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review 2018-03-08 03:19
Secrets of the FDR White House
White Houses - Amy Bloom

White Houses, Amy Bloom, author; Tonya Cornelisse, narrator I thought the novel would be more about Eleanor than Lorena Hickok, however, it seemed to me that it turned into a book about alternate lifestyle love affairs more than anything else. Between Parker Fiske and Lorena Hickok, the characters alternated between tawdry and sympathetic. I would have preferred the novel to be in the first person of Eleanor Roosevelt, not Lorena Hickok who lent a crass and foulmouthed image to their relationship. I learned little from the book, other than the fact that Lorena was abused, unhappy and pretty much lived off Eleanor. I had never heard of Eleanor described as a beauty, as she is in the book, but her sexuality was always in question. I knew FDR was beloved. I had a better opinion of Eleanor prior to my reading than after reading it so I need to do some more research into her life. I always admired her and wanted to be as strong and dedicated to helping others as she seemed to be. Lorena’s picture of her is of a self-interested person, not as devoted to the cause of others as I had been previously led to believe, i.e., that she was the kindness and compassion behind FDR, and when he wasn’t compassionate, she had failed in her effort to make him so. Moving back and forth in time, I learned little about the relationship between FDR and Eleanor, a little about his relationship with his secretary, Missy LeHand, but mostly about the life of the rather crude Lorena. She made Eleanor seem as tasteless as she was. It disturbed me to think that Eleanor fell for someone so low-class, who pretty much went from bedroom to bedroom, who spoke like a truck driver and behaved like a bull in a china shop, at times. Also, I don’t believe that their relationship was as openly gay as the author made it sound since I never heard a whisper about it as I grew up. It was only in my adult world that it was even suggested. Eleanor was a paragon of virtue and goodness to most people, as a matter of fact, I always thought that if I could be anyone, I would like to be her. Now I am not so sure of my choice. Leonora Hickey is portrayed as a bit crass, openly lesbian, arrogant and, on the other hand, as the sensitive side of Eleanor, as the one who encourages her to reach out and help others. In the time of their relationship, over several decades, I would have thought their relationship would have been handled by each, a bit more delicately. Certainly today, in light of the way varying sexual choices have become normalized, the book could have been kinder about their descriptions, at least, although I did not need, in this book or others, with heterogeneous relationships, detailed descriptions of their lovemaking, even when handled in a delicate manner. That is for the bedroom, and I believe the bedroom should be private. It is a private space. So, Leonora was turned out at the tender age of 13, after her mother’s death. She briefly went to live with a friend whose mother helped her. She obtained menial jobs, worked as a nanny, even worked with a circus. She was a cook, a maid and even a thief. She did whatever was necessary to survive. There was a brief period, until she could run away from her father, a terribly selfish and brutal man who sexually abused her, when she was his cash cow for whatever she could earn. She eventually becomes a journalist, although, I am not sure what exact route really brought her there, and found herself in a relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt which prompted her employment and move into the White House. The portrait of Eleanor is not pretty. She is unhappy, disappointed with FDR, seems to sleep around a bit and is not able to deal with his illness well, or his shenanigans, although from the book one gets the idea that both she and FDR had their own idea of fidelity and living with each other compatibly. I am not sure what message the book wished to send; perhaps it was just the story of Lorena Hickey with the White House as a backdrop to make it more interesting.

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review 2018-03-06 22:55
A good story about how Palestinians live and are forced to live by circumstances often beyond their control!
Salt Houses - Hala Alyan

Salt Houses, Hala Alyan, author, Leila Buck, narrator

I have both the print and audio version of this book. It is read well by the narrator who interpreted each character with the unique nuances each deserved. Each chapter is devoted to a specific character, as time passes. The lives of Palestinians who are ex-pats and the lives of those who have been forced to become nomadic because of the constant wars in so many of the Middle Eastern countries is explored in depth and with feeling, often with tenderness as well as incredulity. The author has only a few moments when she appears to be passing judgment on anyone or any country, but when she does, she usually only presents one side of the issue, emphasizing implied American involvement and/or Israeli atrocities, which I found as a shortcoming. Also, therefore, a lot was left up to the imagination when it came to who was the enemy and who was the victim, without giving the reader a fair rendering of the situation so a fair judgment could be made. The story about Mustafa could lead one to believe he was brutally abused in an Israeli prison, along with Atef, his brother-in-law, but with no proof or explanation of why, and there was no affirmation of whether or not the implication was true. I am not in favor of torture, but if my children were in danger, I would be in favor of it, if it would save them, so it is a difficult concept to wrap one’s head around. The why of the event was missing inspiring the reader to make a judgment which might be based on unfair information.

Conflict has existed in the Middle East forever without adequate explanation of both sides of the issue, although there have been some books written that do a better job, they are not widely read so most people are grossly uninformed on this subject and just educated by headlines seeking to attract the most attention, not necessarily to relate a truthful picture of events, complete with cause and effect. There are reasons for the Middle East wars on both sides of the aisle, but they were not clearly explained in the book, rather the simple, normal lives of this Palestinian family over five decades is detailed as their homelands, religious practices and moral standards morphed into more western ways. Was this a good thing for them? It is hard to discern the author’s message since she rarely passed judgment on events or individuals, and seemed to give the events a cursory glance.

As the years passed, from the mid sixties to the present, the absorption of the young people into more westernized cultures was presented without prejudice. Often, the Palestinians, sometimes called Arabs as if it was a curse, fit nowhere, because they had lost the place they would have called home.  As they migrated to America and European countries, they picked up the prevailing habits and ways of life, some of which they preferred and some of which they realized was corrupting their culture, the fear many in the older generation and mosques voiced out loud. They had the choice to follow their origins or to discard some of its demands, and often, they picked and chose the customs that were more appealing.

I wish the book had had a glossary since many of the Arabic words went over my head, and I would have liked to understand the meaning. I think I may have lost some of the message because of my inability to grasp the true intent of the author; however, she did a masterful job presenting the Palestinian, not as a warmonger but as a person who wished to survive amidst the constant turmoil. She has done what so many before have not been able to do. Although the author seems to have idealized some of the characters, she has also normalized the Palestinians and the plight of their lives.

As the young and old lost both their country and their culture, one of the ancestors also lost her memory. This posed a stark counterpoint as one was involuntary and the other completely voluntary. Still the memories of the past reappeared in their thoughts contrasted with their ideas about their present lives and those thoughts were often not welcome. Special moments were remembered by each..

If the theme being pointed out was the danger and/or benefit of forgetting one’s roots, deliberately or by accident, it was done well. Each wanted to regain that special identity they had lost over the years with the destruction of their dreams, the loss of their property, the reduction of their ability to adhere to their religious convictions and the inability to retain as much of their culture as they would like because of events beyond their control, unrest and wars occurring frequently. They also wanted a bit of the frivolity of the other side of life they were exposed to in the foreign lands. Each time they moved, they had to adapt and so did their culture. These Palestinians were presented in the natural world, not as anomalies or enemies, but as upwardly mobile people who wanted what everyone wanted: peace, freedom, shelter, food, acceptance, love and happiness.

In the end, we are all the same. We want our families to be safe and our lives to be rich with the appreciation of each other and the joy of being together.


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review 2018-03-04 15:35
Scary House by Sean Thomas Fisher
Scary House - Sean Thomas Fisher

SCARY HOUSE featured genuinely scary scenes that I enjoyed!


There's nothing like a good haunted house tale to get my heart pumping. Combine that with a coming of age story and I should have a real winner on my hands. In this case, I did enjoy the story, it's just that I never felt quite connected to the characters.


Gavin and his friends are getting ready for Halloween and want to check out a somewhat nearby haunted house. Gavin had his new Polaroid, (this is the early 90's), and used it to take instant photos around the home. The house has a history, so when they find an old photo album still there, they flip through to find out more. It's when they come across a picture of their bikes, parked outside that they start to get the creeps. From there, as you may have guessed, things go downhill. What happens then? You'll have to read SCARY HOUSE to find out!


There's a lot of early 90's nostalgia, a Jurassic Park watch is repeatedly mentioned as are some other heavy metal and rock bands, such as Nirvana. (Which is funny to me, because the author used to be a DJ at my local rock radio station and it played a lot of music from that era.)


This book was fun and did have a cool premise. Unfortunately, I couldn't help feeling it was somewhat derivative of King's IT. (It must be hard to avoid that comparison, when it's a nostalgic coming of age story which also involves a group of kids coming back to town as adults.) The other issue I had was that I didn't care that much for the characters. For me, that fact took a lot of tension out of the final scenes.


Overall, I did have fun with this story and would try more from Sean Thomas Fisher in the future, it's just that SCARY HOUSE didn't turn out to be that scary for me. Your mileage may vary!


*I received a free Kindle copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest review. This is it.*

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review 2018-03-02 18:06
Glass Houses (Men at Work: Tall, Dark & Smart #11) - Anne Stuart

Dude on cover looks more like your friendly neighborhood MD or pharmacist than a business tycoon.


Heroine owns art deco high rise in NY (and also a modeling agency). Hero is developer who wants to put in a modern plaza on the block her building occupies - the whole block. Alrighty then.


I do get that real estate is like, gold there. Seems though that some nods to an architectural gem should be made. I mean; I'm trying to imagine the architect who'd brush off something like that so casually. And maybe thinking they're in the wrong business. Just imagining the reaction if word got out that someone wanted to bring down the Chrysler building and put in a soulless high rise.


But that's neither here, nor there. It's just that as a plot point, it's kinda weak. And well, there's not much said about how the surrounding buildings were brought down.

So our H is determined to buy, and our h is determined not to sell. And because his lawyer is having no luck, he decides to try himself. It does backfire on him, because she gets under his skin. It's one of those frenemy sort of things - once contact is made, he keeps finding reasons to see her, even though things always seem to end in an argument...except when they don't.


There's a lot of other drama that's kind of filler - a new model for her agency, who tries to blackmail them, the model's ex who wants to know if he really is an ex (because the cow didn't just tell him; she slunk off), the receptionist and her as-yet unrequited crush on a male model (which gets resolved. Yay?). There's also the H knowing the report that the building needs some serious work because it's becoming unstable and using this knowledge to cause damage to the structure.


Eventually, the damage has results - the building has to be evacuated. The h, in a moment of enlightenment, signs the papers, gives her receptionist half the agency, and leaves for CA.


As grand gestures go, I'd guess deciding to remodel the old building while having new plans drawn up for the rest of the block is a pretty grand one. And it gets her attention - she comes back...and signs that last bit of paperwork she'd ignored all attempts by lawyers to get signed. It's a prenuptial agreement. Sneaky. V. sneaky. She didn't even look at it first; just signed it.

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review 2018-03-01 22:30
Deadfall Hotel by Steve Rasnic Tem, narrated by Matt Godfrey
Deadfall Hotel - Matt Godfrey,Steve Rasnic Tem,Steve Rasnic Tem

THE DEADFALL HOTEL is a beautifully written story, though difficult to describe with any kind of clarity. To vaguely set the scene: a recently widowed man accepts a job as caretaker at a somewhat remote hotel, bringing along his young daughter. The current, elderly caretaker is the one who recruited him, and will be available for on the job training, in the hopes that he will soon be able to retire.


Anyone going into this book expecting something like King's THE SHINING, or Matheson's HELL HOUSE, is probably going to be disappointed. While the Deadfall does have some ghosts hanging around, the story isn't really about them. Then again, it's not really about the living people at the hotel either. (Remember when I said this is a difficult story to review with clarity?)


Here's how I viewed it, (or tried to view it), and that was by looking at each chapter as its own separate story; connected only by their setting. King of the Cats, for instance. Yes, living people were in the tale, but it was mostly about the cats and the hotel. The Craving-yes the caretaker in training was part of the story, but only incidentally.


In these little vignettes, the author really shines, (especially in regards to the werewolf and the vampire), but when it came to the living people, the narrative didn't work as well for me. I enjoyed the characters, but they did a LOT of things that weren't believable. Towards the end, a few of their confusing actions were explained, (like why they went there in the first place), but the father repeatedly putting his daughter into danger was something that was not explained to my satisfaction.


Aside from these issues, I truly enjoyed this story. I've long been a fan of Tem's writing, but other than his novel UBO, (which I loved), I've not read any of his longer works. I pulled over in my car, so I could bookmark this quote from the audio:


"Fall is but a whisper in these environs. With so much death and decay on display year-round, we hardly notice the autumn and so it truncates, crawling off sullen and insulted by our lack of attention."


As I said above, I listened to this story, and I loved the narration-especially the voicing of Jacob, the elderly caretaker. Most chapters started off with quotes from his journals over the years and I think those were my favorite parts.


Even though DEADFALL HOTEL wasn't quite what I was expecting, it did grow on me, and I did end up enjoying it. I would go there for a visit...as long as I didn't have to go near that godawful swimming pool. (Trust me, that pool was SCARY.)


Highly recommended for fans of dark fantasy, and/or weird tales!


*I received the audio of this book free of charge from the narrator with no strings attached. I chose to review it anyway. Furthermore, I consider the narrator to be a friend, even though we've never met in person. That fact did not affect this, my honest review.*

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