '70s and struggling with loss.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Friday Fourteen: Favorite Books I Read In 2014 (with Movie Tie-Ins)

After taking a short blog-break, and re-posting old reviews so it wouldn't get too quiet around here, I'm back. Happy holidays! We are celebrating Christmas today -- one day late -- because The Hubby had to work on Christmas.

Friday Fourteen is a new feature, and what better way to launch it than with my 14 favorite books of '14? :-)

In no particular order:

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Flashback Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin (Mild Spoilers)

Flashback reviews were previously published on another blog.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

Directed By: Lynne Ramsay

Written By: Lynne Ramsay and Rory Kinnear, Based on the Novel by Lionel Shriver

Review of the Book

When I was in high school, way back in the dark ages when Ronald Reagan was serving his first term in office, I read Rage by Stephen King. It's a dark, wonderful novella about a young teen acting out his violent urges in the classroom. I thought it was a clever, unique idea. Eerily believable, but safely outside the bounds of reality. Imagine ... a student actually bringing a gun to school.

Much later, when I'd become the mother of two young kids -- one of whom was in school -- we all heard the news of the killings in Columbine, and our world changed. It was the first of many such incidents which left our country scrambling for answers. How does a child become a seemingly remorseless killer? The media has rounded up the usual suspects, everything from bad parenting to an overabundance of violent video games and heavy metal music. In our eagerness to wrap our minds around something that baffles and terrifies us, we clutch at every possible explanation.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Flashback Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (Possible Spoilers)

Flashback reviews were previously published on another blog.

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Published: March 25, 2003 (Counterpoint Press)

Setting: New York

Literary Awards: Orange Prize for Fiction (2005)

Review of the Film Adaptation

Eva was a successful businesswoman and author as well as a wife and mother of two children. Now she is estranged from her husband and daughter. Her son Kevin is incarcerated, in the wake of a school shooting, for a series of brutal murders, Eva's world is cold and narrow. Her only real communication with anyone is through letters she writes to her husband, Franklin.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Book Review: The Psychopath Whisperer: The Science of Those Without Conscience by Kent A. Kiehl

The Psychopath Whisperer: The Science of Those Without Conscience by Kent A. Kiehl

Published: April 22, 2014 (Crown Publishing)

A review copy was provided by Crown via Blogging for Books.

Low impulse control, superficial charm, narcissism, apparent lack of empathy and conscience, and a boundless talent for using people for their own ends. These are some of the trademarks of a psychopath, associated with the diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder. These individuals comprise less than 1 percent of the general population, but they are responsible for a large percentage of violent crimes. Tragically, children and adolescents sometimes exhibit psychopathic traits and behavior, a topic explored in novels like Defending Jacob and We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Book Review: Only the Dead by Vidar Sundstøl

Only the Dead by Vidar Sundstøl, Translated By: Tiina Nunnally 

Series: Minnesota Trilogy

Setting: Lake Superior, Minnesota

Expected Publication: October 1st 2014 (University Of Minnesota Press)

This e-book was provided by the University of Minnesota Press Netgalley for a fair and honest review.

Four months after a Norwegian tourist was brutally murdered on the shore of Lake Superior -- where an Ojibwe man may have been killed more than 100 years earlier -- the case is officially closed. However U.S. Forest Service officer Lance Hansen believes the wrong person was arrested for the crime.

Lance's brother Andy might know more than he’s telling about the recent homicide. On a bleak, icy November day. the relationship between the brothers takes an ominous turn on their annual deer hunt.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Film Review: Blue Ruin

Blue Ruin (2014)

Written & Directed By: Jeremy Saulnier

When murder leads to vengeance, does the cycle of violence end? In rural Virginia -- which happens to be my neck of the woods -- the answer is, apparently, "Hell, no ... it's just getting started."

Blue Ruin is one of those movies is often so raw and real that I feel a bit like a voyeur. This compelling indie film echoes some of the themes in In the Bedroom, exploring how revenge, instead of bringing the sense of closure one hopes for, only deepens ones despair. The pacing is patient but effective, and the skillful storytelling conveys just enough information without revealing too much.

Dwight (Macon Blair) is living as a vagrant on a Vermont beach, scavenging through trash cans and dumpsters, when he learns that the man who murdered his parents is being released from prison. He returns to his native Virginia, seeking out Wade Cleland, the man who destroyed his family. In the process he reconnects with his sister (Amy Hargreaves), from whom he has been estranged for two years and seeks help from an old friend (Devin Ratray).

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Book Review: Five Minutes Alone by Paul Cleave

Five Minutes Alone by Paul Cleave  

Setting: Christchurch, New Zealand 

Published: October 21, 2014 (Atria Books)

A review copy was provided by Atria Books via Netgalley.

"Earlier this year I worked a case where a man begged me to give him five minutes with the man who kidnapped his daughter. So I get the principle. Just like I did every time over the years, different victims and different killers, men asking me for five minutes with the man who had done this to their families ..."
A convicted rapist, recently released from prison, is found dead,  ripped apart by an oncoming train. Police soon realize they are dealing with a vigilante killer, intent on giving recovering victims and bereaved loved ones their five minutes to exact revenge.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Film Review: In the Electric Mist

In the Electric Mist (2009)

Directed By: Bertrand Tavernier

Written By: Jerzy Kromolowski & Mary Olson-Kromolowski, Based on In the Electric Mist With the Confederate Dead by James Lee Burke

My mom was a fan of James Lee Burke's murder mysteries -- which are still on my shelves, unread -- and I was intrigued by this adaptation of his novel In the Electric Mist With the Confederate Dead. Let's face it: Tommy Lee Jones, Peter Sarsgaard, John Goodman, Kelly Macdonald, Mary Steenburgen ... what a kick-ass cast! Sarsgaard alone is enough to sell me on just about any movie.

This beautifully shot, atmospheric thriller -- rich in history and Southern culture -- offers excellent acting and some suspenseful moments. It has some wonderful elements. An intriguing mystery and interesting characters. Gorgeous shots of the Louisiana bayou, eerily shrouded in mist or vibrantly illuminated. An intriguing link to the tragic and fascinating history of the civil war with a blurred line between past and present, imagination and reality. Good old fashioned murder, mayhem, and corruption. Not to mention the fabulous names of some of the good ole boys of rural Louisiana: Twinky, Hogman, and Baby Feet. I mean, how awesome is that? Seriously, when a dude goes by a moniker like Baby Feet, you can assume he isn't afraid of anything.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Book Review: Boy A by Jonathan Trigell

Boy A by Jonathan Trigell

Setting: England

Published: 2004 (Serpent's Tail)

Awards: John Llewellyn Rhys Prize (2004)

This is probably the most painful book I've ever read. It's the only novel I remember making me feel physically sick at times. Not because it was gory or deliberately calibrated for shock value. It wasn't. It was just so vivid, heart-wrenching and raw.

This might not sound like a glowing recommendation for a book I'm giving a laudatory review. But honestly, even after having much of the story "spoiled" by seeing the excellent film adaptation, I found this so compelling I didn't want to put it aside. The story was well-crafted, the writing gorgeous, and the characters and story impossible to get out from under my skin. I was torn between the painful feelings the book evoked and wanting to focus on the words and savor the rich, beautiful writing.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Book Review: Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta

Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta

Setting: Rural Montana

Published: June 3, 2014 (Little Brown)

Alone in a Midwestern quarry at night, 13-year-old Jace Wilson sees a brutal murder. The killers know they have a witness, but unable to spot Jace in the dark, rocky crevices, they leave him alive -- for now.

In the stark, desolate beauty of the Montana mountains, Ethan and Allison Serbin have built a cabin, which they've dubbed "the Ritz." Ethan, a military veteran and survival trainer, runs a wilderness camp for troubled teenaged boys. They come to him angry, damaged, untrusting, and eager to prove themselves in the wrong ways. He teaches them to respect one another, because they may have to rely on each other to make it out of the woods alive, and they gradually gain confidence through learning tangible survival skills. Allison is rehabilitating an injured horse, and the loving couple has built the life they have always hoped for.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Book Review: The Blight Way by Patrick F. McManus

The Blight Way by Patrick F. McManus

Series: Sheriff Bo Tully #1

Setting: Rural Idaho

Published: 2006 (Simon & Schuster)

When Bo Tully, sheriff of Blight County, Idaho, is called to a murder scene at Batim Scragg's ranch, he takes along his father, "Pap" Tully, the former county sheriff. After all, it's Pap's 75th birthday, and he can think of no better present than a good murder.

As Pap puts it:
“I hope it’s an actual murder, not just a killing. It would be nice there was something for me to solve. I hate it when all you got to do is go down to the nearest bar and arrest the guy that’s bragging about the killing.”

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Book Review: The Long Way Home by Louise Penny

If you follow this blog, you know this is one of my favorite series, and I have been eagerly anticipating the release of this book. As fate would have it, the release coincided with the beginning of the school year. Amid grading my students' papers, deliberating over curricula, and running to homeschool co-op, classes, soccer, and myriad other activities with my kids, I have been scrounging for time to finish this novel. ;-) At last!


The Long Way Home by Louise Penny

Series: Armand Gamache #10

Setting: Québec

Published: August 26, 2014 (Minotaur Books) 

Armand and Reine-Marie Gamache are happily retired, with their dog Henri, to the village of Three Pines, Québec. Armand is on a gradual journey toward healing after the violent events he has survived. His long-time friend Clara Morrow is puzzled by his habit of sitting each morning, on the same bench, studying a particular book -- he is always on the same page.

Clara needs Armand's help finding her estranged husband Peter, who did not return -- as promised -- one year after their separation. With his former second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, Armand leaves his hard-earned sanctuary and accompanies Clara and her best friend Myrna Landers on a journey with an uncertain destination, seeking Peter.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Film Review: 28 Days Later

28 Days Later (2002)

Directed By: Danny Boyle

Written By: Alex Garland

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. When several well-meaning activists break into an experimental lab to liberate the chimpanzees, they unleash a mysterious, incurable virus that provokes mindless rage in its sufferers and quickly decimates the population. Victims of the virus essentially become undead, but they are not the slow, shambling zombies of Night of the Living Dead and Shaun of the Dead. They are fleet-footed and driven by uncontrollable fury.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Book Review: American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

Setting: New York City

Publication Date: March, 1991 (Vintage)

Warning: Disturbing and contains some spoilers.

Patrick Bateman is in his mid-twenties, son of a wealthy family and successful Harvard-educated businessman living the "American Dream" in New York City. He's obsessed with the superficial trappings of wealth and success -- who has the finer business card? How can I get a reservation at Dorsia?

Undeniably narcissistic, he is obsessed with fashion and his appearance. Buff, tanned, and handsome, he has no difficulty attracting beautiful, successful women. Or he'll hire a prostitute in a pinch. But the ordinary experience of sex, along with the other pleasures that fill his over-privileged life -- have long since stopped sparking his interest. He seems perpetually bored and talks about his own life as if it were a film, peppering his narrative with terms like "scene" and "smash cut," as if he were merely an observer of his own existence.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Book Review: For Whom the Minivan Rolls by Jeffrey Cohen

For Whom the Minivan Rolls by Jeffrey Cohen

Series: Aaron Tucker #1

Setting: New Jersey

Published: 2002 (Bancroft Press)
Aaron Tucker, a freelance journalist and aspiring screenwriter, is happily married and a work-from-home dad to Ethan, who is on the autism spectrum, and Leah. So he is caught completely by surprise when he is asked to investigate a crime. Madlyn Beckwirth, a wealthy citizen of his small suburban town, disappeared in the middle of the night, and her husband believes she was kidnapped. But why is Beckwirth appealing to a local reporter, with a brief stint as a local journalist under his belt, instead of a seasoned investigator? And why does he seem evasive when Aaron starts asking questions?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Book Review: Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

Series: Miss Jane Marple #1

Setting: England

Published: 1930

“My dear young man, you underestimate the detective instinct of village life. In St. Mary Mead everyone knows your most intimate affairs. There is no detective in England equal to a spinster lady of uncertain age with plenty of time on her hands.”

Miss Jane Marple is an aging spinster whose hobby is studying human nature. From her vantage point in her comfortable home in the village of St. Mary Mead, she rarely misses anything. She is also an active participant in local gossip:

"I’m afraid that observing human nature for as long as I have done, one gets not to expect very much from it. I dare say the idle tittle-tattle is very wrong and unkind, but it is so often true, isn’t it?”

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

On Hiatus

Between grading dozens of student essays every week, homeschooling, and my kid-chauffeuring duties, I've been a little frenzied, and I'm not keeping up with all my obligations.

I've decided to take a blog-cation until after the holidays. Until then, so it won't be too quiet around here, I'll have old reviews scheduled to re-post, and I'll visit other bloggers when I can.

See you in 2015!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Book Review: Spectrum by Alan Jacobson

Spectrum by Alan Jacobson

Setting: New York City

Series: Karen Vail #6

Published: October 7, 2014 (Open Road Media)

I received this from Open Road Media via Netgalley in return for an honest review.

In modern-day New York City, FBI profiler Karen Vail is reunited with her long-time mentor NYPD Captain Carmine Russo. For almost two decades, they have pursued a serial killer who targets women of Greek descent. In the home of the latest victim, Karen finally has a breakthrough.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Weekly Round-Up, post-Thanksgiving Edition + Blogger Links

Another week has zoomed by.

My daughter Trisha and I spent Thanksgiving with my dad, stepmom, brother, and niece -- it was the first time we'd seen them in two years. My niece Alex is 7 now, and Trisha is 10.

Two years is a long time in the life of a child, but the girls greeted each other as if they were best friends. Within five minutes, Alex had pulled Trisha into her room and asked me to leave because they were discussing PRIVATE THINGS. According to my brother that Alex has a major crush on a "bad boy" -- yes, you can find those in second grade. Apparently she needed to discuss the matter, with her cousin, in full. :-)

This weekly round-up is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, and it's a great opportunity for us bookish blogging folks to get our "fix" on reading recommendations.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Book Review: This Little Piggy by Bea Davenport

This Little Piggy by Bea Davenport

Setting: Northeast England

Published: October 1, 2014 (Legend Press)

I received this from Legend Press via Netgalley for an honest review.

In the summer of 1984, England is in the throes of a massive coal miner's strike. The beleaguered miners, many of whom are raising families in shabby housing developments, struggle to survive until the time comes to return to work. Others, like Rob Donnelly, cross the picket line to support their families, inciting the wrath of their neighbors. Then Rob's infant son, Jamie, is killed outside his flat on the Sweetmeadow Estate, and hostilities escalate.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Film Review: The Tall Man by Sarah Ward, Guest Blogger

The Tall Man (The Secret) (2012)

Written & Directed By: Pascal Laugier

The  theme of the "wronged mama bear'’ where every mother’s worst fear is realized, stands as a common trope in horror and thriller films, and “The Tall Man” is no exception. This is better than “Flightplan,” thank God, and puts a new spin on the worn theme of the child being snatched from the arms of the protective parent. Above all, it sports a pretty wicked twist, one that is unpredictable without being totally out there or ludicrous.

I never would have picked up this movie if it weren’t for director Pascal Laugier’s previous film “Martyrs.” The trailer to “The Tall Man” appeared to be in lame standard thriller-ish territory, so I decided to avoid it. When I finally watched it, I was pleasantly surprised. This is a well written, directed, and acted movie.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Film Review: Blade Runner by Sarah Ward, Guest Blogger

Blade Runner (1982)

Directed By: Ridley Scott

Written By: Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, Based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

“Blade Runner” is how a science fiction film SHOULD be made, as a speculative thinker, not as a silly disposable piece of throwaway camp like “Star Wars” (yes, I dissed George Lucas’ Magnum Opus. I can see you fanboys writing that down.) I won’t place this on the pillar of perfect science fiction like “Firefly” (’cause I just won’t), but the creativity of the whole enterprise shines through past the dark sets and blackened hearts of the characters.

Early in the 21st Century (yep, folks, we should be seeing some crazy shit real soon), Tyrell Industries has refined the android model to the brink of perfection. These beings, called "replicants," are man-made entities virtually identical to humans but used for all the dirty work, war, prostitution, and other dangerous jobs. They were implanted with memories that are not their own and manufactured to feel no empathy or identity as an individual.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Book Review: Guilt by Association by Marcia Clark

Guilt by Association by Marcia Clark

Series: Rachel Knight #1

Setting: Los Angeles

Published: April 20th 2011 (Mulholland Books) (First Published January 1st 2011)

Los Angeles District Attorney Rachel Knight is ambitious, focused, and intensely dedicated to her work. She is devastated when a valued friend and colleague is found dead at a gruesome crime scene. It appears to be a murder-suicide stemming from his sexual involvement with a seventeen-year-old boy.  Rachel does not believe her dead friend was a pedophile or that he was suicidal and homicidal. Despite official warnings to steer clear of the case, she is determined to find the truth. Meanwhile she is assigned to take over her late colleague's toughest case: the sexual assault of the fifteen-year-old daughter of a wealthy, prominent doctor who happens to be one of the district attorney's most generous campaign donors.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Television Review: Southcliffe (British Mini-Series)

Southcliffe (2013)

Directed By: Sean Durkin

Written By: Tony Grisoni

In a quiet English market town, a man marches down the street with a high-caliber rifle.  He is a native of this small, sleepy town, a war veteran, and caretaker to his elderly mother.  He shoots people at random, leaving at least fifteen people dead and twenty injured. What drives a person to commit such senseless, horrific acts of violence?

One of my favorite pastimes is avoiding work ... err ... enriching my life by surfing Netflix, scoping out movies and series I've never heard of. Last night I stumbled upon Southcliffe, which was recommended for me because I am a fan of shows like The Killing, The Bridge, and Broadchurch.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Book Review: The Cold, Cold Sea by Linda Huber

The Cold, Cold Sea by Linda Huber

Setting: Cornwall, England

Published: August 1, 2014 (Legend Press)

I received a review copy from Legend Press via Netgalley.

Recovering from a devastating loss is an agonizing, labyrinthine process that can take a lifetime. Grief, and the myriad forms it takes, is the theme of this absorbing suspense novel by Glaswegian author Linda Huber.
Maggie and Colin look away briefly, while lingering on the beach with their children, and three-year-old Olivia disappears. After weeks of frantic searching, Olivia is presumed to have drowned, yet the sea has not yet given her back for burial. As they wait for closure, we see the crushing effects of this loss on Maggie and Colin, their son Joe, and their marriage.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Film Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Directed By: David Fincher

Written By: Steven Zaillian, Based on the Novel By Stieg Larsson

Years ago my mom's extended family, second- and third-generation Sicilian immigrants, lived in a small town in Mississippi. Living up to the Sicilian reputation for fiercely respecting grudges, no one ever forgave a slight easily. There were always siblings, nieces, nephews and cousins refusing to speak to one another.

You would think this would be difficult considering the town was so small you couldn't cross the street without bumping into each other, but they managed to pull off these vendettas. And God forbid you should forget, when talking to one relative, to whom she wasn't speaking and why. They took this shit seriously.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Weekly Wrap-Up...Teaching HS English...Rambling About Doctor Who...Random BS + Blogger Links

Random Nonsense:

The school year is still in full swing, and between teaching and homeschooling, life is still hectic. At least soccer is on hiatus.

I often feel the past 20 years have gone by in a blur ... seriously. But whenever I get too sad about my "babies"growing up, I have to look at moments like this:

The puberty fairy may've come and gone, but my 16-year-old son J. (incognito under that hoodie) and his 15-year-old buddy aren't all that grown up yet. According to J., teens aren't all that different from children anyway, except that they're a bit less loud, their thought processes are more organized, and they cuss a lot more. That's an exact quote. I challenged him on the first two points, but as for point #3? I definitely can't argue with that one.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Film Review: Joshua by Sarah Ward, Guest Blogger

Joshua (2007)

Written By: David Gilbert & George Ratliff

Directed By: George Ratliff

Holy crap. The kids aren’t all right. The kids aren’t all right at all. And nine-year-old Joshua Cairn (Jacob Kogan) is a malicious, evil little prick who commits atrocities with such a sense of glee -- as much glee as his studiousness and seriousness will allow -- that you will not feel anything but hate and loathing for the malignant little tyke by the end.

But hey, this movie is pretty good, and for fans of evil-child movies, it’s that much better because “Joshua” maintains a relative sense of realism throughout.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Weekly Book and Movie Round-Up -- Post-Halloween Edition -- Plus Blogger Links

Fall is an exceptionally busy time, what with a new roster of writing students, soccer, and all the kids' classes, and it's been a while since I poked my head out.

After freezing my ass off Saturday at my daughter's last soccer game of the fall season, I sadly acknowledged that winter has, in fact, arrived. Or as close as makes no difference.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Film Review: You're Next by Sarah Ward, Guest Blogger

You're Next (2011)

Directed By: Adam Wingard

Written By: Simon Barrett

Populated by the indie-horror regulars (A.J. Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, and Amy Seimetz), “You’re Next” is a fun romp centered around a blood-soaked fight between a well-to-do, dysfunctional family and a trio of masked psychos. Not that the family puts up much of a fight, for all their hysterics and high-pitched screams. It’s Erin (Sharny Vinson), fiancé of son Crispin (AJ Bowen), who is a force to be reckoned with.

Mom (Barbara Crampton) is already on medication. How much more damage could a family reunion do?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Film Review: Gone Girl (Mild Spoilers)

Gone Girl (2014)

Directed By: David Fincher

Written By: Gillian Flynn, Based On Her Novel

(Note: I tried to make this film spoiler-free, but if you haven't read Gillian Flynn's novel or seen the movie, it's best to go into it blind. Skip this review. :-) )

This spring, I will reach an important milestone: my 25th wedding anniversary. Crazy, isn't it? In my mind, I am way too young and cool for that. A peri-menopausal matriarch's delusion. 

Marriage is an amazing and difficult journey. A couple starts out young and hopeful, and often at some point -- or at multiple points -- in the relationship, each person has a jarring realization. Each of them has married a stranger. When they look at each other, they see reflections of their own projections, hopes, expectations, and fantasies, not true flesh and blood human beings. Perhaps each partner has also been playing a role, trying to fulfill the other's expectations. Each spouse may resent the other for simply being himself -- or herself-- and not the fantasy he or she had created.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Film Review: Devoured, Guest Post by Sarah Ward

Devoured (2012)

Directed By: Greg Olliver

Written By: Marc Landau

The first time I saw “Devoured” I loved it and was fully prepared to write a rave review, but the second time I was a little less enamored. I still think the film invokes a genuine feeling of dread and has a terrific lead performance by leading lady Marta Milans, but it also occasionally utilizes worn horror tropes and just takes a little too long to get itself going.

Lourdes is a Latina immigrant who seems to be going insane… but is she? The woman dreams of saving up enough money to pay for surgery for her extremely ill son, who still lives in Mexico with his grandmother.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Book Review: The Girl in the Empty Dress by Lise McClendon

The Girl in the Empty Dress by Lise McClendon

Series: Bennett Sisters (5 Bennett sisters -- nice hat tip to Jane Austen :-))

Setting: Dordogne France

Publication: May 2, 2014 (Thalia Press)

I received this book from Thalia Press via Netgalley for a fair and honest review.

The five middle-aged Bennett sisters are all lawyers, raised in a loving but competitive family:
     Our father and his father before him were also lawyers. The law is in our blood. We grew up debating, arguing, holding mock trials over dishwashing duties, deposing each other, trying to best one another around the dinner table and running to Daddy's law books if were were stumped.

     We sisters are all different and use our legal training in various ways: profit, non-profit, corporate, non-traditional. I'm not going to tell you where we live. I will tell you this: being a non-lawyer in this family was a non-starter.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Film Review: The House of the Devil by Sarah Ward, Guest Blogger

The House of the Devil (2013)

Written & Directed By: Ti West

After watching and loving Ti West’s creepy cult flick “The Sacrament,” I decided to try this on for size. Bad idea. Let’s see, how does this movie exasperate and piss the living crap out of me? Let me count the ways.

First the premise -- where have I seen this before? A pretty girl is hired to take on the babysitting job from Hell? Wait, I remember -- dozens of horror movies and urban legends. Eek.. “Have you checked on the kids?” You know, that kind of thing.

This movie was also transparently derivative of “Halloween” in many ways, but I was willing to overlook that. "Homage" and all that. You’ve got the good girl, the edgy friend. Oh look, the waif fights back. Still, “Halloween” is the far superior film, with genuine scares and a strong and likable character in Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Film Review: Jug Face by Sarah Ward, Guest Blogger

Jug Face (2013)

Written & Directed By: Chad Crawford Kinkle

Yet further evidence that no good can come of incest, low budget fright flick “Jug Face” tells the story of Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter), a teenager bound by the laws of a backwoods cult. Before being wed off to a local boy, she is impregnated, by her brother no less. Her brother (Daniel Manche) is a ruffian of a kid with no compassion for his naive sis. Tradition requires that Ada, having broken the rules of her people, must be sacrificed to a monstrous pit, occupied by a supernatural entity, not far from her village.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Weekly Reading Round-Up, Fall Photos, and Blogger Links

This weekly round-up is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

I have been MIA in the blogging world. Fall is a busy season -- I've been tutoring writing students, homeschooling, and making painfully slow progress in the novel I'm writing. "Homeschooling" is a misnomer, at least in my experience -- it mostly involves running around the community, taking advantage of various opportunities. The kids have been taking classes and playing soccer, and we've been involved in autumn activities like working at a farm and picking apples.

Film Review: The Human Centipede by Sarah Ward, Guest Blogger

Blog Owner's Note: It may be worth noting that Sarah vomited halfway through writing her review of this movie. She thinks there is a "bug" going around, and this had nothing to do with the material. But I have my doubts. Oh well. I am just thankful her television didn't explode.

The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2010)

Written & Directed By:  Tom Six

I’m going to completely pull all the stops here and argue that this film is not total crap. That’s not to say that it’s good, and the redeeming value is tricky. You have to sift through piles of soullessness and shit to find it, but it’s there, in this reviewer’s humble opinion.

This story of a mad German doctor who sews three people mouth to rectum, therefore creating a "Siamese triplet," is also touching at times. (No, really.) Teamwork, people!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Film Review: The Sacrament by Sarah Ward, Guest Blogger

The Sacrament (2013)

Written & Directed By: Ti West

I was a little skeptical about the prospect of actually enjoying this movie, because my only contact with filmmaker Ti West were his shorts in the utterly rubbish anthology films “The ABCS of Death” and “V/H/S.” Still, the premise and the trailer looked promising, so I watched it on Netflix Instant (thank God for streaming.)

After seeing it twice in the last month, I have to say I am very impressed with what the director managed to do here. The build-up is slow to say the least, but there were extended periods when I was glued to the seat, simultaneously fascinated and unnerved by this rarity: a found footage film that seemed altogether too real and rang true as a horror movie with smarts, not just as gimmicky trash.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Flashback Review: Blood Orange by Drusilla Campbell

Flashback reviews were originally published on another blog.

Blood Orange by Drusilla Campbell

Setting: San Diego, California

Published: 2005 (Kensington Books)

Dana Cabot escaped her lonely childhood and married the man of her dreams. Now her husband David, a football quarterback turned defense attorney, is a workaholic. Most of Dana's life is focused on their beloved 7-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has special needs. Dana is trying to salvage bits of her former life, when she was a doctoral candidate in Art History. Then Bailey disappears from their home. Dana suspects it happened because of David's involvement in a high profile, controversial case. He's defending a man who may have brutally murdered a child. Their marriage is unraveling, and Dana is hiding secrets of her own.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Checking in at the End of the Week

The school year is in full swing, and I have just about given up on finding time to write reviews or blog ... ever again. *Sigh.* I have been slowly making my way through my Netgalley picks. I loved Butterfly Kills by Brenda Chapman, which I will review in January.

I am currently reading Five Minutes Alone by Paul Cleave, which explores the topic of revenge. So far it is sad and grim, but it seems a solid thriller with interesting characters.

In the latest thriller by the Edgar-nominated author of Joe Victim, someone is helping rape victims exact revenge on their attackers, prompting an edge-of-your-seat, cat-and-mouse chase between old friends, detectives Theodore Tate and Carl Schroder.

Carl Schroder and Theodore Tate, labeled "The Coma Cops" by the media, are finally getting their lives back into shape. Tate has returned to the police force and is grateful to be back at home with his wife, Bridget. For Schroder, things are neither good nor bad. The bullet lodged in his head from a shooting six months ago hasn't killed him, but, almost as deadly, it's switched off his emotions.

When the body of a convicted rapist is found, obliterated by an oncoming train, Tate works the case, trying to determine if this is murder or suicide. The following night, the bodies of two more rapists surface. It's hard to investigate when everyone on the police force seems to be rooting for the killer.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Film Review: The Snowtown Murders by Sarah Ward, Guest Blogger (Some Spoilers)

The Snowtown Murders (2011)

Directed By: Justin Kurzel

Written By: Shaun Grant, Based in Part on Killing for Pleasure by Debi Marshall and The Snowtown Murders by Andrew McGarry

Based on a series of gruesome real-life killings that occurred, from 1992-1999, in Australia, “The Snowtown Murders” is an often annoyingly confusing but also creepily compelling thriller that takes its subject matter seriously rather than exploit it for cheap shock value. Which is not to say “The Snowtown Murders” is not shocking. It is the story of how an entire town is beguiled by an unhinged psycho, and how that psycho takes an abused boy under his wing and melds him into his protege.