Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"Storm Born" by Richelle Mead

This is the first book in Mead's new Dark Swan series, and it's quite the departure from her Succubus books that I've been reading. While I did like this work, reader beware - this is definitely an dark urban fantasy with quite a bit more sex than the Succubus books. Not that there's anything wrong with that...

Eugenie Markham is a shaman, and her services are sought after by those needing to banish spirits and fey who make their way into our world. Her latest case involves a tennis shoe; yes, it's actually a haunted sneaker. She's got a couple of sidekicks from the other side that are bound to her and must obey, etc. Sounds like the usual sort of fare for an urban fantasy, right? Enter Wil. He needs Eugenie to rescue his sister; she's been kidnapped by a fey to use and abuse as he wants. Having a soft heart, Eugenie agrees, even though it means putting her life at great risk. Normally, she sends her spirit self into the Otherworld, but this rescue will require her to go bodily.

Along the journey to retrieve the girl, Eugenie runs into a shape-shifter named Kiyo, and another fey king named Dorian, both of whom appear to be romantic interests. Oh, and several of the creatures living in the Otherworld seem to know Eugenie by her real name, not her spirit name of Odile (also known as the Dark Swan). Oh, those same creatures all seem to want to have sex with her, too. Turns out there's a prophecy of Eugenie and her future offspring, if she choses to have any. That same prophecy also reveals who her real father is. Cue the music, people...

While I liked this book, I must say that it seemed as if Mead was trying to make it as different as possible from her other work. I've run accross that sort of thing before, most notedly with Charlaine Harris' series about Harper Connelly. The first Harper book was a bit jarring, mostly because I think Harris wanted to be sure that she wasn't anything like Sookie Stackhouse. Mead has the same problem; she wants Eugenie to be a complete 180 from Georgina Kincaid. I gave Harris another chance, and now I'm a huge fan of the Harper books. So I will also give Mead another chance, and hopefully the next Dark Swan book will be better, too.

"This Land is Their Land" by Barbara Ehrenreich

I've been a fan of Ehrenreich's since reading "Nickel and Dimed". I enjoy her arguments on paying people a fair wage, on covering their health insurance, and basically on making it possible for people to acheive their dreams. It went without saying that I was going to read this book, which I did. And I really liked it, but not for the reason you'd think.

This particular work is a collection of previously published essays, so there's not really any new ground being covered here. The essay format was really nice for someone like me that wants to read the author's take on several different subjects, rather than one longer, more detailed work. It gives Ehrenreich the chance to cover wide scope of social issues, including but not limited to illegal immigrants, military families, unemployment, health insurance, corporate spying, cancer, and even - gasp - Disney's Princess products.

A little does go a long way, so I'd take my time with this book. Read an essay or two, ponder on them, give yourself time to digest the information, then hit a few more. It's also a good way to dip your toe into Ehrenreich's style of writing, which is not for the faint of heart. She does at times lean very close to the bleeding-heart liberal line, but most of her arguments are sound. And as she very clearly points out in most of these essays, the rich continue to get richer, to the detriment of those with very little to their names.

"Tethered" by Amy Mackinnon

I read this book several months ago, and it's taken me this long to really think about it and how I felt about it. Yeah, it's one of those books. It's a debut novel that had a lot of good press going for it, not to mention the interesting story, so I was very interested in reading it. I also loved the cover art - very eye-catching and made me want to read it that much more.

The story seems basic enough. Clara Marsh is an undertaker, a very quiet woman who believes that the dead should be dead. She shows great understanding of the people she works on, giving the reader a sense that she sees them as people, not just bodies. She leads a simple, rather introspective life, perhaps wishing for something more, but satisfied with things as they are.

When she's called out to a pick up a recently deceased Charlie Kelly, she meets Officer Mike Sullivan, who tells her that the police have been receiving anonymous calls about a little girl that was killed three years ago and a very special birthmark that was on the back of her neck. The same birthmark that Clara saw when she prepared the body for the funeral - but never told police about. A birthmark that has haunted Clara these three years.

As the plot unfolds, Clara becomes more attracted to Mike, and more involved in the murder case of the Precious Doe. She also meets a young girl at the mortuary, Trecie, who seems to come and go at will and has no sign of any parents. The mortuary's owner, Linus Bartholomew, seems to know Trecie and is content to let her play in her rather unusual "playground". But Clara believes the girl is somehow connected to the Precious Doe case, and her mere presence becomes unnerving. Does she have information about the case? Did she know Precious Doe? Is Clara getting closer to a killer?

I haven't really done justice to the plot, but then again, the book is very complex. To say more would more than likely give away things best left to the reader to discover. What I can say is this - I did like the book, but didn't love it as I had hoped. It's a very compelling read, and obviously thought-provoking if I'm still mulling it over after these several months. But I wish Mackinnon has fleshed out her characters just a bit more. I wanted to know more about Clara, more about Mike, even more about Linus and his wife. There were things that weren't explored that I remain curious about. I almost wish that Mackinnon would write a sequel about Clara, even though there's really nothing to warrant one, just because I want to know more about her. Overall, I give it a decent read rating, and hope that the author's sophomore work (if she puts one out) is better.

"Every Last Drop" by Charlie Huston

When we last left vamp P. I. Joe Pitt, he was exiled to the Bronx, mostly due to his own actions. He'd made quite a few enemies, becoming persona non gratis in almost every Clan. And he'd managed to get his HIV-positive girlfriend, Evie, infected with the Vyrus by someone in the Enclave, which means that she'll never get out. It was a dark time in Joe's life.

Joe's life hasn't gotten much brighter when "Every Last Drop" opens. He's been in the Bronx for a year now, subsisting as best he can, trying to keep his head low and not cause trouble. Except this being Pitt, trouble finds him, as usual, this time in the form of a gang of teen hoodlums, all infected with the Vyrus. Joe realizes that they're trouble, and thinks he can handle them; he ends up being bound with razor wire and delivered to their boss, Alistair Lament. While being questioned and tortured by Lament, Pitt is rescued by another old enemy, Mrs. Vandewater. Once his dealings with her begin, he is in turn rescued from her by yet another enemy, none other than Mr. Predo. Seems that the Coalition needs Joe to investigate the newest Clan on the block, the one started by a human girl, the one claiming to be working towards a cure. This would mean Joe being back on his home turf, but it won't be easy. Like I said, Joe made a lot of enemies the last time around.

Joe does what he does best - play everyone off each other. He agrees to Predo's demands, then tells the girl that he's spying for him. She in turn wants something, too. She asks Joe to find out where all the blood comes from. Of all the Clans, the Coalition is the only one that keeps its members fed, and fed well. Others have even gone to the Coalition and cut deals when their supplies have run low. Where does all that blood come from? The answer is, in a word, horrific. I always knew that Huston could write down and dirty when he needed to, or chose to, but wow. This took things in a completely nasty direction, one I didn't see coming. It's certainly not one that Joe expected, either.

It's another wild ride in Pitt's life, and I'm glad to say that I'm pretty sure it's not going to be the last. I mean, after all, Joe's still got to get the girl, right? Well, maybe. It is a Huston book, after all, and he's not known for his happy endings. Still, I'd like to think that Joe will get a happy ending - he's my kind of guy.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

"Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip - Confessions of a Cynical Waiter" by The Waiter

This falls along the lines of "Kitchen Confidential" and other such "behind-the-scenes" books that have come out lately. That doesn't make it not worth reading, though, and I bet you're on your best behavior at dining establishment of all kinds afterward, too. The Waiter started all this as, of course, a blog, and finally collected enough rants, got himself a publisher, and voila! A book was born.

There are all sorts of good insider gossip here, everything from how the wait staff are abused by managers, the rampant drug and alcohol abuse by many in the restaurant industry as a whole, and the blatant paranoia of restaurant owners. It's pretty eye-opening stuff, or at least it was for me. Then again, I don't dine in fancy digs very often, being more of an Applebee's kind of girl. Good food for a good price is my motto, and quite frankly, the dive right down the street from work is more my style. Great burgers, fabulous breakfast stuff, and the hubby & I can go eat for right around $10 every time. Jacket and tie attire is not my style, so it was interesting to read about that world.

Of course, there are several "rants" about the customers, and rightly so in most cases. I think everyone should read this book just so they know how not to behave when they're out and about. I could never be a waitress - I would've told off several of the people described in this book. Just because you have money to eat somewhere expensive doesn't give you license to be an asshole. The worst rant was about a couple insisting on a specific section of the dining room, even when it became obvious that someone in that section needed urgent medical attention. While the EMTs were trying to get this woman out the door and save her life, these yahoos were still complaining that they would be most unhappy if they couldn't sit in that section. The Waiter was far kinder than I would've been, I can tell you that, but he does give his inner monologue, which is more along the lines of what I would've said.

It's a good little book, a bit repetitive at times, but overall worth the read. Again, if you see anything in here that even remotely reminds you of yourself, it's not too late to change your behavior and learn to be a good restaurant patron!

"Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth" by Simon R. Green

If I didn't already know that there are more John Taylor tales out there, I would have easily believed this to be the end of Green's Nightside series. It finally ties up the story of his mother, Lilith, and John's quest to deal with her without destroying the world, a prophecy that many have feared since his return to the Nightside. Where is the Nightside, you ask? London, but not on any map. It's a no-man's land where neither Heaven nor Hell are able to interfere, and where it's always 3 a.m. It's a place of magic and mayhem, and where John Taylor is most at home, even though it seems there's always someone out there trying to kill him. And this time is no different...

The usual cast of characters show up in this installment: Suzy Shotgun, Eddie the Punk God of the Razor, Tommy Oblivion, John's secretary Cathy, Dead Boy, and, of course, Walker. No wonder I thought it could be the end - the gang is all here. It's a fight to the death, but not the destruction, of Lilith. If she can't be vanquished, then John and his friends are all doomed, as is the entire world as we know it. To say much more is to delve deeply into the plot, and that seems silly, given that these books are fantastic and you're probably reading them anyway, right? Of course you are.

I will say that this is probably the bleakest of the Nightside books, and with good reason; Green could have decided to end the series here and gone on to other things. As it is, there are other books after this one, and he has gone on to other things, namely his new Shaman Bond series, which I've also reviewed. Basically, Green is a very good writer and I like his work, regardless of who he's writing about. Check him out for yourself in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of your local library/book store today.

Friday, December 26, 2008

"Extraordinary Uses for Ordinary Things" by Reader's Digest

This is a really interesting book, full of useful hints for things you probably have lying around your house/apartment. Some of the suggestions are common (use vinegar and baking soda to clean just about anything in your home) to downright ingenious (use clear nail polish to seal envelopes if you're not sure about the glue or hate to do the licking!)

The book is very use-friendly, too. There are a few pages at the front that are set up as "Most Useful Items for..." and contains such categories as "around the house", "for the cook", "for health and beauty", etc. These pages simply direct you to the hints themselves, so consider this a quick guide to what you may be looking for. Or take you time leafing through the rest of the book, which lists each "ordinary item" in alphabetical order. Some of the items only have 2-3 suggestions, then you have your "Super Items", which have page after page of hints. These are things like vinegar, baking soda, duct tape, etc.

This isn't really one of those books that you can read quickly, either. It's best to do a little at a time, and I'd keep a notebook handy - you'll want to write down some of the hints for your own use, or at the very least, make note of the page numbers and have copies done after you're done with the book. I know I did!

"Backup" by Jim Butcher

In some of the reviews, this has a subtitle, "A Story of the Dresden Files". And story is the key word there because this is really nothing more than a prettily packaged short story. Not a bad short story, but nevertheless, a short story. And if you actually purchased this book, you'd be out at least $20 for something that might - MIGHT - take you an hour to read.

But if you love the Dresden books, and if you have the money, you might just do it anyway.

I can't really give a plot line because the story is, well, so short. Suffice to say that this book is not about our beloved wizard, Harry Dresden, but about his half-brother, Thomas Wraith. Thomas, if you'll recall, is a vampire. He helps Harry on occasion, but they try to keep their relationship on the down-low, lest the wrong entities stumble over the truth. Family ties can be used against you, you know. Thomas is called into action by his sister, and it seems the main reason he goes along with the plan is to save Harry's life. A good reason, but I didn't buy into Harry needing that kind of saving.

As I said, it's a very short story, and not entirely satisfying. The one thing I really did like about it was that it gave me a bit of insight into Thomas's vampire hunger, something we haven't really gotten a handle on through the Harry books. It was like reading about an addiction, and it made me feel for Thomas that much more. Overall, I think this story has a place, probably in a collection of other such stories (ooooh, wouldn't that be interesting? A whole collection of shorts told from the sidekicks' points of view!). But it didn't really deserve it's own individual pressing.

"All Souls' Night: Blood Ties, Book Four" by Jennifer Armintrout

This has been one of those love-hate relationships, and thank goodness the author gave me the reason near the beginning of this book. The "heroine", Carrie Ames, has just had an argument with her lover, Nathan Grant; he's off to rescue his son, Ziggy, and she doesn't want him to go, believing that he's walking into a trap. Having said some brutal things to Carrie, then storming out, Carrie has an epiphany where she realizes that she is selfish, she is jealous. And that's been my biggest problem with the Blood Ties series - I'm just not all that crazy about Carrie.

Luckily, Armintrout has enough other characters on the canvas, sympathetic ones, that it balances out. If the entire book was told from Carrie's point of view, I don't think I could handle it. In fact, I believe that my review of the second book wasn't overly enthusiastic and I was hoping the third book was better. Well, the fourth book is pretty good, and - get this - it is the last book in the series. Yes, an author who chooses to write a closed-end series, rather than let the thing go on and on and on until I've lost interest due to increasingly poor writing (I think we all know who the guilty parties are, too!)

Carrie and Nathan are still on a mission to stop his sire, Jacob Seymour, also known as The Soul Eater, from attaining god-hood. Enlisted in the mission are various friends and allies, including Max, the vampire-werewolf hybrid; Ziggy, the afore-mentioned son and now vampire; and Bill, an enterprising human who runs a "blood service" for a price (not his own, too many customers). They're up against enormous odds, not the least of which is Dahlia, the witch-turned-vampiress who will perform the ritual that allows Jacob to achieve his god-hood. Except this being Armintrout, things don't go smoothly, and new allies will show up to help save the day. It's an interesting way to end things, mostly satisfying but with a bit of a "Hollywood" ending that I thought rang false. But who wants to end on a sour note, right?

The whole series is worth checking out, more action than romance, and the romance is mostly sex. Armintrout is due to have another work out in August 2009, "Lightworld/Darkworld", and there's a preview at the end of the book. Looks to be fantasy-oriented writing, might be interesting. We'll just have to wait and see, won't we?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"Daemons Are Forever" by Simon R. Green

Eddie Drood is back! If you recall, Green started this Bond-ish series with "The Man with the Golden Torc" (see review on this blog). I knew there were plans for more books, and we finally got this one here at the library. O Happy Day! I've read several of Green's Nightside series, and was pretty happy with the first Eddie Drood book, so I was anxious to get my hands on this one.

Eddie Drood has taken over the Drood family business after his adventures of the first book. The family is still wary of him and his motivation, and the rest of the world is waiting to find out just how vulnerable the Droods are after, well, go read the first book, then come on back for the rest of the review!

OK, continuing....

Eddie and his Inner Circle decide that they need to choose an enemy to attack; they need to put on a good show of force, let the world know that they are just fine, thank you very much, and that the world had better be on its best behavior. The chosen target? The Loathly Ones, beings from another dimension that place a part of themselves in humans and sort of gestate, taking over the humans' actions, thoughts, etc. Think "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", except that there are no duplicates in this case, just you losing more and more of yourself to the foreign thing growing inside you. When the Loathly Ones infect and take over an entire town, it becomes what's known in the biz as a "ghoulville", and it would seem that there are more and more of them popping up of late. Eddie decides to destroy on of these ghost towns, and the strange tower that is being built on the outskirts, something that looks very, very wrong.

Turns out the tower is just one of many being built, all in the hopes of bringing the Hungry Gods, also known as the Many-Angled Ones, on through to Earth. Yeah, it's just as horrible as it sounds. The Droods not only have to make a stand, they need to find a way to truly vanquish the Loathly Ones and stop their evil plan. How they do it makes up the bulk of the book, and trust me, it's a complicated plot that would be too time-consuming to explain. Suffice to say that old friends are back, new enemies are introduced, and there are enough gadgets here to make old Q from the Bond movies proud.

I really enjoyed this book, and was very happy at the end to see that Eddie and his pals will be back in a third entry. While I enjoy the Nightside series by Green, I think I might actually like this one a bit better. There's a bit more levity in the Drood series, and I think Eddie is a more rounded character. Of course, there are quite a few similarities to the series, too, but that's to be expected I think. I've never read his Deathstalker works, but since a Deathstalker character does have a role in "Daemons", I may be checking that out in the very near future. Just as you, dear readers, should be checking out Eddie Drood and his adventures!

"Serpent Girl" by Matthew Carnahan

One of the best things about working in a library is getting a chance to look at books that people have checked out from other branches, seeing things I wouldn't ordinarily know anything about. This little debut novel is exactly one of those things; a patron had checked it out from our "main" branch (also known as "the big library") and returned it at our little building. She said it was pretty weird, not really her style, which, of course, made us want to read it all that more. My coworker got her hands on it first, then it was my turn (after Hubby Dearest got his hands on it!). It's an interesting little work, all of 199 pages, and really not a word wasted. The style reminds me a bit of Charlie Huston, and if you follow this blog at all, you know I'm mighty impressed with his stuff.

Bailey Quinn is a 22-year-old headed to hell. He regains consciousness in the middle of the desert with pretty much no memory of how he got there, why his throat hurts so much, or why he's naked. Slowly it all comes back to him...his "friends" stabbed him in the back. They literally cut his throat. And they took off with the money that they had all stolen, but it was Bailey that worked out the con and put it all together. He wants his money back, with interest, and he wants to teach his so-called friends a lesson. But it's not going to be easy.

The Freaks are on his tail, and they want blood.

See, Bailey used to work for the circus. Not Barnum and Bailey, the good one, the clean one, the one with the best performers and animals. No, he hooked up with a second-rate outfit, one that gets all of B&B's hand-me-downs and castoffs. It's currently being run by the Freaks, real circus freaks that are also freaky in that they do drugs, cook drugs, beat the animals, have sex with just about anyone and each other, and do some very, very shady accounting. Bailey catches on to the fact that the circus is pretty much a cash-only business, ripe for a theft of several thousands of dollars. He starts working on getting in good with Eelie, the Serpent Girl, because she's the one that knows everything about the circus's financial set-up. Eelie was born without arms or legs, using her flipper of sorts to move around on her skateboard from place to place. Bailey realizes that she's not very happily married and uses that angle to work his plan.

But Bailey is the one getting worked - he falls in love with Eelie, and she with him. And we all know what happens when a woman is scorned, don't we? Thus the wild adventure that Bailey has trying to find his "buds" and his money. He may find more than he bargained for. And he may not live through it, either.

This is a really good debut, one that again, doesn't mince words. I sort of wanted a bit more background on Bailey and some of the other characters, but the more I think about it, it's probably best that Carnahan left it as terse as he did. Do we really need to know about Bailey's childhood, why he hangs out with the sort of people he does, why he lives a life of "copping free" (stealing stuff), why he's into drugs? Not really. A lesser writer probably would have explored that angle, and I think the story would have been worse for it. I'm anxious to find out if Carnahan has done anything since this book; if he has, keep your eyes here, because I'm sure to post about it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

"By the Sword" by F. Paul Wilson

Hate to say it, but Wilson is finally down to his last few Jack novels, culminating in a re-released and majorly overhauled version of "Night World", which was the last book in his Adversary Cycle. Wilson includes a forward in this book that explains how the Jack books will be ending, how they won't "wrap up" with each book anymore, and how he advises the reader to be on the lookout for that new version of "Night World". It makes me sad that Jack's story is almost over, but I knew it wasn't going to last forever; I read the original Adversary Cycle quite a while back and already know how it ends. Or at least, how it did end...

Jack has been contacted in regards to a stolen sword, a Japanese katana, crafted by the master metallurgist Masamune. The sword disappeared almost 50 years ago from the Hiroshima Peace Museum, and this gentleman wants it back. He can't go to the police, though, because his father was the one who "liberated" it from the museum. Thus, he enlists Jack and his services. But Jack's being taken for a ride; this guy isn't who he says he is, as he finds out when he meets the real Nakanaori Okumo Slater. As if this wasn't bad enough, Jack soon realizes that there are other factions searching for the legendary katana, including but not limited to the following:

Hank Thompson: leader of the Kicker movement, he dreams about the sword almost every night. He knows it's important to the coming Evolution promised by his father, but he doesn't know exactly how it fits. He's also still on the lookout for Dawn Pickering and her unborn child, but again, he's not entirely sure where she fits into the big picture.

The Kaze Group: Hideo Takita and three yakuza are sent by this corporation to the United States to find the katana. Hideo has ulterior motives, as well - he plans to track down and kill the man that killed his brother. And that man just happens to be Jack...

The Kakureta Kao: a Japanese cult from long ago, thought to be exterminated by the bomb in Hiroshima. A very strange group that believes in removing their senses one by one, in the most literal fashion, too. They believe the sword is vital to their very existence, as well as their ability to create the Kuroikaze, or Black Wind, a phenomenon that kills everything in its path; it doesn't create a literal wind, such as the kind that tears down trees, but more of a spiritual black hole.

Jack has his hands full and there are a lot of characters willing to double cross him and each other. This book is full of action, which is a bit of a departure for Wilson, as most of the Jack books balanced action with the human element. And speaking of the human element, Jack's girlfriend Gia and her daughter Vicky are all but MIA in this book, something that was very disappointing to me. Jack can become almost one-note at times, but his interactions with Gia and Vicks bring out his best, and I like to see that. What did make me happy is the actual introduction of Glaeken (under an AKA); he and Jack finally meet and talk, with the ancient warrior filling Jack in on some of the upcoming battle plans. It's a nice touch to what's coming up, and I really enjoyed watching these two get to know each other, as they're so obviously alike. It will be interesting to see how Wilson brings Jack's story to an end, and even more interesting to see what changes he makes to the revised edition of "Night World".

Hang on, because I think it's going to be a very bumpy ride.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"Wait Till Your Vampire Gets Home" by Michele Bardsley

The fourth book of the Broken Heart, Oklahoma series by Bardsley doesn't really cover any new territory, and that's just fine by me. The books are cute paranormal romances, usually take little time to read, and put a smile on my face. Each one has been centered around a single parent in the small town of - where else? - Broken Heart; each of these struggling parents has been "turned" during one awful night a while back. In their attempts to create a safe haven for the newly turned and others, the Consortium has pretty much taken over Broken Heart and is doing its best to keep out strangers. But their best isn't going to be good enough...

Enter Libby Monroe and her hippie-dippie parents, who run PRIS, Paranormal Research and Investigation Services. They've heard rumors about Broken Heart and have arrived to investigate. Much to Libby's shock, there are creatures such as vampires and werewolves, and now she's looking at living proof of them. There's also no way she can return to "normal" society, not with her new knowledge - or with her new powers. Libby has been turned into a half-dragon of sorts when a dying dragon passes on her soul. But this wasn't just any gift; the soul was split in two upon transfer, and the other half is in hotter-than-hot daddy vamp Ralph Genessa. The two literally have sparks flying between them, which makes things difficult for the citizens of Broken Heart. And where are Libby's parents? What's happened to them? Are they trapped in BH too? Or has something more sinister happened to them?

The chemistry between Ralph and Libby is cute, and one has to feel for Ralph. His wife died suddenly, and after being turned, he sent his boys to live with their grandparents, hoping to keep them safe. It's obvious how much he misses them, though. Libby is OK, but didn't think through a lot of her actions. That's typical of some people, but it bothered me a bit here. Not entirely sure why.

Bardsley wisely puts in two glossaries for the reader, one with a lot of the terms and people who live in Broken Heart, the other a dictionary of foreign phrases that are used. It's helpful to those who might not have picked up any of the books before, and a great way to refresh yourself if it's been a while since you read the last entry! Overall, a good read, and a nice way to spend an afternoon/evening.

Monday, December 8, 2008

"One Silent Night" by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Well, it was bound to happen at some point. I used to really like the Dark-Hunter series, considering it a bit of a naughty pleasure. The books were never going to qualify as "great" literature, but gosh - they sure were fun reads, and they always had a good, hot romance. The series (including the Hunter series) is now up to fifteen or sixteen books, and unfortunately, I think Kenyon has gotten to the point where she's really reaching for material. I was pleasantly surprised by "Acheron", but with "One Silent Night", we're back to scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Rather than even attempt to describe a plot to you, faithful fans, I will merely tell you why I wasn't thrilled with this book and why I will no longer be reading the series. There are several reasons, but let's distill it down to its most basic aspect, shall we? COMPLETE LACK OF CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT. This is something that's been plaguing the last few DH books, with the exception of "Acheron" but that one also clocked in at 700+ pages. OSN has so many characters on canvas that I was desperately hoping for a scorecard of some sort. Most of the gods/goddesses/Daimons/demons, etc, had been introduced at some point, but there were a few names I plain didn't recognize. For example, Nick's former nanny makes an appearance, and yeah, she's totally not human. Huh? I don't even remember him having a nanny! He and his mom were poor, so how is that possible?

Along the lines of the lack of CD are also what I consider to be actions completely out of character, and this book has tons of them. Stryker, Ash's long-standing nemesis, is actually the hero of this book; he wins back his ex-wife of some 11,000 years ago, shows his soft side, claims to have the welfare of his men at the top of his mind, etc. WTF?? I don't ever remember Stryker being soft about anything; the man killed his own son for fraternizing with the enemy. Sigh. The ex-wife isn't any better, and wonder of wonders, she's got a slave that she tortures, one that happens to be some sort of last-of-his-kind hottie. Does that sound familiar to anyone? I checked out reviews on Amazon and several posters pointed the similarities between Jared (no, I kid you not - that's the immortal guy's name!) and Ash. I realize that Kenyon has had abuse issues of her own, and I could appreciate where she went with them in Ash's story, but I really don't want to read more of the same, especially not that. Move on, please.

It's always a sad day for me when a writer I once really enjoyed goes into this sort of crap territory. But Kenyon isn't the first to be abandoned by me, and I doubt she'll be the last. The one good thing about fiction is that there's always someone else out there writing along the same lines, and there's always newcomers that really bring something to the table. Why read the half-hearted attempts when you can be awed by the excellent? So long, Dark-Hunters, and here's hoping you find your way back someday.

Monday, November 24, 2008

"Just After Sunset" by Stephen King

It's been quite a long time since we had a collection of short stories from Steve, and let me tell you, the wait was worth it. This is a very worthy effort from the "king of horror", thirteen tales to tickle your mind (13 being a very bad number - just ask "N." from the story of the same title). There's a little something for everyone, so you're sure to have a favorite by the time you finish.

"Willa" is probably my least favorite story in the bunch, and it's the first one off the block. It's a ghost story of sorts, and it turns out the first one King wrote when he started trying to get back into the short story format. Contrary to popular belief (and King's own belief), writing a short story is not like riding a bike; it takes a while to get back into the swing of things.

"Gingerbread Girl" could be considered a classic girl-in-peril story. Young woman recently separated from her husband escapes to Dad's "conch shack" at the beach, only to find herself in the worst of all possible situations. Very good, had me anxious to find out what happened.

"Harvey's Dream" is perhaps my favorite story here, perhaps because while short, it evokes a very Shirley Jackson-ish kind of horror. Quiet and creepy.

"Rest Stop" presents the story of a mild, meek writer who must call on his pen name's persona to handle a late-night pit stop. Makes you think twice about hitting the road late at night, or at least, going to the bathroom before you get behind the wheel.

"Stationary Bike" was an interesting little tale about taking exercise a bit too far. Loved this one, mostly because I'm not a huge fan of the uber-healthy, no-fat, no-carb, all-organic lifestyle. Yeah, mine may kill me a bit faster, but I bet I have more fun along the way. Like Ben Franklin advised, moderation in all things.

"The Things They Left Behind" is scary and poignant, a good tale about a 9/11 survivor and how he handles some mysterious items of his co-workers.

"Graduation Afternoon" was just weird. Not necessarily a bad story, just weird. Turns out King wrote it based on a dream, and it feels like it.

"N." is King's take on the Lovecraftian tale, but with an OCD twist. Kinda creepy, not really one of his best. Then again, I surprised myself by finally trying some Lovecraft and found out I do NOT like his stuff. Sigh.

"The Cat From Hell" seemed awfully familiar, and after reading his notes, I know why. Anyone remember the old "Tales From the Darkside" movie, the one that had Christian Slater in it? Remember the cat he was trying to get rid of? That would be this cat. The story was obviously adapted a bit for the movie, but damn - it's still a creepy-ass story.

"The New York Times At Special Rates" is another ghost story, but I enjoyed this one more than "Willa". Awww.... who knew that Steve-o was a hopeless romantic?

"Mute" tells of man who unburdens himself of his woes to a hitchhiker he picks up, one who supposedly can't hear or talk. This being a King story, you know it's not exactly what it seems, though...

"Ayana" is a look at miracles and the fact that they can be a burden as well as a blessing. Kind of a nice story.

"A Very Tight Place" would probably be my second favorite entry in this collection. Feuding neighbors have taken things just about as far as they can go. Or have they? One neighbor decides to go to the extreme, but the other neighbor isn't going to go quietly. This one definitely goes for the gross-out; you may never be able to use a Port-a-Potty again.

King is one of the few authors that really enjoys writing in the short story format, and it shows. My husband was thrilled to hear that "Just After Sunset" was a collection, rather than a novel, and with good reason - it's fun to read King's shorter works. Like visiting an old friend.

Friday, November 21, 2008

"How Not to Die" by Jan Garavaglia

The subtitle to this book is "Surprising lessons on living longer, safer, and healthier from America's favorite medical examiner". If you haven't heard of "Dr. G", then you probably don't have cable TV. She first appeared on the Discovery Health Channel (sadly, a station I can no longer get on my TV), and my hubby and I were avid fans. It was sort of like a real-life CSI show: a case is presented, a re-enactment of the autopsy is done, and Dr. G. explains what she finds as she goes, what tests she has to have done, what leads her to determine cause of death, etc. And the cases were pretty interesting! I can remember one woman that was brought in with a gut-shot; she'd been out on her first hunting trip with her husband and the police thought she was a victim of foul play. The husband swore that his wife had tripped and the gun had gone off, that it was an accident. I would never have believed his story myself, and Dr. G. had her doubts as well. But being in the business she's in, she's learned over the years to keep an open mind. Well, whaddya know? The husband was telling the truth, something that Dr. G. was able to prove with the autopsy. Very interesting stuff.

I was thrilled to see a book come out by Dr. G. - finally, all the secrets to staying alive! Except that there are no secrets revealed. It's the common sense sort of stuff, wear your seat belt, don't speed or drive recklessly, take care of your body with regular checkups, don't smoke, don't drink excessively, don't do drugs, etc. Basically, her book is advice on how not to die prematurely. Or, as she puts it, how not to die from your own stupidity. Sounds harsh, but you know it's true - pick up one of my fave books, "The Darwin Awards", and you'll know what we're talking about. Guys who "car surf" have a high rate of injuries and/or death - makes sense when you think about standing on the roof of a vehicle moving at a high rate of speed with no protective gear. And let's face it, alcohol is usually a factor in cases like that.

It's an easy read and she does include some of her autopsy cases to make her points. I skipped over some of the material, such as not doing drugs or smoking, as I do not engage in either of these activities. But I was very interested in her chapter on men being stupid, mostly about them not going to a doctor, not taking care of the basic stuff like high blood pressure or diabetes. There are a lot of conditions out there that are very manageable if one does what the doctor asks of one, and you can live a very fulfilling and long life. But not if you ignore your own body.

If you ignore your body and its warning signs, you'll find yourself on Dr. G's table - it's a guarantee.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"The Sonnet Lover" by Carol Goodman

Rose Asher has a comfortable if boring life at the ripe old age of 39. She teaches poetry at Hudson College to students who'd rather be making films, and she's having an affair with the university's president, Mark Abrams. It's not exactly the life she envisioned for herself when she studied at La Civetta, a Tuscan villa attached to the college, some 20 years ago. That was the year she was young, ambitious, and hopelessly in love with a student professor, Bruno Brunelli. Unfortunately, that all came to an end with Bruno's announcement that his wife was pregnant, as well as Rose's aunt dying in the States, requiring her presence at home.

Rose has a favorite student as most teachers do, even though Robin Weiss has forsaken his plans of writing poetry in favor of cinematography and directing. Rose is still proud of Robin and he's just returned from studying at La Civetta himself, something that evokes wistful memories on Rose's part. However, it seems that Robin has a secret, one he wishes to share with Rose, if she'll grant him some time. She puts him off until after his student film premiers at an academic gathering, and it proves to be a fatal error for her; Robin is seen arguing with a young man, Orlando Brunelli, and subsequently falls to his death from a balcony. There were several people near the feuding youths, but most agree that Robin either fell accidentally or jumped. Orlando was accusing Robin of stealing something; could it have been the poems attributed to Shakespeare, the ones he wrote to his Dark Lady? Or was Orlando accusing him of something worse, such as plagiarism? Rose is devastated by her student's death, especially after meeting his father. Convinced that Robin was pushed by someone, she reluctantly agrees to travel to Italy and La Civetta with a movie producer to help look for the lost manuscripts; what she really wants is to bring some peace to Robin's father. And maybe to herself.

Upon her arrival, she discovers that not much has changed at the villa, other than the obvious ravages of time upon a once-grand estate. Bruno is still there with his wife, Claudia, and Rose tries to distance herself from her former love, with little success. There are various Hudson employees there, most of them working on the film in some capacity, and almost all of them with something to lose if it's determined that Robin was murdered. Several red herrings are thrown into the plot, but it's not difficult to see who the "bad guys" are. Goodman does a good job describing the Italian scenery, but I was a bit disappointed in her character development this time. Granted, she sticks with a bit of a formula in her books: older professor/teacher/former student with a lost love must solve some sort of mystery involving a younger generation. Much as I wanted to, I didn't feel much for Rose, and I'm not sure why. I don't know if there were too many characters on the canvas for Goodman to fully flesh out our heroine, or if she just wasn't all that heroic. I also found myself wanting to read more about her and Bruno in the present; the rekindled love is barely even mentioned.

Overall, not one of her best works, but still not a bad book. I'm still inclined to read her next work, "The Night Villa", in hopes that it will show her to be back in fine form. If you like poetry, love Italy, and don't mind a bit of a convoluted mystery, "The Sonnet Lover" might be just the ticket.

"Wolfsbane and Mistletoe" edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner

Wow. I am really surprised at this Christmas collection of werewolf stories. Why? Because there's not a dud in the whole bunch. Talk about an early Christmas present! I love to peruse short story collections by authors I like, mostly because there's at least one or two writers included that I've never read before. It's a good way to try someone out without committing to an entire novel-length work. And while I usually enjoy some or most of the stories, there's usually at least one that I think is just a true stinker; sometimes I don't even finish the story, it's that bad.

This collection? This is a real winner. Not only was I happy about the offerings from my usual suspects, but I was impressed with the newbies, enough that I might try one or two of their books! Most of the authors asked to contribute have written some sort of paranormal story before; there are also those that make a good living doing nothing but the paranormal genre. I was surprised to see a few mystery authors included, but they all turned in very good work, in my opinion. As I said, I'll be looking for some of their books down the road. Can't read about vamps and weres all the time!

The length is also nice, ranging from incredibly short ("Lucy, at Christmastime" by Simon Green, at a mere four-and-a-half pages) to the longest at 40 pages ("SA" by J. A. Konrath). Oddly, there are a few stories that are all 28 pages long. Just a coincidence? Who knows, but with this sort of material, it does seem kind of eerie. There are slightly serious works and also very funny ones. Overall, a wonderful combination to tide you over this holiday season.

The stories are "all-new original werewolf tales" and the contributors are as follows: Donna Andrews, Keri Arthur (someone I don't normally enjoy, but her story was pretty good), Patricia Briggs, Dana Cameron, Karen Chance, Alan Gordon, Simon R. Green, Charlaine Harris (perhaps the story I liked the least but it was still really darn good!), Toni L. P. Kelner, J. A. Konrath, Nancy Pickard, Kat Richardson, Dana Stabenow, Rob Thurman, and Carrie Vaughn.

"I Want You to Want Me" by Kathy Love

Love continues to write about her newest love, New Orleans, and much like her previous vampire series, she sticks with a relative of a character in her previous book, "Any Way You Want It". That light romp introduced us to Ren and Maggie as a romantic duo, and at the beginning of this book, the two have recently married and are off for a hot weekend of, well, you know! Maggie's friend Erika has also moved to the Big Easy in hopes of nurturing her creative talents; Erika is a sculptor who wants to finally take a chance on earning a living doing what she loves, rather than what she has to. (There's a third friend from the original trio, Jo, and I'm sure the next book will be her story). Ren has been gracious enough to let Erika rent one of the apartments in Ren's building, and she believes herself to be alone one night, until she hears strange noises from the apartment right above hers.
Vittorio Ridgewood is Ren's half-brother and he's the source of the mysterious noises. He's come back to New Orleans to solve a mystery, namely the deaths of some twenty or so women that he's known over the years. It sounds horrible until you realize that Vittorio is a vampire, just like Ren, so that means a lot of time has passed between each of the women's unfortunate demises. And most of them appear to be from natural causes, not murder. Vittorio remains convinced that the women he's been attracted to have died because of him, and he's also fairly sure of the killer - his own mother.

When Vittorio and Erika meet, they're instantly attracted to each other (sigh - aren't they always?) But of course, Erika has a big show coming up and needs to concentrate on her work, while Vittorio needs to keep Erika as far from his as possible, lest his murderous mother decide to put her on the chopping block. Will they be able to keep their hands off each other? Will Vittorio expose his mother's evil doings? Will this book be any different than the other Love books?

Um, no. I mean, it's a paranormal romance, so you know it's going to have a happy ending, no problem. You know there's going to be a few hot sex scenes (and they are suitably hot, let me tell ya!) and that the bad guy will be vanquished. It's not great literature, but it IS great fun and an easy romantic read, so go ahead and enjoy yourself. The only real problem I had with the book was Orabella, Vittorio and Ren's mother. I'm not entirely sure what the author was going for, but this went past the whole "no woman is good enough for my baby boy" type of thing. It was actually uncomfortable to read about Orabella's obsession with her son; I kept wondering if he'd make a confession to Erika about sexual abuse in his youth, but nope, that never happened. I think it never happened. Very weird and just kind of icky. Totally explains why Orabella is homicidal but didn't make the book better.

Love writes a good vampire romance, and I would recommend any of her books to my readers. Also, don't miss her earlier works, which are just plain old light romances. They're just as good!

Friday, November 14, 2008

"Don't Make Me Choose Between You and My Shoes" by Dixie Cash

It's the return of the Domestic Equalizers! Yes, our feisty hairdressers/private investigators are back, and this time, they've been invited to the Big Apple by the National Association of Private Investigators. The ladies are nervous about their presentation, and more importantly, flying to New York City, but they're packing their bags and holding their heads high. This invitation means they are legit - being recognized by their peers. And, of course, being in the Big Apple means a chance to shop!

Debbie Sue Overstreet and Edwina Perkins-Martin are the lovely if somewhat bumbling duo known as the Domestic Equalizers. They've actually solved a few high profile cases (sort of by accident really, but a closed case is a closed case, right?), so they're thrilled when asked to be guest speakers at the NAPI conference. There are a few little details about getting to NYC, though, namely Edwina's utter terror at flying. She can get on a plane if necessary, but it requires some "medication" to do so, something that almost gets them thrown out of the airport before they ever get the chance to board. And once in NYC, they feel very much like the proverbial fish out of water, recognizing that they might come off as hicks from the sticks.

If you're familiar with the Dixie Cash books, you know there's always a romance in it, and this one is no different. Since Debbie Sue and Edwina are very much married, the author also introduces us to a fellow Texan at the conference, Celina, a librarian from the tiny Texas town of Dime Box. Celina has been robbed by a con-man on her Greyhound bus to NYC, and when our ladies learn of her plight, they tell her to stay with them in their luxurious accommodations to help her save on expenses. Celina is thrilled; not only does she like and feel comfortable around our dynamic duo, she won't have to pay for her tiny room at the Y. The ladies meet up with Matthew McDermott of the NYPD and a fellow presenter at the conference. Matt, of course, takes an interest in Celina - thus we get a romance.

The mystery part comes in near the beginning when a prostitute is killed. It seems like it's not even part of the plot, but several people at the conference are talking about a string of murders that are still unsolved. Seems there have been 7 or 8 "working girls" who have been killed, and there's practically no evidence for the police to follow up on. A hint is dropped early on that the murderer might be a cop, which would mean that the killer could be there at the conference. And there are some "professional" girls hanging around the hotel, high-class ones at that. Debbie Sue and Edwina meet one of them, Cher, and take a liking to her despite her chosen line of work. Will the Domestic Equalizers be able to solve the case and keep Cher from danger? Will Celina and Matt fall in love and live happily ever after? Will Edwina be able to afford that pair of Jimmy Choo's that she's had her eyes on?

You have to read the book, silly! I like these romantic comedies that the author puts out; they're easy reads and usually have a happy ending. Sometimes that's exactly what I want to read - not great literature, but surely entertaining. Just a little fyi - Dixie Cash is actually the pen-name for the writing team of sisters Pam Cumbie and Jeffery McClanahan. And yes, they really are from Texas!

"Bobbie Faye's (kinda, sorta, not exactly) Family Jewels" by Toni McGee Causey

Bobbie Faye Sumrall is back, and as usual, bad luck and explosions are following her pretty much wherever she goes. The unluckiest woman in all of Louisiana is off on another adventure, and most of the same characters are along for the ride, including the two men in her life. The trouble all starts when Bobbie Faye's cousin Francesca walks in to Ce Ce's Cajun Outfitter and Feng Shui Emporium and says "We have a problem"...

The "problem" are some missing diamonds that belong to BF's Aunt Marie. Seems not only has Marie disappeared, so have the jewels. There's a cryptic message indicating that Marie gave the rocks to Bobbie Faye, but our hapless heroine has no earthly idea where the sparklies are. Francesca insists that Bobbie Faye help her out, for the sake of family, and also to avoid dealing with the wrath of her father, Emile, a sort of Cajun Mafioso.

Of course, this being Bobbie Faye, there are a lot of others out there looking for the diamonds as well. Bobbie Faye learns this when people start shooting up Ce Ce's business; she manages to escape, only to be kidnapped not once, not twice, but a total of three times. Each of the kidnappers wants to deliver a message, some telling her when she finds the diamonds, she has to turn them over to them, not to Francesca, and one actually demanding that she NOT look for the goods. All of them literally drive around the block, then dump her out unceremoniously. In the midst of all this foolishness, she also runs into her paramour from the first book, the gorgeously hot fed Trevor Cormier. Hopefully, he can help her get out of this jam just like he did last time. And hopefully, he'll stick around when the dust settles.

Complicating matters are an investigation by Bobbie Faye's ex-lover, Det. Cameron Moreau. Seems there's a videotape with footage of Bobbie Faye shooting a local jeweler in cold blood, something that Cam knows can't be possible. But the evidence is piling up as fast as he tries to hide it. Could Bobbie Faye really be out for the diamonds herself? It would mean a lot of money in her pocket, a true miracle for a woman living in a run-down trailer with a car that may not make it through its next quart of oil. Can Cam clear his woman? Better yet, does he really know "his woman" at all?

Causey's second work starring Bobbie Faye is action-packed to say the least. Perhaps a bit too action-packed at times, in my humble opinion. I found myself sort of skimming through some of the fights and explosions to get to the character interaction, namely that of Bobbie Faye and Trevor, but also BF and her family. There's a very sweet and touching scene out at BF's family home, one that I wish would have gone on longer; I'd like to know more about the family dynamics. Sadly, Causey runs over that pretty fast in favor of more mayhem. Also, there's a real romantic thing developing between Bobbie Faye and Trevor, and I'd like to be able to have that slowed down a bit and given a chance to blossom. Granted, being on the run can definitely bring two people together, but is it real? I think it is in this case, but it'll be hard to tell until things do slow down a bit. I'm not entirely sure that I want Cameron "fighting" for Bobbie Faye; I think his ship has sailed. But it's pretty common to have the heroine torn between two loves, so I understand why the author is taking that direction. Finally, there were a lot of characters on the canvas here, enough that it was hard at times to keep track of which side someone was on.

All in all, I still liked the book, but thought the author might have been trying a bit too hard to top her first foray into Bobbie Faye-land. I'm going to give it another chance if Causey puts out a third book (and I think she will); hopefully the author will give us a few more chances to really know our characters and a few less explosions.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"Love is a Many Trousered Thing" by Louise Rennison

Georgia Nicolson is back, and she's got a small problem. She has walked into the Cakeshop of Lurve, and has apparently bought two cakes! Her gorgey Italian guy, Massimo, has declared himself free and wants to be hers. But Robbie the Sex God is also back in the picture, having returned to England from Kiwi-a-gogo land, thankfully without any wombats. What's a girl to do?

Well, if you're Gee, not a whole lot. This is basically the same book as the rest of the series, which means that while I still enjoyed reading it, I'm reading for my girl to grow up a bit and take some responsibility. And, at the end of this book, it looks like she's going to do just that when she has a rather serious talk with Robbie. FINALLY! I mean, I'm all for being a flighty teen and boy-crazy; I went through just such a faze (although I doubt I was ever as flighty as Gee!). But there comes a time when the author needs to move the series along a bit, and in this case, that means making Gee a bit more mature in her actions.

The most surprising thing in this book was Gee's attitude toward her "besty" friend Jas. Granted, Georgia has always been a bit less of a friend in that relationship, but in this book she's a downright user. I was very disappointed, and truthfully, I wonder why Jas hasn't told her off and refused to speak to her anymore. Gee only wants to be friends if Jas will get her info on one of her potential hotties; if Jas refuses, or worse just doesn't know anything to tell, Gee gets very peeved and downright rude towards her. That's not really a good way to portray a friendship, and while I doubt that the YA crowd will be swayed by Gee, it's a bit bothersome to me that the author has moved in this direction. There are more books in the series, so hopefully Jas will grow a backbone and put Gee in her place.

On a more positive note, Dave the Laugh is also featured, and I think Gee might be realizing that one can be friends with a guy you fancy. I'm living proof of that!!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"Heart of Stone" by C. E. Murphy

Having read Murphy's Urban Shaman series, I was a bit interested when this book hit my stack of "to-be-read" stuff. Not enough to pick it up right away, mind you! While I enjoyed the Shaman series, I found some of the author's style a bit off-putting, namely all the exposition about the ways of the mystical, etc. Since the Negotiator series is also listed as "urban fantasy" or whatever you want to call it these days, I wasn't sure I wanted to jump right in.

I was wrong.

The book starts off strong and finishes even stronger, much like Margrit Knight on one of her late-night runs through Central Park. Margrit is a rich girl who's making good on her promise to help others; much to her parents' chagrin, she works for Legal Aid, taking on the impossible cases. For the last four years she's been trying to win clemency for an abused woman found guilty of killing her abuser. Margrit doesn't give up easily, and she's always up for a challenge.

Her tenacity has attracted the attention of Alban Korund, who's been watching her (and over her) for three of those four years. He knows that there are bad people lurking in the Park, so he watches her run to ensure her safety. One night he finally gets the courage to talk to her, but of course, Margrit being a bit cautious of strangers, she yells at him for scaring her. And then the next morning she learns of a dead woman found in the Park, and that a witness saw a man running from the scene, a man who looked just like the stranger she spoke with in the Park.

When it becomes clear that the police suspect him, Alban takes a huge leap of faith and asks Margrit to help him. He also tells her what he really is - a gargoyle, a member of one of the five Old Races. There will be other characters in the book that Margrit encounters, each members of the Old Races: dragons and djinn, gargoyles, selkies, and - of course - vampires. As Margrit learns more about Alban's world, she realizes that he's a good man (person, thing, whatever) and that she believes in his innocence. She also finds herself growing strongly attracted to him, a situation further complicated by her on-again-off-again romance with Tony, who happens to be a cop. Margrit is going to have to break some rules and do some fancy footwork if she's going to save Alban and find the real killer. But is the killer Alban's previous love? If so, she could lose a lot...

I was very impressed with this book, enough that I finished it in no time and am now anxiously trying to get my hands on the next installment. Wisely, Murphy has chosen to spend more time on character development and a bit less on the world-building, a move that really helped me enjoy this book. I thought Margrit was just about perfect, strong without being invincible, snarky without being downright rude, and romantic yet realistic about Alban. The gargoyle is equally well-written, as are some of the "bad guys"; I'm not entirely certain that one of them is as bad as he seems. Time will tell, I suppose.

If you like the alternate reality of living with vampires and other creatures of the night, then "Heart of Stone" is a good book to pick up. I hope the rest of the series is equally good.

Friday, October 24, 2008

"Downtown Owl" by Chuck Klosterman

I had never heard of this book until my coworker started saying how much she wanted to read it. I had also never heard of Chuck Klosterman before, which is probably a good thing; reviews on Amazon compare him to the likes of Hunter S. Thompson, a guy who I never could get into. Liked him enough in theory, but when it came to actually reading his stuff? Just did not work for me.

"Downtown Owl" sounds like it's about a town out of place in time when you first read the dust jacket blurb. Then you start the book and realize that the novel is set in the school year of '83-'84, so that's why "disco is over but punk never happened". Owl is a tiny North Dakota town of 800 where everyone knows everyone; there are no secrets in Owl. They have a decent football team, a pretty good basketball team, and the usual cast of small-town characters such as the old men that gather at a diner to drink coffee every afternoon. It's a slice of Americana and there's a blizzard brewing that will affect the lives of everyone in Owl.

I liked the writing; Klosterman has some very interesting ways of phrasing things. I liked the character development, as I felt like I knew the three "main" characters from whose perspectives the story is told: Julia, the new history teacher; Mitch, a so-so third-string quarterback for the football team; and Horace, one of the aforementioned coffee drinkers. The book is not told from first-person perspectives, which I think was smart. But just as the people in Owl don't really know each other, I also felt like I didn't completely know the characters either. It seemed like everyone was hiding something, even from the reader.

There are some well-written reviews on Amazon, and oddly enough, one of them nailed my feeling about the book. The whole time I was reading, I kept thinking of the movie Dazed and Confused; the Amazon reviewer said this book was basically that movie if the movie had had Horace and John Laidlaw's points of view filmed (the movie was told basically from the teen point of view only, a very nostalgic look at the mid-70's). As was true with the movie, there's not really a plot per se; things simply happen. There's even a fight scene between two characters in the book, just as there was in the movie, although the novel's fighters are pretty much impelled to fight due to circumstances beyond their control. The movie fight was something you could see coming, but not until that scene.

If you like quirky characters, loved the 80's, or grew up in a small town, this book will probably resonate with you. If you're expecting a logical point A-leads-to-point B, pick up something else.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"Underground: A Greywalker Novel" by Kat Richardson

Harper Blaine was a fairly normal private eye, until she died for two minutes. In that time, some Grey was placed in her by a guy named Wygan - her life hasn't been the same since. She is now what is known as a Greywalker, someone who can not only see dead people, but slip through the planes of time and often interact with the ghosts. It's a strange life that Harper lives, and it's about to get even weirder...

Harper's "security man", Quinton, comes to her for help with a case involving the homeless of Seattle. Seems there a beastie afoot that might be eating the displaced; there have been bodies found that appear to be chewed on and missing limbs. Quinton has a feeling that Harper will be able to help due to her special abilities, and he's right. The beastie in question might be connected to the Native Americans of the area and it's up to our duo to figure out how to return him to his rightful holding pen.

There's not a lot of new ground covered in this entry by Richardson, which sort of surprised me. In the previous books, Harper's been learning her way around the Grey and attempting to "train" herself in how to use it without mishap. Her professor friends Ben and Mara were prevalent in the previous works - not so much this time. Richardson does go into a lot of historical background regarding Seattle, and that was quite interesting. I knew a little bit about the "underground" having watched some History Channel stuff, but her book gave me a whole new appreciation for the phenomenon. In case you're completely unaware, parts of Seattle are literally like split-level homes; there are complete sidewalks and alleys under the existing structures. It all happened when the powers that be decided to raise the street level due to the incoming tides; newspapers would publish tide charts so one could know when it was safe to flush their toilets (the tide would bring the refuse right back through the pipes, a very good reason in my book to raise everything up!) Anyway, a lot of the homeless use the underground for refuge, both in Harper's book and in real life. Including our buddy, Quinton, who has literally gone underground for reasons that are finally revealed.

Harper's boyfriend, Will, also makes a brief appearance, and I have to say that I was very happy about the direction Richardson takes with that relationship. Quinton plays a big part in this book, too, and again, I'm happy about that - I think he's an interesting character, especially after reading this entry. (think mysterious government agent who escapes their evil clutches... kind of). I was very impressed by Richardson's character development of the homeless community; guys like Tanker, Lass, Zip, Twitcher, etc. Also, there's a promising female character, Sandy, who might really be what she says she is, even though Harper thinks she's one of the homeless. I'm going to keep my eye out for her in future books.

If you haven't tried a Greywalker book yet, you're missing out. Richardson has done a great job of creating a world that's very close to ours without throwing in too many of the usual supernatural suspects. She's also created a very realistic heroine, one who doesn't always figure things out right away, and one who has some very real physical trauma done to her. For example, in this book Harper complains a lot about her knee and shoulder, which were injured in the previous work. It's a nice touch to have her still recovering from those wounds since the books take place just months from each other, and it gives a very human quality to Harper. I've enjoyed the first three books very much, and I can't wait for Richardson to put out a fourth.

"The Silver Linings Playbook" by Matthew Quick

Pat Peoples has been sprung by his mother from the bad place, and he couldn't be happier. Well, he will be happier when apart time is over and he reunites with his wife, Nikki. He is now the man he thinks she wants him to be and he's very anxious to be with her again. Of course, now that he is not in the bad place anymore, things seem very different at home; none of his family will talk about Nikki and all his wedding photos were stolen. His friends all seem to have families, including children. Worst of all, there are players on the Philadelphia Eagles team that he doesn't recognize and others who have evidently left the team. If only a few months have gone by, how can all these things be true?

Thus starts off the funny yet serious debut novel by Quick. Pat, of course, has been in "the bad place" for more than a few months; he's actually been committed to the neural health facility for about four years. He has no memory of how he ended up there, only knowing that there must have been a reason for it, and hoping that now that he is home, "apart time" will be over and he can get on with his life with his wife. You can tell that something is very, very wrong with this picture, though - Pat's mom won't talk about Nikki, only telling him that all the wedding pictures were stolen and that she doesn't have the negatives to get more. His brother won't talk about Nikki, either. In fact, the only person who will discuss Nikki is the sister-in-law of Ronnie, one of Pat's friends. Tiffany has her own problems, though, and she might just make Pat's worse.

So this is a love story, right? Well, yes, but not really about Pat and Nikki, even though it seems to be. I would say it's a love story about football; the Eagles play a huge roll in the book. Pat starts to come out of his shell after his brother gives him a Hank Baskett jersey at the beginning of the season, and he's scored tickets to the home games, too. Pat joins his brother, Ronnie, and "the fat men" for tailgating and some male bonding. His therapist, Cliff, later shows up at the home games, too, with his friends, the Asian Invasion (50 asian men, all Eagles fans, who show up on an enormous bus painted as - you got it - the Asian Invasion). Cliff is interesting guy; he's Pat's therapist when they're in the recliners at the office, but once out of the chairs, Cliff insists that he's Pat's friend and a fellow Eagles fan. Pat's dad is what one would think of as sane, yet his entire mood, and his willingness to interact with his mental-case son, all hinge on the success of the Eagles. There's a lot of football involved, and I now know some of the Eagles chants and players (I'm fairly certain that Quick used real football cheers/players/etc for the book; fans get very peeved when you make things up). The Eagles play a big part in Pat regaining some of his sanity and his previous life, and allow him to bond with his family.

The only person who doesn't like football in the book is Tiffany, which may or may not be significant. She also has what appears to be a crush on Pat, running behind him on his workouts, almost stalking him in a way. And in her own warped way, Tiffany tries to help Pat move on from his obsession with Nikki, something that is only likely to happen if Pat can remember why he went to the bad place. Tiffany is also suffering from mental illness and depression after the death of her husband. They seem to bring out the best in each other, but at the end of the book, I wasn't entirely sure that it was a romantic thing after all. I think they just needed each other as friends.

I really enjoyed this very different read. I'm hoping that Mr. Quick will continue his work as a novelist, and even though I'm fairly certain this is stand-alone work, I wouldn't mind visiting with Pat and the Asian Invasion somewhere down the road. As the Eagles fans say, "AHHHHHHH!"

Thursday, October 16, 2008

"Tailed" by Brian M. Wiprud

If you've not yet joined taxidermist Garth Carson on any of his previous zany adventures, you just don't know what you're missing. Yes, Wiprud is back with another Garth book, and this one is pretty good. Not quite as good as the first couple, and I'm not entirely sure why. Might have been my reading mood, might have been the fact that they don't really spend any time in New York City, Garth and Angie's hometown; that setting really helps with the mood of these books. And while Angie is in this work, she's not in it much, so perhaps that's part of my disappointment with Wiprud's latest. I really love the relationship between Garth and Angie and you don't get as much of that this time around.

Anyway, Garth has gone legit; his brother, Nicholas, has gotten him a "real" job appraising the taxidermy of some big name, big game hunters. All is well in Garth-land as he takes his briefcase and vast knowledge to Chicago to meet his latest client, Sprunty G. Fulmore, who plays for the Chicago Bears. Garth receives a phone call from a man that he believes to be Sprunty, telling him to be ready for a limo ride to the mansion, etc. When Garth arrives, no one is around, although there is a trail of ladies underwear leading into the pool area. Figuring the linebacker has better plans at the moment, Garth waits a full 30 minutes before going in search of his client, only to find Sprunty's body. The Bear appears to have been killed by a bear, or at least, its arm. Not a live bear - just part of one of Sprunty's trophies. As Garth is questioned by the police, and later his boss, it comes to light that Sprunty is not the first to die a grisly death at the hands of a taxidermied trophy. And, as it turns out, Garth is the last to have seen each of the dead men...

Garth being Garth, he tries to do the right thing and work with the police and FBI. Of course, that doesn't last long, and he finds himself hiding out in Hell, Michigan with the usual assorted cast of characters. There's a few red herrings thrown in as well as some white geckos, a possible alien plot, his hippie mother, a possible alternate father for Garth's brother Nicholas, and - wait for it! - even the famous Mexican wrestling association, the lucha libre. It can be hard to keep all the characters straight, but it's a fun ride while you're at it. Will Garth take the fall for a mindless serial killer? Could Garth actually be on the hit list, due to his own extensive collection of big game taxidermy (most of it inherited from his father)? Will Garth ever be the same after seeing his elderly mother naked? (she's always been a nudist, something that used to embarrass the boys to no end while they were growing up).

Wiprud is a good author and he puts out good work. Fun books full of wild characters that will keep you entertained - and perhaps divert your attention from our current doom and gloom that seems to be on every news show lately.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"Cry Wolf" by Patricia Briggs

"Cry Wolf" starts a new series by Briggs. Except that the characters aren't new if you read the author's story "Alpha and Omega" in the collection "On the Prowl". That introduced Anna, the Omega who had thought she was a submissive in her Chicago pack. It also gave us a bit of insight into Charles, one of the Marrok's sons (we know Samuel much better since he's been in the Mercy Thompson books).

This book picks up almost exactly where the short story left off. Charles has killed Leo, the Alpha of the Chicago pack, as well as Leo's insane mate. He's told Anna that she's pretty much his mate and that they're going back to his father's pack. Of course, this being a Briggs book, the romance part will have to wait for a bit; there's trouble at home almost as soon as they get there. In fact, rather than drive back, Anna, Charles, and his father all fly home. Seems there's something killing hikers out in the woods, something that looks a lot like a rogue wolf.

If you've read any of the Mercy Thompson books by Briggs, you'll love this book. Interestingly enough, it's a bit out of place on the timeline - Samuel is getting ready to go live with Mercy when this book opens, something we already know all about. Call it a bit of prequel to the other series, except that it's not really that, either. It would easily stand on it's own without having read any of the Mercy books; it nicely compliments the Mercy books, too. I liked the character development, and it gave me a bit more insight into how the pack works. (Mercy isn't really part of a pack, being a shape-shifter rather than a were. Read her series, you'll see what I mean, and darn it, they're good, too!)

I hope that Briggs writes more about Anna and Charles. I think there are interesting dynamics there, as well as in the Marrok's pack. Actually, I'd love to read about the Marrok and his original mate, Blue Jay Woman. Now there's a story waiting to be told...

"Exit Music" by Ian Rankin

This is the nineteenth and final time that I will be able to lose myself in a case with Detective Inspector John Rebus. Both my husband and I have read the entire series, and I have to say, I'm actually a bit sad to see it end. Kudos, though, to Rankin for sticking to his guns; he'd said all along that by writing Rebus in "real time", having him age through the series, there would come a time when the crusty cop would retire. He has, and this is definitely a wonderful ending to a fabulous series. If you like realistic crime dramas, ones where there aren't always distinctive black-and-white sides but shades of grey, this is your series. You won't find a better-written one in my humble opinion.

Rebus is only a week away from his last day on the job. He's trying to wrap up a few old cases; more importantly, he's trying to convince his partner Siobhan Clarke to keep digging on some of the cold cases. A dead body shows up and they're assigned the case; it seems like a simple homicidal assault, but Rebus sees connections to bigger fish, namely, Big Ger Macafferty, his arch nemesis. The deceased turns out to be Russian poet Alexander Todorov; he's immigrated to Scotland and seems to be rankling several of his homeland's higher-ups with his much freer writing. There are several Russian businessmen in town looking to secure financing through Scotland's largest bank; could one of them possibly had something to do with the poet's death? Especially since one of the men seems to have a relationship of sorts with Big Ger? Rebus, of course, thinks this is definitely the case and follows down that road, regardless of what he's told by his superiors (and his partner). Rebus being Rebus, it's no matter to him that he's just hours away from retirement; if Big Ger is involved, he's got to act fast - it could be his last chance to put him away for good.

There's a second murder of a recording studio owner, one that just adds to Rebus's conspiracy theory. But is our beloved curmudgeon barking up the right tree? Was it simply a mugging gone bad? How is the girl who found the body involved? Why does the husband of the couple who found her screaming in the alley keep visiting the girl? Why are their bank executives and government elite visiting with the Russian businessmen, and how does a possibly independent Scotland figure into the whole mess? You'll just have to read for yourselves to find out.

This was a fantastic book, and surprisingly enough, for all the stuff going on in it, one of Rankin's easier to follow entries. There's always a lot of plot twists and turns, not to mention subplots in the Rebus books and sometimes they can be a bit hard to follow. This one was very well-written, and it's obvious that Rankin has as much love for Rebus as we do. Will we ever see Rebus again? I think there's a good chance of it. Will Rankin continue to write about Siobhan, Rebus's partner? I don't know if he'll take that direction or not. I suspect he'll write thrillers from a totally different perspective; pick up some of his John Harvey books if you want to try that angle. Either way, Rankin is a writer of substance and I look forward to his next endeavor.

Enjoy retirement, Rebus, you old dog!

Friday, October 10, 2008

"One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Books by Russian authors just continue to elude my comprehension. Well, maybe my comprehension of why said books are supposed to be so great, that is. This is one of those books; it's not an awful read but I also didn't think it was some literary feat of genius, either. I suppose when it first came out it was rather informative and a bit scandalous; no one had exposed the prison camps of Stalin before Solzhenitsyn got this published.

The novel is exactly what the title says - one day in the life of Ivan Denisovich, one of the prisoners at a small gulag in Siberia. Ivan has been sentenced to a ten-year term, much luckier than some of his fellow prisoners who are in for 25 years. What horrible crime did Ivan commit to land in this frozen hell-hole? He was captured by the Germans and managed to escape. Yep, that's it; when he finally arrives back in Russia, he is found guilty of - unbelievably - treason, and thus finds himself in the gulag doing hard time. It's a very spartan existence, mostly consisting of trying to get a better work detail, more food rations, and maybe, if he's very, very lucky, some tobacco for a smoke. He gets up early and has only about an hour or so to himself (but not truly alone, as there are always fellow prisoners around) and goes to bed after a long but successful work day.

It's a short book and certainly not a very cheery one. Nothing really happens in the book; it's almost like reading a diary or journal entry, except that it's not written in the first person voice. The one thing that does come across in the book is that, as one of these prisoners, you either have to claw your way to the top of the pile or you have to be on good terms with everyone; make enemies of any kind and your days there will be even longer. No one is really bad or evil; these are all men that have been imprisoned on mostly trumped-up charges. And yes, Ivan states that many of them will die before seeing the end of their terms. He feel fortunate that his stint is almost up (I think he's in his eighth year when this is set). He doesn't let his family send anything anymore; there's no point since the guards get the goodies.

Overall, I guess I'd recommend it. Well written, just not the sort of book to read if you're looking for any sort of levity or intrigue.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"Nightwalker" by Jocelynn Drake

Joy, o joy! For all those paranormal fans out there who are over the whole "paranormal romance" genre but still jones for a good vampire book, search no more! Drake has created an intriguing world in "Nightwalker", one where vamps still try to hide their existence from us mere mortals. Of course, any time you have vamps, you have vampire hunters - this book has a great one. And just to make it even more interesting, the vamps have a immortal enemy, the naturi. These creatures are what have become elves and werewolves and such in human folktales. They're anything but cute and cuddly; they want to bring their queen, Aurora, back to the human world, then exterminate every vampire - and human - off the fact of the planet.

Mira, our heroine, has been a nightwalker for centuries (around 600 or so). She has her own territory in the States and currently has her base in Savannah. She's an enforcer of sorts; she kills her own kind when they step out of line and threaten to expose the vampires' existence. She lives a rather nice life in the old city and enjoys her time there. However, there's a new face in town, one that is as handsome as he is deadly. Danaus is a vampire hunter, and it would seem that he's hunting Mira. But to what ends? He's had plenty of chances to kill her but hasn't. And he's while he's human, he certainly isn't only human...

The pairing of vamp and slayer has obviously been done before, but Ms. Drake gives it a nice twist. Both characters have their own flaws and foibles, not the least of which are their preconceived ideas of each other. As the book progresses, Mira must rely on Danaus to help her reform the Triad, a trio of vampires from different bloodlines that vanquished the naturi during a battle at Machu Picchu over 500 years ago. He must also rely on her, as she saves his butt once or twice as well. There's definitely an odd love-hate attraction going on, one that grows as they realize that they've been wrong about a lot of things. For example, he's been led to believe that vamps kill every time they take blood. She believes that as a vampire hunter, he exterminates first and asks questions later. They're both wrong, of course.

Oh, an even more interesting twist to all this? Mira is also known as the Fire Starter. Yep, that's right - she can create and control fire. A very handy tool for a vampire, don't you think? And a very unique way to write a vamp. There are several plot twists in this book, great character development, and - you got it - a sequel on the way! Don't miss this one - it's a very good start to an intriguing series.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"That Was Then, This Is Now" by S. E. Hinton

This is one of those books I probably should have read in high school, but for some unknown reason, it was never assigned. I hate to say it, being an English major and all, but I've never read any of the author's works. I know - how in the world did that happen? Not sure, but I'm working on rectifying the situation, starting with this novel.

The book is set in the 1960s and focuses on two childhood friends, Bryon and Mark. Even though they aren't related by blood, they're as close as brothers, especially since Mark has been living with Bryon and his mom since his own parents died. (This gives a really good idea of the time setting, as I cannot imagine such a thing happening today; Social Services would get involved and Mark would probably end up in foster care or worse). The two teens have always been the best of friends and do everything together, including getting into trouble. But there's a definite change in the air, starting with Bryon's decision to date Cathy, a "good girl". Bryon gets himself a job and tries to straighten out his act, mostly because he wants to be with Cathy and treat her right. Mark and Cathy, of course, do not like each other; there's a lot of jealousy over who's spending time with Bryon.

Things get even more strained when Mark starts bringing home quite a bit of money to help out with the bills. Bryon is fairly sure that Mark doesn't have a job, so he's worried about where exactly this money is coming from. There are fights, injuries, and other such teen events, and it becomes apparent that Mark and Bryon are going their separate ways as they mature. Eventually, Bryon has to make a very important decision regarding Mark and the source of his new "income" - one that may cost him his friend forever.

This was a good book, one I thought was well-done and still relevant even in today's world. For example, Mark is very much a "in-the-moment" kid, even trying to explain to Bryon why he shouldn't be worried about the future. "You can't walk through your whole life saying If. You can't keep trying to figure out why things happen, man. That's what old people do. You gotta just take things as they come, and quit trying to reason them out." That sort of attitude is part of what leads to Mark's downfall - he's not worried about his future at all, just living for the moment, the next thrill, etc. It's an attitude that we still see today, and it's still just as worrisome for us adults. I'm not saying kids shouldn't be kids, but they've got to learn that there are consequences for their actions. You can't just slide through life, especially as you get older. Of course, kids today also have a much tougher time than the kids of the 1960s, so maybe they've already learned this lesson.

"My Trip Down the Pink Carpet" by Leslie Jordan

I have seen Mr. Jordan in several shows and movies over the year, and I always thought he was just the cutest little guy ever. Turns out, he's had a rough life, both mentally and physically. I cannot even imagine growing up as a Baptist while being gay! As he puts it, he is the gayest man he knows; when he was born, he says he just slid on out of his mama and right into her pumps. Yes, this is the sort of humor you will find in his small yet touching biography.

Mostly the book is about his days as an actor in Hollywood. He's had several "man crushes" on people such as Matt Lauer, Mark Harmon and Luke Perry. He's also had his share of bad relationships, drug abuse, and dark times. After finally admitting he was an alcoholic, Mr. Jordan has enjoyed several years of sobriety. He's also enjoyed recurring roles on shows such as Will & Grace, where he feuded with his nemesis, Karen. (never got to see that, should look for the repeats!)

I think one of the most touching parts of the book is after he's started to experience friends dying of AIDS. One such friend is actually a childhood friend of his from his hometown; they grew up in the same church and used to dress up in the mamas' clothes, then belt out the tunes. When he runs into this friend again, they commiserate quite a bit, and the friend takes a sharp downhill turn quickly. While Mr. Jordan is there with him, the friend has this revelation:
"Leslie, it's important that you listen, because I heard Him. I heard the voice of God. And it is so simple. See, first of all... the soul has no gender. So, when it is all said and done, it is not about whom one loved that is important. What is important is the quality of that love. We are on this earth for one reason and one reason only. And that is to give quality love on a daily basis."

I couldn't agree more.

"The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch

"The brick walls are there for a reason."

And if you were Randy Pausch, you faced several brick walls in your lifetime, most of which you were able to knock down or find a way around. All but the biggest, strongest wall he faced - pancreatic cancer. He left behind three young children and a loving wife. But more than that, he inspired a lot of people when he his "last lecture" hit YouTube, then newscasts around the world.

Honestly, there's not much in this book that you probably haven't read somewhere else. That's not a bad thing, as I think we all need to be reminded from time to time of life's little lessons, things like "be honest", "have fun", and "you never know how much time you'll get". If there was one lesson that stood out overall, I suppose it's the one I've heard several times in several different ways - live your life. LIVE it, not just put up with it, or walk through it with blinders, or hope for a different one all the time.

This book is short and a good read. It was hard to get through parts of it, knowing that the author lost his battle earlier this summer. It was very difficult to read about how he felt about dying; it wasn't so much his anger at "why me?" but his worry about his kids. And it was obvious that he loved his wife and wanted to try to do whatever he could to help her with his impending death. It's one of those books that makes you want to go out and try to be a better person, even if it's just for a few hours. I think the world would be a better place if we all tried to be better people, but I'm also a realist. Change is a very slow process, better suited to building things like the Grand Canyon.