Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Book Review - The Retribution by Val McDermid

SynopsisTony Hill has had a good run. He and detective Carol Jordan have put away scores of dangerous criminals at a rate that colleagues envy. But there is one serial killer who has shaped and defined their careers, and whose evil surpasses all others: Jacko Vance, ex-celebrity and sociopath whose brilliance and utter lack of remorse have never left Tony’s mind in the ten years since his imprisonment. Now Jacko has escaped from prison—even more twisted and cunning than before, he is focused on wreaking revenge on Tony and Carol for his years spent in prison.

Tony and Carol don’t know when Jacko will strike, or where. All they know is that Jacko will cause them to feel fear like they’ve never known.

First LineEscapology was like magic.

Random QuoteWhich incontrovertibly made Terry the man who knew too much.  For him to reveal what he had done, to lay out the knowledge he possessed would the end of everything.  That was something Vance couldn't allow to happen.

ReviewVal McDermid is the mother of the British serial killer novel.  These are not American serial killers with the typical plot, Mr. Big Handsome and Damaged Sherriff/Police Officer driving around in fast cars to save the heroine at the last minute with everyone scarred, but deeper for their experience.  Not even close.

Val McDermid can write and has a bountiful imagination.  She writes fully fleshed characters, including evildoers who do evil that you wouldn't imagine in your wildest nightmares.  Her stand-alones are excellent, as are her series, my favorite of which are the Tony and Carol Jordan books.  Beginning with The Mermaids Singing, there are seven in the series.  My favorite is The Wire in the Blood (which is also a pretty good British TV series), but they're all excellent.

These books will shock you to your core, will keep you up reading late, and might give you nightmares.

St. Nicolas Church (1490) - High Bradfield, Yorkshire, UK (image source)
 The Retribution is the latest in the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series and it is well worth the read.  Everything between everyone in the series has gained a deep level of complexity and the return of one of McDermid's scariest villains - Jacko Vance - makes for a whopping good read.  If you haven't read the series and you love this kind of fiction, I highly recommend you start at the beginning and work your way through - you won't regret it.  If you're already a fan, this one won't disappoint.

As a sidenote for anyone interested in reading LGBT books, Ms. McDermid is an out lesbian and treats things like sexual preference as normal within the working environment.  Shocking, no?  It just makes me love her more.

Publication InformationAtlantic Monthly Press, January 3, 2012

FTC Disclosure:  Advance for review from Amazon Vine


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Book Review - The Hollow House by Janis Patterson

SynopsisDenver, 1919

I decided to use the name Geraldine Brunton. It's not the name I was born with, nor the name I married, but it will hide who I really am…and what I have done.

I've taken a job as companion to wealthy invalid Emmaline Stubbs, whose fragile exterior hides a will of iron. Despite its opulence, the Stubbs household is not a happy one. Emmaline's equally stubborn daughter and charismatic, untrustworthy son-in-law want control of her fortune, forcing the entire staff to take sides in their power struggle. I must tread carefully in this tension-filled household if I want to keep my job and my secrets.

Events take a deadly turn when Mrs. Stubbs is nearly killed and a maid is found murdered. Though I ought to keep a low profile, it soon becomes clear I must uncover the truth. Because if I don't, my past will make me the prime suspect ...

First Line:  "I decided to use the name Geraldine Brunton."

Random Quote:  I went, quickly, letting myself out the kitchen door and not even bothering to look for my hat or gloves.  Barring private gardens and the nigt I was carried away, beaten and bloodied, it was probably the first time I had been out-of-doors without a hat in my adult life.  My governess would have been horrified at such a breach of proper behavior."

ReviewThe Hollow House is a nicely fluffy historical mystery with an almost vaudevillian plot.  There is our heroine, running away from her past, living under an assumed name, working as a personal companion.  There is her employer - an old woman grown rich through silver mining, lonely, cranky, headstrong.  And then there are the murders.

Brown Palace Hotel - 1916 - Denver, CO (image source)
A book with almost mustache-twirling villains, evil, and derring do I found this eminently entertaining.  The almost gothic feel of the book is enhanced by its primary (and by primary I mean 99.9% of the book takes place there) location - the house.  Written in the funnest tradition of historical mystery this will entertain you.

Publication Information:  Published as an e-book by Carina Press - November 14, 2011

FTC Disclosure:  Received e-galley from the publisher via


Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme hosted by Miz B of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) random teaser sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS (make sure that what you share doesn't give too much away! You don't want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers! 

"I learned how to trail someone without being seen, to tell the true smiles from those that masked treason, to sneer at the flimsy hiding places underneath loose floorboards or under the pillows, places even the least apt of thieves could find.  I learned the virtues of distraction and the blessings of routine."

     - The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak

Monday, December 26, 2011

In My Mailbox Monday

Abandoned mailbox - Moscow (image source)
In December, Mailbox Monday is hosted by Jenny Q at Let Them Read Books. In My Mailbox is hosted by The Story Siren.  These are the places where we brag about share the books that arrived in our mailboxes each week.  As always, I try to find a mailbox that is somehow associated with what I'm reading right now.  I'm currently reading The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak.  It's historical fiction about Catherine the Great and takes place (so far) mostly in Moscow so a Moscow mailbox it is!

I got some really cool stuff this week!  I'm especially excited about the Richard Zacks book!  Sin!  Vice!  Teddy Roosevelt!

Printed Matter:

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott.  Tess, an aspiring seamstress, thinks she's had an incredibly lucky break when she is hired by famous designer Lady Lucile Duff Gordon to be a personal maid on the Titanic's doomed voyage. Once on board, Tess catches the eye of two men, one a roughly-hewn but kind sailor and the other an enigmatic Chicago millionaire. But on the fourth night, disaster strikes.

Archon by Sabrina Benulis.  Angela Mathers is plagued by visions of angels, supernatural creatures who haunt her thoughts by day and seduce her dreams by night. Newly released from a mental institution where she was locked away for two years, she hopes that her time at the Vatican’s university, the West Wood Academy, will give her a chance at a normal life. Unlike ordinary humans, Angela is a blood head — a freak, a monster, the possible fulfillment of a terrifying prophecy of overwhelming death and destruction. Only in Luz, the Vatican’s wondrous enclave, are blood heads accepted and encouraged to discover what kind of powers or special abilities they might possess.

Gun Games by Faye KellermanLAPD lieutenant detective Decker and his wife, Rina, have willingly welcomed fifteen-year-old Gabriel Whitman, the son of a troubled former friend, into their home. While the enigmatic teen seems to be adapting easily, Decker knows only too well the secrets adolescents keep—witnessed by the tragic suicide of another teen, Gregory Hesse, a student at Bell and Wakefield, one of the city’s most exclusive prep schools.  Gregory’s mother, Wendy, refuses to believe her son shot himself and convinces Decker to look deeper. What he finds disturbs him. The gun used in the tragedy was stolen—evidence that propels him to launch a full investigation with his trusted team, Sergeant Marge Dunn and Detective Scott Oliver. But the case becomes darkly complicated by the suicide of another Bell and Wakefield student—a death that leads them to uncover an especially nasty group of rich and privileged students with a predilection for guns and violence.

Strange Flesh by Michael Olson.  James Pryce, a Harvard dropout and now an elite hacker for RedRook Security has received his most tantalizing—and most personal—assignment yet. In order to understand his primary target, he must discover what led a gifted young woman to her sudden, brutal death. But his pursuit of the truth is not merely professional. The investigation, and its unexpected twists, ignite passions in James that are unlike anything he’s experienced…since Blythe Randall.   Blythe, the love of his life and the woman who broke his heart ten years ago, has hired him to locate her brother Billy—a billionaire multi-media artist who’s disappeared into a decadent online world called NOD. Billy Randall’s obsession is “the Bleed”: the moment when real and virtual selves intersect, where actions in one life breed consequences in another. James soon learns that Billy has designed a lavish alternate reality game, an escalating, high stakes virtual landscape of strange flesh.  And in order to find him, James Pryce must play along.

The Starlite Drive-In by Marjorie Reynolds.  When land developers uncover human bones at the site of an old drive-in, Callie Anne Benton realizes that she alone knows the identity of the victim who was murdered thirty-six years ago.  In The Starlite Drive-in Callie Anne recalls the tumultuous summer of 1956. She is nearly thirteen and stuck at home with her parents. Her father is an angry, bitter man and her mother is an agoraphobic who hasn't left the house in five years. When a drifter named Charlie Memphis comes to work at the drive-in, everyone's life changes. Callie Anne witnesses the development of an intense relationship between her mother, Teal, and Charlie, who eventually cajoles Teal out of the house but not far enough away to protect her from her ill-tempered husband. A disastrous turn of events eventually leads the grown-up Callie Anne to unlock the secret of the decades-old mystery.

Island of Vice by Richard Zacks.  When young Theodore Roosevelt was appointed police commissioner of New York City, he had the astounding gall to try to shut down the brothels, gambling joints, and after-hours saloons. This is the story of how TR took on Manhattan vice . . . and vice won.

For the Kindle: 

The Peculiars by Maureen Doyle McQuerry.  On her 18th birthday, Lena Mattacascar decides to search for her father, who disappeared into the northern wilderness of Scree when Lena was young. Scree is inhabited by Peculiars, people whose unusual characteristics make them unacceptable to modern society. Lena wonders if her father is the source of her own extraordinary characteristics and if she, too, is Peculiar. On the train she meets a young librarian, Jimson Quiggley, who is traveling to a town on the edge of Scree to work in the home and library of the inventor Mr. Beasley. The train is stopped by men being chased by the handsome young marshal Thomas Saltre. When Saltre learns who Lena’s father is, he convinces her to spy on Mr. Beasley and the strange folk who disappear into his home, Zephyr House. A daring escape in an aerocopter leads Lena into the wilds of Scree to confront her deepest fears.

The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood.  The Bellwether Revivals opens and closes with bodies. The story of whose bodies and how they come to be spread about an elegant house on the river near Cambridge is told by Oscar, a young, bright working class man who has fallen in love with an upper-class Cambridge student, Iris, and thereby become entangled with a group of close friends, led by Iris's charismatic, brilliant, possibly dangerous brother. For Eden Bellwether believes he can heal -- and perhaps more -- through the power of music.

Last, but not least, my son got me a great book for Christmas (as usual):

Jimmy Corrigan:  The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware.  This first book from Chicago author Chris Ware is a pleasantly-decorated view at a lonely and emotionally-impaired "everyman" (Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth), who is provided, at age 36, the opportunity to meet his father for the first time. An improvisatory romance which gingerly deports itself between 1890's Chicago and 1980's small town Michigan, the reader is helped along by thousands of colored illustrations and diagrams, which, when read rapidly in sequence, provide a convincing illusion of life and movement. The bulk of the work is supported by fold-out instructions, an index, paper cut-outs, and a brief apology, all of which concrete to form a rich portrait of a man stunted by a paralyzing fear of being disliked.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Book Review - A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Santa (image source)
Normally I put up a picture that is (relatively) appropriate for the holiday and go one about my merry way.  This year, I decided to re-read A Christmas Carol for the first time in probably 15 or so years.  It's been a fairly regular Christmas read for me, but I got out of the habit.  So I thought I'd combine a review with my holiday greeting.  First the greeting:

Happy Holidays to you all.  May you find joy and laughter with all those who are closest to you and may you books for presents.  Lots of books!

Now the review:

SynopsisThe story of Scrooge, a miser who becomes a different man when he is presented with visions of past, present and future by Marley's ghost. First published on 17th December 1843, it had, by Christmas Eve of that year, sold 6000 copies at a price of five shillings.

First LineMarley was dead:  to begin with.

Random Quote"Business!"  cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again.  "Mankind was my business.  The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business.  The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"

Review:  This has always been my favorite Christmas story.  The first time I came into its presence was in elementary school in Memphis, TN (Snowden Elementary School, in fact).  They called us all into the auditorium for an afternoon of Christmas movies - nothing religious, just the secular stuff - mostly old classics.  I have no clear memory of any of those movies with the exception of A Christmas Carol.  It was the 1938 British version with Reginald Owen as Scrooge.  I remember being utterly captured by it and looking for the book to read.  We read it aloud until I could re-read it on my own.

A Christmas Carol is a story about redemption - how one man, who has led a selfish and greedy life that has brought him no pleasure or kinship, gets a chance to revisit his choices and observe the consequences.  It's smart, funny, and, of course, very Victorian.

It is also one of the most timely and relevant books all year.  Forget the political reporting, the novels on current events, the magazine articles, and all the other things that have been written about the state of our economy and our political system.  Just read this.  It will tell you everything you need to know.  

The Ghost of Christmas Present
 From the notion that one's duty is to help the poor and ease their suffering to the punishment exacted of those who ignore this duty, this book is like a treatise on our times, on our ability to walk away from the starving on the way to our Christmas latte; on the fact that in a crushing economy there are no bread lines, no soup kitchens, no government jobs programs - just more children on the street; on the fact that most of our nation's wealth is in the hands of a very few who can't be bothered with anything in their lives other than grubbing for more money to buy their next 25,000 foot house in the country.  There is also the existence of people who rise above their poverty, who find joy in the small things of life, who struggle and who sometimes die, but who maintain the giving spirit of Christmas throughout their days.

I was humbled and delight by this book.  It was a delight to read, as always, and amazing how relevant it is even though it was written way back in the 1800's.  That's why they're classics - in case you ever wondered.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Reading Challenges for 2012

I'm always mixed about reading challenges - I don't like to be told what to for one thing, for another the whole thing can become sort of oppressive (mainly because I can't manage to find the discipline to track the books).  I know, I know, I have the discipline to maintain an active book blog, but making a little list is just WAY TOO HARD.

I'm going to try, again, to get over it this year by joining just a few select challenges in areas/subjects that I had planned to read on or know I will read no matter what.  Here they are, in no particular order (and some of them may include a rant cuz that's just how I roll)

2012 Mammoth Book Challenge hosted by Darlene's Book Nook.  I love the fact that this is happening and will serve as a replacement for The Chunkster Challenge for me (which I have joined every year I've joined a challenge).

/rant on The Chunkster Challenge has just gotten too filled with rules for my pleasure.  Among other things, the notion that one couldn't read a long e-book for that challenge really pissed me off.  See, I thought that reading big, massive, whopping long books was just that - to put in the time and commitment to see the story through - not whether or not you wanted to haul 3.4 lbs of book around (which I did this summer when I read A Dance with Dragons).  I love love love long stories and that has zero to do with loving to try to handle a book that heavy.  Among other things it's way too hard on the hands and wrists.  /rant off

Anyway there are rules and whatnot for this one, too.  I won't go into them, but you can read about them in the welcome post.

I'm joining at level 2 for 4 big books (it's likely I'll read more than four, but who can say how the reading year will go?

War thru the Generations Reading Challenge 2012 - WWI - hosted by Anna and Serena (it has its own blog and everything).  I've been planning doing some more WWI reading this year and am so glad that it's WWI for this challenge.  I love this challenge.

Again, there are rules and whatnot, but I'll let you read about them in the welcome post.

I'm joining at the Dip, but may do more since movies can also be included and I can think of several WWI movies I'd like to watch.

The European Reading Challenge hosted by Rose City Reader.  I was in Rose City Reader's first Battle of the Prizes and signed up again in 2011, but was completely remiss in paying any attention to it.  So glad to see a European Challenge!

Rules and stuff - here.

I'll be at Level Five (Deluxe Entourage).

Non-fiction Non-Memoir hosted by My Book Retreat.  Excited about this one because I read a fair amount of non-fiction.  And yes, some of it is memoir, but I read other stuff, too.

Rules and stuff - here.

I'm joining at the Elementary level, but reserve the right to read more.

Foodies Read 2 Challenge hosted by Margot.  Who doesn't read about food?!

Rules and stuff - here.

I'm joining at the Short Order Cook Level.

Eclectic Reading Challenge 2012.  The idea of this one is to read books from a list of 12 selected genres.  Happily, they're all genres I read from regularly since I am the original book whore - is it printed?  there are words and stuff?  kind of story (even if it's just the cereal's marketing story?)???!!!  SOLD!  This is not say that I have no standards because I do, but with books as with food - try it first, you can't say you don't like it if you haven't at least tried it (I consider myself a proud member of the snout to tail club given  how many different things I have and will eat).

Rules and stuff - here.

So there we go.  If Book Chick City does her Mystery and Supenseish challenge, I'll sign up for it, too.

As mentioned above I have a tendency to flake - not because I don't read the books, but because I kinda can't be bothered to keep track.  I'm working on that.  Also, this year I got kind of pissed off at the challenges that didn't maintain themselves, like not maintaining current link your review pages and that kind of thing.  If you're going to expect that I read a certain number of a certain kind of book, the very least you can do is hold that end of the bargain up.  I quit a lot of challenges last year because they're weren't maintained.  It's totally my thing, but that's how I am.  I also reserve the right to read more than I said I would or to wander off in some odd direction, but I'll try to be a goodish grrl.

Thanks to all of you for putting the time and effort into reading challenges, especially cuz you have to deal with cranky opinionated gits like me!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Book Review - Surviving the Angel of Death: The Story of a Mengele Twin in Auschwitz by Eva Mozes Kor and Lisa Rojany Buccieri

SynopsisEva Mozes Kor was 10 years old when she arrived in Auschwitz. While her parents and two older sisters were taken to the gas chambers, she and her twin, Miriam, were herded into the care of the man known as the Angel of Death, Dr. Josef Mengele. Mengele's twins were granted the privileges of keeping their own clothes and hair, but they were also subjected to sadistic medical experiments and forced to fight daily for their own survival, as most of the twins died as a result of the experiements or from the disease and hunger pervasive in the camp. In a narrative told with emotion and restraint, readers will learn of a child's endurance and survival in the face of truly extraordinary evil. The book also includes an epilogue on Eva's recovery from this experience and her remarkable decision to publicly forgive the Nazis. Through her museum and her lectures, she has dedicated her life to giving testimony on the Holocaust, providing a message of hope for people who have suffered, and working toward goals of forgiveness, peace, and the elimination of hatred and prejudice in the world.

First Line:  "The doors of the train car were thrown all the way open for the first time in many days, the light of day shining upon us like a blessing."

Random Quote:  "The sunshine warmed me up a little, and I tried desperately not to tremble so that the pflergerin, or nurses, would not notice I was sick.  I did not want to be taken to the infirmary.  On two occasions a twin in our barracks had become sick and had been taken to the infirmary.  They never came back.  The matching twin had then also been taken away and they did not return either."

Review:  I approached this book with some trepidation. How would it be possible to write a book about surviving Josef Mengele's twin experiments at Auschwitz?  How would it be possible to teach children about this horror without traumatizing them into lifelong nightmares?

Mengele's Twins at Liberation (image source)
Some of my trepidation came from my own perception of Josef Mengele as the most terrifying member of the Nazi party.  He was the living template for every doctor in every horror story ever - both before and after he was alive.  The coldness and brutality of his actions, couched in the guise of Important Science are among the most shocking things I've known about.  When I first read about him as an adult he appeared in my nightmares regularly causing stark, raving terror every single time.

Surviving the Angel of Death took my breath away.  Not only is it completely age appropriate, it is also one of the most inspiring stories of human endurance, sisterhood, and forgiveness I've ever read.  It's a book that, along with The Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank's diary) should be read by everyone.  It's not about the history, although that matters, it's about the human spirit - perhaps the sturdiest thing we all possess.

Eva and her twin Miriam (image source)
 I have been reading about and practicing some elements of Buddhism for many years.  I try, most of all, to practice mindfulness and compassion in every part of my life.  Sometimes I'm much more successful than others.  The one stumbling block in my life has always been forgiveness.  Part of me still believes in an Old Testament sort of notion that some acts are forever unforgivable.  Ms. Kors, the subject of a documentary, has spent much of her later life speaking and teaching on the Holocaust and forgiving those who did such terrible things to herself and her family.  Everything I've read about the importance of forgiveness and that it is a gift you give yourself coalesced for me in reading Ms. Kors talk about her life.  It's made it much easier to start working on forgiveness and, I think, will be life-changing in many ways I can't imagine right now.

(image source)
This is a powerful story and a powerful book.  It will haunt you and inspire you to rise above, to celebrate life's blessings.  A truly beautiful and life-changing read.

Recommended for readers grade 6 and above

FTC Disclosure:  Copy from the publisher for review via NetGalley - the paperback edition published by Tanglewood Press comes out in March of 2012.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Book Review - Backdrop: The Politics and Personalities Behind Sexual Orientation Research by Gayle E. Pitman, Ph.D.

Synopsis: “There’s a story behind every research study.” In Backdrop, Gayle Pitman narrates the “story” behind the science of sexual orientation – a science that has been rife with contradictions and controversies. Pitman argues that, when it comes to sexual orientation research, we could potentially glean more powerful insights from the backdrop of politics and personalities behind the research than from the actual studies themselves. Beginning with a focus on the causes of sexual orientation, moving then to the politics of transgender and intersex identities, and culminating in the political controversies of reparative therapy, “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and same-sex marriage, Backdrop brings into focus the rich and textured landscape behind the scientific research findings. Filled with plot twists and developments, variegated characters (the scientists as well as the activists and reactionaries), and thorny political, moral, and philosophical questions, Backdrop brings the science to life, raising more complex questions while simultaneously providing us with a more nuanced understanding of gender and sexual orientation.

First Line:  "What makes people gay?"

Random Quote:  "Why is this biologically-based line of inquiry so powerfully controversial?  Those who are more accepting of gay and lesbian individuals tend to adopt a biologically-based view of homosexuality, whereas those who are less tolerant or believe homosexuality is wrong tend to adopt a religious, choice-based, or damaged-childhood perspective."

Review:  I have been very fortunate that my life has been enriched since my childhood with close relationships with gay and lesbian people.  As an adult I've been privileged to know people who are transsexual and transgendered.  My parent's circle of friends was always a wide and diverse one - people of all kinds were in our lives and this was normal for me.  I observed a lot of racism as a child, but it never occurred to me that people were discriminated against for being homosexual.  I thought racism was weird, too.  After all, all these people I knew were diverse and I always thought of them as just other flavors of people to my childhood eye - why would you be mean to someone because of something like race or sexual preference?  Aren't people just people and don't all those differences make life more interesting?

Stonewall Uprising (image source)
 When I was 14 I entered the Arts Magnet High School in Dallas, Texas - that's the first place that I learned that people with different sexual preferences were discriminated against.  I learned this not because of the school - the school was liberal and weird and colorful.  Rather, I learned it from a friend I met there.  He was a truly talented ballet dancer - a true thing of air and light while dancing.  He was also a really interesting, gentle, and sweet guy.  We were both 14 and in our first year there.  Over time I learned that his parents had kicked him out of the house when he came out to them the summer before high school.  He was living in a studio apartment near school and trying to support himself.  That alone was impressive, but I couldn't fathom why it was happening to him.  How could you not be proud of someone so talented who was such a good person?  I've seen lots more ugly  since then and I still find it disturbing and impossible to understand.

Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence - Atlanta Chapter (image source)
 In college I studied biosocial anthropology and learned a lot about genetics and behavior and about other cultures and got a good look into all the ways that gender identity is fluid.  In many cultures different gender identities have specific roles within the group.  Reading history taught me that none of this was new and I found the whole thing fascinating.  Americans like for things to be black and white - you're this or you're that and no shades of gray lie between.  All the other possibilities are much more interesting.

Left to right - Abbey (my husband), Gina (my sister-in-law's wife), and Tyler (my sister-in-law)
Family is a beautiful thing!
Backdrop was written as a textbook for Dr. Pitman's class on "The Psychology of Sexual Orientation" taught at Sacramento City College, but it doesn't read like one.  Perhaps the best thing about the book is its approach.  I was taught in college and graduate school that all research is biased (yes, even the scientific stuff) - the choices people make in research topics, the things that they can and can't see, the ways they explain what they see to themselves and others - all of these things are influenced by who the people are.  Personal history, culture, religion, the times - all of these factors (and many more) influence research.  Bias is okay, but it's important to know your own and to understand that of others.

Billy Tipton - Jazz and Swing Piano Player and female-to-male transgendered person (image source)
Dr. Pitman's approach to writing an introductory text was to write not just about the research, but also the researchers and the context within which this research was conducted.  It's the perfect approach for a book like this, teaching so much on so many different levels.  Backdrop is a fascinating read and a well-written comprehensive introduction to sexual orientation research.  Whether you're in school or not this book is worth the read.  Highly recommended.

FTC Disclosure:  Copy received from the author for review


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Best Books of 2011

Everyone has their own notion of what makes a best book and we all love to put out our lists.  I'mprobably a bit late for Christmas shopping, but here are the top ten out of all the great books I read this year (links are to my reviews):
  1. In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson - one of the best WWII books I've ever read.  It has all Mr. Larson's subtlety and skill in historical narrative and is a must read.
  2. The Invisible Line:  Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White by Donald J. Sharfstein - if you're interested in American history and the fluidity of racial identity, this is your book.  If you're not interested in those things, this is still your book.  Brilliantly researched, well thought out, and accessibly written.
  3. A Thousand Lives:  The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown by Julia Scheeres.  Beautifully written, sad, and uplifting this book taught me some things about faith and my own pre-conceptions that will stay with me forever.
  4. In Malice Quite Close by Brandi Lynn Ryder - I love a good mystery/thriller and this one is head and shoulders above most.  A compelling novel from a debut novelist - I can't wait for her next book.
  5. A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin - the latest installment in Martin's series, A Song of Ice and Fire.  I wait impatiently for every one of these books and then curse Martin for how heavy the book is and how long I have to wait between books.  If you haven't read this series, you should.  It is, quite simply, amazing.
  6. Blood Red Road by Moira Young - I'm the first to admit that I'm a bit of a snob about the young adult books of today - so very many of them are so not worth the paper they're printed on and I think that's a shame.  Blood Red Road, however, was awesome.  Essentially a dystopian Western I loved every single word in it and have already read it again this year.
  7. Graveminder by Melissa Marr - Another writer I was prepared to be snotty about because I really don't like her young adult books, but this one - her first foray into adult fiction - really wowed me.  The world-building is interesting and fun as is the story.  It was so entertaining when I read it that I wanted to go back and read it again!
  8. Red on Red by Edward Conlon.  Mr. Conlon wrote one of the best memoirs I've ever read, Blue Blood, a memoir about being a New York City cop.  Ever since then I hoped he'd dip his toes into fiction and he did!  Red on Red is a police procedural, but it's much more than that.  On a deeper level it's all about partnering, particularly relevant for police officers whose partnerships often become much like a marriage.  It's honest and Mr. Conlon can write.  I'm so glad he wrote this one.
  9. City of Night (House Wars, Book 2) by Michelle West - The books that Michelle Sagara West has published as Michelle West are my other favorite fantasy series, along with A Song of Ice and Fire.  There is a duology, a six-book series, and now two more (I think part of a planned trilogy).  They're all set in a complex world she's created - the main city is Averalaan.  I don't understand why her series hasn't gotten more play because it's so good that there are times when I feel in need of comfort I take one or the other of them down and re-read.  Good story, good writing - what's not to like?
  10. Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys - a book about Stalin's war on his own people, this tells the story of being deported to Siberia during WWII from the perspective of a teenaged girl from Lithuania and her family.  This book, like The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, has inspired me to start looking for more to read on Russia and the Soviet Union.  Beautiful and heartbreaking it will stay with you.  Promise.
So that's it - my favorites published in 2011.  I promise that none of these books will disappoint and every single one will enrich your reading life.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme hosted by Miz B of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) random teaser sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS (make sure that what you share doesn't give too much away! You don't want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers! 

"'I'm afraid I have some rather troubling news,' Lambert said.

Uh-oh.  When men like Lambert used words like 'rather troubling,' most people would reach straight for 'nightmarish,' 'devastating,' or 'hellish.'  'What's that, then?'

'It's to do with Jacko Vance.'"

     - The Retribution by Val McDermid

Monday, December 19, 2011

In My Mailbox Monday

Mailbox - Bradfield, South Yorkshire, England (image source)
In December, Mailbox Monday is hosted by Jenny Q at Let Them Read Books. In My Mailbox is hosted by The Story Siren.  These are the places where we brag about share the books that arrived in our mailboxes each week.  As always, I try to find a mailbox that is somehow associated with what I'm reading right now.  I'm currently reading Val McDermid's new book that is coming out in January, The Retribution.

Here's what I got this week:

Printed matter (all from publishers or agencies):

A Walk Across the Sun by Corban Addison.  When a tsunami rages through their coastal town in India, 17-year-old Ahalya Ghai and her 15-year-old sister Sita are left orphaned and homeless. With almost everyone they know suddenly erased from the face of the earth, the girls set out for the convent where they attend school. They are abducted almost immediately and sold to a Mumbai brothel owner, beginning a hellish descent into the bowels of the sex trade. Halfway across the world, Washington, D.C., attorney Thomas Clarke faces his own personal and professional crisis-and makes the fateful decision to pursue a pro bono sabbatical working in India for an NGO that prosecutes the subcontinent's human traffickers. There, his conscience awakens as he sees firsthand the horrors of the trade in human flesh, and the corrupt judicial system that fosters it. Learning of the fate of Ahalya and Sita, Clarke makes it his personal mission to rescue them, setting the stage for a riveting showdown with an international network of ruthless criminals.

The Girl with the Crooked Nose:  A Tale of Murder, Obsession, and Forensic Artistry by Ted Botha.  Sculptor Frank Bender reconstructs the faces of murder victims to both identify them and to aid in their killers' capture. In this thrilling and fascinating account of Frank Bender and his work, readers will be drawn into the cases he has helped solve, the intricacies of his art, the colorful characters he encounters, and the personal cost of his strange obsession.

History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason.  An opulent, romantic novel, written in the grand manner, set at the height of Europe's belle epoque, about a handsome young man in his mid-twenties--a golden boy who secures a position as a tutor in the household of one of the most prominent bourgeois families in Amsterdam and his entry into a world of moneyed glamour and dangerous temptations.

The Immortalists by Kyle Mills.  Dr. Richard Draman is trying desperately to discover a cure for a disease that causes children to age at a wildly accelerated rate—a rare genetic condition that is killing his own daughter. When the husband of a colleague quietly gives him a copy of the classified work she was doing before her mysterious suicide, Draman finally sees a glimmer of hope. The conclusions are stunning, with the potential to not only turn the field of biology on its head, but reshape the world. Soon, though, he finds himself on the run, relentlessly pursued by a seemingly omnipotent group of men who will do whatever it takes to silence him.

For Kindle:

The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau.  When Joanna Stafford, a young novice, learns her cousin is about to be burned at the stake for rebelling against Henry VIII, she makes a decision that will change not only her life, but quite possibly the fate of a nation.  Joanna breaks the sacred rule of enclosure and runs away from Dartford Priory. But when Joanna and her father are arrested and sent to the Tower of London, she finds herself a pawn in a deadly power struggle. Those closest to the throne are locked in a fierce fight against those desperate to save England's monasteries from destruction.

Be sure to visit all the other mailboxes, but be forewarned - your book buying list will increase exponentially!