Thursday, December 29, 2011

Catherine Coulter hits the mark with Prince of Ravenscar

I had given up on Ms. Coulter.  In fact in my last post about a Catherine Coulter novel I said until something new comes along I would not be picking up any more.  I have stuck to that decision until now.
The Prince of Ravenscar is, to me, a delightful return of the wit and romance that made me fall in love with Catherine Coulter in the first place back in the 80’s.
The Prince of Ravenscar is a romantic adventure that is light and frothy.  Lord Julian Monroe is home after a 3 year absence grieving the death of his young wife Lily. Upon his return he discovers his mother, Her Grace Corinne Monroe,  wants Lord Julian to marry her best friend’s daughter and eligible young woman, Sophie. Julian hasn’t seen the girl since she was 12 and still in pigtails.  Sophie’s mother passed away a few years earlier and is relying on her Aunt Roxanne to help her with her first Season in London.  Roxanne is a beautiful woman who at 27 is deemed on the shelf but who secretly longs to be picked up. Julian’s nephew Devlin, future Duke of Brabante is ecstatic over his Uncle’s return to London. Well, he is as happy as an aspiring vampire can be. 
So sets the story for mismatched loves, a mysterious death, kidnapping, and several attempts to expose Devlin to the full light of the day.
The story moves quickly, if not on occasion with a lot of confusion but I found myself smiling and hoping for one match to happen versus another.  There was a little hint of depth to this story too.  These characters discover there is more to them than the stories they have or have not been told all their lives.  Julian discovers the father who died when he was a baby was more than an old man.  Devlin realizes there is more to life than affectations and indolent living and he can have a purpose. 
The other great thing about this story is the women.  This might be a Regency Romance but these women can take care of themselves.  Roxanne prevents her rape with a good kick in her attacker’s privates and later rescues herself again by climbing out a window.  Sophie has a good mind and excellent way with words and can cut or comfort with a flick of her tongue.
This story had a little bit of everything in it with nothing taking over the plot.  Ms. Coulter even managed to mention the racing cats thanks to connections to the Sherbrookes. Ms. Coulter has a wonderful flair for Regency. Was this her best novel? No, but, for me, it is the best read from her in the last few years. I am hoping it is only the beginning of a new trend for a favorite author. I am still staying away from the FBI series.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Henry Neff has woven a Tapestry of Adventure


I looked back through my blog list and I cannot believe I have not reviewed Henry Neff’s books in the “Tapestry” series.  I came across the first book, “The Hound of Rowan” in 2008 and I was Henry_biggertotally pulled into Mr. Neff’s world.  I was blogging then.  Why the heck didn’t I let everyone know about this adventure sooner is crazy.  I have read the second and third books and I can’t wait for the 4th installment coming out sometime next year.  The Tapestry series has often been compared to the incomparable Harry Potter.  I think this is a compliment.  The similarities are they are both about a boy who discovers he is more than he ever imagined and he is given the opportunity to discover the magic inside himself. This series is sold as juvenile fiction and just like with Harry Potter it has appeal for readers of all ages. The characters are wonderfully drawn both in words and illustrations. Mr. Neff illustrates each of his novels and it does add something to the story. His artwork is interesting and graphic.henryneffillustrations




The story takes place in present day U.S.  It starts innocently enough when our unsuspecting young hero, 12 year old Max McDaniel, comes across an ancient Celtic tapestry in a Chicago museum.  In his pursuit to find out where it came from Max finds out he has special skill and is recruited to attend an unusual academy in New England.  From the minute Max crosses the gate of the Rowan Academy he begins the discovery process that not everything is as it seems nor is he.  He has been chosen to be the champion of Rowan. He finds out, like Harry, he has magic.  Unlike Harry, Max isn’t training to be a wizard.  He is training to be a warrior.  His ancestor is the great Cuchulain, the first champion against evil.  Max is filled with the Old Magic and he realizes he has come to the school to learn how to focus his gifts to help defend Rowan and more, the world from the growing threat of an evil demon named Astraroth.  Okay, that does sound kind of like Voldemort. 

Unlike Harry there is another character as important to the story as Max.  Max isn’t the only one at Rowan learning to fight and protect.  He becomes roommate with David Menlo.  David is probably more powerful than Max as a budding sorcerer but physically not strong and it will take both of them to take on Astaroth and the destruction of not just the world but its history too.  Like Harry it is the whole cast of characters that take a simple coming of age story into a heroic journey!  The cast is too long to list here but I promise you are going to love them!

The Hound of Rowan


Book One:  The Hound of Rowan introduces us to the amazing world of Max and Mr. Neff.  It is a story of discovery.  I was left in excitement waiting to see the heroes finally beat the evil plaguing the world.





thesecondsiegeBook Two:  The Second Siege pits Max and David in direct conflict with Astaroth with devastating consequences.  It is a story of facing your fears. The world as we know it has been decimated and I was filled with sadness for losses both personal and worldwide.




Book Three:  The Fiend and  the Forge finds the world post battle and we have lost.  Astaroth is in power.  This is a story of claiming yourself and your destiny regardless where it takes you.  This installment is very dark and I actually think a little too mature for an 11-12 year old to read.  I also thought Harry got very mature in the last 2 books.  Max and David have to go their own ways to help each other accomplish a mutual goal, the downfall of the evil empire…(I know, Star Wars).


Bottom line:  I can’t wait for the next one.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Undead and Ungood May Janice Davidson

All I have to say to Ms. Davidson on her newest installment to the Betsy the Vampire Queen series, "Undead and Undermined" is  YOU OWE US AN APOLOGY!  Had I bought the book and not gotten it from the library you would owe me a refund.  You should refund the library I got it from. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness is a Great Find!

Deborah Harkness is a woman after my own heart.  She is a lifelong student of history.  She loves libraries.  She loves wine and wrote a blog about her search for great wines under $20.00.  She started writing fiction with the classic question “What if?”
From her passions comes a novel that encompasses all of the above and throws in witches, vampires and daemons for good measure.  I LOVED “A Discovery of Witches”.
Dr. Diana Bishop is a historian with a specialty in historical alchemists.  She is exploring the connection between magic and science.  Her studies have brought her to England and the famous Bodleian Library.  She is pulling research material out of the stacks when a book dating back to the 17th century called “Ashmole 782 comes into her hands.  She knows this book is different from all the rest she has been researching.   She is a witch, a real one who’s family can be traced directly to Bridget Bishop who was executed during the Salem Witch trials. This book connects to her.  Simply touching it makes her hands tingle and the hairs on the back of her neck prickle.  So begins a story of intrigue, tension and a forbidden romance.
Once Diana opens Ashmole 782 a whole host of “Creatures” start showing up.  Some just want to see what happens next while others actively seek the answers they believe are in the book.  One of these creatures is a 1500 year old Vampire named Matthew Clairmont.  He is also a scientist and he is researching the evolution of the supernatural beings sharing the planet with human beings.  You see, there are 4 species of humanoids on earth: humans, vampires, witches and daemons.  Once the humans were in the minority but time and circumstances have changed the world and now the creatures are far exceeded by the humans.  Matthew wants to know why and how and if anything can be done to keep his race from becoming extinct.
This story takes you from the hallowed colleges of Oxford to a fortress in France and humble family home in New England and by the end back to the past.  Relationships bloom and die.  For every question answered 3 more pop up. The cast of supporting characters are as well written as Diana and Matthew.  Mysteries abound and no one is as they seem, especially Diana.  As I read I felt like I was reading the paranormal version of the Davinci Code and like Dan Brown’s bestseller A Discovery of Witches is as fascinating for it’s historical research as it is the story itself.
I read some of the reviews on Amazon before I started mine.  I like to see if I am in-line with other readers and what I found was either you love this book or hate it.  I fall, most definitely, in the love column.  Ms. Harkness creates a world of sensuality and tension.  The dinner scene between Diana and Matthew is nothing short of sexy and all he is doing is introducing her to the world of wine tasting, there is no sex.  I was leaning forward in my chair waiting for him to kiss the wine from her lips and I was left wanting just like Diana!  Then the sensual becomes brutal when Satu, a powerful witch literally tries to peel the magic from Diana’s body.  Ms. Harkness has a wonderful talent of placing me right in the middle of the moment.  Awesome!
But I have to be honest.  The end of the book sends them traveling beyond geographical limits.  Yep, that’s right, they time travel…..arghhh.  That was the only stinker in an otherwise perfect read!  I am looking forward to the sequel Shadow of Night.  The expected release date is next summer.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon was much better than I expected

Have you ever had the experience of trying to read a book and just not be able to get into it?  Everybody says it is amazing, a page turner, couldn’t put it down but you just didn’t get what all the hype was about.  I have.  There are actually two books in my lifetime that for all the peer pressure and actual attempts to read them I just couldn’t get into them.  From the title of this post you know “Outlander is one of them.  The other, (Please don’t groan or chastise me…that includes you Debbie), is “Gone With the Wind.”  The problem with GWTW is I don’t care enough about the characters.  I think Scarlett is a brat and what’s his face, Ashley is so, effeminate.  Lesley Howard in the movie didn’t improve my opinion either.  Rhett I liked but, for a guy who could have anyone but is hopelessly in love with such a b**ch is beyond me.  I digress, I will think about this another day.  Sorry Debbie.
When Outlander first came out back in the 1991 I tried to read it.  Over the years I tried 3 more times to no avail. I love a great epic novel.  Katherine by Anya Seton is in my top ten favorites not to mention Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  I couldn’t get past the first 60 pages of Outlander.  Frank and Claire bored me to tears.  I didn’t care what happened to them.  Frank was milquetoast and Claire was almost masculine.
Another thing that really turned me off was the time-travel plotline.  I am not a big fan of time travel stories.  They don’t feel plausible and someone has to give up all they hold dear to stay in the other time including family and friends.  It feels way too final for me.  It is worse when they go back and forth in time.  I know this is going to sound crazy coming from a huge paranormal fan but time travel is just too unbelievable for me.  In Outlander it really bugged me how comfortable 20th century Claire felt in 18th Century Scotland.  Granted she was raised by a historian/archeologist and married a historian/genealogist so she wasn’t unfamiliar with the time period but come on, there is a huge difference between reading about cooking in fireplaces and witch burnings and actually using one and being a potential victim to the other. It is too complicated a subject to believably portray.
The final thing was the fact that she was married and in love with Frank in the 20th Century but so easily fell for Jaimie in the 18th.  Granted Jaime is hot.  (Makes me think of Liam Neeson in Rob Roy).  He is big, redheaded, muscular and speaks with a brogue.  I would want him too. I just didn’t see how Claire would be able to reconcile the two relationships.  I don’t think I would so easily get over my husband, be he dead or I was thrust into another time period.  Claire was really quick to jump into bed with Jaimie.  I know in the first hateful 60 pages I learn that Frank and Claire have been separated by duty to the War Effort during WWII.  She as a triage nurse just behind the lines and he in the defense department doing who knows what.   They were reacquainting themselves when she tripped through the stone ring but still…
By now you realize I finally bit the bullet and read the dang thing.  It is my sister Kate’s fault and as begrudging as this may sound I am glad she can be a pushy little thing sometimes.  I bought it through B&N for my Nook so I would have something to keep me busy while I helped my son and daughter in law with the new baby.  (You had to know I would work in the new Grandma status).  I had nothing eDSCN1119lse to do but hold my new best guy in one arm while I clicked through pages with the other.  The first 60 pages were still hell.  In fact, the first 150 pages were as boring as an algebra text book but I am Irish and I will pit my stubborn against a Scot’s stubborn any day and kept reading.  The story only improved slightly when Claire went through the stones.  Maybe it is because I have read so many other epic fantasy novels this felt a little predictable.  Damsel immediately encounters villain to be just as quickly rescued by the good guy.  Well in this case the good guys.  She helps the young and badly injured hero and they make tracks for their highland home.  I have been here and done this.  I kept reading and it got better.
Here is why this is a good read.  Letting go of the prejudging I did before I opened it for the 4th time I discovered I was enjoying this story.  The characters are complete and finely detailed.  The location is well studied and described.  I smelled the horse manure in the stable.  I felt the punches when Jaimie took Loghaire’s punishment.  I marvelled at how much folk medicine is really based in solid knowledge.  I so wanted to swim in the mineral water bath. But the biggest reason this is a good read is Captain John Randall.  He is probably the greatest villain of all time!  I kept reading because I had to know if he ever got repaid for the crimes he committed against everyone he ever came in contact with.  What he does to Jaimie is nothing less than Jeffrey Dahmer disgusting.  Jaimie's retelling of the final debauchery done to him was nothing short of masterful.  I felt all of his pain and debasement.  It is so heinous that when Randall's end came I cheered and was pissed all at the same time.  He deserved a much more ignominious death than Ms. Gabaldon gave him. It is almost unbelievable that Jaimie survived not just in body but in soul as well.  I think I would have killed myself regardless of how much the love of my life wanted me to fight. 
I admit it, this book was totally worth the work.  I definitely think some text could have been dropped. This is a lot of words. I think Dougal and Collum took up more pages than they were worth.  The young Loghaire wasn’t worth Claire’s first twinge of jealousy.  I did love Geilie but even some of her story dragged.  In the end it was satisfying and I am glad we all made it through.
I know there are several sequels to Outlander but I think I am going to leave Claire in the 18th century with her future still an unknown.  Maybe I will give Gone With the Wind another try.  I know it would totally make Debbie’s day!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Don’t be Mad Lauren. I didn’t like Fallen by Lauren Kate


LaurenMy cousin Lauren told me “Fallen” was a must read.  She is a very cool and smart young woman.  She loves the Beatles, Pride and Prejudice, Harry Potter and Glee.  She is a truly talented photographer and she loves books like her ol’ cousin, me.  When she recommended the book I had to give it a read.  Alas, while our tastes run closely together on many things we must part ways at Fallen.

Fallen is supposed to be about unrequited and everlasting love. It is supposed to be about the recurring romance between Lucinda and Daniel and I guess it is in a general way.  Seventeen year old Lucinda has been sent to a very strict boarding school called Sword and Cross.  She is sent there because she was a person of interest in the burning death of her ex-boyfriend Trevor.  Her parents were at a loss how to help her and sent her to the boarding school on the recommendation of Luce’s psychologist. She has always felt on the outside and freaky.  She see shadows no one else sees and they terrify her.  Upon entering the school she meets Arien, Penn, and Cam.  She becomes friends with the 2 girls and finds herself oddly attracted to Cam.  I guess it isn’t so odd since the guy is drop dead gorgeous and seriously charming.  She also meets Daniel who seems to be the exact opposite of Cam except he too is drop dead gorgeous.  In fact, her first encounter with Daniel includes him flipping her the “Bird”.  Even with his rude and sulking behavior Luce wants to know more.  She feels like she knows him somehow.  Arien takes her on a tour of the campus and when they end up at the cafeteria she has a confrontation with the obvious mean girl Molly who takes great pleasure in humiliating her.  Then there are the oblivious and naïve teachers who don’t seem to notice all the kids breaking the rules even though the campus is riddled with cameras.  The exception to this is Ms. Sophia who turns out to be a real wacko. Add in the very gothic campus including the old scary cemetary where wonderful and horrible things happen and I have read this story before.

The story continues as Luce pursues Daniel who in turn responds and rebuffs her attentions.  Cam pursues Luce with gifts of jewelry, limo rides and intimate picnics.   I know what is going on and who the hero of the story is because Lauren told me but really it doesn’t take much to line up the good and the bad.

Daniel is a good angel and Cam is the bad one.  I am not sure if they are both Fallen but it seems Daniel isn’t on the Big Guy’s favorite list either. We find out that Lucinda and Daniel meet and fall in love and then she dies. This happens every 17 years. Luce never remembers the previous incarnations until she fully falls in love with Daniel and the moment she knows what happens she dies…until now.  This time is evidently different because her parents aren’t religious and therefore didn’t expose her to the whole God, Angel and Hereafter concepts.  So finding out about their history doesn’t kill her…hurray!  Even though Luce is wildly attracted to Daniel she is tempted by Cam.  Somehow all this sets up a scene of a major heaven versus hell battle with Luse’s everlasting soul hanging in the balance. 

This story has lot’s of problems.  The backstory jumps in and out without rhyme or reason.  There is no real explanation for the shadows that haunt Luce.  There is no explanation for Cam’s desire for Lucinda.  There is no explanation why she is so important in the Angelic scheme of things.  I didn’t feel the love between the two main characters.  At first I thought that was because I am in my 50’s and these are kids but no.  I think it is because the Ms. Kate did more telling of their love than showing their love.  I appreciate a good love story whether it is between two teens or puppies.  I felt like I was dropped in the middle of a series and missed the first two episodes.  I wasn’t let in on the secret.

The ending was no greater or lesser than the beginning.  There was no character arc with great choices or consequences.  This story was hyped to be a bang but for me was really just a whimper.  Sorry Lauren.  I’m gonna stick with Harry and Jane Eyre.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Allison Brennan is a new author to me and I am glad to meet her


Recently I enjoyed two books from a new author to me, Allison Brennan.  I read “Love Me to Death” and “Kiss Me Kill Me”.  These tightly written romantic thrillers are the first two installments in her new Lucy Kincaid/FBI series.  Lucy was a secondary character in the previous trilogy “No Evil.”  In that series Lucy, a seventeen year old girl was a victim of a crazed serial rapist and killer.  With the help of the FBI, several of whom are her brothers, she is rescued but in the process she ends up killing her perpetrator. Now, eight years later Lucy has recreated herself into a strong woman who will never be a victim again.  She has earned a doctorate degree in criminal psychology and interned in every possible place she could to earn enough experience and credentials to make it into the FBI, including a stint in the morgue and working for a non-profit victims rights organization to bring down cyber-predators.  She wants to work with the FBI, the organization that helped bring down her attacker and knows she has an uphill battle. 

In the first book, “Love Me to Death” pedophiles Lucy has been tracking start showing up dead.  It appears to be the work of a vigilante.  Because of her connection to the victims and her personal history she becomes a suspect. Unbeknownst to her another threat is stalking her.  So begins a twisted thriller where you don’t know if it is her past chasing her or if it is a whole new threat.  She feels isolated and alone when she turns to her bother’s partner Sean Rogan for support.  He becomes her protector and wants to become so much more.  The story has so many twists and turns the ending comes out of nowhere.  I put this book down wanting to know more about the Kinkaids and Rogans.

The next book, “Kiss Me Kill Me” picks up the story about six weeks later and Lucy has taken her exams and completed the interview for the FBI.  Meanwhile Sean who has become her official boyfriend has received a call from a relative asking him to look for a female cousin who has gone missing.  Once again the story takes off quickly and I was spinning trying to keep up with all the red herrings and left turns.  Does Lucy get the job?  Will they find the cousin?  Who is killing all the girls?  Do Lucy and Sean ever get to vacation? While the first book was all about the crime and the family was only introduced to fill in a couple of blanks, “Kiss Me..” delves further into Lucy and Sean as individuals and their relationships with siblings.  Family issues rear their ugly heads which makes for a nice balance to the almost super hero skills of Lucy.

There is a cast of secondary characters in the Kincaid books that are useful to move the story forward but they really take a backseat to Lucy, Sean and the crime-solving.  You know in Stephanie Plum and Eve Dallas tales the supporting characters are critical to the main characters.  Not so in the Kincaid stories.  I hope this doesn’t cause the series to get stale too soon.  Maybe some of the other characters will move more center and expand the plots. 

Just a note I was reading a little of the bio for Allison Brennan and boy is she cool!  She worked for the California State Legislature as a consultant.  She married and had 5 kids.  She was crazy busy and wrote through it all, mostly after the kids went to bed.  She didn’t write because she thought she was going to be famous or otherwise but because it is what she does and who she is.  I can relate to that.  She wrote a book so she could say she did it.  It was in 2004 when she sold her first book “Prey” and it took off from there.  I am completely inspired by her.  It gives me hope that one of these days someone will be blogging about my book.

In closing I just want to say how proud I am of myself for sharing my thoughts on these stories without giving away any of the plot lines.  It would be a shame to give any of it away.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

So Pick Already Stephanie!

At seventeen I knew I wanted to be an actress.  I had the hots for a gorgeous boy with long brown hair and blue eyes.  I didn't think about much else.  .  In "Smokin' Seventeen" by Janet Evonovich Stephanie Plum seems very similar to my seventeen year old.  She knows she wants to be more and she has the hots for a gorgeous guy.  Okay, make that the hots for two gorgeous guys.  The difference between these two teen personalities is my biggest worry was whether or not my softball team was going to State while Stephanie has dead bodies showing up with notes attached addressed to her.  Other than that Stephanie is no more mature than a seventeen year old.
If you didn't figure it out by the title this is the 17th novel in the Stephanie Plums Series.  I have read everyone one of these books and for the majority of the time laughed my fool head off.  I LOVE Stephanie and the gang but I hate to say it, it is time now for Stephanie and the humor to grow up some. 
In this installment the bail bonds office is situated in an RV while the building is rebuilt after being burned down.  Trouble shows up when dead bodies start being dumped in the lot in shallow graves. Trouble increases when the bodies start seeming to be gifts to Stephanie.  Trouble switches to her love life as she navigates two lovers, Joe and Ranger.  She says she loves them both but she sees a future only with one even though her body can't help but say yes to the other.  It feels rather uncomfortable when she starts bed hopping between the two.  This isn't NYC, LA or London.  These aren't jet setting swingers.  We are talking about the Burg in New Jersey where the hair is big and so are most of the families.  Bladder infections from sex are not funny and even less so with multiple partners.  STD's have never been funny.  Okay, the granny panties were.
I get it Janet.  The formula has been working.  You are still laugh out loud funny in parts and I want to keep laughing for a long time to come but and this is a big but. (Not Lula big butt).  It is getting old.  Stephanie is getting old.  I want to see Stephanie to grow and change like I have grown and changed.  Maybe I haven't matured but I am different than I was 16 years ago.  Stephanie isn't.  Joe isn't.  Ranger isn't. Lula isn't.  It is time.  I don't think the series needs to end but I do think it needs to change.  Stephanie needs to move, get married, hell go transgender but she needs to change.
Just as a note I recently read there is a movie of the series coming out sometime this year.  Check out the picture of the cast!  That explains a lot of things.  John Grisham's writing lost it's grip and read like a screenplay after his book "The Firm" was turned into a movie.  I could almost tell you who he was looking to cast as I read the books.  I quit reading after a while.  The same thing has happened to Charlaine Harris now that "True Blood" has taken over Sookie Stackhouse.   This might be what is happening here.

Please Janet, don't make me quit reading you.  If you get any deeper into one dimensional and sad writing there won't be enough of us to bail you out!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mercedes Lackey is Full of Fantasy and Fairytales!

How is it that a book I enjoyed so much is so hard to describe?!
I just finished Mercedes Lackey’s newest Elemental Masters novel called “Unnatural Issue.”  Just as in her 500 Kingdoms Series she has twisted an old fairytale or folk story with her own signature twists. “Unnatural Issue” is a take on the “DonkeySkin” tale. It is filled with magic, intrigue, drama, love, suspense and creepiness.  I really enjoyed it but every time I try to describe it I feel like there is too much to explain and I want to say to you, my friendly reader, just go out and get it!  If you like magic and intrigue you will like this whole series. 
So here’s what I have decided to do.  I am going to give you a word list that describes “Unnatural Issue” and leave it up to you to decide if this is enough to want to read the rest….here goes:
Unrequited Love

Seen enough?  Each of the novels in the Elemental Masters series stands on its own but I think you will get more out of them if you read them in order so here they are:
The Fire Rose
The Serpent's Shadow
The Gates of Sleep
Phoenix and Ashes
Reserved for the Cat
The Wizard of London
Unnatural Issue
P.S. isn’t the cover art for these books awesome!?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is dark and dreamy

I have this friend at my job and we talk books all the time and except for her unhealthy obsession with all that is “Gone With the Wind” and never reading any “Harry Potter” our tastes are pretty similar.  She turned me onto Kristin Hannah’s “Firefly”, Sue Monk Kidd’s “Secret Life of Bees” and Lisa Unger’s “Black Out.”  I have in turn given her some great titles to enjoy like the “Book Thief” by Markus Zusak and “The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman.  She has consistently resisted Potter. It is one of my favorite parts of the day when I visit her office to gab about books.  We both belong to  I get their monthly newsletter but she is a paid member.  One of the benefits of paid membership is on occasion a member can sign up to receive an advance reader addition of a new novel, for free.  Yes, I said for free!  How cool is that?  It is by way of this service that “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern came into my life. 
Erin Morgenstern
I was doing my daily rounds when I stopped by her office and she excitedly told me about this book she KNEW was right up my alley.  It was all about magic and illusions and make believe.  She said she read it faster because she wanted to get it to me so we could talk about it.  She doesn’t read fantasy.  She sticks with more reality based fiction.  She reads much more classic style literature than I do so she was tickled that she liked this book so much.  It is a fantasy but it is a fantasy in the style of Charles Dickens or the Brontes.  It is dark, deep, and confusing.  It wraps you up in a web of illusion and magic and for me, never let’s go.  This is a richly drawn novel full of word pictures and textural descriptions. I would love to say more but I am afraid too much description will give some of the mystery away. Suffice it to say I could touch, taste, smell and hear her tale. Even at the end when Ms. Morgenstern wraps it all up in black and white striped paper I am still wondering who won.

This story is about the great experiment Nurture versus Nature.   Two old guys who have been debating the argument for more years than 2 or 3 people have lifetimes have picked another round of guinea pigs.  They are children when they are chosen.  One child has no particular talent in magic but he has the drive to survive.  The other child is full of magic and longs for someone to love her.  They are told from the early ages of 6 and 8 they have been entered into a game.  They can’t know who their opponent is nor are they told how the victor is determined.  The rules are obscure.  Even the order of play is unclear.  The game will make itself clear once they are officially on the playing field.
You guessed it.  The playing field is the circus.  Not your ordinary Ringling Brothers either.  One day the field outside of town is empty and then, overnight without fanfare or announcement, the field is filled with tents.  Not the brightly colored tents you are used to seeing but striking black and white striped tents.  This circus doesn’t have a midway of carnies trying to convince you to knock down the milk bottles or shoot the ducks.  This circus is filled with living statues, mystical gardens of ice and paper.

A clock that not only shows the hours but glows and fades with the day and night.  The circus is open only during the hours of sundown and dawn.  It is a magical place that is never the same.  No matter how many times you visit, there will always be something you haven’t seen before. 
It is here the two opponents will compete.  Is it the illusionist, Marco who will carry the day?  Maybe Celia, the magician that will declare victory.  For most of the story I am not even sure the game has started.  Then someone made mention of a move and I knew the whole circus and its creation was the game.  What can one do with imagination and determination?  What kind of world does illusion create?  Where does the magic end and reality start?
This story is confusing, jumping back and forth in timeline, between locations, and point of view.  Celia and Marco might be the combatants but I cannot say they are really the main characters because one chapter belongs to the clock maker.  Another chapter goes to the young man, Bailey, who fell in love with the circus when he was eight.  Then twins become the storytellers. Depending on the chapter the main character could be almost anyone.  This is also a love story between the Marco and Celia.  Their lives are so entwined they begin creating for the other and through these creations they know each other in a way no other could.  When they discover how the victor will be chosen they are both determined to beat the game and save each other.
My friend thinks the circus is a metaphor for dreams.  I think it is more real than that.  Aren’t we all caught up in the game of life?  Isn’t it our minds that create the shape of our reality?
My friend and I both think you should read “The Night Circus”.  It goes on sale September 13th, of course.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Blood, Bones and Butter by Grabrielle Hamilton is anything but reluctant

I don't normally read non-fiction.  I prefer the world of make-believe much more than the troubles of reality.  I avoid it as much as possible,  hehehehee.  So why did I pick this one up?  Truth?  It was the title.
"Blood, Bones and Butter."  I didn't even look at what it was about because the title captured me immediately.  I downloaded it to my NOOK before I even realized this would not be about mass murdering, vampires, zombies or pirates.  When I did realize this was a memoir of a chef I was let down, so much so, I read 3 books before I looked at it again.  Boy, was I silly.  This book was fantastic.  Gabrielle Hamilton is so passionate about what she does she makes some paranormal characters seem dull.  On the face of it the book is her memoir of how she came to be who she is, Owner/Executive Chef, of the restaurant Prune but really it is an adventure in growing up and finding yourself even if who you are is a sometimes cranky, sometimes crazy cooking dervish.
The story, of course, starts at her beginning in a family of odd people.  Her mother was a French ballerina with OCD and her dad was a theatrical set designer who was more buddy than daddy.  Dad was very loose in his parenting which was in direct contrast to the controlling manipulative mom.  Ms. Hamilton’s growing years were the typical dysfunctional story most of us have experienced to some extent.  Parents divorce, no one is taking care of the kids, drugs, a little homelessness thrown in.  It is the stories in between the dysfunctional episodes that pulled me in. Every summer they would have a lamb roast.  Her dad would select the lambs for slaughter, secure them to large spits and slow roast them over an open fire. Then with the male guests he would hoist the spits up and parade them across the yard to sawhorses for carving and serving.  Kids would be running around and the adults would be feasting and drinking wine. I would fall in love with food too.  The mom was no slouch in the culinary area either.  She was a frugal woman to the point of obsessive compulsive disorder.  Everything was used.  She pickled vegetables, meat and eggs.  Crusty bread and cheese veiny and stinky were mainstays of their diet.  Chickens gave eggs until they couldn’t and then they would become dinner and then they would become leftovers and then they would become feed for the other animals.
It was in college when she was trying to get her degree in writing that she took up with another foodie who was a caterer and her love deepened as she worked with fruity olive oil, ripe tomatoes, fresh pasta, and seafood of all varieties.  She moved to New York and she discovered a whole subculture of the catering world.  Who knew New York caterers often used massive kitchens of the same staff regardless of the catering company?  Like a catering factory.  Everyone smoked, dressed in black and cursed a blue streak.  She falls in love with a woman but marries the Italian man she had an affair with.
This is all lovely but it wasn’t why I loved this story.  I loved this story because Gabrielle Hamilton is a real woman following her real passion and sometimes her life really sucks.  She had falling outs with family.  Her restaurant is small and cramped and she wouldn’t be anywhere else.  She was married to a strange man who she didn’t live with but had two children with.  Through it all she cooks.  Her Italian mother-in-law can’t speak English and Gabrielle can’t speak Italian but in a kitchen over a pile of flour, egg and water they speak the mutual language of pasta and the love of cooking for family and friends.  She sits on a panel with other female chefs to share with upcoming young female chef wannabe’s and she wants to scream at them, “Cooking is work, it isn’t about celebrity or money, it is about love and life.”  She doesn’t say this because she recognizes she can’t burst their bubbles.
I loved her direct, funny writing style that made me see the omelet station she worked while she was nine months pregnant with her second son.  I felt her surprise when on family day at the camp she was cooking for the dad she met of her favorite camper was none other than Mark Bittman.  She made me cry for dead lobsters!  I laughed with her and cried with her and she reminded me following my passion isn’t about accolades or immortality or whatever.  It’s about living out loud and being less than you are if you don’t.  She inspires me to not give up on my passions and not to follow them but to live them. 
Thank you Ms. Hamilton.  I will be visiting your restaurant, Prune, in the near future to tell you personally.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

One Book Forward then One Book Back or Why I keep reading Anita Blake

I don't know my fellow reader if I have ever told you I have been married to the same man for nearly 30yrs.  I have shared with my friends that is has been the most difficult and rewarding thing I have ever done in my life....sticking it out all these years even when there were a lot of times I wanted to throw in the towel and give up or just kill him.  I feel that way on a MUCH smaller scale about Laurell K. Hamilton and Anita Blake.  For the last 10 years I have loved her and then wanted to kick her to the curb only to come back and try again.  Why?


Well, when I first met Anita I admired how tough, smart and strong she was.  I loved how she worked in a male dominated field and not only kept up with the guys she beat most of them.  I envied the sexy men she got to pick from and the amazing sex she had.  The balance between the sexy men and the very gory and tough thriller kept me turning pages and buying the next book.  It was like the first couple of years of my marriage.  I never knew quite what to expect.  Sometimes it was exciting and sometimes it was dirty but most of all it was so very satisfying.

Then about 10 books in things started getting overblown.  Little issues that I had been able to ignore early on because my love was so new was now starting to bug me.  The biggest problem I had was the stories were getting away from the suspense and thriller and became more about the goth, S&M sex.  I love sex but too much of ANYTHING makes it less interesting or fun.  The other thing that began to really bug me was all the moralizing that was going on.  Anita is a remarkable woman on so many levels.  What is up with the constant self recriminations, the constant struggling with the inner demons?  Oh My God, how can a woman who can look a monster straight in the eye and put a bullet in its heart then turn around and whine because she is going to have mind blowing sex with the most gorgeous men to walk the planet.  Really?  I am not reading this series because I imageidentify with Anita.  I read this series because I fantasize about BEING Anita.

I thought with "Bullet" Anita was beginning to work through her crap and we would move on and get back to a good relationship. The story still had more problems than resolutions but we were back to fighting monsters and the thrill was returning.  It was good enough that I had really high hopes for "Hit List".  Boy was I disappointed.  The big bads introduced in Harlequin were way too easily defeated.  After all that we had gone through with the Mother of All Darkness, all the fears that she was undefeatable she was completely destroyed in less than 500 words and a metaphysical prayer circle.   Oh! and what was the point of the misogynistic Marshal? Outside of giving her an opportunity to cry about being picked on and misunderstood he served no purpose.  He was sent away on a stupid road trip just to get him out of the way.  I think that was because even Ms. Hamilton was sick of the pissiness and pettiness.

So why do I keep reading these books?  Because when Ms. Hamilton is on a roll nobody is better and there are glimpses of that creativity and brilliance in every single book.  Anita is so freaking cool I can't help but want to see if she will work through her crap with each installment.  Bottom line, I like Anita.  What I have learned is to just take her for what she is, a screwed up but very interesting girlfriend.  She is a train wreck and I am human.  I want to see it/her.

So, I admit it. Even though he can annoy the crap out of me I love my husband and we will be together until the end.  I like Anita and I will read her story until the end with hopes and curiosity and as in my marriage I will probably bitch when she lets me down… again.  Like I said, I'm human.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Self Published Books...Lovely Surpises

Back in May I went on a little shopping spree at B&N's Nook Dept.   I bought a few newer releases like Debbie Macomber's 1022 Evergreen Place and the book my sister convinced me to give another try, Diana Gabaldon's Outlander.  (I know, I know....I am the only woman on the planet who never got hooked on Jamie Fraser and Claire Randall.)
Anyway, I also visited the under $5.00 section and purchased several self-published tales that were either $.99 or free.  I have finally gotten to 2 of those stories and I am delighted to report they were really well done.  I don't mean to suggest because a book is self published it is less than a mass production house book.  but I was expecting the cheaper novels in this section to be cheap because they didn't sell well or not great.  "So why buy any?" you ask.  Well because I was on a budgeted spree and I was curious.  I am an aspiring writer myself and have wondered whether self-publishing is the way to go.  I am still not sure on that point but I am sure that I will read more self-published work in the future.  

The two books that have me singing a happy tune are "The Mating" by Nicky Charles and "To Kill a Warlock" by H.P. Mallory.  Both novels were paranormals.  One was a serious romance and the other a tongue in cheek girl detective/whodunit.

"The Mating" by Nicky Charles takes an old theme of arranged marriage and puts a 21st century werewolf spin on it.  Elise comes home from a run in the woods with her would be boyfriend to find out she is to be mated that day to a new alpha of the neighboring pack.  Even though she is upset and unhappy over being manipulated by her father into marrying a complete stranger she goes through with it because she would rather marry a stranger than be a lone wolf.  What happens after this is a really touching love story.  Elise is thrust into a well established community that is still grieving over the loss of the past alpha.  To complicate matters it seems someone is trying to sabotage the pack to either sell some land to an oil company or give up their territory altogether.  Kane, the new alpha and husband seems like a good guy with a lot on his plate with blind spots about the people close to him.  As the couple grow closer together the troubles of the pack get bigger. 
This is a long story but it read really fast and my attention was held.  There are parts that I thought got a little wordy and some connections didn't get made for me but I have experienced that in books I have paid top dollar for.  Ms. Charles has  two follow-ups to the "The Mating".  I downloaded "The Keeping" during the shopping spree.  "The Finding" is not on B&N yet but can be gotten at for free.  Isn't FREE a lovely word!

"To Kill a Warlock" by H.P. Mallory is a complete departure from "The Mating".  It is a short, delightful read featuring a Fairy Regulator, aka cop named Dulcie and her team of sidekicks in the completely fictional place called "Splendor."   This tongue and cheek suspense story revolves around a series of very gross killings by a very gross creature.  Dulcie catches the case and then is kicked off the case for her own protection.  She is surrounded by a slew of gorgeous good and bad guys and until the end you aren't sure which one is which.  When she isn't catching bad guys she is writing romance novels featuring some of the hunks she works with.  This was totally worth the $.99 I kicked in for it.  I would read more of her work and be willing to pay at least a few more dollars for future installments of the Dulcie's adventures.

So my friends, checkout the Under $5.00 section at B&N.  There are some real gems in there.  One caveat:  Make sure you checkout all the info on a book.  I have felt totally ripped off when I bought a Nora Roberts novel that was actually a re-release of a short story.  As always, be a smart shopper.
I also found to be an awesome resource for inexpensive and free novels to feed my book beast.  For those who don't have to own their books, checkout your local library's ebook collection.  Mine has really become a treasure trove of great reading.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Lyndsay Sands and Carly Phillips go awry

I am annoyed.  I want to enjoy Lyndsay Sands and Carly Phillips, really I do, but just as I am starting to get into the story I am jarred out of the moment with the constant use of the word "wryly".....ugh!  If I had the time and desire to go back and count how many times that word was used by each author it would number into the hundreds!   I am sorry ladies but this is not acceptable.  You are both good writers with fun and interesting plots so why aren't you using your thesaurus.  I did and look, I found 9 options for "wry".  From they are:
askew, aslant, awry, contorted, crooked, cynical, deformed, droll, dry, ironic, mocking, sardonic, twisted, uneven, warped.                                                                                     If I looked up the synonyms for these words the list gets even longer.  I listened to Carly Phillip's "Heartbreaker" and I winced every time the narrator said, "wryly."  Come on Ms. Phillips not every smile is wry!  How about chagrined or delight, embarassment?  They are all great words!  I read "The Immortal Hunter" by Lyndsay Sands right after "Heartbreaker" and it was like salt in an open wound!   Vampires are not the most emotive of creatures ok, but I think of them as more often as stoic or sardonic than wry.  I would even go with secretive and sinister but wry would be on the bottom of my expressions list.  I would love to say these two books were the only instances of this travesty of language laziness but alas they are not.  This is the third Carly Phillips novel I have read/listened to and “wryly” is her most favorite expression in the English language.   I will let Ms. Sands a little leeway because I have read most of the Argeneau Series and this is the first time I have noticed the over use of that word.  I might have been over sensitive at that point since, as I said, I had just finished “Heartbreaker.”
In conclusion, I want you ladies to promise me in all future books you will strike the words “wry and wryly” from your vocabulary.  Get out your thesaurus and play with the rest of the english language….just sayin

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris felt kind of Dead

Let me start off by saying I love Sookie.  I have read every installment and you, my reader, have seen several posts praising Ms. Harris’s humour, characters, and plots.  She really is awesome.  I have enjoyed her Aurora Teagarten series, and the Lily Bard series. So I say with sadness goodbye to my favorite waitress, Sookie Stackhouse and Bon Temp LA.

I have read on several book blogs and news feeds that Ms. Harris is bringing the Southern Vampire Series to a close.  That is fine but please end on a high note.  Do not let such a fun and really iconic series end with a rehash of all that has gone before.  I would rather you just leave the residents of Bon Temp in permanent frozen mid-shift or bite than to have a wimpy ending. 

 Dead Reckoning was forgettable and that is regrettable.  Nothing happens.  Not even really good sex with Eric Northman.  There were confrontations with enemies and Sookie running to hide out at Bill’s and of course he is naked when she gets there.  Been there done that. Of course, there is a bad vampire trying to take over and needs killing but the best you could come up is slaughter at an Elvis concert.  It really left me flat.

Sookie doesn’t have to end up with anyone.  She breaks the blood bond so she can know with certainty that Eric loves her for her then Eric suddenly confesses to having a fiance all this time, huh?  When the blood bond comes to an end then Bill, Alcide, and Sam all show up wanting her. Alcide is literally waiting for her naked in bed! Bill confesses he is still in love with her.  Sam just makes implied comments that he would still have her.   Sookie doesn’t just have telepathy she has paranormal attractiveness.  I get she has fairy blood but come on!

Speaking of fairies, you shock us halfway in the series with the introduction of Fairies and Sookie and Jason’s familial connection with them then you want us to believe her grandfather has been watching over them through Eric and Mr. Cataliades?  Nope, doesn’t work.  It is so glaring that, I, who suffer from Can’t Remember S#$@T knew that wasn’t right.  It is so cleat that Eric and the paranormals were shocked way back in book 3 or 4 that Sookie was part fairy.  I think that might have even been the book where Eric lost his memory so he couldn’t have known.

So I say goodbye Sookie, Eric, Bill, Sam, Tara, Amelia, Pam and the rest of the gang.  I want to remember the way you were not how you ended.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Live Wire by Harlan Coben was almost too much


livewireAs you have read on previous posts I love Harlan Coben.  His writing is funny, exciting, a little bit dangerous and a little bit more compassionate.  Harlan wants the world to be a better place or, if not, at least there should be the good guys always standing against the bad guys.

Live Wire is no exception to his style.  In fact, I think he is almost too much in this story.  After the last book when Myron had been so horribly used and tortured one would think he would be much more hesitant to jump into a rescue scenario again even if it is for one of his clients.  Instead he is only too ready to play family therapist for his tennis babe and rock star couple and dig far deeper into the situation than he should.  Not only that but it seems his team, Esperanza, Win, Big Cindy and Dad are totally accepting of “Here we go again.”  I get it that he saw his strung out sister-in-law who is the reason for Myron and his brother Brad to be estranged and he wanted to find out if Brad was also in town.  The search is on now and in a very weird and heretofore unknown string of relationship ups and down Myron’s search for Brad intersects the help he is giving the tennis/rock star duo.  I don’t know if I really enjoyed the trip down the rabbit hole.  The whole thing becomes just this side of unbelievable.

Even for the strangeness of the plot I enjoyed this book.  Myron and Win cannot be beat in the sarcastic/sardonic humor game.  I am chuckling and groaning the entire story.  I love Win.  ilovemyronI want a friend who loves me like he loves Myron.  Okay, I don’t want a friend who can kill without impunity on my behalf but Win’s love for Myron is truly unconditional and I have to say I don’t know if Myron is capable of returning the same conscience free support.

For me the highlight of this, and this is going to sound weird, were the Blackberries.  Yes, the smart phone not the fruit.  Myron and Win have Blackberries on steroids.  They don’t have a Batman utility belt they have Batberries!  Get it, Batberries?  These phones, talk, track and practically think.  By the next installment they will be able to crack stupid man jokes!  I so want one!

Bottom line?  Myron has done it again and I will read the next installment.  I just wonder how he is going to find someone else to rescue without his talent agency… Maybe he will finally become a fulltime superhero.

p.s. at the end of this book there is a teaser for a YA book featuring Myron’s newly found nephew Mickey.  I am so getting it!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

What was suspenseful in “Wicked Lies” by Lisa Jackson and Nancy Bush


I don’t read Lisa Jackson very often.  She is kind of hit or miss for me and Wicked Lies was a miss.  It is a revisit to the Oregon coast and the women’s colony called Siren Song.  A psycho has escaped from the hospital for the criminally insane and Justice Turnbull is back to finish the job of killing members of the Colony, especially any of the women who managed to leave and live on the outside.  Not only this but the women of the Colony have been graced/cursed with different psychic gifts.  The main character Laura/Lorilei is a nurse at the local hospital and she is able to tell the health status of people when she touches them.  She has just divorced an arrogant, cheating and self absorbed doctor and has just discovered she is pregnant due to a weekend when she tried one more time to make it work with Byron.  She hasn’t shared this information with anyone while she is deciding what to do with her life next.  She is also able to telepathically connect with the maniac Justin.  She can tell when he is nearby and when he has killed someone.  Then there is the intrepid and jaded newspaper reporter, Harrison Frost, who had been drummed out of Portland because he was stirring up too much heat for a local bigwig while investigating the fatal shooting of his brother-in-law. Lorelei and Harrison collide at the hospital where Justice’s first new victims have been brought for life saving treatment.  This looks like the formula for a suspenseful and tight thriller.  Not so much.

Wicked Lies was very predictable.  I knew from almost page 5 what was going to happen at the end of the book.  It wasn’t horrible, at all.  It was just predictable and boring.  I kept reading and pulling for ALL the characters not because in the hopes that a spark would burst into a suspenseful flame. I have read romantic thrillers in the past where the thrill was the romance and not the crime and visa versa. Laura and Harrison went from zero to one-twenty in less than twenty pages or two days in the story.  There was almost no flirting, sexual tension.  Given Laura’s situation I actually found it hard to believe she could think of another man in a romantic or sexual way. 

The other problem was characters that truly had nothing to add to the story were included.  The brothers who wanted to track Justice themselves.  They were 14 and 16.  I think they were in the first book, Wicked Games and Ms. Jackson didn’t want to leave them out here but they served no purpose.  They were introduced about a third way in and then not talked about until nearly the very end. 

I will pickup another Lisa Jackson because she has written some real gems like Absolute Fear and Shiver

Saturday, May 28, 2011

"Crunch Time" by Diane Mott Davidson seemed a little stale.

crunchtimeSo, here’s the thing. I haven’t been writing a lot about books, or anything else for that matter. I feel I want to write, should be writing, need to write but I have no idea what to write about. Most of the books I am reading are fine as far as they go but they aren’t write home to mom about. I know I am reading, for the most part, the same 20 or so authors and of course they are going to start getting stale. I am reading the same couple of genres so maybe that is getting old too.

I just finished Diane Mott Davidson’s newest book “Crunch Time” and I have to say I was unimpressed even with the recipes. There was a time I would be so excited to see a new Goldie mystery on the library shelf and I couldn’t wait to get it home and start reading. In this installment she was way too involved in the investigation to the point of obstruction in some instances. If I had been her husband Tom not only would I not be making “Love Potion” salad dressing for her I would be threatening her with jail if she didn’t stay out of crap.

It seemed to me her involvement in the case led to the death of two men and nearly got herself killed as many times and I didn’t sense any attitude of regret or responsibility for her part in either instance.

It was all too Cabot Cove for me. Then for the weird cherry on top Tom wants to have a baby with Goldie. Her son Arch is 16 and she is 40. My sister just had her second child at 41. The baby is gorgeous and she is ecstatic she started her family later. Her first son is only 4 not 16.

I don’t know, it was just so dissatisfying to me. I will read her next one. I can’t write off a whole wonderful series for one bad installment. Maybe with her pregnant she won’t be so physically involved and her wonderful cast of sidekicks will take more center stage. I hope so.

Even though I haven’t written a thing in forever if someone is reading this and has any suggestions for new fun authors or genres I am open to suggestions.  I will go one step further for every new suggestion I receive I will read it then blog about it and give credit to whoever introduced me to someone/something new and I won’t wait 8 months before I post again!