Friday, December 28, 2007

Tohru Honda's story continues in Fruits Basket, Volume 2

Tohru Honda has promised never to reveal the secret of the Sohma clan, which she discovered in Volume 1 of Fruits Basket: the Sohma family is cursed. They are possessed by vengeful spirits from the Chinese zodiac, so that whenever a member of the opposite sex embraces them, they turn into an animal from the zodiac! Tohru is sworn to secrecy, but even so, Hatori, one of the Sohma clan, has the ability to erase memories. He believes it would be risky to allow Tohru to continue to remain aware of their curse.

Tohru is trustworthy and intends to keep their secret, but when her two best friends show up at the house where she is now living with three of the Sohmas, doing housekeeping in return for room at board, it is a challenge to keep things looking normal. Especially when her friends insist on spending the night! Luckily Tohru is clever and resourceful, and most important of all, she has a good heart.

She has no idea that her presence in the lives of Yuki, Kyo and Shigure has made them happier than they've been in years. When New Year's Eve rolls around, Tohru understands that her friends must attend a private Sohma family event. Spending New Year's alone for the first time since her mother's death is a depressing prospect for her, but of course she would never admit to that. Will her new friends figure things out and manage to be as good friends to her as she's been to them?

I am looking forward to reading more about Tohru's further adventures in this delightful, lighthearted series.

Fruits Basket, Volume 2 by Natsuki Takaya (Tokyopop, 1998)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Falling behind...

I guess it's typical to feel behind at this time of year, when everything's so busy, and so many things are going on. I have about a dozen books to talk about, I've been tagged for two memes, and I've sorely been neglecting my poor blog - and all those other blogs that I love to visit! I'm sorry! The one positive thing about it is all the good reading that awaits me when I do get around to visiting everyone again!

Molly Malone has tagged me for a meme, and it's my very first one. Apparently I am supposed to link to the person who tagged me (done), list 8 random facts about myself, and then link to 8 more victims, mwa-ha-ha, who will then link to me and repeat the above rules. This might even be a way of seeing who hasn't given up on me, even though I've been such a lackadaisical blogger lately. I will keep my random facts book-related, I think, just to stay with the theme of my blog.

1. When I'm reading I get so focused on my book that I can carry on entire conversations without even realizing it. This got me into a lot of trouble when I was a kid. I'd be utterly baffled when I got in trouble for something I'd evidently promised my parents I'd do, but I'd have no memory of actually making the promise!

2. My favorite book when I was a kid was called The Ghost in the Swing by Janet Patton Smith. Has anyone else read that? It's out of print now, and one year for Christmas my husband paid an appalling price for a used copy, so now I can reread it whenever I want!

3. I'd rather read than watch TV.

4. I carry a book with me most everywhere - it's insurance against having to wait. Whenever I don't have a book with me, I always end up stuck somewhere with nothing to do!

5. I have read Moby Dick three times. Unfortunately. It's not my favorite book!

6. When I was a kid (maybe 9 or 10 years old) I used to shelve the books for my beloved children's librarian whenever my parents brought me to the public library. I knew where most of them went by heart. Yes, I am a complete and utter geek. And why it took me such a long time to actually get a job in a library, I have no idea!

7. I regularly reread Madeleine L'Engle's A Circle of Quiet.

8. And here's a non-book-related fact: I love learning languages! I've studied French, Spanish and Greek (ancient), and I speak Italian pretty well.

Now, who to tag? I'm so far behind in my blog reading that I wouldn't know if anyone's already been tagged for this one. So, of the many people I'd like to know 8 random things about, I will randomly choose Valentina, Rhinoa, Ladytink (got you back!), Nymeth, Nicola, Heather, Bellezza, and Barbara. That is, if you have time and you feel like it. If not, no worries!

And Ladytink has tagged me for another fun meme! She says: Take the letters of your name and write out a title of a romance novel for it. It's that simple, see if you can actually do it. You can omit the words "A" and "The" from the title to suit your needs if you want. It's a lot harder than it looks but try for help.

Well, who could resist that challenge? So here goes:

Dream Man by Linda Howard
Almost Heaven by Judith McNaught
Ravished by Amanda Quick
Lord of the Storm by Justine Davis
Alinor by Roberta Gellis

Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon

As far as tagging anyone else - anyone who feels like it, give it a shot. But I must tag Virginia Gal, romance reader extraordinaire! Have fun with that one, VA Gal!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Book three in The Hollows series

Rachel Morgan (witch), Jenks (pixie) and their partner Ivy (living vampire), return in this third book of the Rachel Morgan series. The narrative begins almost immediately where the second book ended (you may want to skip this review if you plan on reading the series, which is definitely best enjoyed chronologically, so you won't ruin any plot surprises. See the link Dead Witch Walking below for a review of the first book).

In her own inimitable, impetuous way, Rachel made an agreement with a demon in order to get him to testify against a particularly horrible enemy she bagged in book two. She has agreed to be his familiar, which, if he pulls her into the "ever after," a sort of alternate realm where demons live, will mean a very, very long life of fear, pain and slavery. Rachel is counting on evading this fate through a technicality - only she's not sure if it will work or not. The demon turns out to be more powerful - and trickier - than she imagines.

To add to her difficulties, her boyfriend Nick has been keeping a wary distance from her. She inadvertently made him her familiar in the last book, and when she pulls on ley lines for magic, it affects him in frightening ways (as in causing seizures). As Nick maintains an emotional and physical distance from Rachel, she finds herself more and more attracted to Ivy's living vamp friend Kisten. She and Kisten had shared an intimate moment in the last book - an incident which occurred - at least Rachel tries to convince herself - only because she believed she was about to die. But every time she is with him, Rachel revisits that moment, and Kisten is clearly attracted to her, as well. If only that demon didn't show up to complicate matters further...

I am enjoying this series and am definitely hooked on the characters at this point. Jenks, Ivy and Rachel have an interesting dynamic that shifts and changes with each book, as characters develop and come to know each other on a more personal level. The books are more complex and serious than the whimsical titles imply; the world is a dark place, and there are no easy choices for the characters. I am definitely looking forward to the next book in this series.

The Rachel Morgan (Hollows) series in order (so far):
  1. Dead Witch Walking
  2. The Good, the Bad, and the Undead
  3. Every Which Way but Dead
  4. A Fistful of Charms
  5. For a Few Demons More
  6. The Outlaw Demon Wails
Every Which Way but Dead by Kim Harrison (Eos, 2005)

Other blog reviews:
The Movieholic and Bibliophile's Blog


Friday, December 14, 2007

Shopping for an ebook for the holidays?

The choices abound. Here is an article from Wednesday's L.A. Times comparing and contrasting several of them. Personally, I'm intrigued, but for now, I'm going to let the various companies, formats and devices battle it out. Then maybe I'll talk the plunge. What about you? Have you picked one up yet? What do you think? Are you planning to try one out, or are you passionately attached to your ink-and-paper versions?

I guess my opinion is that more books are a good thing, whatever the format!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What's the word of the year for 2007?

Words are fun, and of course I was interested when I found a link to this article about Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year 2007. I'll give you a hint: the word first became popular in competitive online gaming forums as part of l33t ("leet," or "elite") speak—a computer hacker language in which numbers and symbols are put together to look like letters. And another hint: the word is not "blamestorm," "sardoodledom" or "Pecksniffian." But if you read the article you will also find out what those and other runner-up words mean. I enjoy saying sardoodledom. It sounds like a word Winnie-the-Pooh would put into a poem. Tiddly pom!

Merriam-Webster's word of the year is chosen by site visitors who vote for their favorite. I'm unsure what the criteria are - it looks like the word and runner ups were just ones that people liked. Do you have a favorite word? A least favorite, one that bugs you for no apparent reason? The word "fruitful" has always kind of annoyed me. And I love the word "wombat." And "melancholy." What about you?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The shapeshifting mechanic returns

Mercedes Thompson, coyote/mechanic, returns in her second riveting adventure. Her friend Stephen, the vampire who helped her out in the first novel, comes to her house asking for a favor. She owes him one, but even if she didn't, she would still be willing to help him out - he's a friend, after all (even if he is a vampire). He needs a second pair of eyes and ears to bear witness to a meeting, and if Mercy accompanies him in her coyote form, he's sure the other party won't think she's anything but an unusual pet. She'll watch and listen, then fill him in on her view of events after the meeting. In and out, easy and quick.

Of course, the meeting is anything but easy and quick, and the consequences drag Mercy into vampire politics, werewolf troubles, and demons up to no good. Mercy's unique shapechanging abilities single her out as the only one with the potential to defeat an immensely powerful adversary - only Mercy isn't too sure exactly what the ramifications of her powers are and why they are uniquely helpful to her in the first place. Those who know about her heritage are reluctant to tell her because it might give her power over them, never mind the fact that with out that knowledge, Mercy will be severely handicapped when she faces a foe that threatens them all.

Adding to the confusion of Mercy's life is her unwillingness to be subordinate to Adam, the handsome alpha werewolf she's very attracted to, combined with the presence of Seth, her old flame/new roommate. Mercy's troubles make for fast-paced, page-turning reading with characters who are believable, both human and nonhuman, especially a very engaging heroine.

Books (so far) in the Mercy Thompson series:
  1. Moon Called
  2. Blood Bound
  3. Iron Kissed (to be published in January 2008)
Blood Bound by Patricia Briggs (Ace, 2007)

Saturday, December 8, 2007

A witch, a cat, and a bowl of snoring clams

Once upon a time, there lived a witch. She used to be mean and feisty, but now that she’s older, she’s mellowed a little bit. In fact, she’s become one miserable witch. She lives alone with her cat, Toraji, and one night she brings home some shijimi clams to put in their miso soup for dinner. When she places them in a bowl of water to soak, she notices that they are asleep and even snoring a little bit. It occurs to her that perhaps it might be cruel to eat the cute little clams, but Toraji soon sets her straight: “They’re just clams. We shouldn’t feel sorry for them.” She thinks of how delicious the miso soup with clams will be, and she has to agree.

But when she goes to throw the clams into the boiling water, she looks into the bowl: the clams are still sleeping, still snoring, and still moving contentedly. It is "a little upsetting." Maybe they could wait until tomorrow night, she thinks. After all, there’s nothing wrong with miso soup without shijimi clams, right? Toraji is clearly annoyed.

The following night, the same thing happens – plain miso soup again. And then, in the middle of the night. Toraji comes into the bedroom to complain that the shijimi clams have woken him up. And sure enough, when the witch goes into the kitchen, the clams are wide awake and talking. These clams are far away from home, and they are very homesick! What are a poor witch and her cat to do?

I read this picture book to my daughters (7 & 9 years old), and we all enjoyed it. The story was fresh and original, and the clams were so darned cute! It was easy to see why the old witch – and even her cat – come to find them so endearing. The Japanese setting, a refreshing change from that of most picture books, is understated yet adds a certain sense of the exotic to the story. Whimsical yet simple black-and-white ink drawings complement the text nicely - I particularly enjoyed the hilarious expressions on the cat’s face. I highly recommend this sweet story of determination, ingenuity and friendship.

Singing Shijimi Clams by Naomi Kojima (Kane/Miller Book Publishers, 2006)

Other blog reviews: Here and There Japan

Friday, December 7, 2007

A funny, sweet manga series

A friend at work suggested this series to me a few weeks ago (we both happened to be in the YA manga section - I recommended xxxHOLIC, my favorite, and she recommended this one, and we are both happy with each other's recommendation). I don't know why, but I'd never gotten around to trying this one - there are just so many to choose from!

I love the premise: Tohru Honda is an orphan who, unwilling to impose on distant relatives, is living in a tent while her grandfather's house is being renovated. When her camp disappears in a mudslide, she is taken in by the Sohma family. She is slightly acquainted with Yuki Sohma, who goes to her school, but he is an enigmatic character who carefully maintains a distance from everyone at school (much to all the girls' dismay).

Tohru is an eternal optimist - even when things aren't going well, she tries to find something positive to take pleasure in. She is intrigued by the Sohmas - and also very surprised to discover their secret. The Sohma family have been cursed - they are possessed by the animals of the Chinese zodiac. Whenever someone hugs them, they turn into an animal from the zodiac. In the first book we meet the cat, the dog, and the rat...and later on, another one (I'm not telling which). It is fun to meet the different characters and try to guess which animal they are, based on their personalities.

This is a lighthearted, humorous series, but it also covers more serious issues, such as Tohru's sense of loss in the wake of her mother's death, and while she is perky beyond belief, her enormous optimism is countered by her occasional moments of grief, and that, to me, makes her a more believable, sympathetic character. I look forward to reading about her further adventures!

Fruits Basket, Volume 1 by Natsuki Takaya (Tokyopop, 2004)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

An ExtraOrdinary fantasy novel

Silas Heap, ordinary wizard, discovers an abandoned baby girl on his way home from getting medicine for his weak, newborn baby boy. Upon arriving home, he finds his son Septimus (so named because he is the seventh son of a seventh son) has died. He places the baby girl in his brokenhearted wife's arms, and they raise her as one of their children.

Any reader will be suspicious about Septimus's death, given that the series is named after him. Still, it is fun to watch events unfold. This is the first volume in the series (of which there are three books to date), and it is a fun-filled, suspenseful, enjoyable read. It contains elements typical of fantasy novels (a princess raised in hiding, an orphan unaware of his heritage, an evil overlord who usurps the throne, etc.), but the telling is fresh and creative, and the characters are delightful - definitely not stock fantasy characters. I particularly enjoyed the ExtraOrdinary Wizard with her pointy purple snakeskin boots and gruff exterior that hides a heart of gold, as well as the ghost of the previous ExtraOrdinary Wizard. He can only go to places he went when he was alive, which puts a crimp in his spying on the bad guys when they start meeting in the former ladies room, because, as a well-brought-up young man, he'd never set foot there in his life!

Although this is the first book, it is a stand-alone novel with a satisfying, conclusive ending. I am definitely looking forward to revisiting Sage's fantasy world in the next installment of the series. Many thanks to Deslily for the recommendation!

Books in the Septimus Heap series to date:
  1. Magyk (2005)
  2. Flyte (2006)
  3. Physik (2007)
Magyk (Septimus Heap, Book 1) by Angie Sage (Scholastic, 2005)

Monday, December 3, 2007

So, how much do book blurbs influence you?

Here is an interesting discussion about book blurbs - you know, those little quotes from other authors who either write books with similar themes (for fiction) or from authorities in the field (for nonfiction books).

I find that the synopses on jacket flaps and back covers give way too much away for my liking (for fiction, that is). If I'm considering reading a particular novel, I don't want to know very much about it at all, just very general descriptions: a supernatural murder mystery set in ancient Rome, for example (I'd give that one a try - anyone know a book that fits the description I just made up?). So I tend not to read much from the flap. But I have to admit, if an author I really enjoy writes a blurb for a book I'm considering, that does influence me in its favor.

For nonfiction, I think the blurbs are more important. If someone whose opinion I respect that's an expert in a given field writes a blurb for a book on that same subject matter, I definitely take notice.

What about you? Are you skeptical of blurbs, taking them with a handful of salt? How much do they influence your book choices? Have you ever been let down or misled by a blurb? Do you find them helpful? Or do you ignore them?

A murder mystery in a dark fantasy world

On the surface, Mercy Thomson is a reputable car mechanic, a single woman who lives on her own with a cat. But Mercy is far from ordinary - she is what the old legends call a skinwalker, a shapeshifter with Native American blood. In her animal form, she is a coyote, and she is able to shift back and forth from human to animal at will, swiftly and with none of the pain and limitations that werewolves experience. Of course, in size and strength she is no match for a werewolf; she counts on her speed and intelligence to keep herself out of trouble.

Even so, when a young man appears in her shop asking for work, looking as though he's barely survived an encounter with a wild beast, she gives him a job. Even though he's a werewolf. This sets in action a chain of events that gets Mercy into more trouble than she ever could have imagined - trouble that involves her ruggedly handsome alpha werewolf neighbor, the vampire whose "mystery machine" van is in her shop, an old flame from her teen years who broke her heart, and a dead body that shows up on her porch.

Mercy, a coyote raised among werewolves, has learned not only to survive as the underdog (sorry about the pun), but to stand up for herself and maintain control of difficult situations. She is politically savvy, tough, and wily, and these qualities are called to task as a little coyote finds herself up against some very big bad monsters. I thoroughly enjoyed this gripping novel - the writing was smooth, the pacing taut, and the characters were original and very sympathetic. I can tell from this first book that this is one series I am going to stick with. I only wish there were more of them to read!

Books (so far) in the Mercy Thompson series:
  1. Moon Called
  2. Blood Bound
  3. Iron Kissed (to be published in January 2008)
Moon Called by Patricia Briggs (Ace, 2006)