Book Review: The Bricklayer by Noah Boyd

I honestly really enjoyed this book.  It kept me on my toes and I liked the characters.  The only downside was that I knew who the bad guy was pretty early on.  Aside from that, this was a great read.  If you’re looking for a suspense-filled summer read I highly suggest this one especially if you’re a fan of crime dramas.  I loved that even though I knew who they were going to catch in the end I couldn’t figure out how they were going to catch them. 

The author, Noah Boyd, is an ex-FBI agent and you can totally tell, or at least you can if you read a lot of crime novels like I do.  He writes like he knows what he’s talking about and that’s because HE DOES. 

I like that he throws in some ‘office politics’ but it’s not overdone.  There’s just a touch of romance as well but not enough to overpower the book which I think is great.  It’s really focused on the crime and how they’re going to solve it without completely muddling the story up with steamy sex scenes.  In addition, the main character, Steve Vail, does some things that require impressive physical prowess but it’s not so over the top that you wouldn’t believe that a guy who is an ex-agent and is currently working in the very physically demanding field of brick laying wouldn’t be able to do. 

This book gets two thumbs up from me.  Noah Boyd has two other novels (Agent X and Last Chance to Die) out now and I might just pick those up too!

 Here’s the synopsis from Barnes & Noble:

Someone gives you a dangerous puzzle to solve, one that may kill you or someone else, and you’re about to fail. . . . And there is no other option. No one who can help. No one but the Bricklayer.

The Bricklayer is the pulse-pounding novel introducing Steve Vail, one of the most charismatic new heroes to come along in thriller fiction in many years. He’s an ex-FBI agent who’s been fired for insubordination but is lured back to the Bureau to work a case that has become more unsolvable-and more deadly-by the hour.

A woman steps out of the shower in her Los Angeles home and is startled by an intruder sitting calmly in her bedroom holding a gun. But she is frozen with fear by what he has to say about the FBI-and what he says he must do. . . .

A young agent slips into the night water off a rocky beach. He’s been instructed to swim to a nearby island to deposit a million dollars demanded by a blackmailer. But his mission is riddled with hazardous tests, as if someone wanted to destroy him rather than collect the money. . . .

Vail has resigned himself to his dismissal and is content with his life as a bricklayer. But the FBI, especially Deputy Assistant Director Kate Bannon, needs help with a shadowy group that has initiated a brilliant extortion plot. The group will keep killing their targets until the agency pays them off, the amount and number of bodies escalating each time the FBI fails. One thing is clear: someone who knows a little too much about the inner workings of the Bureau is very clever-and very angry-and will kill and kill again if it means he can disgrace the FBI.

Steve Vail’s options-and his time to find answers-are swiftly runningout.

Book Review: Over Tumbled Graves by Jess Walter

Hi friends.  Miss me?  As some of you may have guessed the Hubs and I went on vacation for the last week.  We were in beautiful Lake Tahoe with some other members of my family.  It was amazing.  The weather was just outstanding.  90s during the day but practically zero humidity and it dropped into the high 30s at night.  Why do I live in Texas again?  Anywho, my apologies for my blog absence but upon returning we had major technical issues with computers and we’re also just having a hard time getting back into the swing of thing after being gone.  It’s vacation hangover. 

So guess what that means?  More book reviews!  You’re thrilled aren’t you?  Ha!  Well I couldn’t just leave you hanging and not tell you about the books I read by the hotel pool.  So, here goes…

Excerpt from Barnes & Noble:

During a routine drug bust, on a narrow bridge over white-water falls in the center of town, Spokane detective Caroline Mabry finds herself face-to-face with a brutal murderer. Within hours, the body of a young prostitute is found on the riverbank nearby. What follows confronts our fascination with pathology and murder and stares it down, as Caroline and her cynical partner, Alan Dupree—thrown headlong into the search for a serial murderer who communicates by killing women—uncover some hard truths about their profession . . . and each other.

Rich with the darkly muted colors of the Pacific Northwest skies, Over Tumbled Graves established Jess Walter as a novelist of extraordinary emotional depth and dimension.

My first thought when I finished this book was ‘God that was depressing.’  Don’t get me wrong, I love murder mysteries but geez in the end I just sort of expected everyone to jump of a cliff or something.  Criminal Minds is one of my favorite shows and it never leaves me with this down-in-the-dumps feeling.  Even though they find the guy in the end I still wouldn’t call it a ‘happy’ ending.  And what in the world is with all of the serial killers in the Pacific Northwest anyways?  Do people just go crazy because of all the rain or something? 

In the story two glory-hog FBI profilers are bought in and by the end of the book you basically just want to run them over with their cars.  They might be good at profiling serial killers, but they’re crappy people.  They’re way more concerned with the fame and getting their name in the papers than they are with the actual murders.  One guy doesn’t even want to get involved until the murders enter into the double digits!  Pompous ass.  I seriously hope that real FBI profilers aren’t that way. 

I liked the main character, Caroline.  She’s believable.  It’s nice that she doesn’t know it all.  She’s confused and she flounders and she’s real.  Her partner, Alan, kind of cracks me up.  He’s very sarcastic and sardonic but I get it.  I can totally see how being a cop for twenty-plus years could make you that way. I’m sure it’s his coping mechanism but it works. 

I will say that you totally don’t see the end coming, or at least I didn’t.  In that sense I truly enjoyed the book because it wasn’t predictable and I didn’t know how the book was going to end three chapters into it.  All in all, I’d say it’s a decent read but I wouldn’t suggest reading it if you’re having a bummer kind of a day… or if you live in the Pacific Northwest.

Book Review: Summer Hideaway by Susan Wiggs

If you’re looking for an easy read to keep you entertained by the pool, this is it. 

As we know I purchase 90% of my books at garage sale.  This means that sometimes, I get a book that’s part of a series.  Sometimes, the book is written in a way that I don’t need to have read the books that came before it in order for it all to make sense.  Other times, I’m not so lucky.  When I picked this one off the bookshelf the other day to read I noticed that it says ‘The Lakeshore Chronicles’ on the front and I thought to myself ‘oh geez, it’s part of a series.’  It turns out that this book is actually the seventh book in The Lakeshore Chronicles however, The Lakeshore Chronicles isn’t actually a series.  It’s more like a grouping of similar themed books (at least from what I can tell).  The characters don’t appear to cross over from book to book so you don’t need to read one in order to make sense of another. 

The imagery in the book is fantastic.  I found myself wishing I’d been part of the world fifty years ago and been able to spend my summers as a child at a place like Willow Lake.  I totally get why George Bellamy wants to go back there for his final days. 

Usually I can see the ending to a book coming and I’m rarely surprised by much.  At one point I turned to my husband and said ‘there must be a second book after this, I’m 50 pages from the end and I can’t figure out how they’re possibly going to end it.’  The book does end however, and in a surprisingly not-surprising way.  I have no idea how I missed the obvious but I did. 

Anywho, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and it’s perfect for your summer bedtime or poolside reading.  I would definitely read another Susan Wiggs book again which is good considering she’s got another 22 books in print right now.  There’s a good chance I’ll run across another one in another garage sale.  Happy hunting!

Synopsis of the book from bn.com:

Never get attached — Private nurse and protected witness Claire Turner lives by this motto. Fleeing a treacherous past, she knows no other way.

Never give up — In the twilight of his life, George Bellamy makes it his final wish to reconcile with an estranged brother. He and Claire journey to Willow Lake — where it all went wrong for him fifty years ago.

Never let go — George’s grandson Ross is ruled by a fierce devotion to family and a deep mistrust of the mysterious Claire…yet sparks fly whenever she’s near. In the face of a wrenching loss, amid the enchantment of Willow Lake, Ross and Claire dare to risk everything for love.

Book Review: The Associate by John Grisham

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I am, obviously, behind the times.  This is the first John Grisham book I’ve ever read.  The Firm, his first book, was published in 1991 and was a hit back then so I’m a little late to the game. 

I have to say that I started reading this with some fervor and was rather enthralled until about the last quarter of the book.  Honestly, I could see most of the story being rather believable up until that point.  I’d give the first three quarters of the book four stars, and the last quarter two stars so we’re giving this sucker a mid-grade so-so rating.  As I’d say… ‘meh.’  Sadly I don’t have a whole lot to say for the book other than that, mostly because if you want to read it I don’t want to give anything away. 

I will say that I was talking to someone I work with about the book and he said ‘oh you should have started with The Firm’ so I take that to mean that there are better Grisham books out there. 

Also, I’ve been told numerous times that I’d make a good lawyer.  Reading this book made me happy I never decided to pursue that path.  I’m sure that not all firms are handled the way that they’re portrayed in the book but considering my luck I’m sure I would have ended up in one just like that. 

Here’s the overview from Barnes & Noble:  

If you thought Mitch McDeere was in trouble in The Firm, wait until you meet Kyle McAvoy, The Associate

Kyle McAvoy grew up in his father’s small-town law office in York, Pennsylvania. He excelled in college, was elected editor-in-chief of The Yale Law Journal, and his future has limitless potential.

But Kyle has a secret, a dark one, an episode from college that he has tried to forget. The secret, though, falls into the hands of the wrong people, and Kyle is forced to take a job he doesn’t want—even though it’s a job most law students can only dream about.

Three months after leaving Yale, Kyle becomes an associate at the largest law firm in the world, where, in addition to practicing law, he is expected to lie, steal, and take part in a scheme that could send him to prison, if not get him killed.

With an unforgettable cast of characters and villains—from Baxter Tate, a drug-addled trust fund kid and possible rapist, to Dale, a pretty but seemingly quiet former math teacher who shares Kyle’s “cubicle” at the law firm, to two of the most powerful and fiercely competitive defense contractors in the country—and featuring all the twists and turns that have made John Grisham the most popular storyteller in the world, The Associate is vintage Grisham.

Book Review: Off Season by Anne Rivers Siddons

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This book is so far outside of my normal reading realm it’s not even funny.  Never in a million years would I have picked up this book if I’d just strolled into a bookstore.  Again, I can’t say enough about buying random books at garage sale.  I just love it!  I find some of the most obscure, wonderful hidden gems out there. 

Here’s a quote that totally sums up this book for me:  This is an example of how a good novel can become magnificent when it is beautifully told.  (Publishers Weekly, as found on the Barnes & Noble website)

The reviewer at Publishers Weekly is right.  Siddons has an amazing gift for imagery.  I’ve never been to Maine, or anywhere on the Northeast coast at all, and yet I felt as though I was right there.  She beautifully describes the scene without making you feel as though you’re reading a thesaurus.  It’s just amazing.  I’m not sure if I wanted to visit Maine in the summer before I read this book but I absolutely want to now. 

There’s also a personal draw to me in this book.  Lilly (the main character) finds peace in the water through competitive swimming.  Seeing as how I spent the better part of sixteen years in the water I can completely relate.  There’s a sense of peace there for me.  In fact, there’s nothing more relaxing to me than going for a swim.  Also, Lilly talks to her cat.  I talk to our pup all the time so I’m glad to know I’m not the only crazy person out there. 

This is a perfect summer read in my opinion.  It’s beautiful and you’ll just want to get completely lost in the pages. 

Here’s the synopsis from Barnes & Noble:

For as long as she can remember, they were Cam and Lilly—happily married, totally in love with each other, parents of a beautiful family, and partners in life. Then, after decades of marriage, it ended as every great love story does…in loss. After Cam’s death, Lilly takes a lone road trip to her and Cam’s favorite spot on the remote coast of Maine, the place where they fell in love over and over again, where their ghosts still dance. There, she looks hard to her past—to a first love that ended in tragedy; to falling in love with Cam; to a marriage filled with exuberance, sheer life, and safety— to try to figure out her future.

It is a journey begun with tender memories and culminating in a revelation that will make Lilly re-evaluate everything she thought was true about her husband and her marriage.

Book Review: American Assassin by Vince Flynn

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It’s been a good book month for me.  I told the Hubs last night how happy I am that I buy my books at garage sale.  Mostly, it’s because I find things that I never would have picked up had I strolled into Half Price Books all by my lonesome.  It’s also because when (and fortunately this happens rarely) I get a book that I just can’t stand, I probably didn’t pay more than a quarter for it.  Whoo hoo! 

Anyways, like I was saying, it’s been a good book month.  Everything I’ve read this month I’ve liked. 

We’re going to start with this book, American Assassin by Vince Flynn.  I’ve never read anything Mr. Flynn has written.  Also, just in case you’re wondering, I never read the back (or in the inside cover) of a book before I start reading.  I just dive in without any expectations.  I sort of love that. 

I loved this book.  Period.  It’s about a black-ops CIA operative named Mitch Rapp who’s just a badass.  Here’s the synopsis via Barnes & Noble:

Before he was considered a CIA superagent, before he was thought of as a terrorist’s worst nightmare, and before he was both loathed and admired by the politicians on Capitol Hill, Mitch Rapp was a gifted college athlete without a care in the world . . . and then tragedy struck.

Two decades of cutthroat, partisan politics has left the CIA and the country in an increasingly vulnerable position. Cold War veteran and CIA Operations Director Thomas Stansfield knows he must prepare his people for the next war. The rise of Islamic terrorism is coming, and it needs to be met abroad before it reaches America’s shores. Stansfield directs his protégée, Irene Kennedy, and his old Cold War colleague, Stan Hurley, to form a new group of clandestine operatives who will work outside the normal chain of command—men who do not exist.

What type of man is willing to kill for his country without putting on a uniform? Kennedy finds him in the wake of the Pan Am Lockerbie terrorist attack. Two-hundred and seventy souls perished that cold December night, and thousands of family and friends were left searching for comfort. Mitch Rapp was one of them, but he was not interested in comfort. He wanted retribution.

Six months of intense training has prepared him to bring the war to the enemy’s doorstep, and he does so with brutal efficiency. Rapp starts in Istanbul, where he assassinates the Turkish arms dealer who sold the explosives used in the Pan Am attack. Rapp then moves onto Hamburg with his team and across Europe, leaving a trail of bodies. All roads lead to Beirut, though, and what Rapp doesn’t know is that the enemy is aware of his existence and has prepared a trap. The hunter is about to become the hunted, and Rapp will need every ounce of skill and cunning if he is to survive the war-ravaged city and its various terrorist factions.

As action-packed, fast-paced, and brutally realistic as it gets, Flynn’s latest page-turner shows readers how it all began. Behind the steely gaze of the nation’s ultimate hero is a young man primed to become an American Assassin.

Normally, this isn’t the kind of book I’d take off the shelf and start reading but I truly enjoyed this book and wouldn’t mind picking up another one of Flynn’s books sometime soon.  Here’s hoping there’s more in my garage sale stacks! 

It’s interesting because this is actually book 11 in the series but it’s the prequel to the first 10.  I always think it’s interesting when things are written out of order like that.  It also touches on something sort of close to home… I was in my first semester of college when 9/11 happened.  I remember that day so clearly and I honestly don’t think I could ever forget it.  At the time, I didn’t know anyone serving in the military or anyone who was directly affected by the tragic events of that day.  It didn’t make the day any less powerful though.  I think, most of us wanted to do something (at least once the shock wore off).  I totally get the way this guy feels… he lost someone he loves and now he wants to do something about it.  Even if you didn’t feel that way on 9/11, wouldn’t you feel that way if someone you loved was murdered by some guy with a gun in an alley?  You’d want justice.  And there are some people who want that justice with their own two hands.  I’m totally that kind of person.  Still, you don’t get the impression that the main character, Mitch Rapp, is fueled with anger.  He’s just determined.  He wants to make a difference (he wants payback too, it’s true).  I think mostly he just wants to make sure that what happened to his fiancé doesn’t happen to anyone else. 

Anywho, I could go on and on and turn this into a post about the uses of covert operations and whatnot but it’s supposed to be a book review so here’s my sell:  it’s a great, light read.  It’s quick.  It’s funny in places.  I enjoyed every minute of it and couldn’t put it down.  Go read it!

One reason I love snail mail (part 2)…

Do you remember about a month ago I posted about this nifty box of goodies that I got from BirchBox?  I still haven’t tried out any of the products but that’s because they’re all going with me on vacation later this month.  I promise I’ll post reviews of them when I have ‘em!

I just received my June BirchBox in the mail and I’ll be honest, I wasn’t as excited with the goodies as I was last time.  That’s just sort of how it goes with these things.  Some days you’ll get stuff you love, some days you won’t.  I’m totally ok with that.

Here’s the rundown of what was in my box (prices are for full-size product):

Bath Salts:  $35 (sale price $25)
Eye Stick:  $15
Lip Stain:  $17
Skin Cream:  $16
Chocolate Bar:  $19 (for a box of 15 or approximately $1.25/bar)

TOTAL:  $84.25

Since I paid $10 for the trial size box I saved $74 (if you figure I could have purchased these in their full-sized varieties). 

Borghese Bagno Di Vita Soak (on sale right now at Amazon)

  • Mineral infused crystals transform your bath into an oasis of calm, blue waters while the uplifting scent of botanical oils soothes tense, tired muscles.

Eyeko Fat Eye Stick in Petrol Blue

  • Let’s talk: Eyeko Fat Eye Sticks for easy-to-apply creamy colour in an instant.  Featuring a rich pigmented formula, the sticks can be used to shade and smoke the eye lid. 
  • Tell me more:  This chubby twist-up eye stick with retractable nib delivers soft, creamy eye shadow for easy application directly onto lids.  Create a smudgy, glossy finish for an effortless effect. 
  • Need to know info:  Make-up artists applaud the intense pigments and blendable colours and we love how user-friendly Eyeko Fat Eye Stick is for smoky eyes in a second. 
  • Tips and tricks:  Creamy formulas guarantee a modern finish. Have fun with this limited edition eye stick dab metallic shades on inner corners; ring round darker hues for smoky eyes or blend to a sheer finish for subtle shading. Wear alone or to add depth to powder eye shadow. For longer wear use primer and set with powder.

theBalm cosmetics Stainiac in Beauty Queen

  • The perfect pop of color for your cheeks and lips, Stainiac hint of tint is perfect for all skintones. Simply dab a touch onto your cheeks for a sheer wash of color or layer for added intensity. And the best part? Stainiac is formulated to give you more time before the stain sets, so it won’t streak.

Yu-Be Moisturizing Skin Cream

  • Use Yu-Be anywhere on the body – even the face and lips.
  • Helps heal split cuticles and smooth rough, cracked and dry skin on hands, elbows, knees and feet.
  • Absorbs instantly and works for hours. Good for all day or all night.
  • Non-greasy formula contains NO artificial colors, fragrances, petrolatum or SPF.
  • CAMPHOR soothes irritation and stimulates blood circulation to improve overall health of your skin.
  • Mild camphor scent fades within minutes.
  • Concentrated GLYCERIN moisturizer helps hydrate, soothe and smooth severe dry skin on the whole family – ALL YEAR LONG. (kids too!)
  • Makes a great massage cream!

LUNA Bar in Chocolate Peppermint Stick

How can something so good for us be so delicious? It’s simple. Start with the best ingredients possible (nothing artificial, 70% organic) and nutrition that matters most to women. Mix with flavors that make mouths water and the rest is sweet (and healthy!) history.

  • High in calcium and folic acid
  • Rich in antioxidants A, C, E
  • 8g protein, 5g fiber

Holy Poop!

Hi friends! 

I’ve gotta tell ya, there’s some serious happy dancing going on over here right now.

I have some great news!

So I’ve been writing this blog since September 1, 2011.  I can’t believe it’s already been 9.5 months.  Craziness! 

I’m loving the way the blog has evolved and how I’m feeling much more secure about what I write instead of lost and confused. 

I’m also growing the blog in a few ways.  I’ve been linking up some of my crafty ideas or my recipes to other blogs who host ‘parties.’  The whole idea of a party is that the blog host has you link up your creative ideas and you as a viewer can go see all of these great ideas in one place.  I’ve linked up a few times and something MAGICAL happened to me today. 

A while back I posted about my nifty Christmas decoration turned planter and I linked up the idea to a few parties.  One of those parties was hosted through a blog called Creatively Living Outside the Box.  She hosts a party like this weekly and then goes through all of the entries (there are HUNDREDS sometimes) and selects her favorites each week.  Would you believe that I was selected as one this last week? EEK!  I’m SOOOO excited.  The fact that a well-established crafty blogger thought my ‘invention’ was worth mentioning totally geeks me out.  And, I have to admit, there’s a huge sigh of relief too.  Someone noticed me.  I’ve been writing this blog for nearly ten months and someone noticed.  And it’s not someone I know either.  Of course my mom reads the blog and so do some of my friends and while I’m sure the wonderful Mrs. Katie from Creatively Living isn’t reading my blog on a daily basis she still took the time to check out my entry to her blog party and thought it was worth sharing with all of her followers.  I’m THRILLED. 

EEK!

You should totally check out Creatively Living Outside the Box where you’ll see nifty stuff like:

Crib to Note Holder

Wine Jugs and Jute

Stencil Rug Tutorial (would you believe this started out as a plain tan berber-style rug??)

Product Review: International Delight Iced Coffee

Have you seen this stuff showing up in your grocery’s refrigerated section by the coffee creamers?  I noticed it a few weeks ago and then I happened to come across a coupon for it in a newspaper flyer so I purchased it.  I love iced coffee.  I rarely (as in once a year) drink hot coffee but I could drink iced coffee every day.  It has to be sweet though and generally mixed with chocolate.  I can’t get enough of the Java Chip Frappuccino’s from Starbucks or the Frozen Mocha’s from Panera Bread.  Yum!  So, when I saw this I was excited.  I brought the mocha version home and tasted it and I have to say, I’m a bit disappointed.  I thought it tasted a bit watered down and it wasn’t all that sweet.  I was really hoping it’d taste similar to the refrigerated Starbucks Frappuccino’s that you can find in grocery stores.  It doesn’t.  It’s not awful or anything, it’s just that that to me, there’s already something better on the market.  However, if you don’t want really strong or really sweet iced coffee, this might be right up your alley.  If you want to give it a whirl and try it for yourself you can get a coupon here

 

note:  I was in no way compensated for this review.  I just like giving people a heads up on new items when I try them.

Movie Review: Drive

Have you seen this movie?  I honestly can’t remember what possessed me to decide to Netflix it but nonetheless it showed up in my mailbox the other day so the hubs and I decided to watch it.  Here’s the synopsis that’s listed on Netflix’s website … “A Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver is lured from his isolated life by a lovely neighbor and her young son. His newfound peace is shattered, however, when her violent husband is released from prison.”

SPOILER ALERT (stop reading this paragraph if you don’t want to know) – doesn’t that synopsis lead you to believe that perhaps the husband who comes home is pissed to find some guy with his wife and that they’re gonna duke it out?  That’s what I got from that.  Turns out, the husband isn’t violent at all.  He’s just an idiot. 

Ok, spoiler alert over. 

The movie is dark.  And violent.  And the violence is extremely unexpected.  It sort of shows up out of the blue.  When it did, Hubs turned to me and said ‘I didn’t realize this was THAT kind of movie.’  Well said Husband, neither did I. 

Drive definitely has a Sundance Film Festival feel to it.  It’s definitely more artsy than action-y even though there’s some action and violence.  Ryan Gosling, who plays the main character (whose name we never get by the way) has about ten words in the entire movie.  His character is very quiet and broody.  Honestly I couldn’t figure the guy out.  We get absolutely zero backstory on him.  Is he quiet because he’s just a quiet guy?  Is he harboring some serious anger and violent tendencies?  Is he half mime?  Who knows.  You never do find out anything about the guy. 

Personally, I thought the movie was dull and gory.  It got good reviews from critics but only so-so reviews from ‘the common viewer’ but I wouldn’t watch it again.  Guess that makes me a common viewer. 

If you saw this movie what did you think? 

Sidenote:  it’s really strange to see Albert Brooks play a bad guy.  Like a stab-someone-in-the-eye-with-a-fork bad guy.  The only other movies I know him from are Finding Nemo and The In-Laws.  In both movies he plays a cowardly geek of a father.  I kept seeing him in the scene in The In-Laws where he ends up in the hot tub with the gay arms dealer.  It was hard to see that guy as a bad guy. 

Side-sidenote:  what the heck was the costumer thinking in this movie?  What’s with the silver puffy quilt jacket with yellow scorpions on it that Gosling wears throughout the movie?  Does his character just have no fashion sense?  Does he secretly worship in a scorpion cult?  Does he have a poisonous stinger growing out of his bum?  I just don’t get it.  For a guy who is a tough guy he looks ridiculous in this outfit.