Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Pirate King by Laurie R. King

I've been a fan of the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series ever since I stumbled across the first one, The Beekeeper's Apprentice, in the shelves of my local library.  And when I gave the audio books a try a few books ago in the series, I enjoyed Jenny Sterlin's narration so much that I have been exclusively listening to them ever since.

The premise of this eleventh book in the series is that Mary finds herself under cover with a film crew, who are filming a pirate movie on location in Portugal and Morocco. She must babysit a bevy of young actresses, all the while trying to find out what is really going on behind the scenes at the film company.I started this one with high expectations, but I have to say, I barely made it through. The tension was nonexistent, and the story meandered all over the place. Holmes wasn't present for much of the book, and there was such a large cast of characters it was nearly impossible to begin to care what happened to any of them. If I weren't such a fan of the series, I probably would have given up.

I'm not sure what happened here. Mary was rather whiny and feeling sorry for herself through most of the book, and the other characters were not very likable. Once Holmes became involved it was easier going, but I really missed the character-revealing interactions and conversations that are typical of the other books in this series. Don't get me wrong - it did have its moments, I'm glad I read it, and I certainly intend to continue with the series. This one just wasn't my favorite.

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  
11. Pirate King
12. Garment of Shadows

Pirate King (#11 in the Mary Russell series) by Laurie R. King; narrated by Jenny Sterlin (Random House, 2011)

Monday, April 29, 2013

Earthling! (Graphic Novel) by Mark Fearing

Bud has just moved to New Mexico with his father, who is working at a radio telescope lab out in the desert. When it comes time for Bud to go to school, he stands outside in a sudden deluge, and when the bus pulls up, he hops right on. Only it turns out he isn't on the school bus after all - he's on a space bus, with a bunch of aliens all headed to Cosmos Academy - on the other side of the galaxy.

He makes friends with one of the kids on the space bus, and is dismayed to learn that Earthlings are the most feared and dreaded species in the entire galaxy, and because of that, Earth is a strictly off-limits planet. It was a fluke, a total accident, that the space bus even showed up there in the first place.  How will he ever be able to get back home, if no space ships ever go to Earth? And what if one of the teachers discovers that he's an Earthling?

This is a funny and clever science fiction tale that will have readers turning the pages as fast as they can. It is action packed, funny, and full of adventure, but it also spends some time developing the characters into people that readers will come to care about. The full-color illustrations work perfectly with the text, and I can't wait to see what Mark Fearing will come up with next.

Earthling! by Mark Fearing (Chronicle Books 2012)

Friday, April 26, 2013

First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

I'd heard good things about this series, so I thought the audio book might be a good way to explore it, particularly when I saw that Lorelei King, who reads the Stephanie Plum series, narrates this one, too.

The premise was promising: Charley Davidson is a grim reaper, which means that she helps those who have died but have, for some reason, decided to remain behind, move on into the next phase of their existence, whatever that may be. Her ability to speak with the recently dead has made her of invaluable assistance to her uncle, who's a cop, and she consults with him from time to time. 

What I liked: The premise wasn't the typical one, so that was refreshing. Aspects of Charley's previous life were woven into the present story through flashbacks, so that the current mystery of the murders her uncle is trying to solve alternates with the more personal mystery of Charley's past, and her current situation as a reaper.

What I didn't like so much: There was too much description (I might have skimmed over it had I been reading the actual book, but it was excruciating to listen through), in particular too much lovingly detailed prose about every hot guy (and there were a lot of them) that Charley was lusting after. I prefer my paranormal mysteries to be more about the characters and the mystery than the romantic element. Romance is fine, but I personally don't usually want it to be the point of the book. Rather than a paranormal mystery with a romantic element, this one reads like a romance with paranormal trappings. Not my thing, really. Also it annoys me when a character can instantly prove her credibility (i.e. her supernatural abilities) but chooses not to, and then goes on and on (and on) about how annoying it is when people don't believe her (particularly hot guys). 

Still, it was an interesting story, and while I personally don't feel the need to continue with the series, I think it would appeal to those who enjoy romance as a central part of their paranormal fare.

First Grave on the Right (#1 in the Charley Davidson series) by Darynda Jones; narrated by Lorelei King (Macmilan Audio, 2007)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Deadly Pink by Vivian Vande Velde

First off, let me say that although this is technically a series book, each one of the books stands completely on its own - without even any crossover of characters to speak of. The unifying thread is the Rasmussem Corporation's total immersion virtual reality gaming center, in which players are wired up and transported into the game of their choosing, complete with full sensory capability. The books can be read in any order, and while Heir Apparent is still my favorite of the bunch, this one was a highly enjoyable read as well.

Our heroine is Grace Pizzelli, and when she is called out of class in the middle of the school day, she can only think that something horrible has happened. And while, to her relief, there's been no death in the family, something awful has indeed occurred. Her sister - her perfect, popular, intelligent, amazing sister, has somehow wired herself into one of Rasmussem's total immersion virtual reality games - and using her skills that she'd developed interning for Rasmussum, she has bypassed the codes so that the safety backups no longer apply to her. In effect, she's sealed herself off in the game, and eventually it will fry her brain, and she will die.

Grace can't imagine why her sister would do such a thing, and while feeling that she has little chance of succeeding, she agrees to go into the game, which her sister has designed, and convince her sister to come back out. Her sister has no intention of doing so, however, and she has all the powers and skills of the game at her disposal, which means that Grace has to find a way to beat the game, within its rules, track down her sister, and find out what is going on.

This is a fun, action-packed adventure book with a lot at stake. It explores the relationship between the girls without being heavy handed or preachy, and there is also plenty of Vande Velde's quirky humor and snarky social commentary, not to mention the usual unexpected plot twists along the way. It's intelligent, thought provoking, and a whole lot of fun.

Books in the User Unfriendly series:
1. User Unfriendly
2. Heir Apparent
3. Deadly Pink

Deadly Pink (#3 in the User Unfriendly series) by Vivian Vande Velde (Harcourt, 2012)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Bloodshot by Cherie Priest

I hadn't read anything by Cherie Priest since Four and Twenty Blackbirds, which was way back in 2008. I have no idea why - her books have been on my list for ages, but somehow I just hadn't gotten around to any others till now. This one looked like fun, so I thought I'd give it a try. I'm glad I did, because it was exactly the kind of book I was in the mood for at the time. It's a surprisingly literary supernatural mystery, with a vampire heroine who's just different enough from most of the overwhelmingly large number of vampire books out there, a vampire who's way more human than she'd like to admit.

Raylene is a vampire who keeps to herself, particularly when it comes to other vampires. She has made a good living stealing valuable artwork and artifacts - she's a sort of heist queen, which keeps her life interesting on an intellectual, if not emotional, level. All that changes, though, when she accepts a job for a fellow vampire. This time it's not artwork that she's looking for - it's confidential files on the vampire, who had been abducted and seriously injured when his captors performed a series of invasive medical experiments on him. Despite Raylene's resolve to maintain a distance from those around her, as she is drawn into the mystery, other people are inextricably drawn into her life as well.

This was an excellent read - and beautifully written, too.

Books in the Cheshire Red Reports series:
1. Bloodshot
2. Hellbent

Bloodshot (#1 in the Cheshire Red Reports series) by Cherie Priest (Random House, 2011)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

This is one of those e-books I downloaded to my reader when I was going away, and I just grabbed something from my library's digital catalog that sounded good without knowing much about it. I certainly didn't realize it was a movie (apparently I just don't get out that much these days!), but it sounded like an interesting premise:
...Now all of us are running. Spending our lives in shadows, in places where no one would look, blending in. we have lived among you without you knowing.
But they know.
They caught Number One in Malaysia.
Number Two in England.
And Number Three in Kenya.
They killed them all.
I am Number Four.
I am next.
And it did start out fairly promising. John Smith, the young alien teen hero in question, has spent his life on the run. His only companion is his guardian, whose job is to take care of him until John's unknown superpowers will hopefully show up when he hits adolescence.  In a fairly predictable turn of events, they end up in a small town where John falls in love with a fellow classmate and actually makes some friends for the first time. When it comes time to run again, John resists and some action-adventure chaos and mayhem ensue.

I honestly had a hard time finishing this one. John does nothing but whine about his circumstances for so much of the book that I found myself losing what sympathy I had for him. When the entire future of his species depends on him being responsible, and instead of focusing on his developing powers, he takes needless risks for pointless reasons. Soon the plot spirals way out of control, beyond my capacity to suspend disbelief.

Much of the plot also depends on one character needlessly withholding information from another, which is one of my literary pet peeves. In all fairness, many teen readers are unlikely to have the issues I did, and my 8th grader has mentioned that one of her classmates is obsessed with this series, so it might just be me. At any rate, I feel no need to continue beyond this first book, but I still do recommended to those who may enjoy it more than I did when I'm helping teens find books at my library.

Books in the Lorien Legacies series:
1. I Am Number Four
2. The Rise of Six
3. The Power of Nine
4. The Fall of Five

I Am Number Four (#1 in the Lorien Legacies series) by Pittacus Lore (HarperCollins, 2010)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett

I continue to enjoy my read from start to finish through the (happily) very many Discworld novels. I am looking forward to the point where Stephen Briggs starts narrating them - he is my favorite. I particularly like the way each novel focuses on a particular area of the Discworld - sometimes it's witches, sometimes it's Death - and this time we return to the men of Ankh-Morpork's City Watch.

Something mysterious is going on in the city.  Something's been stolen, but no one wants to admit what it was, where it was, or even that it was, in fact, stolen.  And people are dying in a most violent way, a way that seems to be connected to the stolen object in question. A fun and entertaining hard-boiled fantasy crime-solving spree ensues, involving dragons, clowns, assassins, psychotic dogs, and some very interesting new recruits to the City Watch.

It's funny and full of action and adventure but, because it's Pratchett, it's also intelligent, thoughtful and full of heart. Highly recommended.

Books in the Discworld series:
1. The Color of Magic
2. The Light Fantastic
3. Equal Rites
4. Mort 
5. Sourcery
6. Wyrd Sisters
7. Pyramids 
8. Guards, Guards
9. Eric
10. Moving Pictures
11. Reaper Man
12. Witches Abroad
13. Small Gods
14. Lords and Ladies
15. Men at Arms
16. Soul Music
17. Interesting Times
18. Maskerade
19. Feet of Clay
20. Hogfather
21. Jingo
22. The Last Continent
23. Carpe Jugulum
24. The Fifth Elephant
25. The Truth
26. The Thief of Time
27. The Last Hero
28. The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents

29. Nightwatch
30. The Wee Free Men
31. Monstrous Regiment
32. A Hat Full of Sky
33. Going Postal

34. Thud
35. Wintersmith
36. Making Money

37. Unseen Academicals
38. I Shall Wear Midnight
39. Snuff

Men at Arms (#15 in the Discworld series) by Terry Pratchett; narrated by Nigel Planer (Random House Audiobooks, 2007)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

"Eternity in Death" (short story) by J. D. Robb

I was interested to see that the anthology in which this Eve Dallas story appears, Dead of Night, contained "four all-new paranormal stories." The Eve Dallas series is definitely not paranormal; it's a futuristic mystery series set in New York City. How, I wondered, was the paranormal going to fit in?

It turned out to be a fun read. A wealthy young celebrity is found dead in her luxurious Manhattan apartment, completely drained of blood and with two holes in her neck. It looks to everyone as though the victim has been attacked by a vampire, but the ever practical detective Eve Dallas won't have any of that nonsense. She sets out to find the killer in her usual tenacious style, but along the way even she will find a few things to send a shiver creeping down her spine...

I continue to enjoy this series, and now that I know about the short stories and where they fit in (thank you, Fantastic Fiction!), I can catch up on the ones I missed and read the rest in order. I hate reading things out of order!

Books/stories in the Eve Dallas/In Death series:

1. Naked in Death 
2. Glory in Death 
3. Immortal in Death 
4. Rapture in Death 
5. Ceremony In Death 
6. Vengeance in Death 
7. Holiday in Death
"Midnight in Death" (in Silent Night)
8. Conspiracy in Death 
9. Loyalty in Death 
10. Witness in Death
11. Judgment in Death 
12. Betrayal in Death 
"Interlude in Death" (in Out of This World)
13. Seduction in Death 
14. Reunion In Death 
15. Purity in Death 
16. Portrait in Death 
17. Imitation in Death 
Remember When (spin-off book with section featuring Eve)
18. Divided in Death
19. Visions in Death
20. Survivor 
in Death
Origin in Death 
22. Memory in Death 

"Haunted in Death" (in Bump in the Night)
23. Born in Death 
24. Innocent in Death
"Eternity in Death" (in Dead of Night)
25. Creation in Death 
26. Strangers in Death
"Ritual in Death" (in Suite 606)
27. Salvation In Death 
28. Promises in Death 
29. Kindred in Death 
"Missing in Death" (in The Lost)
30. Fantasy in Death 

31. Indulgence in Death
32. Treachery in Death
33. New York to Dallas
34. Celebrity in Death
35. Delusion in Death
36. Calculated in Death

37. Thankless in Death
38. Concealed in Death (2014)

"Eternity in Death" by J.D. Robb (from the anthology Dead of Night - Jove, 2007)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel

I'm still not quite sure how I feel about graphic novel retellings of novels. It feels a little like making an abridged audio recording of a book or even a movie from a novel - there are things being left out; the story is being changed a bit; the focus is more on what is observed and said rather than on interior monologue or characters' thoughts. I guess I worry a bit about what is being left out, and how that omission changes the story.

I was particularly ambivalent in the case of the graphic novelization of A Wrinkle in Time, which is one of my favorite books from my childhood. But I have to say, when I found out it was Hope Larson who had created it, I grew excited. I love her work, its complexity and emotional resonance, and I knew right away that she was an excellent choice for this adaptation.

I found myself enjoying the graphic novel even more than I thought. Yes, the story has been simplified, as have the characters and their relationships, just a little, but Larson manages to hit the key moments and really bring out the images as described in the novel. The blue, black and white color scheme lends itself well to the atmosphere of the story.

I did find the situation at the climax (which really creeped the heck out of me when I was a kid) felt more quickly and easily resolved than in the novel, but that was my only real issue with the book. Larson does a great job of illustrating the indescribable, and I think that kids who read one version of this book will definitely be inspired to read the other.

Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel by Hope Larson (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2012)

Also by Hope Larson:

Also by Madeleine L'Engle:
The Joys of Love
Meet the Austins
A Wrinkle in Time

Friday, April 12, 2013

Dead and Gone by Charlaine Harris

Telepathic barroom waitress Sookie Stackhouse has come a long way since the early days, before vampires came out and she was dreaming of something interesting to happen in her sleepy Louisiana town. Now she is firmly entrenched in vampire - not to mention werewolf and other shapeshifter politics, and her life has become more complicated than she could ever have imagined.

This ninth book in the series involves three storylines: Her brother's estranged, pregnant wife is found brutally murdered, and she must prove his innocence; she is endangered by a political coup among her fae relatives; and her relationship with the admittedly hot but overbearing vampire Eric is explored.

Once again Harris delivers a taut and gripping novel with complex characters who continue to change and grow - and surprise - through the course of the series. Johanna Parker does her usual fantastic job narrating the story, and I look forward to listening to the next book in this fun and exciting supernatural mystery series.

Books in the Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire series:

1. Dead Until Dark
2. Living Dead in Dallas
3. Club Dead
4. Dead to the World
5. Dead as a Doornail
6. Definitely Dead
7. All Together Dead
8. From Dead to Worse
9. Dead and Gone 
10. A Touch of Dead (short stories)
11. Dead in the Family

12. Dead Reckoning  
13. Deadlocked
14. Dead Ever After

Dead and Gone (#9 in the Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire series) by Charlaine Harris; narrated by Johanna Parker (Recorded Books, 2009)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Frost Burned

I let out a little happy shout when this book appeared on my desk at work - I'd placed a hold on it so long ago I'd forgotten all about it. This is my current favorite series, and when a new Mercy book comes out, I do the happy Snoopy dance around my library. Yeah, my coworkers don't think I'm at all strange...

But anyway, in this installment of this most excellent series, Mercy has returned from her honeymoon, and so she is back in the setting and with the characters we have come to know and (mostly) love. The action starts immediately - when Mercy and her new step-daughter are in a fender-bender, Mercy is unable to contact anyone to get a ride home. Her alarm flags go up, particularly when she receives a cryptic message. When she learns that Adam and her entire pack have been kidnapped and are being held hostage, Mercy has to find some serious help, and quickly.

This one is a solid addition to the rest of this series, and I thoroughly enjoyed it and was very sorry when it was over. The portions that were from Adam's point of view were a little jarring to me, though - I've grown used to Mercy's voice carrying me through these stories. Still, I can see why the switch was there, and it did offer a little more insight into Mercy's relationship with Adam. If you enjoy paranormal mysteries and otherworldly characters and you haven't read this series, what are you waiting for? You're sure to love it.

Books in the Mercy Thompson series:

1. Moon Called
2. Blood Bound
3. Iron Kissed 

4. Bone Crossed
5. Silver Borne
6. River Marked
7. Frost Burned

Frost Burned (#7 in the Mercy Thompson series) by Patricia Briggs (Ace Books, 2013)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Fake Mustache by Tom Angleberger

When Seventh-grader Lenny Flem lends his best friend some money to buy a fake mustache at the novelty store, he has no idea of the kind of chaos and mayhem he is unleashing. His friend, a guy he thought he knew pretty well, has a plan, and it's the kind of plan that involves heists, hypnotism, dangerous minions and, ultimately, a shot at the White House. Lenny has his work cut out for him - but luckily, he runs into the amazing Jodie O'Rodeo, of teen cowgirl television fame, and it turns out that the two of them (well, three of them, if you count Jodie's amazing Wonder Horse), make a pretty good team. Too bad the odds are stacked against them...

This is a fun read that should appeal to fans of over-the-top humor and crazy escapades. The story is as far-fetched as they come, a true tall tale, and Lenny's honest, funny voice carries the story all the way through to its incredible (literally) conclusion. I found it amusing, and I know it will be an easy sell at my library - but I'd say it's the kind of book that has more kid appeal than adult appeal. And that's not a bad thing. It's a kids' book, after all.

Fake Mustache, or, How Jodie O'Rodeo and Her Wonder Horse (and Some Nerdy Kid) saved the U.S. Presidential Election from a Mad Genius Criminal Mastermind by Tom Angleberger (Abrams, 2012)

Monday, April 8, 2013

Notorious Nineteen by Janet Evanovich

Customers at my library are always raving about Lorelei King's excellent reading of Janet Evanovich's books, so I checked the audio out from the digital catalog and gave this one a listen. Lorelei does a great job, really bringing the characters to life, and I found myself laughing out loud as I drove around town listening to yet another silly Stephanie mystery.

This time around Stephanie is looking for a skip who mysteriously disappeared straight from the hospital after an emergency appendectomy. He has been accused of embezzling an enormous amount of money from an assisted living facility, so Grandma Mazur enthusiastic goes under cover to find out what information she can, and Stephanie ends up working with Morelli to figure out where the man - and the money - have gone. Meanwhile someone is picking off former army buddies of Ranger's, and Stephanie finds herself doing bodyguard detail for Ranger, which turns out to be way more dangerous than she anticipated.

It's always a good day when a new Stephanie Plum novel is published, and I enjoyed my virtual trip to New Jersey  to catch up on characters who truly feel like friends. It was nice to see that Stephanie has actually gained some skills and expertise in her bounty-hunting profession through the course of the books, and I look forward to her next adventure.

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
Finger Lickin' Fifteen
16. Sizzling Sixteen

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

Notorious Nineteen (#19 in the Stephanie Plum series) by Janet Evanovich; narrated by Lorelei King (Books on Tape, 2012)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Shelter by Harlan Coben

I'm always a little skeptical when an established writer of books for adults branches out into a YA series (think James Patterson and the Maximum Ride series, for one). Ever since the success of books like Twilight and The Hunger Games, etc., it can seem more a commercial move than a desire to truly write books that are appropriate for that audience.  So I hadn't intended to read this series - particularly as I've never read the adult mysteries Coben writes. But this mystery novel came up as a potential choice for my library system's summer reading recommendations for 6 - 8th graders, so I dutifully checked it out and took it home to read.

And wow, was I surprised and pleased with this! I couldn't put it down. High school sophomore Mickey Bolitar has lost his father, and his mother is in rehab.  He's just moved in with his uncle, a man who was estranged from Mickey's parents, so Mickey is not terribly inclined to trust him. Things are tough, but when Mickey starts going out with Ashley, a pretty girl at his school, things start to look up - until Ashley disappears. As Mickey searches for the truth behind Ashley's disappearance, he uncovers more and more mysteries, and the closer he gets to finding out what's really going on, the closer he gets to some dangerous and desperate people.

Coben clearly knows how to weave a tale with engaging, believable characters, and he ratchets up the tension to nearly unbearable levels as the story progresses.  While the summer reading committee decided that this one is better suited to high school students because of some of the mature content (a strip club, for example), I recommended it to my 14-year-old daughter, who loved it as much as I did. Mickey's love of sports (he's an excellent basketball player) is an extra aspect of the book that makes it appealing to sports fans when I've recommended it to teens at my library. I look forward to reading the sequel - as well as Coben's adult series.

Books in the Mickey Bolitar series:
1. Shelter
2. Seconds Away

Shelter (#1 in the Mickey Bolitar series) by Harlan Coben (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2011)