Sunday, May 30, 2010

"The Enchantment Emporium" by Tanya Huff

Alysha "Allie" Gale has just lost her position as a research assistant at a museum. She's moved home with her extended family (mostly aunts and female cousins) when she gets a letter from her grandmother, a letter that says if Allie is reading it, then her grandmother is dead. As such, she is passing on her junk shop, The Enchantment Emporium, to Allie; she tells her that it is an important fixture in the community and that the people there need her.

Naturally, Allie doesn't want to believe that something has happened to her grandmother. And there are signs that all is not as it seems; for one thing, where's the body? For another, Allie comes from a family of witches, and none of them have felt the passing of her grandmother. So what gives? Being at loose ends, Allie decides to make the journey west to Calgary and investigate.

When she arrives at the shop, she immediately finds out what "community" her gran was talking about, and it's not the human one. Joe, a rather tall leprechaun, shows up and tells Allie that her gran was a friend to the Fey and others, acting as a sort of post office and supply store. Not long after arriving, Allie notices a huge shadow doing a fly-by during the wee hours of the morning; not a good sign to have dragons in town. Even worse? There's a sorcerer in Calgary as well, one who her gran had to know about but didn't turn in to her relatives. Yes, the witches (or "aunties" as they're referred to) do not take kindly to sorcerers, favoring a scorched-earth policy.

Allie decides to keep her aunties out of matters as well, relying on Joe, her cousin Charlie, her ex-love (who happens to be decidedly gay), and a few others to help her solve the mystery. What really happened to Gran? (general consensus favors death by dragon, as in eaten by one) What keeps pushing Charlie out of the Woods? (a great way to travel, the metaphysical Woods, but only if you can go where you intend to go) What is the great evil that the sorcerer keeps talking about, the one that only he can handle? (it's totally not what you think) Will Allie go to the dark side and keep time with the sorcerer's yummy assistant, Graham? (um, sort of....)

I really, really liked this book, even though there's a lot that's not entirely explained. Huff leaves a lot to the reader's imagination (or deciphering, as the case may be). And some of the actions of the Gale family will not appeal to certain readers. Let's just say they give a whole new meaning to the phrase "one big happy family". But those are piddly details, and certainly not enough to keep me from recommending this work. In fact, I liked it so much I'm hoping that Huff has plans for this to be a series, a trilogy at the very least. There's enough left open-ended that she certainly could write about Allie and her family again. I sure hope so!

"Bite Me: A Love Story" by Christopher Moore

We first met Tommy Flood and his lady-vampire-love Jody in "Bloodsucking Fiends", published way back in the 80's. It holds a soft spot in my heart, being the very first book I ever picked up by Moore, and indeed, when trying to get people to give him a shot, I have loaned out my very well-loved trade paperback copy (purchased at Half Price Books, no less, long before I worked there). Just a few years ago, Moore finally published a sequel, "You Suck", which was OK but not nearly as good as the first book. I was happy to revisit my favorite couple and all their friends, but it just felt like it was lacking something.

Perhaps that something was Abby Normal, Emergency Backup Mistress of the Greater Bay Area Night.

OK, Abby was in "You Suck", but I don't remember her being such an integral character as she is in this third and final chapter of this love story. As we return to San Francisco, our now-vamp-Flood and his lady love have been bronzed into statues by Abby and her boyfriend, the "manga-haired love monkey" Foo Dog; Abby couldn't stand the idea of the "Countess Jody" and Flood breaking up (Foo Dog had found a serum to reverse the vampirism - Tommy was ready to go human, Jody was not). They are now trying to find Chet, a rather large cat who has been turned to the ways of the fang by the ancient vampire that turned Jody, in an attempt to bring Chet back into the feline fold and prevent a hostile takeover of the Bay Area by bloodsucking cats.

There's Abby's friend Jared, the Emperor of San Francisco and "the men", Bummer and Lazarus, the only police duo on the force to know that vampires are real, the Animals from the local Safeway grocery chain (who still love to smoke weed and have late-late-night sessions of frozen-turkey bowling), and a strange Asian man with a sword who wears fluorescent orange socks. The story skips around from character to character, so your point of view is always changing. It can be a bit tricky at times, but it also gives you a much clearer picture of what's going on. The only first-person narrative is from Abby, and I gotta tell ya, I loved those chapters! Abby is just a complete riot, and she made me laugh so hard I could have snorted milk out my nose - if I'd drank any, that is.

There's a plot here, albeit a thin one, but I don't think Moore was going for an "in-depth" story here. "Bite Me" is the final chapter in the trilogy that has been C. Thomas Flood and Jody the vampire's love story, and he's brought it around full-circle. It works, and I loved it. Enough said.

Monday, May 24, 2010

"The Seventh Witch" by Shirley Damsgaard

The seventh book in the Ophelia and Abby mysteries is possibly the luckiest entry in the series - an entertaining read full of great characters and a romance that finally appears to be heading in the right direction.

Ophelia Jensen, her adopted daughter Tink, and her grandmother Abby have returned to Abby's childhood home for the centennial birthday of Great-Aunt Mary, the self-appointed matriarch of the clan. Great-Aunt Mary never married, nor did her sister, Aunt Dot. Instead they have spent their lives in a small mountain town taking care of their friends and neighbors, all but the Doran family; there's bad blood between the families.
We are introduced to a few more family members, too. We meet Ophelia's mother, the one the "magic" skipped, as well as her father, a history buff who likes digging up old ruins and relics. There's also her cousin Lydia, a healer, as well as another aunt, Elsie (who hasn't spoken to her sister Mary in almost 50 years). And wonder of wonders, who should show up in this backwoods area but Ethan, the DEA agent of Ophelia's dreams. Yes, that's where the romance comes in, and I was very pleased to read it.

Then there are the Dorans, most specifically, the granddaughter, who seems to have "inherited" the family ability to practice magic. Sharon is the epitome of a she-devil, and she's got the townsfolk scared to cross her. She's everything that a practicing witch should not be. She's willing to cast love spells even though it's unethical (as Ophelia points out, a love spell is influencing someone's free will and that's a big no-no) as well as spells to seek revenge on those she feels have wronged her. Oh, and as it turns out, her family has been manufacturing illegal drugs, too (the specifics are never mentioned, but if I had to guess, probably meth).

Not long after arriving in the mountains, strange and scary things start to happen to Abby. Ophelia is worried because Abby seems unwell, not to mention hiding something from her. And the more the librarian asks around, the more she's convinced that something very wrong is going on in the town, and that Sharon Doran is behind it. But is it magic? Or is it something much more lethal?

I really enjoyed this book and I have to say, I think this series just keeps getting better. There's not as much actual magic in this entry as there has been in some of the others, which was a bit disappointing, but I don't think it really detracted from the book. I really enjoyed the family dynamics this time, especially the parallels between some of the women. Most of all, I loved getting to know more about Abby's parents, Annie and Robert. It's always been obvious that Abby had a great mother, but this is our chance to really learn more about her. And it was also nice to watch Ophelia come more into her own as a mother, something that her mother notices as well.

The Ophelia and Abby mysteries are wonderful little tea cozy-type books that just happen to have witches for main characters. Nothing is too graphic, there's little to no profanity, and there's clean romance. An all-around thumbs up from the Bookbabe!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

"Band Fags!" by Frank Anthony Polito

Jack Paterno's seventh-grade year starts out well; he meets Brad Dayton, the boy who will become his best friend for the remainder of their time in the Hazel Park school system. It's 1982 and life is good - Jack has an Atari 5200, a Beta VCR (which he uses religiously to tape episodes of Days of Our Lives), and a decent family life, even if he does have to share his room with his kid brother (in a bunk bed, no less). Jack has a lot of friends at school, too, mostly girls, but they're not girlfriends, if you know what I mean. Although he does have crushes on several girls, and even "goes with" a few of them, always to be left broken-hearted in the end.

As the friendship between Jack and Brad grows, so does the tension. Brad is sure he's like that and doesn't see anything wrong with being gay (the author wisely uses the "g" word very sparingly, which makes sense in this context - saying it gives it more meaning). Jack is most likely like that but refuses to admit it, and by the time they reach their Senior Year, Jack even goes so far as to drop out of band in an attempt to make himself into one of the "cool" kids. He lands the position of editor of the school paper, as well as working on the Yearbook, two things that definitely have him hanging out with a "better" crowd. But at what price? Can Jack really be happy denying who he really is? And without his fellow Band Fags?

I know, it doesn't sound like much. And in some ways, it's not. This is basically like reading the diary of a young boy from 7th grade through graduation, although it is written in novel form, first person perspective. I did like Jack, as well as a lot of his friends, and indeed I knew a few guys like Jack - very popular with the girls, but not necessarily having actual "girlfriends". I was a little disappointed that this book wasn't a bit more, hmmm.... serious, I guess, as the whole sexuality issue is a very serious thing for teens. And I can remember what it was like growing up in a small Midwestern town in the 80's myself - not a good place to be if you had gender issues. There are a few serious moments, but it felt like Polito was holding back on us, the reader, afraid to go too far for fear of losing us. There's a lot of high-school humor, and there are tons of 80's references (I loved that each chapter opened with lyrics from a popular song at the time, and even identified the band/singer!). I have to admit to feeling a bit nostalgic at times.

My main complaint is that there's not much here for previous band kids. I know, the title refers more to Jack's sexuality and less to his actual time with the school band, but that's what attracted me to the book. I was one of the "band fags" at my school, playing the alto saxophone all through junior high and high school. I was hoping to hear about band trips, especially all the shenanigans on the buses (wow, the stories I could tell!), the overnight trips, etc. Sadly, there's a few references to some marching band contests but that's about it. There could have been lots of potential for drama there!

Overall, it was an entertaining read, but I wasn't in love with it. As it turns out, there's a sort of companion piece, "Drama Queers!"; the story this time revolves around Brad, who wants nothing more than to be a famous actor when he grows up. The storyline runs parallel to Jack's, just from Brad's view this time. It might be interesting to pick up, but it's not something that I feel I must read.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

"The Cowboy: Wild Ride/Cowboy in Paradise/Saddle Sore/Rodeo Man" by P. J. Mellor, Nelissa Donovan, Vonna Harper, and Nikki Alton

Every once in a while you get a donation that just throws you for a loop; this was exactly that sort of book. Someone had dropped off two bags of various mass market paperbacks and trade paperbacks, most of them romances, along with a few Christian fiction and I think one non-fiction book - and this. I thought at first that it was just another romance until I turned to read the description on the back. About 3/4 of the way down the blurb, there's a box that says something along the lines of "CAUTION - EXTREMELY HOT! Sexually explicit material inside".

Oh my. Then I realized if I'd just looked at the publisher (Aphrodisia), I would have known right from the get-go that this was erotica. Yeah, something we do not carry in my library system, and something we also don't sell at our annual book sale (just like any X-rated DVDs, although I'm not entirely sure any one's ever turned in one of those!) I set the book aside trying to decide what to do with it, then after talking to my good friend Wendy of Half Price Books, I realized I knew exactly what to do - send it to her! They've always had a good section of erotica for purchase, and the book is in good shape for an older title. And I have to admit, the cover art is certainly eye-catching!

Well, after the book sat there for a few days on my shelf at home, I have to admit that curiosity got the better of me. Plus I was looking for something to read before I went to sleep, so I didn't want to pick up anything too cerebral. I haven't been overly impressed with the erotica I've tried in the past, and I figured this wouldn't be any different. I was right, to an extent, but I was also wrong.

There's not much sense trying to describe each story because they're all basically the same: a cowboy meets a girl (or fellow cowgirl, as the case may be) and the instant sparks between them lead to sexual encounters. There's no build-up to any sort of romance here - it's pretty much "wham, bam, thank you ma'am" territory. Except that the first three stories all have more of a plot than I had anticipated, and they all could have easily been mere romance stories if the sex had been toned down a bit. Perhaps this is because the authors are all women, but I really haven't encountered that before, the "romance" angle. The last story was what I'm more familiar with, pretty much nothing but explicit sex (to the point that I found myself skipping over a lot of text) and an ending that could go either way.

The writing is competent but I never found myself very involved with any of the characters. As for the "hotness" of the book, I guess it's hot. Maybe I'm just one of those people that doesn't "get" erotica, but I find a tastefully, well-written sex scene that still leaves a little something to the imagination a whole lot "hotter". Maybe it's the fact that the authors have to use the more graphic language rather than the usual literary euphemisms, but I just don't really care for my sex to be that.... hmmm.... clinical? If you do enjoy erotica, this might not be a bad book to track down. I do like the cover, though, so I'll give them brownie points for that!

Friday, May 14, 2010

"Eternity Soup: Inside the Quest to End Aging" by Greg Critser

First off, I hope Mr. Critser sees that yes, I have read his book, the very same one that I had posted about when it was first coming out, the one that caused a bit of a kerfluffle when he read that post and said I needed to learn how to write. That book. After apologies on both sides, I promised I would read it - and I keep my promises.

The book is not what I had thought it would be when I first read the description and wrote that now infamous post. It's actually a very interesting look at the lengths some are willing to go in order to slow down or even stop the aging process. The author has a dog in the fight, so to speak, as he's had a concussion and now suffers from a "form of accelerated brain aging"; he'd like to slow the process as much as possible. And since reading the book, my husband and I have a bit of an interest as well: at the ripe "old" age of 45, we've just learned that he will most likely be having a total hip replacement within the next month. Quite shocking to us, I can tell you that.

The book begins with the author talking to his parents about the subject of aging; they inform him that they are on a hormone treatment administered by a "longevity doctor". It gets him to thinking about the new and different ways that people are trying to fight the aging process - the existing aging process, I should say. Most are looking to extend their natural life spans while keeping themselves as healthy as possible. There are new lines of thinking about aging, and it would seem that most are now wanting to treat it as a disease, rather than a natural process. There's some good scientific data to back up a few of these new theories, although they don't always prove to hold true with us mere mortals. (I loved the way Critser kept quoting one of the scientists who works in this field, one who doesn't believe everything can be equated to humans because, as he points out several times, the findings were "on mice!")

So how do you keep yourself young? Well, you can join the CR crowd (Caloric Restriction) and eat very, very little. This is supposed to keep your cells busy on repairs, too busy to age normally and break down. And it does appear to work - "on mice!" - but at what cost? As Critser points out, the CR people all tend to feel a bit cold, seem very mellow, and often complain about pain in the gluteus maximus, mostly because they have no glutes to sit on anymore. He's not overly impressed with the idea of CR, especially after meeting a very zealous group of CR fans whose leader espouses a lot of stuff that has absolutely no scientific basis.

Critser then heads to one of the afore-mentioned "longevity" doctors to discuss bio-identical hormones, made famous (or infamous) by Suzanne Somers. The idea here is to keep your body full of the hormones that you have when you are young, and the way to do this is by finding someone who can compound the bio-identicals for you. The problem here is money - you have to have it, because the typical medical insurance policy does not cover this sort of treatment. And these "treatments" are not cheap, as Critser finds out quickly. Once on his regimen, he feels a bit better, but there's not enough of an improvement to convince him that the money is worth it.

Well, what about building yourself new parts? That's another option being explored, "engineering" body parts from stem cells. Again, this has some good data behind it, and there is a real and true need for this sort of ability, as people die every day waiting for organ transplants. Sadly, I'm one of those people who has lost someone, an aunt; she needed a liver, did actually receive one, but started rejecting it within a week and passed away. My husband and I are both organ donors, but there's still the problem of rejection. By growing the new parts from stem cells, hopefully rejection would be a thing of the past. Again, the science is there, but the cost is prohibitive - for now.

Overall, I was impressed with the book, mostly because of the last chapter. In it, Critser is attending a class about longevity studies. The professor asks the students what the most difficult thing will be for people that will now be able to live over 100 years. Of course the students all throw out medical-type answers. The professor finally interrupts and tells them that the most difficult obstacle will be loneliness; that as one ages so successfully, you'll leave behind those near and dear that are not able to keep up. Indeed, Critser talks about one such soul, a man who lived well over 100 years; the theory as to why (he wasn't a total fitness fanatic by any means) is that this man and his wife always had people around them, young people living with them in their house, relatives stopping by, neighbors coming over for dinner, etc. They had a community to support them emotionally. This makes perfect sense as it's one of the keystones to what are called "blue zones"; people who have a strong sense of community and family. In other words, people who aren't loners. (Might explain why women typically live longer than men, too - we tend to form close bonds with family and friends). There's a lot of interesting information to digest in "Eternity Soup", and I'm glad to have read it. I would now definitely recommend it as well. Thanks to Mr. Critser for jumping my case - I deserved it!

Monday, May 3, 2010

"Inked" by Karen Chance, Marjorie M. Liu, Yasmine Galenorn and Eileen Wilks

Four tales of paranormal romance and urban fantasy explore body art that is more than it seems - in a world of magic and mayhem that always leaves its mark....

New York Times bestselling author Karen Chance's "Skin Deep" tells the tale of a war mage in Las Vegas who stumbles across an ominous magical ward that appears as a dragon on her skin - and has a mind of its own...

When New York Times bestselling author Marjorie M. Liu's demon hunter Maxine Kiss investigates a grisly murder, she finds herself involved in a conspiracy dating back to World War II - and a secret mission that her grandmother may have carried out for the U. S. government, one that involves the mysterious "Armor of Roses."

In New York Times bestselling author Yasmine Galenorn's "Etched in Silver," a supernatural agent is on the trail of a sadistic serial killer when an unexpected - and dangerously seductive - ally comes to her aid, setting in motion a magical ritual that may end up binding them together, body and soul.

When the magically tattooed body of a man is found in a Northern California town, FBI Agent Lily Yu is drawn into the case. Trouble is, the victim wasn't human - and the killer isn't finished in USA Today bestselling author Eileen Wilks's "Human Nature."

Well, three outta four ain't bad.

As usual, Karen Chance totally delivers in her story. I love her stuff, the Cassie Palmer series and the Dorina Basarab books, and her short stories are great, too. This time we have war Mage Lia (who has had two previous short story appearances) searching for her boyfriend, werewolf Cyrus. He's been nabbed by the bad guys and his brother, the pack alpha, wants her to find him before he's killed. Trouble is there's a war being fought, so there's no chance of back-up, including the brother - he and Cyrus have pulled off a stunt making Cyrus a rogue wolf, and that means that Cyrus is lupus non gratis among his pack. The tattoos in this story are protective wards used by the mages, and Lia has recently acquired a new one that seems to have a mind of its own. Good writing, my only complaint being that Chance seems overly fond of interludes from the past (used quite often in the Cassie Palmer series, as she can shift thru time).

Marjorie M. Liu is also great as usual. It takes me a while to get into the Kiss books, as they're not as light and romantic as her Dirk & Steele series, but I always end up liking them. I think it's her boys - the demons that protect her by day as full-body tattoos. There's a genuine love there on both sides; she treats them like her children, and they treat her like their Mother. In this story Maxine goes back in time to help her grandmother. Always an interesting prospect, time travel, and this one has a great scene where not only do Maxine and her grandmother meet, but both sets of the boys meet, too.

The only mis-step for me is the story by Yasmine Galenorn. As much as I loved the story about the selkie in "Never After", I hated this tale about Camille D'Artigo and her mission to hunt down a rapist. She meets a dark stranger who offers her help, and of course they're attracted to each other, and there's a lot of talk of sex (in quite blunt terms, I might add). I thought Camille wasn't very sympathetic, and there was so much, I don't know, just foulness to this story, I kept wondering if it really was written by the same author as the selkie story. Or if maybe this was really the way she wrote, she had someone else write the selkie story. Either way, I wasn't impressed and I definitely won't be reading any books in the D'Artigo series.

I loved the story by Eileen Wilks, and it made me wonder why I stopped reading her work only two or three books into the series World of the Lupi. Human Lily Yu and her werewolf mate Rule Turner have a killer to track down, one who has used magic to incapacitate a werewolf long enough to kill him. The deceased was a friend of Rule's, and unless Lily can prove the foul play, the human police will write it off; werewolves barely have any rights in this world. Great story, great plot, great characters. Makes me want to go get the books I missed, and I think I will - just not right now. I still have a lot of books to get through in my to-be-read pile right now! But yes, I'm definitely planning on catching up with Wilks.

As I said in the beginning, three outta four ain't bad, especially if you like these authors.