Friday, November 30, 2012

Storm Front

I first read this book back in 2000, when it first came out, and by the time I realized the second book had been published, I couldn't really remember the first one very well.  And since then, so many have been published that it seemed like such a huge undertaking to get into yet another series.  But then as I recommended favorite writers to customers at my library (writers such as Patricia Briggs, Karen Chance, Kim Harrison), those same customers kept recommending Jim Butcher back to me.  I kept meaning to get around to them, but I never did - until the day someone told be who the reader of the audio books is: James Marsters.  As in Spike from Buffy! That sold me, and I immediately checked out the downloadable audiobook for this first book in the series.

And it was a lot better than I remembered it - which may have had something to do with the excellent narration Marsters provides - the perfect hard-boiled tone to Harry Dresden's narration of this, one his cases he takes as a wizard detective who lives in Chicago.  A woman shows up at his office, asking him to track down her missing husband.  At the same time there is a double murder, a horrifically violent and heinous crime, and Harry is called in as a consultant for the Chicago Police Department because of the supernatural nature of the homicide. Harry is relieved to have the income from both cases, because the rent is due and times are hard, but the more he investigates, the more twisted and disturbing the cases become.

This was a solid mystery story, a tale with a hard-boiled feel but plenty of fantastical details. Harry is such a likable narrator, and even though he tends to make mistakes along with way, he does so with the best of intentions.  There is a lot of humor here; the mystery is an intriguing one, and there's also plenty of action and adventure.  The audio recording was simply fantastic, and I can already tell that as long as Marsters is doing the reading, I'll be listening to this series. I'm on the waiting list for the second book, and I'll be looking forward to the further adventures of the redoubtable Harry Dresden.

Books in the Dresden Files:
1. Storm Front
2. Fool Moon
3. Grave Peril
4. Summer Knight
5. Death Masks
6. Blood Rites
7. Dead Beat
8. Proven Guilty
9. White Night
10. Small Favor
11. Turn Coat
12. Changes
13. Ghost Story
14. Cold Days
Backup (A novella)
Side Jobs (a short story collection)
Love Hurts (an e-book short story)

Storm Front (#1 in The Dresden Files) by Jim Butcher; narrated by James Marsters (Buzzy Multimedia, 2009)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Kitty Goes to War

Kitty is a breath of fresh air when it comes to the usual kick-ass urban fantasy heroines - you know, the ones who are drop-dead gorgeous, skilled in martial arts and weaponry, intelligent, powerful and witty. She is smart and attractive, yes, but she has come a long way in the powerful department. She was originally turned into a werewolf against her will, and has experienced quite a struggle to become who she is now - and it's a believable struggle, one that leaves me rooting for her and willing to go along for the ride on all of her adventures.

Because of the way the characters and their relationships progress throughout this series, it's best to read it in order, so to avoid spoilers, stop reading here and check out my review of the first book, Kitty and the Midnight Hour.

Kitty is the voice behind the late-night talk show The Midnight Hour, where she deals with all things supernatural. One of her shows happens to focus on strange happenings at a chain of convenience stores - just rumors and bizarre stories, nothing substantial. But when the company takes legal action against the radio station, Kitty knows she's stumbled onto something interesting, and of course she has to investigate. She uncovers a hornet's nest, but it's hard to focus on that mystery when she also becomes involved in trying to help what's left of a secret all-werewolf military group that has recently come back from a disastrous mission overseas.

I continue to enjoy this series, its characters, the setting, and the fictional world that Vaughn has built.  Fans of Charlaine Harris, Patricia Briggs and Laurell Hamilton ought to find a lot to love here, as well as those who simply enjoy mysteries wrapped up in fascinating supernatural goodness.

Books in the Kitty Norville series:
1. Kitty and the Midnight Hour
2. Kitty Goes to Washington 
3. Kitty Takes a Holiday
4. Kitty and the Silver Bullet
5. Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand
6. Kitty Raises Hell
 
7.
 Kitty's House of Horrors
8. Kitty Goes to War
9. Kitty's Big Trouble
10. Kitty's Greatest Hits (short story collection)
11. Kitty Steals the Show
12. Kitty Rocks the House


Kitty Goes to War (#8 in the Kitty Norville series) by Carrie Vaughn (Tor, 2010)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Art of Mindful Living

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, a Zen meditation master, scholar, poet, and peace activist.  He has has written many books that are very popular at my library, so when I saw this one offered through my library's digital media catalog as an audiobook, I thought I'd download it and see what all the fuss was about. I didn't realize that the book is actually a collection of recordings that were made at a meditation retreat, and feature the author's own voice.

This was such a treat! Hanh takes the teachings from his Vietnamese tradition and does his best to apply them to those of us who have hectic lives but would like to make sure we are actually present as we live them.  He is often funny, never condescending, and is of course respectful of the various religious and cultural traditions of his audience.

There is a lot to reflect on here, and I have the feeling that this is a recording I'll be returning to from time to time to help me maintain my focus on the things that are the most important to me.  It's easy to get sidetracked by the many demands in one's life, and Hanh's teachings made a whole lot of sense to me, for the most part.

Too often I find myself rushing to get something taken care of around the house, for example, only to realize that my husband or one of my kids has been talking to me, and I'm barely aware of what they've been saying. It doesn't take long to take a few deep breaths and focus on the situation at hand - and to enjoy and appreciate what is going on.  It makes no sense to be so intent on the deadlines that are coming up that we are barely aware of what we are doing now. One thing he says that particularly resonated with me was something like:  "My actions are my only belongings. My actions are the ground on which I stand. I must live with the consequences of my actions." That one made for an interesting conversation with my children.

This is a great recording that is sure to make listeners pause and reflect - and to come away with a few useful things to help them stay calm, focused and present in their lives.  Good stuff.

The Art of Mindful Living: How to Bring Love, Compassion and Inner Peace into Your Daily Life by Thich Nhat Hanh (Sounds True, 2005)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thorn Queen

I've been enjoying Richelle Mead's Succubus Blues series this year, and it occurred to me that I'd inadvertently let her Dark Swan series fall by the wayside.  The first one hadn't knocked my socks off, but it had been a promising start, so I checked this second one out from my library.

Unavoidable series spoilers ahead - so you may want to stop reading here and read my review of the first book, Storm Borninstead.

The end of the first book left our heroine, shaman Eugenie, discovering that because she'd killed the bad guy, she is now the queen of her very own land in Faerie.  She isn't happy about this, however, and spends just about the entire book whining about it, lying about it, refusing to take responsibility, and definitely hiding her head in the sand as far as learning more about her powers and what she can do to protect the people that she doesn't want to take the responsibility for.

I felt very impatient with her throughout the course of the book, and I kept waiting for her to get a clue, but she mostly didn't. I didn't like the cavalier way she treated people, particularly her own sister. She basically reacted to events of the book, rather than being strong and proactive, and by the end she'd totally lost my sympathy. This is the last book of this series I'll be reading - there are too many ones I love and don't have enough time to get to.

Thorn Queen (#2 in the Dark Swan series) by Richelle Mead (Zebra, 2009)

Books in the Dark Swan series:

1. Storm Born
2. Thorn Queen
3. Iron Crowned
4. Shadow Heir

Monday, November 26, 2012

Flora's Fury

The Flora Segunda series is one of my favorite series ever, YA or otherwise, and each book is dense and delightful, full of humor, amazing world-building, memorable characters, exquisite writing, and lots of surprises.  Flora is a funny, endearing, and at times exasperating character, and I'd follow her to the ends of the earth.

Much has happened since the events of the first book, and the revelation in the second book has led Flora to a decision to locate the one woman she believes is capable of saving her country from the invasion of the "Birdie" overlords. As Flora heads off in her headstrong way, she learns bits and pieces about the truth that's been kept from her all her life, but at that point she's already in over her head, and the adventures are underway.

I hesitate to say too much, because the best way to experience this series is to open up the first book.  You won't be able to stop reading. This third one definitely lived up to my expectations, and it is the sort of book that will appeal to smart teens looking for something different, and to adult readers, too. If you are sick to death of the same old cliched teen vampire, witch, werewolf and faerie stories, I urge you to give this series a try.  It is quirky and original, masterfully written, and is tons and tons of fun.  Very highly recommended!

Flora's Fury Isabeau Wilce (Harcourt, 2012)

Books in the Flora Segunda series:
1. Flora Segunda
2. Flora's Dare

3. Flora's Fury

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Drama


The thing I love most about Raina Telgemeier's graphic novels isn't the lively artwork or the compelling stories. It's not the characters that I come to care about almost immediately. And it's not the way they make me laugh out loud as I read them.  I do love all these things, but what  I love the very most is their immense appeal to kids. I've never seen anything like it!

When I brought home Smile from the library, first one daughter whisked it off and read it, and before I could get my hands on it, my other daughter grabbed it and carried it off.  I nearly lost it to one of their friends, who came over to the house when I was in the middle of reading it, and when I finished, it was loaned out to several other girls before I was able to take it back to the library.

The same thing happened with this one!  They both read it (and loved it) before I could even take a look at it. I loved hearing them laugh as they read it, particularly my 13-year-old, who was immensely tickled by the humor and giggled the whole way through, sometimes stopping and covering her face with her hands. It has been loaned out to at least seven other girls who begged to borrow it when they saw one of my daughters reading it at school. As a librarian (and a parent), I adore an author who can get kids that excited about a book.

So anyway, this one is a fictional story set in middle school, about a girl named Callie who does set design at her school, and is now working on the school production of Moon over Mississippi.  She has big ideas and not much money to work with, but she has the support of her friends (most of the time, anyway), and her enthusiasm to help carry her through.  The "drama" in the title refers to the stage production, of course, but also to all the drama that is going on in the students' lives: jealously competition, romance, disappointment - all these things and more play out in the bright pages of this delightful graphic novel. Highly recommended.

Drama by Raina Telgemeier (Graphix, 2012)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Gunmetal Magic


This novel is a spin-off set in the unique world of Kate Daniels, but featuring her best friend Andrea as the main character. Usually I'm resistant to narrator changes, because I feel attached to the one I've come to care about, but I've always really liked Andrea, and since Kate is in a pretty good place right now, I was quite happy to follow along with Andrea's adventures.

Andrea is called in to work on a case in which several workers at a construction site are mysteriously killed.  The workers happen to belong to the shapeshifting clan that her ex belongs to, which drags him into the case as well, to Andrea's acute discomfort.  They are still clearly attracted to each other, but there are some pretty big issues between them that cannot be addressed as the search for the killer progresses and becomes increasing tricky and dangerous.

This is a tightly-paced mystery that features a likable heroine and and an intriguing mystery, as well as romance and a healthy dash of humor.  There are laugh-out-loud moments, and it was the kind of book that left me itching to get back to it when I had to put it down. There is an excellent novella that's included at the back of the book, too. So what's not to like?  I suppose just the wait till the next one comes out.

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

4. Magic Bleeds 
5. Magic Slays
6, Gunmetal Magic (spin-off featuring Andrea)

Gunmetal Magic (series spin-off set in world of Kate Daniels) by Ilona Andrews (Ace Books, 2012)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I downloaded this book from my public library's digital media catalog without knowing much about it aside from the fact that it  is on YALSA's list of best fiction for young adults, and that it's been nominated for an Audie Award. That was enough for me.

Our heroine is Karou, a teen with blue hair, a mysterious background, and a lot of secrets, who is going to art school in Prague. She is an incredibly talented artist who fills her sketchbook with bizarre, otherworldly images that she tells detailed stories about, as if they are all entirely true (because they are, but of course no one believes her). She runs errands for these creatures, going through magical doorways into a shop like nothing ever seen on Earth, and ending up in remote areas around the world. She often returns injured and exhausted, and she is adept at evading unwelcome questions.

The most compelling question of all: who she actually is, and how she fits into this space between two different worlds, is one that she doesn't know the answer to. But when she comes face to face in Marrakesh with the most terrifying, gorgeous being she's ever seen - and he tries to kill her - it appears that she will soon discover some answers.

This was a fascinating story, and Karou is a strong, likable heroine. The audio narration is fantastic, and the book unfolds like a complex, twisting, turning fairy tale. It was the kind of story that I couldn't wait to get back to, where each question that is answered raises entirely new questions and possibilities, and the suspense and tension just kept increasing. But then, about two-thirds of the way through the book, everything came screeching to a halt. Some questions were answered, but the story backtracked over events that had already been relayed, as had the ultimate outcome. The tension vanished, the plot meandered, and I felt annoyed and impatient to continue the story in the current timeline. It was so tedious that I actually put the book down for a while and listened to something else.

Eventually, curiosity drew me back to it, and I managed to sit through the rest of the back story. Once the narration came back to the current events of the story, the momentum picked up, and it was just as engaging as before. Taylor creates a memorable world with fascinating characters, one that is full of lush sensory images and surprising revelations.  There were enough positive things about the novel that, despite its awkward structure, I am looking forward to reading the sequel.  This is the first part of a story, not a standalone novel, and while it doesn't end on an absolute cliff-hanger, it's still just the beginning of a much longer tale. The good news is that the second book has already been published, readers won't have to wait.

Books in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series:
1. Daughter of Smoke and Bone
2. Days of Blood and Starlight

Daughter of Smoke and Bone (#1 in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series) by Laini Taylor; narrated by Khristine Hvam (Hachette Audio, 2011)

Also reviewed at:
Bewitched Bookworms:  "I loved the phrasing, the humor that infused even the sadder moments, and the way Ms. Taylor used words like paint, drawing the reader in to the complete picture of her world."
Fantasy Cafe: "A lot of the fun in reading this book was in seeing these mysteries set up and then slowly learning more about the answers over the course of the novel. "
Love Vampires: "It has some beautiful storytelling that carries the story’s appeal far beyond just a teenaged audience."

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Plain Janes


I continue to enjoy my journey through all the Minx graphic novels, an imprint from DC Comics that was sadly discontinued, but was meant to appeal particularly to female teens.  This is one of my favorites.  It is about Jane, a teenager who is injured in a random terrorist attack, whose family moves to a small town in order to recover and to feel safe again.  Her mother is particularly affected by the incident, and becomes increasingly fearful and worried, even though they have moved.


Jane is not at all happy about the move, having to leave her school, friends, and all the places she loves behind. She is a city girl at heart, and most of all she regrets having to leave "John Doe," a young man who was also injured in the attack, and who has been in a coma at the hospital.  Jane had been sitting by his side, speaking to him, hoping she'd be there when he awoke. She has no idea who he is, but she feels a connection to him, having survived a horrific experience, and she is inspired by a journal that John Doe had with him, on which is written "Art saves."

Jane makes friends with some other Janes at the school, a disparate group of girls on the fringes of the school's social groups, and together they form an art initiative that soon has the town divided and the authorities furious.


I enjoyed this one very much, although I did find the artwork to be a bit stiff and wooden, not conveying the characters' emotions as much as I would have liked. There is a lot more depth here than might be expected in a simple story told through the graphic novel format, definitely a lot of food for thought.  Readers who enjoyed the art themes in Page by Paige will be sure to love this one, too.  I was pleased to learn there is a sequel to Plain Janes called Janes in Love.  

Also by Cecil Castellucci: Boy Proof

Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci; illustrated by Jim Rugg (Minx, 2007)

Also reviewed at:

Beyond Books: "Fresh, though slightly slow at times for my hyperactive brain, I think this is one book I shall forever cherish sitting on my shelf."
One Literature Nut: "an interesting read, with what felt like a heartier theme than I've felt from other graphic novels I've read in awhile."

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Body at the Tower


This second book of The Agency, a YA mystery series set in Victorian England, continues the adventures of Mary Quinn, a half-Chinese orphan who is now working as part of a covert group of all-female detectives who operate out of Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls.

The first book of the series, A Spy in the House, tells of Mary's first experiences at the school, as well as her first case. Now Mary is a trusted member of the detective team, and she is sent to work on a new case.  The clock tower of the new Houses of Parliament is under construction, and it has been plagued by bad luck from the start. Now a man has fallen from the tower, and Mary, dressed as a boy, takes a job at the construction site in order to find out what is going on.

She expects the case to be a tough one, and it is - but not for the reasons she anticipated.  Dressing as a poor street urchin brings back difficult memories of her own days on the streets, which is a dangerous distraction from the matters at hand.  Equally distracting is the surprising presence of a man she'd never thought to see again...

This is an action-packed mystery, something that teens who enjoy historical novels and mysteries will find compelling.  While I find Mary's sensibilities a little too modern to be fully believable, the author does bring the Victorian London setting to vivid life.  Mary is a strong female protagonist, one that readers will be able to identify with and will definitely root for.  I look forward to following her further adventures.

 Books in The Agency series:
1. A Spy in the House
2. The Body at the Tower
3. The Traitor and the Tunnel


The Body at the Tower (#2 in The Agency series) by Y. S. Lee (Candlewick Press, 2010)

Also reviewed at:
Beyond Books:  "I honestly loved Mary Quinn.  She was smart and witty and didn't act like a damsel in distress."
Erin Reads"So far, the Mary Quinn books have great characters, convoluted plots, and quick dialogue. Each of the first two have ended in a way that’s left me satisfied but waiting for more."
Steph Su Reads: "Well-written, eye-opening, and entertaining, you will dive in and be immersed immediately."

Friday, November 2, 2012

Seven Up

I've read all the books in the Stephanie Plum series so far, and while some are better than others, they are just the ticket for when I'm in the mood for some silly adventurous fun. I downloaded the audio book for Seven Up to listen to when my mother and I were taking a long car trip together.  She has also read the series, but it's been a while since either of us have read the earlier books, so I grabbed this one.

I'd listened to one other Evanovich audio recording, a between-the-numbers book, and it was pretty fun. Little did I know that the reader for this one was different, and did goofy, inconsistent accents for the characters, particularly Stephanie, that made it hard to get into. We listened to it, but I wish I'd chosen something else.

The story itself was the usual slapstick silliness.  Stephanie, a bounty hunter, is having difficulty catching an older man who didn't show up in court. She finds a dead body in his wood shed, and manages to get caught up in a family situation that lends a whole new meaning to the term "dysfunctional."  It's a lot of fun, but there is a serious component to this mystery, and I'd forgotten that darker side to this one.  I do enjoy this series, but I will avoid this audio book reader in future, because her narration didn't work for either of us.

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

17. Smokin' Seventeen
18. Explosive Eighteen
19. Notorious Nineteen

Seven Up  (#7 in the Stephanie Plum series) by Janet Evanovich; narrated by Tanya Eby (Brilliance Audio, 2004)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Haunted

In this fifth book of Meg Cabot's Mediator series, the many different plot elements that have been developing in previous books come together and give Suze major problems to deal with on just about every front of her life.

Suze is a Mediator - someone who helps the dead transition to the other side when, for some reason, they cannot (or do not wish to) move on. Since moving to California to be with her new step-family after her mother remarried a man with three boys, Suze has met another Mediator (the priest who runs her school) and has somehow managed to fall in love with the ghost of Jesse, the incredibly handsome guy who has been haunting her bedroom. In the previous book she met Paul, a guy her own age who is a Mediator, too - but who knows a lot more about their abilities than she does. For instance, he knows how to send Jesse away for good. But his motives are unclear, as is the truth of what he is telling Suze.

I enjoyed the way this book weaves together the many plot strands that have been developing through the course of the series in preparation for the sixth book, which I expect will be the grand finale. It explores Suze's developing relationships with her step-brothers, moves things forward with Jesse, reveals more tantalizing facts about her abilities, and pushes her toward the point where she is going to have be make some important choices. I liked that the climax of the book involved a supernatural issue but was all mixed up with regular, everyday teen issues, which made it funny and relevant. I'm looking forward (with slightly mixed feelings) to the final book of this series.

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)

Haunted (#6 in the Mediator series) by Meg Cabot (aka Jenny Carroll) Harper Collins, 2003

Also reviewed at:
Book Binge: "This series is filled to the brim with fabulous characters that reach right into your insides and squeeze your heart with loads of laughter and just all around good characteristics."
What to Read after Twilight: "We get a lot of excitement here. I’m going to give it 9 out of 10. Just because my favorite book in the series is up next, Twilight/Darkest Hour!"