Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"Hotter Than Hell" edited by Kim Harrison

This is not exactly what I thought it was going to be, I have to admit. Normally, I really enjoy short story collections; they give me a chance to try out new authors, see if I like their style of writing before I commit to a full-length novel. This anthology is OK, but truthfully, I thought the stories were a bit too short and that there were too many of them included. Guess it turns out that I'm more of a novella girl than a short story lover!

And lovers are what you get with this book, believe me! Basically the "stories" are just set-ups for sex scenes, something that I wasn't overly thrilled with, either. Some of the authors did a better job on creating a bit of plot, others - not so much. In case you're wondering, the ladies that were asked to submit works for this were none other than Tanya Huff, Marjorie M. Liu, Cheyenne McCray, L. A. Banks, Susan Krinard, Keri Arthur, Heidi Betts, Lilith Saintcrow, Susan Sizemore & Denise Little, Carrie Vaughn, Linda Winstead Jones, and Kim Harrison herself. I've read Huff, Liu, Banks, Arthur Vaughn and Harrison, so I was already familiar with their works. The others were first-time reads.

Overall? Well, as I said before, some of the stories were a bit stronger than the others, but honestly, none of them were awesome. I was surprised that the Arthur work wasn't too bad; I'd tried reading her before and wasn't impressed. I was disappointed by Saintcrow's piece; I think you'd need to have a passable knowledge of her Dante Valentine books (which contain info about Santiago City) to enjoy her story. It felt like I started in the middle and ended in the same place with no resolution. Sigh.

Of all the pieces, I probably enjoyed Liu and Vaughn's the best. Harrison's is good, but it's not nearly as endearing a character as her Rachel Morgan. Give this book a shot if you like any of the authors, give it a shot if you like hot sex scenes, or even give it a shot if you're bored and just want little tidbits rather than a full-course meal.

Friday, August 22, 2008

"When You Are Engulfed in Flames" by David Sedaris

This is my second book by the author, and yes, he's funny - at times. What I mean is that his writing is amusing and can, indeed, be humorous, but he's got a very dry wit, not a pratfall sort of thing going on here. So if you're looking for continuous, laugh-out-loud, "funny" writing, I would recommend you look elsewhere.

If, however, you also have a rather morbid, black sense of humor, Sedaris is your man. This book is told all in first-person; there are no satirical takes on anything (unless I missed it, that is). I enjoyed getting a glimpse of his life, both in France and out on the road. The best entry was the last one where he details his attempt to stop smoking; he and his partner head out to Japan for a month, where he hopes to completely kick his habit by the change of scenery. It's also where the title of the book comes from; seems things don't quite translate from Japanese to English very well. I think it was in one of their hotels that the sign was explaining what to do during a fire, and the phrase "when you are engulfed in flames" popped out at Sedaris as being just hysterical.

I'd have to agree.

"The Darwin Awards II" by Wendy Northcutt

The Darwin Awards are one of the best forms of comic relief around. I loved the first book and was looking at a professional catalog when I saw that there's a FIFTH edition coming out. It reminded me of this series existence, so I got myself a copy of this, the second book, then proceeded to laugh myself silly at the stupidity of my fellow men. Good stuff, good stuff.

In case you're not familiar with the DAs, let me fill you in. These awards are given to those individuals who are really, quite honestly, just dumb as dirt. These fine individuals must do something so completely asinine that it removes them from the gene pool - yep, they usually have to die. There are those rare specimens who manage to accomplish self-sterilization of some form, and that makes them eligible. But mostly, they just die.

Just to give you an idea of what sort of people we're talking about, I'll give you what I thought was one of the more memorable examples in the book. A rather portly gentleman was found dead in his bed after his rotting corpse started to exude a foul odor (as rotting corpses are wont to do). Seems this man lived mostly on a diet of cabbage and beans, an extremely flatulant combination, of course. When he retired for the evening, he had left his bedroom window closed, as well as his bedroom door and...yes, you guessed it...he literally farted himself to death.

"Undead and Unworthy" by MaryJanice Davidson

By the time you read this book, Betsy and her king, Sinclair, are legally wed. It would seem that all's right in Betsy's world after a few harrowing mishaps in the previous six books; her best friend nearly died of cancer, her father and stepmother died in a car wreck which left her with her stepbrother BabyJon to look after, she killed a very powerful vampire librarian, etc. This should end up being a pretty boring book, what with all the drama being over, right?

But this is our darling Betsy, the girl who never wanted to be queen of the stupid vampires in the first place, the girl who really just wants love and a great pair of shoes, and not necessarily in that order. Of course there's going to be drama for her, starting with a new ghost. Yes, it's none other than her horrible step-mother, the Ant, who will probably haunt her until the end of Betsy's undead life. The horror! And of course she pops in at the worst times....

Then there are the Fiends, those pathetic yet feral vampires that Betsy refused to kill when she took over her queenly duties. Remember the Fiends? They were vamps that were refused blood by their former master, Nostro, which left them crazy as hell. Having a huge soft spot for the underdog, Betsy has been "keeping" them like pets, making sure they have animal blood, are bathed, etc. Only with all the recent drama in her life, she's sort of forgotten about them. Garrett, a former Fiend who fed on Betsy's blood (and her half-sister Laura, the literal daughter of the Devil) and regained his normal mind, has been feeding them his blood in the hopes of restoring them much like himself. Only problem is that while they are less feral, they're mostly just pissed off now - that they've been forced to ingest animal blood, then no blood until Garrett came around, and they feel that Betsy doesn't deserve to be their queen (hence, the title of the book). The slightly reformed Fiends come calling, sending Betsy and the gang on the run for their very lives.

It's an interesting turn that Davidson has chosen to take her, a much more serious one than the previous books. It's not completely serious, but it is darker, something she alludes to in the introduction. Seems she's going in a different direction, something that spurred her to even change the look of the front cover (don't get me started on the cover - I am NOT a fan!). She even goes so far as to kill off some characters; yes, a few are the "bad guys", but there are lives lost among her own little family as well. I was very shocked at that, but also sort of glad. It shows that Davidson might be growing as an author, branching out a little, not afraid to try something new. Don't get me wrong - I wasn't happy about who got killed, but when an author refuses to really put any of her characters in actual danger, the read becomes quite boring. After all, you just know they'll be OK, so there's no edge-of-your-seat feeling, the kind of thing that makes you want to keep turning the pages to find out what happens.

Overall, I liked this Betsy entry. It's a bit different, not quite as light-hearted, but still funny enough to make it seem like "light" reading. I'm anxious to see what Davidson has in store for my shoe-addicted Queen.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

"Jack: Secret Histories" by F. Paul Wilson

Are you a Repairman Jack fan? Have you ever wondered what Jack was like as a teenager? Here's your chance to find out; Wilson is the latest author to delve into the world of YA fiction. Smart man that he is, he's got a ready-made series just aching to be told, that of our favorite repairman's youth. What works even better for Wilson is that this book will appeal to the adult crowd as well as the YA crowd. After all, haven't you been curious about Jack's childhood?

It's a small book with a pretty basic plot. Jack and his friends Eddie and Weezy (Louise, but don't call her that) are riding bikes out in the New Jersey Pine Barrens one day. Weezy wants to show Jack and Eddie some really weird mounds that she found. Unfortunately they find more than they bargained for when Eddie "breaks" one of the mounds - a dead body. There's also a strange cube by the body; Weezy takes it before any of the authorities get there. So who's the dead man? What's in the cube? Why can only certain people open said cube? What's up with the mysterious Lodge in town, the one that only accepts members it invites into the club? There's plenty of mystery, this being a Jack book, after all.

What's really great for long-time Jack fans is the chance to get to know his family. When we first meet Jack in the adult world, his mom has been dead for a few years. She's alive and well in this book, married to his father, and we get to know a little bit about his relationships with his sister Kate and brother Tom. There's a wonderful scene involving pistachios and Tom that pretty much sets the stage for Jack and his "fix-its" of his adult life. We're introduced to Jack's boss at the store USED, Mr. Rosen - a character that reminded both myself and my hubby of Jack's good friend, Abe, at the sporting goods store. We find out in this book how Jack comes by his knowledge (and probably his tools) for lock-picking. There's a lot of these delicious little tidbits, and I'm happy to say that there are more YA Jack books on the way.

I definitely advise you to check out young Jack today. Also, be on the lookout for the next Repairman Jack book, "By the Sword", due out October 14th!!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"Captains Courageous" by Rudyard Kipling

Well, after a lot of vampire and werewolf drama, not to mention the horrid ending to the Twilight series, I felt like I needed a bit of break from my "usual". I decided to go back to the list of classics I've been trying to work my way through (shortest to longest - a girl's gotta have a system!) and this was next up on the list. I wasn't too sure about it, not being any sort of sea-faring kind of gal, but I'm not one to give up easily. I figured it would be a lot like "The Old Man and the Sea", a real guy-kind 0f read.

I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this little book. Granted, it was a bit difficult to read; a lot of the conversation is written in various dialects, which bogged me down a bit. Also, as I previously pointed out, I know pretty much next to nothing about sailing any sort of boat, so a lot of the technical terms were over my head. I suppose I could have looked them up, but the nice thing I found as I read was that even though I might not know specifically what Kipling was talking about, I could still get the general idea, enough to keep reading.

We meet Harvey Cheyne, a spoiled rich kid, and two pages later he's falling overboard, sure to meet his death on the high seas. He would, too, but for the fisherman that rescues him; he brings him back to the We're Here, a small Gloucester fishing boat owned by Disko Troop. There's a cast of characters aboard including Disko's son, Dan, as well as Manuel, the Portuguese fisherman that rescued Harvey, Long Jack, Tom Platt, Uncle Salters (Disko's brother), and Penn, a man who has survived the worst disaster of his life but remembers little of it. There's also a somewhat psychic black cook on board, one who really can seem to predict the future.

Of course, Harvey's never done a real day's work in his life when he lands on the We're Here, but he's taught the ropes (literally and figuratively) by the entire crew, most especially by Dan, the closest to him in age. Harvey tries to tell them about his life back home, but the men don't believe a word of it. Around the middle of the book, as the men sit around telling tall tales while waiting out a storm, Harvey discovers that if he tells stories about a "friend" of his, the men enjoy hearing about his life. And the longer Harvey's on the boat, the more he seems to take to the fisherman's way of life; indeed, he might almost believe his own stories are about another person entirely.

Luckily, when they come back in to shore to unload and sell their haul, Harvey is able to wire his parents on the West Coast and let them know that he's alive. They take their private rail car to Boston to reunite, but both parents are in for a bit a surprise when they meet their son again. The time on the boat has changed young Harvey, for the better of course, and his father couldn't be happier. It's a nice little book wrapped up in a nice little ending. Probably not entirely realistic, but that's OK.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes a coming-of-age story, anyone who enjoys the sea, and indeed, anyone who enjoys a good book.

Friday, August 15, 2008

"The Undead Kama Sutra" by Mario Acevedo

I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books by Acevedo starring vampire P.I. Felix Gomez. They were a cross between hard-boiled detective book and wacky-vampire-sex book. I'm glad I read this one, as it points to things to come, but this one was heavier on the hard-boiled aspect. Indeed, there were a few times I thought we might be at the end of a trilogy; I wasn't entirely sure that Felix was going to "live" to see another day.

In the beginning, Felix is charged with a mission to "Find Goodman. Save the Earth women." These are the dying words of an alien passing himself off as human, one Odin. Felix isn't entirely sure what it's all about, but saving women? He's down with that. He finds himself tracking Goodman to a swanky resort where the ex-military operative is moonlighting as a golf pro. There are all sorts of hidden military men and equipment, all of which leads Felix to believe that Goodman is up to no good. There are also mysterious plane crashes, missing passengers, and a woman that's killed by a space blaster. It's all leading Felix to a horrible truth - Goodman is working with the aliens. But which ones? And what for?

The plot is a bit convoluted and not altogether easy to follow. I found myself having trouble remembering what happened to whom and how it lead up to what I was reading now, which might have been OK since I was reading other books at the time. Yes, yes - I know it might be my multiple-book habit that was causing the problem, but I don't think so. I usually don't have any trouble picking up where I left off with something, regardless of what else I'm reading. But this time? Well, this time was hard, which makes me think Acevedo's plot wasn't as tightly woven as before. Oh well. There's a sub-plot with his fellow vamp friend Carmen, a very interesting spider, and some other things thrown in. Overall, it felt a bit busy for my taste, but again, I think this is one of those books that paves the way for a change in direction down the road. I would still recommend Acevedo's work to those that enjoy the strange and unusual, especially men who might be turned off by the glut of paranormal romance glop out there these days.

"My Immortal" by Erin McCarthy

I've never been all that interest in Ms. McCarthy's works - the Vegas vampire books just have that "too cute to live" look that turns me off. When one of her Seven Deadly Sins books kept showing up on my recommendations from Amazon, I finally decided to take a look at that series since we had the first book in the library system. Well, durn! It's a pretty good love story - who'd a thunk? LOL!

The story is an old one, how the love of a "good" woman can redeem a sinful man. In this case, Marley Turner really is a good woman - she's a God-fearing Christian who's actually on sabbatical at a convent when she receives a mysterious e-mail from her sister Lizzie. Seems darling baby sis has run off to Louisiana and fallen in love with a handsome stranger. No big deal, except the e-mail is 2 months old and no one has seen or heard from Lizzie since. All the more worrisome is that Lizzie has once again left her young son in the care of a cousin, an all-too-frequent arrangement for Marley's taste. Big sis decides to run to the rescue yet again, leaving the convent and heading down to the Big Easy, hoping to find her sister alive and well.

Enter Damien du Bourg, owner of Rosa de Montana, a somewhat shabby plantation estate. Seems the last time anyone saw or heard from Lizzie, she was at one of Damien's infamous parties, the sort that would cause any normal person to blush, let alone the extremely repressed Marley. Of course, once Marley meets Damien, she becomes completely flustered and enamored, and then must rely on the strange man for help in locating her wayward sister. Damien is about to open up a whole new world to Marley, one she might not be entirely ready for...

Sounds pretty hot, right? Well, it is - and it's not. Damien is no ordinary man; he's the slave of a Grigori demon, having literally made a deal with a devil's daughter back in 1790. He's not aged a bit since then, but must also inspire lust in those he encounters. If he fails in his duties, not only is he punished, but so is the daughter he made the deal with. Having become remorseful about said deal, Damien has been inspiring lust all right - but he refuses to take any pleasure for himself. Yep, that's right - he will only pleasure the women he's with! WOW! Yeah, totally unrealistic, in my opinion, but a nice touch. Makes him much more likable and way less sleazy. And, this being a romance and all, he's immediately drawn to Marley in a way he hasn't felt in ages. He might actually be falling in love, unthinkable in his current condition, as he doesn't age. What's a lust demon to do?

McCarthy has a fairly good writing style, not overly dramatic, not overly romantic, either. I think she struck just about the right note on this book - it comes across as a true love story. It could've very easily run over into preachy territory, which it doesn't. Also, I thought she kept it fairly realistic, too. No, there are no real lust demons or 200 year old men running about, but there are ungrateful siblings and two sides to every story. Not everything wraps up in a nice, neat package for our two characters, something I appreciated. I enjoyed this book enough to want to read more, and lucky me, there's at least one more book in the Seven Deadly Sins series. My bet? There'll be a total of seven books, hopefully all as good as this one.