Friday, July 31, 2009

"The Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance" edited by Trisha Telep

I don't normally pick up the "mammoth" book of anything - too many stories by too many writers I've never heard of, and usually the ones I do know haven't contributed much of anything. This came in for a patron, and when she didn't pick it up, I got to looking at it. Wonder of wonders, this book had several authors that I did know, even read on a regular basis. I figured what the heck and checked it out.

Well, as is typical of most anthologies, there are hits and there are misses, and there are some that are just sort of there. The editor has a nice, short intro and she warns that some will be quite romantic while others are more tame. One or two entries may even border on the erotic (um, not really, but anyway...) The cover is a bit misleading, as it states "over 25 short stories of hot blood, midnight pleasures, and inhuman passions". Turns out there are exactly 25 entries, and only a few of them are really "hot". Sigh.

The authors included here are as follows: Sherri Erwin, Caitlin R. Kiernan (appearing twice), Jenna Black, Jenna Maclaine, Raven Hart, Delilah Devlin, Keri Arthur, Kimberly Raye, Alexis Morgan, Lilith Saintcrow (appearing twice), C.T. Adams & Cathy Clamp, Susan Sizemore, Dina James, Colleen Gleason, Barbary Emrys, Savannah Russe, Shiloh Walker, Vicki Pettersson, Rebecca York, Rachel Vincent, Amanda Ashley, Karen Chance, and Nancy Holder.

The best bets are by Chance, Saintcrow, Pettersson, and Black. I won't go into great detail on any one story, but I've read everyone in that group except Black. I might have to go check out one of her books now. As far as the ones I wasn't impressed with, there were a few, but none were so horrible as to deserve a special "skip this story" blurb.

It's a nice book to have on your bedside table; none of the stories is overly long, and they might give you some interesting dreams!

"Gale Force" by Rachel Caine

It's business as usual for Weather Warden Joanne Baldwin. Yeah, the weather is going a bit crazy again, and someone's trying to kill her again. In other words, business as usual in this seventh book of the series.

Joanne and her Djinn lover, David, are back in her home state of Florida. Jo is supposed to be on vacation, but as usual, she's got her finger in the weather workings around her, much to the chagrin of her boss, Paul. She needs to stop meddling, and David seems to have the perfect plan - a wedding. He asks Jo to marry him, and she accepts, after a lot of soul searching. The hunt is on for a wedding dress; Jo's best friend Cherise should have no problem coming up with something stunning. While the ladies are out shopping, a sudden earthquake hits; the bridal store and surrounding area are thrown into complete chaos. While on the aetheric to assess the damage, Jo notices a boiling red zone and heads out with another Warden to investigate. What they discover is alarming - there's a sliver of some sort of black substance that has been plunged into Mother Earth, thus causing the quake. At first, they're not sure what it is, just that there's something horribly wrong about it.

When Jo and another Earth Warden go to investigate in person, they learn that the black substance is the worst possible thing for the planet - antimatter. Someone or something has created the antimatter and is using it as a weapon. Their focus? Jo herself. A group called The Sentinels takes responsibility for the antimatter, and they have a very specific purpose in using it, the complete elimnation of the Djinn. The group feels that the Djinn don't deserve to live after the recent Warden/Djinn war, and they mean business. To make matters worse, the Djinn have no idea just how dangerous this stuff is; as antimatter, the Djinn can't see, touch, feel, or sense anything about it. At first, they think the Wardens might be having a mass hallucination. But as the bodies and damage pile up, they realize that something is wrong and vow to help. Well, David's "New Djinn" do; the "Old Djinn", led by Ashan, want nothing to do with the fight.

It's Caine at her best, writing about love in the face of danger. It's been a while since I read the last book in this series, and I'd forgotten how much I like Jo. But I have to admit, much as I enjoy these books, I really do think it's time to let the girl have some breathing room! Surely there's a way to have some suspense without putting her life on the line every time? My only other complaint about this book is more of a pet peeve, but I was ready to throw the book across the room, so I need to address it. The book doesn't really have an ending - it's more of a cliffhanger - and I HATE that! Yes, I know that not every book in a series will wrap up neatly, and I get that, but this time it was very jarring. I even wondered if Caine had written this and the next book as an entire work, then was told to split it up so it would still be a manageable length for mass market paperback release. Whatever the case, I was not happy to realize I'd reached the end; it felt all wrong.

Guess I'll just have to pick up the next book when it's released this fall, huh?

Monday, July 27, 2009

"The Fixer Upper" by Mary Kay Andrews

MKA has returned to her roots, and I'm happy to report that this is one of those can't-hardly-put-it-down books. YES! I've really enjoyed her work, even the less-than-stellar "Deep Dish", so I was happy to see she had a new book coming out. Even better was a return to the theme of interior design, something that MKA is very well versed in.

Our story begins with Dempsey Killebrew having the worst day of her life. Her boss, Alex Hodder, is now part of a D.C. political scandal; the FBI and others are accusing him of hiring hookers for a prominent figure while on a "fact-finding" missing. Worse yet, it appears that Alex is all too willing to throw Dempsey under the bus, since those "ladies" were hired by her and paid for with her company Amex card. When she tries to contact Alex, not only are her calls not returned, the office manager tells her that the boss has decided she needs to take her 4 weeks of vacation, now, and they'll send everything in her office to her apartment. Yep, Dempsey has been dumped. From her job, from her life in D.C., from everything she's worked so hard to get.

Enter her parents. Lynda wants her to head out to California and regroup there with her and her "boyfriend" Leonard. Lynda also wants to makeover Dempsey - her hair, her clothes, her choice of career. And Dempsey's father, Mitch, isn't much better. He's furious that this scandal is tarnishing his good name, and his solution is to hide his daughter in Guthrie, Georgia. Oh, she'll be working for Mitch, too, restoring the old family homestead that his last living relative left to him, much to his chagrin. Birdsong was once a beautiful Southern plantation, and despite the fact that quite a bit of the land has been sold off, Mitch is sure that with a little elbow grease and some new paint, he can "flip" the house and get rid of it.

If only it were going to be that easy. When Dempsey shows up, she finds something more like "Bird Droppings" - a dilapidated, Pepto-Bismol pink behemoth of a money pit. She also finds Ella Kate, a distant cousin, who is in her 80s and has no intention of going anywhere. To make matters worse, Guthrie is tiny, and everyone seems to know Dempsey's business within hours. She's ready to throw in the towel and run for the hills, but the house starts to grow on her. So do the Berryhills, Carter and his son Tee. They'll play an important role in Dempsey's redemption story, as will several other of Guthrie's townsfolk.

It's a fabulous story, and it's got all the elements that first drew me to MKA's work. There are wonderful characters that just seem to come alive; you feel like you've meet these people before (especially if you live in a small Southern town!). The plot moves along at a nice pace, and it unfolds just the way you want it to. And then there's Dempsey herself, a bit naive (OK, just plain silly at times in the beginning), but a truly good person with a good heart. She's the real "fixer-upper" of this book, and she's going to turn out just fabulous as Birdsong. Do yourself a huge favor and find a copy of this book; it's a perfect summer read.

Friday, July 24, 2009

"Dayhunter" by Jocelynn Drake

I just read over my very glowing review of Drake's first book in this series, "Nightwalker", and I gotta say, I am just as excited if not more so to be writing about this second entry. For some unknown reason, I kept putting off reading this book ("Dayhunter"), even though I'd been looking forward to it. Call it fear of the sophomore slump or something like that. I still held off even after my hubby read it and said how good it was.

My advice? Run, do not walk, RUN and find yourself a copy of this book today! Drake has hit the jackpot with this series; the writing is just as good as the first book, the plot development is excellent, the action is edge-of-your-seat exciting. I was amazed that this book is not only just as good as the first, but even better. No sophomore slump here!

The book immediately jumps into the action, literally picking up right where we left off at the end of "Nightwalker". Mira and her new ally, Tristan, are injured and in need of blood after the fight at Stonehenge. They are trying to obtain a meal without drawing attention when confronted by an odd trio: a witch, a lycanthrope, and a human. What's worse is that the witch knows who Mira is - the infamous Fire Starter of legend. So much for flying under the radar. After a small skirmish, Mira and Tristan rejoin the hunter Danaus to plan their next move against Rowe, the leader of the naturi who plans to break the seal between the two worlds and bring over his queen, Aurora.

Unfortunately, the next move is made for them. Mira is summoned to Venice, home of Our Liege and the Coven, which includes her old mentor Jabari. Mira is quite nervous about why she's being summoned; are they planning on killing her now? Are they going to try to kill Danaus? And what about Tristan? His maker (and Mira's) is there, and she's none too happy with him. There are several plot twists, including a possible bargain between the Coven and the naturi trapped in our world. There's also the small issue of the open seat on the Coven, vacated when Tabor was killed. It becomes increasingly apparent that Mira is expected to claim that seat, even though she wants nothing to do with the politics of her people. And there's the increasing attraction between Mira and Danaus to follow, something that both of them have their doubts about. The sexual tension is definitely building in this series, but at a nice pace.

Speaking of sex, the author does include a sex scene, just one, and I've got to give her credit. It's a very realistically written scene, which was a relief after some of the schlock I've read lately! The scene takes place fairly late in the book, and it's just sex - a release of tensions for Mira and another character (not Danaus, I'll tell you that much). The scene plays out and wonder of wonders, our author dares to use the "o" word, rather than go for the typical descriptions such as "shattering", or "breaking apart", or any of the other euphemisms for that particular event. I was so happy!

As I said for the first book, this is an excellent series by a promising author. I would highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys the paranormal world and wants more substance to their reading. Good character development, interesting plot, tight writing - Drake has it all. Check out the "Dark Days" novels soon - the next installment comes out in late September!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"Beowulf on the Beach: What to Love and What to Skip in Literature's 50 Greatest Hits" by Jack Murnighan

The biggest reason I picked up this book is the title; I am a fanatic fan of "Beowulf". I own two different editions, one illustrated, and I tend to read a version of the classic about once every 5 years or so. I just think it's one of the best stories of all time. Obviously, I wanted to see what this author had to say about that work and the others listed here. I also thought I might get some ideas about how to approach the classics I haven't tried yet (which are a lot, despite the B.A. I earned in said subject!)

Murnighan has a nice style and he very much wants you to love literature like he does. He does a good job of breaking down the works into some basic highlights, things like what you should know if you're going to be discussing this at a cocktail party, little-known factoids about the work/author, the "sexy" parts (and yes, there are some in some of the works, and there are a lot in others!), etc. Best of all, he tells you what you can skip. Yes, he admits that there are parts of each of these 50 pieces that don't really add all that much to the overall work, and that by skipping those parts, you actually do yourself a huge favor; you get to read the "best" parts and truly enjoy them.

There are a lot of different types of work addressed here, too, everything from The Bible to Cormac McCarthy. I will admit that this book probably works best as a sort of bedside companion; if you're taking on one of these "Greatest Hits", have this to guide you. I found it to be a bit overwhelming to read the whole thing from cover to cover - too much info to digest, most of which I won't remember in another month or so. And what about that fave of mine, Beowulf? I think Murnighan is more in love with it than I am, and I'm happy to say that he wasn't overly dazzled by Seamus Heaney's version of it, either. I have added the version he recommends here to my Amazon Wish List - can never have too much Beowulf!!

Monday, July 20, 2009

"Diet Myths That Keep Us Fat" by Nancy Snyderman M.D.

I've seen Dr. Snyderman on TV, and she's had one or two other books that have hit our system. My co-worker read this first, and she said it was worth looking through, so I took it home. In a nutshell, you're probably not going to find anything new here, but it is a good book. Good, solid, medically sound advice on losing weight and how to keep it off. Ready for the secret?

Eat less, exercise more.

Yep, that's it! Snyderman herself even says that it's so basic, no one wants to believe it. Now, she doesn't say it's always easy to eat less and exercise more; if it was easy, we'd be a country of "normal"-sized people (whatever "normal" is, and yeah, I'll agree that it's heavier than it used to be). She's very wise to point out the health risks of being overweight, and she's also wise to point out that it's not all about will power. You need to be involved in losing weight, you need to find what works for YOU, crash diets are horrible, etc.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who has ever tried to lose weight, and to those still trying. It's NOT a "diet" book, but more a book about how to do little things that will help you in the long run.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"All That I Have" by Castle Freeman Jr.

It all starts off with a call on the squawk-box of a "new male", and heads downhill from there. Of course, it's not a "new male" but a "nude male" that Sheriff Lucian Wing must respond to in the opening of this small but excellent book. Wing has been married for a long time, and from what I could gather, is probably nearing retirement age. Call him late fifties. He's good at "sheriffing", a much finer art form than "the law"; one is black and white, the other shades of gray. Guess which one Wing prefers? You got it, gray.

The nude male has been bound to a tree and obviously severely beaten. Not so much that he doesn't give Wing, a state trooper, and some other officers a lot of trouble when they try to put him in the squad car. He also doesn't appear to be from around their neck of the woods, which would be Vermont. He speaks Russian. It's a mystery, all right, until Wing realizes that there's been a break-in at a very upscale mansion outside the city limits, a fine home that is owned by Russians. It's a sloppy job; someone threw a large concrete planter through the glass patio doors. Right away, Wing recognizes the work of Sean Duke, aka Superboy. He's the local hood, and even though he's not bright and certainly not law-abiding, it's obvious that Wing has some sort of soft spot for the youth. The only problem is that Superboy has stolen a lock box, a very important belonging that the Russians want back at all costs. Thus the nude male. It's a bit of a race to the finish to see who will win - Wing or the Russians.

In this mix are various small-town characters, including the sheriff's wife, a mysterious female photographer/artist, a deputy gunning for Wing's job in the next election, Superboy's trailer-trash girlfriend, and the afore-mentioned state trooper. While there is some suspense here (will Wing actually arrest Superboy? Will he be able to handle the Russians? Is the sheriff's wife up to no good?), I would have to say this book is more like a snapshot of life in a small town than it is a suspense/mystery work. The character development was quite good for such a short piece, and I felt like I knew them. I really liked Lucian, and I liked how he explained things. I wasn't particularly surprised by the ending, either; it made it feel as if the book had come full circle.

This was my first time reading Freeman, and I'm happy to say we have more of his work here at the library. Check him out at your library today!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"Undead and Unwelcome" by MaryJanice Davidson

Oh my. Wow. Just.... I really don't know what to say.

Except that Queen Betsy has really hit the skids. The series, that is. Much as I've loved these books by MJD, much as I've giggled over Betsy's antics, much as I've drooled over Sinclair, I just can't get past how awful this entry is. Bad enough that I think I'm probably done with yet another paranormal series.

What's so horrible about this book? Well, let's back-track a bit. Let me begin by saying that the last few books have been OK, not fabulous like the first two or so in the series, but definitely not groan-inducing. There was a hint of a downhill slide, but I'm one of those ever-hopeful readers who is willing to cut an author some slack - sometimes too much, perhaps. Anyway, I was anxious to read this entry because the plot sounded like it would be good, possibly setting up future entries with a bit more bite (no pun intended).

Betsy, Sinclair, and Jessica are taking werewolf Antonia's corpse back to her pack on the East Coast (if you're not familiar with the series, Antonia died by throwing herself in front of bullets meant for Betsy, not really necessary unless said bullets were aimed at the head, which they were - no one comes back from that sort of damage). She's nervous about the pack, nervous about being away from home, nervous about BabyJon, her half-brother and now hers to look after (long story). The weres aren't happy to see her, much less Antonia's corpse, which was left just as it fell; Betsy and gang weren't sure how weres handle one of their own as far as death, so they didn't want to mess anything up. Needless to say, there are hard feelings on both sides, much misunderstanding, and yes, something is definitely weird and creepy about BabyJon.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (OK, the mansion), Dr. Mark is hanging out with Betsy's sister, Laura, also known as the Devil's daughter. She's evidently coming into her own and her "minions" have found her, wanting to do her bidding. Since she hates her mother (yes, the Devil is female here), she has them go out and do good works. Unfortunately, Mark makes a suggestion that completely backfires, and he spends most of the rest of the book frantically trying to contact Betsy and tell her to get her butt back home, pronto.

When put like this, the book doesn't sound bad, does it? Sigh. There are a lot of problems here, the least of which is the price - $24.95 for a book that took just a few hours to read. Sorry, but this is really paperback quality material here. If you want to read this, borrow a copy from your library, your friend, your neighbor - or wait until you can score a used copy dirt cheap. Now to the plot. There are holes here the size of the Grand Canyon, most glaringly Mark's inability to get Betsy to realize what's going on. This just really, really bothered me. Supposedly, even though she is a complete ditz, only thinks about herself, and is totally shoe-obsessed, Betsy is queen of grammar where emails are concerned. WTF? I did not buy this for a single second. She's incapable of deciphering Mark's emails, most of which rely on the abbreviations used for such things as email and text messaging. To add insult to injury, she didn't seem overly concerned that her cell phone wasn't getting reception at the weres estate, which also doesn't fly with me. Look, the way Betsy is written, she seems to be the kind that would not only completely freak out over no bars, but would remain in constant contact with people thru texting, twittering, Facebook, etc. To have me believe otherwise just insults my intelligence.

Having Mark "journal" what's happening back at home so that we know what's going on? Sad. Sad and not effective, either. Wouldn't I have been much more concerned about that had I only been able to read his increasingly frantic emails? Wouldn't it have made more sense to have me sitting there going "I can't believe you can't read this - he needs HELP!" A good opportunity completely passed by.

Overall, this is definitely NOT a must-read. The series has run its course, in my humble opinion, and I will not be reading any further entries about Betsy and the gang. Sometimes, you just need to know when to quit.