Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"Soul Song" by Marjorie M. Liu

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

"Maledicte" by Lane Robins

"Seething with decadent appetites unchecked by law or gods, the court of Antyre is ruled by the last of a dissolute aristocracy. But now to the kingdom comes Maledicte, a handsome, enigmatic nobleman whose perfect manners, enchanting chraisma, and brilliant swordplay entice the most jaded tastes...and conceal a hunger beyond reckoning.

For Maledicte is actually a woman named Miranda - a beautiful thief raised in the city's vicious slums. She will do anything - even promise her soul to Black-Winged Ani, the most merciless of Antyre's exiled gods - to reclaim Janus, her first love, whose kidnapping still haunts her dreams. As her machinations strike at the heart of Antyre's powerful noble houses, Miranda must battle not only her own growing bloodlust but also Janus's newly kindled and ruthless ambitions. As Ani's force grows insatiable, Miranda has no choice but to wield a weapon that may set her free...or forever doom her and everything she holds dear."

This entire book brings to mind that infamous quote "Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive". The crux of this piece is Miranda's charade as Maledicte, a thing that starts out of practicality and ends in near madness.

Miranda and Janus are Relict rats, teens who have grown up in one of the worst areas of Antyre. They steal for a living, such as it is. One night an obviously wealthy man rolls up in a carriage; they set upon him when he walks into the alley, only to find themselves outwitted. The man is none other than the cousin of the Earl of Last, a man now in need of an heir. Janus is illegitimate, but he'll do, and Kritos abducts the boy, leaving Miranda with what he believes are mortal wounds.

A short time later, an unknown boy is found and taken in by Vornatti, a nobleman in Anytre. Along with his servant, Gilly, they attempt to clean, feed, and clothe the young man. However, once Vornatti discovers the "boy's" true identity, he offers to help her in her quest for vengeance; she has sworn to herself and Black-Winged Ani that she will kill the Earl of Last. Vornatti trains her in the ways of the court, in swordplay, and in other, more delicate matters, namely that of blackmail and revenge. When he becomes too demanding, though, Miranda/Maledicte removes him as a potential obstacle to her vengeance, thus beginning the trail of bodies she/he will leave in her/his path.

It sounds simple enough, doesn't it? And yet this is a very well-written, cleverly plotted piece. It goes so far as to describe Miranda as Maledicte throughout most of the book, so that the reader almost forgets that he is really as she. When Mal does find Janus (much earlier in the book than I had expected), their relationship is described as that of two young men rather than a young man and woman, again allowing the reader to fall into the trap. When Miranda starts to realize how much she's been taken over by Ani's bloodlust and need for revenge towards the end of the book, it's clear that she's not quite sure who she is anymore. It's also clear that she's not entirely sure who she loves anymore, either, as Gilly, the servant, becomes her friend and perhaps her only chance at sanity.

This is, I believe, a debut novel by Robins. I have to give the author credit for undertaking such a complicated work as her first. It holds up quite well, only dragging in a spot or two, and has such well-developed characters that I felt as if I was there with them. "Maledicte" is truly enchanting and should not be missed.

"Bottomfeeder" by B. H. Fingerman

Oooooh, don't you just love it when someone recommends a book, and it's a really good read? Such is the case with this little gem. A very thankful shout out to the awesome woman who mentioned it - you were so right!

This is a little book about a vampire named Phil Merman. Phil is fifty-four but, of course, still looks twenty-seven, the age he was when he was bitten and turned. Phil has just lost his father and is in a rather thoughtful mood when the work opens. Unlike many vampires, Phil has not really moved around trying to hide his identity, nor has he forsaken his family or his one remaining friend, Shelley, something that comes back to haunt him. After all, as he points out, the parents can only say "oh what good genes you got!" so many times before they know something is very wrong with you.

Phil lives a solitary existence, or so he thinks. He's never met another vampire before, not that he's done that much looking. He kills in the shadows, preferring to take the blood of those he's hoping no one will miss: the homeless, the criminal, the insane. It's not much of a life, but it's his, for better or worse. And it might just be worse because it's looking like he's going to have it for a very, very long time.

Then one night he meets another vampire, Eddie, and is shown a whole new world. There are rich, decadent vampires at a penthouse loft. There are vampires in therapy. And there's a good-hearted vampiress trying to care for those less-fortunate vamps in the world, the ones who were turned even though they were missing a few brain cells as humans. Of course, she's also caring for vamp in a wheelchair, who is extremely grateful, having lost the use of his legs in WWII. So much for all those romantic stories about getting turned making you whole, hearty, and sexy as hell.

Phil is reluctant to join any of these scenes, yet he finds himself in Eddie's company quite often, as he realizes that he misses being around those he can talk to. Phil has a job, but he certainly doesn't talk to those people; they're just co-workers. Eddie has opened up his whole world, although not necessarily in a good way. In fact, after meeting Eddie, things seem to go from bad to worse to the absolute worst. How Phil deals with these changes is what makes up most of the book.

And for those of you who like romantic, brooding vamps? I will steer you away from this one. There's nary a romantic in the bunch, except for perhaps Phil's old friend Shelley, who turns up over and over again like the proverbial bad penny. Also, this one had quite an ending, a twist that I certainly didn't see coming. It fit with the feel of the book, though. Overall, I was very impressed and thought the writing was top-notch. I'm looking forward to finding some more of Fingerman's work soon.

"On the Road" by Jack Kerouac

I've had an old copy of this hanging out on my bookshelves for at least the last five years, since before the hubby and I relocated here to NC. Well, I noticed the other day that there's a new edition out celebrating the 50-yr anniversary of its being published. What better reason to give it a go, as the lead characters might say?

Well, now that I'm done, I think I needed a better reason. Maybe it's my age, maybe it's the age of the piece, maybe it's none of the above, but "On the Road" read like so much rambling in my mind. There really isn't a plot to speak of; it's mostly the goings-on of a few "beat" characters, the two leads being Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise. (After reading the intro, I learned that Dean is loosely based on Neal Cassady and Sal on the Kerouac himself). The book is really just vignettes of their lives when they happen to overlap, most of which occurs in an automobile.

As a former student of the literary world, I'm just sort of dumb-founded that this is considered a great work. I don't know that I would go as far as Truman Capote, who is quoted in the into as having said that it's not literature, it's just typing. I did feel that Kerouac was trying to get something across to me, his reader. I just don't know what it was/is. The characters aren't particularly sympathetic, especially not Dean, who has a tendency to love 'em and leave 'em and I'm not just talking about the women here. At one point he has had three wives, has had children with all of them (if memory serves correctly), and decides to go back to living with wife #2 shortly after marrying wife #3. What a guy! He also leaves Sal, his good friend Sal who is like a brother, lying in Mexico with dysentery. Again, what a guy! He steals cars, drinks like the proverbial fish, smokes a lot of pot, and for some reason I was never able to fathom, sweats all the time. Not the sort of cat I'd want to hang with, man! The only thing that rang true was a description about half-way through the book about the Lone Star State. Dean says "You drive and drive and you're still in Texas tomorrow night." THAT I could relate to, having driven that route going across Texas from side-to-side. It takes forever.

Oh well. I'll let you in a little secret - not all "great literature" is really great literature. Oh, there are professors and scholars who will disagree, I'm sure, and that's fine, it's their careers they're thinking of, hopefully. But to me, "great literature" is something that can not only stand the test of time, but can also appeal to the masses. I just don't feel either one is true with "On the Road".

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

"A Connecticut Fashionista in King Arthur's Court" by Marianne Mancusi

Time-travel romance has never really been my personal cup of tea. Having said that, I decided I'd give this title a go, seeing as how the dear friend in Indy managed to snag it and send it my way. My reaction to the book took a while, which is why I'm just now writing about it. Let me explain...

On the surface, I liked this novel while I was reading it. Surprisingly enough, the story of fashion reporter Katherine "Kat" Jones was engaging. While at a medieval fair, she is cursed by a fortune teller, a wicked-looking old woman who tells her that she is in the wrong time and that she's doomed to die that very day. Kat, believing nothing the woman says, goes off to watch a jousting match, only to be hit in the head with a very large piece of wood after she wanders onto the field. After blacking out, she wakes up to large men in armor, then not-so-quickly realizes that she's no longer in the present. Somehow she's been sent back to King Arthur's time, to his court specifically. What's a sensible girl to do, especially when there's no Starbucks around?

What she does is start falling for Lancelot. Yes, that Lancelot, the one who champions Queen Guenevere and eventually has an affair with her, thus destroying the Knights of the Round Table and Arthur's hard-won peace. The old woman from the fair turns out to be none other than The Lady of the Lake, who traveled through time herself to bring Kat back. Why? Well, Kat is the only woman who could possibly prevent the coming disaster. How? By falling in love with Lance, of course, and he with her. True love will win every time, right?

Uh, not so fast. Despite the fact that they do fall in love, there are still misperceptions and mistaken identities galore, all of which lead to the fate that the Lady and Merlin (yes, that wizard Merlin) were trying to avoid. Turns out they have ulterior motives of a decidedly religious overtone; they want to quash this Christian religion that threatens to take over their pagan ways. When it appears that things will end badly, King Arthur himself steps in to help out. Can't tell you how exactly! Just have to read it for yourself.

So why do I feel differently about this work now? Well, it's had time to sink in, and there are several things that I now see more clearly. While I was caught up in the story, it was easy to ignore them. But now? Not so much. For instance, Kat goes on and on about all the "modern" conveniences she's trying to learn to do without, but there's barely any mention of anything relating to toilets and body functions. This would seem to be the part that would disgust her the most, I would think. Also, it's mentioned several times that she still has her purse, which still has a tampon or two in it. Uh, OK, what about that tampon? Surely she's still having her period while she's there, so why not go into how they deal with that? And while we're on bodily functions, how about all the sex that she has with Lance? (that's not giving anything away and you know it!) They go at it quite a bit, but there's no mention of how she manages to NOT get pregnant. I was expecting it, really, as The Lady explained to her that she would have to wait for the solstice before trying to go home, which was 9 months away. Seemed like a pretty sure thing that Kat would be bearing Lance's love child...

I also thought there were some lost opportunities, such as the character development of Guen and Arthur. Both admit to Kat how much they love each other. Yes, it's told through Kat's eyes, but still, it would have been nice to see more of that romance. Also, it appears at first that Mordred isn't evil, just extremely confused by the reveal of his true parentage (having your mother and father be siblings is rather upsetting!) The chance to write Mordred as more of a teen in need of guidance, maybe one who at the last minute feels betrayed by his father, was there but not taken. Or what if Mordred was more innocent in his mistaking Kat for Guen? What if he was afraid to open his mouth about the error, rather than taking great delight in it? There's really no mention of the lad being coached by his mother to take over the kingdom at any cost, so why does he turn into such a rat? Again, missed opportunities.

Anyway, it's a fairly decent story while you're wrapped up in it. It just loses something after letting it digest a while. Call it the literary version of an upset tummy!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

"D*U*C*K" by Poppy Z. Brite

Rickey and G-man are back in this all-too-short novella. Things are the usual at their restaurant, Liquor, with the cooking references coming fast and furious. That is, until Rickey is assaulted while taking out the trash. Feeling he needs to be distracted, he considers an offer to cater a dinner for the South Louisiana branch of a hunting/conservation group called Ducks Unlimited. (If you've been keeping up with the series, you know that Rickey is pretty much the king of "novelty menus" - that is, keeping one main ingredient in each and every dish). Rickey has pretty much sworn off these sorts of invitations but this one is different; the special guest of the evening is none other than his childhood sports hero, former New Orleans Saints QB Bobby Hebert.

Knowing that Rickey has had a crush on Bobby for just about forever, G-man encourages him to take the gig. Only problem being that these chefs have never encountered these ducks before - WILD ducks. Of course! There are several comedies of errors and Rickey, as usual, has one of his near-nervous breakdowns before the big meal. Will they pull it off? Will he look like a fool in front of Bobby? Do ducks fly? Sorry, couldn't resist!

As I said in the beginning, the biggest beef I have with this book is that it's too short! I truly enjoy the Rickey and G-man series just as much or maybe even more than Brite's early works. (Sadly, she does not enjoy talking about those early books, it seems. Then again, if I had people who only wanted to talk about my early years, I'd probably get sick of that subject, too!) Be warned, though - these entries are more like entrees, guaranteed to have your mouth watering.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

"The Reinvented Miss Bluebeard" by Minda Webber

"When your father is not only an infamous pirate but the husband of six vanished wives, respectability's hard to come by. That's why Eve invented herself a husband. How else was a nineteenth-century gal to follow her dreams and become one of those newfangled psychiatrists? Certainly she'd never be running The Towers, London's preeminent asylum for potty paranormals. She wouldn't be seeing famous outpatients such as Frederick Frankenstein (he has a screw loose) and treating Jane Van Helsing's blood phobia. But now, wackier than the werewolves and loonier than the leprechaun she's already treating, something new is taking shape - and he has the name of her never-before-seen husband and a body to drive a girl absolutely batty..."

This is the other "beach read" that I took on my little vacation. I'd seen other titles by Ms. Webber before but never picked one up. Again, looking for light reading, I decided to give this a shot.

Overall, I liked it better than the Hannah Howell entry below. It's still a romance, but has that paranormal flavor to it that I prefer. It also has a sense of humor, something that I quite enjoy. I will say that while some of the author's puns and plays on words were cute, there were WAY too many of them. This is the sort of thing where a little goes a long way. Jasper Fforde is a much better example of this style of writing (check out the Thursday Next series).

The characters were engaging, and I do mean "characters". I like the leads but also found myself warming to the supporting cast, particularly Eve's butler Teeter. He's a good soul despite being an ogre and having a penchant for alcohol. Of course, if you worked in an asylum, you'd probably be tempted to drink, too! There's Hugo, who runs off quite often to ring the bells in the Tower, which makes Eve's assistant's dog jump to the table to be fed. Her assistant is none other than Pavlov, which makes the mutt in question Pavlov's dog. Get it?

Adam, the invented hubby who appears in the flesh, thankfully has more than one dimension. Although he's been a pirate and longs for gold, there's a good reason for the need of money (restoring the family estate) and he's got a sad past. He's also quite good with Eve's patients, and might be doing them more good than the good doctor herself. The interaction between Adam and Eve (again, get it?) is cute, and their romance builds at a leisurely pace with the final "I love you"s toward the end of the book. Also, lots of thwarted romantic encounters, which was just fine with me, especially after all the action of the Howell work.

If you like funny, light reading, and don't mind the frequent play on words, this might be just the book for you.

Friday, August 10, 2007

"Beauty and the Beast" by Hannah Howell

"On the eve of her wedding to the heir of Saiturn Manor, the stunningly beautiful Gytha is shocked to learn that her betrothed, a man she barely knew, is dead. Now she must marry the new heir, Thayer Saiturn, a battle-hardened knight known as the Red Devil...

With a face scarred in battle and a heart broken in love, Thayer has no interest in marriage. But not even the Red Devil can break the promise his foster-father made years ago and soon finds himself married to a woman whose exquisite beauty and sweet innocence intrigue him. But can his new bride look beyond the scars to find a hidden passion and undying love locked deep inside him?"
Ah, the good old days, when marriages were all about property and had little if anything to do with love. Sigh. I don't ordinarily read this sort of book, an out-and-out romance, but I was headed off to the beach with my friend for some much needed R&R, so I grabbed it. The description didn't sound too bad, so why not?

In the end, the "why not?" is that it IS a romance. Basically, boy and girl meet, must marry, then spend the rest of the book trying to get the other one to admit that they love him/her. There's a bad guy (an uncle) trying to kill Thayer, some bad guys who turn out not to be so bad, and the good guys who look like bad guys but of course have hearts of gold. There's a happy ending and much romance (OK - sex) and 336 pages later it's done. It wasn't awful, but it wasn't great, either.

I guess the description threw me off, because the way I read it, Thayer is quite ugly. Hideous, one might go so far to say. But when I read the first description of his appearance in the actual text, I was disappointed. He has a few scars (if memory serves correctly, only one of those is on his face) and - GASP - he has red hair. Lots of red hair. Uh, excuse me, but RED HAIR makes him ugly? Sheesh. I thought they weren't that shallow back then, but seems I was wrong.

The romance was OK, not the best I've read. The whole book was OK I guess. Grab it if you're into historical romance, leave it be if you're not.