Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Nook! Merry Christmas to Me!

Yes!  It's my very first ebook reader.  I had considered asking Santa for a Kindle, but I really wanted something I could use to check out ebooks from my public library's ebook collection, and as of now the Kindle is not compatible. 

I love that it's in color, because I can view picture books with my kids and - I hope - graphic novels at some point, although I haven't seen any available at my library yet.  You can also read magazines, which is definitely better in color.  Barnes and Noble sells subscriptions, and books of course, and they also offer a bunch of public domain books that are free - for some reason Dracula and Pride and Prejudice uploaded themselves without any action on my part, which is fine with me.

So far (with a little frustration, but eventually I worked it out) I have managed to transfer a book from my library as well as a book from Google's e-book collection (It's a G. K. Chesterton book, the first of the Father Brown stories, which I've been meaning to try for ages).

The color Nook is a bit heavier than the black and white one, which is a down side, plus the battery doesn't work as long.  But color is fun!  And I love gadgetry, the more colorful, the better.

Can an e-book reader replace beloved ink-and-paper books?  Not at this point in my life!  But it's great to have this additional format, along with the fun stuff that comes with it.  For example, you can highlight passages and add notes - and if you lend the book to a friend, the friend can see your notes.  You can also highlight a word and look it up in dictionary or on Wikipedia, if you have a wireless connection. I love the fact that I can load a whole bunch of books on it before going on a trip - I tend to way over-pack books because I get book panic - that awful feeling when you're on a delayed flight and you worry that you're going to run out of books!  I hate that.

Have you made the switch to ebooks yet?  What do you think?  Or are you adamantly refusing to budge from ink and paper?  As much as I am enjoying my Nook so far, there is one thing it can't offer - that wonderful new-book smell!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Storm in the Barn


This graphic novel set in 1937 tells the story of 11-year-old Jack Clark, a boy growing up in Kansas during the Dust Bowl Era.  Aside from the horrific impact the draught has had on his and his surrounding neighbors' livelihoods, Jack is dealing with other difficult things in his life.  There are the bullies, not to mention the sickness that is spreading through his town.  One of his sisters has dust pneumonia, and his other sister, the one he's supposed to watch, is always getting into trouble.  Then there's his father, who seems constantly disappointed in Jack, no matter what he does.

Jack hears the doctor talking about a new illness that seems to be related to the constant dusty conditions in his town:  dust dementia.  When he sees a shadowy figure in the barn near his house, a bizarre, spooky creature with a face like rain, Jack wonders if he has fallen victim to dust dementia.  But what if the stories he's heard are true?  What if the creature in the barn is somehow connected to the draught?  Jack knows he has to find out, but it's going to take more courage than he thinks he actually has...

This atmospheric graphic novel brings 1940s Kansas to life with its muted colors and evocative, dusty-looking layouts.  Jack is a character that it's easy to empathize with, and readers will find themselves drawn quickly into his story.  A word of warning, though: there is a rather horrific scene involving the death of rabbits that might require some conversation with younger readers.  It's not depicted graphically, but it is clear what is happening - and the scene is intrinsic to the tale.  For that reason, I probably wouldn't recommend this to children under eleven, but I most definitely would to early teens - and to lovers of historical fiction and graphic novels of all ages.

The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan (Candlewick Press, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Books Like Bread"While mostly wordless, this graphic novel does an amazing job conveying the barren, windy world that the Dust Bowlers were surviving in."
A Library School Journey:  "The use of color throughout the book is amazing. The greys and browns of the dust is the predominant feature, with colorful pastel memories of better times, the dark indigo of the brooding storm, and the vivid blood red of the rabbit drive."
Reading Rants:  "This is a great graphic read for all ages, with something for everyone within Phelan’s soft edged, sweeping panels."

Friday, December 17, 2010

No Rest for the Wicked

This is the second book in Kresley Cole's Immortals After Dark series, which despite the steamy romance cover is a fast-paced paranormal mystery, infused with clever humor and, of course, some romance.  I am puzzled how publishers decide which of the paranormal series to market as romance, and which to market as action/adventure, because the covers seem to be the only thing that differentiates many of these books. 

At any rate, I was intrigued by the first book in this series, A Hunger Like No Other, mainly because of the fascinating - and whimsical - portrayal of the Valkyries, a motley group of warrior women who fight supernatural villains and often wreak madcap havoc along the way.  This series follows the trend of focusing on a different character in the same fictional world with each book, and this one features a half-Valkyrie, half-Fury known as Kaderin the Cold Hearted, who centuries earlier lost her beloved sisters to a ruthless vampire.  When she meets the vampire Sebastian, instead of dispatching him without a moment's reflection, she finds herself unaccountably attracted to him.  Such feelings are understandably taboo in her world, but Sebastian immediately realizes that she is the one woman destined to be with him.

Kaderin, being cold hearted, dismisses her unaccountable lust for the vampire (as much as she can, at any rate), as she has more important issues at hand - it is a supernatural scavenger hunt, a sort of magnificent race, and the prize is the most desirable, crucial prize that has ever been offered.  When Sebastian shows up, determined to woo Kaderin, or protect her, or get her to notice him, the hunt changes in a way Kaderin is ill-equipped to deal with.  What results is a screwball romantic comedy with supernatural elements, twists and turns, action and adventure - all in all, a thoroughly enjoyable ride.

Books in the Immortals after Dark series:
1. A Hunger Like No Other
2. No Rest for the Wicked
3. Wicked Deeds on a Winter's Night
4. Dark Needs at Night's Edge
5. Dark Desires After Dusk
6. Kiss of a Demon King
7. Pleasure of a Dark Prince
8. Demon from the Dark


No Rest for the Wicked  (#2 in the Immortals After Dark series) by Kresley Cole (Pocket Star Books, 2006)

Also reviewed at:
Obsessed!:  "No Rest for the Wicked (and what an appropriate title :o) is a little slower and somewhat less steamy than A Hunger Like No Other, but still worth reading."
Tynga's Reviews"Romantic, powerful and sensual, this series will sweep you off your feet for a paranormal ride, mature eyes only!"

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Plain Kate

I picked up this book based on a brief description I read in my library's Wowbrary newsletter, followed by the glowing review I read about at Cat's book blog, Beyond Books.  (Thanks, Cat!) 

What an amazing experience this book is! I think it's my favorite fantasy novel that I've read since Kristen Cashore's Graceling.  It has an Eastern European, fairy-tale feel to it, with characters you will never forget, a fascinating magical system, and possibly the best cat ever to pad its way through a novel.  Taggle will steal your heart.

I hesitate to say too much about the plot, because it is definitely best to just jump in and go with it.  I will tell you that the heroine, Plain Kate, is an extraordinarily talented woodcarver, so skilled that, upon the death of her father, the townspeople find her carvings a little too uncanny.  When a plague befalls the town, she becomes an easy scapegoat to blame for the misfortune.  A stranger to the village singles her out, puts her in a position where she has no choice but to accept his help, paying a price for that help that turns out to have a greater impact than she could possibly imagine.  She and her beloved cat, Taggle, set forth on an unforgettable adventure, trying to set matters right.

Although this is marketed as a YA novel, it's one of those that will appeal to fantasy and fairytale lovers of all ages.  If you are in a reading slump, Plain Kate will set you back to rights, no doubt about it.  This is a powerful tale, beautifully written, and I highly recommend it.

Plain Kate by Erin Bow (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2010)

Also reviewed at:
Beyond Books: "I don’t know who has the power to get books nominated for fancy awards, but I want this book up on every book award nomination list in the world. I want this book to win copious amounts of awards for how brilliant it is."
Bookalicious:  "Sometimes it takes a simple fairy tale to show you what you have been missing in your reading for so long."
Lesley's Book Nook:   "It’s Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast and Pinocchio and Little Red Riding-Hood as they were meant to be read, long before Disney got to them and wiped them clean of the grim horror that made them such powerful cautionary folk tales."

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Ring of Rocamadour

This middle-grade mystery novel sees a group of friends who attend a private Catholic school in New York City stumble upon an intriguing mystery.  Twenty years earlier, a father set up a sort of scavenger hunt for his daughter's birthday.  As the father was an eminent archaeologist, the prize is a priceless artifact, believed to be lost.  The scavenger hunt is a series of puzzles to be solved, but as it was all set into place so long ago, the girls don't know if their search is coming too late.  The friends work together, though, combining their strengths and various areas of expertise, and asking for help when they need it.  What ensues is an atmospheric adventure with an intriguing mystery, which also focuses on friendship and even a little romance.

There was a lot to like about this one.  I enjoyed a mystery featuring strong and smart characters who are not shy about their own skills and intelligence.  The puzzles were interesting, and while I enjoyed listening to the audio version, I think that kids would probably have more fun reading the book themselves, so they could take time out to try their own hand at the puzzles.  Character development among the friends was a little shaky at first, and the girls were fairly interchangeable throughout the first part of the book.  But by the end they were more clearly formed in my mind, which made me interested to continue with the next book of this promising new series.  I think that fans of the Blue Balliett books would particularly enjoy this, as well as mystery lovers in general, and those who like school-centered stories.

Books in the Red Blazer Girls series:
1. The Ring of Rocamadour 
2. The Vanishing Violin
3. The Mistaken Masterpiece (2011)

The Ring of Rocamadour (#1 in the Red Blazer Girls series) by Michael Beil; narrated by Tai Alexandra Ricci (Listening Library, 2009)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett was one of my absolute favorite books growing up.  I'm not sure how old I was when I first read it, but I was immediately captivated by the lush imagery of India, the harsh winter on the moors in northern England, the eerie sense of a lonely manor house with hundreds of unused, empty rooms - and most of all by the thoroughly unpleasant, unhappy little personage of mistress Mary Lenox herself.

The potential of spoilers to ruin this lovely book is so great that I will not say very much about the tale - only that a neglected but spoiled ten-year-old living in British colonial India finds herself orphaned following a cholera epidemic, and she is sent to Yorkshire to live with her uncle.  Her uncle, however, is rarely home, and no one besides a chambermaid and a grumpy gardener take any interest at all in the little girl, who is left to her own devices and told to stay out of everyone's way.  When Mary hears about a hidden garden, locked up tight, the key buried, it fires up her imagination in a way nothing ever has before.  She explores the extensive manor gardens, hoping for a clue about the garden that was locked up ten years earlier.  The garden is just the first clue in a larger mystery surrounding the estate, and Mary doesn't have much to do but wander and explore, and soon she is determined to discover as much as she possibly can.

One of the reasons I loved this book as a child was that Mary was such a nasty little girl who was ill tempered and self absorbed, unlike just about any other character I'd ever read about.  Listening to the audio book with my children, it struck me that the author was very skillful in maintaining the reader's sympathy for Mary despite the fact that she is an unlikable character.  The third-person narration, nearly a character in itself, is instrumental in maintaining the reader's sympathy, as it explains why Mary is the way she is, as she was always kept out of the way of her socialite mother and busy father, her every whim indulged by servants whose main goal was keeping her quiet and out of the way.  When Mary is being particularly unpleasant, the narrator unfailingly gives the reader a little insight into the reasons why, and so the reader begins to cheer for Mary as she begins her slow journey to becoming a more empathetic person. 

I believe this book is most likely the one that started my lifelong enjoyment of Gothic novels, and I do hope it does the same for my own children.  My older daughter (11 years old) did seem to enjoy this more than my 9-year-old did, but my younger daughter for some reason took a dislike to the narrator.  I quite liked the reader, whose voice reminded me a bit of Maggie Smith's, but unfortunately it prevented my younger one from enjoying the book as much as she might have otherwise.  I'm hoping that she might pick it up again in a year or two and try it for herself, but of course not every book is for every reader, and not all my beloved books will be as adored by my own children. Still, I enjoyed revisiting this one, and while not all of it held up to my fond memories, it still holds a very special place among my childhood favorites.

Here is a link to the free download of this book on the Project Gutenberg site.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett; narrated by Wanda McCaddon (Audio Partners Publishing Corporation, 2006; originally published in 1911)

Also reviewed at:
Books I Done Read: "Actually, I think that aside from the whole secret-enclosed-massive-hide-out, one of my favorite things about The Secret Garden is how Mary Lennox is such a snot-nosed little bitch."
Things Mean a Lot"I enjoyed The Secret Garden quite a bit more than I thought I would. And it's not that I was expecting not to like it. It was charming, and I knew it would be, but I was pleasantly surprised that the tone wasn’t nearly as saccharin as I feared."

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bullet

Laurell Hamilton's Anita Blake series is now nineteen books long and is still going strong, and the longer it gets, the harder I find it to write reviews because of what has become a tremendously complicated back story.  So I'll try to keep it simple!

Anita Blake has come a long way from her early vampire-slaying days.  She is now inextricably caught up a life that has few remaining connections with humans.  Part of a supernatural triad with the smolderingly sexy vampire Jean-Claude and the handsome, charismatic werewolf Richard, Anita also has ties to other shapeshifter groups within St. Louis.  The early novels in the series tended to focus more on separate murder cases, but as Anita's life has changed, and her necromancer powers have grown, the novels tend to focus more on the complex issues in her own life.

In the previous novel, she and her allies fought against - and subdued - a primeval force, the first-ever vampire known simply as the Mother of All Darkness.  Turns out she isn't completely gone - and she's gunning for Anita using every underhanded trick in the book.

I enjoyed this one quite a bit, as I do most books in this series.  Hamilton has created such a rich, dark world, full lush imagery, complicated characters and relationships, with a magical system that is consistent and makes sense.  The later books in the series veer into erotica territory, and this one is no exception, but here the scenes were more integral to the actual plot than in some previous books. There were some other, non-sexual scenes that seemed to have little if anything to do with the plot, such as the dance recital, exhaustively described at the beginning of the book, and I was left wondering if seeds were being sown for future plot lines, or if perhaps some more vigorous editing might have improved matters.  Still, I am always excited by a new chapter in Anita's saga, and this one was a page-turner once it got going, and there were some very interesting developments.  I look forward to seeing where the next installment takes this fascinating supernatural saga.


Books in theAnita Blake 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

15.
The Harlequin
16. Blood Noir

17. Skin Trade
18. Flirt
19. Bullet

Bullet (#19 in the Anita Blake series) by Laurell K. Hamilton (Berkley Books, 2010)

Also reviewed at:
Book Series Reviews"In some places it is great writing, but overall it's just good. There are parts in the book that shouldn't have made the cut, and there are things that are talked about where we really should be given the details and not just kind of loosely told that it happened."
Reading with Tequila"Bullet brings back everything we've been missing in the Anita Blake series. Lots of action, danger and plot progression here that will do much to woo back disenfranchised series fans disappointed by the erotica feel of many recent books"
Sidhe Vicious Reviews: "It seems to me that Ms. Hamilton has heard some of her fans and has taken it back a notch to be more like her 'old school' Anita Blake, though I found it to be a great mix of everything that makes Anita Blake and the rest of the darkly rich characters amazing."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Women of Nell Gwynne's

I have long enjoyed Kage Baker's books, and I was so saddened by her death several months ago.  When this novella was first published, it sounded like a lot of fun, but the library where I work didn't own it.  I put in a request that we purchase it, but was eventually told that the budget would not permit it (and I have to say, I felt my request was vindicated when this wonderful novella recently received a Nebula Award - I just wish Baker had been here to receive it herself).

Usually my library purchases award-winning books, and I was puzzled when this one was not on the to-be-ordered list.  I popped over to Amazon, and I was surprised to see that this is a difficult book to get these days - in fact, Amazon doesn't sell if for less than $100. What I thought was a sequel due to be released next month turns out to be a paperback reprint of the first book, with a new short story involving the same protagonist included at the end. 
At any rate, as much as I love Kage Baker's books, I wasn't able to fork out the $100+ to read this one, so I put in an interlibrary loan request, and I must thank the kind librarians of the Alachua County Library in Florida for graciously sending this book all the way to Virginia for me to read - and for not even charging a fee!  The book they sent is a signed copy, too, which was fun, and of course I took very good care of it.

The book follows the adventures of a young woman who calls herself the Lady Beatrice.  As a child growing up in British colonial India, Lady Beatrice is intelligent, bold and courageous, the daughter of a British Army Officer.  She shares a close bond with her father, but her mother disapproves of her unladylike ways.  Following a tragedy that occurs in her early teens, Lady Beatrice finds herself on her own in London, spurned by her family, and forced to turn to prostitution to survive.

A chance encounter with an old friend of her father's finds Beatrice invited to join a very special, exclusive brothel known as Nell Gwynne's, which trades in secrets.  It is the sister organization to the Gentlemen's Speculative Society (the predecessor to the Company, for those who have read Baker's books in that wonderful series) .  The lady Beatrice and her compatriot harlots soon find themselves sent on a dangerous mission to an old estate home in the English countryside, trying to unearth the secret behind the disappearance of an agent and the rumors of an amazing invention.  Armed with sophisticated gadgetry worthy of James Bond's Q, the girls feel well equipped to face whatever challenges await.  But nothing can prepare them for the bizarre goings on at Lord Rawdon's estate...

This novella is absolutely delightful.  It is exciting and surprising, with plenty of the tongue-in-cheek humor that often lurks in the pages of Baker's novels, and I enjoyed every single page and was so sorry when the book ended.  The Lady Beatrice is a wonderful heroine, brilliant and with an often comical detachment and pragmatism that have allowed her, against the odds, to get rise above the obstacles and tragedy in her life.  The women she works with are wonderful, too, unflappable and smart, and very willing to use all the hidden advantages of their social position when it comes to espionage.

I highly recommend this novella.  With its deft sense of humor, evocative illustrations, memorable characters, biting social commentary, clever plot twists and surprises - plus all the cool gadgetry (always a plus with me), the only negative thing I can say about this one is that it was simply too short. 

The Women of Nell Gwynne's by Kage Baker; illustrated by J.K. Potter (Subterranean Press, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Book Gazing:  "I can’t talk this book up enough, it’s a little bit different, but not overly steeped in sci-fi for anyone unsure about that element of the steam punk genre. If you enjoyed The Crimson Petal and the White or Sarah Water’s Victorian novels I think you could happily spend an entertaining afternoon with The Women of Nell Gwynne’s."
Writing Every Day: "When I got to the end, I smiled to myself and thought, This is absurd. The fun kind of absurd."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Early to Death, Early to Rise


This is the second book in Kim Harrison's YA series featuring Madison Avery, a dead girl who finds herself thrown into a strange world in which angels and reapers fight over souls.  Following events in the first novel, Madison has become the dark timekeeper, but she thinks that the way things have always been done isn't for her.  If reapers cut short a person's life before they can make the fateful choice that damns their soul, then, she thinks, they have never really had a chance to make the choice at all.  And that doesn't seem right.  Determined to change things, Madison and her skeptical companions see if they can change the way things are done - but if she fails, the consequences could be deadly.  This series continues to be fun even if it does strain my ability to suspend my disbelief nearly to its breaking point.  It is fun to go along for the ride, and the new developments in this second book have made me curious to see how things go in the third.  I like a YA novel that is entertaining and also raises some thought-provoking questions, and this one definitely does that.

Books in the Madison Avery series:
1. Once Dead, Twice Shy
2. Early to Death, Early to Rise
3. Something Deadly This Way Comes (June 2011)

Early to Death, Early to Rise  (#2 in the Madison Avery series) by Kim Harrison (Harper, 2010)  

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Crossroads

Eleven-year-old Zack is moving to Connecticut, back to the town where his father grew up.  His father has recently remarried, and Zach is thrilled with his pretty, kind stepmother, a woman who is vastly different from the cold, spiteful mother who passed away a few years earlier.

As pleased as Zack is with the changes in his life, there are disturbing things happening in his new town.  Aside from the mundane but nasty bullies he encounters in his neighborhood, there is an ancient tree at the edge of his yard, a tree that stands by the crossroads where something dreadful happened years earlier.  The tree is somehow connected to restless spirits of the dead, and one of those spirits bears Zack a particular grudge.

Snippets from the points of view of various characters in the town, both living and dead, slowly fill in the blanks of the mystery surrounding the incident at the crossroads, ratcheting up the tension along the way.

I listened to this book as one of my R.I.P. Challenge choices, and it definitely fit the bill.  There are truly creepy things going on - and I was actually a little surprised by the violence and death in a book that my library shelves in the juvenile fiction section.  The protagonist is only 11, and at times he acts as though he is much younger, which might turn off some teen readers.  But I'd recommend it to them all the same, particularly those who enjoy horror fiction.  This is a series, which I didn't know when I started reading it, so maybe Zack will grow up along the way as the books progress.

There were a few things that didn't quite gel for me, things that were just a little too over-the-top in suspending my sense of disbelief, but younger readers would probably be too caught up in the story to share my qualms.  Zack was a bit too weak and easily led for my taste, at least for most of the book, and he makes some choices that were definitely convenient to the plot but seemed pretty boneheaded, even for a young boy as gullible as Zack.  Still, it was an exciting read, and the plot had some fun twists and turns, interesting characters, a tantalizing mystery, and a wonderfully spine-tingling atmosphere.

Books in the Crossroads series:
1. The Crossroads
2. The Hanging Hill
3. The Smoky Corridor 

The Crossroads (#1 in the Crossroads series) by Chris Grabenstein; narrated by J.J. Myers (Listening Library, 2008)

Also reviewed at:
Back to Books:  "The ending was predictable to this reader but still the characters were a lot of fun, even the nasty ones."
Blogcritics Books:  "The story’s pacing is excellent. Short, bite-sized chapters create a momentum from page one that sweeps the reader through the narrative." 
Jen Robinson's Book Page"It's a book to read under the covers with a flashlight, one that will make you stay up late, and notice the shadows of branches moving on your bedroom walls."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Vacation time - hurray!


First off, a visit with some of our Disney friends...


Then, a little time spent at Hogwarts (at Universal Studios)...



And finally, a week at sea for some family fun and relaxation.  Happy Thanksgiving, to those who will be celebrating that holiday next week.  I, for one, have plenty to be thankful for - my upcoming vacation, family, friends, all those great books out there, and of course all of my wonderful book-blogging friends.  See you at the end of the month!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Magic Below Stairs

I am always excited to see a new book by Caroline Stevermer, and I immediately put this one on hold at my library when I heard about it.  I was doubly delighted to discover that, while it is written for a younger audience than the Sorcery & Cecelia books, it is set in the same world.  The main character is a new one, an orphan named Frederick who - through the simple fact that he fits a suit of clothes - is chosen to go into service at the house of Lord Scofield, a prominent wizard.  The setting is an historic one, England in the early 1900s, but there is magic added to the mix, which makes it extra fun.

Frederick is the kind of kid who likes to know how to do things, and he is eager to learn from everyone around him.  At the orphanage, he pays close attention in the kitchen, learning about cooking, sharpening knives, and even tying knots.  He has an encounter with a strange little man who lives at the orphanage, a mischievous brownie named Billy Bly, and when Frederick leaves the orphanage the creature follows him, creating a sticky situation for Frederick when the wizard discovers his presence.

I just loved this book, with the historical background and details, and the glimpses of Lord and Lady Schofield along the way.  It's funny and sweet, a magical coming-of-age story with a little mystery thrown in, and I do hope we'll be seeing more of Frederick in the future.

Books in the Sorcery and Cecelia series, co-written with Patricia C. Wrede:
1. Sorcery & Cecelia
2. The Grand Tour
3. The Mislaid Magician 

Magic Below Stairs (companion book to the Sorcery and Cecelia series) by Caroline Stevermer (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2010)

Monday, November 8, 2010

R.I.P. Challenge Wrap-up


Well, it's the end of another fantastic autumn R.I.P. challenge reading season.  I love that spine-tingling feeling I get reading otherworldly creepy or ghostly things as the leaves change color and the temperature turns chilly.  I also love the feeling of community I get, knowing that all over the world, readers who share my love of the darker side of literature are also getting that same, delicious spine-tingling sensation.  I love reading everyone else's reviews, and I already have a ton of books that I learned about from other readers that I'll be saving up - if I can wait that long - for next autumn.  I have read R.I.P. books for myself, and books to my children, too, and we've all had a wonderful time.

This R.I.P. season, I read the following books.  Some have yet to be reviewed, but I hope to get to them soon.


Can you tell how much I enjoy my seasonal Halloween reading?  Many thanks to Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings for hosting this excellent challenge.  May there be many more!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Saturn Apartments

Mitsu has just graduated from junior high school, and he is ready to take on the same job his father had before he died: window washer.  Washing windows is an incredibly dangerous profession in the future world where Mitsu lives, though; in fact, his father died on the job.  Earth is no longer inhabited by humans - it has been evacuated in order to preserve it as a nature preserve, and humans now live in a huge ring-shaped satellite structure that orbits the Earth, 35 kilometers up in the air.  Washing the windows from the outside involves pressure suits, safety lines, and being very, very careful.  The wealthiest residents live in the upper levels, which receive the most natural light and have windows that are safer and easier to clean.  The residents of the lower levels, however, suffer from illnesses related to the lack of sunlight, and as their windows are the most dangerous to reach, cleaning them is so expensive that most cannot afford it - and the dirtier windows allow even less sunlight to filter inside.

Mitsu's first day on the job is an eye-opening experience.  The view of the Earth is extraordinary, but he can't help but think about his father's fatal accident - particularly when he learns he is to clean windows in that same location where his father was working on that horrible day.  There are issues with envious co-workers, unreasonable clients, and Mitsu, who has been so very alone since the death of his father, has some fast growing up to do.

This is a delightful, bittersweet coming-of-age story with unforgettable characters, a disturbing yet fascinating premise, and absolutely gorgeous artwork.  Teens, particularly those who enjoy dystopian science fiction, are sure to enjoy this, and it has great appeal for adult readers as well.  My 11-year-old daughter read this, and while she found bits of it to be a little confusing, she adored it, and it was fun to talk about the book together.  I am so pleased that this is only the first in a series.  The story does have a satisfying conclusion, but it left me wanting to know more about the characters and their disturbing yet compelling world.

This is one of those complex, character-driven graphic novels that I want to shove into the hands of those readers who think that manga and graphic novels are a genre, rather than a format.  There is such a wide variety of wonderful stories told in this format that those readers who avoid graphic novels, believing they are only about superheroes or silly jokes, are doing themselves a great disservice.

This manga is available in a lovely printed format as well as free online!

Saturn Apartments, Volume 1 by Hisae Iwaoka; translated by Matt Thorn (Viz Media, 2010)

Source: My public library

Also reviewed at:
Book Dragon:  "Younger readers will enjoy the adventures; adults will recognize the deeper meanings (and warnings) of a not-too-far future in peril."
Dawn of the Read: "A great science-fiction manga, but also a fine exploration of work life, loss, and the burdens of adulthood."
Suite 101:  "Readers have experienced the stuck-in-place struggles and will relate to the manga's characters. Enough humor is interjected to keep the manga from being totally serious, but it remains a touching a meaningful story."

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Mystery of the Crimson Ghost

Janey is excited about going to spend the summer at her aunt's home in Sussex County, New Jersey.  Janey lives on Staten Island, which isn't the best place to be if you are as crazy about horses as she is.  Sure, she can ride there, but owning a horse is out of the question.  Janey's aunt is thinking about moving, and she's like to sell her house to Janey's parents, but Janey's dad isn't sure about moving so far from the city.  If they don't have a positive experience, Janey fears that her dream of finally living in a place where owning a horse is an actual possibility will never come to pass.

Aunt Viv's house is a wonderful place, with a gorgeous view of the lake that stands behind it, and there's even a rowboat for Janie to use, and a girl just about her own age who lives just a few houses away.  But Janie's attention is taken up by the Burley house just across the lake.  When they stopped to ask directions that first night, Mrs. Burley was rude and abrasive, and seemed to have some sort of negative history with Aunt Viv, who refuses to discuss it.  Janie is sure she heard the unmistakable sound of a horse up there, and she's dying to investigate.  The more she looks into it, the more she discovers something truly strange happening there: a mysterious crimson light that glows in the night in the place where, years earlier, there was a devastating fire.  On the nights of the full moon, there's also the mournful baying of a hound that everyone hears but no one can ever locate...

I read this one to my girls (9 and 11 years old) as one of our Halloween-season books.  Phyllis A. Whitney was one of my very favorite authors when I was growing up, and because I was just as crazy about horses and Janey is, this book was the one I loved the most.  Despite the fact that it was written in the late sixties, the story holds up well and doesn't seem too terribly dated, aside from some language usage that has changed over the years (such as "queer" to mean strange).

As an adult rereading this book, I really appreciated the character development of the adults, which isn't necessarily typical of children's books.  Mrs. Burley is a fascinating, complicated character, a mix of positive and negative elements, and although it takes her a while, Janey manages to understand the tough old woman, and she helps the people around them understand her better, too.  I liked that.  Janey herself is a good kid, but she is sometimes thoughtless and irresponsible, and she grows quite a bit by the end of the story.

This book is out of print, but is worth tracking down for young readers who love horses and mysteries.  My girls and I enjoyed it very much. I love it when I share one of my childhood favorites with them, and it's a hit!

The Mystery of the Crimson Ghost by Phyllis A. Whitney (Scholastic Book Services, 1969)

Source:  My own personal collection

Also reviewed by this author:
Mystery of the Green Cat

Have you reviewed this book, too?  Let me know in the comments, and I'll link to your review.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Goblin Market

Some friends of mine gave me a copy of this lovely edition of Cristina Rossetti's atmospheric Victorian Poem, "The Goblin Market" a few years ago, and I adored it immediately.  I came across it this month and thought it might be a fun R.I.P. Halloween-time read-aloud for my kids, particularly as the rich text is accompanied by gorgeous reproductions of Pre-Raphaelite paintings by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Rossetti's brother.  They weren't originally designed to illustrate the poem, but somehow they fit the tone and style of the tale perfectly.

"The Goblin Market" tells the story of two sisters who, as the story opens, are outside when they hear the goblins passing by, calling out to everyone to come and buy their fruit:

Our grapes fresh from the vine, 
Pomegranates full and fine,
Dates and sharp bullaces,
Rare pears and greengages, 
Damsons and bilberries, 
Taste them and try: 
Currants and gooseberries,
Bright-fire-like barberries,
Figs to fill your mouth,
Citrons from the South,
Sweet to tongue and sound to eye;
Come buy, come buy."


The sisters hide in the bushes as the goblin men go by.  They know they shouldn't look at them, much less eat the fruit.  A young woman in their village succumbed to the temptation, and then she wasted away, longing for more of the otherworldly food.  Lizzie chides her sister, Laura, for peeking at the goblin men, and when she finds herself tempted to look, too, she puts her fingers in her ears, squeezes her eyes shut, and runs.  But not Laura.  Overcome by curiosity, she can't help but take a look at the strange men:

One had a cat's face,
One had a tail,
One tramped at a rat's pace,
One crawled like a snail, 
One like a wombat prowled obtuse and furry,
One like a ratel tumbled hurry scurry.

When the men stop to look at her, Laura spies the delicious, perfect fruit.  But she has no money, she tells them, as they press her to "Come buy! Come buy!"  They will give her some, though, for just a single lock of her golden hair...

And so begins this tale of sisters, temptation, love and redemption, told in descriptive, charming, atmospheric verse.  At first I thought my children (9 and 11 years old) might find it too much for them, with its unfamiliar vocabulary and old-fashioned language.  But they quickly got pulled into the timeless story, and wouldn't let me stop reading until we came to the end.  It was the perfect choice for a cozy, Halloween-time read, and I'm so pleased my daughters enjoyed it as much as I did.  Here is a link to a free audio version, and here is a link to the text of the poem.  Enjoy!

This is the original cover that Dante Gabriel Rossetti did for Christina's poetry collection, although it was not included in my copy of the book, which seems rather strange.

Goblin Market: A Tale of Two Sisters by Christina Rossetti; illustrated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Chronicle Books, 1997; originally published in 1862)

Source: My own bookshelves

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

Hope those of you who celebrate it will have a wonderful Halloween!

Do you or your kids have any special costumes in the works?  My older daughter is going to be Skulduggery Pleasant, and my younger daughter is going to be a zombie bride.  Should be fun!

One of their favorite things to do, which I also adored as a child, is to dump out their candy bags when the trick-or-treating is through, and sort through their loot.  It is fun to see which candy they prize and which they could care less about.  We certainly have different tastes!  Although I'd have to say that I'm way pickier than they are.  Certain things simply aren't worth the calories.

I wasn't that picky as a kid, though, but I do remember being really disappointed to get MaryJanes and Mounds.  Oh, and those marshmallow peanut-shaped things.  One of my neighbors used to cut up Hershey bars, right through the wrapper, and hand out small pieces of them, which we thought was hopelessly lame.  Another neighbor used to make candy apples on sticks, which were delicious.  My favorite candies were just classic chocolate - yum! - and peanut butter cups.

What about you?  Did you have favorite candy?  Or was there a kind that you hated?  I'd love to hear about it!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tamsin

Of all the books that I've read for this year's R.I.P. Challenge (and at this point I've read way more than I've had the opportunity to review), this one has got to be my favorite.  It is, really, the perfect R.I.P. read, creepy and atmospheric, but it is so much more than a ghost story.  It's a coming-of age tale steeped in the folklore of old England, with boggarts and pookas, a story of moving from New York City to rural England to discover life with new stepbrothers and a stepfather.  There is a wealth of modern and historical detail, and characters that seem incredibly real, including the ghost of a young woman and the ghost of her little cat.

Jenny Gluckstein is thirteen when the story begins, but she tells the story in retrospect, as an older teenager, occasionally giving us her older, wiser commentary, and often expressing embarrassment at her less-than-stellar behavior or attitudes along the way.  She is not at all excited when she discovers her mother is not only getting remarried, but that they will be moving to a dilapidated old estate in England.  She goes there, kicking and screaming, particularly when she learns that her beloved cat will have to be quarantined for six whole months.  Despite herself she does finally begin to settle in, though, and she makes a good friend, and she finds that having step-brothers isn't all bad.  It is her meeting with Tamsin, the ghost of a girl who lived during the 1600s, that becomes a pivotal point in her life.  Jenny longs for Tamsin to somehow find peace, but the mystery surrounding her death and the events leading up to it make that seem an impossible task.  There is a darker specter lurking in the darkness, something that terrifies Tamsin so that she cannot bring herself to speak of it, that threatens to destroy any hope of peace at all.

I hesitate to say much more about the book, because it is best to discover it yourself.  This is a ghost story steeped in the history of Dorset, particularly the time of the Monmouth Rebellion and the Bloody Assizes, and it is the kind that slowly but surely crept under my skin and had me taking second glances into the shadows as I walked my dog at night, listening to the audiobook.  I did find it rather jarring, though, that the audiobook is read by the author.  He was a perfectly adequate reader, but it just felt, well, odd hearing a book told from the point of view of a teenage girl read in a deep masculine voice.  When he mentioned something about getting his period in gym class, I had to giggle.  There were times, though, that I totally forgot about the incongruity and became utterly involved in the story, because it is a powerful one.  My library shelves this in the adult section, but I believe it would be very appealing to older teens as well.  This is a gem of a ghost story, a wonderful, evocative book, and I highly recommend it.

Tamsin by Peter S. Beagle; read by the author (Blackstone Audio, 2005)

Source: Downloaded audiobook through my public library

Also reviewed at:
Geranium Cat's Bookshelf:  "Oh dreadful, blissful dilemma, a book I couldn't put down while at the same time I couldn't bear to finish it."
Stuff as Dreams Are Made On"There are no “wasted characters” in this book. I loved (or loved to hate) each and every one of them. The point is that I really cared about this book and that’s not something that always happens."
Things Mean a Lot" I think I enjoyed Tamsin even more than Peter Beagle’s The Last Unicorn. I could barely put this book down."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wicked Appetite

I was a little surprised to discover that Stephanie Plum isn't actually in this novel, because I was under the impression that this was the fifth book in the Between-the-Numbers series.  Instead, this book is the start of a new series about Diesel and other unmentionables.  It features Elizabeth Tucker, a pastry chef who has recently moved to Marblehead upon inheriting her aunt's house.  Enter Diesel, a character who has appeared in previous Between-the-numbers books.  Before she knows it, Elizabeth is caught up in a mad race to recover legendary stones that are said to have supernatural powers.  In her typical madcap style, Evanovich infuses the story with humor, romance, and nonstop action/adventure.

This was a fun read, and given my penchant for fantasy novels, I thought the supernatural elements were interesting.  I liked Elizabeth, although she didn't seem to be all that different from Stephanie.  There were some fun surprises, and a few old friends from previous books make an appearance.  Evanovich's books always make me smile, and occasionally make me laugh out loud, and this one was certainly no exception. 

Wicked Appetite (#1 in the Unmentionables series) by Janet Evanovich (St. Martin's Press, 2011)

Also reviewed at:
Bookshelves of Doom:  "I felt that it was formulaic, uninspired, and just... weak. Weak, weak, WEAK."
Cheeky Reads:  "If you love Evanovich then you will probably really enjoy this new book and series, but if you are looking for something new from her this isn't it."
A Girl Reads a Book "Despite being initially disappointed, I ended up loving this book and I'm really keen to find out what happens to this trio on their next adventure."

A library video to warm your heart



Here's a video that shows just how much a community can do to support their library - I love this!  I used to live in Hawaii, and a large part of my heart is still back there, basking in the warm sunshine and enjoying the scent of plumeria floating on those lovely Hawaiian breezes.  Sigh. 

I remember putting books on hold at my wonderful little public library, and feeling so amazed to get a book from a library on a different island a few days later, sent over on an airplane just for me.  Now that's service!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On the Edge

I have read and enjoyed the books in Ilona Andrew's Kate Daniels series, and I've heard such positive things about this first book in her new Edge series, that I thought it was time to give it a try.  It sat on my shelf for a while, mainly because I'm sadly superficial and just didn't find the cover terribly appealing, but when I finally opened it up and started reading, I was immediately pulled into the story, and I was sorry I had waited so long.

Rose lives between two separate and distinct worlds - literally.  The Edge is a place between the Weird, where magic is a part of everyday life, and the Broken, a place with strip malls and gas stations, where magic does not exist.  Rose lives on her own with her two little brothers, doing her best to bring them up, scraping by with her job cleaning hotel rooms in the Broken, living from paycheck to paycheck.  Then one day, the appearance of a warrior from the Weird turns her life upside down.  She can't begin to trust him, not with her complicated past, but when supremely dangerous and powerful creatures show up in the Edge, he may be their only hope of survival.

I truly enjoyed this exciting novel, with its unusual and evocative setting between two worlds, its mixture of mystery, romance, and fantasy - not to mention humor - and characters who are complex and believable.  The tight writing and creative premise, along with characters I came to care about, leave me looking forward to the second book in the series, and wishing there were more than just the two that have been written so far.

Books in the Edge series:
1. On the Edge
2. Bayou Moon

Source: My local public library

On the Edge (#1 in the Edge series) by Ilona Andrews (Ace, 2009)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Hex Hall

Sophie Mercer is a witch, a teenager who has grown up alongside regular, non-gifted people (including her mother), attempting to hide her powers, trying not to draw attention to herself.  She has moved from town to town after slipping up, but after her most recent spectacular prom-night bungle, she finds herself being enrolled at Hecate Hall, a reform school for Prodigium (other supernaturals like her).

Sophie, despite her powers, feels like a complete outsider.  She has been kept in ignorance about so many things that has no idea how things work, and she almost immediately makes enemies among her classmates.  Social issues fall by the wayside, however, when it becomes clear that one of her classmates was murdered  last year, and then another one is attacked.  Everyone suspects Sophie's roommate, who happens to be a vampire, but Sophie finds it difficult to believe that the one person she's managed to become friends with could be capable of such a thing.

What a promising beginning to a new YA series!  The book combines many of my favorite elements: school stories, supernatural beings, mystery, horror, romance, and a healthy dash of humor.  Sophie is an engaging heroine, feisty and a bit headstrong, and while she does make mistakes, she certainly learns from them.  There is a satisfying conclusion, but there are quite a few plot strands left dangling that make me very much looking forward to the next volume in this series, which is due to be published next year.

Books in the Hex Hall series:
1. Hex Hall (aka Raising Demons)
2. Demonglass (forthcoming 2011) 

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins (Hyperion Books, 2010)

Monday, October 18, 2010

The God of the Hive

Mary Russell returns in this, her tenth book in one of my very favorite mystery series.  As the previous book left so many issues unresolved, I was anxious to get back to the story to find out how things were going to turn out!  

The Mary Russell series definitely bears reading in order, particularly with this book, which picks up so many plot strands from the previous installment in the series.  Slight, unavoidable spoilers may follow, so be forewarned!

Mary has had to leave Holmes and his gravely wounded son, in order to keep Holmes' granddaughter safe.  She feels ill-equipped to deal with a small child, even one as bright and precocious as three-year-old Estelle.  They find themselves stranded in the woods with a puzzling but thoroughly likable young man whom Mary can't help thinking of as Robin Goodfellow.  Meanwhile, Holmes has abducted a doctor and has set sail to parts unknown, trusting in Mary to keep Estelle (and herself) safe, and hoping that prompt medical care might save his son, too - but a net that they don't even realize is there is slowly closing in on them.  Quick, periodic glimpses from the point of view of the killer who has masterminded the entire complicated scheme serve to ratchet up the tension along the way (but occasionally left me feeling rather blatantly manipulated).

I continue to adore this tightly plotted, well-written series, with its deft characterizations and evocative settings, but I what I love most is that feeling I get when I open one of these books, that confidence in the author that gives me a delicious feeling of anticipation as I prepare to enter a beloved world with characters I have come to care deeply about, knowing I'm going to enjoy myself immensely along the way. 

Books in the Mary Russell series:
1. The Beekeeper's Apprentice
2. A Monstrous Regiment of Women
3. A Letter of Mary
4. The Moor
5. O Jerusalem
6. Justice Hall
7. The Game
8. Locked Rooms
9. The Language of Bees

10. The God of the Hive

The God of the Hive (#10 in the Mary Russell series) by Laurie R. King; narrated by Jenny Sterlin (Audible Audio, 2010)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Visions of Heat

I enjoyed the first book in Singh's Psy-Changelings series, which is about an alternate world inhabited by humans, shapeshifters, and a race of beings called the Psy, who are gifted with powerful mental abilities such as telepathy and telekinesis.  This second novel focuses on a new main character named Faith, a Psy with the ability to forecast the future.  She is a valuable asset to her family, because her ability to foretell market changes and other financial information keeps the money flowing.  But those with Faith's particular ability also have high rates of insanity.  As the book opens, we see Faith grappling with this awareness, and wondering if small changes in her mindset are a symptom of the onset of madness.

Sneaking out of her isolated apartment where she has begun to feel like a prisoner, she braves the outside world in search of unanswered questions.  When Faith finds herself face to face with a shapeshifter named Vaughn, it seems unaccountable that she, a woman who hasn't been touched or held since she was an infant, could feel such attraction to him.  Faith's quest for answers leads her to some unpleasant truths about her own people, and she finds herself with difficult choices to make.

I continue to enjoy this series.  The characters are compelling, the world-building is intricate and fascinating, and I like the way that, while each of these books has focused on different characters, they both work to tell the larger story of a fragmented society struggling to find a more positive balance.

Books in the Psy-Changelings series:
1. Slave to Sensation
2. Visions of Heat
3. Caressed by Ice

4. Mine to Possess

5. Hostage to Pleasure

6. Branded by Fire

7. Blaze of Memory

8. Bonds of Justice

9. Play of Passion 


Visions of Heat (#2 in the Psy-Changelings series) by Nalini Singh (Berkley Sensation, 2007)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Brightly Woven

Sydelle has lived nearly her entire life in severe conditions of drought. The day the rains finally come is the day everything changes for her.  She finds herself leaving home in the company of a wizard, traveling across the land with vital information that they hope will prevent a war.  Sydelle has long dreamed of seeing what lies beyond her own small village, but she never envisioned that she'd have to leave everyone and everything she cared about in order to do so.  She quickly learns that North, the handsome young wizard she accompanies, is keeping secrets from her, and the more she learns about his hidden agenda, the less inclined she is to trust him.  Still, a war is brewing, and it seems that there are things that she, a simple girl with a talent for weaving and needlework, can do to stop it.

This is an enchanting fantasy novel for teens that will appeal to adult readers as well.  It embodies many themes typical of fantasy novels, but there are also many original and surprising elements as well.  Sydelle is an admirable heroine, strong and resourceful, willing to make sacrifices, and brave enough to follow her heart, even when she's not quite sure where it's leading her.  I look forward to seeing further work from Alexandra Bracken after reading this delightful first novel.

Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken (Egmont, 2010)

Devastating disappointment

How can this be?  I cannot believe it!  Rupert Degas, the amazingly talented actor who has thus far narrated every audiobook in the Skulduggery Pleasant series, is NOT the reader of the most recent installment in the series, Mortal Coil.  As far as my kids and I are concerned, Rupert Degas is the voice of Skulduggery Pleasant.  I'm sure the narrator who has replaced him in this most recent book is a fine, upstanding citizen, but as Skulduggery audiobook fans from way back, my girls and I are tremendously dismayed. 

We have all been hoping that when they make the film, which according to IMDB is scheduled for 2013, Degas will do Skulduggery's voice.  If the producers are smart, they'll sign him on - nobody could possibly do a better job.  So now my kids and I have to decide whether or not to just read this one together, or try to contain our disappointment and listen to the audio version with a new narrator.  The votes were split this morning, so we'll see what the consensus is once they've had time to reflect.  I think that once we get pulled into the action-packed adventure that is to be counted on in any Skulduggery book, we'll be happy to go along for the ride.  But still, it's a major disappointment.  Sigh.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Antsy Does Time

Anthony "Antsy" Bonano returns in this engrossing sequel to The Schwa Was HereHe's a little older and wiser now, but still he is unprepared for the discovery that Gunnar, one of his classmates, is suffering from a terminal illness.  He feels helpless to do much about the situation, but when, on impulse, he pulls out a sheet of paper and gives Gunnar a form bequeathing him a month from Antsy's own life, that one simple act of generosity and compassion has massively unintended consequences.  Antsy also finds himself falling head over heels for Gunnar's amazingly beautiful older sister - and he has a sneaking suspicion that she might actually be interested in him.

I loved returning to Antsy's world, revisiting his family and friends, and hearing his strong, smart narration of the events in his life. 
Shusterman narrates this audiobook himself, and he does a marvelous job.  The characters shine, and the humor is the icing on the cake.  While it's not strictly necessary to read the two books in order, as each is a self-contained story, I'd recommend it, as there are a few key elements of the first book that are addressed here, and the payoff is much higher if the reader doesn't know certain things ahead of time.  This is one of those YA books that has appeal to both older and younger readers than its target audience, which makes it a good choice for long family car rides.  I highly recommend both of Shusterman's books about sweet, funny Antsy.

Antsy Does Time by Neal Shusterman; narrated by Neal Shusterman (Listening Library, 2008)

Introducing...the 10-sentence book review!

Reviews in a nutshell
Can she do it, you may be wondering?  If so, you aren't the only one.  But this is my last-ditch attempt at getting through the plethora of books read but not reviewed.  They fell off their special to-be-reviewed shelf today because of overcrowding, so clearly it is time to do something about this situation.  So, until I get caught up, I will try to review a book a day, in a nutshell.  Wish me luck!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Sugar Queen

Josey Cirrini may be the daughter of the most respected man in her town, a wealthy girl brought up in an elaborate mansion with a live-in maid, but she lives a drab, isolated, uninspired life.  Her bitter, domineering mother has Josey driving her around, running errands, and rarely socializing with anyone. 

Josey has two sources of joy in her life.  One is the handsome mailman who comes up her walk every day (although he has no idea of her feelings for him).  The other is is the secret closet in her bedroom, a closet full of every kind of candy imaginable.  Josey loves candy, adores it with all the passion missing in the rest of her life.  When she opens her closet one day and finds Della Lee, a woman she barely knows, hiding there, Josey's life gets turned upside down.

Della Lee, Josey discovers, is not an easy person to have hiding in one's closet, refusing to leave, threatening to spill her candy-stash secrets if Josey rats her out.  But because of Della's presence in her life, Josey finds herself becoming friends with Chloe, another young woman whose life has taken an unexpected turn.  Chloe has an unusual affinity for books, which was one of my favorite elements of this enchanting novel.

I read Sarah Addison Allen's first book, Garden Spells, last winter, and I enjoyed it so much that I have since recommended it to many people - and every one of them has loved it, even though they typically read vastly different kinds of books.  It took me a while to work up to this one, because even though I'd heard such good things about it, I was a little afraid it wouldn't live up to my expectations.  But I'm please to report there was no disappointment whatsoever.  Once again Allen tells a riveting story, full of engaging, fascinating characters, humor, romance, mystery, and more than a touch of magic.  I am very much looking forward to reading her third novel, and I feel confident that I will love that one as well.

The Suger Queen by Sarah Addison Allen; narrated by Karen White (Books on Tape, 2008)

Also reviewed at:
Angieville"I don't know if I was just in the mood for something pretty and sweet and romantic in the dead of winter, or if there's something about Allen's kind, honest characters that speaks to me, but I absolutely loved this book."
Book Girl's BookNook"I love the way that Allen writes, and I savored every word of this novel.
"Library Love"I loved this book. It is, undoubtedly, a huge piece of chick lit, but that's okay. It was great."

Friday, October 1, 2010

Bite

This anthology features dark fantasy/horror stories about vampires, and includes tales from some several of my favorite authors in this genre.

"The Girl Who Was Infatuated with Death" by Laurell K. Hamilton is the opening story, and it features Anita Blake in a story that takes place between the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series novels Blue Moon and Obsidian Butterfly.  It is more of a vignette than a full-fleshed short story - it read like a section that might have been cut from a novel, perhaps because it was not central enough to the story at hand.  I enjoyed it because I'm a fan of the series, and it depicts an important phase in Anita's complicated relationship with the vampire Jean-Claude. If I hadn't already been familiar with the characters, though, I don't think I would have connected as well with this one.

"One Word Answer" by Charlaine Harris is the story I should have read before Definitely Dead, the sixth book in the Southern Vampire series.  It explained a few things, most of which I'd figured out by the end of the novel - but even knowing as much as I did, it was still a very effective short story.  Sookie finds out her cousin Hadley has died - was murdered.  The man who comes to tell her about this works for the vampire Queen of Louisiana, and Sookie begins to realize there is more to the information he's giving her - to the encounter itself - than meets the eye.  This one was sharp and surprising, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

"Biting in Plain Sight" by MaryJanice Davidson is set in the world of the Queen Betsy series, and Betsy has a cameo in it, but our heroine is an undead veterinarian named Sophie Torneau.  When she suspects a rogue vamp is attacking young girls in a particularly despicable and underhanded way, Sophie decides she must go to the queen for help.  A young man who's had a crush on her for years is determined to accompany her, and although he is human and theoretically not much of a match against her undead powers, he has a few surprises up his sleeve.  I enjoyed this one very much - it is a sweet and funny story, and honestly it was nice to have a break from Betsy but still be in her world, which is an interesting one.

"Galahad" by Angela Knight is a story by an author whose books I haven't read.  It opens with a young woman who has been seduced by an immortal to make her come into her powers as a witch, so she can help them fight the powers of darkness.  He has dumped her, and all the warriors are off fighting battles, but she suddenly has a vision of such horrors that she knows she must do what she can to prevent it from happening.  She partners with an incredibly attractive, charming man who turns out to be the Sir Galahad, and even though she is inexperienced, they make a pretty good team.  This grew on my by the end of the story, but the actual premise of the world was just a bit too much to swallow.  Perhaps had it been a novel, I might have been more willing to suspend my disbelief, but for such a short work it felt a little too artificial and full of wish-fulfillment to seem truly believable.  I did like the humor, though, and the chemistry between the characters.

Vicki Taylor's story "Blood Lust" concludes the anthology.  I haven't read any of her books, either, so I'm not sure if these characters are from other novels or if this is a stand-alone tale.  It is about a young scientist named Daniel, who finds that the project he's been working on - a nonorganic human blood substitute - has been backed by a monster, a vampire who steals his work, not to mention his girlfriend, and leaves him for dead.   Daniel survives to plot revenge against the vampire - and his plan is a very devious one that leads to some unexpected consequences. 

This is a satisfying collection of vampire stories, and fans of any of these authors would be sure to enjoy this anthology. 

Bite - an anthology of stories by Laurell K. Hamilton, Charlaine, Harris, MaryJanice Davidson, Angela Knight and Vickie Taylor (Jove, 2005) 

Also reviewed at:
Best Fantasy Stories:  "The sometimes light-hearted humor and sometimes suspenseful adventure make this collection of fantasy short stories a delightful and exciting one."
Blogcritics:  "All in all Bite is a terrific read that I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys fun filled, page turning fantasy."

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Shadowland

The Mediator series was originally published under the pen name Jenny Carroll, and each of the books had different titles.  It's a cataloging nightmare for librarians, that's for sure!  And it makes life difficult for people looking to read books in their proper order.  At any rate, below is a list of the titles in the newly issued series with the original titles in parentheses.

I don't know what the attraction is for me of books and movies about characters who see ghosts, but whatever it is, I sure enjoy them.  I love Elizabeth Cody Kimmel's Suddenly Supernatural books, which are for a younger audience than these, and fans of those will be pleased to find these books waiting for them in the YA section.  My favorite manga series, xxxHOLIC, is about a Japanese boy who can see spirits and the effect that has on his life.  And I love TV shows such as Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies.  This series is a welcome addition to my favorites.

Suze is what is known as a mediator - she sees spirits.  She helps those who have unfinished business, and if the spirits are troublemakers, well, she deals with them.  She's been able to see ghosts since she was two years old, but no one knows about it.  When her mother remarries, and Suze has to move to California, she's not terribly pleased about it.  When she sees how old the house they'll be living in is, she's even less pleased.  The older the place, the more likely it is that there will be ghosts there.  Even her school is ancient - it's on the site of an old mission, and one of the first things she runs into is the ghost of a girl who recently died - a ghost with a pretty nasty attitude.

Suze's life is suddenly so complicated - she has an angry ghost to deal with, new brothers, a new stepfather, a new school - and new friends - more than she expected to have, as she wasn't terribly popular back in New York.  She also has the ghost of a charming, handsome man in her bedroom, and a confidence in her ghost-fighting abilities that just might be a tiny bit overrated...

This is a fun start to a series, with a sympathetic heroine who carries the narrative with a strong, engaging voice.  Her transition into the new family is handled very well, as Suze finds herself saddled with a little brother she can't help but like, and a couple older brothers that, before too long, she finds herself butting heads with in a very sisterly way.  I like Suze, how she speaks her mind and doesn't put up with nonsense from the other kids at school.  I didn't quite buy the fact that she could possibly have kept her ability to see ghosts from her mother - at the age of two, no less - and kept silent through years of therapy, but I was happy to suspend my disbelief because Cabot spins such a good tale.  I'd been meaning to try this series for some time, but it was an enthusiastic teen at my library who put the book in my hands after I'd recommended some other titles to her - she was excited for me to try it, and I was pleased to tell her how much I enjoyed it the next time she came into my library.

Books in the Mediator series:
1. Shadowland  (Love you to Death)
2. Ninth Key  (High Stakes)
3. Reunion  (Mean Spirits)
4. Darkest Hour  (Young Blood)
5. Haunted  (Grave Doubts)
6. Twilight  (Heaven Sent)

Shadowland (#1 in the Mediator series) by Meg Cabot (Avon Books, 2000)

Source: My local public library

Also reviewed at:
Griffie World:  "One of the true powers of Cabot’s writing is her ability to draw the reader into the story. Her characters are penned with authority, and they are quirky, yet lovable, even though sometimes a little prickly."
Puss Reboots:  "The book is somewhere between The Ghost Whisperer and Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a little dash of The Sixth Sense."
Teenage Fiction for All Ages:  "...a fairly light read with characters you want to revisit, in a beautiful setting, with action and adventure and a possible romance. No wonder I've already started on #2..."