Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"Deep Dish" by Mary Kay Andrews

Y'all just don't understand how much I've wanted MKA to come out with another book - fast! I've read all her work to date and "Hissy Fit" is probably my favorite. These are light mystery/romances with a very Southern flair to them. The "Blue" books have the added benefit of "junkin" - scrounging for antiques. Having lived here in North Carolina for about 6 years now, I can tell you that people take their antiques very seriously around here! When I heard that MKA's newest would be about - gasp - food, I was thrilled. Chefs! Recipes! Hot romance in the kitchen!

"Deep Dish" is the story of two small-time chefs, Gina Foxton and Tate Moody. Gina has her own public-access cooking show called Fresh Start; she's about to be cancelled, has broken up with her cheating producer-boyfriend, and has a rather unhealthy habit of sneaking pork rinds after dark. Tate is an all-around Southern outdoor guy who host his own show, Vittles, on the Outdoor Channel. He's pretty much happy with his life as is, hanging out with his adorable dog Moonpie (a setter - odd choice, I thought), killing and grilling things.

Enter the two most self-centered, self-absorbed producers on the planet, Scott and Val. Scott is the aforementioned cheating ex-boyfriend; Val works for the Tatester. Both find out that The Cooking Channel (aka TCC) is looking for a chef for a new show about Southern-style cooking. Both producers want their "stars" to be the new TCC star, so they push them into a contest for the position. Thus, the first-ever TCC "Food Fight", an idea cooked up by none other than the TCC president, Mr. Adelman. Gina and Tate are whisked off to Eutaw Island for the Food Fight; they will be competing in three challenges and can use only items they are able to find on the island. Keep in mind that this island is mostly uninhabited. There's an inn with some staff, but for the most part it's a wild place.

Who wins the Food Fight? Well, that would be cheatin' y'all if I told ya! Nah, it's pretty obvious what's going to happen. And maybe that's what was disappointing about this book. It didn't have the usual sparkle and pizazz of MKA's other works. In fact, it was OK until about half-way through; then the romance between Tate and Gina finally started kicking in. The biggest problem? Lack of character development. Tate and Gina, our main peeps, didn't have enough written about them, nor were they on the page enough. I got a bit tired of reading about Scott and Val; they seemed a bit too stereotypical for my taste. Lisa, Gina's little sister, was quite funny, as was Gina's makeup artist, D'John. Again, though, they were on the page a bit too much; the focus really should have been on Gina and Tate.

The plot was a bit stereotypical, too, and quite honestly, I thought the profession of love by Tate was too sudden. That's not letting the cat out of the bag, people - y'all knew they were going to be together by the end of the book! I think that if there'd been more development of Gina and Tate, their romance would have rang truer at the end. Overall, it's not bad. But it just doesn't have the usual spice that I expect from Mary Kay Andrews. Hopefully, she'll go back to what she does best - write about junkin'-lovin' Southern women!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"Dream Chaser" by Sherrilyn Kenyon

If you're keeping track here, this is a Dream-Hunter book, not a Dark-Hunter book. This is one of several books in Kenyon's world of 7-ft tall hunks who go off and try to save us puny humans from otherworldly forces. And if you need any more information than that, you'll have to look elsewhere, as I am going to give you the story in a nutshell.

Vengeance-hungry Dream-Hunter Xypher meets ghost-helping medical examiner Simone Dubois. They are "chained" together by magical cuffs that will kill them if they go too far from each other. The togetherness grates at first, then turns to attraction. Both have major trust issues. The cuffs are taken care of but by that point they are trying to help each other instead of running for the nearest exit. They have sex, of course. There's an ending that proves that love conquers all. And...... fade out.......

Yep, it's pretty much like every other Kenyon book in this set of series (the Dark-Hunters hold the most books, and there's one or two with Were-Hunters as well). It's not a bad read, but let's face it, it's not Shakespeare by any means. And much as I hate to say it, I'm just about done with this series. While I enjoy reading about different people in each book, Kenyon has the annoying habit of trying to throw in as many previous characters as possible. There are literally too many people on the page! The names are starting to get downright silly, too.

I'll read one more, "Acheron", and that's it. Of course, it might really be "it" anyway. If the books all hold to the same formula, our beloved Ash will find the woman that heals him. Once that's done, what else is there?

"The Secret Life of Laszlo, Count Dracula" by Roderick Anscombe

What if Dracula wasn't really a vampire? What if he was merely an intensely depraved serial killer? Would he still be as frightening? Would he still be a seductive to women? Would this take do him justice?

Um, no.

Anscombe's book starts with the interesting premise that Dracula was nothing more than an ordinary man with a rather morbid fascination with blood, not only looking at it but eventually tasting it, even drinking it in a fashion. He begins with a very young Laszlo in Paris, where he's studying to be a physician. There he meets various people, including Lothar, a young man interested in Laszlo's cousin Nichole, a fellow tenant at his boarding house, and Stacia, one of the "patients" plagued by "hysteria" at the hospital. Events soon turn dark and ominous when Laszlo begins an affair with Stacia; Lothar comes to him with an offer to buy the prostitute (how she is able to have her own apartment and leave the hospital isn't fully explained, one of the problems of first-person narrative here).

In a fit of rage over Stacia's obvious social-climbing goals, Laszlo kills her by cutting her throat with a broken bottle. This is his first "vampiric" scene - he is compelled to drink from the wound once the blood starts flowing. He is not discovered and has no opportunity for discovery either; he is immediately informed that his brother George has been killed in action and is needed at home for the funeral and to take over the operations of the estate.

Forward about 20 years, which is when Laszlo decides to take up his journal again. He's married to his brother's widow, more out of needs to keep property rights than any sense of love, and he's bored. Yes, the life of a count is, evidently, very dull indeed. Enter the young daughter of the town's mayor who starts working her wiles on Laszlo, and I think you can see where this is going. There are a few more murders, much closer together and the law starts closing in on Laszlo, as well as his own conscience.

Overall, I liked the historical aspects of the book. Anscombe has a good feel for the time period and I did feel as if I was really there. As for the plot, though, well, I found it about as dull as Laszlo must have found his life. There wasn't really any drama for me, even when there should have been close to the end of the book. As for Laszlo himself, I could not for the life of me understand why these girls were interested in him, other than to try to better their social standing in life. He comes across as incredibly needy and whiny, far from the sort of suave and charismatic sort you expect Dracula to be. I would have been more interested in the book, I think, if there'd been even a hint that he was attracted to the blood for the purposes of sustaining his life; keeping a little more with the vampiric theme, you know.

It's not horrible, but it's just not great, either.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"Any Way You Want It" by Kathy Love

"Maggie Gallagher spends her nights with lots of men. Of course, they're all dead composers, but why nitpick? Her love life is just like the musical compositions she researches - undiscovered. It's time for Maggie to let loose and go wild. In a dive bar on Bourbon Street, Maggie makes a real find in the house band's keyboard player. He's hot. Sexy. Flirtatious. Soulful. And she could swear he's playing an unknown piece she's been researching, which is impossible, unless he's dead...

Centuries before he was a bad-ass vampire with a rock-star wardrobe and Big Easy charm, Ren was Renaldo D'Antoni, a composer on the verge of great success until he was betrayed. No one could ever know that, but tonight, the shy strawberry blond with the big eyes and obviously borrowed outfit actually seemed to recognize his long-lost composition. Now, she wants to know about the composition, and Ren wants to know her... intimately. But what starts as attraction - and distraction - just might lead to the biggest discovery of their lives..."

Yes, Ms. Love is still writing vampire romances. However, having exhausted the Young brothers (and their sister), she's had to find fresh blood (pardon the pun!). Enter a new location and a new group of vamps. You got it - Ren isn't the only immortal in the band. What better place to hide if you're a vampire than in New Orleans? After all, it's where Anne Rice first introduced her bunch.

This book follows the fairly standard formula that Ms. Love has used in her previous books. Girl with a lot of self-esteem issues meets hot vampire who thinks she's Aphrodite incarnate and they fall for each other. Misunderstandings abound, each have their own issues, and there's lots of sex. But surprisingly enough, this "formula" continues to work for the author - and for me. Granted, I did find myself skipping through some of the sex scenes this time around (sorry, but after a while they pretty much all sound alike!) but the story itself isn't bad. A bit contrived at times, but overall a decent read. Perhaps these books appeal because Ms. Love writes about what I think of as real women - they aren't size 6 bimbos. Maggie is smart, but not really what one would consider beautiful by today's standards. She likes to eat and has the curves to prove it. How refreshing to see Ren want her, rather than the stick-like anonymous women dancing on the dance floor!

There is a bit of a paranormal twist to this title. Ren is actually a lahmpir - that is, he steals the life energy from people, rather than their blood. No neck biting required, and no death to worry about either. He doesn't have to take much; in fact, he usually gets what he needs from the crowds in the bar. WOW! Wish I could do that! Then again, if I could just get a nice little nap every afternoon, I'd probably have all the energy I need. Then again, who wouldn't love a nap?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

"The Last Twilight" by Marjorie M. Liu

Dr. Rikki Kinn works for the CDC tracking down nasty viruses in the world's most remote locations. Her latest assignment looks to be an outbreak of Ebola, but there's something not quite right about the scene. For instance, there are almost 1000 dead, all in the span of approximately 24 hours, something unheard of for Ebola. Also, it would appear that those downstream are not being affected, again, quite unusual for the deadly disease. There's also the fact that Rikki herself seems to be a target by at least two different groups; they seem to want her alive, but might just end up killing her afterward. The "why" is what she can't figure out...

Enter Amiri, one of the "investigators" from the Dirk & Steele Detective Agency. He's sent to Africa along with Eddie and Max; these are not your ordinary detectives. They all have rather unusual powers/abilities: Eddie is a pyrokinetic, Max a telepath, and Amiri a shape-shifter. They are sent to "protect" Rikki from whoever it is that wants her, leading up to lots of action-packed sequences. And, of course, romance, as Amiri and Rikki are almost immediately drawn to each other.

This is the 7th story of the D&S gang, and this one is an improvement over the last book. I was worried at the time that Ms. Liu was losing her touch, a very common phenomenon in the world of paranormal series. Perish the thought! This book has all the traits that hooked me on the series, good character development, a strong plot, and a bigger picture, one that's coming into sharper focus all the time. The evil Consortium is back, a major player in this book; the lead "bad" guy, Broker, also explains why time is running out, for all of them. There's an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it speech by Broker that really does have you wondering - is the Consortium as evil as they seem to be? Or are they just determined to survive at any cost? Let's face it - the will to survive can be insanely strong in almost anyone. Imagine if you were nearly immortal and could see the end of the world coming. What would you do to stop it?

The romance between Rikki and Amiri is believable, not overly mushy, very typical for Ms. Liu. I love that her characters don't immediately rush into the physical aspect of the relationship; she gives them time to know each other first. I was thrilled to see Rictor again! I do have to wonder just exactly what he is....

There are more Dirk & Steele books coming out soon, as well as a new series by the author. I look forward to reading them all!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

"Iron Kissed" by Patricia Briggs

This series just keeps getting better and better! This is the third Mercedes "Mercy" Thompson book by Ms. Briggs, and I think it's the best one yet. I'm going to give her kudos right here for not dragging out the love triangle between Mercy, Adam, and Samuel; if you've read the first two books, you know what I'm talking about (and you should be reading them, cause they're that good!) I found it very refreshing that the author didn't drag out that plot point; too many of them do.

OK, if you haven't been keeping up, a bit of background on our favorite coyote, Mercy. First, she's a walker; she's a mixed breed, half Native-American, half Caucasian. She was the product of a one-night stand and never knew her father; her mother sent her to live with the werewolves out west, hoping they'd be able to help her with her magical nature. As far as she knows, Mercy is the only one of her kind.

Werewolves aren't the only magical creatures known to Mercy; she's tangled with vampires and has known several of the fae. And this time around, one of the fae needs her help. Zee, the fae she's buying her auto shop from, has been arrested for the murder of a human. Mercy is certain that Zee didn't do it; he'd asked her to help investigate murders of fae on their reservation (the fae may be out, but they're also being herded into reservations "for their safety", much like the Native Americans of today). The man Zee is accused of killing was the one responsible for the murders, so it's not too hard to see why the police believe him to be guilty. Unfortunately, the fae don't like outsiders poking around in their business, so Mercy has them to contend with. To her, it looks like the fae are willing to let Zee take the fall, possibly even die, for something he didn't do. She may be the only one who can help him, whether he wants that help or not.

I thought the pacing of the story was just right, not too much action or romance in any given part. The mystery was well-written; I started to figure it out by the end of the book, but not too soon before then. And, as I said at the beginning of this review, the romantic triangle is resolved in this entry, which was nice. Too many times I've grown bored with a series because the author refuses to wrap up plot points; life is not static, people! Things change, and that should be reflected in books, too. This is a great read, and I suggest finding a copy of this book for yourself - today!

"Gods Behaving Badly" by Marie Phillips

So, you think the Greek gods are long dead and gone, huh? Well, think again, mere mortals - they're alive, if not so well, in the heart of London. Yes, all your favorites are here: Aphrodite, Apollo, Artemis, Athena, Hera, Zeus, Eros, Persephone, etc. All crammed into one house that is well over 300 years old and showing every minute of it. And there's plenty of drama, as well as boredom, when you're forced to live with your family for that many years.

As the book opens, Apollo and Aphrodite are having sex, again, in one of the horrid bathrooms of the house. (Remember, the Greek gods weren't too bothered by incest and the like!). It's obvious that the whole house is suffering from a tremendous case of ennui, not to mention waning powers. No one believes in the gods anymore; they're forced to take mundane jobs, such as dog-walker, to make ends meet. Even gods can be evicted or chased for not paying their bills.

Apollo's newest venture is a reality-based psychic show. Who should be working at this studio but meek and mild Alice, a cleaner of the extraordinary sort. She's invited Neil, a sweet man whom she met while she cleaned his offices, to view the taping of the premiere episode. Alice obviously adores Neil and the feeling is mutual, though neither has made a move in almost 2 years. Alas, Apollo's debut is short-lived; his meddling aunt Aphrodite, feeling a bit put out by his recent behavior, has decided to have some fun with her nephew. She enlists the help of her son, Eros, who shoots Apollo with one of his magic arrows, thus plunging the god into the deepest love possible with the first person he sees. That person is Alice. However, Eros is now a Christian and doesn't have it in him to follow through with the second half of his aunt's nefarious plot; he does not strike Alice with an arrow that will cause her to hate Apollo. He believes in the free will of the Christians and wants to see what Alice will do.

After seeing her on the debut show, her employers promptly fire Alice, who was, after all, supposed to be working, not watching. She starts looking for a new position and decides to freelance at Neil's suggestion; guess which house she ends up first? You got it! Of course, this might not be entirely a coincidence...

This was a fun and different book for me. It's a debut novel by Ms. Phillips, and was fairly well written for such. I thought the plot was interesting, and I loved the snarkiness of the gods towards each other. Familiarity does indeed breed contempt, as is obvious by the way the gods treat each other. Actually, they seemed awfully human - plotting, backstabbing, and just plain bored. I would highly recommend this book for anyone out there looking for a new author; I'm hoping that this will not be the only work by Ms. Phillips.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

"The Dead Girls' Dance" by Rachel Caine

It's been a while since I read the first book of the Morganville Vampire series, "Glass Houses". I was anxious to read this one, remembering how much I enjoyed the first book. I do remember wondering why we had ours in regular fiction, rather than Young Adult; the spine label had the YA category clearly listed on it.

Well, this book does, too, but after reading it, I'm not sure that's where I'd put it. Not due to overly adult content, but mostly due to how dark the book is. I know that the YA crowd likes to read about angst and drama and such, but wow! This one is really, really dark and almost non-stop action (not car-chase sort of action, either).

I can't really give too much of a plot description because I doubt many of you have read the first book. This series, much like her Weather Warden series, builds book upon book. If you don't start at the beginning, you'll be lost. I had a hard time at the beginning of this book because it pretty much starts where Book One left off; as I said, it's been a while since I read that one. I finally remembered what happened previously, which helped. I really thought I was going to have to go back and re-read "Glass Houses"!

I did like this, but felt a bit emotionally drained after finishing it. It's a small book, too! I have the third in the series, but I'm not sure about reading it. I'm just not in that dark of a place right now!

"Succubus on Top" by Richelle Mead

Our favorite succubus, Georgina Kincaid, is back! I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series ("Succubus Blues") and was thrilled when I got my hands on this, the second book. It's not quite as good as the first, but it's still a great read.

Georgina is still working at the local bookstore, still dating her author-boyfriend Seth Mortensen, and still trying to do her job as a succubus. Actually, she's just earned herself a "most-improved" award from the higher-ups - regarding her evil profession, that is. Of course, when you've pretty much been trying not to do your job, let alone do it well, it doesn't take much to improve.

Out of the blue, her long-time friend (and incubus) Bastien shows up. Seems he's got a big project in the works and he needs her help. He's going to seduce a right-wing, ultra-conservative, talk radio star and get proof of the seduction; he's in a bit of hot water with his boss and this is the only thing that will keep him from getting assigned to some back-water hole. Georgina is skeptical; Bastien is one of the best, so she can't understand why he needs her help. Once she meets the woman, though, it's clear; she's not going to be easily swayed. In fact, she doesn't seem interested in Bastien at all - an incubus's worst-case-scenario.

Things aren't going well at the bookstore, either. Her best friend and co-manager, Doug, is acting really weird. His band is doing great, better than great, but he's swinging from highs to lows on a scary basis. In fact, at one point, he tries to kill himself. Georgina knows there's something really wrong, and has her suspicions about the band's new drummer. She gets involved in a fairly major way, one I can't go into any more without giving away some plot points.

It's a good book, a great read, and I really like these characters. It is so refreshing to have a romance where the two parties can't have sex! See, in case you're not entirely familiar with how this sort of thing works, a succubus's job is to seduce good, upstanding, moral men. When she has sex with them (when they fall, basically), she absorbs some of their life force; thus the old stories about dying after having sex with a succubus (or incubus, as the case may be). Well, Georgina loves Seth and isn't about to take any years off his life, no matter how much she may physically want him. And yes, Seth does know about her "true" self - he found out in the first book. Thus, you have a romance based on feelings and - GASP - talking! It's very interesting that in this genre of paranormal romance (which I'd probably put this in, for lack of a better place), that Ms. Mead has chosen to write the "no sex" rule into her books. I, for one, love it, and can't wait to read the third book in the series.

"Sonnet of the Sphinx" by Diana Killian

There's just something very comforting about a tea-cozy mystery, and this series totally fits the bill. Nothing too supernatural here except the possibility of a ghost or two - rather refreshing. And I really like the lead characters, Grace Hollister and Peter Fox.

Grace is still on her extended stay in England's Lake District, having written a book about her adventures with Peter (the subject of the first book in the series, "High Rhymes and Misdemeanors"). She's settled in pretty well, but remains unsure of her relationship with Peter. She helps out in his antiques business, and is generally well-liked by the people in the village. Life is good if a bit quiet.

Ah, but knowing Grace, it's never quiet for long. A foreigner purchases an old farm house, leading to the donation of the house's contents by the estate agent. While searching through said contents, Grace and Peter stumble on a letter that would indicate a possible "lost poem" by none other than Percy Shelley, on of the great Romantic poets. Of course Grace wants to believe that there really is such a poem, and Peter aids her in her quest. Not long after they find the letter, an enemy of Peter's shows up in the shop. Hayri Kayaci worked at the Turkish prison where Peter spent a few years of his lives, and it's obvious he's not popped in for a friendly chat. Shortly thereafter, he's found dead, and - you guessed it - not by natural means. Grace and Peter are pretty much suspects from the get-go, so they set out to clear their names.

Meanwhile, the new owner of the farmhouse has showed up in town, livid that his agent got rid of the contents of the house. He offers to purchase them from Peter for more than their worth, indicating to Grace that they're on the right track about the sonnet; more than likely, it does exist. And it's obvious that she and Peter are not the only ones trying to find it. There are subsequent plot twists as well as more than one attempt on Grace's life. And interestingly enough, there's a new player on the romantic scene; Detective Inspector Drummond seems to be hounding Grace, but it's also apparent that he may also be attracted to her. A nice change, as it gives Peter a bit of a run for his money.

This is the last entry in the Poetic Death mystery series, at least for a while. According to the author, she's enjoyed writing them but wanted to go in a new direction with her next book. I hope that's a good one, too, but I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that she let's us know how Peter and Grace are fairing down the road. They're engaging characters, and I would love to read about them again.

"My Sister is a Werewolf" by Kathy Love

I figured I'd check this out since I read the author's trilogy about the Young brothers, three very handsome vampires looking for love. However, when the book got to me, I did get a tad worried; the writeup on the back stated that Elizabeth Young, the werewolf of the title, is "in heat - and soon every dangerous wolf pack for miles around will be at her door. To buy time, she needs to have sex, and often, with the first human mate she can find...."

Crap. Double crap. This was going to be one of those books! I was lamenting the loss of yet another author that I had previously enjoyed when I opened the book. I would stick to the 50 page rule and close it soon after, especially since it was going to be a sex-fest. Sigh.

But all is not lost, dear readers! Ms. Love did not stray down the path of the "Plot? Who needs a plot?" authors! This turned out to be a fun little book, one that gives a bit of a different spin on the old boy meets girl story. And yes, there was sex, but not nearly as much as the back of the book suggested, nor was it written in a carnal way. I was very, very relieved to find that - yes - there was still a plot to the book, one that was more than "girl needs to find mate".

Elizabeth has been a werewolf for a very long time. She's been mated to Brody Devlin for most of that time, but once she grew accustomed to her "alternative lifestyle", she asserted her independence and has been on her own. She's been working on a "cure" for her condition, one that seems to be more and more elusive; she knows she's running out of time. She wants a normal life, but it's looking like that's just about impossible.

Until the night she spots Jensen Adler. Her hormones not only tell her this is Mr. Right, her heart starts to confirm it. Only problem is he's human, a veterinarian, no less. But there's something about him that she just can't resist. Of course, this really has her trying to kick start her research; she can almost taste the "normal" life with Jensen, a few kids, the house with the white picket fence, etc. For his part, Jensen is equally smitten and equally clueless as to why. Throw in overwhelming guilt over the death of a former fiancee, and you've got plenty of drama. Throw in the werewolf's "mate" and you've got even more. Yes, Brody finds Elizabeth and is determined to use her to get back into the good graces of the pack, and he's not taking no for an answer.

As I said, it was surprisingly good and entertaining. I finished it pretty quickly and don't feel like I skimmed to do it. The sex scenes were steamy, but it was also obvious that this story was going to be about a lot more than carnal knowledge, a very good thing in my opinion. I don't know if Ms. Love has anything more to write about the Young family, but I feel pretty sure that I'll be reading her next book.