Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Faking It by Jennifer Cruise is the real deal

Forgeries, fakes, cons and snakes, Jennifer Cruise has got what is takes to make me laugh out loud.
The best way to sum up this sweet treat of a story is a quote straight from Gwen Goodnight herself:
When Eve ate the apple
Her knowledge increased
But God like dumb women
So Paradise ceased

Go on out and pick this book up and save it for that week when the plumbing breaks, the car needs an oil change, the house is a mess and the kids are running amokThen find your favorite hiding spot and fill yourself up with a delightful and funny story filled with perfectly imperfect characters.
                            Jennifer Cruise you rock!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman - Great Young Adult Fiction is really just great fiction!

As a kid I used to play pretend a lot.  I mean a lot.  It was one of my favorite games. What if I were a movie star, a nurse, a spy?  What if I lived in Africa or Ireland?  These what if questions were the fuel for my play time.  I made my little sister join in all the time and be my side kick for these imaginary adventures.  To be honest in these stressful times of troubled economy, war and family ups and downs I find myself playing the game again.  What if I won a million dollars? What if the world really got along?  What if I were single?  What if I lived in Africa or Ireland?  I am pretty good at coming up with some fun and unusual imaginings and I have even written some of them down.  I have nothing on Neil G aiman.
You may have heard of Mr. Gaiman or at least heard of his work.  He wrote "Coraline."  I told you this guy had crazy imagination skills. I haven't read Coraline but I saw the movie and was swept away by this little girl's adventure. Isn't that a popular pretend game?  What if I had different parents?  Coraline's certainly turned out differently than she expected, eh?

Besides great juvenile fiction Mr. Gaiman is also well respected for his DC comic book series "Sandman."

So now I come to the first book I have ever read by this author, "The Graveyard Book."  I can tell you now I will be picking up anything I find by him from now on.
The "Graveyard Book"  takes place in the obvious place... a graveyard.  It is a story about a baby who toddles away in the night while something horrible happens to his family.  He toddles up the hill and into a very old graveyard where he encounters the ghosts that live there.  He doesn't know he has lost his family just as he doesn't know his rescuers are specters from times gone by nor does he realize he is still in danger from the evil assassin who ended the lives of his parents and sibling.

Mrs. Owens, a matronly ghost from. I'm guessing here, the 1700's, steps up to raise this poor orphaned baby.  Mr. Owens, her more pragmatic ghostly husband reminds her she is a ghost and therefore cannot provide food or clothing for the mite. The boy should go to an orphanage like a proper orphan should.  Enters Silas.  He is a mysterious man who lives in the night and has been granted the freedom of the graveyard.  He  is able to interact with his spirit hosts.  He tells them the assassin is still hunting the child and will stop at nothing to accomplish his ghoulish goal.  The boy needs protection and suggests they give the boy the same gift of the graveyard and allow Mrs. Owen, who had no children in life, the opportunity to raise the child.  He offers his corporeal abilities to provide food and other necessities to be his official guardian.  The ghosts take a vote and it is agreed the baby will live with them and be given the freedom of the graveyard and the Owens' will be his new parents.  They name him Nobody Owens.  You will need to read the story to find out why. 
So begins the life and times of Nobody Owens in the graveyard.  He learns his alphabet and how to read by tombstone.  He can make himself nearly invisible.  His friends and mentors are made up of teachers, millers, and even a roman soldier.  He is happy in the graveyard.
As the years go by he is told the story of how he came to them and he is aware danger is still stalking him.  Silas brings him books from the outside world and even brings him a very special nanny, Miss Lupescu , who gives him lessons on shouting help in every possible language in the universe.  It comes in very handy when a bunch of Ghouls take him off to Gulheim to become one of them.
The graveyard has been closed for nearly a century as a place for burials and instead has been declared a nature preserve and a park is built next to it.  A little girl wanders into the graveyard and becomes friends with Bod.  They become fast friends and everytime her mom brings her to the park she wanders off to the graveyard to find Bod.  Their last adventure ends up with Scarlett in a tomb and her parents frantic when they find her.
Time goes on and Bod attends school and you can imagine what trials would await a graveyard boy named Bod in a schoolyard full of regular kids. 
The Graveyard Book is chocked full of wonderful characters. 
Mr. and Mrs. Owens, course, who love Bod like he was there own.
Silas is a mysterious creature who isn't really human.
Ms. Lupescu, her name gives her away.
Liza, the witch.  She is buried in unhallowed ground but is a good girl nonetheless.
Nehemiah Trot who was a poet who got revenge only on himself.
Caius Pompeius is a roman soldier who has been in the graveyard longer than almost anything.
Scarlett Amber Perkins who discovers Bod wasn't just her imaginary friend.
And Finally, Jack, the reason Bod ends up in the graveyard in the first place.
Bod, with the help of the graveyard finally succeeds in saving his own life and begins a new life in the world "Out There". 
The last lines of the lullaby Mrs. Owens used to sing to him carry him into his new world:
...Face your life
Its pain, its pleasure,
Leave no path untaken.
As I closed the cover I sighed in satisfaction and smiled with gratitude for a story well imagined.
This is YA fiction at its best.  Adults will appreciate it too, maybe more than the kids. 

Monday, January 18, 2010

DIK 2010 Reading Challenge Review: Lisa Kleypas- Smooth Talking Stranger

PhotobucketIt was very fortunate and convenient that one of the first books I got for the new year was one of the 188 books on
DIK's 2010 Reading Challenge list since I realized I was now in the middle of January with no idea what I was going to read.  Thanks DIK for having a wonderful and varied list to work with.
Onto the review:
Smooth Talking Stranger was good.  It wasn't great.  It wasn't particularly original but it was good.  To be honest it felt a lot like a Nora Roberts or SEP novel.  I love those two authors but somehow Lisa Kleypas misses the mark for me.  I think it was too much modern man for me.  Let me explain.

Smooth Talking Stranger revolves around Ella Varner.  She is a steady, moderately successful writer and an attractive woman.  She grew up in a dysfunctional family with a narcissistic mom and needy sister. She has overcome her past but is estranged from her family. She is in a solid, easy relationship with Dane.  He is a metrosexual man intent on saving the world one solar panel at a time. 
One day she gets a call from her mom to come to Houston.  Something urgent has occurred.  When Ella gets there she discovers the emergency in the form of the baby her sister had the week before and abandoned to her messed up mom so she could go to a rehab/spa to get her head on straight.  Of course mom, who still thinks she is 30, refuses to care for the infant claiming "it" will cramp her style.  She demands that Ella assume responsibility for the child and find out what happened with her sister.  Ella, who is a classic co-dependent, resents her mother dumping another responsibility on her, agrees to take care of the baby until she talks to her sister Tara.  Of course Tara is as self absorbed as her mother and manipulates Ella to take responsibility for Luke, the baby, while she gets therapy in Mexico. Yes, Ella agrees.  No, Dane the boyfriend, isn't ok with bringing a baby back to their place but he is ok with supporting her decision to stay and help her family.  He reasonably explains babies aren't part of their relationship.  Ella reasonably let's him off the hook and decides to stay in Houston with the baby. She is going to ensure this baby gets the care she didn't get from her mother.  Ella decides on behalf of her sister to find the father and get him involved even if it is only in the form of financial support.

Enter Jack Travis.  He is an ultra weathly, successful, handsome, single and never settled down suspect.  Ella confronts him in his office building.  Yes, I said his office building which he conveniently has apartments.  She demands he has a paternity test based on nothing more than gossip from a cousin saying Tara and he were together around the time she would have gotten pregnant.  He informs Ella they didn't sleep together but after some interesting dialogue agrees to have a paternity test to save him the hassle of lawyers or press.  He offers her the use of one of the apartments in the building while she waits for her sister's return. He gets in exchange a dinner with Ella.  He helps her put up the new crib.  Hello?  Why is he being so nice? Yes, there are sparks but really?  He isn't one bit pissed for being wrongfully accused?  He is not a normal man.

I am sure you already have a good idea what happens in the rest of the story.  Jack really isn't the father but helps out Ella anyway.  The real father is not a good guy but sister Tara isn't willing to accept that or accept responsibility for her son.  Ella and Dane don't survive the tumult of the situation but remain good and supportive friends.  Jack becomes possessive of Ella and is jealous of Dane.  Happy ending when Ella gets it all including the baby.  (Personally, getting a 6 month old baby as a wedding gift isn't my idea of fun.)

Like I said at the beginning the book was good.  There was some really cute scenes like when Jack gets Ella to eat steak after she has been living as a vegan for a year.  There are several sections of witty dialogue but where Nora Roberts gets so passionate about her characters and SEP has me giggling and laughing out loud at her characters Ms. Kleypas just doesn't quite take it all the way.  Smooth Talking Stranger stopped just shy of being a great book.  Ultimately, everyone was just too nice.  Jack tried to be a chauvinist but he was too kind.  Dane tried to be a self absorbed do gooder but he cared too much about Ella.  Ella tried to be a tough, do the right thing kind of woman but she was too much a people pleaser.  It was all very predictable.

In the end nothing was resolved. Oh, Ella got Jack and the baby but there was no real resolution between the sisters, the mom or for that matter with Ella herself. 

I will read another Kleypas since I have only read one other and it was a historical but she isn't an author I will be scrounging the shelves for to see what she has done next.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Dawnkeepers by Jessica Anderson

Before I go onto this review I ask everyone who reads this post to do what they can to help the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. You can Donate online at www.clintonfoundation.org/haitirelief to help provide immediate relief and long-term support to earthquake survivors or Text "HAITI" to 20222 and $10 will be donated to relief efforts, charged to your cell phone bill.

Onto the Review:
I have completed book two in the Doomsday series by Jessica Anderson. "Dawnkeepers" was another complex and busy novel. Almost too busy to be honest. I felt like I was still being introduced to the plot from book one.

This story's focus is, on the surface, about Alexis and Nate.
Alexis has bought into the "Nightkeeper" lore and not only accepts her destiny but actively seeks her place in the hierarchy of the group. Nate is the exact opposite. Not only did his parents die on that fateful day when nearly the entire tribe was wiped out by the Banol Kax but so did his winikin, (guardian) and he was left to the vagaries and dangers of the foster care system. He is hard because he's had to be. He doesn't believe that his life has already been plotted out by the whims of fate. The story also spends a time on the character, Rabbit. He is the son of Red Boar. He was a Nightkeeper who gave his life in the cause in the previous book. I have to say I found Rabbit's story more compelling than I did Alexis and Nate's.

I pretty much knew what to expect from the couple. They fight their attraction. One is needy while the other is distant. They realize they are truly meant for each other and then they conquer the bad guy or spirit. What was unexpected in this part of the story was Ms. Anderson's use of love and nurturing in the form of a Mayan Goddess who bonds with Alexis to really send home the message "Love Conquers All". I connected to this portion of the story. It is a part of me I am trying to use more in this real world of upheaval. I was sorry that it really only took shape toward the end and wasn't more woven through the whole.

Rabbit is different. He was raised to believe in all the stories and magic of the Nightkeepers but he has been taught he isn't a Nightkeeper. He is Red Boar's son. He is among them but because of his mysterious birth he is not one of them. He is a teenager and coming into his own so rebellion is part of this stage of his life but when you can make things burn and mentally pick locks any rebellion can become dangerous real quick. He feels unwanted and he isn't wrong. His father certainly didn't want him and while Strike and Jax care for him they fear him a little too. His story takes some big turns in "Dawnkeepers" and I am very interested in where the saga takes him in the next installment, "Skykeepers".

The story also touches base on Strike's sister and her coming to terms with her own destiny and becoming a seer. She also discovers why she is having such problems in her marriage.
There is a new bad guy in town. He is a Xilbalban which is the evil version of the Nightkeepers.
The married Nightkeepers are having unknown, unnamed problems.
Jax is working through regrets of letting go of the love of his life in order to be true to the prophecies and what he believed was expected of him.
Then there is the whole search for 7 artifacts which once collected will help undo the final prophecy.
WHOOO! Like I said there is a lot going on in this book.

Overall the "Final Prophecy Series" has been an interesting read. I appreciate Ms. Anderson's effort to tell a good story. It is more complex than a regular paranormal romance novel. I think that she is trying to put together a story that appeals across genres and genders. Ms. Anderson has so much she wants to include and I appreciate that but if each story is going to focus on a couple coming together then lets stay there more. If it is about beating the Final Prophecy then I want more suspense and action.
With all that said I will be getting the next one.

Monday, January 4, 2010

I hate when I can't finish them: Killer Summer by Ridley Pearson

I picked up a new author for me the other day.  Ridley's "Killer Summer".  It is a series that takes place in Sun Valley Idaho and features sheriff Walt Fleming.  I picked this installment up because this story takes place during a wine auction. I love wine.  I love wine tastings and I am very fortunate because once a year I get to participate, (as an employee), in an actual wine auction.  I thought to myself: "Cool, a wine auction.  This should be fun and I might learn something.  Fun and education are a great combination!
I read the back flap and saw that Mr. Pearson already had 13 books under his belt including a bestselling crime series featuring a character called Lou Boldt.  I like thrillers and who-dun-its so I picked it up and put it on my stack. 
When I got home I pulled out this book over the newest Merry Gentry novel by Laurell K. Hamilton, the Lisa Kleypas I found and even over the newest Charlie Bone episode.  Why?  Because I thought to myself I should start the New Year off with a new author and hopefully a new compulsive relationship looking for all the rest of his books.  Anyway, I opened the pages and settled in on the sofa.  It started pleasantly enough with Sheriff Fleming fly fishing with his nephew.  A truck goes by and he notices.  He is an observant guy.  Then an accident with the truck and a car takes place which should be the beginning of a race against time to discover who was trying to steal the very old, very expensive Thomas Jefferson to John Adams wine bottles.
It just fell flat for me. This is a series that cannot be jumped into anywhere. There are relationships and histories that the reader must be aware of from the earlier books in order to grasp the importance of the appearance of a character or the absence of another in this one.  Sun Valley and Ketchum are small communities and everyone knows everyone else but me.  That wasn't my problem though.  My problem was how dry the story was.  I don't likely extremely dry wines and this story is as dry as a cheap burgundy.  Now don't get me wrong.  The writing is tight, the characters well drawn but there is nothing deeper.  I feel like we are going through the motions of a great mystery but it never gets to the meat.  I never felt fear for the grad student who finds out she is being possibly followed.  I didn't feel the terror of guests when a bomb goes off in the auction tent.  I just never felt anything.  I was 150 pages in and thought to myself:  "Self, you have several books you can't wait to get your hands on and you are spending Christmas vacation on something that isn't working for you.  Put it down self and go grab Lisa."  And that is what I did. 
Some books are worth keeping at.  Kent Haruf's "Plainsong and Eventide" immediately come to mind. They were books totally worth the effort and I recommend them highly.  Maybe I will try the Lou Boldt series by Ridley Pearson and see if it was just me or if this author goes on my DNR list.