Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Book Review - Venetia by Georgette Heyer

From Sourcebooks:

A young lady of beauty and intelligence facing an unbearable choice...

Venetia Lanyon is one of Georgette Heyer's most memorable heroines. Beautiful, capable, and independent minded, her life on the family's estate in the countryside is somewhat circumscribed. Then a chance encounter with her rakish neighbor opens up a whole new world for Venetia. Lord Damerel has built his life on his dangerous reputation, and when he meets Venetia, he has nothing to offer and everything to regret. As Venetia's well-meaning family steps in to protect her from potential ruin, Venetia must find the wherewithal to take charge of her own destiny, or lose her one chance at happiness...

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As a part of the month-long celebration of Georgette Heyer’s birthday, I ventured to read her work for the very first time.  I chose Venetia, originally written in 1958, sixteen years before her death in 1974 of lung cancer.  Georgette wrote more than 50 novels and is particularly beloved by Jane Austen fans, as she frequently wrote in the Regency period and with Austen’s style.

I must say I was extremely impressed with Heyer’s writing.  While she was a 20th Century novelist, her tone so closely matched that of Jane Austen’s, it’s easy to believe that she is of another era.  She captured the period of the early 19th Century perfectly, from common customs of the time, down to snippets of English dialect that were completely unfamiliar to me.  On more than one occasion I was opening my dictionary to discover new additions to my vocabulary, to my education and delight.

My reading list has been heavy with Austenesque novels this year, so it was refreshing to be in this time period with all-new characters and storylines.  Venetia was a delight to read, with vibrant characters, chaste romantic tension and a couple of savory plot twists near the conclusion. 

Heyer’s titular character is very enjoyable—she’s innocent in some ways, but smart and knows how to stand up for herself.  She cares for those around her, from her slightly-handicapped younger brother, down to the household staff she has been given to manage in the wake of family developments.  At age 25 she is nearing the age of spinsterhood, but values her affections enough to only marry for love.  This proper young lady finds herself attracted to a local, attractive rake and must find a way to either resign herself to being without him or defying the social conventions.  She also has to deal with several challenges within her family—her selfish elder brother and his nightmare of a mother-in-law, her younger brother who prefers books to people, and a number of issues surrounding the estate left behind by her cheerless, deceased father.  Venetia has much on her plate, and she handles it all with intelligence, wit, and selflessness. 

I cannot recommend Venetia highly enough.  The quality of writing is excellent, the story is well told and the characters are memorable.  However, if you’re looking for a quick, fluffy read for the beach, this might not be for you.  Be prepared to settle in and just enjoy this one.  Have your dictionary at the ready and take your time.  It’s well worth it.  Venetia is a remarkable character, and Georgette Heyer is quite the author.  Her beloved reputation is well deserved, and I look forward to reading more from her.  Stay tuned for my next review, which will be of her novel, Sylvester.

*          *          *

Central Casting
(How I'd cast some of the characters on screen)

Venetia – Amy Adams
Lord Damerel – Matthew McConaughey
Aubrey – Chris Colfer
Conway – Heath Ledger
Charlotte – Diana Agron
<<Spoiler Character>> - Kim Cattrall

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wednesday Contest Report

If you like YA or if you just have a healthy and robust wish list, head on over to Missy's Reads & Reviews.  She's having a 1000 Followers Giveaway, with tons of books available to win!  The contest is international, and the deadline to enter is September 4, 2011.  Here's the link:

Good luck!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Blu-ray Review: The Fox and the Hound / The Fox and the Hound 2

If you enjoyed The Fox and the Hound as a child, or if you have young children about, you may enjoy Disney's latest re-issue on Blu-ray.  Stop by and check out my review of The Fox and the Hound / The Fox and the Hound Two 3-Disc 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Guest Post - The Fifth Dimension by Estevan Vega

Welcome to the next stop on the Partners In Crime blog tour for Arson by Estavan Vega!  

Just over a year ago I reviewed the novel Arson by Estevan Vega.  While some of the content was a little dark for my taste, I still count myself as a fan of this young author and am excited to see where his work will take him in the coming years.  Like myself, Estevan is a Christian.  Today he has graciously offered up some reflections on spiritual matters in the below guest article.  And if you like, there is also an excerpt from Arson at the end of this post as well.

Welcome Estevan, and thanks for your thoughts!

*          *          *

The Fifth Dimension
By Estevan Vega, author of ARSON, ASHES,
and the upcoming Sacred Sin

There comes a point in every writer’s career where a choice must be made. A series of choices, actually. Characters, plot points, and dialogues aren’t exactly what I’m referring to, though. That’s all furniture to me. What matters is this question: what is your story trying to say?

It is blatantly obvious in our ever-changing, moody, and politically correct world, that saying whatever we want and getting away with it is a luxury most can’t afford, at least, not if obtaining countless friends is the goal. But this isn’t a Facebook contest, right? It seems like a rather clear contradiction, still, that there are those who do make a significant ripple in the media water by pushing the envelope. But this is humankind we’re talking about, so the envelope-pushing always tends to dance toward the negative. Nevertheless, furniture, bad politics, and envelopes aside, it is imperative for your story to stand out…to say something.

I’ve always been fascinated by the writers and musicians who put their very blood and sweat into the art that they create. The ones who have something spiritual to discuss. The ones who’ve endured a monumental change or experienced an epiphany that forced their perspective into a new direction. Something that gave them new life, a new identity or purpose. That’s the stuff that speaks to me at the deepest level, because it reaches my soul. It makes an impact on me because it made an impact on them. Granted, a tight action script or a fun party song sweeps me up as much as anybody, and it has its place in certain moments, but the bands and writers that have made lasting impressions are the ones that revealed a distinct and honest truth, even if I wasn’t ready for it.

For example, I’m a huge fan of The Twilight Zone, that bizarre show from the 60s. Rod Serling and Richard Matheson were brilliant poets scripting the undeniable elements of the human condition. Their stories were often grim but accurate to who we were and still are as people, and there is a distinct theme throughout that suggests there is something not right with our world.

I live in this not right zone. You probably do too, but perhaps you fear what it might mean.

Recently I got into an argument with one of my father’s friends about politics. Well, I viewed it more as a discussion, and she viewed it more as Hiroshima getting invaded by atomic weapons. After I made one comment, the conversation went nuclear. Now, having seen the aftermath and mushroom clouds, perhaps I shouldn’t have invaded. But then again, why are we so terrified by confrontation? Why must we squelch our identity or our worldview simply because it isn’t mainstream? Now, that term mainstream has evolved and decayed over time, I’m well aware. Mainstream fifty years ago might have been a white picket fence and a white family who attends a white church. Things have changed. Now, in New England, anyway, you’d be hard-pressed to find a decent church, or a family with a white picket fence who isn’t part-suicidal and part-mixed breed, like myself. (Note, I’m talking about the latter part of that comment, just so we’re clear.) I may be slightly stressing a point here. My point is this: The two greatest discussions one can have seem to be discussions pertaining to the spiritual and the philosophical. This is where the big G takes a bow and politics takes a much overdue curtsy. How one perceives his place and purpose in the universe greatly alters how one perceives the political arena and further, how one perceives his role in all aspects of life. How one believes in his heart, so he will do.

In our ever-growing, ever-indulgent pursuit of knowledge and independence from a Creator, humanity continually manages to screw up, and screw up royally. But we like to live as though nothing really matters and it’s okay to believe and live and do whatever we see fit. After all, there’s no king in the land to tell us no.

But there is still something not right here.

And this is the friction. This is the arena that makes the most sense, the thing most worth fighting for. This is purpose. People ask me why I write what I write. Why do I flirt with disaster? Why do I inject the spiritual into the fallen? Why do I dwell so much on characters that live in the in-between? The answers are simple: because we are the men and women of the in-between. I write because there is something underneath my own human, hypocritical, egotistical, misled, misinformed, selfish skin, something that breathes and is real. It is a part of my fallen human condition. I refuse to believe that humankind is the sum of all existence. I refuse to believe that we are only the product of miscalculation and bad science. I refuse to believe that there is no hope or purpose, though at times, this seems like the easiest and most direct path to follow. I believe I was made and not just born, and I write to expose this reality and to expose the empty and the false. It doesn’t really matter if I outsell Stephen King or James Patterson. My stories are unique. They are dark, but they are never without light. My stories are honest, but it doesn’t mean they are always wholesome or that they will be accepted by all. My stories cut into the skin, and they’re not afraid to make you bleed. My stories are you and me. They are real. They might make you question what you believe, who you are, and what you’re on this dying planet for.

I don’t write to simply preach a good message, because frankly, I’m not so sure I’ve got the whole salvation and rugged knees routine down when it comes to creating thrilling fiction. I don’t write to make millions (though, if you know how a guy can…um, never mind); I don’t write to receive glory alone. I don’t write to give believers perpetual bliss, in spite of my own convictions. Likewise, I don’t write to piss off other groups, though, admittedly, it doesn’t hurt to have a few haters. I write because I was made to write, and because I also made a choice. I realize this choice may alienate some while ministering to others. I realize that in this game, I mostly play the hypocrite, an imperfect man seeking to be re-sculpted. And in that journey, I have discovered that there is a fifth dimension, as Serling often said. It is a dimension of sight and of sound and of mind. In that dimension, anything is possible. In that dimension, we are the villain and we are the hero. We are the arson and we are the boy. In that dimension, a bridge can be built and a wall torn down. I can be who I was meant to be, and so can you. I can write what I believe in and invite the readers to hear and see and experience this imperfect but created world. The real world. The world of what if and what’s next.

Consider this your invitation.

-E, author of ARSON, ASHES, and the upcoming Sacred Sin

Excerpt from Arson:

The lake was quiet.
A lazy fog hovered over the surface of the gray water, whispering in the wake of currents and steady ripples. The world seemed dead to Arson Gable, silent anyway. Like the calm before a storm.
It waited.
Arson stepped off the porch onto the lawn; his mind was swimming. This was where he came most mornings while Grandma slept. He cut his gaze toward the lake, that black womb which rested beyond and beneath the rickety dock. It was as if the lake knew his name and his heartbeats, much like the streets and corners of this town knew his name, cold and faceless as they were. Whether he wanted to admit it, this place was home, and there was no going back.
A bright light burned in the sky, somewhere far enough for him to notice but close enough to nearly blind him. He breathed deeply and blinked, welcoming the dark rush of black behind his eyelids. From where he stood, he could see the towering oaks rooted deep in the ground. Their thick branches stretched upward into the clouds, some parts draping over the shady spots of the worn-out cabin. One final glance and he was reminded that these tortuous, beaten things seemed to swallow the world. Just thinking about them—how he’d watched them ruin—made him seem small, so worthless.
Arson made a fist and felt the heat swell in his grip. He wanted to run into the brush, to get lost deep in the small section of backwoods Grandma had forced him to avoid ever since they’d moved here. But he didn’t move.
This town seemed so close-knit and yet so separated. Less than a mile up the road were a country market, restaurants, and a bowling alley. There was even a liquor store, a cheap pharmacy, and some fast-food chains, and a few miles past that, a movie theater and a nightclub. But at the heart of this place was disunity, a fierce and futile fight to be known and accepted. Arson never understood why Grandpa had picked here to have the cabin built, right beside the lake.
As Arson slowly approached the dock, his mind returned to thoughts of Danny, the only childhood friend he’d ever had. Dim mornings somehow made each memory more real, hard to let go and even harder to erase. Was he always here, always watching? Odd how seven years could come and go without warning, as if the world blinked and somehow forgot to open its eyes again.
In all fairness, it had never been his grandparents’ intention to stay anywhere for too long, but it seemed East Hampton, Connecticut, had become a part of them now, a part of him. “One day we’ll be like the rest of them,” he recalled Grandpa saying—a man of ideals, empty dreams, and hopes Arson could never freely call his own.
Eventually, they had grown tired of running. This dull corner of the world seemed ordinary enough for them to believe starting over again as normal folks would be possible. “Forget what happened all those years ago in Cambridge,” Grandma said so many times that Arson imagined her screaming it to him while he slept. But it was always there—the memory—a splinter in the back of his mind. No going back. Ever.
Arson staggered across the dock, images of child play and stupid laughter pouring in all at once. Danny’s face stuck out the most, and behind that he glimpsed their old home in Cambridge and flashes of his first birthday. His mother wasn’t there, though, nor dear old Dad, but that day had been recounted to him only once by his grandfather, and it stuck.
Nevertheless, with every joyous memory, distilled regret was close behind. He sometimes imagined what it might be like to get thrown in jail by some nameless special agent and be forgotten, or to wake up and find strong hands squeezing the life out of him.
Arson was an unusual boy. A freak. He knew it. And he hated it. Whatever lingered inside his bones always left as quickly as it came, breathing out in short moments of fear or rage. Over the years, he’d asked to be examined to locate the source of his imperfection and if possible terminate it. After all, why did he sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with a fever? How come his sweat sizzled when it hit the ground? What was he?
Grandma always argued there wasn’t much point in talking to no-good doctors or even finding out answers to questions he was better off not asking in the first place. Some people were just born with demons, she’d say.
Arson swallowed hard and threw a stone into the water. The splash shattered his reflection, and ripples spread across the dark surface. He wondered why he was the way he was, wondered why those little girl’s parents quit looking all of a sudden, why the investigation against two stupid boys evaporated. Perhaps they didn’t care about retribution, or maybe they were just sick of chasing shadows.
I want to be free, Arson thought, nausea creeping up into his gut. While boats raced along the surface of the lake, Arson stared in awe. They vanished so easily, like mist gliding across the water and dissolving into nothingness. What if men could do the same? There was a man once, he’d heard, who walked upon water and didn’t sink. Maybe he could too. Maybe one day there would be those who believed in him.
Arson’s gaze moved over the lake, across to the other side, where Mandy Kimball lived, and her neighbor, his science teacher from the ninth grade. Then his eyes drew back to the ripples spread out before him, to the dying cabin behind him, as he spit. Beads of sweat streamed down his bony frame, his ash-brown hair trapped inside the gritty creases of his forehead. Arson listened for the lake’s soothing melody but couldn’t hear it. He focused instead on the sound his feet made atop the splintering dock, kind of like the way swings sounded in cheap horror flicks—empty, rocking back and forth to no melody at all. Closer to the edge he came, lingering.
With shut eyes, he stepped out onto the water and began to sink. Peace soon abandoned him to the lake’s shallow world. In a blink, he was looking through the eyes of a ten-year-old boy.
“I don’t like fire,” he heard the boy say, so frightened, so na├»ve. “It’s dangerous.”
“Don’t be such a wimp,” came his older friend’s taunts. “Just light it already.”

With each shove and curse, the memory turned alive; it was as if it knew he was watching and didn’t like it. The pain still stung, images wilting and dying, only to come alive again and again.
I. Hate. Fire.

Arson could feel the cold, could even remember the way everything sounded or how there was no sound at all. Until the night shattered. The weight of remembering dragged him down while he sucked in a filthy drag of water, his coffined body jerking. The veins on his head began to swell. He was choking.
Time to return to the real world, to release the nightmare once more into the dark of the lake. The struggle eventually pulled him to the surface. Slinging his head back and forth, Arson fought to bring himself out of the bitter current, eventually falling upon dead grass. He tasted the grit of sandy dirt in his teeth. Panting, Arson stood up slowly and staggered toward the cabin, where Grandma Kay’s shadow guided him in.

There was something strange that came over Grandma when she exacted punishment, like a part of her enjoyed it too much. She said fixing their leaky roof was a good and righteous way of killing the demons inside him. Nothing like hard work. She said there was no way a lake could cleanse a boy’s troubled mind anyway and that he was just plain stupid for thinking it could. To ease his frustration, Arson let himself believe that if he had been caught any other day, her scorn might have resulted in worse than fixing a leaky roof, which Arson would’ve had to do eventually anyway.
Grandma’s reasons for why she did things, why she treated him a certain way, seemed to get worse with time. It was no secret that she loathed the idea of him diving into the lake, especially if fully clothed. She even claimed there were toxins in the water from pollution that had supposedly killed a bunch of fish years back. But maybe it was a fair trade. He’d returned to the lake all the toxins he’d soaked up with every vile thought. When considered, Grandma’s logic didn’t seem all that twisted. She probably just didn’t want him bringing any of that evil back with him, infected or not. She was superstitious, so Arson made a promise he knew he couldn’t keep and said it wouldn’t happen again.
The muggy June morning caused his palms to sweat. Arson almost lost his grip on the bucket during the climb to the top but regained his balance before losing any supplies. Spiderman would have been proud. Reading comic books all his life came in handy now and then.
Grandpa took care of the cabin to the best of his ability, had even showed Arson how to repair the roof years back. “If you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself,” he recalled. But in spite of his grandfather’s hard work, it was clear that time eventually wore away all things, even hope.
Arson worked for about an hour before carelessness got the best of him. A loose, jagged shingle sliced through the palm of his hand. Blood gushed from the wound and onto his leg. He swore as the sting began to overwhelm him. He chucked the hammer and tried to keep pressure on the cut.
“What happened?” Grandma’s voice echoed from below. “I heard you cussin’ all the way in the kitchen. You know how I feel about that.”
“Sorry, Grandma.” Arson was glad she left it at that. Sitting on the roof, he turned slightly toward the sun. It’s a gusher, he thought. Then, as he stared in amazement, he watched the wound cauterize itself in seconds. It burned.
“Arson, are you all right up there?”
He looked down at the remaining scar, struggling to make sense of it, neglecting the mess on his clothes. “Just fine, Grandma,” he called down.
“That roof isn’t going to fix itself. If I have to spend another night with drops of water hitting my face, I promise you’ll regret it.”
“All right,” Arson said. “I’ll get back to work.”
By evening, the task was complete. He braced himself and watched the sunset from the rooftop as it melted against a fluorescent sky. Arson listened as Grandma concluded her tea conversation with the man she loved.
Moments later, their time together ended with laughter, and he knew it was safe to come down. Arson caught her while she was clearing away the silverware and china.
“Did you finish the roof, love?” she asked in a pleasant voice.
“Yes, Grandma. It’s healed…I mean, fixed.”
“Marvelous. Say, whatcha mean healed?”
Arson grabbed the ladder. “I’m really tired. I’m not thinking straight right now. Maybe I just need some rest.”
“I think you’re right. You’re not making any sense at all. Say, do you want a piece of cake before I put it away? Grandpa didn’t eat much tonight. He’s never been much for carrot cake.”
“No thanks. Not hungry,” he said.
“Suit yourself. Put your tools away and get on up to bed, then. A growing boy like you needs his rest. I hope you learned your lesson, though. I don’t like you spending so much time in that miserable lake. The very idea doesn’t sit well with my soul.”
Arson nodded with reluctant eyes and put away the ladder and the tools. Then he rushed inside the cabin and up to his room to read a comic book before dozing off. Maybe tonight his dreams would be different.

Connect With Estevan:

Tour Participants:
August 1 - Review @ The Musings Of A Book Addict
August 3 - Guest Post @ Tributes Books Reviews
August 4 - Guest Post @ The Top Shelf
August 5 - Review @ Gelati's Scoop
August 8 - Interview @ Beyond The Books
August 9 - Guest Post @ The Calico Critic
August 10 - Review @ The Top Shelf
August 11 - Guest Post @ Stuff &amp; Nonsense
August 12 - Review &amp; Guest Post @ The Bookshelf
August 15 - Review @ Oodles Of Books
August 16 - Guest Post @ The Book Faery Reviews
August 16 - Review @ A Good Day To Read
August 17 - Guest Post @ Terri Forehand
August 18 - Review @ Coffee and a Keyboard
August 19 - Spotlight @ Suspense By Anne
August 23 - Review @ Hypnotically Entranced
August 24 - Interview @ Book Marketing Buzz
August 25 - Interview @ The Children's &amp; Teens' Book Connection
August 26 - Interview @ Coffee and a Keyboard
August 29 - Review @ Frequent Reader, Infrequent Blogger
August 30 - Review @ Romancing The Book(Valerie)
August 31 - Review &amp; Interview @ Darlene's Book Nook


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