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."