Sunday, December 30, 2007

"Watchman" by Ian Rankin

Forgive the Bookbabe, but she's pressed for time in getting these reviews done before 2007 ends! In fact, there are mere hours until the end of this year, so I'm cheating and using some Publisher's Weekly reviews to at least give you an idea of the plot of the books. Moving on....

From Publishers Weekly
Fans of Rankin's Inspector Rebus series (The Naming of the Dead, etc.) will welcome the U.S. publication of his second novel, a stand-alone spy thriller from 1988 that contains Rebus-like elements. Miles Flint has been a successful middle manager in the shadowy ranks of British intelligence until recent mistakes, including a botched surveillance of an Arab assassin, put his career and reputation in jeopardy. Suspecting that the killer evaded him because of a tip from one of his own, Miles launches his own mole hunt, casting himself in a role that's uncomfortably active for him—especially as his search leads back to his wife, Sheila. And Miles's doings seemingly strike a nerve within the organization, getting him dispatched on a perilous IRA bombing-related mission. Rankin creates plausible and fascinating characters in a manner that seems effortless (as in Miles's tic of comparing people to different kinds of beetles). While the elements of the denouement will strike some as gimmicky, it's clear that if Rankin had devoted his gifts to spy fiction rather than mysteries, he would still have been a hit.

Yes, he definitely would have been a hit either way, but I still enjoy the Rebus novels better. While this was a pretty good book, it took me almost half of it to figure out what the hell was going on. As is typical of Rankin, there are a lot of characters, not necessarily the best thing in a short novel such as this. And while Miles is merely watching, the book tends to flag a bit. It's only when Miles' life is directly threatened that the action picks up, and dramatically. That's when I finally felt like I had a page-turner on my hands.

Rankin admits in his introduction that it's obvious that this is one of his very early works. He also points out a few characters to keep an eye out for, one being Jim Stevens, a reporter that shows up in several of the Rebus works. Also, there's a hint that the great inspector himself may make an appearance here, but I won't tell you if it's true. All in all, I enjoyed the last third of the book immensely.

"Possession" by Jennifer Armintrout

This is the second book in the Blood Ties series by Armintrout, and sadly, it's not nearly as good as the first, "The Turning". Our heroine, Dr. Carrie Ames, is still trying to adjust to being a vampire, and as it turns out, having two different "sires". Yes, just when you'd thought you knew everything there was to know about vamps, along comes Armintrout's world; Carrie is killed in the first book by her sire Cyrus, but resurrected by her second sire, Nathan. Sigh. This means, of course, that she has feelings for both men.

There's a plot developing here about Cyrus's father, the Soul Eater. Seems he's destroying the vampires he's created over the decades in hopes of becoming a god. Sounds good, right? Well, it's not. The plot is introduced, but then nothing really happens. It almost seems like this book and the third installment, "Ashes to Ashes", were originally written as one, then divided, possibly by the publisher. Really, "Possession" is sort of a wait-and-see book. Again, sigh. Oh, and Carrie's second sire, Nathan, has been possessed by something, possibly a demon. Again, that plot is introduced very early in the book, then sort of left alone as Carrie goes looking for a "cure". If Nathan can't be stopped, he'll be exterminated, not something she wants.

What's strange is that our heroine has turned into a bit of a whiny vampiress, while the evil Cyrus has become a full-functioning human. Cyrus is really the most interesting character in the book this go-around, so much that you feel more connected and concerned with what happens to him than you do the main character, Carrie. I'm not sure where Armintrout is going with this; as I said, this book feels very much like the first half of a much larger novel. I have the third installment of the Blood Ties series waiting for me at home, so we'll see what happens then.

Overall? It's an OK book, but not nearly as good as the first one. Then again, sophomore works rarely are. Gone is the wonder of Carrie's new lifestyle. Gone is the romance between Carrie and Nathan. Gone is - well, I hate to say it, but some of my interest. Keep your fingers crossed that the third book, "Ashes to Ashes", picks up the pace/writing.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

"The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires from Nosferatu to Count Chocula" by Eric Nuzum

This little goody was in the latest batch of stuff from the used book store friend in Indy. YEAH! If you've been keeping up with the Bookbabe, you know how she loves herself a vampire or two. Well, this is one man's quest to figure out why vampires are so intriguing to us mere mortals, not to mention find out if they really exist. (They don't, by the way, according to both the author and the Bookbabe. Sorry, but it's true, at least, in the most literal bloodsucking sense.)

Mr. Nuzum has a very dry sense of humor, probably a good thing considering the quest he set out on. During his two years of research for this book, he runs across all types: the horror convention set (specifically a Dark Shadows gathering), groups of "real" vampires met online that tend not to show up in person, fellow tourists on a Transylvania trek, and lots more Buffy fans that he realized were out there. Sadly, most of the vamp fans tend to be rather alike, dressing like goths, claiming how no one understands them, etc. I think he really hits the nail on the head when he says that it's mostly the "misunderstood" that gravitate towards the world of the fanged and fabulous; "normal" people - ie your jocks and cheerleaders - don't get into all that "weirdness".

Could be true, but then again, look at the Bookbabe! I would consider myself fairly normal and well-adjusted. True, when growing up, I was somewhat shy (OK, at times, painfully shy) and lacked some of the sparkling social skills I have today, but the true draw to the vamps didn't show up until later, say, in my 20's or so. Mostly as a teen I read Gothic romances, those written by authors such as Victoria Holt; nary a vampire or werewolf to be found in those tomes. Well, I did read a lot of horror, too, such as Stephen King and the like. OK, maybe Mr. Nuzum really is on to something!

Overall, it's a fun book and a quick read. The author certainly did his homework, and his final analysis is something I agree with - there are no blood-sucking vampires in the world, the walking undead. However, there are things/people that can suck us of our energy (I seem to come up mostly against the people, you know, the ones that just make you sooooooo tired!) Perhaps that's why we still have this fascination for the vampire?

"The Bill of Wrongs: The Executive Branch's Assault on America's Fundamental Rights" by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose

Molly Ivins was one of the best political commentator's (and one of the funniest) to ever come out of Texas, I think. I started reading her stuff back when our current leader was just the governor of that fine state, back when Molly dubbed him "Shrub." Sadly, Ms. Ivins lost her battle with cancer in January 2007, but her voice lives on, mostly in part to Mr. Dubose and his push to finish this work.

If you feel like the world's going to hell in a hand basket, this is the sort of book that will give you the proof you need. Even if you don't think things are that bad, it should give you cause for thought. Hopefully you're familiar with at least a few of the cases mentioned here, especially the school board from Pennsylvania, the PUBLIC school board, that tried to force its science teachers to go along with textbooks for "intelligent design". Regardless of what you do or do not believe, that sort of thing should get your ire up; public schools are not the forum for those sort of arguments. At least, that's how I feel, and as it turns out, so did a lot of other people in that town. Before was all said and done, however, the battle had pitted neighbor against neighbor, co-worker against co-worker, and just generally brought out about the worst in everyone involved. How sad.

I would highly recommend this book to people who believe in constitutional rights, regardless of your political slant. These rights are what the country was founded upon, and like Ms. Ivins, I believe our forefathers were intelligent and sound of mind when they wrote them. Actually, probably smarter and saner than many of us today. We miss you Molly, but we'll try to keep pointing out the idiotic and insane on your behalf.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

"Holy Smokes" by Katie Macalister

There is just no rhyme or reason to the universe, dear fans. This is the fourth book in the Aisling Grey series by our dear Katie, and again, I find myself just overwhelmed by how much I do not like this book. So much so that I quit on page 86 and brought it back to the library. My hubster, however, read it and loved it. Go figure!

I can't really give you a plot synopsis since I didn't finish it, can I? What I can tell you is this - I am done with this series. Indeed, I may be done with Katie period if she doesn't come out with anything good and damn soon. Sigh. In the pages I did read, I found myself yet again cringing when Aisling claims to be a "professional" (mentioned at least 2 times in that short amount of paper). I also found myself skimming a lot, due to the increasingly frequent make out/sex scenes between her and Drake, her true love. OK, when you skim through those sort of scenes, you know you're officially over it. I mean, this is a paranormal romance, after all!

I don't know what's going to happen to Aisling, and quite frankly, I don't give a damn anymore. Read it if you want and tell me how it was. I'm moving on to bigger and better books.

"Breakup Babe" by Rebecca Agiewich

Sigh. This is one of those books that Amazon recommended, one that sounded good enough that I had it on my wishlist for a little over a year (long enough that I could finally inter-library loan it). Sadly, it does not live up to the hype created by the almighty online retailer (nor my own anticipation).

Rachel is a young, thirty-something living in Seattle. She's just landed a fairly high-paying job at the same company her boyfriend works at; in fact, his office is just down the hall. Rachel is no stranger to Empire Corp, as she's been working there on and off as a temp for a couple of years. The temp faze is when she met said boyfriend, now forever to be known as "Loser" to the readers of her new blog, "Breakup Babe." Yes, Rachel has also been summarily dumped and now must drag herself into work each day, knowing that Loser is just down the hall. She's not taking the split well and has started the blog in one of her many ways of attempting to cope with her depression, anger, and general disappointment with Loser and his loser ways. (She's also taking some drugs, such as Celexa, "the holy pink pill".

The book has several of the blog entries interspersed with Rachel's daily life. There are also flashbacks of previous losers in Rachel's life, some whom she's not quite over yet, either. We meet her friends, her readers, her co-workers, and even her family. And, of course, we watch Rachel try to get over Loser.

It should've been a really good book. Hell, it should've been a great book! wasn't. I think I can pin it down to two reasons: the layout of the chapters (expositional text interrupted by blog entries) and the character of Rachel herself. Let's take the writing first, shall we? I'm not a professional writer by any means, so keep in mind, this is just my opinion as a reader of a fictional piece. I found it distracting that each chapter had this bi-polar nature about it, jumping back and forth between her blog and her life now (or in the past, as the case may be). I think it would've been better if each chapter had either started with the complete blog entry or ended with it; the interruptions made the whole thing feel disjointed. Plus, since the author chose to also explore Rachel's past, it made for a long book, clocking in at 337 pages. Now, you know I don't mind reading a big book, but for this subject matter, I felt like it ran at least 75 pages too long. I found myself skimming paragraphs to get the drift, then moving on.

The biggest problem with "Breakup Babe" is the babe herself. Rachel, quite simply, is not a likable character, at least, not to me. She whines a lot, doesn't seem to learn from her mistakes (until the very end of the book, which also seemed terribly convenient), and just isn't someone that I could relate to. I wanted to, trust me! I, too, have been a Breakup Babe once upon a time; who hasn't? It hurts, and yes, it's sometimes hard to move on, but this was just ridiculous! I kept wanting to grab her by the shoulders and slap her while shouting "Grow up, already!", much like her inner monologue Sensible Girl (the angel on Rachel's shoulder trying to talk her out of her bad behavior, constantly battling Needy Girl, who leads Rachel down the dark path). Rachel is one of those poor excuses for womanhood who needs a man to feel whole. Ugh!

Overall, I wouldn't recommend this to my readers. It's not very well-written, and the character isn't someone you can relate to. If you feel you must get to know Breakup Babe, look for her blog on this same site; it's still up and running, and will probably be more entertaining.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"Upon the Midnight Clear" by Sherilyn Kenyon

Well, it had to happen sooner or later, I suppose. I'm starting to get a bit weary of Ms. Kenyon's world, what with all the Dark-Hunters, Dream-Hunters, and Were-Hunters to keep track of. But I'm loyal to a fault, so I picked up this holiday Dream-Hunter offering. Sigh.

Was it horrible? No. Was it great? No. It's sort of like having a meal that looks sinfully good on the menu, but turns out to be just food when it arrives at your table. Filling, but not really satisfying, you know?

Our story is basically about a bitter, angry, now-reclusive movie star, Aidan O'Conner. He was the hottest thing in Hollywood until his family and friends turned on him and fed salacious stories to the tabloids. Oh, and he was a really good guy, too - giving people money, time, autographs, etc, before his downward spiral into Scrooge-ville. Think Tom Cruise before the infamous couch-jumping incident.

Enter Leta, one of the Dream-Hunters that was sucked dry of all her emotions by Zeus. All because he doesn't have a sense of humor! Leta has reawakened due to the summoning of Dolor, the god of pain, a being that she put in stasis centuries ago, and of course, a being that cannot be allowed to walk the earth. She senses Aidan and his anger and decides to use that to give herself a power-boost so she can take on Dolor. She first appears to Aidan in a dream, then conveniently turns herself into a human and shows up at his front door in a blizzard (one created by her, of course!) The dream gives Aidan that whole "haven't I seen you somewhere before?" feeling of deja vu and buys Leta enough time to enlist his help.

Oh, and Aidan and Leta fall in love, all in about a day or so!

The book is basically a short story double-spaced with very large margins to fill a paperback book. Or perhaps that's being too mean; maybe it's really a novella. Either way, it is NOT enough of a story to merit buying this thing. It took me all of 2 hours or so to read! And the story is just not all that great, I'm sorry to say. I had a very difficult time believing that Aidan would be the ideal candidate to help Leta, seeing as how he still had his nice-guy interior going. And his brother? The one that was so jealous and went after him? THIS is the genius that summons Dolor? Uh-uh. He didn't strike me as being anywhere intelligent enough to track down information about ANY god, let alone one as big and bad as Dolor. There were just too many holes and not enough to recommend the book for me.

Let's hope that Ms. Kenyon gets herself back on track with her next work, otherwise I'll probably read Ash's story when it's released, then release myself from this series.

"Made to Stick" by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

The authors state in their introduction that this work will cover a lot of the same ground that Malcolm Gladwell's "The Tipping Point" covered. However, they are also quick to point out that their book is a complementary work; they look at the traits that make ideas work (or not, as the case may be). I would highly recommend both books to anyone that wants to know why things like urban legends won't die, or why they can remember some ads but not others. This book was especially interesting to me as far as my work goes, which I'll get into at the end of this review.

The basic principles of "stickiness" can be summed up in one word: SUCCESS. No, not success literally, of course! The acronym stands for Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, Stories, Sticks. The great thing about the authors is that they actually use their own module; the made the book simple, provided some unexpected yet concrete examples, prove their own credibility, provide emotional reasons to use their ideas, and give lots and lots of stories to prove why some ideas stick and others fail miserably.

There are also more in-depth discussions in each chapter about how to achieve each one of the principles, things like "don't bury the lead", how to appeal to a person, etc. The stories are what really make the book work, which is precisely one of the principles of "stickiness" - facts & figures are nice, but people just don't remember them. Tell a story about someone or something that shows the data at work, and it sticks with people. Easy!

Now why would this book really appeal to a library diva such as myself? Simple. Libraries are one of those things that people know they need, but it's hard to convince others. This book gave me a lot of ideas for promoting our system, my branch in particular, and even on how to approach next year's 2nd grade field trip. Let's take the idea of "concrete". During the field trips this year, one of the concepts that we tried to introduce was that tax money pays for the materials in a library. OK, what 2nd grader is going to understand something as complicated as taxes? My thought exactly. But after reading this book, I think I might have some ways to try to explain it in such a manner that the kids would understand, key word being "might"! But I have at least another 10 months or so to come up with the ideas, enough time to also try this process out on others.

I thought "Made to Stick" was a very interesting, very enlightening read. I would definitely suggest finding a copy for yourself - at your library, of course!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"Blood Drive" by Jeanne C. Stein

First off, apologies to all for taking so long to post my reviews! I've been a bit busy here at work, plus I actually went through a slow reading period where, believe it or not, I just did not feel like reading. Hey, it happens! Thankfully, it didn't last long, and now that things are calmer at work, I'll be posting more often (I hope!). Special thanks to little sis who told me to get back to this blog ASAP!

Jeanne C. Stein made her mark on the paranormal fantasy scene with "The Becoming", a great book that introduced us to Anna Strong, bounty hunter and newly turned vampire. "Blood Drive" is the second of the Anna Strong Chronicles, and is even better than the first book.

It's been two months or so since Anna was attacked by a skip and turned into a vampire. She's still trying to adjust to her new lifestyle, and even having some degree of success. However, that's all turned upside down during a dinner with her parents. Enter Carolyn Delaney, an old girlfriend of Anna's deceased brother. Carolyn has a daughter, Trish, who has disappeared and could be in some very serious trouble. Carolyn has come to Anna, rather than go to the police, because she's afraid that her daughter might have had something to do with another girl's death; she doesn't want Trish to be arrested. Oh, and Trish is also Anna's niece. Cue the pull on the heartstrings, at least for Anna's parents, who desperately want to believe Carolyn's claims of kinship. Steve, Anna's brother, was killed in a drunk-driving accident at the tender age of 17. Carolyn never got the chance to tell him that she was pregnant, and since her own parents did not react well to the news, she didn't feel like she could go to his parents, either.

However, Anna senses that something isn't quite right with Carolyn or her story. After having her bounty-hunter business partner David do some digging, it becomes quite obvious that Anna's concerns are valid. Carolyn has done quite a bit of lying, both about her daughter and herself, but most of all, about the reason that Trish is missing. I don't want to give anything away, since that's the worst thing a person can do, ruin the surprises of a book! Let's just say that Trish has been subjected to some very nasty things and ran for good reason, shall we?

Enter Daniel Frey, a teacher at Trish's school, one that has an air of mystery about him. He's also a prime suspect in the girl's disappearance, that is, until Anna investigates. Turns out that Frey is mysterious - he's a shape shifter. He shifts into a jungle cat, but one that turns out to be more pussycat than lethal predator. Obviously, it's the sort of secret that can't get out, therefore the mysteriousness. He turns out to be a strong ally, one that I have a feeling we'll see again (hopefully in the next installment).

The Anna Strong Chronicles are a welcome relief to the glut of paranormal romances on the market today. Fast-paced, smart writing combined with good plot and character development. If you're tired of the vamps ripping open bodices, I'd give these a shot.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

"Thin Air" by Rachel Caine

This is a series (of course!) that my bookstore friend got me into a while back. Joanne Baldwin is a Weather Warden, one of many humans that can control the weather. You just thought you knew how life worked, huh? In the previous Weather Warden titles, we have been introduced to Joanne, watched her run for her life several times, and watched her fall in love with a Djinn named David. It's been a wild ride for Joanne, but nothing like Book Six of this series.

I won't go into too much detail because hopefully you'll be intrigued enough to check out the rest of the series. If not, Book Six is actually not a bad place for you to pick up the series, as it opens with Joanne having amnesia. She has no idea who she is or what she can do. She doesn't remember anything, other than basic stuff like "this is a shirt" and "this is food", etc. When I started reading, I was really flummoxed as to how all this would play out. But I have to admit, about half-way through this book, I found myself thinking that Rachel Caine has hit upon a very novel idea: take one of the installments in her successful series and give the character amnesia, thus letting new readers find her and fall in love. This book works mostly because I really think anyone could pick it up and enjoy it - there's plenty of back story filled in thanks to Joanne's figuring out how to go into someones mind and look at their memories. It helps her fill in some of the blanks, just as it does for new readers. I really am impressed by this approach, and it was nice for someone like myself, who has been reading the series since Book One, to be reminded of some of Joanne's previous adventures.

I'm anxious to see how the next Weather Warden book turns out. Yes, you read that right - according to the author's "tease" in the back of this book, Book 7 will be out next summer. So Joanne will be fighting the good fight in one form or another again. Do yourself a favor and get to know the Weather Wardens.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

"Poltergeist" by Kat Richardson

I absolutely love to see marked improvement between a first and second book from an author, and this is just about the perfect example (another would be Kim Harrison's series about Rachel, the witch). "Greywalker" introduced us to Harper Blaine, just an ordinary woman who now happens to have an extraordinary talent, thanks to being dead for exactly 2 minutes. That brief amount of time changed Harper's life forever (she fears); she is now a Greywalker, a person that literally walks between the land of the living and the land of the dead. When she enters the Grey, she becomes a ghost of herself to those around her, sometimes disappearing entirely. And the Grey isn't a fun place to be; there are lots of ghosts, spirits, and other beasties just waiting to catch her unawares.

In the first book, Harper spent a lot of time "falling into" the Grey, mostly because she didn't really understand what it was and how it affected her. Luckily, she became close friends with Mara and Ben Danzinger, professors who also had a deep interest in the paranormal. While not Greywalkers themselves, they took her under their wing and taught her as much as they could about her new condition, relying on their own knowledge of paranormal things and science. While I enjoyed the first book, I found myself getting irritated by just how often Harper "fell into" the Grey, how much she was floundering, etc.

Imagine how delighted I was with "Poltergeist"! Not only is the writing a bit better overall, but Harper as a character has grown a lot since we last saw her. She has actually learned how to handle the Grey for the most part and is becoming more adept at the things she can do in it and with it. YEAH! Finally, a strong female protagonist who really IS strong, one who learns from one book to the next! I was losing all hope of finding such a thing! Anyway, not only is Harper doing better at her Greywalking, she's being called in as an "expert" investigator on a university experiment gone wrong. Dr. Tuckman is trying to recreate the Phillips experiment, a project done several decades earlier, in which a group of subjects actually created an "entity" and some poltergeist activity. No one has really been able to duplicate it until now. Rather than celebrating, Tuckman wants Harper to prove that one of his project members has been faking the results; the "entity", Celia, that his group has created is too active. He believes one of the members is skewing his data and will not accept otherwise, even though Harper informs him it's possible there is a real poltergeist.

Complicating matters further is the murder of one of the group, a young man who was actually a plant by Tuckman. Seems that there was some faking going on at first, mostly to get the group to believe they could do what they can now do. Unfortunately for the young man, someone, or something, has very much killed him by bashing his skull into a wall with extreme force. Harper doesn't believe it could have been a human that did the deed, but she's not exactly sure. She asks for help from the Danzingers, Carlos, a vampire she's crossed paths with a time or two, and her electronics-wiz friend Quinton. Things don't add up, especially after she interviews each member of the group. It would appear that the good doctor has lied to Harper about a thing or two, such as his take on the dynamics of his little group of volunteers. They are not a happy family at all; there are sexual tensions running rampant, as well as huge streaks of jealousy and competitiveness, all things that could possibly lead to the creation of a real force of some sort.

The mystery is intriguing, especially since Richardson used several real historical incidences to frame it, including the Phillips experiment, the Wah Mee massacre of Seattle, and the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps from WWII. As I said, Harper as a character is much more developed and smarter, something I very much appreciate. There's a hint of the romance from the previous book, but not much. In fact, I was much more interested in her possibly hooking up with Quinton; he seems right up her alley! I am really looking forward to Ms. Richardson's next book, and hopefully, it will be in the Harper Blaine series.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"The Witch is Dead" by Shirley Damsgaard

If you enjoy light reading, then the Ophelia & Abby mysteries by Damsgaard are just your cup of tea. I found this author a while back, and am amazed that she's already on her 5th book in this series! They're sort of a tea-cozy/paranormal read; Ophelia and her clan are witches, but most of the body count is staged off-page, nothing too graphic for the reader.

Since we last saw Ophelia, she has proceeded with her legal adoption of Tink, the young teen she rescued a book or two back. Tink, aka Titania, is a medium coming into her own power. Ophelia has been relying on her grandmother, Abby, to help her with Tink; both Ophelia and Abby are psychics, rather than mediums. Still, they have a medium or two in the family, so they do their best to help Tink control her powers and develop them.

Enter Aunt Dot, one of the best "old lady" characters to come along since Stephanie Plum's Grandma Mazur! Dot comes for a visit, and she's a pistol! Around 90 yrs old or so, she doesn't understand why Ophelia and Abby don't tell everyone about their abilities; she has nothing to hide. Then again, she does see and talk to the fairies, something that her Midwest relatives don't want her making public. Or does she really see the fairies? Seems Aunt Dot likes to have a glass or two of wine every day, wine that she and her sister make, wine that has a very "special" ingredient that really gives it a kick! Oh, and Aunt Dot knows all about the "adventures" that Ophelia has had so far and wants to have one of her own!

The mystery itself isn't bad, but it's really the characters that make these little books so enjoyable. I like Ophelia, Abby and Tink, plus some of the other regulars, such as the sheriff and Ophelia's best friend, Darci, but I absolutely LOVED Aunt Dot! I'm hoping to see her again in the next installment; she added some fabulous humor. If you like your mysteries light, and you enjoy a bit of the paranormal, then I would highly recommend picking up one of Damsgaard's books. You wouldn't even have to read these in strict order, but as usual, I'd recommend it!

Friday, October 26, 2007

"Hex and the City" by Simon Green

John Taylor, the man who can find anything, has been given a most unique case by Lady Luck herself: track down the origins of the Nightside. Some would say it's a fool's errand, and they might be right; John finds himself getting closer and closer to the answer, but is never quite there.

He has some new companions on this journey, characters not seen in the previous books. There's Sinner and his gal Pretty Poison, a most interesting pair. Sinner sold his soul to the Devil in order to know true love. Enter Pretty Poison, a succubus chosen by the Devil himself, who meets Sinner, marries him, and at the end of the 10-year contract, reveals her true nature. Sinner loves her anyway and refuses to stop loving her, thus getting himself kicked out of Hell (can't have anyone mooning away down there!) Heaven won't take him, seeing as how he sold his soul and all, so he walks the Nightside, fairly indestructible. Pretty Poison has left Hell to learn exactly why Sinner still loves her, given what she is. Again, they're an interesting pair. Also enlisted by John is Madman, a person who Saw the true workings of the world, a thing which, of course, has driven him insane. Worse for everyone else, Madman is able to change the world around him with his thoughts, so when he gets upset or scared, reality is fair game.

The quartet work their way to older and older denizens of the Nightside, asking the same question every time - where did the Nightside come from and why does it exist? Again, no one really has the definitive answer, but it becomes quite apparent that John's mysterious mother has something to do with it. It's also clear that the Authorities in charge don't want John to succeed in this particular mission and that they'll go to great lengths to stop him.

This was a very important entry in Green's Nightside series. If you've gotten into them thanks to my reviews, you know that John has had questions about his missing mother since the beginning. Well, some of those questions are answered in this book, including just who his mother is. Naw, I'm not going to tell you! That would be cheating! Suffice to say that it's a great reveal, and I'm looking forward to the next book in the series. Should be interesting to see how John handles his mom - she's not really the warm and cozy type!

Monday, October 22, 2007

"Burning Water" by Mercedes Lackey

"Dallas Police Detective Mark Valdez isn't just any cop - he's a psychic who knows that the cattle mutilations and torture murders he's been investigating are somehow tied together. He also knows that his meager psychic abilities aren't enough to identify the killers, much less stop them.

Luckily, Mark has an ace up his sleeve: an attractive young romance novelist who happens to be a practicing witch. And not just any witch, either - Diana Tregarde is a Guardian, charged with protecting the Earth and all its creatures.

Using modern science and ancient magics, Diana and Mark discover that they are tailing no ordinary serial killer but the awakened avatar of an Aztec god. Tezcatlipoca and his four beautiful handmaidens are preparing for a great sacrifice that will transform North America into a new Aztec realm.

Diana isn't sure her powers are strong enough to take on those of a risen Aztec god, but she has no choice. As a Guardian, she is sworn to protect mankind, even at the cost of her own life. Luckily, she does not stand alone. Mark Valdez is more than just a cop. And Tezcatlipoca is not the only Aztec god walking in the world."

Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? Well, as it turns out, this is a case where the "trailer" is better than the movie. The book isn't bad overall, but I wasn't as happy with it as I was hoping to be. Part of it may be that the work is somewhat dated, having first been published in 1989. I think a bigger part of it was the writing itself. While Lackey did a fairly good job on the plot, the writing of said plot left a lot to be desired. I felt at times as if I were reading a debut novel (which this might have been - I'm going to check into that later). There's a HUGE overuse of italics, so much so that it became distracting. I was reminded of the time I read "Phantom of the Opera"; I was laughing at times at how many exclamation points were used in just one paragraph!

Diana is a fairly likeable heroine, one I wouldn't mind reading more about. I was very glad to see that she was not "tough as nails" as one finds in so many books of this kind. I'm not entirely sure, but her development might have come off more pleasantly due to the fact that it's not told from her point of view, nor is she really the "main character" in this book; I would argue that Mark is the star. Since the two are working together from the get-go, it makes both of them more palatable as the fighters of evil. Neither one comes off looking like a superhero, something else that, at times, tends to ruin a book for me.

I would have liked to learn more about Diana's position as a Guardian, something that is alluded to in the blurb from the back of the book, but not really discussed in the meat of this book. There are two other titles in the Diana Tregarde trilogy, so perhaps Guardians are discussed more in-depth there. And yes, I'll be tracking down the books, but not so much for myself. My hubby really enjoyed this one, so I've been given the mission to find the other two for him to read!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

"The Man with the Golden Torc" by Simon Green

(The cover pictured at left is the British artwork. If you're looking for a copy of the American artwork, do a Google image search under the book title)
Having been impressed with Green's other works (the Nightside series and a stand-alone title), I was excited to see us get this book, the start of a new series. YES! Always fun to be in from the start!

Edwin "Eddie" Drood is a field agent for the Drood family, a man that works undercover as "Shaman Bond", fighting the good fight and attempting to vanquish evil. The Drood family has been in the fighting biz for eons, as far back as Droods can remember. In fact, the Drood family is directly descended from the Druids. Each Drood child is fitted from birth with a golden torc, a sort of supernatural choker, a fantastic force field that each Drood can call on to make him or her almost invincible. Eddie is one of the few field agents living outside the family manor; he's been on his own for about the last 10 years, although he's still a Drood through and through.

One fateful night, after a somewhat difficult assignment, Eddie is summoned to the great Hall of the Droods. No reason is given, just that his presence is demanded. Eddie has a feeling that something is up, but no one says "no" the Matriarch, so off he goes. He's given a very special assignment, one that the Matriarch states she cannot trust anyone else with, for there's a good chance that there's a traitor in the Hall of the Droods.

Truer words were never spoken, as Eddie soon finds out. He is attacked by various factions on his way to Stonehenge. By the time he vanquishes the last of them, he is visited by his Uncle James and told that Eddie himself has been declared rogue - all Drood agents have orders to either bring him in or kill him. Eddie has no idea what he could have done to be declared rogue, and thus we have the meat of the book, Eddie attempting to contact various people who may have information about his status.

Of course, what good is an action-thriller without a ticking clock? During his huge fight on the freeway, Eddie was shot with an arrow by an elf, an arrow that somehow pierced his golden armor that is provided by the torc, a thing that is not supposed to be possible. The arrow contained "strange matter", something from another dimension, and it's slowly eating away at Eddie's body. He's running out of time to discover the Drood secrets and to save his life.

This was a fantastic start of what I'm hoping will be an awesome series. Eddie isn't perfect, but he's a good man at heart, so I found myself rooting for him quite a bit. Also, as the wild witch of the forest, Molly Metcalf, informs him, not all the bad guys are entirely bad. Eddie learns that his family isn't what he thought it was and there are some secrets too horrible to learn. I would definitely recommend this to dark-fantasy, action-adventure lovers out there. The best news is that there's a second book planned for June 2008!

Monday, October 15, 2007

"Caught Stealing" by Charlie Huston

OK, this guy totally gets my seal of approval for tight, suspenseful thrillers. If you've been keeping up with this blog, you'll remember his vampire books "Already Dead" and "No Dominion". I thought maybe it might be worth it to try some earlier stuff, and man, I was not disappointed in the least.

"Caught Stealing" is a book about exactly that - a theft of grand proportions. Our hero, Henry "Hank" Thompson, knows nothing about it when the book opens, only that he's been beaten up by some pros for no known reason. Not only that, but it soon leads to him losing a kidney, something that is just going to make his life that much worse in the next week or so.

Hank has been asked by his neighbor Russ to cat-sit. Hank isn't great with animals but Bud, the cat, seems to be pretty mellow and Russ begs very well. Shortly after that, while at his bartending job, Hank is attacked by some Russians who comment on his mixology abilities. Then it's the trip to the hospital to take out said kidney, followed by more visits from various bad guys, including a dirty cop. The only thing that Hank knows is that he found something in the bottom of Bud's cat carrier, an envelope which felt like it had a key in it. Being the cautious and very paranoid sort, Hank didn't open the envelope. But for much of the book, he also can't remember where the envelope is - seems he might have given it to a friend of his at the bar when he was rip-roaring drunk. Yeah, not very smart after losing a kidney, but Hank's been having a very rough time; giving up booze isn't easy when you're being stalked and beaten by thugs for reasons unknown to you.

Eventually Hank finds out why everyone is after this key. Not only that, but his life continues a downward spiral, something that doesn't look to have any good way out. Hank has to fight for his life and make some tough choices, when all he really wants to do is watch a damn baseball game.

Like I said, Huston is an awesome writer, one I'm eternally grateful to find. He keeps the story simple but action-packed. His hero, Hank, is fantastically flawed, yet still a good-enough guy that you root for him to overcome all obstacles. Even better? This is the first in a trilogy about Hank, so I have two more books to read. YES!!

Friday, October 12, 2007

"Thursday Next: First Among Sequels" by Jasper Fforde

If you have ever found yourself reading a book and wishing you could meet one of the characters, then the Thursday Next series by Fforde is your kind of book. It's a crazy alternative world where literary characters literally jump from book to book and into the "Outworld" (the "real" world) with the greatest of ease. There's a Well of Lost Plots to be mined for material, the Cheshire Cat holds a very important job, and an army of Danverclones are on the move, ready to suppress any dissent. A most extraordinary place, indeed!

"The Eyre Affair" is the book that started it all, and I highly recommend reading it (as well as the others in the series). The works build on themselves, although this entry is late enough in the game and has enough expository in it to pick it up by itself. I was thrilled to hang out with Thursday again, all three of her this time! Yes, our beloved Thursday has to take on Thursday5 as a Jurisfiction trainee, as well as Thursday1-4, another trainee who no one likes (her books were all full of sex and violence, while 5's were very flower-child-like. Guess which books were more popular?)

It's way too complicated to explain the plot here. What I will tell you is that these books require a very open mind. You should find them in Science Fiction, possibly Fantasy, and for good reason. Again, Thursday regularly enters the Book World and mingles with literary characters, who act like real people. It can be a bit confusing at times, but Fforde's writing is fabulous - sharp, very witty, and very, very funny. Where else can you read about characters like Jack Schitt and his wife, Anne Wirthlass-Schitt? See what I mean? FABULOUS!

Fall into these great books today!

"Maxed Out" by James D. Scurlock

Before we begin, no, this is not the "Super-Size Me" guy, although it's easy to see how one could think that. That was Morgan Spurlock; the names are eerily similar, aren't they? In any case, Scurlock also investigates what he feels are evils done to the common man, in this case by the financial industry (there's a documentary film of the same name; the book is intended as a companion piece).

The book is both frightening and hopeful. The set-up is pretty simple: each chapter details an individual/family going through a rough time with some sort of financial institution (Scurlock seems to have an especial hatred for the credit card industry, something I'm sure most of us can relate to). The stories are all similar in the sense that the people having the problems never truly believed they'd get to this point. People who are in danger of foreclosure having weekly yard sales in the hopes of garnering just a bit of extra cash, spouses who are trying to come to grips with not only mounting debt but the lies they've told to cover up the problem, and college kids maxed out on credit cards they obtained despite their lack of earnings. The tales of suicide are the most difficult to read; I've been in debt (and still am) but I cannot imagine things getting so bad that I would consider killing myself as a solution. Yet Scurlock states that people this financially bad off do just that and on a frighteningly regular basis.

There are no real revelations in the book, yet I would still recommend it to anyone who has had or still has debt they're trying to deal with. Why? Well, this work won't tell you how to get yourself back on the road to financial security, but it does give you a sort of support system while you're going through it. I know I felt better reading about people who were dealing with situations much the same as mine, a sort of "misery loves company" feeling, if nothing else. And while Scurlock rails against pretty much everyone in the financial world, he does make one excellent point, one that I think really needs to be considered. A lot of the debt that is being OK'd by lenders and credit card companies is done based on a person's FICO score, not on their earnings and ability to pay, which is the way it used to be done. Granted, there were a lot of people turned down in the old days who might have been a bit risky but would have done a great job paying off a loan, but these days it's almost a free-for-all; dogs can obtain credit cards, as can the dead. Sadly, the credit card industry still preys on college students, especially freshman, a dangerous combination. Imagine being away from home for the first time, living on "your own", AND having a piece of plastic to make purchases. Who wouldn't be tempted to go a little crazy?

I hope that if nothing else "Maxed Out" gets the right people talking about how to get Americans out of debt and back on the saving track. I doubt change will happen anytime soon, though. Face it, as individuals we are encouraged to spend, spend, spend. And as a country? Well, I think our deficit speaks for itself.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

"On the Prowl"

Yahoo! Another collection of short stories/novellas by some of my fave authors!

Patricia Briggs writes the Mercy Thompson series (with another book in that series coming out January '08), one of my new discoveries. Her entry is "Alpha and Omega", an interesting tale of werewolves. Anna, a relatively new werewolf, is reading her evening paper when she recognizes a picture of a boy who has gone missing. She knows that he isn't really missing; he's dead. He was turned into a werewolf against his will, something she knows all too well. Realizing that her pack alpha may have finally gone too far, she calls the Marrok, the leader of all the werewolves. He sends his son, Charles, to Chicago to investigate. Anna is nervous, and tries her best to stay out of the way. Charles grows more upset the longer he's around her as he realizes how much she has been beaten down by her pack. She thinks she's a submissive but he knows how wrong that is - she is actually an Omega, one of the most powerful types of werewolf next to an alpha. An Omega can calm a pack in almost an instant, something that leads Charles to suspect that Anna was specifically chosen to be turned, even though she had no say in the matter. Now he must find out why her Alpha needs an Omega in his pack....

Eileen Wilks also writes a series involving werewolves, called lupi. Her story "Inhuman" is very interesting and again, quite good. Kai is magically gifted but doesn't let on to her friends exactly what her gift is. They believe she's an empath, which is mostly true. Actually, she's a telepath. Not only that but she can take the thoughts of others and manipulate them if she's not careful. It's not that she actually knows what they're thinking; she sees the colors of their auras and can decipher from those what's going on with a person. She knows her neighbor, Nathan, is also gifted in some way; she's just not sure what his gift is. Turns out, he may not even be human! When Nathan shows up at her door one night needing a bullet dug out of his shoulder, Kai will learn his secret. She's also learn a few things about herself...

Karen Chance has started a nice little dark fantasy series involving witches, vampires, and the like. "Buying Trouble" is a great little tale of Claire, a null - someone who can actually absorb and interfere with magic. Nulls are far and few between these days, mostly because they've been hunted to the point of extinction; a null must be sacrificed to create a "null-bomb", a sort of reverse grenade for the magical crowd. Claire works at an auction house and has the night of her life when she realizes that she is actually one of the items up for auction. Her slimy cousin Sebastian wants her out of the way so that he can collect his inheritance without needing to share. There's also the tidy sum he'll get for selling her to highest bidder in the mage crowd. Enter Heidar, a Light Fey who also wants Claire, for reasons not entirely known to her. In one of the best chaotic fight scenes I've read in a while, Claire and Heidar are suddenly thrust into Fairie, a place that brings several surprises to both of them....

Finally, there's "Mona Lisa Betwining" by Sunny. I haven't read anything by this author, and I have to say, this will probably be the last time I read her. This story was a little too Laurell K. Hamilton for me, what with a sort of demon curse thing making a hormonal nutcase of the lead character, Mona Lisa. Sorry, but I'm not into that sort of writing anymore. I think I would also have had to read the author's books before this story to truly make sense of it, something the other three entries didn't suffer from. I don't mind if an author's submission is going to tie-in to his/her series work, but make it general enough for the people who haven't been with you from the start.

Overall, "On the Prowl" was a nice anthology of the supernatural. Just enough romance to be pleasing, plenty of plot in the first three stories, and some interesting characters who may be showing up again very soon.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

"The Cleanup" by Sean Doolittle

For some reason when Amazon recommended this, I thought it was a supernatural sort of thing, so I reserved a copy for myself. Imagine my surprise when my hubby informed me that it's a strict crime thriller, albeit a good one!

Matthew Worth is just barely a copy these days. He's been place on "provisional duty", mostly for taking a swing at the fellow officer who became involved with his now-ex-wife. He spends his nights working security detail at the Save More grocery store, bagging when the usual boys are out sneaking a smoke. He has a bit of a crush on one of the cashiers, Gwen. He knows that something's gotta give; he just doesn't know what.

When Gwen comes in one night needing help, Matt knows what's going to give. Gwen's boyfriend has been using her for a punching bag, the sort of abuse that Matt has long-standing issues with, and on this night, things have come to a head. She asks Matt if she can show him something and reveals to him her incredibly bruised back. Then she asks if she can show him something else at her apartment. Turns out the "something else" is her now-dead abusive boyfriend. Matt knows he should call it in; he's a cop, after all. But he also knows what will probably happen to Gwen, a fate that she doesn't deserve just for having horrible taste in men. So Matt does the unthinkable - he covers up the crime. He loads the body in the boyfriend's muscle car and disposes of it, calling on his older brother Vince for the huge favor. He cleans up the apartment, trying to think of all the things that the cops would look for and/or find as evidence. He takes care of everything, he thinks.

Little does he know that the boyfriend has been running product and revenue for Eddie Tice, who is tired of selling used and discounted furniture. Eddie's had a nice little gig going with the boys in Chicago and is finally making money for himself. He is not happy at the possibility that the boyfriend has skipped out with a very large sum of dough, nor is he happy at the fact that to "make good", he'll have to pay out of his own pocket. He enlists his enforcers in the quest to find the errant criminal and the money, thugs who are actually also cops.

Matt is dragged into a crazy world of small-town crime that wants to be big. He's trying to keep track of his lies and trying to keep his job. Most importantly, he's trying to do the right thing by Gwen, something that gets more and more difficult. He tells himself it's like trying to diffuse a bomb, picking the right wire to snip and hoping that you're that much closer to safety, rather than getting blown to bits.

My hubby was right - this was a good book. The plot is believable, the writing is tight, and the characters are likable but flawed. It's gritty stuff, and it doesn't always turn out the way you'd expect. I'm impressed enough that I'm going to try to find some of Doolittle's other titles (none of which we seem to have here at the library - sigh). If you're looking for something along these lines, I'd pick up "The Cleanup" as soon as you can find a copy.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

"Eclipse" by Stephenie Meyer

I've never been so reluctant to read a book in all my life! I loved "Twilight" and "New Moon", the first two books in this Young Adult series by Meyer, a star-crossed romance between Bella, a human teenage girl, and Edward, a hundred+ year old vampire. Granted, it's a tale that's been told before, but never quite like this. First, Edward's "family" of vampires are vegetarians of a sort - they only drink from animals, never from people. Second, they can and do go out in the sunlight, just not very often, and not because it will burn them. In a move that puts a complete spin on the old sunlight myth, Meyer has her vamps sparkle in sunshine, literally becoming so bright they are almost blinding. That is why they avoid the daylight; it would be much too hard to hide what they are.

Now comes the third volume, "Eclipse", furthering the tale. I was very hesitant for different reasons, but mostly because I did like the other two books so much. Let's face it, when an author writes a series, there comes a time when things start to head downhill, either in the quality of the writing or in the plot line itself. I blame most of my issues on a certain author who is still writing about a certain vampire hunter, one who totally went off the rails about 3 books ago into what I consider soft porn territory. That whole fiasco has tainted my enthusiasm somewhat for the series-type writing, especially when it's a series that I've been enjoying. I finally finished this book last night after having it for almost 6 weeks, something that rarely happens.

Were my fears justified? Not in the least. BUT... I find myself completely torn where the characters are concerned. I was so wrapped up in the love story of Bella and Edward that her friend Jacob, a werewolf and another possible suitor, snuck up on me as much as he did Bella. By the end of the book, I found my loyalties had shifted - I now want Bella to recognize that Edward might not be the best option for her. I really have come to prefer Jake, and I'm not entirely sure why. That's good though because it puts me pretty much right where Bella finds herself, in love with two different men, both of which would be good choices.

The story is great for the YA crowd as well as us hopelessly romantic adults. There's no sex in any of these books, but there is plenty of sexual tension. There's danger, too, in the form of other vampires, ones that don't practice the sort of dietary restrictions that the Cullens do. There's teen angst, but it's not written in such a way that it feels childish. Anyone should be able to relate to Bella's wanting to please her divorced parents, to her not wanting to hurt the ones she loves. Simply put, Stephenie Meyer has a hit series on her hands because she has written the type of story that appeals to all ages, a timeless love story. Start with "Twilight" and get caught up in Bella's world, too.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"Wild Thing" by various authors

Every once in a while I like to read one of these collections, one where they pick 3 or 4 authors, give them a theme and have them pound out a short story or novella for the work. The back of the book exclaims "Four extraordinary talents bring the most uncommon desires to life in a bold new anthology of romance on the edge." I'm not sure I'd go quite that far, but three of the four aren't bad.

First up is Maggie Shayne, probably familiar to readers of paranormal romance. Her story "Animal Magnetism" is a sort of hip, paranormal, Dr. Doolittle. Macy McNamara is a veterinarian who prefers the company of animals to people. Small wonder, since she actually communicates with them. No, not through actual speech, as she explains to the hero, more through thoughts and feelings. She becomes involved with detective Jay Harris when he rushes in a chocolate lab suffering from a gunshot wound, a dog who witnessed her owner being attacked and raped. Unbeknownst to Detective Harris, the dog "gives" Macy a complete description of the criminal, something that Macy must determine if she can share with the by-the-book law officer. How will she explain her gift? Will he think she's insane, as many have before? Will she be able to stop the rapist before he attacks again?

"Paradise" by Meljean Brook is the second entry in the anthology. Lucas Marsden, a vampire, is mourning the death of his consort, Olivia Jordan. He hasn't fed in a month, preferring to exist on animal blood. He's feeling guilty and none too stable due to the substitute liquid when he's approached by a beautiful girl, one who seems to know who and what he is. She's not a vampire, but she's not human either. He becomes even more confused when she makes it clear that she's there to help him, including feeding him. Selah is a Guardian, a being akin to an Angel, one who guards the Gates that can be used by angel and demon alike. There's a Gate near Lucas's home, one that is being twisted to serve the demons, and Selah must stop the sacrifices of vampires to ensure the Gate's security. She must also get Lucas to trust her and let her do her duty. Oh, and most of the time the blood lust will lead to sex. Duh.

"Wild Hearts in Atlantis" by Alyssa Day is a short entry in the "Warriors of Poseidon" series. It was so bad I read one chapter and quit. Characters with names like Lord Vengeance, Bastien, Denal, and Justice were just too much for me. The kicker was when one of the guys calls another of the characters "dude". Barf.

The most interesting story was by one of my favorite authors, Marjorie M. Liu. I was surprised to find that it was not a story of the Dirk & Steele gang. And the style was very different as well."Hunter Kiss" is told from the first-person perspective, not something Liu usually does. It's written in a sort of noir meets paranormal meets fatalistic science fiction vein. And while the other two stories I read concentrated on the "romance" (sex), this one focused on the characters themselves. Yes, they're attracted to each other, and yes, they will eventually find themselves in bed, but there's not much in the way of description of the actual act itself. It was refreshing and it was good.

Maxine Kiss is a demon hunter, one in a long line of female hunters. She is protected by her "boys", demons themselves by night, tattoos covering her body by day. She is not entirely human nor is she very sure what sort of hybrid she truly is, that knowledge having been lost through the decades. Her mother was shot and killed by a demon. She is a loner and tries very hard to ensure that people don't get close to her. Those that do tend to die. She meets Grant Cooperon one day and everything changes. He doesn't seem phased by the demons that protect her, nor does he seem surprised when she explains that demons possess people. Well, he was a priest not all that long ago, but that doesn't seem sufficient explanation. It's not. He's got a gift of his own - he can see the auras that surround people. He knows that black ones go with people that are somehow "wrong". And he can play music that will change those auras, filling them with the colors of his music. I know, sounds kinda kooky but it works. There's a nice but brief explanation of synesthesia, a condition in which people "see" sound as colors or words with colors. Seems to happen a lot in autistic people. Anyway, Maxine is drawn to Grant and he to her; together they should be unstoppable against the demons.

Interestingly enough, this is the only story that doesn't really end. It's left open enough to give Liu the chance to develop it into a series, I hope. I found the writing to be outstanding, and I thought the plot was very intriguing. I'll be keeping my eyes out for the next story about Maxine and Grant.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

"Kitty Takes a Holiday" by Carrie Vaughn

The same command is given by the Bookbabe in this review as it was in the previous review for the 2nd Kitty Norville book - GO CATCH UP! I don't want anyone saying that I ruined the book for them because they hadn't read the series thus far.

OK, now that you've read books 1-3 (and you have, haven't you?), you'll be ready to read this review. Again, my apologies for using another review to give you the basic plot description, but I'm tired. This is the fourth review I've posted today since I'm trying to catch up here. In the future, I'm going to post these puppies as soon as I've finished the book; much less work for me that way!

From BooklistIn Kitty's third appearance, she is back in Colorado, where she is supposed to be earning the advance she was paid to write her story while on leave from her radio show. But strange things are happening: barbed-wire crosses and dead animals are left around the cabin. Bounty hunter Cormac shows up with Ben, Kitty's attorney who has been infected with lycanthropy, and together they work to bring him through the change successfully. Cormac and Ben had been tracking down a pair of werewolves who had been destroying sheep near Shiprock, New Mexico, and who had killed a werewolf son of the people who had hired them. Vaughn ventures into Tony Hillerman country with the introduction of an evil skinwalker who takes the form of a wolf. Strong on characterization, Vaughn creates characters worth visiting time after time in this compelling world where vampires and werewolves have their own radio call-in show. Diana Tixier HeraldCopyright © American Library Association.

That pretty much says it in a nut-shell as far as plot. Of course, what the Booklist reviews doesn't tell you is that Kitty is attracted to both Cormac and Ben, a situation made all the more tense by the size of her cabin and Ben's becoming a werewolf. It puts a great spin on things, and though the end of the book isn't promising this, I think we're looking at an awesome romantic triangle down the road. I'm glad it's not going to happen right away, and I'm hoping that it doesn't run the series off into the ditch like it did with the Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton. We'll just have to wait and see.

The Kitty books are some of my favorite reading out there right now. Smart, funny, romantic without being overly mushy. Check them out today!

"Kitty Goes to Washington" by Carrie Vaughn

Another series folks! Do yourself a favor and read the first book before you go any farther, OK? "Kitty and the Midnight Hour", available in paperback - check or E-bay or any of your other favorite shopping sites/bookstores. It's OK, I'll wait.

OK, I'm hoping that you've caught up on our heroine and are ready to travel with her to our capitol. Not traveling so much as summoned, I suppose. There are Senate hearings on the werewolves and other things that go bump in the night, now that the rest of the world knows those things are real. Kitty is asked to speak before the panel, although she's not entirely sure about what. However, since most are aware of her true nature thanks to her radio show, she'll go. That and the fact her her attorney, Ben O'Farrell, explains that they can subpoena her to show up. Sort of puts a different spin on things.

Kitty plays the tourist and in doing so meets some interesting characters. The first is the vampire mistress of the city, Alette, who is watching the talks with great interest, mostly in preserving her own way of life. The world knows about the weres, but not about the vamps, and Alette prefers to maintain the status quo. Kitty also finds a sanctuary of sorts in The Crescent, a bar below a Moroccan restaurant, a place where lycanthropes can go and mingle in peace. She quickly becomes friends with Luis, a Brazilian were-jaguar. Unfortunately, she also comes in contact with Senator Duke, a bible-thumping power-mad man who wants the world to know about the "monsters" out there.

Of course, Kitty being Kitty, this trip is about to turn into a nightmare, including a run-in with a previous character who turns out to be evil incarnate, lots of chases through the capitol city, and our heroine being kidnapped. It's a great book with a good plot and fantastic characters, one you'll be glad you picked up.

"Fanged and Fabulous" by Michelle Rowen

It's been a quite a while since I read the first book starring Sarah Dearly ("Bitten & Smitten"), so I wasn't so sure how much I wanted to read this one. I remembered vaguely that the original book was cute, had a sexy vampire in it, and that Sarah was kind of snarky. I couldn't remember much more than that, though.

I'm happy to report that the second book is a cute, easy read. Since I don't remember much of the first entry, I'm guessing here, but I don't think either one would qualify for Mensa material. It's the sort of thing you pick up when you want to read something in addition to the other work you're reading, something that won't conflict as far as plots and such. What's that? You don't read more than one book at a time? Oops! Maybe that's just me that does that. It's not been unheard of for me to have two fictional works and a non-fiction all going at the same time. Hey, I did tell y'all, I LOVE to read!

Anyway, this go around finds our still-newborn vampiress Sarah in the dumps. She's only been a vampire a month, is still living with the guilt of killing a vampire hunter (it was a clear case of self-defense), and now her sort-of-boyfriend Thierry seems to be blowing her off. Worse yet she's found out that she now has a "reputation" as The Slayer of Slayers, something that's bringing all the wanna-be slayers out in force. Oh, and her friend Quinn, also a newbie-vamp and ex-vampire-hunter, has a very bad crush on her, one he's not afraid to let everyone know about. Things are about to go from bad to worse, especially when another old master vampire shows up in the city, one that was friends with Thierry decades ago. One who claims that Thierry killed his wife. One looking for revenge...

To add to Sarah's woes, someone blows up her apartment, thus obliterating what little worldly goods she owned. She moves in with her gay co-worker and fellow vamp George, mostly because her sort-of-boyfriend, the one with lots of money and even more living space, does not invite her to stay with him. Sarah is being protected by bodyguards, one of whom is in love with the other and shows her how much by writing her extraordinarily bad poetry. Sarah is quickly losing patience with her stalkers, her situation, and most especially, Thierry.

It's a cute book and as I said earlier, it's a quick read. Rowen has an easy style and Sarah is endearing in a bit of a grating way. Hey, as long as you find yourself rooting for the main character, she's written well enough, right? I liked it more than I thought I would, so yes, if you happen to find a copy of this, pick it up for those "light reading" moments.

"The Mask of Atreus" by A. J. Hartley

I just finished this today, and while the book is fresh in my head, a good way to describe the plot is not. So with apologies to my readers, here's the review from Publishers Weekly, followed by my own comments on the book!

From Publishers Weekly: "Rich with historical and archaeological detail, this well-constructed debut from Hartley celebrates the power of legend while delivering an engrossing mystery that skips nimbly between continents and cultures. At the heart of the story is Atlanta museum curator Deborah Miller, who's returning home after a successful exhibit when she receives a cryptic call telling her she needs to go back to the museum. Deborah does so only to find her friend, museum owner Richard Dixon, lying dead amid a cache of possibly priceless artifacts. Why was Richard hiding them? And, most importantly, what item from the stash was worth killing for? At first, Deborah believes the missing item to be a Mycenean death mask, but after exploratory trips to Greece and Russia and multiple attempts on her life, Deborah begins to suspect that the object in question is more powerful than a mere mask. Hartley has created an enduring heroine in Deborah, who's courageous, loyal and smart enough to learn from her mistakes. Although it's unclear whether there are more adventures in Deborah's future, this intricate and absorbing thriller augurs well for Hartley's career." (Apr.)

This was a good, quick-moving read, full of action, red herrings, and plot twists. People weren't who you thought they were, and that held true for both the good guys and the bad guys. There was a lot of history to follow, which would be my main complaint about the book. Don't get me wrong - it made for a more interesting read, but there was what felt like a crash course in several different eras, the Ancient Greek, the German and Russian of WWII, and the African-Americans that served in that same war. It was a lot to keep track of and there were times when I felt I wasn't doing such a good job of it. History buffs would probably love this work, providing the author got everything right. There was a fairly extensive bibliography provided by Mr. Hartley at the end of paperback, so I'm guessing he did his homework.

I enjoyed the premise quite bit. As the main character theorizes at one point, the weapon that they all assume has been stolen needn't be one of physical proportions. Couldn't a weapon be ideological too? Neat idea, even if the one weapon in choice here seemed a bit preposterous at first. The more I thought about it though, the less silly it seemed. You'll have to read the book to see what I'm talking about, and trust me, that's not a bad thing!

Good character development, tight plot structure, and far-away locales. What more could a reader ask for?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

"Blood and Mind" by Melanie Lee Bonnefoux

I am really at a loss here. This was recommended by someone that has similar tastes as mine. It's favorably reviewed on Amazon (granted, there are only 8 reviews, but they're still raving reviews). There's a sequel, too.

To put it bluntly, I got to page 51 and stopped. It was that bad. I just couldn't do it; I gave it the 50 pages that librarian Nancy Pearl recommends in "Book Lust", a true testament of how determined I was to read it. I was ready to put it down about 20 pages into it. And hopefully by now, my faithful followers, you know me well enough to know that it's highly unusual for me to not finish a book, even the ones I don't enjoy all that much.

The plot is a blatant rip-off of Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series. Or maybe it's meant to be an homage, I'm not sure. In any case, I've grown weary of Anita and her shenanigans, so I wasn't anxious to start down that road again. Add to that the poor writing and you've got a recipe for literary disaster. Even worse is that, much like LKH, there appears to have been a distinct lack of editing in this piece. There are run-on sentences as far as the eye can see, not to mention the overuse of commas. I wanted to grab a red pen and start marking the thing up! I can forgive/overlook a lot of things in a book, but bad editing is not one of them, not when it's so bad that I find myself stopping to "fix" the sentence structure in my head. Sigh.

Again, I can't tell you enough how disappointed I was with this book. I have no idea if it gets any better, and quite frankly, I just don't see myself ever going back to find out. I have no idea if the sequel is any good, either. This is definitely one that you'll have to decide for yourself. I'm sure there are those out there who will find it a good read. I'm just not one of them.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

"Bobbie Faye's Very (very, very, very) Bad Day" by Toni McGee Causey

The hubby and I had been wandering the aisles of our local (and sadly, only) bookstore when this title caught my eye. If I had to hazard a guess, it's probably a bit of a take-off on the children's book "Alexander and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day" by Judith Viorst. Great book for kids, so I thought this might be an equally great book for us grown-ups. Happily I can report that this is mostly true.

If you've ever had "one of those days", you'll be able to relate to Bobbie Faye. She's a hard-working gal currently caring for her niece due to her sister's latest stint in rehab, a situation made all the worse due to the arresting officer, none other than Bobbie Faye's now-ex-boyfriend. The day starts off around 4 a.m. with said niece "swimming" in her auntie's trailer. Seems the washing machine her no-good-brother was supposed to have fixed is overflowing and cannot be stopped. As the water grows higher, Bobbie Faye panics; this is supposed to be her day off. Not only that, she was supposed to be getting ready for her big appearance as the reigning queen of Lake Charles Contraband Days Festival, an event that she simply can't miss.

Things go from bad to worse in a hurry when she receives a phone call from her brother Roy, the same one who failed to fix the now dead washer. Turns out that someone wants something that Bobbie Faye has and has decided that holding Roy hostage is the only way to get it. What could possibly be so valuable? The tiara that Bobbie Faye wears as the Contraband Queen, the tiara that was passed down to her by her dearly-departed mother, the tiara that's really nothing more than a wrought-iron crown. Nothing fancy, no gold, no jewelry on it. Why is it so important? Well, I'll let y'all read the book to find out.

Bobbie Faye goes to the bank to obtain the tiara from her safety deposit box, then gets caught up in a robbery in the very same bank. When she realizes that she's not only given stolen money to the robbers but also the all-important-crown, she hightails it into the parking lot and truck-jacks an innocent guy in the parking lot. Of course, this being Bobbie Faye, the guy may not be nearly as innocent as he first appears. Trevor, the hostage, will end up on the wildest ride of his life as he and Bobbie Faye attempt to track down the tiara and get Roy back safe.

Fans of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series will definitely enjoy this book. Then again, I can't imagine anyone not liking this work - it's got a fairly good plot line, strong characters, and a lot of laughs. I think one of the things I enjoyed the most were the "quotes" from various sources at the beginning of each chapter, people such as a seasoned mailman who, when told his new route will have Bobbie Faye's trailer on it, says "No." Seems she has always been and will most likely always be a disaster magnate. Well, who of us out there hasn't felt that way at least once? Pick up Bobbie Faye and relish in someone other than yourself having a very, very, very bad day!

Monday, September 17, 2007

"On Becoming Fearless" by Arianna Huffington

I've always liked Ms. Huffington's commentaries, so when this book came floating back into the branch yet again, I took it as a sign to finally check it out. Sad to say, this book isn't that much different than any other self-help book we have on the shelf, albeit one directed specifically at women.

The basic premise of Huffington's work is not that we should be fearless as the title suggests. Rather, it's that we should feel the fear and learn from it and do whatever it is we need to do anyway. Not bad advice but certainly not new advice, either. I liked that she was adament that women need to get fearless about their body images; I agree that women today waste too much time and energy worrying about what everyone else thinks about their appearances. A confident, happy person, female or male, is far more attractive than a "pretty" person with a nasy disposition.

I skimmed a lot of this piece, namely because it's got a bit of that "been there, done that" feel. For example, there's an entire chapter about motherhood; I don't have children, nor do I want any, so that chapter was unnecessary to me. Others might get something out of it, I don't know. Also, the chapter about work wasn't all that pertinent to my career, as I'm in the public service sector. I will never make a lot of money in my line of work, and I'm certainly not going to orchestrate any takeovers anytime soon!

The book is worth picking up, even if you merely skim through it as I did. It's never a bad thing to hear/read/see someone tell you that you're great just the way you are, and that you can accomplish anything you put your mind to.

Friday, September 14, 2007

"Scent of Shadows" by Vicki Pettersson

Joanna Archer is having the blind date from hell in the opening of this new series. Her date, a hideous man named Ajax, wants to kill her. Literally. She's about to find out that a bad date is the least of her worries. She'll be lucky to survive her 25th birthday. Why? Turns out that pivotal date, specifically at midnight, is when she will inherit her full powers as a member of the Zodiac. Yes, Joanna is actually a superhero - she just doesn't know it yet.

The only people who do know are the rest of the Light Zodiac, people who try to balance the scales in favor of good. They constantly battle members of the Shadow Zodiac, who, of course, are in favor of tilting things towards the evil side. There are twelve members on each side, basically opposites of each other, just as there are rising and descending signs in astrology. Unfortunately for the Light side, they have lost several members and are finding themselves wondering if there's a traitor in their midst.

Enter Joanna, who is not only a member of the Zodiac, but also the Kairos, born of both the Dark and the Light. Her mother was The Archer, the same sign that Joanna inherits. Her father was The Tulpa, a being literally created and then left to go power-hungry on his own. As a member with dual nature, Joanna is not trusted by the Light and wanted dead by the Dark. What's a girl to do? Oh, and her old flame, Ben Traina, has walked back into her life. Complicating matters even worse is that once she completes her transformation, she must undergo another one, this time involving some major plastic surgery. Everyone, including Ben, must believe she's dead so that the Light can protect her from the Dark. But even with a completely different face and body enhancements, the Dark will be able to track Joanna by her scent. Believe it or not, the title is all about one's personal scent created by pheromones. (This was a bit of a stretch, even for me!)

Sound intriguing? It was. Sound complicated? You betcha. Sound promising? Yes, and I'm hoping to read the next book in the series. This entry had to provide a lot of exposition, and it shows. Luckily, the premise caught my attention and kept me going to the end. I'm hoping that the next entry is tighter in plot and perhaps a bit better at character development. Overall, I'd recommend this, even though it's not the best book I've read. But in the case of a series, especially this one that has so much history in just the first book, I'd say it's a must-read.

"Just a Guy" by Bill Engvall

Anyone who's seen or heard of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour knows the name Bill Engvall. Or perhaps he's better known for his tag-line, "Heeeere's your sign". Either way, he's pretty much made a name for himself in the world of comedy. This book is a bit of biography and a big of comedy rolled into one. And it's got nice, short chapters!

There's nothing really new here, not if you're already familiar with Bill and his work. It was nice to read about his life, I'll admit, especially since he himself says he grew up pretty much normally. He's got three sisters, a mom, a dad, and a step mom. He had his fair share of childhood mishaps (OK, maybe more than his fair share). He grew up in small towns. He went to college and didn't finish. He was a frat brother for a while. See, all normal stuff.

The chapters are basically vignettes of Bill's life, things such as his time on a Little League baseball team, his high-school hi jinks, and meeting his future wife. He talks about his daughter Emily being born. Things like that, the little things that make up a life. And of course he talks about his realization that comedy was to be his life's calling, and how he worked his way up in the business. All interesting stuff made more interesting with his impeccable storytelling and sense of comedic timing.

If you like Bill, you'll like the book. If you don't know who Bill is, maybe it's time you found out!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"This Year I Will..." by M. J. Ryan

I feel the need every once in a while to read a "self-help" type book, if for no other reason, I think, than to realize that I'm not nearly as messed up as I thought. This is one of those titles that's been in my branch for a while and I've kept thinking how it looks interesting. Well, I finally decided to check it out. It was worth it, too.

Did I accomplish anything after reading this? Yes and no. I haven't made any decisions as to what I will do this year, just that I know now how to approach a change. This book is not a how-to-lose weight, or a how-to-quit-smoking, or anything like that. Rather, it is about how to make ANY kind of change that you feel is necessary.

Ryan goes about discussing the science of how habits are formed, which I felt like I mostly already knew. I will admit that refreshing myself on how long it takes for the habit to form, etc, wasn't a bad thing; helps for the next time I attempt to make a change in my own life. There's a lot of good, very digestible information here, perhaps the most important of which is Ryan admitting that not everything works for everyone. You have to keep track of what seems to be working, what's not, and adjust accordingly. You might have had a friend who was able to quit the ciggies cold turkey, but trying that tact yourself could lead to total disaster. It doesn't mean that you have less will-power or what have you than he/she did; it just means that you don't form your habits in the same manner.

One of the best pieces of advice, one that I don't think I've ever seen in a book like this before, was that when you have a slip-up, you need to forgive yourself. Yes, you read that right. Forgive yourself. The author is quick to point out that this is not a license to make excuses or to stop trying. Rather, it's something that you would probably do if the person who slipped was anyone other than yourself. I found myself thinking, "She's so right - I would never say anything harsh to my friends about their backslides!" For example, I've had several people in my life who have smoked and tried to quit. I have never, ever made snide, rude, or just plain mean comments about them when they've started smoking again, regardless of how long they've managed to not smoke this time around. Why would I? I've watched them struggle with the addiction, and seen how hard they've been on themselves when this attempt to quit doesn't work. So it does beg the question, why do I berate myself and call myself every name in the book when my attempts to eat healthier and exercise fail?

This is definitely a good little book to read for anyone contemplating a change in his/her life, whether it's something as minor as promising to floss every day to something as major as getting out of a bad relationship. I plan to look for more of Ryan's books and I hope they are just as promising as this one.

Monday, September 10, 2007

"Devil May Cry" by Sherrilyn Kenyon

This is the 11th entry in Kenyon's Dark-Hunter series (the 12th is you include "Fantasy Lover" which the author herself does). Alas, as with all long-running series lately, this one has a lot of misses for every hit.

Our hero for this tale is Sin, a Sumerian ex-god. He's bent on revenge against Artemis, the goddess who stole his powers. Of course, it doesn't help that she's the one responsible for creating the Dark-Hunters. And as if things weren't already complicated enough, he's battling to save the world against demons rather than Daimons. The gallu have been increasingly able to escape their underground prisons, mostly thanks to nuclear testing (perhaps a bit of an environmental message from Ms. Kenyon?) The gallu are hoping to release the Dimme who will in turn destroy the world. Add to all this mish-mash the guilt that Sin feels over the mere existence of the gallu; his family are the ones that created them eons ago in hopes of saving their pantheon from destruction.

Enter our heroine, Katra, who is requested by Artemis to locate and kill Sin. Artemis is afraid that Sin is preparing himself to finally kill her and she's not about to let that happen. Katra, one of Artemis's hand-picked handmaidens (and a bit something more, it turns out), flashes herself to Sin's location, only to become entranced by his appearance. For such a bad guy, he's incredibly hot. Then again, all the heroes in Kenyon's DH world are stunning!

Of course Kat decides not to kill Sin. Of course she decides to help him save the world. And of course they become romantically involved and have lots of really hot, awesome sex. What, you thought this one might finally be different? Not a chance! Kenyon has a hot product going; she wouldn't be wise to deviate from her winning formula. Except she has done just that over time. This novel is probably the most blatant in its differences. First, there are no humans in it, at least, none that aren't fodder for the gallu. Sin is an ex-god, Kat is almost a god, Artemis is a goddess, Ash is - well - ASH. Sin's casino employees aren't even human! Help is offered from various other beings including Simi and her sister, both of whom are Charonte demons. (But we love Simi and she provides some much-needed humor in this book!) Sin isn't really even a Dark-Hunter; as he puts it, he's a guy that Ash felt sorry for and gave a job to. Sigh.

There are some good things, namely explanations (finally!) of the true relationship between Ash and Artemis. The goddess comes out looking much better at the end of this book. Of course, she may go back to her usual ways by the next entry, in which case we can only hope that Ash will finally give Simi permission to eat her!

Here's where I found myself getting upset. Sin and Katra are immortal pretty much. Each has been around for a very, very long time; Sin is something like 11,000 years old. Neither has truly been in love until they meet each other. Romantic, right? WRONG! It totally depressed me. I mean, if immortal beings can't get their act together for centuries upon centuries, what hope is there for us mere mortals? Why not just cut our losses now?

Will I continue reading the series? Yeah, probably. The books are fairly short and I'm not ready to throw in the towel yet. But I would suggest to the author that she go back to some of what worked in the first place - a human woman being swept off her feet by a Dark-Hunter, all while battling/running from danger. That formula totally got me hooked because it's exactly the sort of fantasy that most of us mere mortals have. That and a hot guy to do the housework!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"Soul Song" by Marjorie M. Liu

I know I've mentioned this series before (or at least, I'm fairly certain I have!). Liu is back with another Dirk & Steele paranormal romance, and this one is almost as good as the others. Notice I say almost. Yes, as seems inevitable with series authors, Liu is starting to slip a bit. Just my opinion, mind you!

M'cal is a merman. More precisely, he is a Krackeni, an ancient race of beings that have dwelt in the oceans for eons. He's been enslaved by a witch and has been forced to steal souls for her in order for her to gain power. Unfortunately, those stolen souls also result in death, as M'cal later explains to our heroine; a human without a soul literally loses the will to live, usually within 48-72 hours. This technically makes M'cal a murderer. Worse yet, the witch has ordered him to steal yet another soul - that of Kitala Bell.

Kit is a musician, a woman with a fiery passion for music, and a fiddle that earns her not only money but respect and adoration around the world. It's a lonely existence, though, as she has another talent, one she keeps hidden for fear of being declared insane; she "sees" the deaths of those around her. Never peaceful ones, just the violent kind. It's a "gift" she's had most of her life, one that her grandmother, Old Jazz Marie, tried to develop. Kit was young, though, and wanted no part of that training, preferring to live as normal a life as possible.

When Kit "sees" the death of a woman at her latest concert, she finds herself doing something she's tried not to do in a very long time - warn her. The results are disastrous, but the woman does seem to believe Kit, which is strange. Just when it looks like it's curtains for Kit, M'cal enters the scene. But instead of doing as the witch has instructed, he becomes enthralled with Kit and rescues her, then tries to send her away from him.

It's the classic star-crossed lovers story, only the lovers aren't exactly normal humans. And it's not the families holding them back, either. Both M'cal and Kit are well-developed characters, and the romance between them was believable. So why was I not as happy with this entry? Well, probably because it was a slow-starting work, and the boys from D&S didn't show up until almost half-way through the book. The very thing that's had me loving this series was missing a bit here - the detective gang. Once the others showed up on the scene, the storyline picked up as did the action. And it added the necessary levity, too; most of Liu's tales are fraught with peril and danger, something that needs a good laugh inserted every once in a while. Koni, a shape-shifter, figures prominently into the second half of this entry, and he definitely provides the laughs.

I will say that there are signs in this novel that there is something darker coming up for the characters in the series, a "big battle" if you will. I know some other authors in this vein are heading towards the same thing but have taken several more books to get there. I'm glad Liu isn't wasting any time! I will still strongly recommend this author and her works; she's better than a lot of the entries in this genre that are flooding the market, a good percentage of which are just dreck. And I still want to read the next Dirk & Steele book, so all is not lost! Just get the other guys/gals in the agency onto the palette faster next time, that's all I ask.