Wednesday, January 31, 2007

"Eye of Heaven" by Marjorie M. Liu

The Dirk & Steele gang are back! For those who like paranormal romance but are finding the genre to be very heavy on the romance (ie - sex) and light on plot, rejoice! Marjorie M. Liu has got you covered! I first discovered her while reading the Crimson City series, a good set of books by different authors, all about Crimson City - a place full of vampires, werewolves, demons and more. Liu's contribution, "A Taste of Crimson", was the best book by far, and I was determined to see if it was a one-time fluke or if she was really that good.

She's really that good!

"Eye of Heaven" is the 4th book in the Dirk & Steele series. D&S is a detective agency started by a couple who are pychics. Over the years, they have found others with "special" powers and recruited them, helping rescue those in need, solve crimes, etc. They do their best to fly under the radar, preferring that the rest of the world not know that things such as telekinetics, shape-shifters, clairvoyants, healers, and more really do exist. Just makes things easier that way.

Blue Perrineau is one of the agents at D&S. His specialty is electrokinesis - he can control anything with an electric current with his mind. Especially handy for stopping cars driven by bad guys, diffusing bombs, and - oh yeah - stopping the hearts of those around him. No, that's not a bad romance pun; he can literally stop a human heart, something that has happened before when he lost control of his "gift" and killed several people. Something that he's always aware of and determined will not happen again.

Blue is injured during a mission and receives a call from his mother while he's recuperating. His father has died and he needs to come home. Keep in mind, Blue has hated his father his whole life, so he's not too keen on the idea of returning to the family fold. Love for his mother, though, gets him on the plane. Much to his surprise, the old man is not dead - but he is dying and blackmails Blue into locating Blue's half-brother - a sibling he knew nothing about. Blue's father has complete dossiers on Blue and his friends at D&S, including information about their "gifts", giving Blue no choice but to cooperate. That information cannot be made public, and morever, cannot get into the wrong hands.

Enter Las Vegas and the circus! Blue locates his brother in a local circus performing Houdini-type acts. He also encounters Iris McGillis and immediately recognizes her for what she really is - a shape-shifter. Iris has a "big cat" act, one that amazes the audience, but as usual, disgusts the typcial animal-rights activist groups who think her cats should be "free". If they only knew how loved and pampered those cats really were! Someone is trying to kill Iris, it would seem, and Blue steps in to protect her. Of course the sparks fly, and each tries to ignore their growing affection for the other, all in hopes of protecting their hearts. Iris, too, has had a bad experience when she "lost control" - she severely injured a boy she was making out with when she accidently shifted into her leopard form.

The plot itself is a bit too complicated to explain here. It's full of action and suspense, which is great! The best part, though, is that the romance has time to build - the characters don't even remotely hook up until well past the half-way point of the book! As a friend of mine recently pointed out, a lot of entries in the paranormal romance genre lately have been sacrificing plot for sex; it's so refreshing to watch two characters not get horizontal! This might not appeal to those who would prefer more "romance" in their books, but I think it's a good choice by Liu. All of the D&S books are like this, heavy on plot and - dare I say it? - character development. That means, folks, that by the time the couple does actually admit to caring about each other and possibly getting horizontal, you care too! Makes everything much better, in my humble opinion.

Treat yourself to the Dirk & Steele series - next installment is due out summer of 2007!

"Grave Surprise" by Charlaine Harris

I'm happy to say the second book in the Harper Connelly series is great! "Grave Sight" was the first entry, and while I liked it overall, I thought that Ms. Harris was trying a little too hard to ensure that Harper did not sound like her other paranormal heroine, Sookie Stackhouse, of the Southern Vampire series. (I highly recommend the Sookie books!)

Harper isn't really that unusual a girl, other than the fact that she survived being struck by lightening when she was 16. Oh, and the fact that she can now locate dead bodies by listening for them. Seems the lightening strike didn't leave her entirely normal after all....................

Harper has come to terms with her gift and has been using it to solve crimes, although she would prefer not to be involved in police matters. Her step-brother, Tolliver Lang, assists her and provides moral support, as well. They travel across the country trying to help families locate their loved ones who might have been victims of foul play.

Enter the Morgensterns, who hired Harper to locate their missing daughter two years ago. While showing a college class what she does for a living, Harper comes across the body of Tabitha Morgenstern. It has been buried on top of another grave. Matters take an even darker turn when the professor who hired Harper for her demonstration ends up dead in the same grave. That makes a total of 3 bodies in one grave, and it turns out later on, the original buried body isn't all that happy about it.

The book is basically about Harper and Tolliver trying to help uncover who killed Tabitha, and why her body was found where it was. There are plenty of suspects, a few red herrings, and a nice subplot involving Harper and her step-brother, one that was alluded to in the first book and made more clear in this entry. The biggest enjoyment in reading this was the evolvement of Harper - she no longer sounds so stilted. Ms. Harris must have relaxed this time around and not worried so much about Harper sounding like a pale imitation of Sookie, and it works. Harper seems to have found her voice, and I like it! I love the relationship between Harper and Tolliver; these two have been through a lot and could really be damaged goods, were they not as strong as they are (there's a blended family, drug use by their parents, Social Services, etc in their past - all the trappings of a Jerry Springer episode!).

It would help to read "Grave Sight" first, as it gives quite a bit of the background of Harper and Tolliver. But I think you could read "Grave Surprise" just fine on its own, and that might be a good thing - it's a much better book!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

"The Member of the Wedding" by Carson McCullers

Whew. I'm not really sure what to say about this one. It was on the list of "How did I miss this in school?!" that I've been working my through. I have to say, I'm not sure why Ms. McCullers is considered a classic kind of author, but maybe it's just this particular book. She also wrote "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" and that one may be better.

The basic story is that Frankie Addams wants to run away with her brother and his bride after their wedding. The deeper plot is that Frankie realizes she doesn't fit in, is becoming a young woman (she's 12), and is trying to determine who she is. This is literal in a sense; she is "Frankie" in Part One, "F. Jasmine" in Part Two, and "Frances" in Part Three. Most of the action occurs in the kitchen of the Addams house, a location where Frankie, her cousin John Henry, and the housekeeper/cook Bernice sit during the dog days of summer counting down to the wedding itself.

It's really difficult to describe just exactly what the book is about. I have to admit I went to and read some of those reviews, hoping to get an idea of what I was missing. Well, seems a lot of other people missed it too, as most did not care for the book, either. The people who did like it called a wonderful coming-of-age tale and used words like poignant and heartbreaking. Uh, sorry, still not getting it.

Here's what I did get. Frankie was one of the more unpleasant characters I've come across in a while. She is mean, sullen, and wants everything her way, which, OK, is probably typical of a lot of kids her age. But she exhibits confusing behavior, so much so that I'm not really sure what has happened before the action in the book. She alludes to a "sinful" incident in a garage of a boy she liked, but it's never made clear if she was raped; it's possible that nothing more occured than some heavy petting that she later regrets. In Part Two, she is dressed nicely and wandering around town telling all how she will go to the wedding and never come back, living instead with her brother and his bride, and how they will have wonderful adventures. During this outing, she enters a bar, talks up a sailor, goes up to his room, and this time it's made clear there would have been a rape, if she had not escaped the room. If this had really happened to her earlier, why would she feel comfortable enough to go off with the sailor? The earlier event with the boy seems to have happened not that long ago - why is she comfortable roaming around by herself? In addition, she has her cousin, John Henry, spend the night and sleep in the same bed as her, where she strokes his stomach and licks his neck. Uh, what??? It was and still is confusing stuff.

It's also not clear how Frankie feels about the wedding. At first, I thought it was her brother that she was in love with, that she didn't want him to leave. But that felt wrong; he's much older than her and has been stationed in Alaska with the army. At one point, Bernice tells Frankie that she is in love with the wedding itself, which felt more correct. But then, wouldn't she just enjoy the party itself? Her whole goal is to leave her small town behind and run off with her brother and the bride. Maybe she has fallen in love with the idea of a new life. She certainly wouldn't be the first person to want to reinvent herself in a new place.

Overall, I can't say I recommend this book, only because I personally found it so confusing. And, quite honestly, boring. Others think it's fabulous and a must-read. Only you, dear reader, can make that decision for yourself!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Two to avoid

It had to happen sooner or later. I've got a book that isn't going to get a good review. In fact, I have two, and both were big disappointments. It's going to be hard to say I didn't like one of them, because I generally do like this author and have liked the other books in the series. But, you can't win 'em all, right?

First up is "Divine Fire" by Melanie Jackson. I wanted to read this because we have what is a follow-up of sorts here in the system, and I hate reading a book when I know there's one that comes before it; I'm always worried I'll miss something. Silly me! This sounded promising and had some good ideas, but in the end the execution was just so-so.

Lord Byron did not die. (This is not a new idea, either - check out two books by Tom Holland where Byron is a vampire - very good) After living with adult-onset epilepsy for a few years, and with his seizures increasing in frequency and strength, Byron seeks out Dr. Johann Conrad Dippel, a physician doing some strange and wonderous things with electricity. Dippel claims he can "cure" Byron's epilepsy by using the power of lightening, and yes, this is basically the infamous "Dr. Frankenstein" that Mary Shelley wrote about. According to this version of events, Mary did not dream of her monster and the good doctor - she witnessed Byron's "cure" at the hands of Dippel and put the thinly disguised version on paper. And yes, the "cure" worked, sort of. Byron no longer suffers from the affliction, but he is also no longer mortal, possibly not even human.

Enter the modern-day action. Byron, now going by the name Damien Ruthven, no longer writes poetry, fearing detection. He does, however, write, as a literary critic. Enter the manuscript about Bryon penned by Brice Ashton, a biographer obsessed with all thing Byronic after the death of her husband a few years earlier. She receives a letter inviting her to Ruthven's New York compound, an offer she can't refuse, as he hints that she has gotten three facts wrong and he has the "proof" to back up his claim. She imagines that Ruthven is in possession of Byron's journal, which was supposedly destroyed by his publishers upon his death. Without a second thought, she's on a plane and off to the Big Apple to match wits with the great critic.

You can see where this is heading, right? You guessed it - a romance between Ruthven and Brice, who of course finds out that he's really Byron. The novel might have been OK if it had stuck to that point. Instead, there is a subplot that makes up the second half of the book, a plot by Dippel to destroy his creation. Yes, the good doctor is still "alive" and is out to destroy his "mistakes" - two of the other "creations" have already died in mysterious fires in the last year. Ruthven knows that Dippel will be after him, and that's where the book totally falls apart.

I love a good zombie story. I love a good romance. I like the idea of Byron not being dead. I sort of like the character of Brice Ashton. BUT.................... putting them all together is NOT a good idea. "Divine Fire" reads like two books pasted together, the first half being a fairly decent romance and the second half being an action-thriller starring the zombies. I realize that most paranormal romances put their characters in danger at some point, but this was just weird, not to mention over the top. The zombies are really gross - not nasty or evil really, but something that would definitely turn your stomach (they are dead body parts and therefore rotting). What bothered me most is that there's never a reason for Dippel destroying Ruthven; it's obvious the mad scientist thinks that Ruthven is flawed, but why? Compared to the other creations wreaking havoc on the compound, Ruthven is perfect - he's still gorgeous, he's capable of thought and emotions, and he's not decaying, rotting, or smelly. Why not take him and study him? It made no sense to me. Of course, it's also obvious that the doc's been experimenting on himself and has lost his marbles, so maybe that's supposed to explain the discrepancy. Don't know, and in the end, don't care.

I'd save your time and skip "Divine Fire". I'm still on the fence about the follow-up, "Divine Madness". Might pick it up, might not. Only time will tell, and trust me, I will not be reading the entire thing if it follows this pattern of drech.

The other disappointment is "Light My Fire", the third installment in the Aisling Grey series by Katie MacAlister. I loved the other two books starring Aisling; I highly recommend other titles by Katie all the time, especially "The Corset Diaries" (a strict romance, no paranormal anything, and wonderful!) I finished up LMF last night and was just dumbfounded. I'm not even going to try to sum up the plot - I'm not entirely sure there was one, to be honest.

If you're not familiar with this series, trust me, this is NOT the book to start with. Go back and read the first two, "Fire Me Up" and "You Slay Me". Those two will explain how Aisling comes to realize she's a Guardian (one who works on keeping the demon world out of ours, small things usually like imps), that she's supposed to be the mate of a dragon (that would be Drake, leader of the green dragons - yes, there are at least 4 groups of dragons and they all have a color), and how she acquires Jim, a Newfoundland who happens to be much more than a dog. They're funny, they have a good love-hate romance thing (isn't that always the case?), and they give a lot of info you need to try to read LMF.

That said, good luck with this third book. I, for the life of me, could not follow the plot in this to save my life. I have a sneaky suspicion that the reason it's so hard to follow is very simple - there is WAY too much going on in this book! Usually, that's OK, but here it's just annoying. Aisling is jumped from one madcap situation to the next, to the point that it felt like a paranormal version of Keystone Kops. The usually lovable Ash is gone - this one runs around like a chicken with its head cut off, and she keeps saying that she's "a professional". I thought I was going to hurl the book across the room if I read her bark that phrase one more time. No honey, you are NOT a professional. "Professional" indicates some level of competence at one's job, which she does not have. It also indicates that if one doesn't know what one is doing, one either bows out of the situation or studies up to learn what is needed. Ash has the resources at hand to do just that - several texts given to her by her Guardian mentor, Nora. But does she read them? No. She just blames everyone else for her incompetence, claiming that they should have told her this or informed her of that. Um, ever hear of asking a question? She could have done that rather than lay on the blame thicker than buttercream frosting.

The only saving graces to this book are Jim and Rene. Jim is wonderful, as usual, and has the best lines. You also get to find out just what kind of "demon" he truly is. Rene is wonderful and always in the right place at the right time; the bonus is that you find out what Rene is, too. (If you read the other books, it's pretty obvious that he's not just a taxi driver) Drake is here, but seems like a pale version of himself. There are some would-be hot sex scenes, which are invariably interrupted by Drake's mother (yes, she's still alive after a few hundred years) The overall feel I got of this was nicely summed up by Jim himself, who says Aisling's antics are like a demonic "I Love Lucy" episode. I couldn't agree more!

There are dragon politics that I couldn't follow, the above-mentioned mother who, of course, loathes Ash, another title for Ash to take on (or have thrust upon her, at least from her point of view), and, oh yeah, just to top it all off? Aisling may be carrying a little Drake dragon. That plot point was the highlight of annoyance - these two have barely gotten together and now she's going to be pregnant? STOP. Just stop, regroup, and see if there's any way to get this trainwreck back on the tracks, please. That's my wish for Aisling and Katie both - stop, take a deep breath, and let's slow down.

Read it if you like, but be prepared for the let-down.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Wild Wulfs of London Series by Ronda Thompson

Yes, this review is not of a particular book but of an entire series! The Wild Wulfs of London Series was recommended to the Bookbabe by a co-worker; she had read one of the books and thought it might be something I would like. Boy, was she right! I have now read all three of the novels and one of the short stories that make up this series, and since they all follow a similar pattern, I decided to review them en masse.

The Wild Wulfs are actually brothers in the Wulf family, said to have been cursed by a witch long before the brothers are born. Each of the novels has a copy of the curse at the beginning of the book and it shouldn't take the reader long to solve the riddle (which begs the question why the Wulf boys can't seem to solve it, but this was a different time when men were men and didn't talk about their feelings!) Of course, the "coming on" of the curse and the removal of it makes up the bulk of each book.

A Wulf brother is introduced, as is the woman that will be both his downfall and his salvation. They are thrown into some sort of peril, allowing the Wulf brother to protect the woman, fall in love with her, and fall prey to the curse. The woman, in turn, falls in love with the Wulf and comes to realize that he really is a good man, a loving man, despite his furry problem. Together they vanquish the curse and go on to (hopefully) live happily ever after.

OK, you're now wondering why on earth I would recommend this series. After all, if each book is the same and you pretty much know what's going to happen, what's the point, right? AHA! This is what makes Ms. Thompson a fine author of this genre, in my opinion - the books may follow a similar pattern, but they are not the same book. And there's the secret - character development, folks. You can write anything under the sun, but if the reader doesn't feel some sort of connection to the characters involved, at least one of them, the work falls flat and probably won't be recommended by that reader. Ms. Thompson succeeds in spades. The Wulf Brothers are all a bit different; Armond is probably the most stable of the bunch, Jackson is a rogue and a lady-killer (not literally, of course), Gabriel is the serious one, Sterling is "the lost one" having run away from home years ago, and Merrick is "the found one" - a half-brother the other four never knew existed. Likewise, the women are all a bit different as well: Rosalind, who wanted Armond to "ruin" her so as not to enter an arranged marriage, Lucinda, a commoner and a witch, Lady Amelia, married to and widowed of a man she didn't love, all in one day, Elise, Merrick's wife, and Lady Anne, a "good girl" who wanted to be bad and ended up finding Merrick for the Wulf Family.

The men are all gorgeous, rock-hard, and desperate to avoid the curse. The women, though varying in social posts and general personalities, are all fairly strong-minded when it comes right down to it. But the stories work, dammit! I flew through "The Dark One" in one day, then decided I'd give "The Untamed One" a try, totally expecting it to be the same book and therefore boring. How wrong I was! Another gorgeous Wulf, another head-strong lady, and off we went! "The Cursed One" rounds out the trilogy of novels, with short stories in "Love at First Bite" and "Midnight Pleasures", two anthologies of paranormal romances.

And there will be more to come, if the author's bio at the end of "The Cursed One" is correct. How there can be another Wulf brother is beyond me, but I suppose Ms. Thompson will explain all in good time. Perhaps this will be a book about one of the new generation of Wulfs!

Monday, January 22, 2007

"Plum Lovin" by Janet Evanovich

Since I'm feeling a bit pressed for time today, I'm going to let Publishers Weekly give you the synopsis of the book this time.................
"From Publishers Weekly: In this tart and hilarious "between-the-numbers" Stephanie Plum novel from bestseller Evanovich (Twelve Sharp), the Jersey bond enforcement agent, who already has two guys in her life (cop Joe Morelli and bounty hunter Ranger), reconnects with Diesel, a third heartthrob. Diesel offers Stephanie a deal: if he lets her find Annie Hart, a relationship coach who's become a big-ticket bond on Stephanie's Most Wanted List after fleeing a charge for a robbery she didn't commit, then Stephanie can do Annie a big favor by playing Cupid for a number of Annie's lovelorn clients, including a shy butcher, a desperate vet, an overworked single mom, a 30-something virgin and the marriage-phobic fellow who just happens to be Stephanie's pregnant sister's boyfriend. Diesel and Stephanie's short but sweet adventure ends on a teasing note that will leave fans hungry for the next juicy Plum-a-thon. (Jan.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved."

That's pretty much it for the plot of the book. This is similar to "Visions of SugarPlums", another "between-the-numbers" entry that was published about two years ago for a Christmas read. This is also a holiday book but uses Valentine's Day as its major theme. (One wonders if she'll try for an Easter-themed entry next time - perhaps Diesel in a bunny-suit a la "Christmas Story"?)It's the usual cast of misfits as well as the usual hysterical mishaps that occur in any Plum book. And it's short - never a bad thing when it's not what most would consider a "true" Stephanie Plum book.

What's surprising is Stephanie herself. Turns out, she's actually good at the matchmaking thing, way better than she is at the bounty-hunting thing. While there's not much action per se in this book, it was nice to have our favorite Jersey girl stay safe - no bullets, no bombs, no blown-up cars. And let's face it, who wouldn't want to hang around Diesel for a while? He's written to be just as sexy as Ranger, yet just as comfortable as Joe; he's the best of both worlds for Stephanie. I'd love for him to stay put and give the other two men a run for their money.

Overall, I'll give this my "cute read" approval. It's not worth shelling out the money, though - sorry Janet, but I'm a girl who believes in a bargain. If you collect the Plum books in hardback, OK, go ahead and part with the money. But if you're just following the series, hit a used book store or your local library. And keep watching for the next Plum book, which looks tentatively titled "Lean Mean Thirteen"!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

"The Ghost Orchid" by Carol Goodman

I've read all but one of Ms. Goodman's books now, and this was my favorite by far. A bit different for her, but definitely worth picking up!

"The Ghost Orchid" tells two stories, really. Ellis Brooks is a would-be-novelist who attends Bosco, a famous artists' colony in upstate New York. She is writing a fictional account of the founder of Bosco, Aurora Latham, and events that occured during a fateful summer in 1893. However, the other story is not of Aurora so much as it is that of the medium brought to Bosco that summer to contact Aurora's dead children. Corinth Blackwell's tale is just interesting and compelling as Ellis's, if not maybe more so.

The tales are told simultaneously, with each tale taking a chapter. Ellis begins by introducing her fellow artists-in-residence. There are two prospective romantic interests, landscape architect David Fox and fellow novelist Nat Loomis. Bethesda Graham is also a writer, albeit of biographies, and she is cast as Ellis's rival, both personally (for the men) and professionally (since both women are writing about the same person, even if in different genres). Finally, there's a poet in the house, Zalman Bronsky, who just sort of rounds out this eclectic cast of characters.

In chapter 2, Corinth's tale beings, again set primarialy during that summer of 1893. Quite a bit of Corinth's history revolves around her heritage - she is part Native American. Aurora's husband, Milo Latham, plays into that history quite nicely, as well as another guest that summer, Thomas Quinn, a former magician.

It's hard to explain exactly what the book is about. While set in the present, it appears to be about the ghosts of the dead children, and possibly even their parents. There are elements of the supernatural, most particularly at the end of the book. And while they felt a bit like a way to "explain" everything that was happening, they also seemed quite plausible given the history that you learn while reading the "historical" chapters of the book. Again, while I liked Ellis and her fellow artists, I was more interested in Corinth's story and couldn't wait to get to those chapters. In the end, all the information given in Corinth's storyline ties into the current characters. Again, it seems a little convenient in a way, but could be very possible, too.

The odd thing about this book was Ms. Goodman's use of the supernatural. In her previous works that I've read, there seem to be things happening that could be explained in that manner, but you come to find out that there's usually a suspect who has ties to the present and the past both, someone who is manipulating the heroine of the story. I'm not sure which plot device I prefer, but it seems that she's adept at using either.

In summary, if you want an interesting read with a mystery to book, pick up "The Ghost Orchid" at your local library or bookstore!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

"Sleeping with the Fishes" by MaryJanice Davidson

I'm back, bibliophiles! Sorry for the absence - last week was just not a good week. In fact, the only thing that did seem to go in my favor was time to read. I finished off 3 books, and will do reviews of all by the end of this week.

First up is "Sleeping with the Fishes" by MaryJanice Davidson. If you've read the "Undead and Unwed" stuff, starring our lovely if somewhat shoe-obsessed Betsy Taylor, you already know that MJD has a penchant for writing quirky characters. Even her non-paranormal romances have them! Her newest book is no different.

Fred is a mermaid. Yep, sorta like Madison in Splash, that classic Tom Hanks movie. Except that she's not at all like Madison; the only thing she seems to have in common with her fictional counterpart is a tail. Fred, aka Fredrika Shea Bimm, works on land, was raised by her human mother, and has a raging allergy to shellfish. She can talk to the fish but can't swim in a wetsuit. She can tell when there's an imbalance in the chemical makeup of the ocean but gets seasick on a boat. Yep, Fred is different, all right!

Fred has the perfect job - she takes care of the fish in Main One at the New England Aquarium. It requires almost no human interaction and if she's there after-hours, she can even shuck the wetsuit and swim as mer-self. It also gives her a chance to get some unique insights into those fish, mostly finding that they consider her the "fish girl" and that they like to listen to popular 80s music. All is right in her little world, until two very different men enter it.

The first is Dr. Thomas Pearson, a water fellow (aka marine biologist!) investigating strange levels of toxins in the Boston Harbor. He's cute, and he's quite taken with Fred, especially when he learns her secret early on. The second man is actually a mer-man, Prince Artur of the Black Sea, who has also come to investigate the water. He considers Fred his to-be-queen almost immediately, as she is one of his subjects, and a beautiful one at that. Needless to say, since this is MJD we're talking about here, Fred not only doesn't notice their attention but acts in such a way that should make them back off, big time.

Fred's best friend of many, many years is Jonas Carrey, who also knows she's a mer-person. He's great, very metrosexual, very snarky. Fred's parents put in an appearance at the beginning of the book but aren't really seen again. There's an exceedingly annoying intern, (named Madison, of course, and she just loves dolphins!) an uptight boss-lady, and escapades galore. If this were a movie, it would've been one of those madcap comedies they used to do back in the "good old days".

It's a cute read, won't take long, and is obviously setting up a new series. And while I still enjoyed it, there's a part of me that wonders if MJD will ever do a slightly more serious book. I think she has it in her - I mean, she's not a bad writer. And while I've enjoyed her books, they can't be said to be serious reading. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm all for fluff. And while I'm wondering about the direction of MJD's career, I'm not suggesting she suddenly go all literary on us. I think she could still be funny but have a bit more substance to her books. In any case, I'm still looking forward to the next Betsy book, "Undead and Uneasy", which should be out this spring.

That's it for now. Hopefully back tomorrow with another review! Keep reading!

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

"Call of the Wild" by Jack London

WOW! What a difference the years make. I don't remember liking this book when I first had to read it, which was probably in high school. (And if you can do the math, yes folks, that was quite a few years ago - almost 20!)

I picked up this story yesterday since the paperback I was going to read was in need of some TLC. (In case ya'll didn't know, books can and do fall apart all the time - in the library biz, we try to repair as much as possible). Since I needed to let the glue dry, I thought I'd go back to my 2006 project, which was to start reading some of the classics I'd missed in school (or ones I couldn't remember reading). Enter "Call of the Wild" - short and sitting right on the shelf.

As I said before, I don't remember liking this in school; I think I thought at the time that it was a "boy's book." Well, it might have been then, but it sure isn't now. Buck, the hero of the story, is a mix of St. Bernard and Shepherd. He's been living at the Judge's place in California where he has a good life, fairly comfortable. He is not spoiled, though, as he's quick to point out, not like the two "house" dogs. Enter a gardener with a gambling problem, the Northern Gold Rush, and Buck is being sold to a man with a club. He quickly learns to obey enough to avoid the club. However, he is not "broken" as the man thinks he is. Buck goes through quite a few owners, quite a few pack mates, and wins a fight that places him as leader of his team.

After several years, though, he is wearing down. Not enough rest, not enough food. Then comes the most inept team of gold-seekers ever - two men who obviously have never set foot in the open plains and a woman, sister to one man and wife to the other. She is the most spoiled, prissy character I've come across in a long time. They purchase the tired team and drive them literally to death in their attempts to reach a place to make their fortunes. Buck manages to escape their clutches, thanks to John Thornton, the only man he will ever love.

However, much as Buck loves Thornton, he's begun to hear that call of the wild, and leaves to explore it, a few hours at a time at first, then a day or so, then a week. He comes across a lone wolf who he eventually gets to be friendly with. Tragedy strikes when Buck has been gone too long - Indians have killed Thornton, his two partners, and the other two dogs at the camp. At that point, Buck no longer has any ties to man and gives in to the call of the wild, joining the wolf pack and running free.

It's a great story, and it's really about much more than a mere dog. I can now highly recommend it and am just sorry that I waited this long to re-read it!

Monday, January 8, 2007

"Blue Christmas" by Mary Kay Andrews

If you have read any of Mary Kay Andrews books before, you're familiar with Weezie Foley, owner of antique store Maisie's Daisy. If you haven't found MKA yet, you need to! She writes (under this name) very funny Southern women's fiction. And for those of you that like a bit of suspense, there's usually a small mystery involving her zany characters.

"Blue Christmas" falls into what I think of as the "Cute Christmas Read." It's under 200 pages, will take you all a few hours to read, and has that warm holiday glow about it. Weezie Foley, mentioned above, is desperate to win the decorating contest for Savannah's downtown historical district. She will not lose out again to Babalu, her rival across the street, owned by Manny and Cookie, two gay antique dealers that have relocated from (gasp!) Florida. In the midst of trying to come up with an "authentic" and "all-natural" theme, she has glue-gunned herself and multitudes of fruit into a stupor. However, after arranging her display, she arrives the next morning to find herself the victim of a drive-by (or maybe walk-by) fruit theft! She needs to come up with a new theme, and fast - the contest is that night.

Enter her boyfriend, Daniel, who loathes Christmas as much as Weezie loves it. His funk and an old Christmas tree pin found in an auction buy give her the perfect theme - Blue Christmas. She does the display inside this time; no sense risking another theft. Who cares if it doesn't follow the committees rules? In the midst of the decorating mayhem, her dog, Jethro, goes missing and returns just as mysteriously. There is a possible shady character hanging around, a possible love interest for Jethro, and the usual family chaos that surrounds Weezie at every turn. Will she win the contest? Will she ever call a truce with Manny and Cookie? Will she find out who the mysterious stranger is?

Well, yeah! Duh, this is the Cute Christmas Read, folks, so you know it's all going to turn out well. And while I did enjoy the book, I have to say that I am not thrilled with the direction publishers/writers are taking these days. That is to say, the CCR should be a paperback. They used to be published that way, often as three short stories/novellas by three different authors. They were fairly inexpensive and it gave you a way to try out new writers if you weren't familiar with all three. Nowdays, the trend is to take that same short story/novella and publish it alone, and usually in hardback. "Blue Christmas" is $15 retail! For a book that won't take much more than an afternoon or evening to read, I think that's not very Christmas-like. Maybe it's just me, but I don't want to spend that much money on something that will be "over" the same day. Don't get me wrong - I have flown through books that would be $30 if I bought it retail, but when I first got those books, I had no idea I'd be done that fast. There are books out there that are much longer that you find yourself flying through, too - but you don't know that when you buy them. When this book first showed up, I knew it would be a fast read - again, it's under 200 pages. It's a smaller size, but the print is not much smaller than the usual hardback. So, it's a no-brainer that it won't take long to read.

My advice? Get this used or from your local library. While it's cute and I like the story, I cannot recommend that ya'll go out and part with $15 of your hard-earned money!

Saturday, January 6, 2007

"Good Grief" by Lolly Winston

The first "official" book review! "Good Grief" is a first novel by Lolly Winston, and I can highly recommend it. Here's a brief synopsis, followed by my thoughts.

"Good Grief" follows Sophie Stanton as she tries to put her life back together after the death of her husband, Ethan. They were only married for 3 years, but Sophie is finding it very difficult time getting past his death. She's barely had time to get used to calling herself "Mrs"; "widow" just doesn't seem to fit. Ethan's death from cancer has proven to be a bit more traumatic than Sophie realizes. In fact, she's been desperately trying to be a good widow, a "Jackie Kennedy kind of widow." Unfortunately, she falls more in the "Jack Daniels" category, albeit with food rather than alcohol. She eats a bag of Oreos at a time, refuses to get out of bed, finds herself on the floor of the grocery store in a crying heap, etc. After showing up at her PR job in her bathrobe and slippers (and without having showered/bathed in almost a week), she is diagnosed as having a "depressive breakdown." She has hit the rock bottom.

Luckily, the bottom is not where Sophie stays. After getting herself together, she takes a leave of absence from her job, sells her house, packs her (and Ethan's) belongings, and moves to Ashland, Oregon to stay with her old friend Ruth. She slowly begins to work out of her shell, finding a place to rent, job, and friends. She even takes on the role of Big Sister to a troubled teen, Crystal. Even more surprising to her is a possible romance with a local actor (Ashland is home to a Shakespeare Festival every summer). Touching, funny, and poignant, "Good Grief" is the story of what happens when you don't live "happily ever after."

So now you wonder "that's it?" Well, yes and no. I don't want to say too much more about the plot, because that's basically it in a nutshell - woman loses husband, loses her mind a bit, moves and starts over. What I will tell you is how much this book surprised me. The inside blurb makes it sound like it will be funny (as do the pink bunny slippers on the dust jacket). There are several humorous parts, but they are nicely balanced by a more serious tone. Being a widow is hard; just ask Sophie. It's not just the death of someone close to you; it's the death of the person you were supposed to spend the rest of your life with. To have that cut short just seems so unfair, so terribly wrong. Even worse for Sophie is that Ethan was healthy when they married. The cancer came as a total shock for both of them.

You won't learn much about Ethan, and in some respects, I was a bit sorry about that fact. The other characters are well-developed though, even some peripheral ones. Ms.Winston has a nice style, easy to read but not overly simple. (I love the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich, but they're not going to win any prose awards anytime soon, I don't think!) I even found the relationship between Sophie and Crystal to "ring true" - I was worried at first that it was just a plot device. But while some of Crystal's mannerisms seem contrived, overall I think Ms. Winston hit the nail on the head about her attitude - she just wants to be included. I've seen a lot of kids like that here at the library; they follow you around asking tons of questions or just talking, and while annoying at times, you also realize that they're desperate for some sort of attention, even if it's the "wrong" kind.

Final review: I'd give this about 3 1/2 stars out of 5. Definitely looking forward to her next book (which we may have here at work, I'll need to check). Final thought: I hope that I'm not nearly as bad as Sophie when my hubster dies. Like Sophie, I married in my 30's. I've been lucky that both of us are healthy and that we've managed to make it 6 years - lots of marriages break up long before now. I worry that something will happen, though - my hubster is one of those "Doctors just want to cut you up and give you pills!" kinda guys. Hopefully, he'll stay healthy. I'm trying to keep him that way! But yes, it's going to be rough when I lose him, regardless of when that happens. It would be rough if it was tomorrow; it would be rough if it was 20 years from now. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it's a long, long time from now!

Till next time, faithful readers, keep your libraries and bookstores in business!

The Bookbabe

Friday, January 5, 2007

The Bookbabe Begins!

Hello all! This is my attempt to create a space to review books, something I was doing sporadically on Amazon but can no longer do. In their attempts to whittle down the reviews of books done by people who had never READ the item in question, the big A now requires me to purchase before reviewing. Well, here's the thing - I don't buy books. The Bookbabe works in a library, so there is no reason for me to buy books now. I used to work in a used bookstore before that, so again, no real reason to buy anything. I was highly disappointed by the big A's move, but having read some of those insane reviews, I understand their point. What to do? Get advice to start a blog (thanks little sis!) Thus, the Bookbabe now has a place again to review books. And be forwarned, there will also probably be some general life stuff in here too - thus the title "Novel News".

Here are the Bookbabe's basic facts: I work in a library, full-time. No, I do not have an MLS degree, but yes, I am still good at my job. Actually, I'm also very lucky - I love my job! Awesome when something you love to do anyway gets to work into a way to make a living! No, I will never be rich, at least, not money-wise. I don't know if anyone goes into this kind of work for the big bucks! I'm nearing middle age (but still have a way to go to get there, thank god!) I am married and have been for 6 years. Part of Novel News will, no doubt, be some ramblings about said hubby, but he's a great guy, so you should only see good stuff about him, I hope! I have one sibling, said Little Sis, who knows a lot more about computers than I ever will. Thanks again to her for this suggestion - hope she likes reading it! I work with two other ladies here, and we have a great staff, another plus. I have worked with people I didn't like nearly as much, and trust me, it makes a HUGE difference when you like your co-workers!

As for the reviews themselves, I hope to do about one/week at first. If I come across something great, I'll try to review it right away. But one/week is a good goal at first, I think. Also, I tend NOT to read the most popular titles, so look for reviews of more obscure stuff, mostly in the vampire/paranormal lines. But also look for non-fiction, Southern humor, mystery, etc. I will also try to put the word out if there's a particular title that our library patrons are raving about - always good to know!

That's it for this inagural post. Hope it reads well, and I hope you love reading as much as I do!