Cold, Cold Heart by Tami Hoag


When a good idea can be overdone…   ***

Tami Hoag is a good writer.  She can keep a reader turning the page, can give just enough twist that mildly surprises, and leaves you satisfied at the end.  This is one of those books.

While I thought I had it figured out, Hoag throws in a twist that made me doubt and kept me reading until she circled back to prove I was right.  This made it a fun read.

Having said that, there was still a major problem with the book.  The concept of having a character survive a serial killer and then try and repair their life is good.  The problem comes in when we hear repeatedly the same issues over and over.  Added to this, is the secondary character, who is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.  Between the two, we are inundated with second guessing and a lack of confidence.

There is a surprise in this book that I did not see coming. I won’t spoil it for you, but it does show how Hoag can divert the reader enough to be able to pull it off.

This one gets three stars.

Labor Day

four cigars

Four Cigars


Based on Joyce Maynard’s book, Labor Day is a study in the fragility of life.  It shows what can happen in a relationship to send someone over the edge.  In one case, into agoraphobia, in the other murder.

Set in a small town we find, Adele, a mother, whose husband has left her, raising a teenage son.  She has developed a fear of going outside which sets up her vulnerability.  When the mother and son encounter an escaped convict, who coerces them into taking him to their house, it is understandable how this could happen. The love affair that develops seems natural enough.

Through a series of flashbacks, we discover the reason for the incarceration.  The convict, Frank Chambers, accidentally killed his wife, who we learn has her own mental problems and has killed their child.  This helps in having sympathy for him as the story develops.

While this is a good film, I had two problems with it.  One, the flashbacks were confusing because in the beginning your not sure who they are about, Adele or Frank.  The second problem, is the ending, just a little to pat for my taste.

This film keeps you watching, and the tension is kept high as the climax approaches.

Four cigars for this one.

Mama Cried by Talia Haven


A Question of Forgiving…..    

When an author can write a story that grabs you, pulls you in, takes you on a roller coaster ride of emotion, then spits you out at the end causing you to re-examine your beliefs, they have done a good job. This would be that kind of a story.

It is hard to review this short story without telling what it is about, so read it before you finish this, unless you don’t mind hearing about it first.

Jenny is a young girl playing with other children who each have two puppies. Soon a guardian, Azula, comes for her and takes her into a concrete structure.  We discover that Jenny was killed by Theodore James Moore III, who is about to be put to death. Jenny is to decide the fate of his soul.

The crux of this story is that Theodore thinks he has been forgiven since he has confessed to a priest and been given absolution.  Here is where the twist comes in.  If only God can give forgiveness, then why is Jenny allowed to decide?  The answer is simple, yet profound theologically.  What if in this story, Azula is actually God and while a priest may be a representative, it is God who decides the instrument for judgement.  In this case, God is allowing Jenny, the victim, to make the decision.

This may be a short story, but the thoughts it provokes will stay with you a long time.

fourgolfpencils2I am giving it four golf pencils, not five, only because it does need another pass through a copy editor.

Saint Odd by Dean Koontz


As the Doors said, “This is the end”……      ***

It is not often one knows the end of a book before reading it.  If anyone who has read any of the previous books in the Odd series had any doubt, the title of this one, Saint Odd, clinches it.  No spoiler here, unless you have never read any of the previous books. If you haven’t, don’t read this one, or this review, because you will have no clue as to what is happening.

That said, this is a typical Koontz novel.  The story itself is thin, as most of his are, but it is the style of writing that keeps me coming back.  Dean Koontz is a word master.  By that I mean he can take something very simple and dress it up in lavish language, some of which we have to look up, which makes his novels enjoyable reads.  This one is no exception.  Koontz even gets his characters involved with the fascination of words as when Mrs. Fischer uses the word thwart, then proceeds to talk about how unusual a word that is.

This is the last of the books about Odd Thomas, we think.  It is sad to see him go, as he was a very colorful character and resulted in some of Koontz’s best writing.  I say “we think” because he does hint at the possibility of a sequel dealing with Odd in the afterlife.

The basic plot is about Odd going back home to Pico Mundo, where he is to have a final confrontation with the satanists who had, in a previous book, killed his girlfriend, Stormy.  The actual ending is anti-climatic, compared to the events that lead up to this confrontation. Koontz reminds us several times about the previous books, memoirs in this case, and even gets in a few lines about the difficulty of being a novelist.

This novel does wrap up the story of Odd Thomas and is a pleasant enough read. It gets three stars.

A Sudden Light: A Novel by Garth Stein


A not so bright light…..  ***


Some novels make you say “Wow”, some are not very good, and some fall in between.  This would be an in between novel.

The writing is good from a technical viewpoint. The characters are bland and one dimensional. The story is predictable and there are no surprises.  The main character, Trevor, is telling the story of what happened when he was fourteen.  The problem is that his interaction with his father, which is one layer in the story, doesn’t ring true.  Much of his conversation with his father is beyond what a boy of that age would say.

Serena, who is Trevor’s aunt, is supposed to be a femme fatal but Stein doesn’t develop her to the extent he could have.  The family history is the backdrop for this story but also adds too many layers to the novel.  We learn about the timber industry, boat building, and what gay relationships were like in the early 1900’s. All of which is fascinating but not gripping.

This is one of those books that when you finish it you say, “okay, what book am I going to read next?”.   This one gets three stars.

The Metadata Handbook by Renee Register and Thad McIlroy




Do not waste your money…. *


This book should have a bold sticker on it saying “Buyer Beware”.  It retails for $95, on Amazon it is discounted to $76.  This is an ebook!  Not only is it overpriced, $1.99 would be fair, but it has very little information in it.

If you have published a book through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iTunes Producer, or any other source then you were asked to include all the metadata this book describes.   There is a chapter titled “Enhancing Data to Stand Out In the Marketplace”, that basically just tells you to have an author page.

Everything that is in this book can be found by a simple Google search.  Based on the Amazon ranking it is not selling all that well and hopefully, my review will keep writers from thinking this text may have some benefit.  I purchased this book with Amazon points, thankfully not with real cash.

American Sniper

four cigars

Four cigars

Some movies make you laugh, some make you cry, this one makes you think.  It almost makes you think too much. When the movie ends and the credits start to roll, there is no background music, no sound, only silence.  This is fitting as one’s brain needs time to process what it has just observed.


The film is based on the true story of Chris Kyle (excellently portrayed by Bradley Cooper), who as a Navy SEAL sniper, was credited with over 160 kills while protecting U.S. Marines in Iraq.  It is directed by Clint Eastwood who manages to bring in just about every aspect of what being in combat is like, both for the soldier and those back home.  In some respects, it is too much to digest in one sitting.

The film begins by showing Kyle’s motivation for going into the military, love for his country, a desire to help defend America, the need to be part of a noble cause.  It shows the camaraderie that develops when men and women are thrown together in a life and death situation.

It dramatically shows the aftereffect of being in combat.  The disconnect between Kyle and his wife when he returns  between tours of duty is powerfully portrayed.  How can one person even begin to comprehend what combat does to another if they have never experienced it?

The film graphically depicts the realities of war and how a life can be taken so quickly.  There is an underlying message of just how this war, like Vietnam, was such a waste of life. The scene of a Navy SEAL being buried is poignant.  The soldier’s mother reads a letter (that I would love to have the words to) and then an officer hands the widow a folded American flag – the ultimate sacrifice of life, left with only a folded piece of cloth as remembrance.

In a discussion with his wife, Kyle is trying to relate to her, and makes the statement that while he and others are fighting a war, the people back home seem oblivious.  What an understatement! This country is so ready to send men and women into combat but also so willing to ignore the reality of it all.  Our biggest concern is how many friends we have on Facebook or how many followers we have on Twitter.  Ironically, a lot of the buzz over this movie is about how in one scene they chose to use a fake baby rather than about the messages of the film.

The saddest part is showing the cost to those who have returned and have lost limbs, sight, or the ability to cope.  The scenes in a VA hospital remind us of the real cost of a war.  One of the stains on this country is how we treat our veterans.  So willing to spend on war but not on those who have fought.  This is amplified by the ending where a Marine that Kyle was trying to help shoots him.  We are not told much more than that but he obviously was not mentally stable.

This movie makes you think.  It makes you angry.  It makes you proud. It makes you sad.

I give it four cigars, the fifth one I am going to smoke and reflect more on what I have just seen.



one cigar

One cigar

When I mentioned to people that I had seen The One Hundred Foot Journey, and how it inspired me to go deeper into the things I cook, they said, “Oh, then you need to see the Chef“.   Well, I tried.

It is not often that I start a movie that I don’t finish, but this was one.  There was nothing here that was inspiring nor worth watching.  Part of the problem was the film wasn’t sure if it wanted to be a comedy or a drama, it failed on both fronts.  The story line was not plausible, the acting was mediocre, and about half way through I had had enough.

One has to ask why actors like Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt, and Robert Downey Jr agreed to show up in this film.   I say show up because none of them were acting.   The lines they had were stiff and delivered as if they were reading a prescription bottle.

As for any kind of inspiration into cooking, if I used what this film brings to the table, I would just go back to frozen dinners from Swanson’s.

This one gets one cigar and that is being generous.


In Your Sights by Elizabeth Krall



Thunder from down under…….    *****


In my review policy I state that a five star review from me means that “you blew my socks off, surprised me, and I can’t wait for your next book”.  Elizabeth Krall’s novel did just that.  With superb writing, vivid descriptions, and meaty characters, she pulls the reader into the story and does not let go until the words “the end” appear.

Set in and around Sydney, Australia, this story is about a woman who has lost her husband to a hit-and-run driver and is trying to rebuild a life.  As she slowly begins to trust herself to explore new relationships, she finds herself caught up in a mix of violence, sexual exploration, and intrigue.  While being stalked on the Internet, and still dealing with the loss of her husband, her world becomes an even bigger nightmare when she is brought face to face with serial rapist..

This novel is layer after layer of human relationships and how we view each other.  The twists and turns keep you guessing and Krall’s no-holds-barred approach to writing is refreshing.  Her descriptions will unnerve you and yet keep you riveted to the page. Just when you think you have things figured out she takes off in a whole new direction.  Her characters come alive and you find yourself swept up with them as the story unfolds.

In Your Sights is book one of a Sydney Triptych, can’t wait for the next one.

Like I said in the beginning this one gets five stars.



The Gambler

three cigars

Three cigars


This was a very interesting film.

First, the actors. Talk about a mixed bag of really good actors, some in incredibly small roles. George Kennedy plays the grandfather who ironically dies as the movie starts.  I say ironically because I thought George was dead already. Andre Braugher, who was incredible in the TV series Homicide, has one scene, about two lines, and then is gone. Jessica Lange plays the mother and is amazing. If you have never seen her in Cape Fear, you need to. John Goodman, who is always good, takes on a very serious role and in my mind deserves an Oscar nod for this one. Mark Wahlberg gives an outstanding performance for the most part, although in some of the scenes his acting ability falls short.

What makes the movie, however, is the dialog. The philosophical discussions are riveting.  From Goodman’s diatribe on what constitutes one’s ability to say “Fuck You”, to Wahlberg’s lecture on what it takes to succeed above all others. The classroom discussions are a bit unnerving, and capture how many professors must feel. One of the lighter moments is the encounter of Jessica Lange and the bank officer is when she is trying to take out money.

The only real weakness is the middle drags a bit, and there are some scenes that are added without explanation. This is due to poor editing and makes the film not as good as it could have been.

The original movie, in 1974, starred James Caan and was one of his better acting roles.  It is interesting that in that film the debt was $44,000 and in the new version is $260,000. But the big difference between the two is the ending. In the original, one is left wondering, in the remake the ending is clearcut. Not to spoil it, but as the tension builds, even though you can guess the outcome, there is still some doubt. Wahlberg’s run at the end is a great metaphor for the freedom of having shed an addiction.

This could have been a four cigar movie, but I have to give it three cigars and a few ashes.