Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Releases for the week of January 11

Yes, I know - who is she kidding? This week is almost over! Well, life has a funny way sometimes of getting in the way, which is exactly what's happened this time. Work, mostly, but other stuff too. Seems like the new year has brought lots of tasks with it, things that must be done RIGHT NOW, which means that I've had to put the blog on hold until I addressed the impatient things. I've finally gotten through most of them, so now I'm able to get back to this, the book news, which I would much rather have been doing anyway!

"The Swan Thieves" by Eliabeth Kostova. "Psychiatrist Andrew Marlowe, devoted to his profession and the painting hobby he loves, has a solitary but ordered life. When renowned painter Robert Oliver attacks a canvas in the National Gallery of Art and becomes his patient, Marlowe finds that order destroyed. Desperate to understand the secret that torments the genius, he embarks on a journey that leads him into the lives of the women closest to Oliver and a tragedy at the heart of French Impressionism." Well, it sounds as good as her first work, "The Historian" did when it was getting ready for release. Unfortunately, I found that novel impossible to get through, so I don't really know what to think about this one. There's a big media campaign again, so we'll see...

"36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction" by Rebecca Goldstein.
The author of a best-seller about why God doesn't exist has a mid-life crisis. Sounds like it could go either way, so I'll reserve judgment for now. It is a hot topic, though, what with the "new atheists" gaining a little bit of ground out there, in turn giving the Moral Majority complete snit fits.

"Alice I Have Been" by Melanie Benjamin. Yes Virgina, there is an Alice. Her name was Alice Liddell and she was the inspiration for Lewis Carroll's hapless heroine so many years ago. The author writes a fictional account of the "real" Alice, who is preparing to celebrate her 81st birthday. She reflects on her long life, sadly revealing that she is truly tired of being known as "Alice". Lots of buzz on this book.

"Betrayal of the Blood Lily" by Lauren Willig. The newest installment in Willig's Pink Carnation series. Think Regency romances with a good bit of mystery and intrigue. My sis read the first few (might have read them all, I can't keep track!) and said they were pretty good.

"The First Rule" by Robert Crais. Crais returns to a character first introduced in "The Watchman" - Joe Pike. Expect gritty crime drama. Look for his other series starring Elvis Cole - hubby really likes those a lot.

"Sleepless" by Charlie Huston. It's always a happy day in my world when I learn that Huston has a new book. I've been reading him for a few years now, mostly his Joe Pitt vampire detective series, but anything by him is usually good. Huston doesn't pull any punches - expect lots of very dark, disturbing, gritty realism. Life ain't pretty in Huston's view, and this time he's writing about an undercover cop looking to stop the flow of Dreamer, an illegal street drug that gives people what they really want - sleep.

"Saving Ceecee Honeycutt" by Beth Hoffman. A debut novel about a 12-year-old girl in the South being raised by her crazy mother and cranky father. The mother is killed by an ice cream truck, leaving an aunt to step in and save the day. Sounds like it could go either way - cute, promising new writer of Southern stories or just completely cliche.

"Treasure Hunt" by John Lescroat. Another entry in the author's series about Wyatt Hunt's San Francisco detective agency, starring one of his younger assistants, Mickey Dade. Never read anything by Lescroat, but patrons seem to like him. Biggest mystery? How to pronounce his last name! (we finally found a site that says it should be something like les-kwaw. Weird...)

"Where the God of Love Hangs Out" by Amy Bloom. Short stories. Expect very literary work, lots of relationship stuff, not a lot of action. And short stories are tough - some do it very well, others, not so much.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"Driftwood Summer" by Patti Callahan Henry

As usual, I read a description of this way back when, thought it sounded good, reserved a copy to come much later, then couldn't remember why I wanted it in the first place. Oh yes, I thought as I read the back cover, the family owns a little bookstore! That must be it....

Well, it certainly wasn't what I thought it would be. Call it "family drama" and not overly good at that. The story revolves around the three Sheffield sisters, their mama, and the aforementioned Driftwood Cottage Bookstore. Riley, the eldest sister, runs the store that Kitsy, her mother, bought 12 years ago, right around the time Riley's son Brayden was born. Riley is a single-mom, hard-working and responsible, but a bit dull. She used to be absolutely fearless in her teen years but now worries about everything, including losing the bookstore.

Her mother, Kitsy Sheffield, is controlling, domineering, and all the other adjectives you can think of that would be used in this sort of work. She's also written as a typical, well-off Southern woman of leisure, the kind that starts having "cocktails" around 4 in the afternoon. When she falls down a flight of stairs and lands in the hospital, Riley learns that some broken bones and bruises are the least of her worries - Kitsy has cancer. It's serious, but of course, Riley is not to tell her sisters. The Sheffields are preparing for the 200th birthday party for Driftwood Cottage; the building used to sit on a plantation before it was moved to its current location in Palmetto Beach, Georgia, where it served as a summer rental for tourists for years. And this party has to come off without a hitch - the bookstore is drowning in debt, and if Riley can't make enough money on the week's worth of festivities, Mama has declared that she will sell the property.

Riley calls in her two younger sisters to help her out. Maisy is the middle child, not much younger than Riley, and the sort of woman who always falls for the "wrong" man (ie - married or otherwise taken). She and Riley used to be the best of friends until the summer that a boy showed more interest in Maisy than in Riley. They've barely spoken since Maisy ran off to California, where she still lives and works in interior design. Adalee, the youngest Sheffield sister, is the baby of the family, not arriving until 8 years after Maisy. She's in college, failing most of her classes, and determined to spend her summer partying and hooking up with her current beau (and loser), Chad. Neither Maisy nor Adalee is thrilled with Riley's demands that they get themselves to work, and neither can understand why Riley is always caving in to their Mama's every whim.

Then there's Mack Logan, the boy who broke Riley's heart, the boy that had been her best friend for several summers running - until the summer that he noticed Maisy. Mack and his father, Sheppard Logan, return to Palmetto Beach to enjoy the celebrations; the family used to spend their summers at Driftwood Cottage. Mack spends time with both Riley and Maisy, but he has concerns of his own regarding his father. Will he rekindle his relationship with Maisy? Or will he realize that he loved Riley all along?

So what's not to love? Several things. First of all, the story revolves around the three sisters, but is only told from the alternating perspectives of Riley and Maisy. This made Adalee come off like a third well, not important enough to merit her own chapters, which made me want to read her side of things. Sure she's a lot younger, but wouldn't her perspective on her two older siblings round things out nicely? I also felt like things never really seem all that dire; I never really believed that there would be anything other than a happy ending. This goes for all the "tension" points - Riley losing the bookstore, the romantic "triangle" between the two sisters and Mack, the sibling rivalry between Riley and Maisy, etc. Come to think of it, the "romance" never felt very real, either, more like the idea of a summer romance. Overall, the characters were a bit on the cliched side, very one-dimensional, and that meant they never really clicked with me.

The one thing that did resonate was the sibling rivalry, and I think that's why I'm so disappointed with this book. Riley and Maisy had this huge falling out, a betrayal of trust on both their parts that actually sent Maisy into a tailspin and off to the other side of the country. They've barely spoken in years, yet they manage to mostly patch up their differences in just one week? Are you kidding me? Speaking as a sister, and as someone who has had a situation where she did not speak to her sister for almost 4 years, this is just complete crap. Trust me when I tell you that it takes much longer than a mere 7 days to get that train back on the tracks.

I did finish this book, but I can't say I really enjoyed it, more like I tolerated it. Maybe I just don't like the "family drama" genre, but really - I think I just didn't like this book very much.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Thoughts on 2009 and the past decade

Yes, I'm going to do it, too. All the TV shows are doing their "look back on the year" spots, and since this is the end of our first decade in the 2000s, we get to look back at that, too. I figured, why not? I have thoughts and feelings about this subject, darn it! LOL....

So how was my 2009? It was OK. We didn't accomplish everything we'd hoped, but we didn't fail miserably, either. Jeff and I managed to keep hammering away at our debt while saving money at the same time - no small feat in this economy. Granted, it would be a lot easier with both of us working, but at least we DO have an income, right? There are a lot of folks out there where both husband and wife are out of work, and a lot of times, they have kids, too. We're very lucky that it's just us, and trust me, we know it. We did manage to take two long weekends away to the beach, which was a miracle in itself - my hubby and I successfully travelling together, that is! We have a horrible track record when it comes to vacations; we're lucky we haven't killed each other. Not only did we take two this year, they were both fairly pleasant and we enjoyed our time away. We're already planning to go back next year!

I still have my job at the library, which I still love, and I know how lucky that makes me. Yes, it's been hard - the economy has brought in more patrons, and they're stressed out like you wouldn't believe, making our jobs here a bit more difficult and delicate. We feel for our patrons that are out of work, and we celebrate when they get the job. Tax season is right around the corner, and I am NOT looking forward to it this year, as NC has decided that they will not be sending out forms to libraries this year. OMG, what a nightmare! Think I'll start stocking up on alcohol now...

As for the decade, well, it's had its ups and downs, just like any decade I suppose. On the highlight reel for myself? I met and married Jeff, moved here to NC, and found my calling in library work (something I had once feared - didn't want to be the old spinster librarian w/a million cats!) I still have my car, Merlin, and both Jeff & I are healthy. We're ending the decade with money in the bank, which is a very good thing, and we're looking toward the future.

We did have some very low points, though, and when I say low, I mean low. We both lost grandparents in 2000, within months of each other, and we were close to them. We moved here - very stressful - and then couldn't find work right away, leaving us with very little money to live on. And being the proud idiots we are, we wouldn't look for help - we just charged all our necessities, hoping we could pay it back someday. We both had major automotive repairs to the tune of several thousand dollars over the last 10 yrs, but we couldn't really afford to get a new (or newer) car, meaning we just had to whip out the plastic and suck it up. And we had a few very rough years in our marriage, bad enough that I think we both thought about divorce more than once.

All that is behind us now, and I for one am looking forward to 2010 and the next decade. I know that our fortunes will really head in the right direction; we're working together as a team, which makes all the difference. We love each other and have worked thru our personal differences (for the most part!). And even though we don't have everything we'd like to have right this second, we know we'll have it someday, which is good enough. Patience, grasshopper, patience.

I wish all my friends out in cyberland a happy, healthy, and properous New Year. Take a few minutes to think about the good things in your life, and say "good riddance!" to the rubbish. Tell people you love them and show kindness to strangers. And let's try to make all that last past January 2nd, shall we?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Starting the year out right!

Well, actually, I'm starting 2010 out right - by getting you ready for the first week of new releases! I know, I'm impressed with myself, too. Don't worry - I'm sure this won't last...

OK, for the week of January 4th, here's what we can look forward to:

"Committed" by Elizabeth Gilbert. This is the author of the incredibly popular "Eat, Pray, Love", a book that I finally read and ended up enjoying quite a bit. This work picks up where EPL left off; Gilbert has found her true love Felipe, a very hot, older Brazilian. They've continued their long-distance relationship for the past year with Felipe spending 90-day stretches in the U.S. with Gilbert. However, after taking one of their non-90-day-in-the-USA trips, Felipe is denied entrance to Gilbert's homeland. The couple are told that the only way he can come in again is for them to be married. However, Gilbert is reluctant to do so, nor does she want to leave Felipe for good. She begins a year-long exile, reading up on the subject of marriage, and in the end confronting her own fears. I have high hopes for this book, as I understand there will be a lot of historical background on the subject of "wedded bliss". Wonder if Oprah will have her on again?

"Impact" by Douglas Preston. Another thriller starring CIA operative Wyman Ford, who was also in Preston's book "Blasphemy". Publisher's Weekly says there are three storylines here which eventually intersect. Fans of scientific thrillers should be happy with this. Interesting that he is not writing with Lincoln Child...

"Iron River" by T. Jefferson Parker. This is the third book in Parker's Charlie Hood series, and I'm happy to report that my hubby just finished the first two. He said they were fabulous, action-packed easy reading. I'm sure he's going to be happy to hear that this book is coming out! The Hood books are police procedurals.

"Noah's Compass" by Anne Tyler. Recently our collection development team here at the library had to reassess our needs and wants, including which authors would be considered "must-have" for all branches, which ones could be picked up for a select few, and which ones might not be picked up at all anymore. Tyler is an author that I lobbied for dropping down to a select few, as her books just do not circulate very often. I was surprised how many on the team wanted to keep her. I don't know if they read her, or if they've actually got demand for them. Either way, I consider her to be "literary", which isn't a high-demand category here. PW seems to like it, saying she's written another good work about a "flawed" character. Not really on my list of reading, though.

"Remarkable Creatures" by Tracy Chevalier. Another historical work from Chevalier, who hit it big with "Girl with a Pearl Earring" back in the late 1990s. I think this is another one of those authors who hit it big almost right out of the box, then has slowly and consistenly flagged as time goes on. I know I don't have many patrons asking for her stuff, nor can I get it to circulate when I display it.

"The Summer We Fell Apart" by Robin Antalek. The father is a playwright, the mother a cult-actress, the grown kids a mess. This is a debut novel set in New York and Los Angeles and covers 15 years of family dysfunction (which sort of makes one wonder at the title, doesn't it?) It sounds like it could be promising but I'm not one for the family drama genre.

"Thereby Hangs a Tail: A Chet and Bernie Mystery" by Spencer Quinn. I cannot wait to read this! Probably one of my favorite books of 2009 was "Dog On It", the debut of Chet (the dog) and Bernie (the detective). It was funny and a great little mystery, all told from Chet's point of view, which I was worried would end up as "too cute!" Luckily, Quinn got it right - you really believe that Chet is talking to you, and he acts just like you'd think a dog would act. It was recommended by Stephen King in one of his EW columns, and I totally agree.

"The Good, the Bad, and the Uncanny" by Simon R. Green. Green now has an even ten book in his popular Nightside series starring John Taylor, the man who can find anything. I can't wait for this, but I have to catch up first - somehow I missed the previous book, "Just Another Judgement Day". These are always good little reads - nothing too long, big on action with just enough fantasy.

"Inked". A collection of four novellas by some of the better authors in paranormal writing. Look for new works by Karen Chance, Marjorie M. Liu, Yasmine Galenorn, and Eileen Wilks. I usually like this sort of thing, so I'm looking forward to it.

"Kitty's House of Horrors" by Carrie Vaughn. Book 7 in the Kitty Norville series, which I'm very anxious to read. Kitty is talked into participating in a supernatural TV reality series. Of course, this being our favorite werewolf DJ, you just know things will start going wrong in a hurry. This has been a very strong series, and again, I look forward to reading this one!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

"Dexter by Design" by Jeff Lindsay

Lindsay returns to the Dexter that we all know and love (and perhaps fear just a bit). After a small mis-step with his third in this series ("Dexter in the Dark"), Lindsay comes smashing back with "Dexter by Design". I'm very happy with the results; there are only a few small things to worry about, rather than the whole work.

The book opens with our favorite blood-spatter analyst and psychopath on his honeymoon in Paris with new wife Rita. Dexter is not overly impressed by all things French, certainly not like his wife. However, all is not lost; Rita drags him to an art exhibit that proves to be most enlightening. The final work is the most daring, and Dexter is duly impressed - Jennifer's Leg is a series of video pieces that appear to show a young woman cutting off bits of her own leg with a chainsaw. Rita and several of the other gallery patrons are horrified, refusing to believe that the video vignettes are "real" - only Dexter knows how incredible they are, having done some of the same work himself.

Back in Miami, he continues to hone his "human" disguise, playing the good husband and now-step-father to Cody and Astor. Of course, his new kids have a dark side of their own, one that Dexter intends to nurture just as his foster-father, Harry, did with him. Dexter's Dark Passenger is back and looking for new playmates, and it appears that one just hit town. Bodies are being found in very public places, bodies with their insides taken out and displays of items left insides, bodies that are proving to be very bad business for the Miami Tourism Board. This is a case where the old adage about any publicity being good publicity is just not true. Dexter's Dark Passenger is intrigued by these bodies, but doesn't really have much to say to its host, not until Dexter's sister Deborah has been knifed while attempting to question a suspect.

After Debs is rushed to the hospital, Alex Doncevic is arrested and brought in for questioning, only to be released soon after. He returns with a very high-profile lawyer, claiming that he will sue Miami P.D. for false arrest; Dexter is brought in to the captain's office and asked again about the incident. Events play out quickly, and the chase is on. But just who is Dexter chasing? Doncevic, or someone else? And what about the email Dex receives, the one with a link to a video on YouTube, a video clip that shows someone that looks very much like Dexter from behind, doing what Dexter does best? Is this a new playmate? Or is this the end of Dexter?

Most of the characters that have appeared in the previous books are back, such as Dexter's sister, Debs; her boyfriend, Kyle Chutsky (who may have CIA connections or something equally mysterious); fellow analyst Vince Masuoka (without all his dirty jokes this time); detective Angel Batista (but not nearly enough); and of course, Doakes, Dexter's nemesis on the force. Now, if you've only watched the series, be aware - there are some very big differences between the TV show and the books. Doakes is one of those very big differences, and if you follow both, you know what I'm talking about. If not, read the books because Doakes is so much more interesting in the books, especially after he's "modified".

The little things that I mentioned at the beginning of the review are just that - probably petty little things. Such as Cody and Astor. I get the beauty of Dexter having to instill some sort of "moral code" in them, just as Harry instilled in Dexter. But let us not forget - Harry did it to keep Dexter from just randomly killing people; Dexter wouldn't know "moral" if it came up and bit him in the butt. And while I do see shades of Dex in Cody, I just don't pick up the same thing in Astor. Her actions almost feel like a sibling jealously of Cody - if he can do it, I can do it - that sort of thing. I'm not entirely convinced that she's got the real killer instinct, nor do I think both children need to be little potential psychos. I also wonder about Dexter's blood slides, the ones he collects from his playmates. Now that he's a married man with a family, where exactly are those precious mementos? The book mentions something about his "office" and that Rita doesn't go in there - has he stashed them there? It just doesn't feel very safe to me; would you put something that important, private, and potentially damaging in a room that could be accessed by anyone in your house? It didn't state that his office was locked and he the only one in possession of a key. What if Rita gets a hankering to do some spring cleaning?

Just little picky things, I think, but still...

Overall, a much, much better entry than that third book, but not quite as good as the first two in the series. I do dearly love Dexter, though, and I can't wait to see what happens next.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"Quatrain" by Shraon Shinn

A few years ago, my good friend at Half Price Books sent me a little paperback called "Archangel" by the author Sharon Shinn. I was flummoxed as to why, since I had seen this same title several times in my years there at the store; the darn thing never seemed to sell. I certainly never felt the urge to read it, either, so I was just going to skip it. But the good friend insisted that I at least try it, saying it was a very, very good book, and not to be put off by the blah cover art, the list of characters on the inside, or the map of this strange world the author had created. Sigh. I finally gave in - and doggone it, she was right. That was a fabulous book, and I loved it so much that I read the other four books in the series. As you can guess, when I learned that Shinn had put out this work of novellas that re-visit some of her worlds, including Samaria from "Archangel", I couldn't wait to read it. I'm going to review the stories for you in the order I read them, rather than the order they appear in the book. Stick with me, and you'll see why...

I did what I almost always do and started with the shortest of the four (not that it's that much shorter, just a few pages, but this is a weird quirk I have - reading shortest to longest). "Gold" tells the tale of Crown Princess Zara, a young girl who is sent away from her father's castle to keep her safe from an impending war. She is sent to the kingdom of Alora while her brother is sent elsewhere; her parents know that it's better to split up the children in such a troubled time. She travels to Alora with Orlain, a good young man (not of noble birth, though) whom she has a crush on. Once in Alora, Zara must keep her wits about her; often humans visit the aliora only to stay forever with them, enchanted by the strange yet beautiful beings. Zara's mother has mixed her a month's worth of potions that she must drink every night so as not to fall under the aliora's spell. Does Zara do as she's told? Does she fall for the handsome aliora named Royven? Will she return to Castle Auburn when it's safe again? Sadly, there are no surprises here. In fact, this is by far the weakest story of the four, so much so that had this been my introduction to Shinn, I would have stopped right there and sent the book back. Thank goodness I knew better! However, I can say that I will not be looking for the "Summers at Castle Auburn", the book that introduced her readers to the aliora. I thought they were just too cliche - the uber-beautiful fae that can make you forget all your troubles (indeed, even your former life) and want to stay in their world forever. Barf.

Things picked up with "Blood", the second novella in the book. This is more like it - two clashing cultures, one patriarchal, the other matriarchal. A man and a woman from each culture meet and form a bond, not necessarily a romantic one, but a close one nevertheless. Kerk is a gulden man who lives with his step-mother, her husband, and their children. His own mother left Gold Mountain when Kerk was a child; his father remarried, then died. His step-mother made some wise moves so that Kerk wouldn't end up homeless, and it's obvious that she loves him, but he still longs to find his biological mother. His memories of her are faint, but he knows where she fled - the Lost City. It is there that he meets Jalciana, an indigo woman who has been helping the gulden women who flee their abusive husbands. Jalci is rich and privileged, and as an indigo, she has the power and the prestige. She offers to help Kerk find his mother, but tells him it won't be easy - the Lost City is called that for a reason. Women who have run their don't want to be found; their new lives are too precious to them. Kerk and Jalci form a bond, one that you'd love to see turn into a full-blown romance. Wisely, Shinn leaves us hanging on that count. And as she did in the Samaria books, neither culture is all-good or all-evil; she infuses each with the subtle nuances that keep from devolving into caricature.

"Flame" introduced me to the world of the Twelve Houses, and to Senneth, a mystic who can control fire. Not only can she create it, but she can also control it, including killing it. It's a very handy talent, letting her do things like warm the air around her so that she's never cold, bring a cup of tea up to temperature (something I'd love to be able to do), etc. But in this world, it's always dangerous to reveal your talents - mystics scare the common folk, often risking death from the villagers. Senneth is drawn into a more "normal" life by a well-meaning friend. She's given a nice dress, a haircut, and is thrown a small dinner party by said friend. There she meets a group of people from a nearby village, including Degarde, his sister Julia and her daughter Halie, as well as Albert and his wife Betony. When Albert starts discussing his difficult business dealings with the Lirrenfolk, Senneth offers him advice. Albert is so impressed he asks her to come along with him to "help", which she eventually (and very reluctantly) does. While visiting with Albert and her new "friends", small fires start in the village. Senneth puts them out, saving the town, but of course, at a price - there are those in the town that claim she is the one starting the blazes. Can she find the real culprit before she faces greater danger? A very solid if somewhat non-exciting story.

Finally, we come to the best, which is why I saved it for last, both in this review and in my reading order. I knew I wanted to wait to read about Samaria again, sort of draw out the anticipation, and I was right to do so. "Flight" was like visiting old friends - delightful. Salome lives and works on a farm, taking care of her almost-grown niece Sheba. She has a dull but good life. So she is none too happen to learn that angels have heard the pleas for a weather intervention (you'll have to read the series to understand - for now, just go with it); not only have they stopped the rain, they have decided to stay and attend a celebration dinner. Salome had her fill of angels when she was young, and these angels in particular make her dread the evening. She tries to stay in the kitchen as much as possible so as not to see any of them, but all her caution is for naught - she runs into the Archangel himself, Raphael, when she sneaks into the kitchen for a midnight snack. Salome warns Raphael away from Sheba, indeed, away from all the young girls at the farm; he just laughs. The angels do leave, which relieves Salome greatly, and she and her niece make plans to go with friends from the farm to a festival in nearby Laban. Unfortunately, there are angels there as well, including one that Salome knows very, very well from her past - Stephen. It's a bittersweet reunion, and there's trouble almost as soon as they reconnect; Sheba goes missing. Salome knows exactly where she is, and she must ask Stephen for help in rescuing her. This is Shinn at her best, and I fell back into the arms of the angels with a great gladness. In fact, I want to go back and read the books again, try to find the first time that Salome is introduced, because I'm almost certain that I've read about her before. Not from her first-person narrative, but through the eyes of another character, I'm sure. What a wonderful way to end this book - I knew there was a reason I saved it for last! (sort of like dessert...)

Overall, this is a solid offering of Shinn's work, all but the story "Gold", which you could easily skip over. The other three are enough to make me want to read the books that started them, or re-read them, as the case may be.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Uncle Stevie says...

We just got the newest edition of Entertainment Weekly here at the library yesterday afternoon, and it include Stephen King's "Best Books of 2009". I love end-of-year lists, and of course, I also love Uncle Stevie, so I was curious as to what would make his best-of list. I was familiar with most of the titles (in fact, hubby dearest has read one of them, #10), but what really surprised me was his #1 pick. I'd already read it! And not because he picked it! I won't tell you what it was - that would ruin the surprise. And you can't find the answer in this blog anywhere either. I just checked and it turns out it was one of the books that I did not review.

Yes, I'm a slacker. I don't review all the books I read. So sue me!

What I really wanted to share with you, dear readers, is Uncle Stevie's recommendation for an upcoming novel, one that he says will just absolutely blow us away. The book is called "The Passage" and it will be released June 8, 2010. King is calling it an "epic vampire novel", saying it's "your basic don't-miss reading experience". Hmmm..... I do love me a good vampire book. I'll have to keep my eyes out for it, try to make sure we get copies for the library. I just hope that it doesn't turn out to be like "The Historian"; I wanted to read this one so badly, and when I got it, I just could not get into it. Found it boring, boring, boring. However, the Bookbabe's dad just read it, and he says to stick with it, that there's a lot of really interesting historical stuff, and yes, finally you get to the juicy vampire bits.

We'll see. I have a lot of books on my to-be-read pile right now!

Friday, December 11, 2009

"The Spy Who Haunted Me" by Simon R. Green

"Eddie Drood, at your service. For generations my family has been shedding some light on the forces of darkness, keeping humanity safe from the wicked, the nasty, and the generally not-nice inhuman predators who feed on people's fear and misery. No one kicks evil arse better than us Droods - especially yours truly. In fact, my arse-kicking skills have come to the attention of the legendary Alexander King, Indpendent Agent extraordinaire. The best of the best, King spent a lifetime working for anyone and everyone, doing anything and everything, for the right price. Now he's on his deathbed, and he's looking to bestow all of his priceless secrets and knowledge on a worthy successor. King has selected six of us for this potential honor. He's made it a contest, challenging us to solve five mysteries all around the world, figuring that along the way we'll all try to eliminate the competition, backstabbing one another until only one remains. My competitors include agents from the CIA, the Fae Court of Shadows Fall, even the Nightside. But I've got to win at all costs, because King holds the most important secret of all to the Droods: the identity of the traitor in our midst."

Green is back with his third Eddie Drood adventure, and it's a great one. As Eddie says, he's one of six contestants chosen by Alexander King to receive the grandest of all grand prizes: all the secrets that King has accumulated in his years of spying. Eddie's competitors are known to him, some more than others. There's the Blue Fairy, once a friend of Eddie's, dragged into the Hungry Gods war, and now persona non gratis among the Droods for stealing one of their golden torcs. Honey Lake is tall and beautiful, and she's CIA. Lethal Marmony from Kathmandu ("call me Katt") is just as beautiful as Honey, and just as deadly for other reasons. Peter King, industrial spy, is also Alexander King's grandson. And then there's the last contestant, the one I was happiest to see, Walker. Yes, that Walker - from the Nightside. WOW! I love it when an author has crossovers between series, and Green has had a bit of that before, but this was just fabulous. Walker explains later in the book why he's there and not John Taylor, the other most famous Nightside resident, and I have to say, it totally makes sense.

Once the field is set, the contestants are given teleportation bracelets and told they must solve five mysteries, ones that end up being fairly famous. Like, the Loch Ness monster, Roswell, etc. The resolutions are interesting, and yes, they start trying to kill each other off pretty quickly. (One of the nice things is Green's use of pop culture - there's a quick but brilliant reference to the movie Highlander.) The action is quick-paced, driving the story along. There isn't much new here as far as character development, unless you count Walker, who we've never really known much about to start with.

My only complaint with this work is Green's constant "I'm a Drood" line from Eddie. He does almost everything he does "because I'm a Drood", he tells his fellow spies, over and over again. After a while, it felt very cliche and even annoying, sort of like when your mother would tell you not to do something, and if you asked why, you got the pat Mom-ism "Because I said so!" It's an answer, but it's not, not really. There are a few sections where I'm also pretty sure that Green used the exact same descriptive paragraph, word for word, rather than come up with something new. Now, he's done that before, such as the descriptions of Hawk and Fisher in each of those books. However, it's not nearly as noticeable when you're talking about different volumes of a work, rather than in the same work farther along towards the back of the book. Just felt a bit like Green was getting lazy.

Overall, I have really enjoyed the Eddie Drood series. This book would also work well for fans of action-adventure yarns, spy thrillers, fantasy.... well, pretty much anyone that likes a good read!

Monday, December 7, 2009

"Ruby's Diary: Reflections of all I've Lost and Gained" by Ruby Gettinger

If you've been watching "Ruby" on The Style Network, most of this book will be very familiar to you. It's still worth reading, though, as it gives a bit more insight into the mind of someone struggling with weight.

Ruby Gettinger, for those not familiar with her or the show, has almost always been on the "larger" size. At her heaviest, she was over 700 pounds. It never kept her from going out and living her life, though; she just couldn't do a lot of things that most of us take for granted. She's always had a lot of friends and has even had a boyfriend (Denny) but she wanted more out of life. It took a doctor's visit to really wake her up - he told her that if she didn't start trying to lose the weight, she'd most likely be dead within a few years. She had high blood pressure, diabetes, and other assorted weight-related health problems. She decided she was seriously going to diet this time. She asked her friends to start filming her, mostly so they could somehow show people what the struggle is like. Along came someone who thought it would make a great reality show, and now they're starting the 3rd season on Style.

What I like about Ruby is that she IS real. Yes, she has a team of experts helping her on this journey, and yes, I'm sure a lot of it is being paid for by the good people at the network. But only Ruby can be the one to actually lose the weight, and as she has shown on the show and here in the book, that doesn't always happen. There are days were she doesn't want to eat the prepared meals (she talks about how much she misses her spaghetti!) nor does she want to exercise. She tries to "be good" when she's on a trip, and she thinks she's done a good job, too. However, when she weighs in next, she learns that she's gained a couple pounds. When she goes over what she ate, the nutritionist points out all the "wrong" foods she's eaten, and it's not what you think. Calories DO count, people, regardless of where they come from!

Some of the prejudice she's encountered during her life are just awful. Sadly, I sometimes saw myself in that bunch of idiots - I think we all feel that way towards someone at some point in our life. Maybe we do it to feel better about ourselves, or maybe we're just going along with what is accepted behavior (slamming fat people is still OK with most, no matter whether it really is or not). The book made me realize that I need to really stop and get to know someone before I judge them. Trust me, not easy to do. And also trust me when I say that if I find reason to think you're an idiot, I'll go ahead and think it! LOL!

Ruby is truly a wonderful person, and someone I would like to meet someday. She's been doing a lot of touring with this book and with the show, so who knows? Anyone who's ever gone on a diet and "blown it", anyone who's struggled to lose weight, anyone really could pick up this book and appreciate Ruby's story.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Best Used Book Store EVER!

I have been taken to task by my good friend in Indy. She was very disappointed that while I did say to visit your local used book store when searching for Xmas gifts, I did not give a "shout-out" on behalf of Half Price Books. This is where she currently works, and yes, dear readers, it is the used book store where I worked so many years ago, the very same one that I've referred to from time to time here on this blog. In the spirit of Christmas, and really - because I still do believe that they are THE best used book store in the USA - here's all you'd ever need to know about HPB!
They currently have over 100 store locations scattered in the following states: Arizona, California, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. They buy and sell used materials, basically anything printed or recorded, as well as remainder items. They have it all - hardbacks, paperbacks, children's books, CDs, DVDs, calendars, note cards, little stocking stuffers, etc. We even had some 8-track tapes when I worked there, if you can imagine that! They also have some great cloth bags for sale (or at least, I sure hope they do!).
Please visit their website,, for more information regarding specific store locations and hours, as well as everything else about the company. If you're lucky enough to live in a state with a store (or stores), go check them out - you won't be sorry! And no, I have not been paid anything for this endorsement, just in case you're wondering. I do it out of the goodness of my heart, and out of a genuine fondness for my 4 1/2 years with the company. And if Boots should be reading this, PLEASE OPEN A STORE NEAR CHARLOTTE, NC! It's all I want for Christmas...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"Grave Secret" by Charlaine Harris

"Lightning-struck sleuth Harper Connelly and her stepbrother Tolliver take a break from looking for the dead to visit the two little girls they both think of as sisters. But, as always happens when they travel to Texas, memories of their horrible childhood resurface... To make matters worse, Tolliver learns from his older brother that their father is out of jail and trying to reestablish contract with other family members. Tolliver wants nothing to do with the man - but he may not have a choice in the matters. Soon, family secrets ensnare them both, as Harper finally discovers what happened to her missing sister, Cameron, so many years before. And what she finds out will change her world forever..."

Sadly, this appears to be the fourth and final installment in Harris's Harper Connelly series. I'm not entirely sure why she's giving up on Harper so quickly, and if the reviewer response on Amazon is any indication, they're just as stumped as I am. Sure, Harper's never reached the fan base that Sookie Stackhouse has (especially with "Trueblood" on HBO) but still. Oh well.

Harper and her stepbrother/now lover Tolliver are contacted by Lizzie Joyce, a Texas rancher, to discover how her father died. It was reported as a heart attack but Lizzie has always had her doubts. Unfortunately for her, her sister, and her brother, Harper reveals things about several people buried on the family plot, including how the old man's nurse/caretaker died. Surprise - she died of an infection after giving birth! No one knew she was pregnant, and Lizzie immediately dismisses Harper as a fake. Until she really thinks about it, at which time she contacts Harper and asks her for a few more details, saying that if there really is another Joyce heir, she's got to track him/her down and welcome them into the family.

Of course you just know that this revelation isn't good news for everyone, and before long, Tolliver is shot through their hotel room window (much as Harper was in a previous book, making one wonder why they stand in front of such windows!) There are several plot twists before the mystery is solved, and this time the solution felt a little bit too convenient. The majority of the book, though, concentrates on Harper and Tolliver's relatives, namely their younger half-sisters, the aunt and uncle raising them, Tolliver's brother Mark and his father, and Harper's long-lost sister Cameron. All the mysteries that have plagued Harper since the beginning of this series are solved, some of them neatly, some not so much. There's also the reaction of those same family members to the news that Harper and Tolliver are "together" - and yes, it's basically an "ick" factor, which should be expected. Granted, they are not related in any way by blood, but still, you live with someone long enough, calling them your brother the whole time, and it's going to be hard for people to get past that. In fact, Harper herself keeps referring to Tolliver as her brother, which I personally found icky, even though I was rooting for them to be together!

Overall, it's not the strongest entry in the series, but it was still good. And while it certainly does seem to be the last book, Harris has wisely left it open enough that she could pick it up again later. I really hope she does; I've liked Harper a lot, and I've very much enjoyed how Harris is able to write about someone struggling with a lot of the same things I do, namely how do I keep a roof over my head, the bills paid, handle things like health insurance, etc. Hmmm... maybe that's why it hasn't caught on as well as Sookie - too much reality? Well, that and no vampires!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Ho Ho Hmmmm...........

After browsing Amazon and Barnes & Nobles websites, I gotta tell y'all - there just aren't a lot of new releases this month. Sigh. Then again, most publishers have already rolled out the big names in hopes of customers buying them up for Christmas presents. And they've definitely gotten all the "holiday" titles out to the shelves, too, hardly waiting for us to come out of our turkey-day stupors. Which leaves us with very little else...

"Divine Misdemeanors" by Laurell K. Hamilton. The 8th book in LKH's Meredith Gentry series. Looks like the woman is still pregnant with twins, still refusing the throne, etc. I've never read any of these, mostly because my sister warned me that they had a LOT of sex in them, and I tend to prefer books with plots.

"Alone" by Loren D. Estleman. This is his 2nd Valentino mystery, and according to my husband, the guy can write. Better yet, Hubster recommends picking up some of his westerns, which are very historically accurate. If you like that sort of thing.

"U is for Undertow" by Sue Grafton. Yep, she's almost made it through the alphabet with her heroine, Kinsey Millhone. I saw a review and they asked Grafton what she planned to do after "Z" comes out; she said she was going to take some time off and take a long nap. Can't say as I blame her! I am sort of bummed about the title - I was hoping for something along the lines of underhanded, or maybe undertaker. Then again, it's not my series, is it?

"The Paris Vendetta" by Steve Berry. Still haven't read anything by him, but have one very good patron who just thinks he's the best thing since sliced bread. His recurring character is Cotton Malone, and this is the fifth book in the series.

"Burning Shadows" by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. This is either the 21st or 22nd book starring vampire St. Germain (it's not very clear on the B&N site). I read the first book in the series, and I've never picked up another one. It wasn't bad, just a bit dry for my taste. I will say this - it's obvious that CQY does a lot of research to the historical feel of the book. She probably would appeal to someone who remembers Anne Rice's style in the first few vampire books.

"KISS Kompendium" by Gene Simmons. OMG, this thing looks so cool! This would be well worth the investment for anyone who was or still is in the KISS army - in other words, an awesome Xmas gift. I really, really wanted us to get a copy for our library system, until I saw the price tag. Sorry, but at a list price of $75, we just can't afford it, both to buy it, and to keep it from walking out the door. Still, it's nice to dream!

"Deeper than the Dead" by Tami Hoag. I think it's pretty safe to say that Hoag is finished with her romance career; this title is all about a serial killer, probably the least romantic topic I can think of. What I'm more interested in is the Publishers' Weekly review that says there are some "unresolved plot threads" - is this what lead to the delay of almost a year in its release? We first had news of its release LAST YEAR, and it's just now coming out. I'll have to see what dirt I can dig up, no pun intended.

"Witch & Wizard" by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet. It's another month, so it's another Patterson book. This is another Young Adult offering, and I'll let you in on a little secret - Charbonnet wrote the book. The idea is usually "provided" by Patterson, with him "helping" out the other writer, and of course, having the final say-so before it's published. I guess it's not the worst thing in the world because he's at least giving the other author credit on the front of the book. And it has led to the authors getting their own book deals, such as Andrew Gross (who some of our patrons have said is better than JP!) But it's still aggravating to have a new "Patterson" book every bleeping month!

"Days of Gold" by Jude Deveraux. Popular women's fiction author puts out yet another book. Look for it to be a bestseller.

"Sizzle" by Julie Garwood. See the above title - ditto!

"Shades of Grey" by Jasper Fforde. Fforde wrote the immensely popular Thursday Next series (OK, popular among those of us that can appreciate the literary humor involved!). He's moving on to a book about a world ruled by the Colortacracy, a group determined to keep colors in line and/or denied to the people. Looks to be a bit like the movie "Pleasantville", but expect a lot more of the very intelligent humor we expect from Fforde. Can't wait!

"Too Much Money" by Dominic Dunne. Hmmm.... two dead authors this month, proving yet again that it's no impediment to one's career. Murder, mystery, and - yes - rich people.

"Nanny Returns" by Emma McLaughlin. As popular as "The Nanny Diaries" was, I'm surprised that the publisher chose to release this sequel this month. Feels like they're burying it, which isn't a good sign. Then again, maybe they wanted a month with very little competition.

"Steve McQueen, King of Cool: Tales of a Lurid Life" by Darwin Porter. A good-looking bio about one of the most famous/infamous "manly" men of Hollywood.

And that's about it, dear readers. Like I said, not a whole lot here, is there? Well, in any case, please hit the stores and buy books for your friends and loved ones. Since this is not what one would call a flush year for most, definitely stalk the aisles of your local used book store - you're sure to find some hidden gems, and you can save yourself a lot of money. Have a wonderful holiday, and yes, there will be reviews, I promise! Just have to get my loose ends tied up at work, then I can focus on y'all!