Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"Dismantled" by Jennifer McMahon

Ten years ago, a group of art students found themselves "recruited" by Suz Pierce. They became known as the Compassionate Dismantlers, believing that "to understand the nature of a thing, it must be taken apart". They were a type of eco-warrior, and their base was a cabin in the woods of Vermont. At first, things were exciting. The four Dismantlers - Suz, the leader; Henry DeForge; Tess Kahle; and Winnie (so named by Suz, from the bland Val) - took things apart. They challenged each other and the world, leaving behind their mark "DISMANTLEMENT = FREEDOM" everywhere. But by the end of the summer, a tragedy occurs, leaving them devastated. And leaving them with a huge secret, one that must never be spoken of again...

Forward to now, when two of the group receive mysterious postcards. One commits suicide, prompting the other to track down the remaining members to find out who has contacted them. Does someone know what happened all those years ago? Are they trying to blackmail the members? Or are they out for revenge?

It's actually a pretty good book, albeit a bit on the lengthy side. I know - I've read works longer than 432 pages - but this one drug a bit at times. I think it could have benefited from some editing. Overall, I was impressed, as this is my first novel by McMahon. There was a lot going on (thus the very brief and mysterious plot description - just too worried I'll give something away!); most of worked, some didn't. My biggest problem with the book is that most of the characters are not overly likable. Perhaps the most intriguing character is young 9-year-old Emma, who has a friend, Mel, that reminded much of Suz. Emma is very withdrawn, counts in multiples of 9, swims like a fish, and has an imaginary friend, Danner, who may or may not be real. Lots going on with Miss Emma, and that made me want the story to revolve more around her and less around the Dismantlers. Oh well, can't have everything.

I will definitely pick up another work by Jennifer McMahon, and lucky me, her two previous books are also in our library system!

Monday, February 22, 2010

An apology to Greg Critser

I just found the strangest email in my inbox. It was from a Greg Critser in reference to Eternity Soup, something about how I was sick of that sort of thing. I was puzzled; what was this Eternity Soup? Why had I made this person so angry? A quick side trip to Amazon was a huge help; Critser wrote the book "Eternity Soup". And, oh yes, now it's coming back to me - I had put it on my February release entry, and I had said that I was sick of books coming out talking about staying young, that I wanted us to go back to a time where aging gracefully was more important.

Well, I must have hit quite the nerve with Mr. Critser. He was upset that I sort of panned his work without reading it, and that he felt I should not write anything else for 40 years. Wow. I've never had anyone get upset with something I've written before. I scrolled through the description of his book again, then went to read a few customer reviews. Hmm... the book may not be what I thought it was. So I replied back to the author that I was sorry, etc, and that I would put his book on my "to-be-read" pile, couldn't promise when I'd read it, but I would definitely do a review when I got to it.

Only to have an auto-reply come back saying that I wasn't marked as an "OK" email and I'd gone to straight to Spam. Sigh. There was a link for me to answer a few questions, get myself moved to the "good" list - but it didn't work. Well, darn. What to do?

Go back to the original source of his distress - my blog. So this is for you, Greg Critser. I am sorry that I was in a bit of a snit when I wrote about your book coming out this month. After doing a bit more digging, I think it is something that I want to read, and lucky me, my library system is getting a copy. So yes, I will read "Eternity Soup" - with an open mind - and I will be posting a review after I've finished it. Sadly, it probably won't soon, but it will happen.

And to all you readers out there who stop by this blog from time to time, who read my reviews, who scroll through the release info, etc, please keep this in mind. I am just one person who chooses to use this format to voice her opinions. Take them with a grain of salt. And know that I do make mistakes from time to time.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

"Fierce Style: How to be your most fabulous self" by Christian Siriano

"Fierce!" The battle cry of one small gay design hopeful, the battle cry of none other than Christian Siriano, the one word that made me cringe by the end of that season of Project Runway. Everything was "Fierce!" where Christian was concerned, and he used that word often enough that, to me, it lost it's power.

Or so I thought.

Enter the fashion wunderkind with this book. I picked it up because I knew who he was (and no, I was not rooting for him to win - I was and still am a Chris March fan!) and thought it would be interesting to see if he'd mellowed out any since PR. Uh, no. The book reads very much like I imagine an afternoon with Christian would go, which means I had to read in small doses. A little goes a long way, people!

However, the book does have some good tips, and not just where fashion is concerned. One of the big things I took away from this was the idea of being "fierce", that it doesn't matter what kind of fashion you're rockin' or how well your hair/makeup look - what you feel inside is what counts. And that's the sort of message I can get behind. He makes the point more than once that you need to feel fierce inside because that's what people really notice; the outfit may be strictly couture and pricey, but if you're feeling drab and cheap, that's what people will see. YOU wear the outfit, not the other way around.

He has good tips for several different body styles, including curvy women, but nothing for the short gal, which I found rather odd. I mean, c'mon - he's super-short for a guy! Surely he's heard us vertically-challenged girls complain about finding looks that are flattering. Sigh. I did like that he admitted he's made several fashion blunders himself, making him human like the rest of us. YES! And while I like some of his designs, there's no way that I would buy anything from his lines; I checked them out online, and there's nothing there for me. Not my style, and definitely not my price!

Overall, not a bad little book, mostly due to the fact that it's not all about fashion. There's a dictionary of Christian's "slang" in the back, which works and doesn't. He says in the intro that the first time a word is introduced, there will be an asterisk after it (hot pink, of course!), which means it's in the dictionary. OK, cool idea. But the asterisk shows up after every word he's got defined every time it appears, which became very distracting after a while. This is not really a skip-around-while-reading book, so I doubt people will get to the word in chapter 5 and not know what it means.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

"Heat Wave" by Richard Castle

If you watch "Castle" on ABC, well, this book is just like reading one of the episodes of that show. It's supposed to be written by the character Nathan Fillion plays, Rick Castle, and the heroine of the book is Nikki Heat, based on the TV character of Detective Kate Beckett. Confused yet?

The book is actually pretty good. It follows Nikki Heat as she's teamed up with journalist Jameson Rook (just like the TV characters, which makes sense in a way). The murder mystery needing to be solved concerns a New York real estate tycoon who falls to his death. Who did it - the young wife? The business partner? The art appraiser? The thieves? And what about the attraction between Nikki and Jameson? Will they give in to temptation, or keep their relationship strictly business?

Perhaps the biggest mystery is the author himself. Wisely, the publisher has a picture of Nathan Fillion on the back cover, since he is Rick Castle (well, he is on TV). There's a lot of buzz on Amazon about the identity of the "real" author, with such names as James Patterson, Max Allan Collins, and even Stephen King popping up. However, I think I'll go with the poster who said he/she is convinced that it's the shows creator, Andrew Marlowe, that penned "Heat Wave". Lots of evidence points to Marlowe, such as the "author's acknowledgements", where the real-life partner of Marlowe is thanked. Plus, as the poster points out, the person who wrote the book knew just about every little detail of the TV show, and who better than the shows creator? Maybe someday we'll know, maybe not.

Overall, not a bad little mystery. It could easily stand on its own if you're not a fan of the TV show "Castle", but it could entice you to start watching said show! And if you love "Castle", well, I can't see you not liking this book.

"Last Words" by George Carlin with Tony Hendra

There are comedians - and then there's George Carlin. I loved his style of comedy, which wasn't really so much about making people laugh but seemed more about making them think. I was very sad when he died of a heart attack, thinking of all the great things he'd never got to say. Until now...

Except that this is not more of his comedy. It's about his life, his beginnings both as a person and as a comedian. And wow - there's so much to tell about his life! I learned a great deal about Carlin the man from this book, what he calls his "sortabiography" (he thought the idea of an "autobiography" was very arrogant). He doesn't cover everything, but he does cover a lot, including his Catholic upbringing, his parents (a lot about his mother!), his brother, his wife, etc.

Then there's his work. I had no idea that he'd been several of the old variety shows, that he'd been part of a comedy team at one point, that he'd done the "usual shtick" kind of work. By the time I started watching him, he'd already found his true voice and was doing the sort of thinking stuff that I loved. I thought the chapters were he worked on what he really wanted to be doing on stage were fascinating - I never knew that he'd gone through anything like that. (I have very found memories of seeing him in the 80s - got a T-shirt that said "Simon Says... go f**k yourself!")

There are also chapters about the dark times in his life, mostly dealing with his addictions. He's very honest about his coke habit, and even admits that he doesn't remember a lot of things. One great story is about his infamous hosting of the very first Saturday Night Live, how they had to break down the door to get him on stage, and how he was sitting in front of a mound of blow. He says he has no recollection of that incident, but given how much coke he was doing at the time, it's entirely possible it happened just as legend has it. He really has no idea. There are the marital problems due to his habits, and his wife's, as well as their working thru them. There's a whole section on his wife's battle with cancer, and how George stood by her the whole time. They were married until she died. Luckily, he found love again late in life, the sort he says that's love-at-first-sight. Makes me happy.

If you're a Carlin fan, this book is definitely for you. If you like comedy and want to read about someone who was in the business for years, this book is for you. If you like biographies, well, this book is probably for you, too. Great read, and thanks to Tony Hendra for allowing us one last time with George.

"Kitty's House of Horrors" by Carrie Vaughn

The seventh book in Vaughn's popular Kitty Norville series places our favorite werewolf smack in the middle of nowhere - on purpose. Kitty is approached by some Hollywood producers regarding their idea of a reality show, one with supernatural beings as the participants. Think of a "Big Brother" house full of weres, vampires, psychics, etc, that sort of thing. At first Kitty is torn; it sounds cheesy as hell, but being the sort of girl she is (one who tends to gravitate towards the publicity), she sees the appeal. She tells the guys she'll think about it, at which point they tell her that there are already a few others on board, two of them being her friends from previous adventures. When she contacts those friends to find out why they said yes, she learns that the slimy Hollywood moguls told them that she had already signed on to the project. Yeah, gotta love producers, huh?

After discussing things with her husband, Ben, Kitty decides to go for it, even though it means being away from her mate for 2 weeks. Not to mention that their good friend, Cormac, is up for parole (long story short - he killed a human, with good reason, was found guilty of the crime and sentenced to four years in prison). Kitty hates the idea of leaving Ben, but he assures her he can handle things there regarding their pack and Cormac's hearing. Kitty packs her bags and heads into the wilds of Montana.

Upon arriving at the house, she meets her other "cast" mates: Tina, her friend from the Paranormal PI TV show; psychic Jeffrey; Odysseus Grant, Vegas magician and real-life owner of the box that makes things disappear into another dimension; Ariel, Priestess of the Night, also a fellow radio-talk-show host; Jason, a professional wrestler and werewolf; Lee, an Alaskan state senator and were-seal; the vampire Anastasia, her companion Gemma, and their blood source, Dorian; and finally, writer and skeptic Conrad. The Hollywood guys are there, too, trying to stir things up a bit, asking some pointed questions, etc, all in the name of good TV. Kitty is a bit bored at first, but curious as to what the show is really going for, especially after she's told not to Change right away - even though it would shut up Conrad, who has an explanation for everything. During the first few days, it's obvious that Tina and Jeffrey are attracted to each other. And there's some sort of animosity between Anastasia and Odysseus, too.

Then the you-know-what hits the fan. People are killed, and it becomes a matter of survival. Who's behind the deaths and why I'll leave out, because that's basically the rest of the book. Suffice to say that there's action a-plenty, and sadly, we lose some of the good ones. This book is setting up a much bigger picture here, something Anastasia refers to as the "Long Game" - and it looks like Kitty is going to be a part of it, whether she wants to or not.

I flew thru this book! Good writing and I loved seeing some of the people from the past, especially Odysseus - a true man of mystery (and very classy, to boot). There were a few detractions. I missed the interaction of Kitty and Ben, but the plot dictated their separation. I also found it a bit unrealistic that Kitty was the only person in the house not to be injured; smacked of the super-heroine. Granted, Anastasia didn't suffer much damage -but she still got hurt. I was excited to see Cormac reappear, though - I love his relationship with Kitty, and it will be even more interesting now that she and Ben are married. Can't wait for the next book!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Amazon vs McMillan: Who really won?

Most of you probably haven't heard about the epic battle brewing between Amazon and McMillan over the pricing of e-books. I certainly hadn't, not until I read a vicious rant by my sister about yet another "#Amazonfail" - the bloggers term for whatever stupid blunder Amazon has made that results in their customers being pissed off. The previous "fail" was a deranking of most gay and lesbian authors, an issue that had her so hot she completely deleted her Wishlist and said she'd never trust them again. (It didn't last, so I'm interested to see what happens this time).

The issue this time, as I said, is evidently e-book pricing. Amazon sells the majority of titles for their Kindle at $9.99, including the McMillan works. Well, McMillan wants to up that to $14.99, something to do with the pricing structure that will go into play with the new iPad. Amazon wasn't happy about the increase, the powers went to the negotiating table, nothing was resolved, and just a little over a week ago, late Friday afternoon/early Friday evening, McMillan's works were no longer available thru Amazon. ALL of McMillan's works, not just the e-books. Sure, you could still get stuff thru third-party offerings, but nothing brand new from Amazon itself, the stuff that counts for Free Super Saver Shipping, etc. Once people like my sister (and a whole butt-load of authors) realized that Amazon was at it again, the posts started flying, some on Amazon's side (but not many) and most lining up with McMillan.

So who really won the battle? I would say absolutely no one in this case. Look, I personally think that both parties made some bone-headed decisions here, and the ones who really got hurt were the authors; they depend on those sales to put food on the table and roofs over their very creative heads. McMillan, as the publisher, had every right to ask for more money for their products, but c'mon - these are not the economic times to be jacking up your prices by a full 50%. I understand they want everything the same across the board, but this just doesn't seem like the time for big price increases. Amazon didn't help themselves any by yanking everything off the cyber shelves; it smacked of a "I'm taking my toys and going home!" reaction. Now, I haven't read every single post, so maybe there's a clause somewhere that states Amazon can't sell any McMillan products during this sort of negotiation. I doubt it - but it's possible. I do see where Amazon is coming from with the price, keep it reasonable and the customers will buy more, etc. But Amazon failed to notify its customers that all this was going on, unlike McMillan, and when the sh*t hit the fan, Amazon told their Kindle users a little bit, completely ignoring their physical book customers. Not good for business,kids!

I think Amazon should have said "Sure, we'll be glad to charge $14.99 for your e-books", done exactly that - and then told the customers to contact the McMillan when the complaints started rolling in about the price going up so much, and pretty much overnight. Free market, baby, with the customer setting the price. Basic supply and demand - if no one is willing to pay $15 for an e-book, McMillan will have to ask for them to be lowered again due to poor sales. And since this is not the first time Amazon has been cursed by its customers for pulling a fast one on late on a Friday, may I make this suggestion: Next time, FULL DISCLOSURE ON YOUR "BOOKS HOME PAGE. And as early as possible - don't wait until the last minute to say something, and don't say it only to people using the blasted Kindles.

Should be interesting to see what happens next regarding this case....

Monday, February 1, 2010

February releases

Dear readers, a short month and a Bookbabe with little free time on her hands means you will be getting one entry this time regarding new releases. Just going to hit some of the highlights and move on; I still have to finalize all my programs for our Summer Reading program by the end of this month, not to mention attend the dreaded Staff Development Day (think an 8-hour long meeting from which there is no escape). And our weather has been very wintry here lately, which means I've been getting some reading done - and I know I'm far behind on the book reviews. Don't want to leave you hanging out there! Without further ado, here's what to look for in the month of Love...

"Secret Whispers" by V. C. Andrews. In case you've been living in the state of denial, Cleo Virginia Andrews is DEAD. The books published under her name have been written by Andrew Neiderman; she wrote the infamous "Flowers in the Attic" and three other complete novels in that series before dying at the age of 63. Neiderman finished "Garden of Shadows", the final book in the series, and he's been writing the things ever since. If you've never read any of the books, let me help you out here - they are almost all exactly the same. Or at least the five in the series I was given years ago were. Girl who comes from a rough life meets a guy who has a much better life and falls in love, only for girl to learn that they are somehow related by blood. Yep - incest as romance! It's not as horrible as it sounds, as there are often cases of mistaken identity and such, and if there is a blood connection, it's usually several times removed. Still, my opinion is if you've read one, you've read them all.

"The Postmistress" by Sarah Blake. A debut novel that's getting a lot of buzz. Set during WWII, the book contains the stories of three very different women, one being Iris James, the postmistress of Franklin, a small town on Cape Cod. She does something very out of the ordinary - she does not deliver a letter - an act that may have far-reaching consequences. Sounds like it could be a smash hit, especially if book clubs start getting their hands on it.

"Horn" by Joe Hill. It's been a while since "Heart-Shaped Box" appeared, and I've been anxious to see what Uncle Stevie's kid does next. Don't be fooled - Joe has his own style and voice, and while it's reminiscent of his very famous father, he's a fabulous writer in his own right. This time he tells us a tale of a man who awakes one morning to find horns on his head. Not only does he have these new body parts, he has some new talents as well - the ability to know the deepest, darkest thoughts of anyone he touches. Can't wait for this one!

"Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard" by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. These are the brothers that brought us "Made to Stick", a great little book about marketing/advertising. This time they turn their attention personal change, whether it be breaking a bad habit or seeking to motivate employees. Hopefully this one will be a good read, too.

"Big Girl" by Danielle Steel. Ok, I'll admit it - I have never, ever read anything by Steel. They're just not my type of book. And it's gotten to the point where I seriously doubt she's writing all these things herself; she publishes approximately one title every 3 months. I have visions of monkeys at typewriters....

"Split Image" by Robert B. Parker. The ninth and probably last book in Parker's Jesse Stone series. We might still have one or two more published this year, but unfortunately, Parker has left the building. My husband is still upset at not knowing how Spenser will end.

"Flirt" by Laurell K. Hamilton. I left Anita Blake a long time ago, mostly because LKH wandered off into porn-land. I hear she might be finding her way back to plot-land, but it's too late for me.

"Black Magic Sanction" by Kim Harrison. Book 8 in Harrison's awesome Rachel Morgan series. This is one of those writers that started out a bit shaky, but she was good enough that I stuck with her. I'm so glad I did - the world of Rachel and the Hollows just keeps getting better and better. And in case you missed it, all the titles play off Clint Eastwood movies (yeah, I didn't pick up on it right away, either!)

"Pleasure of a Dark Prince" by Kresley Cole. A guilty pleasure of mine, I discovered Cole's Immortals After Dark series a few years back. Good lusty fun with vamps, weres and Valkyries galore - oh my! And usually a pretty rockin' story to tie it all together, too.