Thursday, May 31, 2007

"Do I Look Fat in This?"

What happens when a ditzy bookbabe orders the right title but the wrong OCLC number? She gets a chance to redeem her mistake by reading TWO books with the same title, then has the rare opportunity to compare them in a book review.

For those not familiar with the world of inter library loans, an OCLC is something like a zip code. And believe me, when the "wrong" book got here, I was ready to call and raise holy hell about goof. Luckily, my co-worker asked me more than once if I was absolutely sure that I had used the right OCLC number. Turns out, I had not. Sigh.

A month later I have now read both books and am glad I did. What surprised me most is that I think, in the end, I enjoyed the "wrong" book better than the "right" book. Shocking, huh? Guess it's just one of life's little mysteries.

Both books are, at heart, pieces designed to (hopefully) get us women (and men) to stop thinking of ourselves in numbers, whether they be on the scale, on the tape measure, or on the tag in that top you're wearing. Both authors want us to start focusing on who we are, rather than what we are. And both really, really, really want us to stop beating ourselves up constantly and causing ourselves actual bodily harm with punishing diets and grueling exercise marathons.

I'll start with Jessica Weiner's book, seeing as how it's the one I meant to order in the first place. It's a short little thing, only about 200 pages, subtitled "Life Doesn't Begin Five Pounds From Now." That's one of those phrases you hear in The Language of Fat, a whole way of speaking that, until now, I'd never really thought about. As Weiner points out (perhaps a bit too often, but then again, it IS the point of her book), women are much more likely to talk about their body image with other women than they are to talk about the actual feelings that lie underneath. How many times have you said to another female "I feel fat today"? I know I have, so I was really surprised by Weiner's assertion that fat is not a feeling. After reading on, though, I understood what she was talking about - we say we feel fat when what we really mean is something like "I feel sad/lonely/depressed/anxious/insert-your-feeling-of-choice-here." It's a whole other way of looking at the situation, one I hadn't really thought about before now.

Weiner is also very helpful to the men out there, although they may think she's advocating relationship suicide with her suggestions. She wants men to be bold enough to tell their wives/girlfriends/significant others that they know something is wrong and they want to talk about the feeling behind the "do I look fat?" question. She is quick to point out that one must tread lightly in this area, but not to back down, that men can be supportive and maybe even open the eyes of their ladies out there. I say, good luck! I really hope that it works for at least a handful, but I fear that her Language of Fat is too heavily ingrained in the female psyche for such an approach.

And that's her goal, really, for us to stop speaking Fat. For us to talk about how we feel rather than how we look. To take a bold leap and refuse to connect with our female friends on that level of Fat. And to hopefully teach out children to value themselves for their actions and deeds, not their pants' size.

Rhonda Britten has basically the same message, although she takes a slightly different approach. Her work is subtitled "Get Over Your Body and Get On With Your Life"; she was the Life Coach for Starting Over, which I believe is now off the air after a 3 or 4-year run, where she helped women overcome obstacles such as fear, anxiety, depression, etc.

Of course, what she also realized is that a lot of women have major body issues, ones that actually keep them from realizing their dreams and goals.

Britten's book is longer by about 100 pages, but it was worth the extra time. I loved that she started each chapter with a photo of a real woman wearing a black sport bra with black bike shorts, nothing else, and their feelings about their bodies. Even better, Rhonda herself is the first photo! Like Weiner, she challenges the reader to work on things like your inner dialog, and to stop putting off the things you want to do but don't because of your body (or rather, what you think your body looks like). I especially liked the chapter "Who Are You Comparing Yourself To?" in which she detailed an encounter she had in an elevator with a very slim woman. This woman never said a word, but Britten said after just a few floors, her self-esteem was in danger of hitting rock-bottom, all because she was comparing her own figure with that of her fellow passenger. Never mind that that other lady might be starving herself to death to achieve that body, or might be extremely unhappy in her life, etc. Weiner said much the same thing but she used the example of celebrities, and you'd have to be blind not to have seen how many of them have eating disorders/drug addictions/alcohol problems, etc - do you really want to be "thin" at that sort of cost?

I think part of the attraction of Britten's book is the various stories included. Weiner has a little of that; Britten's is just about one story for every chapter, which is nice. Again, I really liked the pictures of the various women, and it was extremely interesting to read what they thought of themselves. One was a yoga instructor in a highly flexible pose, and reading how she still thought she was "fat" and ugly was a shock indeed. Part of me immediately thought "how will I ever feel better about myself if SHE doesn't?!", the other part of me thought "nice to know she's got insecurities just like me".

In the end, I would recommend both books to anyone who has a love/hate relationship with their body, which means just about everyone I've ever come in contact with, plus millions out there I don't know. I totally agree with both authors that we, especially American women, have come to a point in the road where we MUST stop measuring our worth by our appearance. I don't want to be known for being short and matronly - I want to be the cool library lady! I want to be known as the true, honest, loyal friend. I want to be known as the loving, giving, wife. I want to be the best sister in the world, and hopefully a gracious daughter. I want to end my days knowing I lived my life the best I could, and that I had a blast doing it. I don't want my obit to read that I was a size 14, or that I weighed 155 pounds, or that I was really into the Zone diet, or any of that crap. Do you?

The last thought for this review will go to Jessica Weiner. I found the perfect line from her book, one that EVERYONE should live by, and here it is:

"Remember that a perfect body is really a body that is at peace with being imperfect."

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"Out of the Night" by Robin T. Popp

I really wasn't sure about reading this book, especially when I got to the description on the back cover. Lanie Weber is described as a "seemingly mild-mannered librarian", and we all know that could be great or the kiss of death. I decided to give a shot anyway, mostly because we had two other titles here in my little branch and they sounded interesting. And ya'll know how much I hate to start a series on the "wrong" book!

Basic plot is this: Lanie has to fly to an obscure South American country to retrieve the body of her deceased father. Enter Mac Knight, the handsome pilot who will provide her transportation. He's ex-Navy, still has government connections, and has them traveling in a plane looks like death on wings. His first move is to drug Lanie with a concoction of tequila and sleeping pills so that she'll relax and not spaz out on the flight. Hmm, that's the sort of romantic move every girl is hoping for, right?

They arrive at the camp, which turns out to be a secret government science lab. There are dead bodies everywhere, but not the dead body that Lanie has come to retrieve. There's a cage with a strange stone statue in it, one that comes to life after sunset and attacks Mac, biting him and almost killing him. Lanie saves his life with a blood-transfusion (did I happen to mention that she's a volunteer EMT and firefighter, too?), then worries as he heals incredibly fast, much faster than a human should. She finds her father's journal in his room and discovers the reason for Mac's quick recovery - he's been bitten by a chupacabra, a mythical beast that usually preys on the blood of animals. Lanie's father has determined that when one of these creatures bites a human, the venom imparts the chupacabra's healing abilities to the human, while also making it necessary for that human to drink blood for sustenance. In other words.... A VAMPIRE!

Will Lanie be able to save Mac? Will Mac and Lanie declare their love for each other? Will the pair be able to stop the bad guy? Hey, you knew there had to be a bad guy in here somewhere, and believe it or not, it's not the chupacabra.

Overall, I would give this about a C+ for effort. It's not a bad book, but some of it was really stretching, both in plot and character development. I thought the whole chupacabra/vampire deal was an interesting twist on the vamp legend, although I've only heard of the chupacabra in Mexico and South America. How did vamps get over to Transylvania and other European countries if this is the method of creating them? Guess you're not supposed to think about things like that. The romance between Lanie and Mac was OK, a bit rushed at first, but believable by the end of the book. And there's obviously more books in this series, so you know you're going to see these characters again at some point, probably as secondary props.

Here's my big problem with Lanie, and I have to admit, this just comes from me, personally. It's the whole librarian thing. I don't mind my characters being in the library biz, but I want it to have at least a grain of truth about it, and I didn't appreciate Ms. Popp's portrayal of the work. Here's the paragraph that really had me fuming:

"Well, as you can imagine, being a librarian is not the most exciting job to have and while I liked it, I needed something more in my life. One of my librarian friends volunteers at the local station. She used to come into work and tell me about the calls that came in the night before, fighting the fires, working accident scenes. It didn't take long before I knew I wanted to be a part of it - the excitement, the danger, but most of all, helping people who really need it."

Let me just clue in the world - being a librarian is not necessarily non-stop action, but it IS exciting, at least to those of us who do this sort of work - at least, I think so. I love my job, and it's always something different every day. You never know who's going to walk in the door, whether it's a regular patron looking for the latest best-seller or a person who is in the area for just that moment in time and that you'll see only this once, someone who you might help in such a way that they'll remember the experience. And as for "helping people who really need it", HELLO! I do that all day, every day, and so do the ladies that work with me. There are people who come in here and need to use the Internet to look for work, people who are out currently out of work and don't have access to a computer otherwise. There are people who need medical information, estate information, childcare/child custody information, and we help them find that. There are people who use this facility every day who are "between permanent residences", and I hope that they feel that we treat them with the same respect and dignity that we show our other patrons, especially since they may not receive that elsewhere in public. I'm very proud of the job we librarians do, and it just really rankled that Ms. Popp didn't use Lanie to let the rest of the world know how wonderful libraries are. Of course, Lanie works in a university library, and that might be different than a public facility. But I doubt it's THAT different.

Anyway, sorry for the rant there. As I said at the beginning of the review, it's not too bad of a book, entertaining for an afternoon or so. I'll reserve total judgement until I read the next one in the series.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

"The Next" by Dan Vining

"There is a place, a position, something, a state...between being alive and being dead. Not alive, not dead. In between."

So explains Jimmy Miles to a distraught father, a man who has lost his twin daughters to a suicidal jump, yet has seen one of the girls walking past him on the street just hours later. Jimmy tries to explain that his daughter is now what is known as a Sailor, a being that is no longer alive, but is also not dead, nor a ghost. Sailors are sort of in a state of limbo, some for several years, some for over one hundred years. They come mostly from suicides but can also be the result of murder or accidents. No one knows why a person becomes a Sailor, not even the Sailors themselves. They are all over the country, probably the world, but for some reason seem to congregate around bodies of water, especially the sea, thus the term Sailors. They will look like themselves for a few brief hours after their deaths, then they take on a different appearance. Relatives may still be able to detect their mannerisms, patterns of speech, etc, but it will be hard. And Sailors almost always break into camps, usually Good and Bad.

All but Jimmy Miles, a loner. He acts as a private investigator in his new life, mostly taking cases that don't involve married couples checking on their cheating spouses. His friend Angel, a fellow Sailor, asks him to keep an eye on a young lady friend of his, Lucy, a girl who seems awfully depressed and sad. Angel is worried about Lucy, and Jimmy can't say no to his friend. But this case is about a lot more than a sad girl, as Jimmy is soon to find out.

A lost love of Jimmy's is now living in San Francisco, the town he follows Lucy into. And once Jimmy spots Mary, he pretty much abandons the Lucy case, with tragic results. Mary seems happy to see Jimmy, although she is now married with a child. Jimmy has his suspicions that the marriage is not a happy one, even wondering if the husband is a Sailor as well. He's about to discover that San Francisco is not the town he once knew, and that the people he's running into are not what they seem, either.

It's a bit of a complicated plot, and the idea of Sailors may be hard for some people to take. Actually, it's all very mysterious, which sort of adds to the feel of the book. It's very much a noir mystery, but with that strange supernatural element of the Sailors. Jimmy is a likable guy, and the story is told mostly from his point of view. The only real problem I had with this book is the jumps in timeline from the present to the past. There's nothing to really let you know that you're about to go from one to the other, and since the characters of Jimmy, Angel and Mary all figure into both, it wasn't always clear which year I was in. But overall, I liked this book. It's the second one by Vining starring Jimmy, and I'm hoping there will be another one down the road.

Friday, May 25, 2007

"For a Few Demons More" by Kim Harrison

I'm going to do something a bit different this time around. This review will really be for those who have been keeping up with the Rachel Morgan series by Harrison, primarily because trying to read and "get" this book without reading the first four just won't work. Sorry, but this is one of those series that you really, really need to start at the beginning and work your way to the most recent installment. There are too many characters and too much history between said characters to jump in here with "Demons".

I liked this book, but I have to tell you, it was hard to get through. My main concern was the relationship between Ivy and Rachel; the previous book had me thinking that maybe Rachel was going to give in totally and find the blood balance with Ivy that both of them want, even though that would mean having sex with Ivy. Sorry, but I really don't want Rachel going down that road, and no, not because I have anything against same-sex relationships (see my reviews of the two Josh Lanyon books, folks, if you don't believe me!) I understand why Rachel has been hesitant about the whole thing, and rightfully so - sure, it might be great at the time, but she would always have to wonder if she was doing it because she really wanted to or because she was "under the influence", so to speak. Who wants that?

Luckily, my worries were eased somewhat on that front. But you could see the bad stuff just coming down the proverbial pike, and so I still kept putting the book down. I like Rachel, I love Jenks, and I am starting to warm towards Ivy, so I didn't want to see anything bad happen to them. This time around, it does. I won't say anything more, mostly because I'm still not entirely sure I believe it myself. I should, but hey - it's hard to know what's real in Harrison's world sometimes.

There's a lot of action in this volume, and it can be easy to forget where the plot lines were headed. Good news is that Harrison did not sacrifice her character development to pack in that action, thus we have an almost 500 page book. And in hardback, no less! That should be a good sign for us Harrison fans, as well as the author blurb on the inside jacket, which tells us that Kim is working hard on the next Rachel book.

I'm anxious to see how it goes in the next one. I, for one, am now hopeful about the Ivy/Rachel situation; I can't say why, but I think we may see Ivy change her tune a bit. At least, that's what I hope. I could be wrong!

"The Last of the Red-Hot Vampires" by Katie Macalister

After reading the latest of the Aisling Grey series (and being severely disappointed by it), I was hoping that Katie would have found her way back to what she does best, comedic paranormal romance. Sadly, I don't think she's there yet.

The basic plot of this book, and I'm using "basic" very loosely, is that scientist Portia Harding accidentally summons a virtue, a being of the Court of Divine Blood, and receives this particular being's gift, that of control over the weather. A mysterious handsome stranger, Theo North, starts pursuing her (kidnapping her at one point), in an attempt to help her pass seven trials that she must undergo to be accepted as a virtue in said Court. Also, he's hoping that when she gets her status, she'll grant him an exculpation, so that he can become a full member of the Court. See, Theo is a nephilim, the child of an angel and a human, and as such is not allowed Court membership without a pardon, as it were.

This being a Katie book, though, that outline of plot is nowhere near enough to explain the book. During one of her trials, Portia literally fries the physical being of a demon. That results in a punishment, one that Theo accepts in her place (he is her champion, after all, which I thought was only something that happened in medieval times, but there ya go). Theo has his soul ripped from him and becomes a Dark One, therefore the title of the book. Yes, Dark Ones are vampires, but they can have their souls returned through the sacrifice of a Beloved, and yes, you guessed it, Portia just happens to fill that role as well.

Let me sum it up in a nutshell - THERE IS TOO MUCH GOING ON IN THIS BOOK! I really wish authors would remember that we want to connect to the characters and care about them. There's no way to feel that there's any danger if we don't, is there? There's no reason for us to root for them, for us to want them to fall in love, for us to want them to be happy, if we can't feel like we know them. And quite frankly, I wasn't feeling that with this book. There was too much action and not enough character development, and that action felt really, really rushed. I mean, Theo is a nephilim, then BLAM - he's a Dark One. There's a subplot about Portia not having faith, which is alluded to by a childhood in a religious cult - why not develop that more? I'd like to know what really happened to her back then to make her so skeptical of everything. Why have Portia go through all these trials and tribulations if she doesn't want the power given to her? And much to my chagrin, there wasn't much in the way of humor, either, something that I have loved about previous books by this author. Sure, there are a few funny moments, but nothing that had me laughing out loud like before.

The best way for me to explain this is the following, I think. The heroine in my favorite KM book, The Corset Diaries, is Tessa Riordan. Tessa is a full-figured, strong-willed, yet vulnerable woman. She is funny but also caring and sympathetic. I liked her, and I really could imagine that if I were to run into her somewhere, I would sit down and have a drink with her. She was written as someone that I could see myself being friends with. Portia Harding is logical, skeptical about the paranormal, and around my age. Those are the only things I have in common with her. I didn't feel much friendship towards her friend Sarah, more like the treatment of an overenthusiastic puppy. I didn't believe that she was in love with Theo. I probably would not even notice Portia on the street.

That's why this book didn't do it for me. I want to like the characters, but ultimately, I just didn't care what happened to them. If you like the wacky paranormal romance genre, you might like this better than I did. But if you want to fall in love with your characters as much as they do with each other, I'd skip this one.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"A Dangerous Thing" by Josh Lanyon

This second Adrien English mystery from Lanyon is a stronger showing than his series starter, "Fatal Shadows" (see earlier review). A better, tighter plot line and a good dose of character development made me glad that I decided to read this book.

Adrien is running away in the opening, literally - from his writer's block, from his bookstore, and from his possible boyfriend cop Jake. He decides to hide out at Pine Shadow Ranch, property left to him by his dear Granna, the same bold dame that also left him his sizable inheritance. He claims he's going to "check on" the place, even though he doesn't tell anyone where he's headed. When he arrives, though, he finds that things are seriously amiss, starting with the dead body at the foot of the driveway.

Of course there are several plot twists and turns. Said body has disappeared by the time the local law team get there (a duo that could certainly give Andy & Barney a run for their money). A second dead body is found in the barn, one that looks similar to the first but which Adrien insists is not the corpse he saw. There are potshots taken at Adrien, a snake in a mailbox, a college group doing an archaeological dig on his property (authorized by a fraudulent letter), and a field of pot growing out on the back forty. Ted Harvey, the caretaker that Adrien hired a few years ago to watch over/keep up the place, is nowhere to be found. And to top it all off, Jake shows up to lend his support and help after Adrien is knocked unconscious while "investigating".

And lest we forget, there are Indian tribal lands involved, a legend about The Guardian, and some weird, spooky chants heard in the hills.

It sounds like a complicated plot, doesn't it? Well, some of it is, but mostly it's just interesting stuff, especially the historical parts about the Gold Rush and mining in California, something I don't know much about. What had me really enjoying this book was the development of the relationship between Adrien and Jake. There's a lot more page time devoted to it, and a lot more explanation of Jake's background, why he's so upset about his sexual orientation, how that affects the budding romance between he and Adrien. After all, as Adrien puts it, Jake is "buried so deep in the closet he [doesn't] know where to look for himself", and it's hard to love someone who has so much self-hatred. The only thing that felt off about the interactions of the two is Jake calling Adrien "baby" so much; I'm not really sure I buy that a big, burly, deeply-in-denial law enforcement agent would use such a term, especially not out in public. Granted, most of the times that term of endearment are said, it's just the two men, but there are a few instances where they are in public places. I don't really see Jake feeling free enough to utter something like that, even if he thought no one else would be able to hear it.

Overall, this is a much better book than the first in the series, making it highly likely that I'll be reading the third installment.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"Vampire Vow" by Michael Schiefelbein

OK, I've been as fair as possible to all the items I've reviewed thus far, or at least, that is my sincere hope. I've tried to find at least one good thing in each work or something that points in the right direction as far as the next work by that author. Today that all ends, for today's review is about a book that is, without a doubt, the worst thing I've ever read.

I'm not even going to attempt a summary of the plot. Instead, here it is, directly from the back of the book:

"For centuries, Victor Decimus, former Roman officer under Pontius Pilate, has fed his rage with blood. Desperately in love with but ultimately rejected by the young Jesus, Victor turns on the citizens of Jerusalem in a frenzy of rape and violence, leaving him no escape except entry into the chaotic world of darkness he finds as a vampire.

Two thousand years later, in the guise of a monk, Victor takes up residence in the monastery of St. Thomas, nestled in the Appalachian Mountains. In Brother Michael he finds a hint of the love he has sought throughout his dark existence. But his rage, his desires, and his vow of vengeance against the God of the Christians drive him to insane levels of violence against his prey, leading to an investigation of "Brother Victor" and the monastery.

As investigators close in, Victor launches his most daring effort: the transformation of Brother Michael. And with everything at stake, the consequences of interference are horrifying beyond mortal imagination."

If you didn't notice it while reading that summary, look again - how many times does the word "violence" appear? That is one of the multitude of sins committed by this book, pure brutality for no reason. I get that Victor started out in a different time, one where beatings of others, slaves and such, was fairly common, but this was just repugnant. There are other problems, too, such as the lackluster writing, poor character development, poor plot development, etc.

The biggest reason I disliked this book? Victor himself. The character is the most obnoxious, repulsive, sadistic vampire I've ever encountered in a book. I'm sorry, but even the works I've read where vampires are pure predators, rather than romantic/cursed figures, had more sympathy from me than this Victor Decimus. And the author keeps talking about Victor's "love" for Jesus and Michael? Uh, I don't see it. Not once did I believe that Victor was in love with anyone but himself. Obsessed by those two men, yes, lustful for them, most definitely, crazed with rage when rejected by them, hell yes. But there is no love in this book anywhere, and to keep saying that Victor is the way he is just because he can't find love is ludicrous.

The most interesting thing I found was the bio of the author. It says that he spent 10 years studying for the priesthood but now is a professor of writing and literature. I think Mr. Schiefelbein has a lot of unresolved issues about Christianity and said priesthood, ones that he's trying to work out in this book. Even scarier is that it is the first installment in a series, one that I will not be continuing. There's enough hatred and violence in the world as it is. The last thing I want to do is read a 200-page book full of vitriol.

Monday, May 14, 2007

"The New Rules of Marriage" by Terrence Real

I think it's a great idea to sit down every once in a while and read a "marriage how-to" book. Let's face it, nothing prepares you for being married. You don't get an owner's manual! I've perused some books over the 6+ years that I've been married and have yet to find the "perfect" one for couples. However, all of them have some good advice, so I take what works and leave what doesn't.

Mr. Real's book is pretty much the same as the rest; there's the good, the bad, and the "what on earth is he talking about?!" He gives some nice examples of couples that he's worked with and their cases, presenting the arguments themselves and how they are eventually resolved. I like when authors do that because you will almost always be able to relate to one of the couples and their problem.

One of the points I didn't agree with was that we all "marry our parents" in order to hopefully resolve some childhood issue we had with said parents. Maybe some people do this, but I had a pretty good childhood - no abuse, no cold fish, no overly authoritative tyrant, no yellers, etc. I would have been OK with this advice/information if he hadn't made it sound like everyone who gets married does this - I don't think you can label anything at 100%.

I will agree with his advice on arguing, as it's been said by several therapists before him. How you argue reveals a lot about your marriage, especially whether or not it will survive. People who lower themselves into name calling, using "always" and "never", and those that bring up issues from years past do not often have what would be described as happy marriages. Often those same people end up getting divorced, I think because they tend to have no respect for each other as human beings. That, after all, is the most important thing to remember in a fight - no matter how angry or "right" you feel, that person you're yelling at is not just your spouse, they are a human being who deserves your respect as such.

The biggest point that I really liked and felt was important was that people often forget to cherish each other. I call this taking your spouse for granted, but however you want to word it, I think it's probably the number one reason people get so nasty when they fight. While you don't have to thank your spouse for every little thing they do, you DO need to thank them. I know how much I like it when someone tells me how much something means to them, whether it's something big like an important presentation done well, or my hubby telling me how much he appreciates that I made sure he had clean work clothes. No one likes to feel unwanted, or perhaps more important, invisible. So go home tonight and tell your spouse or significant other just how much they mean to you. And don't just tell them tonight - tell them as often as possible. That is what true love is.

"The Secret Language of Sleep" by Evany Thomas

This is just a cute, funny little book, not really meant to be taken seriously. It sounds like it's legit at times, until you read the actual descriptions of some of the poses. For good example of this, read this quote from The Ventriloquist's pose: "Spontaneous to the point of mania, Ventriloquist couples like to keep each other guessing by rearranging the furniture, replacing the sugar with salt, or hemming each other's clothing."

The pictures of the poses are cute, and this book isn't shy about showing anyone in bed. Some of the couples are hetero, some are not - quite progressive! The poses themselves range from some that look somewhat standard to the really outrageous, which should also be a clue to the whimsical nature of this book. I don't know that I would recommend buying it, but if you can find a copy at your local library, it would be worth an hour or so of your time.

Friday, May 11, 2007

"Mortal Danger" by Eileen Wilks

This is the second book starring officer Lily Yu and her werewolf mate Rule Turner. Not as good as the first book, but then there's a lot of set-up for the third installment, which I think "stars" the two side characters in this novel.

Harlowe, the human puppet of the evil sorceress Helen from the first book, "Tempting Danger", is back and hell-bent on revenge, literally. He's got a demon working for him and with him to bring down Lily. The basic plan is for Gan, the demon, to take possession of Lily's body and bring it across the dimensional divide into Dis, otherwise known to us mere mortals as "Hell". Harlowe still has the staff to direct his power, as well, and it's that staff that causes the majority of the problems in the second half of the book.

There's a huge showdown between Harlowe, Lily, and eight werewolves led by Rule. In the fight, Harlowe is attempting to aid Gan in taking possession when he's hit by mage fire from Cullen Seaborne, Rule's friend and fellow sorcerer from the first book. The mage fire kills Harlowe, fries the staff, and sends Rule, Gan, and part of Lily into Dis. This is where the book gets very, very strange. Lily is still also on Earth, but only part of her is there, and that's the part without her Gift (she's a sensitive, someone who can sense magic by touching an item). The Lily stuck in Dis has the Gift but very little memory of her life - she doesn't know who she is, nor does she know who Rule is. It's a rough second half to read, as each chapter jumps between the Lilys.

The end of the book, of course, is the attempt to rescue Lily and Rule from Dis. Cullen, the other Lily, and Cynna Weaver, a new character, are the small bunch sent for the job. It's an interesting ending, not one I found entirely satisfying, but I'm not sure it could've ended any other way.

As I said, most of this book is set-up for "Bloodlines", the third book in the series, starring Cullen and Cynna. It's obvious in this 2nd installment that there's an attraction at work, and I'm interested to see where it goes. The only real beef I have is with the publisher, who labeled this a paranormal romance. Sorry folks, but there's not a whole lot of lovin' going on here; I'd say this is more in the "fantasy" realm. There are imps, demons, a troll and dragons, all the elements of a good fantasy, don't you think? Anyway, should be interesting to get the third book and see where Wilks takes us.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

"Fatal Shadows" by Josh Lanyon

This is one of those books that somehow ended up on my Amazon list. I'm not really sure why it landed on the "recommended for you" list, but it sounded interesting enough to give it a shot, and let's face it, clocking in at 150 pages, I knew it wouldn't take more than a few hours to read.

So, was it worth it? Yes and no. First off, it's a gay mystery story, so if gay fiction isn't your thing, stop right here. Again, I'm not sure what I flagged that caused the recommendation, but I'm always willing to try a new book, regardless of the sexual orientation of the main characters. Second, it's a first novel (I think), and those can always have some flaws too big to overlook, ones that make it difficult to go on to the sophomore work.

The basic story here is that the good friend and co-worker of Adrien English is murdered and Adrien might be a suspect. It soon becomes obvious that a serial killer is on the prowl, one that has targeted past classmates of Adrien's. Is he the next target or the killer?

That's it. I know, I know - the plot is that simple? Well, yes, given that the author only put 150 pages of work into it. It's not a horrible plot, but it was fairly easy to see the set-up; in other words, no big surprises. Adrien is likable enough, not written flamboyantly gay, although the author mentioned his heart condition a few too many times, I thought. (He suffers from an irregular heartbeat, which I know can cause problems for some, but I was under the impression that with all our medical advancements that most can and do live very full lives with this condition) There are a pair of police detectives that interview/harass Adrien, and one (the more "burly" one) seems to be showing more interest than he should. There are Adrien's friends, who are written more in what one thinks of as the gay stereotype. And there are the frequent dialogues about how hard it is to be a gay man, what with the prejudices and hate crimes that still occur, even in gay-friendly cities.

It wasn't a terrible offering, but I think Lanyon needs more work. I might try the second book just to see if things improve. I'm sincerely hoping that he's picked up a better editing staff - this work suffers from misspellings, bad punctuation, and at one point, seems to be missing about half a paragraph entirely. Normally these things are easily overlooked for me, but not in a work this short. This is really more of a novella, and you just can't afford to be sloppy in something this sparse; people remember seeing the mistakes.

Monday, May 7, 2007

"Nightingale's Lament" by Simon Green

John Taylor, the man who can find anything, is back in the third Nightside installment. Green is still on his game, although the main plot point in this one takes a backseat for about 2/3 of the book. Taylor gets involved with the usual cast of assorted weirdos, most of whom are new to the ensemble.

The main case here is The Nightingale, aka Rossignol (the french word for nightingale), a new female singer that is causing quite the sensation in the Nightside. Seems she sings the saddest songs and then people go out and kill themselves. Not really good for business. And most worrisome to her father, who hires Taylor to discover just what it is that her new management team, the Cavendishes, have done to her.

Taylor needs something to concentrate on as the case he had previously undertaken ended with disastrous results. Walker, the face/voice of The Authorities, is hot on John's trail, and just might bring him in for extermination this time. Yes, things ended that badly on the botched case. Taylor eludes Walker for most of the novel and tries to uncover the Cavendishes secrets, as well as the validity of the suicide claims. Up to this point, it's always been a friend-of-a-friend that relays the tragic events, so no one is really sure if Rossignol's voice truly affects people in such an adverse way or if it's just a fabulous publicity rumor.

Turns out, it's all too true. When Taylor attends a concert undercover, he witnesses a young man pull a gun and blow his brains out right in front of the stage, close enough that brain matter lands on the young diva's bare feet. Yes, the descriptions of the act are rather graphic, so if you're weak of stomach, I wouldn't advise this book. But the story is so compelling, it's worth it. The Cavendishes are Mr. and Mrs, but they may also be brother and sister (shades of The People Under the Stairs - anyone else remember that Wes Craven sleeper?). They've obviously got an unhealthy stronghold on their star, one that even she herself can recognize. She pleads with John to find out just what is happening.

I can't tell you what's happened, for obvious reasons - gives away the end of the book! This is a good entry, even though Taylor spends quite a bit of time on minor sub-plots. They seem disjointed until the end of the book, where everything comes together. I think Simon Green could have let on a bit earlier how they'd intertwine, but then again, I'm not the author, am I? I still give this series a definite thumb-up and would recommend it to anyone looking for something a bit different.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

"The Naming of the Dead" by Ian Rankin

This is the 18th Rebus novel, believe it or not, and Rankin has done a great job over the years keeping Rebus near and dear to our hearts. If you've not yet discovered this Scottish crime series, you're missing out. Detective Inspector John Rebus is just about as flawed as they come - he drinks too much, smokes too much, eats crap food, doesn't sleep well (and rarely in his bed), and has a rather sizable problem with authority. He does, however, have great taste in music, and he has a work ethic that would put most to shame. John Rebus always solves the case, even if he doesn't always get his man.

At the beginning of this installment, it's 2005 and the G8 summit is descending on Edinburgh, to the delight of some and the chagrin of others. There are important men of state in town, as well as several thousand protesters; the tension is thick and the air charged. Rebus seems to be the only law enforcement official not needed to control the masses, which is why he ends up on the case of a dead delegate, one who either fell, jumped, or was pushed to his death. He also ends up looking into the death of a recently paroled rapist, a scumbag who worked for Rebus's arch nemesis, Gerald Morris Cafferty, aka "Big Ger", a local mobster. These cases may not look like much, but they give Rebus something to hang on to; he's just lost his younger brother, Michael, to a stroke. (Talk about some family issues as well as confronting your own mortality!) As usual, though, Rebus is about to butt heads with his superiors as well as his colleagues, all but his co-worker Siobhan Clarke.

The more John and Siobhan look into the two murders, the murkier things get. Two more deaths come to light that indicate there's a serial killer of sexual predators on the loose. There's a businessman who appears to be doing deals with foreign countries, deals that include weapons, and he could be involved in the delegate's death. There's a local councilman who also seems to be a bit closer to the situation than first thought, one who looks like a hero but appears to have strong ties with the local riff-raff. Add to this mix Siobhan's parents, who have come to camp out and protest with the throngs, and you have one very complicated plot. But it's a good complicated plot, one with several twists and turns, and nothing that doesn't make sense in the long run.

I highly recommend reading the entire series, in order if at all possible. Each novel can be read and enjoyed on its own, but when you read the series, you really get the background and power plays. Characters pop up quite often, such as Big Ger, and the relationship between Rebus and Siobhan makes more sense (at least one character in this book thinks they are more than just partners, which they aren't, not in the strictest sense). The great thing about the Rebus books is that John is aging in each of them, just like real life. In the early books, his marriage has just broken up but he's still trying to be there for his family, mainly his daughter. They aren't as involved in the later books, but it makes sense when you read the series why they aren't written about as much. Also, because this is done more in "real time", John is nearing retirement now and those issues are being explored. He really IS his job, and the thought of retiring is frightening - what will he do? Who will he be? Rankin is obviously "grooming" the character of Siobhan to be a replacement, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if John shows up in her series, probably as a PI or something similar.

A big thumbs-up for "The Naming of the Dead". Let's face it - sometimes you just need a good murder mystery on a rainy day. The Rebus books more than fit the bill - look for them today.