16 January 2017

TEACHER MAN


Synopsis from Goodreads: Nearly a decade ago Frank McCourt became an unlikely star when, at the age of sixty-six, he burst onto the literary scene with Angela's Ashes, the Pulitzer Prize -- winning memoir of his childhood in Limerick, Ireland. Then came 'Tis, his glorious account of his early years in New York. Now, here at last, is McCourt's long-awaited book about how his thirty-year teaching career shaped his second act as a writer. Teacher Man is also an urgent tribute to teachers everywhere. In bold and spirited prose featuring his irreverent wit and heartbreaking honesty, McCourt records the trials, triumphs and surprises he faces in public high schools around New York City. His methods anything but conventional, McCourt creates a lasting impact on his students through imaginative assignments (he instructs one class to write "An Excuse Note from Adam or Eve to God"), singalongs (featuring recipe ingredients as lyrics), and field trips (imagine taking twenty-nine rowdy girls to a movie in Times Square!). McCourt struggles to find his way in the classroom and spends his evenings drinking with writers and dreaming of one day putting his own story to paper. Teacher Man shows McCourt developing his unparalleled ability to tell a great story as, five days a week, five periods per day, he works to gain the attention and respect of unruly, hormonally charged or indifferent adolescents. McCourt's rocky marriage, his failed attempt to get a Ph.D. at Trinity College, Dublin, and his repeated firings due to his propensity to talk back to his superiors ironically lead him to New York's most prestigious school, Stuyvesant High School, where he finally finds a place and a voice. "Doggedness," he says, is "not as glamorous as ambition or talent or intellect or charm, but still the one thing that got me through the days and nights." For McCourt, storytelling itself is the source of salvation, and in Teacher Man the journey to redemption -- and literary fame -- is an exhilarating adventure.

Stats for my copy: Hardback, Scribner, 2005.

How acquired: Via Book Mooch.

My thoughts:  I read ANGELA'S ASHES in 2007, after which I wrote in my journal entry on BookCrossing:
Very depressing. At first I had trouble too because I just couldn't fathom how the author could remember in such detail things that happened when he was 3 and 4 years of age. But then I began reading with the mindset that it I was reading fiction with a first-person narrator and was able to concentrate on the story. Then when the author was "ten going on eleven" I began to get really sucked in and was captivated until the end.

Then I read 'TIS in 2010:
I really enjoy McCourt's writing, as if he's sitting next to you weaving a tale for you. I liked this book even more than Angela's Ashes. Solid story of a young Irish immigrant intent on getting an education and becoming a teacher, despite all the odds against him - including very little family/friend moral support as he's constantly told he should stick to physical labor jobs that pay better.

TEACHER MAN then languished in my TBR pile until a couple of days ago, when I finally picked it up to read. I don't know why I waited so long, but I really enjoyed it. Teaching has got to be one of the hardest jobs around, and I admire anyone brave enough to make a career of it. Mr. McCourt writes very honestly about his feelings of inadequacy, constantly wondering how to get a handle on the job and expecting to be fired for being a fraud. His methods were unusual, but he was able to connect with kids and get their attention.


The writing flows, sometimes almost in a stream of consciousness style, as Mr. McCourt relates incidents, anecdotes and thoughts and feelings. I read this book in two days, something I've not done with a book in a long time. Partly because I had some time what with our office being closed due to an ice storm, but mostly because the writing and the narration just pulled me in and I became unaware of time passing. The end came all too soon. 

13 January 2017

WEDDINGS FROM HELL


Synopsis from Goodreads: Some marriages are made in heaven . . . Some are not.

What happens when "the happiest day of your life" turns into a nightmare? Forget the drunken best man or the bridesmaid dresses from the '80s . . . none of these wedding day disasters can compare to a cursed bride determined to make it down the aisle, or a vampire who is about to disrupt your wedding.

Join New York Times bestselling authors Maggie Shayne and Jeaniene Frost, USA Today bestseller Kathryn Smith, as well as Terri Garey in four unforgettable tales of unholy matrimony . . . where the grooms are dark, dangerous, and mostly dead, and to love and cherish till death takes on a whole new meaning.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Harper, 2008.

How acquired: Bought.

My thoughts:

TILL DEATH, by Maggie Shayne

This is my first time reading Maggie Shayne, though a quick count shows I have around 12 other books in my TBR by her, although half of those seem to be omnibuses with other authors.

When Kira was seven her mother died in a freak accident, and her father took his own life not long after. Now, eighteen years later, Kira receives a call from Scotland, advising her that a relative has died and she needs to come to Scotland for the reading of the will. There she meets her mother's family for the first time – several assorted, unmarried aunts – and learns of a curse placed on the family line – that MacLellan women are always killed at the hands of their husband. She also meets Ian, one of her family's solicitors, who she is instantly attracted to. A short novella but with so much packed into those 91 pages. I really enjoyed it and obviously need to read more of Ms. Shayne.

HAPPILY NEVER AFTER, by Jeaniene Frost

This story is the reason I bought the book. I love Ms. Frost's Night Huntress series, so I was looking forward to this story set in that universe. It's been awhile since I finished the Cat and Bones books, but I think Chance and Isabella, the hero and heroine of HAPPILY NEVER AFTER, had made an appearance in one of the books. I vaguely remember their names.

Isa is engaged to the local mob boss, Robert Bertini. Or at least Robert thinks she is. Isa's brother, Frazier, has disappeared, after begging Isa to go along with the engagement for the time being. So while she can't stand Robert, she's pretending to be love struck. Meanwhile, Isa's grandmother, Greta, knows something's up, but doesn't know what. So she contacts her old friend, Bones, a vampire, and ask him for help finding Frazier. Bones passes the assignment on to another vampire, Chance. I liked Isa, and I liked Chance. He's no Bones, but then who is? I enjoyed the story, and for readers who've not yet been introduced to the Night Huntress series, it's a good peek at what kind of vampires inhabit that universe. But it didn't quite grab me the way the Cat and Bones books did.

GHOUL'S NIGHT OUT, by Terri Garey

This story just blew the others right out of my head. I'm very anal about reading series books in order, and I had looked up each story ahead of time, but somehow I missed the fact that this story was part of a series. Otherwise, I would not have read it until I found the rest of the Nicki Styx books and had read them in order up to where this one comes in (number 2.5 per Goodreads). But I am really glad I read it because I loved it. I loved Nicki. I loved the idea of her seeing spirits and reluctantly helping them with whatever they need help with before they can go into the light, ala Jennifer Love Hewett in “Ghost Whisperer”, which I just happen to be streaming on Netflix.

In this story, Nicki's cousin Debbie has asked her to be a last minute bridesmaid in her wedding. Nicki doesn't want to, especially after seeing the hideous dress she must wear, but she knows her late mother would expect her to. While at a fitting for the dress, Michelle walks in and demands to know why Nicki is wearing her dress. Turns out Michelle was supposed to be the bridesmaid, but after a fight with Debbie she stormed off and was never heard or seen from again. Nobody realizes that she's dead, including herself.

I loved Nicki, and her interactions with Michelle. I loved the way Michelle's appearance changed depending on her mood or what she remembered. We also meet Nicki's boyfriend Joe, and while he didn't actually appear until halfway into the story, I loved him.

I started drifting away from paranormal romance because I got burned out on vampires, but ghosts still fascinate me,and I am very eager now to find the rest of the Nicki Styx books.


I did not read the fourth story in the book, THE WEDDING KNIGHT, by Kathryn Smith, because I know it's part of her Brotherhood of the Blood series, and I have the first three books already, so I plan to come back to this book and read THE WEDDING KNIGHT when I reach that point in the series. I know, I know, when these stories appear in these omnibuses like this they're supposed to work as standalones, but still. 

07 January 2017

KISS OF DARKNESS (Silhouette Shadows No. 32)

SHARON BRONDOS

Synopsis from Goodreads: Adrian Smith's latest orders tore at a conscience that shouldn't exist, pricked a heart that was his curse. But he'd made his deal with Death centuries ago, and now he had to do Its bidding. He would kill the scientist who was on the brink of prolonging human life; then he would return to his own private hell...

Adrian had expected his prey to be an old man whose time was near, but instead, he found himself preparing to harm a beautiful young woman, bursting with life. Yet Adrian could no sooner murder Sue Cooper than he could hope to fight Death and Its agents of evil when they came to do the job themselves...

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Silhouette Books, 1994.

How acquired: Given to me by a neighbor many years ago.

My thoughts:  I was unfamiliar with Silhouette Shadows when I picked up this book to read, and partway through my curiosity got the better of me and I looked up the line. It seems to have had a limited run, from March 1993 to March 1996, with only 66 titles. Some familiar authors and some I'd not heard of. 

Five hundred years ago Adrian lay wounded on a battleground, where he was approached by Death, who offered him immortality in exchange for enslavement. In agonizing pain, Adrian accepted. Since then he has lived his undead life mostly in isolation, leaving his solitary hut only to do Death's bidding.

Sue is a scientist on the brink of a breakthrough in her latest research project, looking for a way to extend the human lifespan. Death does not want her project to succeed, so he orders Adrian to kill her. But of course, once Adrian meets her, he is loathe to take her life.

The story has a different take on vampirism, which was interesting, and not what it seemed in the end. One of Adrian's abilities is to ward. At Sue's apartment, he places magical wards on the door and windows, to keep anyone else out. The description of him doing so is always vague:
After locking it, she saw him step back and make a few movements with his hands.

The next morning, while Adrian is asleep, Sue sneaks out of the apartment. How did she get past his wards you ask? Quite simply:
She set down her bag and tried to imitate in reverse exactly what she had seen Adrian do last night. After two attempts, she heard a soft hum and then a click. When she tried the door again, it opened readily.

I don't know why but this really bothered me. She is a human, with no magical powers or abilities. Yet by simply imitating the hand movements Adrian did, she can turn his wards off and on. It just didn't make sense to me. As silly as this sounds, given the paranormal nature of the book, it just wasn't believable.


This book was not great. It was like one of those corny old B movies. Yet I enjoyed it so much that I feel the need to search for more Silhouette Shadows. 

Click here if you'd like to explore the line yourself. 

11 December 2016

The Loved Dog: The Playful, Nonaggressive Way to Teach Your Dog Good Behavior

TAMAR GELLER with ANDREA CAGAN

Synopsis from dust jacket flap: Every dog owner must make a choice: Do you want a fearful and submissive pet, or do you want a happy, joyful, and well-mannered member of the family?

Tamar Geller's mission in life is to teach her cruelty-free method of "life coaching" for dogs and their people. Her revolutionary play-training uses mutual understanding and respect -- and puts an end to outdated methods that rely on physical exhaustion, choke chains, prong collars, dominance rollovers, or stressful aggression of any kind.

A former Israeli intelligence officer who witnessed the horrors of military dog training methods, Tamar went on to observe wolves in the wild. She discovered that wolves educate and socialize their cubs with games, bonding, and body language, not dominance or punishment. As a result, she developed teaching systems that address a dog's authentic nature, part wolflike and part toddlerlike. Learning can be a positive experience that dogs enjoy and look forward to, and we can actually make it fun for our dogs to listen to us and behave as we want them to.

Tamar's insights have brought dog training into the twenty-first century, and her groundbreaking techniques have won the approval of the Humane Society of the United States, for which she is a longtime advisor. Her celebrity clients include Oprah Winfrey, Ben Affleck, Courteney Cox-Arquette, Owen Wilson, and the Osbournes, and she has appeared as an expert on the Today show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Animal Planet, and more.

In The Loved Dog, Tamar gives you all the instruction, insights, and tips you need to teach your dog good manners, as well as to troubleshoot specific problems and unwanted behaviors. She helps you and your dog learn a common language, resulting in a loving, respectful relationship that will bring you years of joy and companionship. Tamar's play-training approach is so gentle, even children can get involved.

Whether you use Tamar's methods to raise a puppy or teach an old dog new tricks, you'll love The Loved Dog.

Stats for my copy: Hardback, Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2007.

How acquired: Thrift store find.

My thoughts:  I was browsing through the books at a thrift store yesterday when I came across this book. My daughter has a hyper pup who she loves to death, but who is driving her up the walls. They attend a training class each weekend, but he seems to forget everything as soon as he learns it. This book sounded interesting, so I thought she might like to read through it.

After eating dinner last night, I picked up the book and flipped through it, and this passage caught my attention:
Most people think of socialization in terms of taking a dog outside and introducing her to people, kids, and other dogs, but that is far from the truth. Just because your dog is exposed to different life experiences does not mean that she's ready to tackle any challenge. Exposure does not equal socialization.

I adopted an older dog a few months ago, after his previous owner passed away. For six years he had lived in her backyard, having very little contact with anyone but her. He wasn't abused or treated badly, and he's very well behaved. But he was completely unsocialized, and very fearful and timid. When I went to her home to meet him, where he was still living in the backyard while her daughters were slowly packing up and removing her possessions, he ran underneath a shed and refused to come out. He eventually had to be given a sedative with his food in order to be caught and brought to my house (after being taken to a vet for checkup). While he was still woozy that first day I petted him a bit. But after that, it was several weeks before he would allow me to touch him. It's been seven months now, and I can pet him and have finally been able to take him out for short walks, but he still has a long way to go.

Anyway, I turned back to the beginning of the book and began reading. I'd never heard of Tamar Geller, and until now Victoria Stillwell has been my dog training idol. But I liked what Ms. Geller had to say, and the methods she uses. The book starts out more like a memoir, as the author talks about her abusive childhood and her military training. But those periods of her life are important, because they laid the foundation for who she would be as an adult, and helped her to develop empathy for dogs.

After those chapters begins going through basic training techniques, such as sit, down, and stay, as well as potty training, leash walking and issues with jumping on people. Apparently Ms. Geller is a big name in dog training circles, and she works with a lot of celebrities – there is quite a bit of name dropping throughout the book, and stories about her clients and their dogs.


Overall, I really enjoyed the book, and I plan to try some of her tips and instructions with my boy. As my daughter has struggled to overcome her pup's potty training issues, separation anxiety and nipping, we've talked a lot about using positive reinforcement over negative, i.e., rewarding good behavior and not physically punishing bad behavior. Ms. Geller's methods are very much about positive reinforcement, and making training into a game for the dog. I'm eager to see if my daughter can start applying some of her methods and what kind of results she'll get.  

04 December 2016

STORM FRONT (The Dresden Files, Book One)


Synopsis from Goodreads: HARRY DRESDEN — WIZARD

Lost Items Found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates. No Love Potions, Endless Purses, or Other Entertainment.

Harry Dresden is the best at what he does. Well, technically, he's the ONLY at what he does. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal creativity or capability, they come to him for answers. For the "everyday" world is actually full of strange and magical things—and most don't play well with humans. That's where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a—well, whatever. There's just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks.

So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry's seeing dollar signs. But where there's black magic, there's a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry's name. And that's when things start to get interesting.

Magic - it can get a guy killed.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, New American Library, 2000

How acquired: From a BookCrossing member.

My thoughts:  A wizard named Harry, but living in a very different world than that other Harry! Harry Dresden lives in present day Chicago, where he barely makes a living as a sort of paranormal private detective. I love the world building here, with Harry openly proclaiming himself to be a wizard rather than hiding his powers from the general public. A client comes in and wants Harry to locate her missing husband. He tries to refer her to the local police, but she says her husband has been fooling around with magic, and since that's Harry's specialty...meanwhile, Lieutenant Murphy, director of the Special Investigations unit of said local police, has called on Harry to help investigate a grisly double murder.

The story is told in first person POV by Harry, who, during the course of his investigations, drops little facts here and there about wizards and the magical community, without info dumping. We also meet a faerie, a vampiress, and a talking skull that lives in Harry's basement.

The plot was fairly intricate, with lots of twists. Harry isn't out to be a hero, he's just trying to make a buck, but he has morals and he won't walk away when someone is in danger. I liked his character, and I enjoyed the story and the writing. His narration is often amusing and self-deprecating.
Paranoid? Probably. But just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that there isn't an invisible demon about to eat your face.
Entertaining and quick paced, building up to a climactic confrontation that had me sitting up a bit past my bedtime. 

24 November 2016

LOVERBOY (Harlequin Temptation No. 484)


Synopsis from Goodreads: He was every woman's fantasy!

Luke Bannister swore he'd never return to his hometown of Chandler, Arizona. He was sick of being labelled a delinquent and sick of his father's constant abuse. But most of all, he was sick of hearing that he wasn't good enough for Meg Hennessy. So he lit out for Hollywood, looking for his big break.

Meg couldn't believe it! After ten years, Luke was finally coming home. Her childhood sweetheart, now daytime TV's sexiest star, had built the reputation of being a "loverboy." Well, he'd better not expect her to join his harem. He'd dumped her once
she wasn't about to let it happen again!

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Harlequin Enterprises, 1994.

How acquired: Through Book Mooch.

My thoughts:  One of Ms. Thompson's better older Harlequins. Luke, the bad boy juvenile delinquent of Chandler, Arizona, took off right out of high school, to look for a better life. Ten years later and he is a soap opera star, on the verge of breaking into the movies. Meg was left behind with a broken heart. She has political aspirations and is now a board member of the local Chamber of Commerce, on the verge of being voted in as president. She's not thrilled that Luke has been asked to come back to Chandler to be the parade grand marshall during the town's annual Ostrich Festival.

Meg dreads having to pick Luke up the airport, while Luke is eager to see Meg again. As they become reacquainted, all sorts of old feelings resurface, but they are set on very different career paths, and neither wants to give up their dreams.


Throw in a young paparazzi photographer looking for her own big break, a brother with a lot of resentment issues, and a couple of parental secrets being revealed, and you have an enjoyable romance that makes you root for the characters to get together while wondering how on earth they will ever be able to have an HEA, and very happy when the resolution finally arrives.

16 November 2016

LOVING MERCY

TERESA BODWELL

Synopsis from Goodreads: Mercy Clarke had no trouble getting a hundred head of cattle to Abilene. Getting back home through five hundred miles of untamed frontier is something else again, especially with a handsome gambler like Thad Buchanan tagging along. He swears to pay her in gold if she guides him to Fort Victory, but she doesn't quite trust his fine manners and gentlemanly ways. And then there's that look in his eyes --- he could make her forget that she's sworn off men for good ...

As Thad sees it, the same rules apply to playing poker and loving women: it's all about knowing when to hold 'em. And come to think of it, a pretty lady like Mercy Clarke would fit very nicely in his arms. Now, if she could be persuaded to put down that rawhide whip and tell him exactly what she has in mind, he has no doubt they could come to an agreement that will satisfy them both. No doubt at all ...

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Zebra Books, 2005.

How acquired: Bought.

My thoughts:  I’d not heard of this author before, but I picked this book up because of the cover. The picture is a little misleading, in that I did not realize looking at the cowboy on the cover that he was a Civil War era cowboy, not a contemporary cowboy. But I got over that pretty quickly and settled into the story.

We first meet Mercy and her younger sister, Miranda, as they are driving a herd of cattle from Colorado to Kansas, along with two hired hands. Mercy is a strong, serious, determined young widow, who I judged to be in her mid-twenties. She’s been running her ranch alone since her husband died and her father was severely injured. She’s borrowed money from a neighboring rancher, and she needs to get a good price for her cattle in order to repay the loan by its due date, which is fast coming up. If she doesn't pay, she’ll lose her ranch, and that is what drives her. She is all about that ranch, and being the boss of that ranch. Miranda is 19, a typical young, flighty girl. The two hired hands are surly, and resent taking orders from a woman.

Then we meet Thad, a name I almost dislike just because I never know whether it should be pronounced with the th sound, or pronounced as Tad. Which shouldn’t matter when you’re reading silently but I like to know the proper pronunciation of names. I finally settled on Thad with the th sound, since his full name is Thaddeus, and you wouldn’t pronounce that as Taddeus. I don’t think. Thad has an unspecified injury that affects his arm/shoulder at times, and his father and brother both died in the war. After the war he worked on the family ranch with his mother, and after she died he ended up losing the ranch. Now he’s trying to get to Colorado, where his sister and her family live, and he’s looking for someone to guide him through the unfamiliar territory.

Mercy flat out refuses to let him travel back to Colorado with her, but as luck would have it her two hired hands demand their money and inform her they are not returning with her, leaving her to face the long trip back with just her sister. The fact that they would be two women traveling alone doesn’t seem to bother her, but she does prefer to travel with more than two people as there is safety in numbers, especially when you’re carrying a lot of cash with you. And as luck would also have it, Thad’s sister happens to be Mercy’s best friend. She’s often heard Clarisse talk about her “baby brother”, and even though she wants nothing to do with Thad, who she thinks is a no-account drunken gambler, she also knows how much it would mean to Clarisse to see her brother, so she grudgingly agrees to take him with her, along with another young man who is friends of her family. With the understanding, of course, that she is the boss.

I liked Thad right off the bat. What little money he has comes from his poker winnings, so he does spend time in saloons, but he doesn’t drink, and does not consider himself a gambler, as he only plays poker, which he explains is a game of skill. Where Mercy’s mission in life at the moment is her single-mindedness drive to sell her cattle and return home with enough money to save her ranch, Thad is single-mindedly determined to find someone to guide him to Colorado. His sister has told him she knows a widow who would be a perfect wife for him, and the thought of marrying and starting a family and working a ranch again appeal to him. When Thad mentions that to Mercy, she speculates that Clarisse probably intends to introduce Thad to a widow they both know who has two young sons, and she spends some time telling Thad about her. Despite the fact that Mercy is also a widow, it never seems to occur to either her or Thad that maybe Clarisse meant Mercy, though I assumed so immediately.

I was caught up in the story from the beginning, and enjoyed Mercy’s and Thad’s interactions. They’re attracted to each other of course, and Mercy is determined to not acknowledge that. She’s been hurt before, and she doesn’t plan to ever marry again. From the brief mentions of her husband, you get the impression that he was not kind to her and that their relationship was not on good footing (though later in the story we get a better look at their relationship), and she is bent on protecting her heart now. And even when she admits to herself that she likes Thad, she’s still set on not getting involved with him, because he wants a family, which she can’t give him. I’m particularly drawn to stories where the hero and heroine bicker with each other and find each other frustrating and trying, and this book had that in spades.

And then I was suddenly jolted out of the story when, on page 88, the author tells us “Thad was only twenty-three, but sometimes he felt like an old man.” Twenty-three! I was picturing him as being in his late twenties, maybe even thirty. At this point Mercy’s age has not been mentioned, but if Thad is only twenty-three, then Mercy is probably also younger than I thought she was!

After I got over that shock, I settled back into the story. And finally, about fifty pages later, Mercy, too, is surprised when Thad tells her he is twenty-three, saying “Really? I thought you were closer to my age.” She then reveals she is twenty-seven. So I was right about her, at least. But I had to take a few second to wrap my mind around this, as I am not a fan of older woman/younger man. However, I realized at this point I’m way to invested to care about that, and thinking back now I like that the author revealed their ages the way she did. It added some realism to the buildup of their relationship.


On the trail home there are plenty of adventures, as they are attacked, more than once, and grow closer, and push each other away, and get closer again. And by the end of the book I was getting a little weary of the constant push and pull and wanted to knock their heads together and tell them to just admit they want to be with each other. Everything resolved nicely in the end, if a bit pat, and I really enjoyed this sweet western romance.