Saturday, June 30, 2007

"Lean Mean Thirteen" by Janet Evanovich

Stephanie Plum is back. Back at Vinnie's Bail Bonds, back in her crap cars, back to being the worst-ever bounty hunter on the planet. Back on the FTA (failure-to-appear) search with her trusty side-kick, ex-ho, Lula. Back between dating Joe Morelli, the hot cop with a steady job and somewhat good reputation, and Ranger, the dark, mysterious man of mystery, who also has a fairly steady job and a not so good reputation. Back at her family's house, eating her mother's home-cooked dinners, listening to her father groan, and trying to keep her Grandma Mazur out of trouble.

Yep, Stephanie's back.

The 13th entry in the Stephanie Plum series opens with our hapless heroine doing a favor for Ranger, one that involves Steph's ex-hubby, Dickie Orr. She and Dickie were married "for fifteen minutes" once upon a time and the divorce was one of the nastiest in history. Of course, Dickie was a notorious cheater, and she did come home to find him on top of Joyce Barnhardt, on their dining room table, to boot. Needless to say, the visit to Dickie does not go well. Words are said. Fists are flung. A scene is made, and everyone will remember that Steph was there and mad as hell.

Then Dickie disappears. Things don't look good for Stephanie, as there are bullet holes and blood in Dickie's house. Everyone thinks she killed him (she'd like to, and the thought has crossed her mind once or twice). To prove her innocence, she sets out to discover the real killer. Along the way, she and Lula attempt to apprehend a few FTAs, including one Carl Coglin, a taxidermist with a penchant for building bombs and a huge grudge against the cable company. There's also Diggery, a petty thief who robs graves. Steph and Lula do their best to bring in the bad guys, and as usual, their best results in a lot of laughs.

Top all this off with Dickie's shady law partners, and you have a typical entry in the Stephanie Plum series.

Are there any revelations in this book? Nope. Does Stephanie get any better at her job? Nope. Do she and Lula spend a lot of time talking about food? You bet! This is basically the same as the previous 12 entries, and that's not all bad. I like the Plum books because they're a known quantity. I know it won't take me much more than a day to read one. I know I'll laugh quite a few times. I know I'll get hungry with all the talk of Tastycakes, Cluck-in-a-Bucket, and mom's lasagna. I know that Lula will be wearing outlandish outfits that are too small for her, and that she'll probably take a shot at at least one person. Ranger will be smoking hot, Morelli will provide food (probably pizza and beer), and Bob will be his big, lovable, doggy self. It's like putting on an old shoe - it fits, it's comfortable, and it makes me feel good.

There are signs that Evanovich is possibly going to move Steph along some, maybe down the road. Ranger comments that if Steph isn't entirely sure that she and Morelli are a couple, he will stop "being nice" and actively pursue her. Whew! I'm looking forward to that, let me tell ya! I thought he already was pursuing her, so you go, Ranger! Steph is leaning towards Joe, I think, but I can tell that while she recognizes that she could be the wife and mother because it's what's expected, she might not be entirely happy with that decision. Ranger might be too mysterious and bad for her, but Joe is too safe. (This is why I have said that she should end up with Diesel, the character from the "In Between the Numbers" books that Evanovich puts out around the holidays - Diesel is the perfect blend of Morelli/Ranger!) Also, Lula is just about able to call herself Tank's girlfriend, which is great! I think Lula is a wonderful person and she deserves someone who will love her (and put up with her).

I was bad and looked at the comments on Amazon. Most readers seemed to like this book, but several of them said we've "been there, done that". I say phooey! If they want Stephanie to mature, become a better bounty hunter, and finally pick a man, that's fine. But they should also realize that if those things happen, it will probably be the end of the series. And to me, that would be very sad indeed.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

"Blaze" by Richard Bachman

Of course everyone knows that Richard Bachman is a pen-name for Stephen King. He used it a couple of decades ago, probably to publish some works that might have been frowned upon had he put "King" on the title page. Bachman books have typically had fewer characters on canvas and have concentrated on the personal lives of those characters, rather than the spooky, supernatural stuff. King "killed off" Bachman when it was clear that an ardent fan realized who Bachman was and threatened to blow the cover. The name Bachman has continued to pop up over time; in 1995, "The Regulators" (by Bachman) was released simultaneously with "Desperation" (by King).

Now "Blaze" has been discovered by one of King's assistants. He didn't like the story when it was originally written and stuck it in a trunk to be forgotten. After reading it with fresh eyes, he decided to do a bit of editing, a bit of re-working, etc, and voila! It's like having a new book, but it's old. You know the drill.

As for the summary, here it is, straight off the dust jacket. Sorry folks, but I couldn't do any better myself, and it tells you pretty much all you need to know.

"Blaze is the story of Clayton Blaisdell, Jr. - of the crimes committed against him and the crimes he commits, including his last, the kidnapping of a baby heir worth millions. Blaze has been a slow thinking since childhood, when his father threw him down the stairs - and then threw him down again. After escaping an abusive institution for boys when he was a teenager, Blaze hooks up with George, a seasoned criminal who thinks he has all the answers. But then George is killed, and Blaze, though haunted by his partner, is on his own. He becomes one of the most sympathetic criminals in all of literature. This is a crime story of surprising strength and sadness, with a suspenseful current sustained by the classic workings of fate and character...."

Blaze really is one of the most sympathetic mokes to come down the pike, as George would say. You get a slight glimpse of Blaze before his father gravely injures him, and all I could think was what sort of a man he could've been, if only. Then as I read further, I realized that Blaze wasn't a bad person, just one who sometimes did bad things. He truly is the "gentle giant" of literature, a person who only wants to have a friend in this world, a person who doesn't lash out until it's necessary. The interaction between him and "Joey", the baby he kidnaps, is especially heart-warming. It's not often that you find yourself rooting for the "bad buy", but I sure did.

This is a great "find" for King fans. Short, tight writing, good character development, and a great story. "Blaze" is a definite thumbs-up from the Bookbabe. Her Hubster gave an equally enthusiastic review, and said to share with all.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

"Firestorm" by Rachel Caine

Joanne Baldwin is back, and she's got even bigger problems than she's had in the previous four entries in the Weather Warden series. This time around it's Mother Earth herself that she's fighting; Mother is starting to wake from a long, deep sleep and she is not happy. Humans have been wreaking havoc and like any long-suffering parent, she's had it. It's time for some much-deserved punishment. Only thing is, that punishment pretty much means the end of the human race.

Not to mention that the working relationship between Wardens and their Djinn has gone to hell in a hand basket.

Intrigued? You should be. Next to Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series, I think Caine's Weather Warden saga is one of the best out there. Jo is just a girl trying to do her job when we meet up with her, although she is on the run for killing her mentor. He wasn't a bad guy but he had been infected by a Demon Mark, a sort of nasty parasite highly attracted to power, which most Wardens have, some in spades. What, you thought the weather was a natural phenomenon? Not in Caine's world; Wardens all have control over one of three elements: fire, water, and earth. They attempt to keep us puny humans from being crushed by the forces of Mother Earth, not always as successfully as they would hope. This is a world fairly much like our own, except for the existence of the Wardens, their Djinn and the Demons.

Alas, you guessed it - I'm about to tell you to read the whole series and to do it in order. Don't ask me why I'm always attracted to these things, because I've wondered that myself. Perhaps it's for the same reason that we are friends with certain people; we enjoy spending time with them, come to care about them, and want to know about their lives. Hey, don't tell me it hasn't happened to you at some point - I believe everyone has come to feel "close" to at least one fictional character in his/her lifetime!

The beauty of reading this series in order is that not only do you get to know Jo, you are immersed in her world and watch the relationship develop between her and David, a free Djinn (at least, when we meet him). What are Djinn? Exactly what they sound like, genies of a sort, although maybe more like batteries for the Wardens. They can boost a Warden's powers, but they are also basically slaves, no matter what the Wardens claim. And yes, they can be ordered "back into the bottle" - really! David is one of the most amazing characters I've come across in fiction in a long time; written to be very attractive, lust-inspiring if you will, but also with enough feeling and empathy to make him more than a pretty face. The affair between him and Jo is extremely complicated but very much worth reading this series. There's also Lewis, a Warden of the utmost power who walked away from the group, several other Djinn, Wardens and various bad guys throughout the series.

Trust me, Jo's world is worth checking out. Here's the list, in order, of course!

THIN AIR (release date August 7th, 2007)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

"Bell, Book and Murder" by Rosemary Edghill

Thanks must go out to the Bookbabe's little sis, who thought she'd like this book. I'm sorry it took me so long to read it, but you were right!!

This book is subtitled "The Bast Novels" because they are all about Bast, aka Karen Hightower, a practicing NeoPagan Wiccan in New York City. We follow Bast in her day-to-day life, which involves her job as a graphic designer (old-school style - no Desktop here!), her on-again-off-again job for The Snake, a store specializing in things Wiccan, and the coven she belongs to, Changing, led by High Priestess Belleflower. They are also about the murder mysteries that she finds herself becoming a part of, ones that involve that same NeoPagan community.

The murder mysteries themselves are OK. I think the greater attraction of these books, at least for me, is the character development. I found Bast and her friends to be very interesting, and I was fascinated by the descriptions of the NeoPagan Wiccan community at large. Because there are different covens with different ways of worshipping. Some are more matriarchal, worshipping the Goddess. Some are more shamanic, often involving some sort of "blooding" (at least, there is in one of the covens). It's a very different world, and yet, it's not. The thing that resonated with me in all 3 of the books was that each of the coven members wanted a place to belong, a place where they felt safe and respected. These witches really just want what everyone else wants - someone to love. Well, at least I think Bast does.

Even though some of the action didn't take the direction I was hoping for, I do admire Ms. Edghill for staying true to her characters. Unfortunately, the only other work that includes Bast that I could find was a short story in a collection that was published quite a few years ago. Ms. Edghill is still writing, primarily science fiction and as a co-author with Mercedes Lackey. I don't know if Ms. Edghill has any plans for future Bast books, but I would love to read more about her. If anyone out there has a more definite answer for me, please let me know!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

"Buddha or Bust" by Perry Garfinkel

The subtitle of this book pretty much says everything: "In search of Truth, Meaning, Happiness and the man who found them all"

Garfinkel gets a very sweet assignment from National Geographic at just the right time of his life. He is pretty much broke, living with his mother after a bad breakup, and has just had his back go out, again. His pitch for an article about Buddhism has been given the green-light, and he needs this assignment to be his best ever.

It wouldn't hurt if he found some enlightenment of his own, as well.

This is not so much about finding happiness (as I thought when I first decided to read it) as it is a history of the phenomenon that is Buddhist religion. I had no idea that there were so many subsets of Buddhism nor the changes that it's gone through over the ages and with the migration of the religion from country to country. And like Garfinkel, I had no idea that there have been wars fought over it as well. This came as quite a shock to the author, who always thought of it in peaceful terms. I was quite surprised myself, although I'm not sure why. It does seem that history reflects followers of organized religions willing to fight others for their beliefs; why would Buddhism be any different than, say, Catholicism? And no, I'm not picking on the Catholics, so please don't leave me any hateful comments. They just popped into my head first, thank you very much.

In the end, the fact that this is more a history book and less a self-help/self-awareness book makes it less appealing, I think. I did find some of the history interesting, some even fascinating, but what I really wanted to know about were the people that the author encountered. There are anecdotes about his "handlers" on his travels, and I wish he'd spent a bit more time writing about them.

I have to say, the best chapter of the book is the next-to-last one, in which Garfinkel gets to interview the Dalai Lama. That was incredible! I am now insanely jealous (not a very Buddhist emotion, I know - the irony is not lost on me). I have always thought the Dalai Lama to be the most serene person on the planet, so much so that I wish I knew his secret. I mean, really, can anybody be that happy all the time? I know he probably isn't, but let's face it - all the pictures out there show him smiling that beautiful smile. I want to feel that way, and I think Garfinkel did too. Maybe if we could learn to be more like the Dalai, the world would be a better place. As Lennon said, "Imagine......"

Monday, June 11, 2007

"White Night" by Jim Butcher

If you've picked up on the recent Sci-Fi series "The Dresden Files", then you're already familiar with Harry Dresden, wizard at large. If not, hopefully you've found him in Butcher's series, because these are books not to be missed.

Harry Dresden in the only wizard in the Chicago Yellow Pages. He gets involved in lots of strange cases, mostly those of a magical/mystical nature. He works with Karin Murphy, a cop who has been assigned to the SI unit of Chicago PD; they take the cases that no one else knows how to handle (think X-Files but set in the world of local law enforcement). There's always something happening to Harry, and Karin, and anyone else crazy enough to get involved.

This time around, Harry is trying to stop the deaths of local Wiccan women. They have all been ruled as suicides, but there are clues to indicate that they were actually murdered. Of course, this leads to bigger villains, namely the White Court vampires. Seems they're having a bit of an internal struggle for power and Harry is now caught square in the middle. He needs to catch the villain, keep the ladies safe, and try not to get himself blown to bits in the process.

If you like Sci-Fi/Fantasy, or if you just like a good read, pick up the Dresden Files. Again, this is one will be better served by reading them in order, and here's the list:


And if anyone knows where to get a Mister or a Mouse, let me know!

"All Together Dead" by Charlaine Harris

Sookie Stackhouse rocks! This is lucky number 7 in the Southern Vampire series, and our beloved Sookie is up to her eyeballs in trouble again, as usual. This one takes place near Chicago; Sookie is asked to travel there with the Queen of Louisiana's entourage for a vampire convention. Her talents as a telepath will help the Queen decide who is on her side, who's an enemy, etc. Of course, that only works with the humans and the weres; Sookie can't read the thoughts of a vampire. Probably why she was attracted to them in the first place.

There's a lot of action going on in this installment, most of it setting up for future books, I think. It's hard to go into what happens without giving away details that are in the previous books. Yes, folks, this is another series that ya'll need to start at the beginning. Trust me, you won't be sorry - Sookie is imminently likable, as are most of the people in her world. Think old Laurell K. Hamilton without all the sex. Strong plots and good character development are big pluses for Harris' writing.

Can't say enough about the Sookie books. Check them out today, and just because I love them so much, here's the list of titles in order:


"The Blood of Kings" by John Michael Curlovich

Another recommendation by Amazon, and yet another author that I will not read again. Sigh. I don't know exactly how these titles ended up on my list, but so far, only Josh Lanyon was a hit. The others have definitely been misses.

This time around we have young, good-looking, athletic homosexual Jamie Dunn going off to the same college as his high-school crush, mostly in the hopes of picking up where they left off. Tim, however, is a bit on the closeted side, something that eventually causes enough tension to break them up. Enter Jamie's good-looking, possibly older (maybe much older), Egyptology professor Danilo Semekaru, a man of culture and mystery. The student and teacher begin a forbidden love affair, one that will ultimately break them apart, too, although if the split is permanent is not answered, leaving room for a sequel.

This is billed as a gay vampire love story, and I suppose it is, somewhat. Danilo has been around for ages, and I do mean that literally. He wants to share the secret of immortality with Jamie, the first man he has truly loved in centuries. Only problem is that Jamie has to die first, then he must sacrifice other men (and it would seem those men must be gay, also) to maintain his youth. The sacrifices are just that - bloody, gory messes with missing body parts, and yes, you guessed it - those parts need to be consumed by Jamie. Sort of makes the whole biting and sucking your neck look pretty good.

Overall, the plot is a bit vague. The thing that kept coming across was the author's disdain for male homosexuals who do not acknowledge their sexual orientation. Almost all the characters in this book are male, and almost all are gay. They fall into two categories: those that embrace their sexuality and those that are trying to hide it. In fact, the "hiders" are pretty much the ones that pay the price, sacrificing their lives so that Danilo and later Jamie can maintain their immortality. I know it's not easy to be a gay man, but let's not beat the issue to death. Makes for a rather dull book in the end.

Overall, I'd say not to waste time on this. It does have some interesting Egyptian history, but that's not enough to save the novel.

Friday, June 8, 2007

"The Hell You Say" by Josh Lanyon

Adrien English is back! I must say, I would never have imagined falling for such a character in the past. Gay fiction is not something that I ordinarily read, but Adrien has grown on me so much with each successive Lanyon book that I found myself wishing there was another book available! Sadly, this is the most recently available addition to the series, one that I'm hoping Lanyon doesn't give up on, as Adrien has matured along with Lanyon's writing. The improvement with each installment is amazing, and definitely worth checking out.

It's the holiday season and Adrien is far from festive. His employee, Angus, is being threatened/stalked/terrorized by a possible cult, resulting in Adrien offering Angus a rather sizable chunk of money to get away for a while. After all, death threats are bad for business, even in a mystery bookstore! Shortly after Angus flees, the bodies start popping up, corpses that are mutilated in horrible ways and accompanied by strange drawings, usually in the victims' blood. Jake Riordan, Adrien's on-again-off-again lover, is assigned to one of the slayings (remember, Jake is a cop) and is soon warning Adrien to stay out of it, but to be sure to direct Angus to contact Jake with any information he may have.

Adrien, of course, isn't going to let Angus fend for himself. "That boy", as Adrien's soon-to-rewed-mother Lisa refers to him, might have been quiet and a bit weird, but he's been a decent employee and good help is hard to find. Enter Professor Guy Snowden, the prof that Angus was assisting at UCLA, a rather handsome figure, one that takes an obvious interest in Adrien. A few problems with that, though - Guy may be involved in the cult shenanigans, not to mention that Adrien is still somewhat involved with Jake. The attraction between the two men is hard to miss, though, and they eventually team up to help unmask the killer.

The character development is stronger in this book than the plot is, I must say. The mystery is fairly well-done, although it falls apart a bit in the end. No matter - I read these for Adrien and his friends. The relationship with Jake is about to implode, which made me sad. Adrien's feelings for Jake are pretty deep, but as he's said before, there's no way this will last, seeing as how Jake is deeply closeted and full of self-loathing. The relationship with Lisa, Adrien's mother, is explored a bit more, but not as much as I'd like. I'm still not entirely sure I understand why he calls her by her first name, rather than "mother" - she is his biological mother, of that I'm sure, so it's a bit odd. Maybe he does it to put himself on more even footing with her, rather than the parent-child relationship, not sure. The man she's marrying and his three daughters also make an appearance, but they felt more "thrown-in" for effect. I did, however, like the youngest daughter - she showed promise, and I'm hoping that she and Adrien will interact more in future books. And I certainly hope Guy makes a return appearance as well!