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.