Thursday, November 28, 2013

Johannes Cabal the Detective by Jonathan L. Howard

Jonathan Howard’s sly humor, cunning intelligence, and wacky sense of the absurd are on display in this riotously clever tale of murder and international intrigue. In [the first book of the series],  Cabal beat the Devil at his own game and was reunited with his long-lost soul. This new madcap adventure tale catches up with the indefatigable sociopath and necromancer in a remote corner of the world and on the run from the local government.
               The fact that he stole a precious and mysterious book that had been under lock and key iin a university library has not endeared him to the militaristic aristocrats who run the backward country he finds himself in. “Borrowing” (ahem) the identity of a minor bureaucrat, Cabal flees on the Princess Hortense, a passenger aeroship that is leaving the country. The deception seems perfect, and Cabal looks forward to a quiet trip and a clean escape. He is to be disappointed.
               On the first night in the air, a fellow passenger throws himself to his death, or at least that is how it appears. To Cabal’s pathologically tidy mind, however, there are a few bothersome inconsistencies, and he begins to investigate out of curiosity. His minor efforts at detective work result in a vicious attempt on his own life—and then the gloves come off.
               Cabal and a fellow passenger—the feisty and beautiful (not to mention equally determined) Leonie Barrow—reluctantly team up to discover the murderer. Before they are done, there will be more deaths. There will be narrow escapes involving sword fighting and newfangled flying machines. There will be massive destruction. There will be hilarity, not to mention resurrected dead…
A pretty decent entry in the series. It's been quite a while since I read the original (Johannes Cabal the Necromancer), so it was nice that the author reminded me of a few things from that work. I had completely forgotten who Leonie was (she was in the first book), and even with the backstory provided again, it didn't occur to me very often that it would be ironic for these two to team up.
I don't really know why the word "hilarity" is used in the book blurb, though. Some of the story is mildly humorous, but I don't really remember laughing much. Hm. Guess humor, like a lot of things, is in the mind of the beholder. Also, this is considered to be in the steampunk genre, which seems sort of odd to me. Then again, I haven't read a lot of steampunk, so maybe I'm not really schooled on what that classification is.
Overall, not too bad. Took a while to get through it, but not for lack of wanting to read. Just been busy and haven't had a lot of time to read.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Love Him or Leave Him, But Don't Get Stuck with the Tab by Loni Love


That's the message of this fresh and funny relationship book by beloved actress-comedian Loni Love. Full of down-to-earth advice on love, sex, and dating, Loni delivers answers to women's most pressing relationship questions along with plenty of hilarious been-there-done-that tales - from hooking up to breaking up to everything in between.

As Loni says, "You can love him or you can leave him, but the day a man starts taking advantage of you is when you need to remember that putting yourself first is the most important step in finding love. That's the foundation for all the advice I give, because it's a message so many women need to hear, over and over, like multiple orgasms." Sure you can act like a lady and think like a man, or admit that he's just not that into you, but the path to lasting love is looking out for number one and treating yourself like the great catch you are.

If you're in a great relationship, Loni gives tips on keeping it strong. (Love him.) If you're having problems that seem insurmountable, she tells you how to extricate yourself from difficult situations. (Leave him.) But no matter what, don't let yourself get bullied, cheated on, or taken advantage of (aka Stuck with the Tab). Every woman deserves a healthy, satisfying, exciting love life, so what are you waiting for? Loni Love has all the answers.

This was a First Reads win from Goodreads, one of the handful I've won (think I'm up to five titles now over, um, maybe as many years?) I'm a bit behind on getting in my review of it, but I figure, better late than never.

I love Loni Love. I've seen her on several of the I Love the 80s/90s/00s shows on VH1, plus I think I've caught her on a few other shows of that ilk. Of course, you never get all of her on those shows, as she's not allowed to swear. Her book? It's her rules, so the potty mouth comes out. But it's all good, as it's spot-on advice told it a no-nonsense way. It's like having your best girlfriend over to set you straight, the one who will always tell you if your outfit makes you look fat - that sort of friend.

I really did like this book. I'm not sure how many library patrons I could recommend it to, due to the language. I mean, it's not that raunchy, but enough that I know quite a few people who would look at me a lot differently when they brought it back. I still say it's funny, and honestly, it's very good advice. Simple, really - put yourself first. Don't let a man - any man - treat you like dirt. Don't let him cheat on you, don't let him put you down, don't let him bully you, and don't you dare let him hit you. Who can't get behind that sort of advice? Have respect for yourself, and make sure the men in your life, romantic or otherwise, do too.

This is her first book, and I hope it's not her last. I'll be looking for another one from her - soon, I hope!

The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison

Penelope "Lo" Marin has always loved to collect beautiful things. But in the year since her brother's death, Lo's hoarding has blossomed into a full-blown, potentially dangerous, obsession. When she discovers a beautiful antique butterfly figurine and recognizes it as having been stolen from the home of a recently murdered girl known only as Sapphire, Lo becomes fixated. As she attempts to piece together the mysterious "butterfly clues", with the unlikely help of a street artist named Flynt, Lo quickly finds herself caught up in a seedy, violent underworld - a world much closer to home than she ever imagined.

Kate Ellison's debut novel is a tour de force thriller about a girl whose obsessive-compulsive collecting leads her down a dangerous path of secrets, mystery, and murder - where every clue she uncovers could be her last.

I first saw this title about a year ago during a webinar. I'd sort of forgotten about the book until I was weeding our Young Adult section in the library. I picked it up, read the description, and decided this would be my next read for our teen book club. I worried that I had yet again picked a dud as far as my teens were concerned, as they've explained that they don't like "realistic" fiction - to them, it's boring.

I don't know if any of them will ever pick this book up, but I highly recommended it to them, as it is anything but boring. OK, actually, my co-worker had to read my review, as I was on vacation during our last meeting. But still...I really like this! I thought the author did a wonderful job giving the reader a full picture of what Lo's daily life was like. I was really fascinated by her rituals - all the numbers, the tap tap tap, banana she MUST perform before she does certain things, etc. I think the best way it's described in the book was that doing these things made Lo "safe" - at least, in her mind. We as the reader know they don't really do anything, and at times, we can tell that Lo knows they don't either...but she can't seem to convince her brain of that.

Lo's parents, in my humble opinion, weren't very well fleshed out. We know her dad works a lot, and that her mom is still grieving the death of Oren, Lo's brother. Even though the book was told from Lo's point of view, I still think the author could have given us a bit better understanding of the parents. Also, at times I found it hard to believe that they wouldn't realize Lo had skipped out to do her sleuthing. But since they were rather preoccupied with their own dramas, maybe it's not all that crazy that they didn't notice her absence.

I found Flynt to be a very interesting character indeed, and I really liked him. I thought it was interesting that he seemed to be the only character that picked up on Lo's OCD behaviors and didn't judge her for them. In fact, he seemed to try to help her feel safer by recognizing that she needed things in threes (a "good" number). I wondered if the author was trying to say that it takes one non-traditional person to make another non-traditional person feel OK.

The mystery was decent, although I had pretty much figured out the whodunit early on. It was still exciting to watch Lo get closer and closer to figuring it out. The author, Kate Ellison, has a new book out titled Notes from Ghost Town, and yes, there's a copy in our library system. And yes, I think I'll be checking that one out, too.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason

There is very little peace for a man with a body buried in his backyard.

But it could always be worse...

More than a year ago, mild-mannered Jason Getty killed a man he wished he'd never met. Then he planted the problem a little too close to home. But just as he's learning to live with the undeniable reality of what he's done, police unearth two more bodies on his property - neither of which is the one Jason buried.

Jason races to stay ahead of the consequences of his crime, and while chaos reigns on his lawn, his sanity unravels, snagged on the agendas of a colorful cast of strangers. A jilted woman searches for her lost fiancé, a fringe dweller runs from a past that's quickly gaining on him, and a couple of earnest local detectives piece clues together with the help of a volunteer police dog - all in the shadow of a dead man who had it coming. As the action unfolds, each character discovers that knowing more than one side of the story doesn't necessarily rule out a deadly margin of error.

Jamie Mason's irrepressible debut is a macabre, darkly humorous tale with the thoughtful beauty of a literary novel, the tense pacing of a thriller, and a clever twist of suspense.

I had flagged this as something my husband might like to read. I keep a running list for him, since he reads so quickly - seems like he's always running out of books, and authors to boot. This wasn't blurbed by any of his usual writers, but it sure sounded good. And it was a debut, which meant I wouldn't have to hunt around for the first few books in a series.

Long story short, he was very impressed. Enough so that I decided to pick this up, too. Wow. There's really not much I can say except that this is a page-turner! I loved the way the author was able to weave what seemed like three or four very disparate story lines into one big, tangled, incestuous ball of yarn. I was caught off guard more than once by a twist, something that I love to see happen.

I can't say much more, as I don't want to give anything away. What did surprise me is that I ended up liking Jason; he's not really what I think of as a "great" character in the beginning of this book. In fact, I was sort of thinking that maybe he deserved everything it looked like he was going to get. Leave it to Mason to have me rooting for him by the last few pages - that's the mark of a truly good author.

And as this is a debut, I'm hoping there will be many more works by Ms. Mason in the coming years. I know I'll be keeping an eye out for her name, and you should too. Definitely going to recommend this to fans of mystery, suspense, and even Gothic horror.

Simon's Cat in Kitten Chaos


OK, I'm a huge fan of Simon's Cat, the uber-cute strip drawn by Simon Tofield. It's a cute comic no matter what; it's priceless if you're slave to one of the feline persuasion.

Simon's cat is like any other cat, believe the world revolves around him. His every need should come first. Imagine his utter shock and horror when his slave (a cartoon version of the real Simon) brings home a box that someone left out in the rain, a box that has something in it - A KITTEN.

You know what this means, don't you? Yep, Simon's cat is no longer #1 in the household. He's been upstaged by a cute little kitten, one who acts much like Simon's cat. Hmm...

It's another winner by Tofield. I didn't think the cartoon could possibly get any better, and yet, he proves me wrong. It won't take you long to fall in love with the kitten, and watching Simon's cat deal with this young whippersnapper is precious.

Highly recommend this one!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

This Is Not the Story You Think It Is... A season of unlikely happiness by Laura Munson

"I don't love you anymore. I'm not sure I ever did."
His words came at me like a speeding fist, like a sucker punch, yet somehow in that moment I was able to duck. And once I recovered and composed myself, I managed to say, "I don't buy it." Because I didn't He drew back in surprise. Apparently he'd expected me to burst into tears, to rage at him, to threaten him with a custody battle. Or beg him to change his mind...I really wanted to fight. To rage. To cry. But I didn't. Instead, a shroud of calm enveloped me, and repeated those words:
"I don't buy it."
You see, I'd recently committed to a non-negotiable understanding with myself. I'd committed to "The End of Suffering." I'd...decided to take responsibility for my own happiness. And I mean all of it.

When Laura Munson's essay appeared in the "Modern Love" column of The New York Times, it created a firestorm. Readers sent it to their friends, therapists gave it to their patients, pastors read it to their congregations. People everywhere were struck by Munson's wisdom. But how was she able to implement this strategy? How was she able to commit herself to an "End of Suffering" at such a critical time?

At forty years old, certain parts of Munson's life were going exactly as planned - she had two wonderful children, a husband she adored, a cherished home. Yet she and her husband, the once golden couple, weren't looking so golden anymore. While she had come to peace with her life, her husband had not.

Poignant, wise, and often exceedingly funny, [this book] recounts Munson's journey. Shaken to her core after the death of her beloved father, and having sought guidance and solace in stacks of books and hours of therapy, she finally realized that she had to stop basing her happiness on things outside her control. And once she had this key piece of wisdom, she realized she could withstand almost anything.

Well, like they say, don't just a book by it's cover. Or, in this case, it's blurb. I've had this sucker on a to-be-read list since we picked it up for our library system over two years ago, and I was finally at a point to pick it up, give it a shot.

I made it to page 104 and quit.

I'd read Happier At Home by Gretchen Rubin, and this book sounded like it might be in the same vein. I really liked the whole "you are responsible for your happiness and no one else" attitude that was covered in the blurb. But once I got started, I realized this really wasn't the story I thought it was. And neither was the author this "wise" person that the blurb made her out to be.

She says in the very beginning to flip to the back and check out the list of her books that she's reading/refers to in her happiness/finding herself endeavor. There's something like 36 titles! I mean, I'm a bibliophile, don't get me wrong - but I usually have a max of four books at my bedside. And often those are what I think of as "fun" titles, in that I'm reading for my entertainment - not for enlightenment.

The husband's revelation comes pretty quickly, followed by chapter after chapter of her waiting for him to contact her after he leaves their marital home. She talks about their childhoods, how they met, how lucky they have been to have good, stable, middle-income families, how they went the bohemian route somewhat once they got to college, how they finally decided to make it legal, blah blah blah. There's a whole chapter about her father, and while I am completely sympathetic to her desire to please her father, being a bit of a daddy's girl myself, a whole chapter of paternal love was a bit much.

Then there's her incessant droning on about how she could have taken a job at some point after they started having kids and such, but she's an author and she needed her time to write. Never mind that she'd never been published. Never mind that she has many, many "good" rejection letters, the kind that tell her how wonderful her work is but it's "just not right" for that publisher, etc. I mean, I get wanting to do what you love, but when the big economic crash hit us all - when you're own economic crash hits - you've got to look at reality. Rejection letters don't pay bills and won't buy groceries.

The last chapter I managed to slog through was entitled "The Italy Cure". Evidently, Munson had done an academic year abroad, in Italy of course, while in college. And according to her, it was the best year of her life; the food, the culture, the love of the family that hosted her, etc. Well, not too long before her husband tells her he doesn't love her anymore, she listens to a therapist who tells her that instead of whining about how going to Italy would make her feel better, she should just GO. And she does just that, originally offering it up as a family vacation. Hubby declines, and the son isn't keen on the idea, so it becomes a mother-daughter trip. I could live with that, even though I'm still thinking to myself that it isn't a good idea, given that their finances aren't good at that moment. But when she talks about taking this trip so she can "recontact her soul" - I was done.

I don't know if the author and her husband make it or not. At this point, I don't care. What I had hoped would be an interesting look at marriage, and the idea of happiness and such, turned out to be nothing more than a bunch of pretentious twaddle. Maybe that's due to my upbringing, what I bring to the book. I don't know. But I do know that I'm firmly in the one-star or less camp that I've found on some review sites. And that I'm not inclined to look for any more works by Ms. Munson.