Friday, July 31, 2009

Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City

The premise of this book hooked me the moment I heard it: a mysterious 12-year-old girl recruits other girls, each with remarkable skills (lock picking, forgery, gadget-making, etc.) in order to form a team capable of penetrating the Shadow City, a secret underground city beneath New York City.

The story is narrated from the point of view of Ananka Fishbein, who attends an exclusive private school for girls, which is where she first meets Kiki Strike, an odd girl with white hair who is very tiny for her age. Kiki is fascinating to Ananka, and when she is invited to join the select group of talented girls (recruited by Kiki from various Girl Scout troops across the city), Ananka is most definitely in. But as the girls venture underground into the forgotten city built by mobsters and criminals in bygone years, it becomes evident that Kiki is not telling them her true motive for exploring underground and making a map of the Shadow City. She's up to something else altogether...

There were things I liked about this book: the premise, first of all, is an intriguing one. I love the concept of a team of twelve-year-old girls honing their various skills and exploring a mysterious underground city. The narrator had a lively voice and told the story in an interesting way. Yet somehow I never really managed to connect with any of the characters - I never felt that emotional resonance that made me worry about their fate one way or another. The girls, despite their different areas of expertise, were fairly interchangeable - one of them was grumpy most of the time, but I had difficulty differentiating the others. The plot calls for a hearty suspension of disbelief, but it is entertaining and certainly held my attention. This book reminded me of The Mysterious Benedict Society (another book where I failed to connect emotionally with the characters but is also hugely popular among young readers), and should definitely appeal to fans of that series.

Books in the Kiki Strike series:
1. Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City
2. Kiki Strike: The Empress's Tomb

Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City (#1 in the Kiki Strike series) by Kirsten Miller (Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2006)

Also reviewed at:
Big A Little a: "Kiki Strike is a plot-heavy book in a good way: it's always interesting and keeps you guessing. I didn't know what would happen until the very end."
A Chair, a Fireplace & a Tea Cozy: "This is a fabulous book; the writing and voice are amazing, the plot is fast moving, intricate, and clever, and the girls are inspiring and likable and unique."
What KT Reads: "I loved that throughout the book you never really knew who to trust and what their motives were."

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Origin in Death

A prominent doctor, a pioneer in the field of reconstruction and plastic surgery, is found dead in his office with a single scalpel wound to his heart. Eve Dallas happens to be at the hospital, working on another case, when the body is discovered. Dr. Icove, the deceased, is a pillar of the medical profession, beloved by all, a philanthropist, with a stellar reputation. No one is that clean, Dallas insists. Her first hint that Dr. Icove's background isn't so pristine are some very odd encrypted files on his home computer. Once decoded, the files turn out to contain a list of patients, all young women, known only by numbers, not names, such as experimental test subjects might have. But no one - not even Icove's own son, who has followed closely in his father's footsteps and is a prominent doctor himself, seems to know what those files mean.

The prologue of the novel, however, depicts a harrowing scene in which a young girl is euthanized. So the reader has a few suspicions about those files and what exactly they might mean.

Meanwhile, in Eve's personal life, she and Rourke have invited his Irish relatives to their house for Thanksgiving, along with their closest personal friends, including Peabody and McNab, Louise and Charles, and of course Mavis and Leonardo. Having both grown up without any real family (as Rourke only discovered his relatives fairly recently), Rourke and Eve are unsure how to deal with it all. The humorous sections of the book that deal with the Thanksgiving celebration serve as a welcome and effective comic relief from the rest of the story, which is unrelentingly dark and disturbing.

These books are set in New York City in the future (in the 2050s), but that setting has always been more a fun background than actual science fiction. (In my opinion, a science fiction novel must contain a science fiction element without which the story would not hold up.) The past books could really have been set in the present day, for the most part, which wouldn't be as fun because there wouldn't be all the fun futuristic gadgets and such, but the stories as a whole are police procedural serial killer mysteries and would still work. Not so with this book. The medical science element is inextricable to the plot, and without it, the story would fall apart. I liked that! There's a fascinating concept at the heart of the book, and it goes to some creepy places.

I do adore this series - one reason I've taken so long to get through it is that I tend to save the books for when I know I'll need an un-put-downable book. Since I discovered the audio books, though, I haven't been able to help myself - the narrator, Susan Ericksen, does such an excellent job with characterization. Although for this one I found myself having just a bit of trouble with her voice for Trina, the beautician who cuts Eve's hair (to Eve's dismay - she hates being fiddled with - and I can totally relate to that!). Trina's voice sounded just like Roz, the dispatcher in Monsters, Inc. I kept laughing to imagine Roz giving Eve a facial!

My only complaint is that the book ended so soon after the climax. What about the Thanksgiving dinner? It would have been a welcome change from the harrowing events at the end of the book to see Eve and Roarke back at home among all those Irish relatives, particularly the children - with limitless opportunities for humor at their expense. Still, I'm very much looking forward to the next dark futuristic mystery in the Eve Dallas series.

Robb, J.D. -Eve Dallas series
1. Naked in Death
Glory in Death
3. Immortal in Death
4. Rapture in Death
5. Ceremony in Death
6. Vengeance in Death
7. Holiday in Death
8. Conspiracy in Death
9. Loyalty in Death
10. Witness in Death
11. Judgment in Death
12. Betrayal in Death
13. Seduction in Death
14. Reunion in Death
15. Purity
in Death
16. Portrait
in Death
17. Imitation
in Death
18. Divided
in Death
19. Visions in Death
20. Survivor
in Death
21. Origin in Death
22. Memory in Death
23. Born in Death
24. Innocent in Death
25. Creation in Death
26. Strangers in Death
27. Salvation in Death

28.Promises in Death
29.Kindred in Death
(November 2009)

Origin in Death (#21 in the Eve Dallas series) by J.D. Robb; narrated by Susan Ericksen (Brilliance Audio, 2005)

Also reviewed at:
Banter Basement: "I whizzed through it in one day. The ending is pretty exciting, you know Eve and Roarke are going to survive but it's a bit tricky for a while there." [Spoiler warning for this review!]
Brianna's Mommy: "God bless Nora Robert’s prolific heart, I hope she continues to give me two new installments a year because I’m like a junkie and if I didn’t get my fix…I hate to imagine the lengths to which I might go."
Shae_Reads: " While the idea of the book was really interesting, I thought the subplot of the upcoming Thanksgiving celebrations were more interesting. When confronted with lots and lots of children, Eve does not disappoint."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception

Deirdre Monaghan is an incredibly gifted harpist. She is only sixteen, and as the book opens she is bracing to compete in the 26th Annual Eastern Virginia Arts Festival. Despite her talent and experience, Deirdre becomes so anxious before a performance that she invariably throws up beforehand. The competition is being held at her school, so she knows exactly which bathroom to go to for some privacy. So it is exceedingly odd when she encounters a young man in the remote bathroom, and it's even odder that she recognizes him, even though she's never met him before. She has dreamed about the "amazingly sexy" guy who introduces himself as Luke Dillon. She even knows his name before he introduces himself.

When she finds herself on stage, playing a duet with him - playing as she never has before, playing with courage and the confidence to improvise - it all seems perfectly natural, the way things should be. Even so, she has to admit there is something very strange about their meeting, and as strange things pile upon strange things in her life, from that moment that she met Luke, she comes to realize that the world contains things that she'd never thought possible. Soon she is swept up in the beauties and dangers - very real dangers - of that world. Luke has secrets, she knows, secrets he literally cannot bring himself to speak of, and it is clear that she has an important role to play - if only she could find out exactly what that role is, and exactly what is at stake.

There are many things I liked about this book. First and foremost are the characters, particularly as they they interacted with each other through lively and believable dialogue. Deirdre's best friend, James, is simply delightful - he's handsome and witty, and he could care less what other people (the ones who don't count, that is) think. He reminded me a bit of Simon from the Mortal Instruments series, with his hilarious remarks and wry sense of humor. I loved her down-to-earth grandmother, too, and also the chemistry between Luke and Deidre. It was refreshing to see a protagonist so infatuated with someone, yet still able to maintain her sense of self; Deirdre is strong on her own because of who she is, not because of who she is when she's with Luke. It was interesting to see that the qualities she has that make her such an excellent musician (discipline and creativity, among other things) are helpful tools in dealing with her otherworldly situation. I also loved the evocative sensory imagery, the scents and sounds and touches that are uniquely faerie, and the dreamlike quality of the narrative, which gave the book the atmosphere of a long and intricate ballad.

Ballad, the sequel to this compelling novel, will be released this coming fall.

Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception by Maggie Stiefvater (Flux, 2008)

Also reviewed at:
Angieville: "In Lament Maggie Stiefvater artfully weaves together a heady mix of music, humor, exhilaration, and desperate longing. I enjoyed this book so much it is physically painful to me that the sequel, Ballad, isn't due out till next fall."
Bookshelves of Doom: "...prose with a rhythm and cadence and dreamlike quality that fit the chock-full of Celtic folklore storyline but that still felt that it fit in the here and now, a heroine who is bright and likable and who, though she is attracted to a beautiful boy, doesn't lose her own self because of it (*cough* Bella Swan *cough*)."
The Compulsive Reader: "Stiefvater strikes just the right balance between supernatural intrigue and down-to-earth teenage tendencies, making Lament engaging to even reluctant readers, despite its length."
Reader Rabbit: "Lament is a beautiful story that many readers will enjoy. There's something for everyone in this lyrical and unpredictable novel; even for those of you who don't particularly like faeries..."
The Story Siren: "Lament has a little bit of everything; suspense, romance, intrigue, and action."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Courtney Crumrin's Monstrous Holiday

Courtney and her Great-Uncle Aloysius take a European vacation together in this fourth volume of the Courtney Crumrin series. This one is a departure from earlier books in the series, which focus on Courtney coming to terms with her developing magical powers against the backdrop of her small town, school, and less-than-stellar parents.

In this volume Uncle Aloysius is constantly at a loss as to how to best take care of his independent and often angry little niece. At every turn it seems that Courtney encounters adults in situations, usually of their own making, that are spiraling out of control for what appears to Courtney to be ridiculous reasons. While Aloysius tries to keep her safe and discourages her involvement, Courtney just can't help herself. She has a fierce sense of justice and does all in her power to make things right, even when the consequences are ultimately disappointing - and occasionally devastating.

This book is divided into two separate parts, one set in Romania (that involves werewolves) and another in Germany (that involves her ancestral home and some nasty vampires). I love the artwork, first of all - it is evocative and perfectly conveys the dark atmosphere of Courtney's world. Who would have thought that a noseless face could be so wonderfully expressive? And I adore Courtney. She is a tough and insecure, angry and loving, impatient and impulsive, intelligent and often lonesome. She is wise but inexperienced, and she makes mistakes because of her inexperience, but she always makes them for the right reasons. The books are dark but also have moments of humor, which is one of the reasons I love them so much - and this one no exception.

It was interesting to see Courtney far from her usual setting, and to see her spending some "quality time" with her uncle. I am eagerly awaiting her further adventures.

Neifeh, Ted - Courtney Crumrin series:
2. Courtney Crumrin and the Coven of Mystics
4. Courtney Crumin's Monstrous Holiday

And also:
Courtney Crumrin Tales: Portrait of the Warlock as a Young Man
Courtney Crumrin and the Fire Thief's Tale
Courtney Crumrin and the Prince of Nowhere

Courtney Crumrin's Monstrous Holiday (#4 in the Courtney Crumin series) by Ted Naifeh (Oni Press, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Beyond Books: "It was different from the other volumes, and although I still enjoyed Courtney and the writing, I found the flow of the story to be… odd. I like reading about Courtney’s life in her Uncle’s house and with the kids at school."

Monday, July 27, 2009

Closed for the Season

Thirteen-year-old Logan is not thrilled with moving - especially when he sees how run-down the new house is. His mother maintains that once they fix it up, it will be "adorable," but Logan is skeptical. When Arthur, the weird kid next door, informs him that the old woman who owned the house before them was murdered in it, Logan isn't terribly surprised. It looks exactly like the sort of place someone would be murdered in, after all.

At first his parents refuse to believe it, but after a trip to the library with Arthur, Logan comes home with photocopies of newspaper stories that tell all about it. Apparently some money had been embezzled years earlier from a local amusement park - quite a lot of money, at least a million dollars - and the cash just disappeared. The old woman had worked at the park, and Arthur thinks the murderer was looking for the money.

Logan is torn during much of the book. He kind of likes Arthur, a precocious, occasionally obnoxious eleven-year-old, but he knows from experience at his old school that being friends with someone like Arthur will be the kiss of death for any social aspirations he might have. He was hoping to make a fresh start, have the right clothes, play on the right teams, but he finds himself being drawn into the mystery of the missing money, and when he meets some of the popular kids, he has to admit he has very little in common with them. Arthur is smart and adventurous, and when he takes Logan to the ruins of the amusement park, all covered in kudzu vines, in search of clues about the missing money, Logan finds himself committed to solving the mystery. Their search will lead them down some dark and winding paths, and they will come up against some of the more dangerous inhabitants of Logan's new town - a sleepy little town where, he thought, nothing very interesting could possibly ever happen.

Arthur is not the only annoying character. Logan's mother is superficial and self-involved, and would like to hobnob with the snooty social scene of the new town. She drags Logan and his father to a party so they can meet the "right people," and at that party Logan is told by several adults that athletics are more important than reading, that he shouldn't have his nose "stuck in a book," and is lectured about the importance of "fitting in." That didn't sound terribly realistic to me, but maybe that's just because no one in my circle of friends would ever dream of saying such a thing! Logan's father is much more down to earth, thank goodness (although I couldn't help but wonder what the heck he saw in his wife!). I found it refreshing to see such flawed people depicted in a children's book without having their flaws be the whole point of the story. Often parents are just vague background figures for the main action of the book.

This was an enjoyable mystery novel that is perfect for summer reading, with the boys on vacation, exploring the abandoned amusement park and hightailing it away from the bad guys on their bikes. I enjoyed the two main characters the most - they were not stock mystery-solving boys, particularly Arthur, who managed to get on my nerves without ever quite losing my sympathy. I loved the fact that Arthur could always go faster and farther on his beat-up old girls' bike than Logan could on his snazzy new bike with tons of gears. And I loved the moldering, mysterious ruin that is the amusement park.

The ending was a little over the top for me, with guns and helicopters and kids getting into fairly dangerous situations where they really should have at least left a warning note about their suspicions, but that's probably just the worrywart mom in me reading the book. (And I'm not entirely convinced that two million dollars would fit inside a small briefcase that a young teen would be able to pick up and carry easily.) The mystery wasn't a tricky one, at least for this adult reader, but I'm betting that most young readers will be happy to go along for the ride. I found All the Lovely Bad Ones to be more complex and intriguing - not to mention creepy - but this still a fun mystery, and I'm sure I'll be recommending it a lot at my library in the coming months.

Closed for the Season by Mary Downing Hahn (Clarion Books, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Jen Robinson's Book Page: "This combination of realistic interpersonal dynamics with atmospheric, suspenseful mystery is sure to please kids. Especially those kids who aren't athletes, and have been known to spend an afternoon or two in the local library."
Kiss the Book: " I think Hahn just gets better as she keeps writing."
Readingjunky's Reading Roost: "The murder, the possibility of the killer's involvement in embezzlement, and the bulldozing of a local, historic amusement park all combine for some great adventure."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Finger Lickin' Fifteen

It's not summertime without a new Stephanie Plum book to spice up those warm, lazy days. Which must be why I always end up on an airplane seated next to some hapless stranger who has to listen to me giggle, chuckle, and possibly even titter during the entire plane trip. There's only so far you can inch away from such an annoying travel partner as I am when I'm reading a Stephanie Plum novel, particularly when you're seated in economy. I admit to feeling unrepentant.

In this installment of the series, Lula bursts into the bail bond office, astonishing Stephanie (inept but well-meaning bounty hunter) and Connie (the office manager) with her tale of having just witnessed a murder. As she was sitting in her Firebird, a man was decapitated right before her eyes. Lula tears away in her car before the surprised murderers can do more than stare after her. It turns out that the two men got a good look at the car, however, and it isn't long before Lula is being terrorized with potshots taken at the Firebird, among other dastardly deeds.

Meanwhile, someone is burglarizing homes monitored by Rangeman security, and Ranger asks Stephanie for help in catching the perpetrator. Unfortunately, all signs point to it being an inside job. Stephanie is grateful for the extra money - although the prospect of spending so much time with the unbelievably attractive Ranger when she and Morelli are on the outs does make her a bit nervous.

Then the decapitated man is identified as Stanley Chipotle, celebrity chef - and his sponsor offers a million-dollar reward for information leading to the arrest of the killers. Lula hatches a plan (aided and abetted by Grandma Mazur) to compete in the Chipotle-sponsored barbecue cook-off as a way of going undercover to catch the killers and nab that reward money. (Of course, it would help if they could actually make edible barbecue without anything catching on fire.)

In typical Stephanie Plum style, the absurd plot strands wiggle all over the place, cris-crossing in in surprising and hilarious ways, and come together in a very satisfying conclusion. Opening a Stephanie Plum novel always feels like opening the door to some good friends I haven't seen in a while - I love spending time with them, catching up on the Burg and its doings, and getting some good laughs along the way. If laughter gives the immune system a boost, then I should be in excellent health for a while!

Books in the Stephanie Plum series:
1. One for the Money
2. Two for the Dough
3. Three to Get Deadly
4. Four to Score
5. High Five
6. Hot Six
7. Seven Up
8. Hard Eight
9. To the Nines
10. Ten Big Ones
11. Eleven on Top
12. Twelve Sharp
13. Lean Mean Thirteen
14. Fearless Fourteen
15. Finger Lickin' Fifteen

Finger Lickin' Fifteen (#15 in the Stephanie Plum series) by Janet Evanovich (St. Martin's Press, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Bookworm Barista: "For those of you who follow the series like I do - you won't be let down. Well you might be let down at how quickly you read the book."
Lesa's Book Critiques: " I thought it was the funniest book of the series since one of the early ones when Grandma Mazur blew up a funeral home."
Redlady's Reading Room: "For me, these books are fun, escape reading that I always enjoy. I look forward to the quirky cast of characters and situations that they get themselves into."

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Magic Strikes

I liked the first book in this series. I loved the second one. And with this one, I am officially hooked. I am now in that most annoying state of waiting impatiently for the next one to come out - and that, unfortunately, won't be for almost a year, sigh.

The fantasy world has an interesting premise that works very well: the world is in a state of fluctuation between times when magic overcomes technology (forget using a car, or computer, or even electric lights), and times when technology overcomes magic. This installment opens with Kate making a promise to Derek, a werewolf and one of the very few people she calls a friend, to deliver a note to someone -without reading it first. This seemingly innocuous task ends up putting several lives at stake, including Kate's and most definitely Derek's. He ends up almost dead, with so much damage it is doubtful he will survive.

In order to track down his attackers, Kate goes undercover together with Curran, the insufferable but extremely handsome beast lord, at the Midnight Games. The Games are a deadly tournament that involves teams of supernaturals fighting in ancient Roman Colosseum-style battles with bloodthirsty, roaring crowds as the audience. She suspects something odd is happening, particularly when she meets the team known as the Reapers, who appear to be human yet fight like something supernatural - but it soon become apparent that the members of that seemingly invincible team are involved in a plan that is farther reaching than she could have possibly imagined.

In previous books, there have been hints about Kate's past, but only hints. We know that she always burns anything she might happen to bleed on, because her blood is proof of something that, if anyone should come to learn of it, will get her killed. Sometimes when there are hints of a hidden but important past, particularly in books with first-person narrators, it can feel irritatingly coy. But in this series it feels natural, as though Kate simply can't bear to think on these things. When she is standing in the sand of the tournament ring, it brings back strong memories of her childhood, of being trained by her father, fighting battles in just such a sand-covered ring, the memories are too powerful to avoid. Eventually, as the plot unfolds, we learn much more about Kate's past, as well as the Big Bad who's been looming on the horizon since the very first book - not to mention what is at stake because of exactly who Kate is.

One of the reasons I enjoy these books so much is the continuing development of characters and their relationships with each other. There is the increasing heat between Kate and Curran, of course, which involves some truly hilarious scenes, as Kate suspects Curran is only attracted to her because she hasn't fallen immediately into his arms like every other woman he's ever looked at - something she hasn't the least intention of doing, ever. As we learn about her past, that father taught her to avoid personal connections with people at all costs in order to stay safe, we see her struggling as she finds she actually has made some friends. And yes, they do make her more vulnerable - but who would have thought they could make her stronger at the same time? Favorite secondary characters return, and a few intriguing new ones are introduced. Humor, action and adventure, very cool and surprising magical world, relentless pace, tight writing, an intriguing mystery, a touch of romance, and likable characters - it's all here.

If you are hesitant to start a new series, or are worried this is another run-of-the-mill paranormal fantasy, don't worry. This one will not disappoint.

Books in the Kate Daniels series
1. Magic Bites
2. Magic Burns
3. Magic Strikes

Magic Strikes (#3 in the Kate Daniels series) by Ilona Andrews (Ace Books, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Angieville: "I continue to love the subtle humor in this series. By the third book I'm utterly invested in these characters and the complicated give and take of their relationships that so perfectly mirror the ebb and flow of magic and technology in Ilona Andrews' Atlanta."
Lurve a la Mode: "From start to finish I was entertained by nothing but good urban fantasy times, and all of it important in some manner."
Nooks and Crannies: "I adored Magic Strikes!! BUT I found out that the next book doesn't come out until June or end of May 2010 nooo!!! "

Friday, July 24, 2009

Equal Rites

In the small town of Bad Ass, somewhere on the Discworld, a baby is being born. The blacksmith, the youngest of eight children, is surprised when a wizard shows up, telling him he wishes to pass his "wizardliness" on to the child, who will be an eighth son of an eighth son, and as such will be particularly powerful wizard.

The wizard knows his death is approaching (in about six minutes, in fact), and the blacksmith thinks it might be a fine thing to have a wizard in the family. So when the midwife comes downstairs with a bundle of baby in her arms, the men demand that she give them the baby's hand so they can place it on the wizard's staff to effect the transfer of power. They ignore the midwife when she tries to protest, and before she can inform them of their mistake, it's too late - the wizard's powers have been transferred, and Death has arrived.

There's just one tiny little problem: the baby is a girl. And on the Discworld, girls are witches; boys are wizards. At first Granny Weatherwax, the midwife and village witch, thinks that if she teaches the child, Eskarina, witchly skills, all will be well. But the old wizard's staff has other ideas, and when it becomes clear that Esk possesses powers beyond Granny Weatherwax's experience, she and Esk must travel to Unseen University - where girls are Not Allowed.

It becomes repetitive, no doubt, to hear me rave about Terry Pratchett's books - of course this is a wonderful book! I find myself saying the same things about them over and over again, but they are true, and I have a long way to go with my reread/continue on with the Discworld series. So bear with me - or, if not, whenever I review one of Pratchett's books, feel free to roll your eyes and skip it, with the knowledge that I'm going to say the book was wonderful and recommend it to you. While this book is the third in the series, it introduces entirely new characters (except for the unique and lovable librarian at Unseen University) and would make a perfectly good starting point for anyone interested in the series.

This book introduces Granny Weatherwax, who, even though she is dead, features so prominently in my favorite Discworld books, the Tiffany Aching trilogy. She is a delightful character, wise and foolish at the same time (as the wisest people always are), and even when she admits she is wrong, she does it in such a way that it seems she's actually been right all along. It is such fun to watch her struggle to do what's best for Esk. When she first starts dealing with the powerful little girl, Granny Weatherwax is a bit at a loss (not that she'd admit that to anyone else):

Granny bit her lip. She was never quite certain about children, thinking of them - when she thought about them at all - as coming somewhere between animals and people. She understood babies. You put milk in one end and kept the other end as clean as possible. Adults were even easier, because they did the feeding and cleaning themselves. But in between was a world of experience that she had never really enquired about. As far as she was aware, you just tried to stop them catching anything fatal and hoped that it would all turn out all right.
I laughed so hard when I read that last sentence, because it pretty much sums up how I feel about raising my own kids. Anyway, Esk is a feisty little thing, and it is delightful to watch her stand her ground as those who are older and either wish to take advantage of her or believe her to be beneath their notice soon learn how very mistaken they are. Part coming-of-age story, part travel adventure, always poking fun at either contemporary society or traditional fantasy stereotypes, this is a wonderful book. And, of course, I recommend it.

Books in the Discworld series:
1. The Color of Magic
2. The Light Fantastic
3. Equal Rites
4. Mort

5. Sourcery
6. Wyrd Sisters
7. Pyramids
8. Guards, Guards
9. Eric
10. Moving Pictures
11. Reaper Man
12. Witches Abroad
13. Small Gods
14. Lords and Ladies
15. Men at Arms
16. Soul Music
17. Interesting Times
18. Maskerade
19. Feet of Clay
20. Hogfather
21. Jingo
22. The Last Continent
23. Carpe Jugulum
24. The Fifth Elephant
25. The Truth
26. The Thief of Time
27. The Last Hero
28. Nightwatch
29. Monstrous Regiment
30. Going Postal
31. Thud
32. Making Money

Equal Rites (#3 in the Discworld series) by Terry Pratchett (Roc, 1988)

Also reviewed at:

A Reader's Journal: "Brilliantly written - I could have put a bookdart on just about every page there were so many clever phrases."

The Wertzone: "Equal Rites is another funny and fast-paced read, but you can start to see Pratchett developing some more sophisticated ideas of what he can use the Discworld series for."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Skin Trade

There aren't many writers who are able to generate such polarity among readers as Laurell Hamilton. Just take a look at the three reviews below - they are typical of the hundreds of reader reviews out there. I have been a fan of the Anita Blake series from the very beginning - I read the first in the series, Guilty Pleasures, back in the early 1990s, and I've been hooked ever since. The earlier books in the series are more traditional supernatural mystery novels, with Anita hunting various big bads and using her own necromancer abilities to help her. There is a shift in the later books, in which Anita struggles to balance who she wants to be with the person she seems destined to become, thanks to various additional powers that have been foisted upon her. The most troublesome power to her is the ardeur, which has transformed her into a kind of energy vampire or succubus, and feeding that part of her has involved, in the past, some fairly explicit and detailed sex scenes.

In Skin Trade, the most recent installment in the series (#17), the novel's focus returns to the mystery, serial-killer-hunting format of earlier books. Anita receives a package at work, and when she opens it, she discovers a human head inside. How's that for a hook? It seems that Vittorio, the psychopathic vampire she came up against in an earlier book, is planning a bit of revenge for Anita. The rest of the body turns out to belong to a cop who was killed by Vittorio in Las Vegas, and she flies out to help locate the killer. There she is teamed with a team of cops that have their own set of special abilities, but it seems that her reputation for "sleeping with the monsters" means she must constantly prove her professional skills - and that, she knows, is wasting precious daylight. If they can't find Vittorio's whereabouts before sunset, they will have no end of trouble on their hands...

It is not surprising that after seventeen books in a single series, there is an enormous cast of characters, some of whom are rarely seen or not even present in any given book. I'm always happy to see Edward, and he plays a large role in this one, along with the ever-so-creepy Olaf. I missed other characters, of course, but one of the reasons I think the series has had such staying power is that each novel is a small slice of a day or two in Anita's life, and there are always things brewing on the sidelines with other interesting characters that would be fascinating to explore in future books.

There were a few issues here that, in my opinion, prevented this installment from living up to its full potential. The narrative arc was a bit choppy and interrupted by scenes of dialog that, while interesting, in retrospect did not seem germane to the book. The climax seemed way too rushed - after all the build-up about the horrors of the big bad, he was dealt with almost too easily, and the book's ending seemed a bit rushed. I think the biggest problem, though, was that Anita seemed buffeted by events in the book, rather than taking charge and solving things herself, so that the end was not as satisfying as it could have been. Anita has always been such a strong and resourceful character, and I prefer my heroines (and heroes) to be the ones to save the day. Still, given what has been happening to Anita, perhaps her lack of confidence should not be so surprising.

I enjoyed this book. The pacing wasn't as relentless as in many of the others, but still, I whipped through it as usual, staying up late to finish as always, and, when I had to put the book down, I found myself thinking about characters and events, impatient to get back to them. I have spent years of my life with Anita, and I find her a fascinating character. Hamilton has put her through the wringer, and in each book Anita is placed in harrowing situations that are often ethically and morally compromising - but often to avoid them would mean dire consequences for people she loves. She is constantly forced to choose between evils, and then she is left to live with the fallout. And occasionally her actions are literally beyond her control, and when she finds out what she has done without her own knowledge or awareness, she has to live with the consequences of that, too. Anita is left to wonder whether the cops who despise her are right, after all - maybe she should just give it up, stop trying to hold on what little humanity she has left, stop trying to chase the bad monsters and find a different sort of life. She is slowly losing herself as she has unwillingly forged metaphysical - and emotional - ties to more and more people.

I for one am looking forward to continuing with this series - it is fascinating to watch as Hamilton explores new and different directions with these compelling characters.

Books in the
Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series:
1. Guilty Pleasures
2. The Laughing Corpse

3. Circus of the Damned

4. The Lunatic Cafe
5. Bloody Bones

6. The Killing Dance

7. Burnt Offerings

8. Blue Moon

9. Obsidian Butterfly

10. Narcissus in Chains

11. Cerulean Sins
12. Incubus Dreams

13. Micah
14. Danse Macabre

The Harlequin
16. Blood Noir

17. Skin Trade

Skin Trade (#17 in the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series) by Laurell K. Hamilton (Berkley Books, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
All Booked Up: "There's plenty there for those who like the new, relationship-centric aspects of the story, but she's returned to the crime-solving that attracted readers to the early books as well."
Confessions of a Bibliophile: "And then I was so, so disappointed. If there was ever a book in need of an editor with a sharp red pen, it was this one."
Literary Escapism: "Overall, Skin Trade was such a great novel that I completely lost track of time while I was reading it. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had that happen with a novel. There was never a dull moment; the sex was there, but nothing like it has been; and the action was believable more than fantastical." "Laurell K. Hamilton may be trying to shift Anita’s character in new directions, perhaps to put the series on a new and fresher track for moving the series forward out of the metaphysical spiral that it has been in for some time."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Santa Olivia

If someone had told me that one of my favorite books of the year would have a major theme involving boxing, I would have been extremely skeptical. That has got to be my least favorite sport - something I have never been able to appreciate at all. But this book will definitely be on my list of favorite 2009 reads - I can say that with confidence, even though the year is barely halfway over.

So. Imagine a world in which the population has been decimated by incurable illness. In the areas along the Mexican border, people are desperately trying to immigrate to the United States in the hope of better medical treatment. But the U.S. is struggling to take care of its own citizens, and on top of everything else, there is a military threat from Mexico that also must be dealt with. The decision is made to construct walls and create zones that are basically a no man's land - people who were once U.S. citizens, residents of Texas (at least those without the means and/or foresight to get out in time) are now residents of nowhere, stuck in a small town, forgotten by the rest of the country, with no rights, under military rule, and never allowed to leave.

This is the world of Carmen Garron, a woman who remembers better times but is stuck in the no man's land of small-town Santa Olivia. She has lost most of her family due to the illness, but she and her sister have survived. She has relationships with some of the occupying soldiers, and finally falls in love with a handsome young boxer and soon finds herself expecting a child. When the young man dies before the child - Tommy - is even born, Carmen is left alone once again. It isn't until much later that she meets a man, a fugitive, who clearly has unusual abilities. And from their union Loup, the heroine of the novel, is born. She has inherited her father's abilities - among them are incredible strength and an inability to feel fear - and in a town like Santa Olivia, she's going to need them. But if the army discovers who she is and where she came from, she knows she'll become one of the many "disappeared."

There is one very slim hope for the people of Santa Olivia. The leader of the occupying army is a huge boxing fan, and he has proclaimed that, should one of the townspeople manage to beat one of his soldiers in a boxing match, the prize will be tickets to the U.S. and freedom. Tommy, who has inherited his father's boxing skill, is determined to be the one to win his freedom. But that is a long and difficult road for a young teenage boy, but he finds a way to train and also to keep Loup's secret safe.

I hesitate to say much more about the book for fear of giving away too much. I read the book after having heard it was a new standalone novel, without even reading the back of the because I loved Carey's Kushiel books so much. That was a great way to approach this powerful novel. Loup is an unforgettable heroine, and in many ways the book is a coming of age story, albeit one with fantasy and science fiction elements and a most unusual background. The is some strong language at times, but to me it seemed natural to the tone and characters of the book. The characterization is fabulous. Loup, her mother and brother and their relationship is emotionally compelling, but it was the secondary characters that really blew me away. Tommy's boxing nemesis, self-involved bully Miguel Garza, was my favorite of those, along with Loup's friend Pilar. They are complex and full of surprises.

This book has elements of folk-hero escapades, superhero hijinks, underdog sports sagas, and is set against a dark, post-apocalyptic backdrop where tragedy is an inextricable part of everyday life. I was so involved in this riveting tale that even though our flight to Florida was canceled and I ended up sitting in the very back row of the airplane, separated from my family, stuck between two enormous heavyset snoring men (thank you, US Airways!), I was actually disappointed when the plane landed and I had to stop reading with only a few chapters to go. This one has my highest recommendation.

Here's a very interesting interview at SciFiGuy's blog - with some tidbits about a possible sequel that sounds like it will be a lot of fun!

Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey (Grand Central Publishing, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
In Bed with Books: "Carey developed a harsh setting, but she populated it with motivated and good-hearted characters. (Not to say there aren't those who aren't filled with spite and ruin things for other people.)"
Experiments in Reading: "Carey brings together seemingly random elements--boxing, religious icons, cute girls, and basically what amounts to superpowers--and makes it work. The story was great, and I found myself caught up in Loup's struggles."
SciFiGuy: "Although I would hesitate to fit this into a genre box, urban fantasy fans will not be disappointed with the central heroine or the small but important role Loup’s preternatural abilities play in the story."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hogwarts House Cup Challenge!

When the girls and I stopped by the bookstore to turn in their reading logs yesterday (did you know that Borders and Barnes and Noble offer summer reading programs for children? B&N's is better - it gives the finishers the choice of a free book from a list of some really great titles, while Border's just offers 50% off selected books - but still, it's a fun motivator), we happened across a Harry Potter boardgame. We love Harry Potter (we've been doing a movie marathon in preparation for the latest film - and the 8yo has been walking around dressed as Hermione, in her Halloween costume from last fall), and we love boardgames, so I was unable to resist. It's supposed to be for ages 9 and up, but since my 8-year-old has been playing fairly complex games for years, she and her older sister picked up the game rules very quickly.

The game board itself is wonderfully enormous - it covers most of the tabletop and would not fit on a traditional square card table. The map that is depicted on the gameboard shows rooms from the school as well as some outside areas, including the Quidditch pitch, the Forbidden Forest, and Hagrid's hut - there's even the Whomping Willow! The artwork is wonderful - through a break in the trees in the forest, you can even see a unicorn, as well as the flying car surrounded by creepy spiders. Within the school there is the dungeon, the great hall, the classrooms, etc. There are four characters that players can be: Harry, Ron, Hermione and Neville. Of course neither of the girls wanted to be Neville, but you are supposed to shuffle the player cards and deal them out - get what you get, and don't get upset. (Actually, I quite like Neville!) You should be able to click on the images here for an enlarged view.
The idea of the game is that the characters go around the board, having magical encounters and trying to gain points of honor, skill and knowledge in order to meet more challenging encounters. Points are gained for Gryffindor, but also for each individual player. When the Gryffindor points total 500, the game is over, and whichever player has accumulated the most individual points wins. As the school years pass (this game covers the first five years) the adventures become more dire and failure means greater penalty.

So far we are enjoying the game. It seems to me that it is a bit too easy to avoid having to pay penalties, but that's probably not a bad thing if the players are on the younger side. We have some other games that are based on books, and they've all turned out to be a lot of fun. Maybe I'll have to post about the other ones at some point. At any rate, I thought I'd share our find in case there are more game-playing Harry Potter fans out there.

Oh, and if you're wondering which books my girls chose, the 8yo picked Clarice Bean, Don't Look Now by Lauren Child, and the 10yo chose The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.

Dramacon, Volume 3

This third installment of Russian-born mangaka Svetlana Chmakova's Dramacon series concludes the story of manga writer Christie and her collaborating artist, Bethany. Each of these books focuses on Christie's experiences at a manga convention - the first year she goes is in volume one, the second year is covered in volume two, and this volume covers her third (and final) year.

Christie has come a long way since her first year, and as her relationship with total hottie Derek evolves, she finds herself putting her foot down and demanding to be treated in a courteous, respectful way. Of course, the fact that she's decided to cosplay this year (i.e. dress up as a favorite manga or anime character), and her costume didn't come out so well doesn't really inspire a whole lot of respect from others at the convention! When Derek's old girlfriend arrives to stir things up, Christie finds it hard to concentrate on her aspirations to connect with a publisher for her manga.

Meanwhile, Bethany's mother decides to visit the con, which Bethany has been describing as a cultural experience. Her mother is vehemently agaisnt any idea Bethany might have to become a professional artist because it is not a secure profession. Bethany wants to be an artist, but she is fine with continuing academics as well - she works very hard, but her mother never seems to be satisfied. When she finds out what's actually going on at the convention, things really heat up.

This would be a good introduction to manga for anyone interested in giving it a try. It is an original English-language manga, so it is read from left to right, front to back. There is an appealing combination of humor and romance, and the storyline about Christie and Bethany's manga collaboration and their ambition to become published authors is a compelling narrative arc that moves across all three books and will have readers rooting for the two talented, determined friends.

Books in the Dramacon series:
Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3

Dramacon, Volume 3 by Svetlana Chmakova (TokyoPop, 2007)

Also reviewed at:
The Fickle Hand of Fate: "The third volume doesn't have as much stuff about the con itself because it's keeping track of all the characters, but it's an excellent conclusion."

Monday, July 20, 2009

Kreativ Blogger Award

Many thanks to Kiirstin of A Book a Week for awarding not just my blog, my daughter's blog and my niece's blog the Kreativ Blogger award! I am now supposed to list seven of my favorite things and pass the award on to seven other bloggers. So here goes, a fairly random list of some of my favorite things in no particular order:

1. Reading outside in the morning while having breakfast and drinking a cup of hot coffee. I particularly love it when I happen to glance up and see some deer - or maybe a fox - wandering though the back yard.
2. Reading to my children - any book, any time, anywhere.
3. Making pottery - particularly when it comes out they way I'm hoping it will!
4. Writing - particularly when it's a good day and the words come without too much struggle.
5. Going on vacation and spending uninterrupted fun time with my husband and kids. It's always especially fun when my brother and his family join us!
6. Photography
7. Long walks on the beach

I have difficulty choosing from among all the blogs I love to pass the award on to. Basically, if you're in my reader list on my profile page, this one's for you! Consider yourselves awarded. I just wish I weren't so far behind in my reader - these weeks away are killer. I just start to get caught up, and then whoosh, back to 500+ posts to read. Still, it's good reading!

Oh, and I just found out that Melissa from Melissa's Bookshelf just awarded me this award, too! Thanks so much. :-)

Mystery of the Green Cat

I'm going to be visiting San Francisco with my girls next month, and as I thought about the sightseeing that would be most interesting for kids their ages, I found myself thinking about a mystery I'd read when I was ten or eleven that was set in San Francisco, and how it had such an evocative setting that things seemed familiar to me when I finally got to visit it in person, many years later. I remembered that the author was Phyllis A. Whitney - I loved her juvenile mysteries, and when I began my foray up into the adult section of the library, I was delighted to discover she'd written dozens of books for adults as well.

A quick Google search gave the the title, but my library no longer has it in the collection. So I requested it through interlibrary loan (and many thanks to Longwood College's Dabney Lancaster Library for loaning me theirs so I could read this to my children!). I had vague memories of the book, so I wasn't sure how it would hold up to their modern scrutiny, but they were interested the entire time, always asking for more whenever we drew to the end of a chapter.

The story is about the family that forms when a widow and widower decide to remarry. The man has thirteen-year-old twin boys, and the woman has two girls, one eight and one twelve. The boys' mother died only two years ago, and they are feeling resentful of this new mother and sisters, particularly as they had to move to a new house in a new San Francisco neighborhood.
Twelve-year-old Jill would like to be friends with her new brothers, but right away she sees that there are issues, and while Andy seems nice, his brother Adrian is moody and outright rude to her mother.

The complications of blending two families into one are only one part of the book, however. The mystery element is introduced as the children become friends with an odd woman who lives in an old San Francisco mansion just the hill from their house. Miss Lydia is in elderly invalid, kept a virtual prisoner by her overbearing sister Mathilda. But Jill and Andy strike up a friendship with her, aided and abetted by Hana, the daughter of a Japanese couple who work at the house. Miss Lydia is usually clearheaded and cheerful, but certain subjects send her mind back to traumatic events of her past, particularly to a difficult time when she lived in Japan and survived a major earthquake there. She begs them to find her little green cat - but what on earth could she be talking about?

There is no doubt that the book has a dated quality to it (particularly the frequent use of words "gay" and "queer" - I occasionally found myself changing them to "cheerful" and "odd" as I read aloud because it sounded so strange to my modern ears). But the subject matter is topical, still, with families so often coming together these days through divorce. And it was a great introduction to San Francisco, which was a colorful backdrop for the action of the book, complete with sightseeing trips for Jill, who had never been to San Francisco before. The family dynamics were portrayed with empathy and honesty, and the characters were believable. Jill's little sister Carol, at eight years old, seemed much, much younger than my eight-year-old and was sidelined from much of the action in the story. And Hana, the young Japanese girl, was portrayed an a fairly stereotypical way. Still, I remember when I read the book as a child, I thought it was very interesting to have a character who was Japanese, since most of the characters in books I read were white and either American or British.

I enjoyed this revisit with an old favorite, and I was pleased to see that my girls did, too. I only own one of Whitney's juvenile mysteries, The Mystery of the Crimson Ghost, which was my absolute favorite. I snatched it up when I saw it in a used book store a few years ago, and I look forward to sharing it with my girls one day soon.

Mystery of the Green Cat by Phyllis A. Whitney (The Westminster Press, 1962)

Also reviewed at:
GregLsBlog: "It's one of the first books I remember reading where the kids weren't 'perfect' (particularly for a mystery novel) and something about that resonated."
Kinnie's Korner: "If you enjoy mysteries and exciting books then you will love this book."

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Among the Mad

This sixth historical mystery in the Maisie Dobbs series continues to explore the harrowing effects of the first World War on the people of England. The novel opens with Maisie and her assistant Billy walking down the street on Christmas Eve. As usual, there are beggars on the street, many of them wounded (physically and often mentally as well) war veterans. One of them catches Maisie's eye, as he is the embodiment of hopelessness and dark despair. Always ready to give a coin or two, Maisie approaches him. But when she sees him reach into his coat, she realizes something dangerous is about to happen. She expects a gun, not the bomb - but there's no time to do anything. She is caught up in the blast, literally blown off her feet.

Later, a letter arrives at the prime minister's office threatening more violence - possibly through the use of toxic gas - unless the government passes laws to help the wounded veterans who are clearly not being taken care of as they should be. The letter mentions Maisie by name, and soon she is called in to work on the investigation with Scotland Yard. But trying to find one mentally disturbed, clearly brilliant man in the morass of wounded, mentally scarred veterans in England before he can strike seems a hopeless task. Maisie will need all her special training and insight - not to mention the contacts she made working as a nurse during the war - to discover the culprit in time. Sporadic glimpses of the killer's journal serve to heighten the tension as well as reveal a highly intelligent, deeply disturbed mind.

This is one of my favorite mystery series for adults, right up there with Laurie R. King's Mary Russell series. They mysteries are intricate and intriguing, and the characters are multifaceted and, as events progress through the series, their impact on the characters is evident as they grow and change as a result. The novels all explore the effects of the war and its aftermath, and each mystery involves an aspect of those effects. In this one, the treatment of war veterans, particularly those with mental issues, is at the forefront, and it made for one of the creepier, darker books in the series. Although the novels are set in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the subject matter is powerfully relevant to current times. Having recently finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I felt the references to events in Germany that presaged World War II to be particularly disturbing, as it was clear that the country had yet to deal with the fallout from the first war, and a new one would be on them before knew it.

This is a series that has great appeal both those who love a good, character-driven mystery and those who enjoy historical novels. The books fall into that rare category of mystery that holds up to rereading, because the books are about so much more than the solving of a puzzle. In fact, I enjoyed the audio version of this and the last one so much, I may go back to the beginning and listen to the others some time soon. I look forward with impatience to the next book in the series.

Books in the Maisie Dobbs series:
1. Maisie Dobbs
2. Birds of a Feather
3. Pardonable Lies
4. Messenger of Truth
6. Among the Mad

Among the Mad (#6 in the Maisie Dobbs series) by Jacqueline Winspear; narrated by Orlagh Cassidy (BBC Audiobooks America, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
A Garden Carried in the Pocket: "Among the Mad is one of Winspear's best, a multi-layered look at an era."
Lesa's Book Critiques: " of the most thoughtful, timely mysteries you will read this year, even though the main action is set in one short week in December, 1931."
Library Queue: "This mystery actually creeped me out a little more than her others have, but I was riveted."
A Reader's Journal: "In my opinion, Among the Mad is the best one yet."
And here is a review at Mindy Withrow's blog of the first four books in the series, if you'd like to see how it all began.

Saturday, July 18, 2009 more new blogger!

My ten-year-old daughter has decided to jump in with her own blog (seeing how much fun we are all having with ours, no doubt).

She has decided to focus her blog on animals, and include books, movies, or just her thoughts and feelings about paricular animals or animals in general. She is an animal lover! Her blog is Lilyvine's Pet Times, and if you know any animal lovers out there who would like to stop by and visit, she'd be very pleased. Thanks!
The delightful image above is by Tina Kugler, and for more of her wonderful, whimsical artwork check out her blog, Tina Kugler Illustration.

Biting the Bullet

Jaz Parks returns in this, the third book of in her eponymous series. She is a tough-as-nails assassin, working with her team of creative geniuses of various natural and supernatural talents to take out the bad guys of the world. We have yet to meet the big bad, against whom they've been working since the first book, but in the meantime his henchmen have proven to be deadly enough on their own.

Jaz and her team, led by master vampire Vayl, are sent to Iran to assassinate a terrorist the U.S. government has been after for years. She finds herself joining forces with her twin brother's team, which creates a number of interesting issues. First of all, there is some tension between Jaz and her brother, stemming from events that occurred prior to the first book in the series, which adds to the issues Jaz has to deal with during the mission. Second, it is clear that someone on her brother's team is a mole, and they need to figure out who it is before it is time to carry out their mission. Their are further issues to complicate matters, but you'll have much more fun if you discover them for yourself.

In this book Jaz goes to some dark and scary places, and she retains her stubborn toughness while remaining appealingly vulnerable in certain ways. There are many elements in this series that will be familiar to readers of the genre, but the suspense, humor and skillful characterization never fail to grab my attention. I particularly enjoy her treatment of secondary characters, who are fully fleshed and have their own issues and concerns. When I approach a new book in this series, I look forward to visiting with old friends, spending time with people who make me laugh and sit on the edge of my chair, caught up in suspense. There are hints of further difficulties ahead for Jaz and her hodgepodge of a team, particularly as each book takes them a step closer to unmasking their behind-the-scenes adversary - and I look forward to following along with them every step of the way.

Here is an interview with Jennifer Rardin at Love Vampires.

Books in the Jaz Parks series:
1. Once Bitten, Twice Shy
2. Another One Bites the Dust
3. Biting the Bullet
4. Bitten to Death
5. One More Bite
6. Bite Marks

Biting the Bullet (#3 in the Jaz Parks series) by Jennifer Rardin (Orbit, 2008)

Also reviewed at:
Graeme's Fantasy Book Review: "...despite the shortcomings I found myself really enjoying the story itself. ‘Biting the Bullet’ doesn’t take itself too seriously and this is evident in the relentless onslaught of car chases, gun fights and acerbic conversations with the undead."
Love Vampires: "Jaz Parks is the character that you would get if James Bond was female, American and battled supernatural bad guys rather than just your average human megalomaniacs."
The Movieholic and Bibliophile's Blog: "It’s an action-packed story...with really great characters, funny dialogue on every page...scary blood and soul-sucking bad guys, save the world type of plots, etc."

Friday, July 10, 2009

Off to Florida for a week!

I hope to have a connection there, because let's face it, I'm addicted to this. If not, though, I'll see you in a week!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Two new additions to the book-blogosphere!

My eight-year-old daughter and my eleven-year-old niece decided to start their own blogs over the 4th of July weekend. They have a few reviews up already, so if you have a moment, please stop by and say hello. And if you have any young readers who might be interested in their reviews, please let them know, too. Thanks!

My niece's blog is Brittney's Blog, and my daughter's blog is Kinney's Korner.

The Summoning

Fifteen-year-old Chloe has no idea how much she loves her normal, everyday life until the one fateful day when everything changes, suddenly and irrevocably. One moment she's an upper-middle-class student, studying film at a well-respected art school, and she's thrilled that she's on the short list to direct a student film. Sure, her life isn't perfect. Her mother is dead; her father travels all the time; and she has to put up with a less-than-desirable housekeeper who runs things while her father's away. But still, she has a supportive aunt who is almost like a mother to her, and she's following her dream of becoming a director, and that is the main focus of her life.

Then something awful happens at school. Chloe sees something horrible and unbelievable, and when she screams and runs, the teachers get involved. They can't see what is so terrifying to her, and when it seems she might hurt herself, that she's having some sort of breakdown, the paramedics are called and she's taken to the hospital. The next thing she knows, Chloe finds herself at Lyle House, a group home for "troubled teens." There Chloe is told she has schizophrenia, and while at first she sees no reason to distrust the diagnosis, it soon becomse clear that Lyle House is not what it seems - nor are its residents. Soon Chloe finds herself part of a world she'd never imagined possible, a world where terrifying and inexplicable things seem to be common occurences.

This is one of the most gripping audiobooks I've ever listened to. I was so caught up in the story, I just didn't want to turn it off (which makes for a fairly antisocial mom/wife, but what can you do?). Cassandra Morris's youthful voice made it sound as though Chloe were personally telling me her story, which made the narration particulary effective. At times I grew impatient with Chloe - she was frustratingly slow to consider the merest possibility that she might not have been hallucinating - and that went on a bit too long for my taste. But she was a very believable character, full of typical teenage contradictions - self confident one moment, vulnerable the next.
The pace of the second half of the book was relentless, full of revelations and sly twists and turns. I would have been highly annoyed by the cliff-hanger ending if the second volume weren't already out - although now I'm worried about how the second volume is going to end, since the third one's not due out for at least a year. This is a novel that will appeal to dark fantasy fans of all ages, even though its intended audience is YA readers. I have only read the first book of Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld series (for adults), but I will certainly have to remedy that. I found this one to be a very suspenseful read, with interesting characters and a compelling premise, and I'll be looking forward to completing the rest of this trilogy as well as her other series.

Books in the Darkest Powers trilogy:
1. The Summoning
2. The Awakening
3. The Reckoning (forthcoming - 2010)

The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong (#1 in the Darkest Powers trilogy); narrated by Cassandra Morris (Recorded Books, 2008)

Also reviewed at:
The Compulsive Reader: "Armstrong keeps a nice, even balance between the paranormal drama and the politics of the new world that Chloe and her friends are thrust into, resulting in a suspenseful read that poses many unshakable questions that easily propel the reader through the novel."
Darque Reviews: " This is a story that’s easy to follow, well-detailed as events unfold and easily enjoyable by both teens and adults alike."
J. Kaye's Book Blog: "I skipped work in order to finish the book. I simply couldn’t put down. The question will be why not five stars? One reason has been mentioned – believability."
Reader Rabbit: "The plot is fairly unique and pretty engrossing, especially action picks up near the end. And then it leaves us with a horrible and painful cliff-hanger."
SciFiGuy: "This is very much a setup novel preparing the way for others in the series. The Summoning is left at a huge cliffhanger that makes the novel up to that point seem a mere preamble to the main event."

Monday, July 6, 2009

Unhappy Medium

In this third book in the Suddenly Supernatural series, teenage medium Kat goes to a young musicians' conference with her best friend Jac and Jac's mother. The conference is at an elegant lakeside hotel called the Whispering Pines Mountain House. Jac is excited because she thinks Kat might see some ghosts there, since the hotel is so old - and it turns out she is right, because the moment Kat gets out of the car, she sees the ghost of an elderly woman in Victorian-era clothing saunter past them.

Kat had been looking forward to spending time with her best friend, and she is also secretly delighted that Jac is considering playing the cello again, as Jac has been ambivalent about her talent. Kat is understanding and supportive when Jac renews her friendship with an incredibly good looking fellow musician, and doesn't really mind when Jac keeps going off to spend time with him. But then a misunderstanding between Kat and her best friend turns into an out-and-out fight, leaving Kat feeling alone and frightened when a powerful, malignant spirit in the hotel targets Kat, and she doesn't know how to fight it.

I continue to enjoy this series - Kat is a likable heroine, and she grows and changes from book to book, as do her relationships with her friends and family. I was pleased to see Jac's mother transform from a stereotypical ambitious and controlling mother to a real person, with complexity and - gasp! - a few positive characteristics. It was fun to see Kat and Jac interacting in a new setting, with new issues, and I enjoyed meeting the ghost of Madame Serena and getting a glimpse into the world of spiritualism as it existed in her time. This series is definitely a keeper, and I'll be anxiously awaiting the further supernatural - and mundane - adventures of Kat and Jac.

Here is a fascinating interview with Elizabeth Cody Kimmmel, over at Cat's Beyond Books blog.

Books in the Suddenly Supernatural series:
1. School Spirit
2. Scaredy Kat
3. Unhappy Medium
4. Crossing Over

Unhappy Medium
(#3 in the Suddenly Supernatural series) by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel (Little, Brown and Company, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Beyond Books: "I can assure you that I was not let down one bit with this third instalment of Kat’s supernatural adventures."
Ms. Yingling Reads: "I love Kimmel's work, especially Lily B. She has a knack with creating real, interesting characters with whom I want to spend a lot of time."

Friday, July 3, 2009

Kitty Takes a Holiday

In this third installment in the Kitty Norville series, Kitty has decided to take time off from her work as a talk show radio host and write about her unusual life experiences. Events in the previous volume put Kitty in the unwelcome position of becoming an unwilling celebrity in a most mortifying way. Still, her celebrity status has given her an editor willing to publish a book.

So Kitty rents a secluded cabin in the woods of Colorado. But as days go by and she can't seem to write anything, she begins to wonder if taking time off was such a good idea. The wilderness calls to the wolf inside her, and she begins to understand why some werewolves end up staying in wolf shape and never returning to the human world. When she wakes up one morning to find a dead rabbit at her doorstep and a cross of blood on her front door, she feels targeted and frightened. Clearly someone objects to her presence, but Kitty is not one to back down - not even when the "hints" for her to leave begin to escalate.

Then Cormac, hunter of rogue werewolves, shows up at her doorstep with Ben, Kitty's lawyer and friend, who is grievously wounded. Even in the middle of nowhere, it seems Kitty will find herself embroiled in trouble. This time trouble has glowing red eyes and the ability to flay an entire herd of cattle with no one, not even the herd dogs, hearing a thing.

I enjoyed this installment in the series, although it had a different feel to it than the first two. There was definitely action and adventure, plenty of peril, but somehow it felt like a quieter, more introspective book. Kitty's job as a radio host has been an enormous factor in her growing self confidence, and while the break from the show seemed like a good idea, without that one thing that she does well, that makes her feel confident and in control, Kitty is a bit adrift. Add the fact that she's so alone, when the wolf in her craves a pack, and Kitty is on shaky ground. Still, Kitty soldiers on, doing what she can even when the demands on her seem impossible to meet.

It felt believable to me that Kitty's experiences at the end of the second book would leave her feeling unsettled, that she would need some time and space to come to terms with what happened. There is a lot going on in Kitty's mind, and a lot going on with the relationships in her life as well. While I was disappointed with some of the turns the plot took, I always felt that, under the circumstances, Kitty made the right decisions. She is an admirable heroine, and I'm very much looking forward to her further adventures.

Books in the Kitty Norville series:
1. Kitty and the Midnight Hour
2. Kitty Goes to Washington
3. Kitty Takes a Holiday
4. Kitty and the Silver Bullet
5. Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand
6. Kitty Raises Hell
7. Kitty's House of Horrors (Forthcoming January 2010)

Kitty Takes a Holiday (#3 in the Kitty Norville series) by Carrie Vaughn (Warner Books, 2007)

Also reviewed at:
Eclectic Closet: "Carrie Vaughn continues to exhibit strong writing in the Kitty Norville series. She has created a solid alternate reality to modern-day America with each novel adding depth to her world."
The Movieholic and Bibliophile's Blog: "To be honest, compared to the first two books, Kitty Takes a Holiday is actually somewhat dull....this was still a really great story. Just not really on the same level as the first two."
My Friend Amy: "This one is probably the darkest of the Kitty books I've read so far."
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist: "Kitty Norville is so genuine that, even though this series contains vampires, werewolves, and other creatures of the night, Vaughn weaves it all together and create an unmistakably 'human' tale."