Book Review The House of Special Purpose by Colin Falconer

Title: The House of Special Purpose

Author: Colin Falconer

Format: Kindle

Published: 2012

As an avid fan of Russian history, I am always on the lookout for more books about it, especially books involving the Romanovs. It is well known that the Romanovs were taken into custody during the revolution, ostensibly for their own protection, and that they were eventually executed. What remains a mystery is what happened to them during those months of captivity. This book is an answer to that question.

Based on eyewitness accounts, this book fills in the blanks of what the Romanovs experienced during their months of imprisonment in the little house in Ekaterinburg. The family was treated decently at first, believing the rumors that plans were in the works to save them and spirit them out of the country. They were allowed outside, and while not exactly treated as royalty, they were not treated like despots who were getting their due (how the Bolsheviks envisioned them.)

When the Bolsheviks took over, things changed. The treatment worsened, and they were treated almost as if they were criminals such as rapists and murderers. The bathroom door was removed, forcing the girls to have zero privacy.  That was just one of the many indignities the family was forced to suffer. Conditions continue to worsen the longer the Reds are in charge of the Romanov’s imprisonment.  The executions are covered in more detail than I have found in other histories of this event.

Overall, Falconer does a wonderful job of putting you in the house with the Romanovs. You feel the dread and indignation they must have felt. This is the best history of the final days of the Romanovs I have found so far. He obviously did his homework on this book. With all the books I’ve read involving the Russian royal family, I am no longer easily impressed.  The author has managed to impress me. I give this one 5/5 pages. I highly recommend this one for anyone with any interest in history.

Book Review – Lord Sunday by Garth Nix

Title: Lord Sunday

Author: Garth Nix

Format: Hardback

Published: 2010

 

It is hard to believe that after all these years of having started the series and then abandoning it that I am finally here I have finally reached the end of this seven book series. After finishing this book I had to sit on my thoughts and feelings for this final book and the series as a whole because the ending was not what I had expected and even now several days removed I am left without words on how the book ends. My fellow reviewer Sara and I talked a bit about it and all I could do to express my feelings and thoughts was to gesture vaguely with my hands and make a questioning non committal sound.

 

The general flow of the story and the start of it was gripping. As I am reading the book I am on the edge of my seat as each thing happens. The book took the ante and upped it compared to the other books. The book moved between three main characters which was Arthur, Leaf, and Suzy and I did not find myself bored with any of the characters at all. While one chapter would end leaving me clamoring to know what happens next with the character that I was just reading I wasn’t tempted to skip because the person I was being made to read next was boring and everything from every perspective was hinged on the other a lot of times it very much felt that everything was all happening at the same time and it was important not to jump ahead any.

 

There were a lot of great twists and turns and some great characters in the story and I had a lot of fun reading. The story starts off right where the last book ended and Arthur found himself not being himself once more and becoming more than just a human which would have been annoying if it happened for the whole book but it didn’t and then shortly into the story – (spoilers, if you don’t want to know skip to the last paragraph please) Arthur is captured by Lord Sunday and is threatened to be tormented until he relinquishes the keys of the house to him. The torment is that of the Old One’s torment we saw in the first book, where his eyes will be ripped out every 12 hours.

 

With time ticking for Arthrur we find Leaf trying to get help for the sleepers that Friday had taken and in which she is being chased after Sunday’s Dusk to be taken as leverage against Arthur and Suzy is trying to get to a place where she can get help for Arthur as well. The story is complex and you are left thinking the Will is possibly evil something you have felt from near the start. Everything ends up culminating together, for there to be a large battle which was a good read and had a great clip to it – literally my nose was stuck in the book. Then came the end and that is where I was left wanting and maybe a little bit bothered. My normal rule is not the discuss the end of the book by far the end of an entire series but it was so lacking that I really want to discuss it and share, so if you are okay with spoilers but not knowing the absolute end please skip to the last paragraph other wise for those people who jump to the end of the book and read that first plunge forward with me.

 

At the end Arthur frees the last part of the will and takes the last key. There are a few old favorite characters with him like Dr. Scarmandos, Fred, Suzy, and Leaf. When the Will combines the Nothing is practically on top of them and then there is Nothing literally. Everything absolutely everything is gone, the house and all secondary realms are destroyed, all that is left is Arthur in the void but transformed into something more – he is the New Architect. The Will and the Architect design was for everything to be destroyed because the Architect was old and tired and wanted things to end for her and the only way that would work is if everything was destroyed – but it’s okay because Arthur who is not really any longer Arthur but the new Architect can rebuild everything how he wants. He debates what he wants to do and remembers the vague concept of who he was. He can’t bring back the house as it was save for the few people that were near him at the destruction of everything and he can restore the secondary realms as they were which includes the bombed city of his old home. He does this and splits a portion of himself who is the old Arthur and sends him and the recreated Leaf back with the news that Arthur’s mother, who was in the house at the time Nothing hit, is gone forever; so go home and deal with that and believe you are normal when really you aren’t.

 

Then the epilogue gives nothing more than to say the New Architect took on a less spectacular form and looks like a 21 year old Arthur who is talking to Suzy who asks about being older and apparently is, as she is okay with her reflection (no description here) and then Suzy asks if Arthur will remake the house and the few others. The Architect known as Art thinks he might make the house only better and he’s not sure if he’ll remake the others but decides to have some tea and biscuits with Suzy who is to be the new Lady Sunday. Literally the end. I was massively left wanted this epilogue was only 2 pages tops. I know as a young adult/children’s book words and page count are something to keep in mind because of the reader but seriously a sentence more about how Suzy looked wouldn’t have hurt things nor would a page or two more giving a better summary of things, though really what sort of crap is this? Sorry your mom is dead, good luck explaining that to your family who knows nothing of what you’ve been through. Sorry your attempt to save your city as well failed. Go have a ‘normal’ life and I’ll drop the bomb that you are not mortal later when it is more convenient. Of course, those aren’t my only complaints but we went through as much as we did for it just all be sort of erased with some sucky results. Yeah I was in shock at first but now that I’m writing I’m kind of mad!

 

Any way, for those who are joining me after skipping a few previous paragraphs due to spoilers I will state that while I started this review almost shocked and speechless I’ve become rather frustrated with the end and it was vastly lacking based on the journey the rest of the story took you though. I’ve looked into another book series by Garth Nix in the past and did have ideas of picking that series up to read and review but now I almost hesitate. Will he pull the rug out from under me again like he did with Keys to the Kingdom? I don’t know but I do know that I’ll think twice before I jump into more books by him. Over all I think I would give this book a 3 out of 5 pages because of the ending it would have had a solid 4 out of 5 pages if the ending had not been so lacking and enraging.

Writer Wednesday – Barbara Ehrentreu

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1. Who are you?
My name is Barbara Ehrentreu. I write under Barbara Ehrentreu.

2.What type of stuff do you write?
I write YA and poetry.

3. What do you want to pimp now?
My second novel, After, is going to be in print in September. After is a story about the struggles Lauren Walstein, a fifteen-year-old girl, has to go through when her father suddenly has a heart attack and undergoes bypass surgery. In one phone call her life changes completely. Lauren is a character with whom most teens will relate. Her best friend since kindergarten, Joey, is going out with her enemy and they have grown apart. Before the phone call all she thought about was getting a scholarship for softball, and the Mets. Suddenly she must deal with both her father’s illness and being in school. The demands on her from both ends complicate the story. In the middle of all this, she finds she is developing feelings for her best friend that are more than friendly. Is he feeling the same or is he just comforting her? In addition there is Joey’s mean girl friend Amber, who doesn’t appreciate Lauren being in the picture. Will Lauren’s father recover? How will Lauren cope with her new feelings for Joey?

Also I am working on the sequel to If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor called “Jennifer’s Story”. Jennifer Taylor, the girl who bullied Carolyn Samuels in the first book is getting ready for a very big meet that will decide her fate. Will she be training for the Olympics or will she have missed her chance? As the day gets closer for the meet she finds she is reverting back to her old eating disorder and that her parents are creating problems for her as well. Her father is running for mayor and her mother is drinking. Having to navigate these issues is making Jennifer crazy. She does have her good friend Carolyn and Brad her boyfriend to help her through it. However, Jennifer is still worried she might not get on the training team. Also, Maura, Jennifer’s oldest friend, has a new boyfriend who seems to be paying way too much attention to Jennifer. Will he cause a problem in her relationship with Brad?This is still a WIP, but I hope to submit it soon.

4. What is your favorite book?
When I was younger it was Alice in Wonderland. Then I loved Rebecca by Daphne de Maurier. Now my favorite books are by Dennis Lehane and Jim Butcher. I loved The Given Day by Dennis Lehane and The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. But it’s hard, because I am constantly reading such good books from my author friends.

5. What other hats do you wear besides the writer hat?
In addition to writing I am also a tutor. I am a retired Reading Specialist so I work with students who have difficulty in school due to reading problems. I am also a mother with two adult daughters.

6. What links can we find you at?
Find me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BarbaraEhrentreu

Twitter: @Barbehr

My blog: http://barbaraehrentreu.blogspot.com

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The best writing advice I can give to newbies

When I was first starting out I only knew I loved to write and the opportunity came for me when I was stuck in a hotel between places to live. My entire family consisting of two daughters and my husband, all adults, were squeezed into a two bedroom hotel room for a month and a half while we waited for our new place to be vacated. So every night I would tap on my computer and I finished writing an entire novel in that time. I revised it and had other people read it and then I thought it was ready to send to publishers. I got constant rejections and I gave up. It was a children’s fantasy and no one wanted it. Then I wrote another novel, this time it was YA and sent it to my critique group and they gave me excellent criticism. Then I had beta readers read it and they liked it. So I thought, great, this was ready to send out. I went to several SCBWI conferences and the editors gave us permission to send to them. So I started doing that and was met with rejection by every big 5 publisher. I put my novel away. I thought it would never get published, but a friend of mine was starting up a new publishing company. So I pitched it and she wanted it. This was such a long shot I thought I would never get it published. But I persevered and it did get published. First as an ebook and then in print.

My advice to anyone who is a newbie is to keep on trying. Take those rejections and save them and keep trying. Attend as many conferences as you can both physical and online. Online writing conferences are good places to meet all kinds of people. There are editors and publishers mixing with authors and writers. Physical conferences are good places to meet people too. Everyone mingles and you can meet editors and publishers across the table from you. Make the most of every opportunity to learn more about your craft. Workshops are excellent to take so you can hone your skills. Gather as many friends on Facebook and Twitter as you can and definitely start a blog if you don’t have one. Another great idea is to join writing groups both physically and online. All of this will help you to be a better writer and will immerse you in the world of writing and publishing. The last piece of advice I would give is again to keep on keeping on. Don’t give up if you feel your work is good. You are the one who is selling your work to other people. So tell people about your work whenever you can. Also if you can’t get it published the traditional way there is always self publishing these days for little or no money. If you want people to read your work you need to put it out there.

Book Review: The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The War of the Worlds by Manly W. Wellman and Wade Wellman

Title: The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The War of the Worlds

Author: Manly W. Wellman and Wade Wellman

Format: Paperback edition by Titan Books

Published: originally 1975, Titan Edition 2009

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As this is my first review for Book In The Bag, I should probably explain a thing or two.  I never go into a book looking to hate it or looking to love it. I have been reading as long as my conscious brain can remember and I enjoy it more than I do even breathing, even though the latter is more necessary, some would argue.  I go into every book I read with little expectation of anything except whatever may come.  Having said that, I tend to review positively more than I do negatively, and I think that has much to do with my absolute love of reading.

Secondly, a bit of why the heck I should be a reviewer anyone reads and/or listens to. Well, I probably shouldn’t, as all of us have our own tastes and such. Having said that, I am a Publisher (www.prose-press.com) and have been an author, published since 2010.  I also have an academic background that supports review and critique and that sort of thing.  Plus, it must be noted that I am quite opinionated and am not bashful about sharing such.  So, none of that may prove why you should read and follow my advice, but it at least hopefully explains why I feel like I’m someone who can do book reviews.

So, with all that out of the way, let’s get to the first review, which, you’ll learn, will completely go against the comment above that begins with ‘Having said that, I tend to review positively more than…’  And, in terms of this particular book, that actually sort of breaks my reader’s heart.

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The War of the Worlds was written by Wade Wellman and his well known author father, Manly W. Wellman.  By the title, the book obviously blends two iconic concepts- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.  What is not so obvious by the book’s name is that it also heavily focuses on another classic character of Doyles, Professor Challenger.

The premise of the book is that Holmes, Watson, and Challenger are all present in London when Wells’ War of the Worlds unfolds. As a matter of fact, we are told in the opening pages that Holmes and Challenger are in possession of an object that allows them to see across the vastness of space to what they deduce is Mars.  What happens next is essentially a travelogue of sorts of what Holmes and Challenger do leading up to and during, and even after the invasion from Mars.  Told initially in an omniscient way, the Wellmans halfway through the book, which started as a series of short stories, give a view of the actual ‘War’ first from Holmes’ perspective, then the same days from Challenger’s perspective, allowing us later in the work to hear a bit of Watson’s experiences over the same time frame as well.  The book carries through Holmes’ and Challenger’s study of the other world prior to the invasion, the actual landings, and the siege of London, all the way through the end of the war.  There are bits of action throughout, but largely this is a book of observations and summations by two of literature’s most exciting characters.  That is, until they were used in this book.

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The War of the Worlds is not only boring, but it is a complete and utter misuse of all of its source material.  The Holmes portrayed in this work is not anything like the Holmes of Doyle or most who have deigned to utilize Holmes since his creation.  Actually, the Wellmans go out of their way to illustrate that the Holmes we are all used to is nothing more than a mask, a parlor act hiding a man who is actually quite normal and prone to usual passions, one in particular.  We see a very cardboard version of Holmes in this book, one who in the very beginning makes a leap of logic that makes me want to eat my deerstalker cap, were I to own one.  Holmes’ ready acceptance of what the object he has shows he and Challenger is not only hackneyed, but it shows absolutely none of the deductive processes that I hoped I’d see.  It would have been absolutely wonderful to watch Holmes work through, deduce, and even struggle with what would have been the obvious result of his investigation into what the object revealed. But, no, he instead readily jumps to the conclusion and accepts that he and Challenger are seeing another world.  What happens following concerning Holmes leaves me positively riddled with boredom and is a complete waste of character.  And to top it off, the authors attempt to tie the end up by connecting something directly to Holmesian canon that really doesn’t belong and is obviously a sloppy ‘we need the fans invested in Holmes’ moment.

It is also quite obvious that the Wellmans based their interpretation of Doctor Watson solely on the Nigel Bruce portrayal, and not even the moments when Bruce was actually allowed to play Watson well, but all the moments of buffoonery.  Watson in this book is not only not intelligent, but he spends much of the time talking about his abject fright and fear and is no way a companion suitable for Holmes.  Add to that the amount of time that Holmes and Challenger both spend literally picking on him for being a dullard and you have everything anyone who has hated the awful ways Watson has been portrayed previously in the pages of this book.  One major issue I have is that there is a secret that exists that Holmes is keeping, one Challenger is privy to, and yet we are led to believe that Watson is in no way aware of this secret and is not smart enough to pick up on clues dropped by Challenger’s actions, including continually getting Watson away from Baker Street or yelling louder than necessary when the two approach Holmes’ door from being away.  I was not only disappointed by the portrayal of Watson. I was outright disgusted.

And then there’s Professor Challenger of The Lost World fame. In aforementioned book and other Challenger appearances written by Doyle, his creator does a wonderful job of showing us not only how intelligent Challenger is, but also of illustrating his high opinion of his intelligence.  Doyle does it like a surgeon, with a cutting comment here and there, a well placed scene showing Challenger’s superiority every now and again.  The Wellmans instead decided to hammer the reader with every chance given with just how arrogant and pompous and self inflated Challenger is.  The character portrayed here is so overly misogynistic, so entirely convinced of his nearly allegedly untouchable level of intelligence, that there is no way to invest in or like Challenger. Not only that, but every character in the book, including Holmes, seems to bow and genuflect at Challenger’s feet, taking him at his word that he is simply smarter.  The Challenger the authors present here would have been more an enemy, or at best a sparring partner with Holmes, and much of the book would have been spent with the two doing mental gymnastics with each other, which would have been much more enjoyable than what was put on the page.

As I read this book, I really hoped by the end of it I would be able to say that had the Wellmans written this with original characters, not using Doyle’s creations, then maybe it would be palatable.  But no, that’s simply not true.  The characters, original or not, are not likable, are not enjoyable, and have very little for readers to connect with.  The only linking factor is that they are Holmes, Watson, and Challenger, and the portrayals fail miserably here.

Lastly, the use of Wells’ Martian Invasion as a backdrop should have been something that invigorated this book, that made it more interesting, regardless of the characters.  Except that the Wellmans decided to cherry pick what they wanted from the original story, even going as far as Watson writing a letter pointing out what Wells got wrong in his version.  To be honest, the authors of this work seem quite angry at H. G. Wells and that is evident through the statements made by the characters.   The invasion of Mars was yet another point that the Wellmans could have just made up their own alien race, their own invasion, and nothing would have been lost from the work they produced.

I was first going to give this book a 2 of 5, the whole ‘if you must read, be warned’ thing, because it does have an appeal being about Holmes, Challenger, and the War of the Worlds.  After thought, though, I really, really can’t.  The complete misuse of the concept and characters, the lack of action and total reliance on almost monotone reporting of a rather lackluster event as they paint it, and the general overall style of The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The War of the Worlds makes it nearly impossible to read, especially for a fan of Wells or Doyle.  1 of 5 most assuredly.  Or, using my own scale, utilizing bullets rather than numbers or stars, I wouldn’t even load my gun for this waste of time.

Book Review The Ex-Boyfriend Handbook by Matt Dunn

Title: The Ex-Boyfriend Handbook

Author: Matt Dunn

Format: Kindle

Published: 2010

I’ll admit the only reason I even got this book was the title sounded funny. It turned out to be exactly that. The story begins with Edward arriving home to find his girlfriend of 10 years, Jane, has left for Tibet for three months. She also took almost all the contents of the apartment with her. The note she leaves blames him and lists his faults.

Edward turns to his TV host friend, Dan, and his favorite bartender, Wendy, for ideas on how to spend the three months that Jane will be gone improving himself so he can win her back. (~~spoiler alert..if you don’t want spoilers, skip to the final chapter of the review.~~)

Edward’s friend Dan, the proverbial ladykiller, has no end of ideas about the steps he should take to improve himself before Jane’s return. None of these ideas are easy or cheap. Wendy, on the other hand, thinks most of Dan’s ideas are bad ones, and she tries to get Edward to look at the emotional issues and see things from Jane’s point of view. Dan is extremely superficial. Even Edward sees that Dan’s ideas are not the best, but he follows along because Dan gets a lot of attention from women, despite the fact that Dan’s relationships have the lifespan of a housefly.  Dan suggests dental work, expensive furniture, speed dating, and other instant fixes that aren’t so much fixes after all.

Edward then decides to hire a personal trainer, Sam. Sam is hard on Edward from the beginning, pulling no punches.  He has a hard time keeping up with Sam, and feels tortured. Slowly, Edward gets better, slimmer, and starting to quit his bad habits.  Eventually, he starts to question whether Jane was good enough for him, instead of why he wasn’t good for her.  The ending is slightly predictable, but the book has had you smiling up to this point, so you don’t care.

Overall, this is a humorous look at breakups, and having been through a few of my own, it was nice to see a slightly funny take on them. You feel Edward’s pain, but you also smile at Dan and Wendy’s different takes on what he needs to do and why.  I give this one 4/5 pages simply for the light take on things. I’d recommend it for a vacation weekend read as it’s a quick read as well as a fun one.

 

 

 

 

Book Review – Superior Saturday by Garth Nix

Title: Superior Saturday

Author: Garth Nix

Format: Hardback

Published: 2008

 

I have to say that as I have found myself working my way through the Keys to the Kingdom books once and for all I feel in some ways that I have been on a whirlwind of a journey especially since the latter books, after the dreadfully dull Drowned Wednesday. Superior Saturday I think was a whirlwind in and of itself and is one of the shorter books in the series.  This story picks up pretty much right after Lady Friday.

 

Arthur sets foot on Earth seeing his last actions are completed to suddenly be told that his home and family are going to be blown up by the military and he has less than 10 minutes to get himself and his family into hopeful safety. As a desperate act Arthur uses his key to freeze time before jumping back into the house considering time runs differently there, not to mention issues from the house were quite present and he might be able to use the magic there to save his home.

 

Going back to the house via the fifth key Arthur finds himself in a whole lot of trouble as he is faced with an oncoming wave of nothing set to destroy him. He then used his key to save his life and stop the nothing but it caused him to physically change and become less human and more a denizen which is a result of using magic and having that infused into his body.   As a result Arthur throughout the book suffers from a conflict of character as he finds himself suddenly becoming self entitled to remind himself that he is human and shouldn’t be acting in such a way.

 

Arthur then sets out to find the sixth part of the will and the sixth key and it is one thing after another as he travels throughout the house to get there. It is an interesting story and a rather easy read and as I was reading I remembered something that I had thought of when I had first started to read the books, which is that each trustee that Arthur goes up against is a representation of one of the seven deadly sins. Monday is Sloth, Tuesday is either Greed or Pride, Wednesday is Gluttony, Thursday is Wrath, Friday is either Greed or Lust, Saturday is Envy, leaving Sunday to be either Geed lust or pride which I’m sure we’ll see soon enough and will help me better put a finger on what Tuesday and Friday are as well.

 

There are a few other things that happen in the book such as a side story with leaf and what is happening at Arthur’s home in the secondary realms but there are only a few chapters and not overly worth mentioning save for what happens at the end of the book. I of course won’t spoil the story but I can say that both Arthur in the house and Leaf on earth are left in a type of cliff hanger – something I have not seen any of the other books truly do, which to me adds to the whirlwind effect the book has had for me. Over all I think I would give the book another 3 out of 5 pages, as it was good and it held my attention, but there was nothing to rave about. I am curious as to what the seventh and last book will hold for me.

Book Review Red Hammer 1994 by Robert Ratcliffe

Title: Red Hammer 1994

Author: Robert Ratcliffe

Format: Kindle

Published: 2013

When I first saw this book, I was hoping it would be like one of my favorite books from the 80s, The Third World War by General Sir John Hackett (published 1979.) For the most part, I wasn’t disappointed in that respect. I’ve always been a fan of alternate history and “what if” stories. This appeared to fit nicely into that category. Red Hammer is based on the premise of a nuclear war fought in 1994. A struggling Russia elects an ultranationalist President who wishes to return Russia to the forefront of the world stage. He orders his military to plan a first strike nuclear option to cripple the United States.

Russia’s preparations are largely ignored, except for a couple of government officials who see what is happening and try to raise the alarm. Their warnings are mostly ignored and seen as paranoia or leftover Cold War mentality. As the first missiles are launched, the government is caught off guard, and has to scramble to react. An American President who cannot make up his mind and wants to believe it is all just a huge misunderstanding causes the plans to save the government to be largely ineffective.

As the war continues, we follow a bomber crew, a missile submarine crew, and several surviving government officials. I won’t list all the players here as the only disappointing element of the book was the lack of depth in the characters. They were pretty much stereotype cutouts without much to make them interesting as individuals. The author did do an amazing job of describing the escalation of the missile exchanges, and a couple detailed descriptions of the damage such weapons will cause.

Even with the cardboard cutout characters, it is still an excellent read. The “what if” aspect is very interesting and explored in depth. The ending leaves you wondering if the author intended it to be a series or not. I, for one, would love to see what happened next. I would give this book 3 out of 5 pages due to the lack of character development and the foggy ending.

 

 

 

 

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