Monday, December 28, 2015

Meru (Documentary)

Meru (Documentary)

Three climbers, Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk, attempt to ascend Meru, a mountain in the Himalayas, up the Shark’s Fin route which looks exactly as it sounds.  They are not successful.  While planning a return trip all three face hardships, each worse than the last.  Conrad has to decide if he can leave his wife and children, a family that already lost one father to a climbing disaster.  Jimmy miraculously survives an avalanche and is soul searching to figure out what to do with this second chance at life.  Renan suffers a horrific head and neck injury but against all odds recovers and believes he is ready to climb Meru, despite the warnings of his doctors.  All three return in October 2011 to Meru and conquer the peak.

I have no desire to rock climb, and this movie reaffirmed that for me, but the visuals are astounding.  Seeing the tent secured in midair off the side of a peak and knowing that these guys were able to sleep that way was the perfect illustration to me that these guys love what they are doing and trust in their gear and each other.  This is a stunning film that brings home the realities of the dangers of this sport in a number of ways, but the perseverance of these men, and the sights we as the audience get to see, make this a documentary not to miss. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

House of Thieves by Charles Belfoure

House of Thieves by Charles Belfoure

In 1886 in New York City John Cross has a successful profession as an architect, a society wife, a son who just graduated with honors from an ivy college, a daughter that is getting ready for her coming out and a young son who is the apple of his family’s eye.  Everything seems perfect, but all the members of this family are hiding secrets.  Each is miserable under the constraints of society and longing to escape.

George, the eldest son, has a severe gambling problem.  He is $48,000 in debt to James Kent, the dashing leader of the gang Kent’s Gents.  When Kent learns of George’s father’s profession he has an idea.  Kent approaches John Cross and asks him to make a deal.  If John helps Kent pull off lucrative robberies by providing architectural intelligence to the gang, George can live and a small percentage of the take will be applied to pay off his debt after each job. John will do anything to save his son, including embark on a life of crime.  Trouble is he is actually enjoying himself.

It was really interesting watching this proper upper middle class family mingle with, and enjoy the company of, the lower classes  Even though all the members of the Cross clan get involved with the criminal element you still like them and hope that they will succeed in their crimes and getting out from under Kent and his gang. 

Yet another novel by this author that would make a wonderful movie!  The ending is action packed and the reader of the audiobook does a great job with the voices, building the tension and quickening the pace when it needs to happen.  I’m looking forward to book number three.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

When a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare

Are you in the mood for something light and fun and romantic for your holiday vacation?  You can’t go wrong with a book by Tessa Dare, especially this one.

For Miss Maddie Gracechurch the worst thing imaginable is mingling at balls and simply being in large groups of people.  So when her family sends her to Brighton just before her coming out for some soul searching she creates the ideal fiancĂ© – a highland Captain, Logan MacKenzie, off to fight in the Napoleonic Wars.  She writes him often, addressing and posting letters to her imaginary Captain for years until she feels it’s been long enough and kills him off.  (Don’t worry, he died honorably.)  Imagine her surprise when her betrothed shows up at the doorstep of her castle, very much alive, with brogue and kilt intact and verra verra real.

Yes, Maddie addressed her letters to Captain Logan MacKenzie, a not unheard of name in Scotland and a real person received them.  He needs a home and a stable life for himself and his men and a fiancĂ©e with a castle is a perfect start.  How can she refuse him after pining and mourning for him for years?  So what that she never even met him.  Can she really admit that now?

It was interesting putting a talented and smart woman in the role of purposeful spinster because of her debilitating shyness as well as a real/imaginary hero; both are definitely different in the world of romances, at least the ones I have read.  The premise is amusing and the banter between the characters is witty and refreshing.  Of course it all ends happily with bumps along the way, this is a romance!  And, of course, that is why we want to read it.

Half a War by Joe Abercrombie

Half a War by Joe Abercrombie

The final entry in the Shattered Sea trilogy will keep you turning the pages!  While you could have read the second book without reading the first, I recommend that you read the first two (Half a King and Half the World) before starting this book.

The stories of Yarvi and Thorn are at the forefront once again as the High King’s army kills the king of their ally Throvenland.  Yet one royal escapes Throvenland, Princess Skara, and her gentle way unites the armies building up to fight against the High King.  Only half a war is fought on the battlefield the rest is words, deception and manipulation.  Will our three heroes come out of the war unscathed in body as well as soul?

I have shied away from epic fantasy for a while because I didn’t want to get sucked into a story that lasts for multiple volumes, each one long enough that it seems like three books in one.  This series is different.  It is definitely a trilogy (it ends) and all three volumes are less than 1,000 pages combined.  It is also very different from any other fantasy I’ve read.  The writing is spare, the world seems to be ours at a point in the very distant future and the unexpected happens all the time.  This is war after all and sometimes the actions, deaths and betrayals are completely unexpected.

If you are missing Game of Thrones and want to get completely absorbed in a fantasy story and still have plenty of time to refresh yourself in Westeros, try the Shattered Sea.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Lake House by Kate Morton

The Lake House by Kate Morton

In true Morton style this is a tale where a mystery from the past encroaches on, and is solved in, the present.  In 1933 the youngest child of the Edevane family goes missing during a large Midsummer’s celebration at the family home of Loenneth.  Seventy-years later Det. Sgt. Sadie Sparrow, on leave from the London police force, is walking in the Cornish woods with her grandfather’s dogs when she stumbles upon an estate lost in time.  She has rediscovered Loenneth, left very much as it was when young Theo disappeared.  Sparrow begins digging into the unsolved mystery, hating to leave a puzzle unsolved, and finds herself captivated by the Edevane’s and the secretive living heirs.  What happened to young Theo?  After seventy-years will she be able to uncover enough clues to puzzle out the crime?

A great choice on audio, but it is quite long; an ideal choice for the listener who wants to get lost in the English countryside.  While I enjoyed the book it was a tad too long and I guessed the ending way before the characters did which I found disappointing.  Fans of her work will still want to read this one, but if you are looking for a new author to try read The Forgotten Garden by her instead.  

Friday, December 4, 2015

Carrying Albert Home: The Somewhat True Story of a Man, His Wife, and Her Alligator by Homer H. Hickam

Homer Hickam (the elder) has had it with Albert.  He was innocently using the toilet one morning when Albert jumped out of the bathtub and snatched his pants.  Now the entire town has seen Homer out in his yard in his skivvies as he gives his wife an ultimatum – either Albert goes or he does.  His wife Elsie didn’t want to make a decision right away but eventually decides that Albert does need to go…back to Florida.  It’s only right that he return to the place of his birth.  So begins the journey to bring Albert home.

The author had me at alligator.  I think alligators are just awesome with their toothy smiles and amazing prehistoric looks.  Put an alligator in a washtub in the backseat of a car for a road trip and I’m in! 

I finished this book a few days ago and was wondering what to say.  I liked it overall, especially Albert and his personality and love for just about everything including his mother.  I will admit that at the start Elsie is hard to like, but as the book progresses you get to understand her, and by the end her actions all make complete sense.  Read on the surface it’s a road trip, dig just a tad deeper and it’s all about letting go of the past and coming to terms with the present and your future.  The one thing I am still pondering?  The rooster.  An unnamed rooster goes along on the road trip.  I think I know why he was there in a symbolic sort of way, but it’s a bird that can be many colors. 

A good choice if you want a book that will make you laugh and also tear up a wee bit at the end (in a happy way) that also makes you think a bit after you close the covers.