Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sweetheart by Chelsea Cain

This is the sequel to Heart Sick which I just finished up not that long ago. I didn't think Heart Sick particularly lived up to the hype I read in reviews. However, Sweetheart was a pretty good book! Putting the two books together made me like the first one better. I see how the first one was more of setting up the series. The second book contained a bit more action and made me more interested.

Sweetheart starts a couple months after Heart Sick ends. Susan is living with her mother. After being attacked by the serial killer in the first book, she understandably, doesn't feel like being alone. She's about to break the story of the senator's affair with a fourteen year old girl (this story line also started in Heart Sick) and more dead bodies are showing up in the woods. Archie Sheridan calls her to help with the new bodies. In the midst of all this, they receive a call that Gretchen Lowell, the serial killer and the woman that Archie has an intense relationship with, has escaped from prison. Archie's family, Susan and her mother as well as the various supporting characters go into lockdown while they look for Gretchen. That's as much as I'll say, because I don't want to spoil the story for people. :-)

I felt this book was much more fast paced than the first one. It was more interesting to me overall and the characters behaved more as I thought they should (ie: Archie's wife's response toward the end of Sweetheart; Archie's reaction to Gretchen this time, etc.). And again, I think the two books together are quite good. It appears from the ending of this one that the door is open for more in this series from Chelsea Cain. And I think people will hope she continues on after reading Sweetheart. 4 to 4.5 stars from me.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

More Joan Hess, and Odds and Ends

I decided to transition from a kids' book (The Joy of Spooking) to literary fiction (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society) via mystery, so I chose #4 in Joan Hess's Claire Malloy series. Don't overthink it; it works for me. This entry, A Really Cute Corpse, finds Claire unwillingly overseeing the Miss Thurberfest pageant. After several attempts on the reigning Ms. Thurberfest's life, someone finally succeeds. This book is a bit longer in page count than the first three and it *felt* a bit longer. Since I like Claire and the supporting characters, I didn't mind this at all. The first perhaps half of the book is spent on pageant happenings and the political scene (a state senator is involved in the pageant; his aide once had a torrid affair with Cyndi) as Claire wonders if the accidents surrounding Cyndi are deliberate or not. Once Cyndi's out of the picture, Claire moves from suspect to suspect before she solves the puzzle. Objectively, I have to say that as a mystery, this is not Hess's best. However, I find the series so enjoyable that even a weak entry is a satisfying read. The pageant wasn't the most interesting setting and the suspects were a bit obvious. However, Hess's acerbic wit and deft descriptions were entertaining and funny as usual. If you're a cozy mystery fan looking for humor, pick up the first, Strangled Prose.

My review of #1 (Strangled Prose)
My reviews of #2 (The Murder at the Murder at the Mimosa Inn) and #3 (Dear Miss Demeanor)

I couldn't really find a good book for the plane (for maximum space efficiency, I only bring a mass market paperback in my bag), so I grabbed Sweet Talk by Susan Mallery since it wouldn't require that much attention and I would be able to put it down once I got home and got my review copies (which still have not arrived!). I enjoyed her Buchanans series as a diverting romance/women's fiction kind of series, but this, the first in a trilogy, was terrible. There are three sisters, and this one focuses on Claire, a famous concert pianist. Her sisters, Jesse and Nicole, hate Claire because she was sent away from home as a child prodigy to be spoiled and also because their mother died in a car accident while accompanying Claire). Jesse and Nicole co-own the family bakery and Nicole (who, by the way, is also not speaking to Jesse, whom she caught with her husband, and NOT playing Scrabble) has to have surgery. Jesse calls on Claire to come out and take care of Nicole. Nicole has no idea Jesse's done this and she's rude, ungrateful, and abusive to Claire when she arrives in the first of MANY scenes in which Nicole yells, throws fits, and blames her sister. Even when you think they've made progress, Nicole regresses into a spoiled, horrid child. Nicole has also whined about her sister to the extent that everyone she knows is hostile to Claire. One of those people is Wyatt, an I-am-through-with-relationships rude jerk. Mallery invokes that old friend to romance authors, magical sexual chemistry between people who hate each other, to get the relationship going. The best part of the book is Claire's developing relationship with Wyatt's deaf daughter. But it's not enough to recommend the book. It was obvious that Claire and Wyatt were going to end up together, but he was such a jerk, I was hoping they wouldn't. And her sisters were such jerks that the thin premise of "looking for family" didn't justify Claire's staying there. Claire herself was ridiculously naive, so she wasn't that likeable either. I only liked Amy, Wyatt's daughter. Presumably, in the subsequent books, we'll find out what happens with Nicole post-husband's-infidelity and with Jesse. But I really don't care.

Another book I attempted to read ages ago is A House Called Awful End by Philip Ardagh, book one in the Eddie Dickens Trilogy. I didn't get it. There were funny bits, but it was filled with tiresome one-liners so that plot advances happened at a glacial pace. My understanding is that it was intended for the Series of Unfortunate Events readers, but even the first of those (which, I must confess, I didn't like) was an improvement over this.

I just started The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society and I'm loving it. This was an Early Reviewer book on LibraryThing and was really the one I wanted most. But I didn't get it, so I preordered it on amazon. It just came today and I opened it the minute I'd finished my Hess book. I can't wait to post a review.

Another book giveaway!

This one sounds like it has potential. I loved books with puzzles in them when I was a kid (The Westing Game!), and it looks like they're making a comeback (Winston Breen, etc.). Student of Saga has a contest going regarding The Questory of Root Karbunkulus by Kamilla Reid, story of an orphan who becomes part of a competition to solve puzzles (and discovers her own powers along the way). Submit a question for the upcoming author interview with Kamilla Reid and not only can you get your question answered, you might win a copy of the book!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Oh, the joy!

I never win anything in random drawings, scratch-off tickets, or the like. Chance is *not* my friend. Yet I persist. I am glad that my unrealistic optimism hasn't been sapped because I entered to win a copy of PJ Bracegirdle's new novel, The Joy of Spooking: Fiendish Deeds, the first in a proposed trilogy. Presenting Lenore, a lovely book blog, offered three copies, and I actually won one!

The minute I saw the creepy, Tim Burton-reminiscent cover, I desperately wanted to read this book, and reading the first chapter only made it more appealing. Bracegirdle (an unlikely name if I ever heard one) can write very, very well, and he has an imagination that just won't quit. Chapter one opens with an Edgar Allen Poe quote, and it's clear that Bracegirdle is channeling classic horror writers (he references Poe, but Lovecraft also jumps to mind). Joy Wells lives in Spooking, the "hideous hill" surrounded by the newer, suburban, cookie-cutter town of Darlington. The Darlings, as they call themselves, fear Spooking and mock the kids who come down for school at Winsome Elementary. Joy, a devoted horror fan, loves Spooking and has nothing but scorn for the neat, boring lives of the Darling kids who torment her at school. She becomes convinced that her favorite horror writer, E. A. Peugeot, set his stories in and around Spooking, and decides that the Bog Monster in her favorite story must be real. Meanwhile, plans to drain the bog and replace it with a water park are afoot.

The brilliance of this story is in sharp, accurate prose (often infused with delightfully dry wit) and a masterful sense of creepiness (I actually got shivers at the very end). The characters are classic, but complex. Joy's attitude about Spooking is balanced by Bracegirdle's descriptions of the town's decrepitude, and by one Darling child who is shockingly nice to her. Phipps, the villain, is one of the best horror villains in kids' literature. Parallels to Joy's attitude and situation make it apparent that they would have been kindred spirits, but something in Phipps's past changed him, and I can't wait to read about his background in one of the future books. Phipps is a toadying, bitter assistant to the mayor with his own agenda for getting rid of Spooking, and an annoying, Dursley-ish (but smarter) boy cluelessly helps him. Joy tries desperately to save the bog through a variety of means, involving several memorable side characters.

The preservation of the bog brings in an environmental element, but it doesn't dominate the story. The balance between Spooking and Darlington is rich and complicated, and there is more than enough to fuel a trilogy. Joy is a delightful heroine with her stubborn Spooking pride and moments of self-awareness. I highly recommend this book, and I can't wait for Book Two next summer.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Wrapping Up

While *still* waiting for my ARCs to arrive, I picked up #7 in Kate Kingsbury's Manor House series, Fire When Ready. After the munitions factory explodes, with the owner and charwoman locked inside the office, Lady Elizabeth decides to investigate because the constables are calling it an accident. Since the owner (McNally) had approached Lady Elizabeth, concerned about threatening letter's he'd received, Lady Elizabeth thinks the coincidence is too much. She digs around to find the truth. Still waiting, I picked up #8, Wedding Rows. This one was a lot of fun, chock-full of red herrings and suspects. A wedding-guest at a village wedding is found stabbed with the cake-knife, and so many people wanted him dead that Lady Elizabeth has her work cut out for her. And the final entry in the series, #9, is An Unmentionable Murder. Featuring the hilarious subplot of ladies' knickers being stolen off the line (and this is indeed a crisis, as clothing is rationed and the ladies of the village have fewer and fewer unmentionables left...), there is an obligatory death, of Clyde Morgan, the rag-and-bone man who is not missed by anyone. Though the constables think it's suicide, his gun is in the wrong hand, and Lady Elizabeth investigates.

My review of #1 in the series, A Bicycle Built for Murder
My reviews of #2 (Death Is In The Air) and #3 (For Whom Death Tolls)
My review of #4 (Dig Deep For Murder)
My reviews of #5 (Paint by Murder) and #6 (Berried Alive)

Overall series review: These mysteries are set during WWII, in the village of Sitting Marsh. Lady Elizabeth is lady of the manor, and her tenants look to her to help solve their problems. The war effort has taken the town's constables, leaving George and SId to keep law and order in the village. The constables, dragged out of retirement, aren't inclined to expend too much effort in crime solving, so Lady Elizabeth steps up to conduct real investigations of the (appalling number of) murders in the village. Her servants are now limited to housekeeper Violet and doddering Martin the butler. Her authority in the village is regularly challenged by the jealous Rita Crumm and her Housewives Brigade (which keeps an eye out for German spies and stage protests when needed). And new employees Polly and Sadie are young enough to spend their time flirting with American GIs who are now billeted in the manor. Lady Elizabeth herself is torn between decorum and her feelings for an American major. Part soap opera, part murder mystery, this series is a lot of fun, and I felt it ended well. Note: 'Kate Kingsbury' is really romance writer Doreen Roberts, who has just started a new mystery series set in an Edwardian girls' school under the name Rebecca Kent. I have the first book, High Marks for Murder, as well as the entire Pennyfoot Hotel series by Kate Kingsbury, on my TBR pile.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Vacation Reading Part Two

The Sisters Grimm: Magic and Other Misdemeanors by Michael Buckley: I've gushed about this series before, and I'm about to do it again. In this, the fifth installment, the Red Queen has raised taxes to an outrageous extent, trying to force out all the human residents of Ferryport. The girls must help raise funds to pay the taxes while investigating their first solo case, a rash of magical thefts plaguing the town. Something I like about the series is its complexity. The Grimms are neither universally loved nor loathed by the town's Everafter residents. It's a complicated situation--the great-great-etc-grandfather both imprisoned them and protected them, so many Everafters are of two minds about the Grimms, with some fervent supporters and the Red Hand fervently opposed. I was glad I had book 6 on hand, because this one ends in a doozy of a cliffhanger.

The Sisters Grimm: Tales From the Hood by Michael Buckley: This is Book 6, and the most recent. I'm very bummed that I have to wait a year for more Sisters Grimm. Darn Buckley and his cliffhangers. In this installment, the Big Bad Wolf is put on trial in a kangaroo court for his past crimes. Granny and the girls (with the help of Puck) try to save him, first by hiring Robin Hood (sue the rich to give to the poor) and his Merry Litigators, then by seeking out a witness who can exonerate the Wolf. The trial has funny moments that are tempered by the desperation of the situation. It actually makes for an interesting examination of what to do when the justice system falls apart and no longer acts to protect citizens. I can't wait for book #7!

My reviews of Sisters Grimm books 3 & 4 (with links to my reviews of 1 &2)

Mr. Knightley's Diary by Amanda Grange: This is fluff reading for the Jane Austen fan, but what fun! Your favorite scenes are still here, but we learn more about Mr. Knightley's feelings as they develop. The "I love Emma, blah blah blah" gets a bit repetitive, but the scenes with Knightley and his brother and friends are quite enjoyable. I wouldn't call it required reading, but if you're a Jane Austen fan looking for a beach read, I think you've found it.

Captain Wentworth's Diary by Amanda Grange: The older I get, the more I like Persuasion. And, interestingly, I am more understanding of Anne's breaking the engagement, and her godmother's interference. Because Wentworth is young, and he spends his prize money as soon as he earns it, without regard to the future. Even if he is in love, he's not the surest prospect, and Austen shows us what happens when a woman marries imprudently for love (Mansfield Park-Fanny's mother). What would have happened to their love if Wentworth had failed to make his fortune? Anyway, enough of that. This was even better than Knightley's Diary, in my opinion, although I would have liked some diary entries from the eight years of separation. I really enjoyed the scenes with Wentworth and his brother, and with his friends. Another good beach read for Austen fans!

My review of Mr. Darcy's Diary

Gilding the Lady by Nicole Byrd: With nothing else at hand, I grabbed a Regency romance from my mom's shelf. I've never actually read one before, but this one sounded like it was My Fair Lady with a murder. I found it surprisingly good, although the My Fair Lady angle (one gentleman bets another that he can turn the heroine into a lady) is sort of dropped. Byrd seemed to be writing tongue-in-cheek, and it was actually rather funny. Compared to racier contemporary romance novels, all the furtive hand-kissing and gazing at ankles was actually refreshing, and the hero and heroine were kind of sweet. This would be another beach read for Jane Austen fans :)

How To Knit a Wild Bikini by Christie Ridgeway: This wasn't exactly what I was expecting, and I admit, I picked it up mostly for the knitting reference. It wasn't great. It takes place in Malibu, where Nikki moves to be personal chef to Jay, who runs a men's magazine and is called Hef, Jr. Nikki bonds with Jay's teenaged niece, Fern, over their respective abusive relationships and heads into the knitting shop to learn. More knitting and fewer "love" scenes would have made it more interesting. I frankly thought the subplot about Nikki pretending to be a lesbian was stupid, and the Fern subplot was dark for a fluff book, not to mention the suicide subplot. This is obviously the start of a series, because there were a lot of relationships that were shallow and poorly developed. I assume they'll be the focus of future books. Nora Roberts and Susan Mallery do the same thing with trilogies, but somehow manage to make their books stand alone better. Look elsewhere for a good beach read.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Stephanie over at The Written Word has reviewed The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton. This book sounds like a worthwhile read and has picked up quite a bit of buzz lately. She is sponsoring a giveaway of the book! Check it out if you're interested!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Cinderella by Barbara Ensor

The full title of this book is: Cinderella (as if you didn't already know the story). I thought this sounded like it might be fun. Maybe a retelling of the story or a modernized version (ala Ella Enchanted or something). I was quite disappointed. It really is just a retelling of the story with nothing much changed. It has several illustrations in black that reminded me of Rorschach tests. The only thing a little different was that Cinderella would write letters to her mother telling her about what was happening, even though, obviously her mother would never see the letters. I guess it was a cathartic thing for her to do.

The last chapter made it a bit unique because Ensor tacked on a "where are they now?" section after the "happily ever after". There is also one page at the very end that describes how the story differs when told in other countries. That was sort of interesting. This book was definitely a disappointment unless you're simply looking for a Cinderella story like you've always heard before. Don't even bother with it.

The Crossroads by Chris Grabenstein

This middle-grade book was a great treat to read! Somewhere on the internet I read, "if you're a fan of R. L. Stine, this is the book for you!" or something to that effect. Well, I have to say, I loved R. L. Stine (This was back before the Goosebumps books--Wrong Number, Hit and Run, Beach House) and Christopher Pike (Weekend, Fall into Darkness, Last Act) when I was in middle school. I couldn't get enough of their creepy books.

Although, the main character in The Crossroads was a bit younger at age 11 (most of the above books were about high school age kids if I remember correctly), this book did remind me a bit of Stein and Pike as I couldn't put it down. Crossroads starts with Zack moving to a small town in Connecticut with his father and new stepmother. While his father is very busy with work, Zack forms a bond with his stepmother, Judy and finds a young friend, Davy to help him while away the summer days. The town is full of characters from mean old Gerda Spratling who travels to a big tree every Monday morning to pay her respects to the long-dead love of her life, to the very literal librarian Mrs. Emerson. There are many ghost stories and local legends in this town. Judy and Zack soon find out that many of the stories are true. And get down to the bottom of understanding the fifty-year old legend that haunts the crossroad of County Road 13 and Connecticut State Highway 31. The book opens with:

Have you ever seen a face hidden in the bark of a tree and known that
the man trapped inside wanted to hurt you? That's what Zack Jennings had always wanted to ask his father.....

The tree and its spirit are central to this book and Grabenstein has interconnected many smaller stories to a larger one with many of the characters somehow linked through generations to one incident that happened fifty years earlier at the crossroads of those two roads. I was surprised when I checked the LibraryThing reviews for this book. It only received an 3.65 average out of 5 stars. There were only three reviews. The complaints claimed the book to be too dark for the reader age range (9-12) because so many people were killed and that the protagonist was a bit young for the story at age 11. I admit that maybe 9 or 10 is a bit young for the story depending on your child, but even Harry Potter was very dark and many people were killed in those books. So I think you just need to judge a book by your child's interests and whether they can handle the material.

I really enjoyed how the different characters' lives were all somehow linked to the accident 50 years earlier and brought them all together. And this was an incredibly fast read. I read it in a day and I would have read it in half a day if I didn't have a silly family picnic cutting into my reading time. ;-) I highly recommend this book (gave it 5 stars) and I look forward to more youth books from Grabenstein. If you're interested, he has also written several adult mysteries. You can find out more at the author's website:

I found this book first at Jen Robinson's Book Page and here are two other reviews: Lesa from Lesa's Book Critques and Melissa at Blogging for a Good Book.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Heart Sick by Chelsea Cain

I picked this book up as a Bargain Book because I received the sequel, Sweetheart, as an ARC. I was excited to find it in Bargain Books because I hate to read a series book out of order. I felt like this one was a mildly mediocre to decent book. I don't know, something about it didn't quite grip me the way, I thought it might.

Archie Sheridan, the main character, is a cop who became a victim of the serial killer (Gretchen Lowell) he tracked for nearly a decade. She lured him into her web and nearly didn't let him out alive. This book begins with Gretchen in jail, having turned herself in when she called 911 to save Archie's life. She agreed to a plea deal where she would give authorities information on the location of more of victims' bodies if she only got life in prison and if Archie was the only one she gave the information to. Gretchen and Archie have an interesting relationship. That's the background story. The current story involves a new serial killer Archie is tracking and newspaper writer Susan Ward is assigned to write a series of articles about Archie tracking this new killer. Cain weaves a story where the characters all end up linked in the end.

When I finished the book, I just thought, eh. It was okay. I think I was a little disappointed in the character who ended up being the most recent serial killer. I thought it might be different. But it did make sense for the story. This was Cain's debut novel and although, it was fairly well-written, I found the characters to be a little flat and maybe the writing to be a bit immature. It wasn't an awful book by any means. I checked out some customer reviews on the B&N website and everyone just raved about the book and thought it was great and wonderful. So I think I'm in the minority for this one not really hitting me. It's not a waste of time, it just wasn't one of the best books I've read this year. I'm hoping Cain will have grown a little bit as a writer when I read Sweetheart (arriving in stores, Sept. 2nd, 2008). In the sequel, Gretchen escapes from prison and Archie has to track her down again.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Breezy summer reading

Cockatiels at Seven is the latest Donna Andrews Meg Langslow mystery, and a lot of fun. This is one of my favorite series. The mysteries are enjoyable, the supporting cast entertaining, and Meg is constantly growing as a character. In this entry, a friend of Meg's drops off her two-year-old boy for "a little while," and when she fails to return by the next morning, Meg feels compelled to investigate her disappearance, which may be connected to her ex-husband's embezzlement from the college. Meg and Michael (and the extended family, of course) watching after the little tyke while Meg tries to get in mystery-solving time and Michael is burdened with faculty responsibilities--it's very well done, not overblown in a Three Men and a Baby way. The unplanned babysitting coincides nicely with the beginnings of discussion on starting their own family, and there is a bird farm, furtive behavior by several Langslow family members, and campus politics to round out the book. A very nice entry in a delightful series (which begins with Murder With Peacocks).

Andrews has another series that I haven't yet read, the Turing Hopper series that begins with You've Got Murder. I love the Meg series, so I'm not sure why I hesitate. Probably because it's a very different premise--Hopper is an AI personality who investigates the murder of her programmer.

My review of The Penguin Who Knew Too Much

Curse of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz happened to be 60% off at Barnes and Noble, making it cheaper than the paperback (which I planned to pick up once it was out anyway). I'm glad that it was, because it was a fun read. The structure here is much more cohesive than in the first novel, but I thought the laughs were as easy to come by. It also had some surprisingly touching moments at the end. The chapters are short (many 1-2 pages), making it disjointed and jumpy, but it somehow works just fine. Two years have passed since the first book (annoyingly referred to as the "previous document" "now available in paperback" in footnotes), in which the Spellman clan, a certifiably crazy family of PIs, is introduced. Izzy is explaining to her lawyer why 2 of her 4 recent arrests "don't count." She recounts the recent events that led to the arrests; then we move to the present to find out how it all shakes out. Rae, now almost sixteen, is even funnier, having attached herself to unwilling role model Inspector Henry Stone. David has become a slob and his wife, Izzy's best friend Petra, is missing in action. Someone is recreating acts of vandalism from Izzy's misspent youth. Izzy's bartender is behaving oddly. And Izzy herself is a mess--she's obsessed with the man next door, who has a locked room in his house. This is a funny, funny book, and getting to the end is both satisfying and a bit of a bummer since there's no more to read about the Spellmans...yet. Even better than the first, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a rollicking summer read.

My review of The Spellman Files

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Vacation Book Loot!

I was on vacation for about 8 days over the Fourth. And I had no intention of getting any books from anyone or buying any books while out of town. I brought 4 books with me because I was hoping to read quite a bit and I got 3 of them read. So not too bad. However, by the time I came home, my 4 books multiplied to 12 plus my original 4 books! And when I arrived home, I had two more books waiting for me in the mail from that silly book chain letter thing I sent out.

My husband's uncle attends BEA every year and ships home BOXES and BOXES of books. He lets me look through a couple when I come to visit as long as I don't get too greedy. So I fished out five Advanced Reader copies of these books:
Cold-Hearted by Beverly Barton
Good Liar by Linda Caldwell
Night Kills by John Lutz
Sweetheart by Chelsea Cain
Hollywood Crows by Joseph Wambaugh

Then a few days later, I was shopping along State Street in Chicago and came upon Barnes and Noble. I decided to stop in, just to browse of course. I always like to look at the Bargain Books because they seem to be different at a lot of the stores. And I came across Heart Sick by Chelsea Cain, the book that came before Sweetheart in her series with Archie Sheridan. So of course, I needed to get that one. I hate reading books out of order. :-) I also found Power of Three by Laura Lippman. I liked the synopsis on the book jacket and I know her book What the Dead Know was really good, so why not, right? It's a bargain book anyway. And lastly, I picked up The Book of the Dead by Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston because it just sounded good to me.

THEN, I met up with my friend Misty and she passed along four more books to me:
Harvesting the Heart by Jodi Picoult
Vinegar Hill by A. Mannette Ansay
How to be Lost by Amanda Eyre Ward
I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley

As if that weren't enough when we returned home, I discovered that I had received a package in the mail with two books in it from Allison's brother's girlfriend (Thanks Stephanie!!): Honeymoon with My Brother: A Memoir by Frank Wisner and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. Both seem like good books to me! I've heard great things about the Lisa See book and I've always been curious about the Wisner memoir.

So I think I am seriously cut off from acquiring more books until I have delved into a bunch from my current bookshelves. Oh wait, I forgot, I'm going to the library book sale in two weeks (everything is $1 or less!). Oh well, okay, no more book binging after that! I swear! Really! (Do I sound believeable?) I'll leave you with a picture of my book loot in one of my favorite reading spots in our living room:

Friday, July 11, 2008

Vacation Reading and Book Shopping

me: Hello, my name is Allison and I'm a book-a-holic.
Group: Hi, Allison!
me: After doing pretty well in Barnes and Noble, only buying the new Donna Andrews and Sisters Grimm books I had planned on (and the first Patricia Sprinkle, too, so sue me), I was sucked in through the doorway of Phoenix Books, a used bookstore in San Luis Obispo that I have gone to for years and years. I've found lovely little old volumes of poetry (I adore old books) there and just went in for a wee peek.
Group: Right...
me: And I found the one Pennyfoot Hotel mystery I hadn't gotten yet (Shrouds of Holly). And an intriguing mystery called The Once and Future Con by Peter Guttridge. And a little volume of Edward Gorey's pictures featuring Dancing Cats. And a 1919 copy of M. Somerset Maugham's Moon and Sixpence (I've always thought I should read Maugham, and what better way than with a charming old book). And a volume of poetry that caught my eye. So, oops. The book diet starts tomorrow!

I read Bones To Ashes by Kathy Reichs. Holly recently reviewed Deadly Decisions by Kathy Reichs here. I completely agree that she has pedantic tendencies. She clearly does research for her books, and she maybe goes overboard with giving the reader information. But that's fine. I like Temperance Brennan; she's funny and smart and her sarcasm is thoroughly enjoyable. In this one, a skeleton is found that makes Tempe think of a childhood friend who disappeared decades before. Meanwhile, her lover, Ryan, has announced a major life change while asking for Tempe's help with a series of missing persons/murder cases involving girls. I could see where the mystery was headed, and I wasn't thrilled. It was dark and upsetting, and I thought the end came on rather abruptly. Still, the book was a real page-turner, and I was engrossed in the mystery of Tempe's childhood friend.

I *attempted* to read Unzipped by Lois Greiman. This got great reviews on amazon, so maybe there's something wrong with me. I rarely fail to finish a book. Even if it's awful, I might skim through it to see how it ends. This one, I tossed away in disgust after fewer than 100 pages. Christina is a former cocktail waitress (who still dresses the part) now a psychologist. She's been treating a football star for impotence and during a late-evening meeting (her secretary had already gone home), he assaults her, then drops dead. Jack Rivera, the detective investigating the death, makes a number of disgusting assumptions about Chrissy based on her mode of dress and the fact that naturally, any woman would be trying to get the hunky football star in bed. Now, mysteries often feature a skeptical cop, and that's fine, but these scenes with Jack and Chrissy (haha) were so heavy-handed as to be offensive (and I rarely take offense in literature). What capped it for me was when Chrissy and Jack start making out after he's just accused her of being a slut with no professional ethics. Sorry. Life's too short. It was too bad, because there were funny moments in the part I read, but I just couldn't stomach this one.

Mythological Creatures Week

I have been on vacation and I decided to take some youth fiction with me as fun and easy reads.

The Tail of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler is the first in a series of books for ages 8-12. Middle-schooler Emily starts a new school and has no real friends. She begs her mom for swim lessons, but once in the water, her legs start to feel funny. She is saved from the water by her swim coach and tries to get out of swim class for the next several sessions. She becomes curious about what happened with her legs and decides to take a midnight swim in the ocean where she discovers she is a mermaid! While swimming at night, she runs into another young mermaid and befriends her. The rest of the story involves Emily finding her roots in the mer-world and finding out the truth about who she is and where she comes from. This delightful little book was a fun read. I liked Emily and I felt that Kessler grasped the angst of the preteen world well. It was fun to read about the mer-world and to see how Kessler played with common sayings, changing them into fishy or ocean-related expressions. I also found the information about mermaids in general interesting. I believe there are 2 or 3 more books in the series so far. I will probably check at least the next one, if not more, to see how Emily's journey continues.

I also read The Beasts of Clawstone by Eva Ibbotson. Allison reviewed this book here earlier this year. Allison gave a nice synopsis of the book, I'll just reiterate a little. A brother and sister go to visit their great aunt and uncle for the summer in an ancient castle. While not excited to be visiting at first, the children soon become involved in the day-to-day running of the castle. As they help out their aunt and uncle they begin a journey to save the special cows that belong to the castle and meet some friendly ghosts along the way. I don't want to give too much away because it is fun to see how the story unfolds, but I do want to mention that some mythological animals are discussed toward the end of the book.

I mention the mythlogical creatures reference because, ironically, I visited the Field Museum this week while vacationing in Chicago. And one of their special exhibits happens to be: Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns & Mermaids. The exhibit actually encompassed more than just those three creatures. Attending this exhibit seemed very fitting for this particular vacation since I was reading one book about mermaids, and the idea of unicorns (and narwhals) came up in a second book I was reading. It was a great exhibit too! One of the better and more fun ones I've seen lately. One of the things I LOVE about the Field Museum and their temporary or newer permanent exhibits is how they can totally immerse the visitor. As you walk in, you are surrounded by lighting and sound designs as well as interactive displays and multiple signage. All of it really brings the viewer into the exhibit to keep them interested in the topic and moving along throughout the gallery. As opposed to simply having glass cases with uniform lighting and labels. Sorry, my museum studies background crept into this review a bit. :-) At any rate, the mythological creatures exhibit was great and very informative. They offered up logical explanations for what giant sea serpents really were (a pack of dolphins jumping in and out of the water in the dark of night spaced apart just right), why people started believing in unicorns (the horns came from narwhals, the small whale-like creature that grows a giant horn out of its forehead), mermaid-lore, and other fun creatures such as dragons, griffins, giant apes, and more! If you are in Chicago between now and September 1, 2008, I highly recommend this exhibit.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

And MORE free books!

Thanks to LibraryThing's wonderful network of readers, I found yet another book blog to love, and stumbled across a contest. Winners receive FOURTEEN books. That's right, fourteen!

Click here for contest information and to enter!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Mystery Series Post

After reading her entry in Candy Cane Murder, I decided to revisit Laura Levine. I cracked up during her novella in that collection, so though I barely remembered reading This Pen For Hire, her first Jaine Austen mystery (except that it was fine, but not great), I decided to give her another try. Since I read all six paperbacks (Killing Bridezilla is still in hardcover), I decided to review them together.

This Pen For Hire: This book introduces Jaine, a freelance writer who talks to her cat, Prozac, and laments her lack of willpower to slim down, and her best friend Kandi, who writes for a cartoon. Jaine takes on an assignment: write a letter from nerdy Howard that will convince sexy aerobics instructor Stacy to date him. To Jaine's surprise, the letter works, but the real surprise comes when Stacy is found beaten to death with her ThighMaster and Howard is arrested. Since the police are convinced of Howard's guilt, Jaine decides to investigate. My recollection of this as okay but not great was pretty accurate. There are funny moments, and the book is enjoyable fluff, but the plot isn't very strong. Jaine also bumbles around, suspecting everyone in turn until she realizes who the killer really is. Unfortunately, I was to learn that this is a formula Levine sticks with throughout the series.

Last Writes: Jaine snags a job writing for the sitcom Muffy 'N' Me, starring Quinn, a womanizer so universally disliked that it's no surprise he turns up murdered. This book brings in Jane's parents via their e-mails to Jaine. In my opinion, this was a great addition. Jaine's parents are just as crazy as she is, and her father is always having to take her mother on a cruise to Bermuda to make up for something outrageous he did. I was encouraged by a mention that Jaine is attending classes to become a PI, but this doesn't really go anywhere. Levine, a former comedy writer herself, makes the interaction between cast and crew on the sitcom set ring true, but again, Jaine bumbles around until she stumbles into the truth.

Killer Blonde: Jaine agrees to ghost write a book for Sue Ellen Kingsley, a truly horrid woman who makes Jaine take dictation perched on the toilet seat while Sue Ellen has a bubble bath. It's not that surprising when Sue Ellen is found electrocuted in her bath, but Jaine decides to investigate when Sue Ellen's lovely stepdaughter is suspected. A blonde was spotted the night of the murder, but there are too many blondes around. See above re: bumble and stumble.

Shoes To Die For: Jaine snags a job writing ads for Passions, a fashion boutique (yes, Jaine of the elastic-waist pants). Jaine discovers a hated Passions staff member stabbed with a stiletto heel, and embarks on an investigation. The more interesting plot here is the story of Jaine's parents--Jaine's dad has decided to audition for the retirement home's play, and hilarity ensues. More bumbling and stumbling onto the killer.

The PMS Murder: With Kandi busy with wedding plans, Jaine ends up a member of the PMS club with her new friend Pam. MaryBeth, the Little Miss Sunshine of the group dies from peanut oil in the guacamole (everyone knew she was allergic to peanuts) shortly after an affair she had with one of the members' husbands is revealed. Meanwhile, Jaine's dad is convinced that a new resident in the retirement community is on America's Most Wanted, and Prozac has to go on a diet.

Death by Pantyhose: Jaine is hired to write jokes for Dorcas, a feminist comic, and ends up investigating a murder when Vic, Dorcas's rival and ex-husband, is found strangled with a pair of pantyhose Dorcas uses in her act. Discussion of her relationship with Andrew sort of bogs down the plot, but a subplot about Jaine's dad obsessing over the loss of his "lucky shirt" makes up for it.

Overview: These are cute, funny reads, and Levine has a breezy style and delightful comic timing. The formula of Jaine going from suspecting one character to another (and another and another) is a bit tiresome after six books (even Jessica Fletcher mixed it up a little sometimes), but Jaine is likeable and the supporting cast a lot of fun. And those not reading all six back-to-back might not notice (or care about) the formulaic aspects of the mysteries. These are nice diversions and would be great on the beach this summer.

Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins

I've decided to read a few youth fiction books lately because I feel in the mood for something quick and fun. I read Toys Go Out very quickly. I picked it up at the library because I remembered hearing about it a little over a year ago. It tells the story of the adventures of three toys: Plastic (a rubber ball), Sting Ray (a stuffed animal), and Lumphy (a stuffed buffalo). The age range is quite young on this one: 6-9 years. I'd say that's about right. It is long for a younger child to read on their own and there is only one illustration per chapter. The illustrations are really fun though.

The book starts out with the three animals in a backpack that smells like old swimsuit and they do not know where they are being taken. They worry all the way there about where the little girl could be taking them. It turns out they were worried for nothing and they are reminded about how much the little girl loves them. There are some nice morals in each chapter. The second chapter teaches you shouldn't be afraid to try new things when Lumphy is scared of being washed in the washing machine. He soon finds out he enjoys it and then continually tries to get dirty so he can visit the washing machine again. There is a lot of charm to this book. For example, the animals all think Tuk Tuk, the little girl's bathroom towel is very wise and they visit him to receive advice and wisdom on the big world around them.

I started the book thinking it was a lot of fun and very cute and finished it still thinking so, however I found the last two chapters to be not quite as entertaining or good as the first several. Still worth a read for a young one though! Anyone who is a fan of The Velveteen Rabbit will enjoy this one. It reminded me of that as I was reading it, although I haven't read Velveteen Rabbit since I was a child.

Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult

Picoult's latest endeavor tackles the issues of religion and the death penalty. I was really looking forward to reading this one. And I was not disappointed. It seems from the posts I've read about Picoult in the blogging world, you either really like Picoult or really DON'T like her. I am one of those who likes her quite a bit. I think her hot button topics make for interesting forays into fiction. While some of her books are definitely better than others, they all are quick and easy reads. I think it just depends on your interest in the particular topic at hand whether the books hit home with you or not. And I think perhaps now that Picoult has become so successful, there are high expectations for each new work. I feel a few people are unduly harsh in their critiques of her work. She at least entertains if nothing else, and I feel like I at least think about different topics from different viewpoints than I might have before reading her books.

I've never been a particularly religious person, but I'm always interested in reading different viewpoints on the topic and learning more. There were a lot of statements in this book that really hit home for me and helped me define things a bit more with how I see the world of religion. As for the death penalty topic, I've always seen both sides of that issue and its really difficult for me to pick sides on it.

I feel like so many people have reviewed this book, I don't really need to go into the details of the story, but in case you still haven't heard much about this one, here it goes. Shay Bourne was convicted of killing a cop and his daughter. He's been living on death row for 11 years and his execution date is fast approaching. He decides he wants to donate his organs upon his execution and wants the remaining daughter of his victim's family to receive his heart to save her life. This is about redemption among other things. And the great debate in the book is whether or not a single person can believe something so strongly that the court will find it as a valid reason for choosing an alternate form of execution under a religious freedom act. There is also the moral debate about whether the victim's family wants to accept something so personal from the man that took their husband/father and daughter. As usual with Picoult, the story is told through many characters viewpoints.

(***Spoiler alert***) It seems that Picoult's formula calls for some big reveal or surprise toward the end of the novel. My Sister's Keeper had a doozy at the end of it and one I never saw coming. The other books I've read by her hinted at the "surprise" before it actually happened. And well, I feel like this one was quite predictable. I figured out the molesting by the cop father at least half way into the book if not earlier. It just seemed logical to me. So I guess I always sort of believed Shay was innocent. And I guess the big reveal to me was that he did indeed kill someone in the end.

(Edited to add: Complete sidenote, but one of the characters names was Lucius Defresne. He was one of the prisoners on the same floor as Shay Bourne. Anyone else keep thinking Andy Defresne from Shawshank Redemption when you heard Lucius' last name? I wonder if that was a deliberate reference from Picoult or just a random coincidence?)

I'd say this one was one of the better Picoult books I've read. I think it falls smack dab in the middle of the 5 books I've read. I give it 4 out 5 stars.

Other reviews of this book:
Katie from 101 Books in 1001 Days
Alison from So Many Books, So Little Time
Julie from Girls Just Reading
Natasha from Maw Books
Susan from Bloggin' 'bout Books

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Free book!

I came across a contest to win an ARC of Joy of Spooking: Fiendish Deeds by PJ Bracegirdle, a book that sounds right up my alley! Click here for contest details and to enter! The author interview is really funny, and only made me want to read the book more.

A Little Odd

Odd Hours by Dean Koontz: I used to be a horror fan, but rather than getting desensitized to violence, it seems to go the other direction with me so that I can't really stomach violence in films/books/the news. So, though I had been a Dean Koontz fan in the past (especially Watchers and Lightning), I hadn't read him for a while. My dad gave me Odd Thomas and said, "You might like this. It's really different." And it was! Odd is a humble fry cook with a simple way of looking at life. He also sees dead people. He's also incredibly well-realized, nuanced, and sympathetic. I couldn't help but like him and feel for him as he has to make difficult decisions. So if Odd Hours isn't the best entry (it's #4 of a planned 7-book series), if the bad guys' plot has a bit of "Snakes on a Plane" improbability, and if the description sometimes goes on a bit long, well, that's okay. The Sinatra bits were really memorable, and I loved Hutch and Birdie, two quirky characters compelling enough that I would like to know more about them. And Koontz is clearly an animal lover, given the appearance of a dog to help Odd out a bit (note that I resisted the urge to say "give him a paw"...oops, guess I didn't!). Odd's complex relationship with Annamaria is intriguing, and the way is clearly set at the end for more adventures for Odd. His story is haunting and memorable, and I'd start at the top, with Odd Thomas.