Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top Ten Reads of 2009

First, I have to say I'm psyched because I read 90 books this year, the most ever for me. Yeah! I hope I can duplicate that for 2010, but even if I don't, I'm pleased with my reading for this year.

Now, in no particular order, my Top Ten Reads for 2009 (all rated at least a 9 on my 10 point scale):

  • The Endless Forest by Sara Donati
  • An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon
  • Fade Out by Rachel Caine
  • Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me? by Louise Rennison
  • Bone Crossed by Patricia Briggs
  • The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  • Fragile Eternity by Melissa Marr
  • Forever Princess by Meg Cabot
  • Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

There were plenty more which *almost* made the list but these were definitely in my Top Ten.

Big sadnesses: A few of my favorite series came to an end, including Meg Cabot's Princess Diaries, Louise Rennison's Georgia Nicolson, Sara Donati's Into the Forest, and Anna Godbersen's Luxe series.

My biggest book resolution for 2010 is to read more of my own books (which now threaten to take over the house and form a mutiny if left unread) rather than continuing to request so many ARCs and review books. I've got to remind myself that I purchased these books for a reason and I really do want to read them.

Happy New Year and Happy Reading!


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Philippa Gregory's The White Queen

I've always liked Elizabeth Woodville, warts and all. I never expect her to be portrayed perfectly, mostly because a good deal of what she did herself was so imperfect. So it was with trepidation that I approached Philippa Gregory's take on this most enigmatic woman, The White Queen. Would she be portrayed as a she-wolf, a witch, a misunderstood wife/mother, or something altogether new? The answer is yes to all of these...and a good amount of no as well.

Following EW from the time of her first meeting with Edward IV until the eve of Henry Tudor's invasion into England, Gregory speedily runs through the major events of an unbelievable life: the initial attraction, the secretive marriage, the births of so many girls before a son is finally achieved, the backstabbing among brothers and cousins. Indeed, so much had happened to EW in the first 100 pages I was curious as to how the following 300 pages would be filled. The fact is, there is an incredible amount of intrigue and happenstance that was literally raced through, and someone unfamiliar with the time period might be confused by the lack of details. And told from Woodville's point of view, most of the events are so one-sided as to leave one thinking everything was black and white. Perhaps this particular issue will be resolved in future books that will flesh out the characters more fully. I do believe that a lot of repetition (sometimes within paragraphs) could have been edited out and more detail of surrounding circumstances given instead.

This is not to say that I didn't enjoy this novel; it's more to say that maybe more could have been done to make EW seem less one dimensional. Of course she was ambitious and of course she foisted her family into the spotlight, and I think Gregory did an admirable job of making EW seem like a good mother (something I'm not so sure is entirely accurate...). The magical element was less disturbing to me than I'd feared it would be, woven well into the story and used just enough to make it seem plausible. The problem I have with it is that EW's story is so good, so vibrant by itself that the addition of magic/witchcraft was really unnecessary. I also am not a fan of the present tense and I feel it did absolutely nothing to make me feel more "into" the story in this case; indeed, all it did for me was call attention to itself.

All that said, however, this is still an entertaining take on Elizabeth Woodville, a commoner who ensnared a king and used her wiles to influence history. It is basically historically accurate (yeah! a plus in my book) and it reads easily. I'm curious to see where Gregory is going to take us and hoping that she'll give us more details in the getting there. A good first novel in an intended series that actually rates 3.5 stars from me.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Numbers by Rachel Ward

What would you do if you knew the day everyone you see is going to die? When fifteen year old Jem looks at anyone, a number flashes into her brain that gives the date that person is checking out for good. She's always seen the numbers, including the one on the day her mother overdosed; for years, Jem's coping mechanism has been to keep to herself as she's shuffled between foster homes. Not a perfect plan, precisely, but one that offers protection from people who disappoint and numbers that are relentless. Until she comes to know Spider, a boy at school, and the two develop a friendship despite the fact that Jem knows his number will be all too soon.

Numbers is a unique look at what a person might do with the knowledge of impending death, and whether anything can be done to alter fate...or even if what you try to do to alter fate is what causes the incident in the first place. Jem's ability leads her to freak at the site of a London bombing--she sees the same date on too many random faces--and she and Spider hit the road when they are suddenly deemed suspects in the explosion. Knowing Spider's days are literally numbered, Jem still comes to rely on his strength and force of personality, allowing herself to be drawn to him despite what she knows and the personal walls she's built. Unwilling to face the knowledge of his impending death, she desperately seeks a solution to holding his fate at bay without being seen as more of an oddity than she already feels she is.

It took me a while to get into Numbers, only because neither Jem nor Spider seem especially likeable at first. But both characters really grew on me as the story unfolded, and Ms. Ward does an excellent job of building toward the ultimate drama. I do think the "on the run" bit went on a little long, but the questions raised for Jem were both challenging and unpredictable. Filled with interesting supporting characters, Numbers gives you much to think about, and an ending you won't see coming. Recommended.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

And Now For a Different Paranormal...

Luce can't remember a time when she didn't see the shadows--dark black moving shapes that come and follow her, usually near water or in dark areas. After years of attempting to "fix" their odd daughter, Luce's parents send her to a northeastern boarding school where the worst happens and Luce ends up involved in a mysterious death. At this point in her seventeen years, it's reform school as the only option, so her parents enroll her in Sword and Cross, which would have been bad enough if the one guy Luce feels she somehow knows hadn't flipped her off on their first meeting. But she can't let that stop her, and her obsession with the beautiful yet distant Daniel grows as the shadows become bolder and death finds her once again.

Fallen by Lauren Kate is different among the young adult paranormals out today in that it deals with creatures not often featured: angels. Specifically, angels who have fallen from heaven for one reason or another, and are cursed. In this case, as the layers are slowly revealed, Daniel's curse becomes clear: he's forced to live forever, meeting and loving Luce every seventeen years...and then watching her die. But something is different this time, and the uptake is that an epic battle between good and evil has been ignited with the change in circumstances.

Fallen has a great premise; it just also has way too slow a beginning in a book of over 400 pages. Told from Luce's point of view, we get little insight into other characters for almost half the book, and Daniel remains enigmatic through 3/4 of the proceedings. Things seem to happen to Luce rather than having Luce take control of any situation, a storyline I hope will change in the next book to come in the series. And the final dawning of Daniel's true status on a perplexed Luce? I'm still scratching my head over just how she came to the conclusion she did because it really wasn't apparent to me how she connected the dots other than thinking about a dream a little bit.

Fallen's flaws are outweighed, however, by the novelty of the situations and the tragedies Luce and her classmates find at the hands of characters they choose to trust. Lots of questions are left unanswered in this installment, so I will have to hope that things are cleared up at least somewhat in the next book. But Fallen is engaging and definitely different than most other young adult paranormals out there. I say enjoy it for what it is and try not to nitpick the main characters too much--at least at this stage. But if Luce fails to understand more and take more control as the series progresses, then the disappointment will be justified. As it is, this is a good beginning and leaves me ready for the next one.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Claim to Fame Review

I've been reading...I finished The Endless Forest by Sara Donati for review (can't say much other than...LOVED IT), but it took a while to read (I think I was savoring). Then I went for an entirely off-beat change of pace in the form of Claim to Fame by Margaret Peterson Haddix. I've loved Haddix since Among the Hidden because her premises are always unique and captivating, and this one was no different. I do think the story could've used a bit more fleshing out, but overall this was a good, quick read...just what I needed to move me out of the nineteenth century and back into my own.

Next is my review for Amazon Vine--let me know what you think.

Lindsay Scott was famous as a child; she was the youngest actor on a popular comedy called Just Me and the Kids. For five years, she lived a pampered life in front of the cameras...but all that changed on her eleventh birthday. That was the day the voices started and Lindsay's life unraveled. What would you do if you could hear every single thing anyone ever said about you inside your head? What if you were famous and your hit show (which was cancelled right after you started hearing the voices) is in constant reruns all over the world?

The only place Lindsay is alone with her own thoughts is inside the house her father purchased in Springdale, Illinois; it's a haven where the voices can't reach. So for five years, Lindsay stays inside, taking online classes and keeping as much to herself as possible--and always avoiding going outside whenever she knows her show is on in reruns. But all that changes when her father dies unexpectedly and Lindsay's kidnapped by two well-meaning teens (who believe she's being held against her will). Suddenly Lindsay is forced to go beyond her own front door and is confronted with the most shocking revelation of all...she's not alone in hearing the voices.

Margaret Peterson Haddix always has unique storylines, and Claim to Fame is no different. Lindsay, understandably freaked out by her awkward ability, wants to continue living alone but can't hide as a minor. Once she realizes that she's not the only Hearer in the world, she must decide what sort of life she's willing to live by seeing how others' decisions have affected themselves. Lindsay, in most other ways, is a typical teen suffering through the loss of a beloved parent, making friends with people she probably once wouldn't have acknowledged.

The story moved a little slowly at first, but as Lindsay begins to learn more about her "gift", the pages kept turning quickly. I liked that Haddix gives Lindsay much to think about in the future, and I could foresee a possible sequel. I do wish Haddix had given us more information on the actual gift and the town's ancestors, but again, that may be forthcoming. Overall, this is an intriguing story that made me want to know more (and made me thankful I can't hear what others are thinking about me!).

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Splendor by Anna Godbersen

I've been MIA around Blog World for almost two weeks...apologies all around. I *tried* reading Elphame's Choice by P.C. Cast, but just couldn't get into it like I'd hoped. Still, I gave it the ole college try--more than 100 pages and 3 days and still nope, just not into it. So I skimmed it and went on to one I *really* wanted to read: Splendor by Anna Godbersen. I actually finished it a couple of days ago but just got around to writing the review tonight. My brain's been on Thanksgiving break! Anyway, below is the review I just posted to Amazon:

Splendor brings Anna Godbersen's Luxe series to a close, and what a tremendous ending it is! All the loose threads are tied up, but not always so neatly; the four main young women find that life doesn't always give you what you thought you wanted, but you've got to make peace with yourself no matter what. Splendor is told in alternating chapters that focus on each of the young women and takes them through the trials that will ultimately lead them to that peace, whatever it is.

The book opens with Diana Holland having traveled (alone in 1900!) to Havana in search of love Henry Schoonmaker, who has joined the army in order to escape his shrew of a wife, Penelope. While the young lovers are reunited, Penelope herself starts to realize that maybe she was too hasty in marrying Henry, and sets her eye on on a Bavarian prince who is looking lustfully back at her. Meanwhile, both Elizabeth Holland and Carolina Broad have achieved contentment: Elizabeth has married her father's business partner in order to give her unborn child a name, and Carolina's past as a maid is firmly behind her as she falls in love with the handsome Leland. Of course none of this flows smoothly, and all of the young women are subjected to tragedies of varying degrees.

In this final installment, Ms. Godbersen does the remarkable: she allows her characters to achieve a sense of maturity without being preachy or giving them fairy tale endings. The deceit that all of them have practiced is dealt with, but there is no moral high ground. Instead, I felt they were all so identifiable, because let's face it: pretty young women do have faults and some conquer those faults while others do not. It's all about what you are willing to live with.

Ms. Godbersen filled Splendor with fashion and romance, betrayal and reconciliation, and it could not have been a more fitting ending to this series. My one problem with the storyline applies to Diana, and it is only because of her previous infatuation that I have a hard time believing she wasn't up to the task. However, I could still see her achieving something far more exciting with her life, so even though I found her decision out of character, I can let it go, and even give kudos to Ms. Godbersen for not being pat in wrapping up my favorite storyline of the four. I would actually rate Splendor 4.5 stars, but my enjoyment of the series as a whole prompts me to round up to the full five. Truly an enjoyable ride.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Fade Out (Morganville Vampires # 7)

After having read (and been disappointed by) the sixth book in the House of Night series, it's nice to pick up the seventh book in the Morganville Vampires series and find that not only is the quality good, it's improving! My review is below:

How wrong is it that I stretched a 220+ page book out for five days because I didn't want to see it end? Hopefully not too wrong, because once I was back in Morganville, I didn't want to leave. Fade Out is book # 7 in Rachel Caine's Morganville Vampire series, coming after the drama with evil Bishop has ended and things are supposedly "back to normal" (or as normal as it can be when the town is run by vampires). Main character Claire Danvers is back in class at Texas Prairie University, still with boyfriend Shane, and again working with slightly off-center vampire Myrnin. Michael's adjusting to life as a vampire, and Goth girl Eve has earned a part in the town's new play. The problem comes when castmate Kim suddenly shows up and inserts herself between not only Claire and Eve, but Claire and Shane. Something's just not quite right about Kim, but Claire starts to feel as though she's the only one who sees the problem...until Kim goes missing and her dirty little secret comes to light.

Love, love, love the characters in this tremendous series, and I love that our vampire friends are showing more range in emotion and fallibility. Amelie, the vampire who founded Morganville, is still mourning the loss of lover Sam; Oliver, Eve's former boss and Amelie's next in command, is showing signs of irritation over the way things are being run; and Myrnin, dear, odd, funny Myrnin, is in denial about computer Ada's intentions. Sides are being drawn once again between those vampires in charge and those who have gone rogue, and Claire and her friends are finding themselves caught firmly in the middle.

It's a testament to Ms. Caine's imagination that this series is improving instead of becoming stale, and the fact that both brains and loyalties are being tested shows that she's not willing to settle for the obvious. There is lots of action but also lots of humor in this novel; it's Myrnin's antics that made me laugh and long for my own set of vampire bunny slippers. Claire's dedication to doing what's right, even when it doesn't necessarily feel right, moves the book subtly along, and the growing relationship between Shane and Claire also is well done. The book ends on a cliffhanger (sigh), so naturally I'll be waiting restlessly for the next installment. Here's hoping it's a bit longer so I won't feel the need to ration myself while reading in order to stay in Morganville.


Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Tempted (Book 6 of The House of Night)

In Tempted, Book 6 of the House of Night series, things pick up for Zoey and her friends as they have just defeated the evil Kalona and ex-High Priestess Neferet. Well, actually, they aren't exactly defeated--just living on the Italian isle of San Clemente, waiting to speak to the Vampire High Council in order to convince them that they are, indeed, Erebus and Nyx Incarnate. a young, newly appointed High Priestess vampyre's work ever done? Apparently not; nor is she allowed to actually choose among the three males vying for her constant attention, or even get any restful sleep since Kalona's decided he's going to invade her dreams. So naturally Zoey and the gang hop on the House of Night jet (unchaperoned by adults, mind you) and fly to Italy in order to head off the soon-to-be disastrous recognition of Kalona and Neferet. Ummm, like the Vampire High Council couldn't figure out for themselves what those two are up to after all the death and destruction that just happened back in Oklahoma?
There you have it: the main problems with Tempted. Poking holes in this story almost became a game; even though I know it's a fantasy, too many coincidences and too much just plain luck kept pulling me out time and again. The plot moved so slowly for the first half of the book that I continually asked myself just why I had felt the need to continue with this series (particularly on the heels of the poorly edited Hunted). Quite honestly, had I not grown so attached to Zoey, Stevie Rae, and Aphrodite, I'd probably have ditched this one early on. And while I'm very glad I didn't (the final 50 pages or so made it worthwhile), I will say that it was almost too little too late to keep this reader intrigued.
Rant time: Where are the editors? Last time I complained about the typos and grammar in Hunted, and those seem to have cleared up in Tempted. But someone, anyone, please explain to me how on two separate occasions (pages 194-195 and 276-277), Zoey's point of view chapters started out in third person and shifted to first person without warning after a page or so with no break in the action? Both times I had to reread carefully to figure out 1) who was actually talking and 2) marvel that no one caught this before it went to press. Come on, editors! Get it together!
I did enjoy the differing points of view in this novel, and I think they did develop the story more fully. Stevie Rae's decision to save someone who might not be worth saving was terrific, giving her one more facet to distinguish her from her dithering friends. I am also beginning to believe that Aphrodite might be my favorite character. At least the girl knows what she thinks and is willing to say or do it. The guys in this novel? Pretty much a waste of space all around. I'm tired of hearing how hot they are; I just want Zoey to make a decision and stick with it. Which makes what happened at the end (while a stunning turn, I admit) a little puzzling as she's had difficulty making up her mind for six books now.
It's not that I hated this book; in fact, I rather found it page turning towards the end. I am just so disappointed, really. The move into Zoey saving the world from the original concept of living at the House of Night and trying to fit into the vampyre world just isn't working for me. I want the old chemistry and less of the modern slang. This review is getting three stars from me based on my former love for this series instead of the two it deserves. And from the looks of it, I may not be the only fan feeling this way about this once riveting series.

Friday, October 30, 2009

You Must Read This Book (After You Read Its Prequel, That Is)

Life should be good for Katniss Everdeen now: she not only survived and won The Capitol's Hunger Games, she outsmarted the powers that be and saved her fellow player from District Twelve, Peeta. She's rich now, living in a special section reserved for victors of the Games, and her mother and little sister are safe from the hunger that surrounds her community. Even better, she's able to spend her Sundays back in the woods with her best friend Gale, hunting and sharing their special bond. And then The Capitol comes calling for Katniss and Peeta to do their Victory Tour of the other districts and once again, Katniss finds herself in unbelievable danger as she realizes that the government will do anything to make her pay the price for defying them. Wow. Just Wow. Catching Fire had me from the first pages and didn't let go (and still hasn't). As Katniss and Peeta tour the other districts, they see that there is more oppression out there than they'd realized, and they are unable to stop themselves from speaking out, however subtley, against The Capitol. Of course this doesn't go over well and the pair know they will have to pour on their pretend love affair thickly in hopes that they can repair the damage they've done. It's only when they return home to a very changed District Twelve that it becomes clear that they are going to have to pay the ultimate price. The characterizations in this novel just got better and better as the story went on, with Katniss and Peeta's relationship deepening significantly. Collins does an outstanding job of making Katniss uncertain to whom her heart belongs as her life is on the line. Haymitch is back as well; his personal demons seem poised to destroy him on the surface, but is he hiding behind them for different reasons than it seems? So many layers, so much going on, all of it unbelievable in its wonderful, riveting awfulness. The world Suzanne Collins has created in Catching Fire is grim and despicable; yet hope abounds in the symbols of Katniss, Peeta, and a mockingjay pin. With former Games victors mixed into this novel, I could begin to see and understand the desperation that exists on all levels of this dystopian world. With all the action, betrayals, and subterfuge going on, I had to force myself not to gulp this entire book down in one big gorging session. With the final page, my anxiety was still climbing, and I know for a fact it won't be relieved until I hold the next book in the series in my hot little hands. It's that good. This is a not to be missed series for readers of all ages.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Last Breath

With his last breath, the man who had attacked Shaley O'Connor in the previous book, Always Watching, left her with a scary yet tantalizing comment: "Your father sent me." For this rock star's daughter who has never known anything about her father, these words send her into a tailspin on top of the chaos that has already plagued her in the past few days. But before she can share this information, her mother Rayne is injured and Shaley must focus on her healing. It is while Rayne is confined to her hospital bed that Shaley is finally, finally able to hear the story of her father and why she's never known him. But how can she come to terms with everything while there is a fiendish member of the paparazzi following her every move?

Last Breath picks up almost immediately after Always Watching, with Shaley's world taking a major shift after the recent murders on tour and her mother's injuries. The story shifts between Shaley in the present and her mother's story set in 1991-1992. Both points of view are equally enthralling, and Shaley comes to understand why her mother has kept the story from her for so long.

Last Breath is a short novel but a page turner. Shaley is entirely believable as a young woman desperate to know her own story, even if she is a bit headstrong in thinking she can take on anyone. There is a religious bent to the novel, but it is definitely woven well into the story and doesn't pull you out of the storyline itself. My only problem was the actual story of Rayne's past; it seemed to set the father up as a bit of a hero, which made me feel as though the author was trying to make him too sympathetic. But as the story progressed, I could see that in fact the author had plans for him that would take time to mature, so I can forgive that one minor fault. Last Breath is a good mystery that should capture anyone who enjoys watching the past revealed one layer at a time.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Give This One a Miss

Gena Showalter's Intertwined has a fascinating premise: Aden, the main character, has four other souls living within his head whom he constantly hears. Each soul has a special "gift", such as time traveling or raising the dead, but it's Aden's habit of conversing aloud with the souls that has landed him in mental facilities and foster homes since the age of three. Needless to say, it's been almost impossible for Aden to make friends, and the fact that he knows exactly how he will die (thanks to one of the souls) doesn't help his situation. Until he moves to the D and M Ranch for troubled boys and receives a vision of a beautiful girl who will become his love interest; suddenly Aden is eager to find out if the girl he sees briefly is the mystery girl and he gets himself enrolled in the local school in order to find out. Only Mary Ann is not the girl, though she does become a friend. Instead, the beautiful vampire Victoria reveals herself to Aden, accusing him of "calling" her into his life. Thus begins a relationship that finds Aden battling the undead, the school bully, a bunkmate, a werewolf, and assorted other paranormal creatures as he searches for a way to set the souls trapped within free and possibly even get the girl in the process.
Whew. That's a lot of description to pack into a little paragraph. Trouble is, that's only the tip of the iceberg with Intertwined. It seems that each new chapter brings further complications and characters to muddy the waters and make Aden's life more difficult. And that is the biggest problem with this book: it's so convoluted with plots, sub-plots, and coincidences that I'm still not sure what was the main focus. Though I rather enjoyed the characters of Mary Ann, Riley, and Aden, the rest of the cast seemed placed solely for convenience's sake, including love interest Victoria: how wonderful (cough!) was it that she has a gift of making people do and think whatever she wants (but doesn't really practice it on Aden) so that everyone can get out of tight scrapes easily? The conversations were often stilted, moving from today's slang ("Hawt!") to old-fashioned Romanian style vampire-speak within a page or less. And the whole drama with Mary Ann's bff Penny? Unnecessary and just plain distracting. I just kept feeling as though the storyline, while unique, could have been so much more if half of the ideas had been left out and more focus given to the characters' feelings. And at times, if I'm being honest, I felt that the writing style itself bordered on inexperience (though I know that's not the case of the author). All of this mixed together just makes the whole idea...well, silly and not very well planned out.
I still am giving this novel three stars, rounded up from 2.5 because there was a section where Aden and Mary Ann were developing a good relationship that I felt the pages flying by. And overall, it is a fast read with so much potential. There was some humor and some angst that captured me, but this novel needed an editor with a much heavier hand than the one it got. Obviously the ending is a set up for a sequel but I am sure I'll give it a pass. That ending fight scene alone was so poorly written that I'd feel like having my own eyes poked out to spend more of my life wading through too many coincidences and not enough substance.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Always Watching

Shaley O'Connor is used to life lived at a fast pace: as the daughter of Rayne O'Connor, lead singer of the band Rayne, Shaley's been on tour with her mom's band for almost three months when this book opens. Though she misses her friends back home, Shaley's content with the knowledge that her best friend Brittany is on her way to spend a few weeks with her, and the friends she has among the crew keep her from feeling lonely. Things seem to be going well for Shaley until Tom, one of her closest friends on the tour, suddenly turns up murdered...and it seems that his murder is only the first of many events that will leave Shaley scared and unsure of everyone, including her own mother.
Always Watching is a murder mystery set in the glamorous life of a rock star's daughter, where layers are revealed that make it more than just the story of a dead body (or two). Shaley has some issues: she feels that her mother, while loving, doesn't always show her much attention, and the mystery over her father's identity eats away at her. In fact, Always Watching is less about Shaley solving a murder than it is about Shaley discovering more about herself. This includes a rather unexpected (for me at least) encounter with a backup singer about God and how He is actually the One who is always watching. I admit to being a little thrown by that aspect of the novel--it seemed to come out of nowhere at the moment, but later attempts at having Shaley question God's intervention in her life flowed much more smoothly.
A slim novel and the first in a series, Always Watching is good, though not great. The murder scenes are described violently and Shaley deals with death in logical yet surprising ways. I found the feelings of adults about Shaley either shallow or creepy; the one page glimpses into the killer's mind throughout seemed forced and out of place to me. But Shaley is a fairly typical teen, even if her mother is a rock star, and her reactions are normal for the circumstances. This short book was a fast read and ended with enough questions that I will definitely be looking for its sequel.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me?

Oh, Georgia, you finally have the Luuurve God fully enamored and what happens? Well, plenty, as a matter of fact. In the tenth (and final! oo-er) book in the Georgia Nicolson series, Georgia's in a dither about keeping Masimo interested, playing Mercutio in the school play of Rom and Jul, keeping Angus and Gordy from eating Bum-ty, watching her parents reconnect, and figuring out just what it is precisely that she feels for the wonderful Dave the Laugh. With the Ace Gang along, Georgia's journey to maturosity is anything but smooth, but always, always humorous.

Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me? picks up closely after the previous book; Georgia's still following Masimo and the Stiff Dylans around, using all her girly skills to keep him entranced. And entranced he does become; not only does he confirm that he wants to be with Georgia, he begins to show up at Stalag 14 unexpectedly for mini-snogfests and even declares that he will turn down moving to London with the Dylans in order to stay with her. All this attention forces Georgia to reconsider and what does she find? That most of her thoughts really belong with that fab lad, Dave the Laugh. But what's a girl to do when she has a Luuurve God in the hand and a "mate" who is now with someone else?

What an exciting ending to one of the funniest series I've ever read! Georgia's stream of consciousness is hysterical, and her interactions with the Ace Gang are laugh out loud funny. I love Georgia's relationship with baby sister Libby (though I admit I'm a little concerned with how Libby will turn out--another series idea, hmmm, Ms. Rennison?). Georgia personifies what most teens are thinking and feeling when caught up in the excitement of luuurve, and the way Ms. Rennison draws out the intense relationship between Georgia and Dave is just...Groovy. Fab. Full of wisdomosity. In this final installment, there is hope for Georgia and her mates, but mostly there is laughter and fulfillment for all the loyal fans who have followed Georgia through boy entrancers, snog fests, sex gods, and Scottish wildcats. Count this fan as one well satisfied.


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

A New Spin on Werewolves

Grace remembers being attacked by wolves when she was eleven, but what she remembers most is the wolf who stopped the attack and saved her. For years his yellow eyes have haunted her, and she's watched fervently each winter for his return to the forest near her home. Somehow she knows he will always be there to watch over her. And then the unthinkable happens; a fellow classmate is not only attacked by wolves, he is killed by them. What will happen to Grace's wolf when the town is on the rampage, running to destroy the animals?
Sam has watched Grace for years but their first "official" meeting is more than a little awkward; he turns up, naked and shot, on her deck. Suddenly he's actually talking to the girl he feels he's known forever, and she's responding. And though he tries to keep his true nature in check, he knows it's just a matter of time before he will once again disappear from her life. But that certainly doesn't stop the feelings that rapidly develop between them, and now how will Sam be able to face a future without Grace's touch and love?
Shiver is a new, unique spin on the werewolf genre. In Stiefvater's world, it is the cold temperatures that bring on the shift from human to wolf, and each year the time to shift back to human comes later and later until one day there's only wolf. Knowing that there is a definite deadline to their love, Grace and Sam fight the cold as best they can, hoping for a miracle that will allow them to stay together. But the newly created wolf, Grace's classmate Jack, throws kinks into their plans as his unstable nature puts others in jeopardy. Stiefvater gives the story just the right balance of poignancy, anger, and hope, with Grace growing more self-assured as she wrestles with Sam's impending departure. Stiefvater also fills the pages with a longing between the two that kept me enthralled, and a back story that fleshes out the reasons behind unexplainable actions. I was engaged and I was entertained, but mostly I was just captured by the beauty of the frozen world of Shiver. Excellent and creative.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Come On Fall Break!

Just thought I'd check in and let everyone know I'm really NOT dead...just brain dead, if that counts. We are 7 weeks into school and my reading has fallen off majorly as my attention span has decreased--it seems my brain is flitting from one thing to another as I hit overload. School's been a bitch so far this year with a principal who leaves a lot to be desired, an assistant principal constantly on spin cycle, and generally declining morale. We're trying to hang in there but it's hard when your leadership is so poor. But enough about that...

Of course the fall television schedule has eaten into my reading time as well. I am a reality tv junkie. I'd join a twelve step program but I'm actually waiting for a television show to be developed around that theme (maybe there's been one and I just didn't know?). Currently I am watching Hell's Kitchen (which finishes in another week or two), America's Next Top Model, Ghost Hunters, Destination Truth, Survivor, and Project Runway. Oh, and The Amazing Race! Mix in The Office, Glee, and Vampire Diaries and you've got some major time occupying television.

But I AM reading. I finally finished An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon, and while I can't review it here (check out my review in The Historical Novel Society, coming soon!), I will say I absolutely loved it. I've always loved Jamie Fraser, and this installment is no less wonderful. A couple of good cliffhangers, too! But it's a chunkster and it took nearly two and a half weeks to plow through 800+ pages. Then I decided that it'd be best if my next book was something completely different, so I've gone for Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, a young adult book about werewolves. Good so far, then who knows what I'll pick up next?

So that's a minor update on what's going on in the life of The Taminator. Fall break is October 19-23 and it can't come soon enough for many, many, many reasons. If I do nothing but rest and read, it will be successful. Until then, I'll keep plodding along, my brain fried and my hope resting in vacation time ahead.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Couple of YA Reviews

First up...Front and Center by Catherine Gilbert Murdock...

In the third book in Catherine Gilbert Murdock's series based on D.J. Schwenk, D.J. is back at school after dealing with her brother Win's terrible accident and ready to just play basketball. She's broken up with her boyfriend Brian; all she really wants is to have life return to normal for her junior year of high school. But life's funny like that sometimes: what you want most seems just out of reach, and is it really what you want after you think about it?

D.J.'s always been a stand-out athlete, and this basketball season quickly proves that she hasn't lost anything by not playing the previous year. It doesn't take long before colleges begin to show interest in her skills and the idea of being good enough to play in a Big Ten school freaks D.J. to the core. Life would be fine with her if she played for a local Division III team where the pressure wouldn't be so great and she wouldn't be the star of the show. And why on earth is she having to deal with this her junior year? Rather than being able to put her basketball worries behind her, things ramp up when Win becomes involved, pushing D.J. to think beyond herself and go for the big scholarships. But D.J. is petrified at the thought of playing before thousands of fans; so scared, in fact, that she almost becomes physically ill while watching a friend blow a big shot at U of M. D.J. has got to come to grips with what she wants and what she is actually ready for, and this applies to her love life as well, with both Brian and Beaner fighting for her attention.

This book was a fast read, and well-written. The nervous D.J. is very realistic and her fear is palpable. Typical of a teen sensation, she's unsure about her future and unclear about what she wants. In general, this is a book whose voice comes through easily; we get inside D.J.'s head and worry right along with her. I did find myself more than a little irritated with D.J. as she thinks she wants to throw away some great opportunities, but I could see where her fear was coming from. What I didn't really care for was the side story of Amber and Dale's relationship, which seemed a bit cliched in my opinion, and a bit unnecessary with everything else going on. Other than that, I can recommend this installment in the series wholeheartedly; D.J. is a funny, smart, determined young lady who has won a place in my heart with her self-effacing comments. Recommended.

Next up is Ruined by Paula Morris...

Rebecca Brown is puzzled when her father, who has raised her by himself since she was two, suddenly has to go to China on business for the better part of a year and his solution as to where Rebecca will stay is to leave her in New Orleans with a friend of the family, "Aunt" Claudia, a woman Rebecca doesn't remember meeting. New Orleans is a long, long way from New York City in more ways than one, and Rebecca's new school, Temple Mead, is filled with snobby girls whose families date back for generations. Not to mention the fact that the shotgun style house Aunt Claudia and her daughter Aurelia live in is just across the street from a very old cemetery and very close to the old family homes of the rich girls in school. To say Rebecca feels like she is an outsider is an understatement, but she's determined to make the best of things, even hoping to make friends with the mysterious homeless girl who apparently lives in the cemetery.

Ruined is indeed a ghost story, but it's more than that as well; it's the story of how generations of families can hold sway over even a modern city, and how the spectre of murder can still wreak havoc many years after the deed. Once Rebecca determines that Lisette, the odd girl from the cemetery, is actually a ghost, the story picks up as she begins to unravel the tale of what happened many years before and has been kept secret since. Even the appearance of handsome Anton Grey cannot hold Rebecca's attention for long as she faces the two girls in school who would like nothing better than to see Rebecca one way or another.

I liked this story and found the pacing to be quick, with Rebecca's disbelief turning into horrified truth very well done. Rebecca is a strong girl who doesn't suffer fools gladly, and her loyalty to her aunt and cousin is tremendous. I did find the whole climax a bit unbelievable (though we are dealing with ghosts here) since I couldn't imagine so many people so willingly going to such lengths to protect someone from an evil curse. The insertion of Hurricane Katrina and its ravages gives the story a timely feel but makes me worried that the book will age quickly in just a few years. Finally, the idea of Rebecca's father doing what he did is really too much for me, but it did bring a satisfactory conclusion. But this is a good ghost story, filled with atmosphere and the spirit (pun intended) of New Orleans. Romance and ruins; what more could a teenager want?


Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Leigh Ann's Civil War

Leigh Ann's Civil War is just that: the story of Leigh Ann Conners of Roswell, Georgia, spoiled youngest member of a family whose oldest two sons go off to fight for the Confederacy. Leigh Ann is left behind in the care of her older sister; her father is ailing and requires constant care and her mother has run away from her family and sees them only occasionally. Raised mostly by her older brothers, Leigh Ann is impetuous and headstrong; she is also fiercely loyal and ready to do whatever she can for the Cause. When her family's mill comes into the line of Union fire, Leigh Ann herself plants a French flag high atop it in hopes that the mill will be seen as neutral territory. Leigh Ann is at once a typical Southern young lady and a spunky young woman who knows how to stand up for what is right. When her brothers both return from the war, she is relieved that they are home yet knows how much it pains them to be away from the war. As time passes, Leigh Ann matures, learning to speak her mind in less hurtful ways, coming to understand that some things are worth fighting for and others are best left alone. I really enjoyed this book, as I do most of Rinaldi's historical fiction. Leigh Ann is a delightful young lady, and I loved the interaction between she and her brothers. In fact, most of the book was vintage Rinaldi...until I got to the section where Leigh Ann is traveling as a boy with the Union forces. The magical realism that infuses the story at that point was a little out of character for the rest of the novel and pulled me right out of the story. Other than that, I can say I really liked this novel and would recommend it to historical fiction lovers.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Now For Something Different...Sort Of

Based on Patricia Briggs's successful Mercy Thompson series, Homecoming is sort of a companion piece: it's a graphic novel, easily read in one sitting, that shows us what happened when Mercy arrived in the Tri-Cities. Mercy being Mercy, she immediately found herself in danger while out on a run in coyote form; though saved by an unknown pack of werewolves, Mercy further places herself in harm's way when she stops at a VW shop for car work and ends up making friends with Stefan, a local vampire. How Mercy then meets up with Adam, Zee, and Zee's son Tad while deciding whether or not to stay in town rounds out the story that also involves Adam's pack forcing rogue werewolves out of town.
Like many of the reviewers, I did feel this story lacked the depth I'm used to from the Mercy Thompson series. I'm not a big graphic novel fan, but I was open to the idea of furthering Mercy's tale with pictures (even if my mental images did not necessarily match up with those on the pages). I suppose I was most let down by two factors, however; first, the overly sexualized comic book rendering of Mercy, complete with curves every little boy drools over. Really? This was the best way Briggs could allow Mercy to be fashioned? And secondly, the fact that there were a couple of grammatical errors in this published book, including the insertion of "liked liked" on one page, is inexcusable, especially in a book this size. Where were the editors? I had to re-read the caption three or four times to be certain this gaffe wasn't one of my imagination.
That said, I did enjoy the book, even if I didn't love it. I liked knowing how Mercy came to know Zee, and I had no trouble following the action. The drawing itself is strictly comic book style, which will probably appeal to those who generally enjoy that type of thing. I'm not sad I read this book, but I doubt I'll be rushing out to purchase another one. It simply didn't add much to the storyline and with the errors, it certainly wouldn't be money I'd spend again.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bone Crossed by Mercy Thompson

In Bone Crossed, Mercy Thompson is back, still suffering the aftereffects of the events of the last novel but trying to get on with her life. Unfortunately, Marsilia, the mistress of the local vampire seethe, has discovered the truth of what happened to her vampire Quinn, and she's not pleased. To prove the point, Marsilia has tortured Mercy's vamp friend Stefan almost to the point of death, and then sent him to Mercy, thinking Stefan will kill Mercy. But Stefan's will is stronger than Marsilia counted on, and Mercy, given the directive to run, does so--and finds herself entangled with yet another vampire, a zombie, and several ghosts. Will Mercy be able to extricate herself from both Marsilia's revenge and the new threat posed by a rival vampire? I plunged head first into Bone Crossed, reading quickly and enjoying myself immensely. Mercy, usually strong and forthright, finds herself tempered by panic attacks brought on by her experiences in Iron Kissed, though her refusal to give in to them reinforces my positive opinion of her ability to heal. The relationship between Adam and Mercy also takes a major step in Bone Crossed, and not with entirely good results. And as always, Mercy's sympathetic nature for others leads her, for good or for ill, to forge ahead, knowing the worst may happen but unable to let things go. Bone Crossed is, as usual for the Mercy Thompson novels, action-packed and filled with all the characters we've come to know over the course of the first three books. The relationship between Stefan and Mercy becomes very complicated; I was intrigued enough to wonder what might happen next between the two while still rooting for Adam and Mercy to be together. Certainly Ms. Briggs has developed the relationships so well that no matter what, I'll be looking forward eagerly to the next installment. With characters as strong as these, it's impossible not to be hooked. Recommended!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

And There She Goes!

You know how you always know the day will come when your child will graduate high school and then go on to college but it seems forever away? Well, that day arrived today as we moved Hannah into her dorm room at MTSU. How did all this happen? Wasn't she just starting school yesterday?

She's so excited and I can't blame her. I remember going off to college--it was a grand time with so many possibilities. It might rank as some of the best years of my life, even with exams and classes you love to hate. She is also so nervous, as evidenced by all the questions: Where do I go to get my parking pass? How do I use my dining card? Will I be able to get to my classes on time? If I can't give her a definite answer, she gets mad at me, which actually means she's frustrated that I, as parent-all-knowing, don't have the answers. It's a time when she's going to have to branch out on her own and learn these things for herself.

When I got dropped off at college, my parents had never been and they knew no more than I did. I had to learn how to schedule my classes (in the days before computers did it for you) and how to map out my four years. Now it's amazing to me how well-informed parents are: we can receive emails and texts about literally everything, and we've been to parent question-and-answer sessions to set our minds at ease (at which I read a sue me). Hannah's a big girl now, even if she sometimes doubts it. She can handle this. (That's my new mantra, anyway).

Her dorm room is large and recently renovated, and wonder of wonders, it's a private room. We weren't sure she'd get one but somehow the cards of fate have been dealt and there it is. As she flitted about the room putting things away, she kept saying it's a good thing she doesn't have a roommate because then where would she put all her stuff? And stuff there, tv, iPod, iHome, clock, mirror, clothes enough to choke a horse and twice that amount of shoes. Then we took off to Target to get MORE STUFF...mostly food but also those last minute things you can't live without, like Shout stain remover. A girl's gotta be prepared.

She's got a busy week ahead with band camp amid 300+ of her closest band buddies. I'm glad she's got Mara living with her for the week because people are scarce in her dorm until Friday when regular freshman move-in commences. And of course there's Leonard, my adopted son, who accompanied us to dinner tonight and looks imposing (at least from a distance, lol). Together they'll figure it out and will be okay.

It's a fun time but a scary time. Will she be safe? Will she remember to lock her room door when going to the restroom? Will she get a parking ticket? It's the beginning of the "let go" time and while I'm so proud, I'm so worried for her. Growing up isn't always easy.

Course it's also a sad did my baby get to be so old, so independent? It's all we ever want for our children, but when it comes, it's a kick in the gut, too. You mean she really doesn't need me 24/7 (even if she thinks she does at times)? How dare she be able to have a good time without me? And of course there are things that will happen that I *don't need to know about.* It's been that way since the dawn of time, and thus it will continue. Doesn't mean I have to like it, but I do have to live with it.

So...check back in a week and I'll tell you how we're all surviving. I am thankful she's close by; I am thankful she's a smart young woman who knows what she's doing; I am thankful for her scholarships and the fact that she does need me, if only a little bit. After all, who else would've remembered to bring the scissors she needed to open everything new today?


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Labor Day by Joyce Maynard

Over the space of a Labor Day weekend in 1987, thirteen year old Henry's life is forever changed when he and his mother meet fugitive Frank Chambers. In an odd encounter, Frank approaches Henry and judging him trustworthy, asks Henry and his mother Adele to take him home with them, and for reasons known only to them, they do. During the next few days, Frank ingratiates himself into their lives, teaching Henry to play baseball and bake a pie, and falling in love with the quirky, depressive Adele. The three live within the cocoon of the world they create as the rest of the community searches for Frank, an escaped murderer. As the days pass, Frank's bitter story emerges; wrongly accused of murdering his wife and child, he took the first chance he got to escape, and with his gentle ways and care, he slowly brings Adele back to life and helps Henry confront his confusion over a mostly uninvolved father and a helpless mother.
Written in Maynard's trademark spare style, this odd set-up somehow works its magic and pulls you in. Told from Henry's point of view, we experience all the longings of a young teen with too much responsibility. Henry is somewhat of a social outcast; his mother has burdened him with her inability to function outside her home so that he is her only lifeline to the world. Frank, a Viet Nam vet, somehow makes the three into a family in a short period of time, knowing it won't last but grasping at whatever freedom he can achieve, both from his past and his present. Henry makes both good and bad choices here; both typical and atypical, Henry's a main character filled with confusion, at the mercy of parents too concerned with themselves to worry much about him.
I at first let the premise of allowing an escaped felon into your home willingly get in the way of my enjoyment of this novel, but once I set aside my own worries over the probability of this happening, I found that I was immersed in this story of old beyond his years Henry and his nervous, needy mother. Maynard's characters are real and poignant, and Henry tells the story honestly. Moving and desperate, this coming of age tale will pull you into its depths and leave you thinking about it long after you close the last page.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Iron Kissed: Mercy Thompson, Book 3

The third book in the Mercy Thompson supernatural series, Iron Kissed centers on Mercy's former boss Zee, a gremlin who is taking the fall for a series of murders that have taken place on the fae reservation. Mercy, called in to help Zee locate clues as to the real killer, becomes angered and entangled in the investigation because she knows Zee is innocent. Unfortunately, the fae community doesn't appreciate her meddling in their affairs, and Adam isn't pleased to know Mercy's not being safe as well. Of course Mercy doesn't back down easily, and when a friend is in danger, she places herself in the line of fire in attempting to exonerate him.
Iron Kissed is a thoroughly gripping novel, with lots of different kinds of fae involved and plenty of death defying incidents. Mercy's tough girl personna takes a major hit after a nasty trick leaves her physically and psychologically harmed. There is still a romance in the air, however; Adam's possessiveness forces Mercy to take a hard look at what she actually wants. Simply put, this novel has many layers, with characters taking unexpected turns and gut-wrenching plot twists. Ms. Briggs handles her story well, giving us enough information to understand but helping us to figure things out along with Mercy. This series just keeps getting better!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Day After Night by Anita Diamont

Anita Diamont's novel Day After Night is set in late 1945 inside a "camp" in Haifa, just after the victims of the concentration camps have been freed and victory has been won in Europe. Many Jews, upon release from their nightmarish conditions (whether from a concentration camp, being hidden, or from concealment of identity), decide that the time has come for them to emigrate to Israel, their promised land. Unfortunately quotas for Jewish emigration to Israel have been enacted, and those without proper identification or family find themselves "held" in Atlit, a camp that is nothing more than a holding pen while their fates are decided. It is within this camp that Diamont's story focuses on four young women whose divergent stories come together as an escape is planned into the Promised Land.
Based on a true story, Day After Night brings to light the plight of many Jews, who having survived the Holocaust, found themselves interned once more while the slow wheels of government turned. Zorah, Tedi, Shayndel, and Leonie spent the war years in different ways but all have decided that their best hope to escape the past lies in living within a kibbutz in Israel. The story alternates between the women as they try to come to terms with their pasts as they prepare for an uncertain future. All of the women have special gifts that enable them to be leaders in the secret escape planned for the almost two hundred Jews trapped within the camp, yet they find themselves at the mercy of their demons, unable to forgive themselves for surviving when so many others perished.
Day Into Night is a glimpse into the aftermath of the Holocaust, a time I admit to knowing little about beforehand. I liked how Diamont revealed the layers of the characters slowly, bringing their private griefs to the surface as the result of events going on around them. There is not a great deal of background revealed, but what does come to light shows the justification for actions and emotions. I do wish that a clearer explanation of what a kibbutz is had been supplied (and might be in the final edition, as this was an advanced reader copy), and a little more story on how each woman got along in the immediate days after escape would have been welcome. But this is indeed a well-told tale, and I found myself caught up completely within the lives of these fictional women thrown into a very real event. Recommended.

Monday, August 03, 2009

No Teachers Left Behind

I'm a teacher, so the subject of No Teachers Left Behind by HBF (Hopeful But Frustrated) is near and dear to my heart. As soon as the book arrived, I sat down and read it in its entirety, nodding to myself at passages that hit way too close to home and sharing the frustration of burnt out teachers left at the mercy of a hands-off administrator. Yep, way, way too close to home.
Told through emails, poetry, memos, and short dialogue, No Teachers Left Behind follows a group of educators in a middle school where the executive principal is most concerned with looking good herself, violent children are allowed to get away with outrageous behavior because enforcing discipline makes the school look bad, and NCLB (No Child Left Behind, the federal law that all public schools must bow down to) reigns over good sense. At first glance it might seem that the students' behavior is too dangerous, too flagrant to be ignored, and yet, as an educator myself, I see these things being allowed to occur all in the name of raising a school's test scores and attendance rates. Principals who do enforce rules for students often face censure from their administrators and parents, but those who don't, such as the one found in this book, place their teachers and other students at risk.
I can recognize many of the teachers spotlighted in this fictitious school. There is the one just marking time until retirement because she's seen it all come down the pike and back around again and none of it works against the current mindset against education. There is the teacher who desperately wants out but cannot afford to leave, and the one who is in charge of sending ranting emails to all colleagues in order to spread the grief around. There is the fresh young teacher who truly wants to make a heartfelt difference, and what is most sad is that many of my own colleagues and myself once felt this way, too.
The author captured the different styles of administration perfectly by injecting the book with realistic situations and personalities. The idea that there are administrators who are never seen is so close to what I experience on a daily basis that I had to laugh; how on earth could HBF know how it is at my school? There truly are positions that are so far away from actually educating children that I know HBF has to be in a school himself/herself to know how to describe these positions. The memos and emails? The shortness of supplies? All true, all worded to perfection to let us know that it is "an opportunity for creativity". I suspect HBF may have saved and used actual emails/memos, changing only the details in order to protect the innocent or clueless.
I'd like to say that not all teachers are as cutting and burnt out as those found in the pages of this book, yet somehow their voices rang too true for me to put that stamp on it. I wish I could say it's just the personalities of the various teachers (because, after all, all professions have a few bad eggs), but I know for a fact it is the constant beating down of ideas, creativity, and teaching that makes the teachers' voices throughout this novel so realistic. And the parent notes/emails? Priceless! We've shared more than a few just like those at my school, so HBF gets high marks from me for letting others know that yes, we are at the mercy of the ignorant and the indulgent.
My biggest problem with this book, however, isn't the fact that I felt so defeated while taking on the problems and attitudes of the teachers in its pages, but the ending itself. While I could see that we were building toward a very dramatic conclusion, I take exception that the teachers involved were the "good" ones, and I believe that while these things can happen, the event itself was a bit of a stretch. Most teachers are not and cannot be forced to do after school duty supervising students on school bus routes, and if there is a health reason such as pregnancy, a teacher would not be forced to do anything that would go against a doctor's orders (as this would have so late in a twin pregnancy). While it was heart-wrenching, a setting within a school would've made more sense. However, the administrator's reaction was dead-on in a world where test scores and positive images rule over common sense and good educating.
I will highly recommend this book for all public school educators as a way to let them know they are not alone. I would also encourage anyone not directly involved in education to read it as well so perhaps some insight might be gained into what a typical school day is really like. I would also encourage college students and administrators to read this novel, not to discourage potential teachers from coming into the field, but to let them know that it's not quite as pictured in college classes. We're at a crisis point in education, and I would love to see this book generate a thoughtful, meaningful dialogue about who is truly being left behind.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

A Couple of Reviews

A couple of reviews; both paranormal, one young adult and one not; both good but for different reasons. 

Ghost Huntress: The Guidance, is the second book in Marley Gibson's series featuring Kendall Moorehead, a sixteen year old girl who is experiencing her psychic "awakening" just as she moves to Georgia with her family. Kendall has assembled a ghost huntress team upon realizing her abilities, and along with new hottie boyfriend Jason, the group seeks to find ghosts and help them cross over to the light. This time out, the focus is on the Civil War era home of teen Stephanie Crawford and her mother as an unsettled Union soldier seizes his moment and possesses the body of hateful cheerleader Courtney Langdon. Kendall and her gang decide that despite Courtney's general skankiness, they can't allow a ghost to run free and wild with her, and they take action, rounding up both local psychic mentor Loreen Woods and the Episcopalian priest, Father Mass, to help them rid Courtney of her unwelcome intruder. 

Of course that's not all that goes on in this volume: Among other things, Kendall's mother forces Kendall to undergo pyschological and physical testing to rule out psychosis as a reason for her "awakening", which is actually a very reasonable yet irritating thing for a mother to do when her child suddenly goes around talking to ghosts. Kendall's not so amused; her reaction is entirely normal for any teenager. Naturally Courtney is around to make Kendall's life a pain by trying to get Jason back and generally doing everythig she can to undermine Kendall's sudden popularity. There is also friction between Kendall and Jason, as well as the ever-present spirit guide Emily trying to help Kendall (and sometimes "over" helping). Lots of action, lots of interaction; mostly believable as far as ghost hunting goes. 

The Guidance is a good story that kept me turning the pages, yet I seem to be getting pickier with the series as I read this one. Kendall's ghost hunting techniques are quite spot on (even though she's really more of a medium) but it is sort of surprising how much she's learned how quickly. There's a little of everything thrown in, including references to auras, herbs, exorcisim, Reiki spiritualism,spirit guides, and tarot cards--almost too much, really. I also have a problem with the stereotypes being reinforced here: cheerleader=bad, Goth girl=troubled/running from something, boyfriend=hot and instantly in love. The idea that a medium in a high school setting would be so very popular is also pretty out there; I'd say most high schoolers would react with disdain if not outright derision for such high profile antics as Kendall provides. Also, the references to current pop culture were distracting, and especially so when specific songs were not only mentioned, but lyrics that will be outdated within another month were quoted. I also have to point out that Southerners, and Georgians in particular, don't ask one another if they want a soda to drink. 

Interruption to regularly scheduled review: It is soooo, soooo annoying to name drop brands. I don't care that Kendall crossed her "Timberlanded foot". Get over it. Interruption over. 

However, all that said, I can endorse The Guidance because it is good fun and the storyline, while at times sappy, did keep me turning those pages. I like Kendall's spunk, and I like Jason's skepticism. I like that Kendall isn't living and breathing just being with her boyfriend, and I like that there is a set-up for future novels. I also like that the author has taken pains to make sure that the religious aspect of ghosts and psychic abilities has been established (going so far as to quote scripture!). So with this in mind, I will round up my initial reaction of 3.5 stars to a solid 4 and hope the next one gives me more action and less name-dropping.

Second up is the second in Patricia Briggs's Mercy Thompson series, Blood Bound:

In Blood Bound, the second book in Patricia Briggs's Moon Called Series, Mercy Thompson is back at work as a mechanic in the garage she owns, and hopefully done dealing with werewolf trouble. Thankfully, that does seem to be the case, unless you count the fact that her former love, Dr. Samuel Cornick, has moved into her trailer since he's decided to move away from his father's pack, and her new possible love, Alpha Wolf Adam Hauptmann, is so intense that it's making Mercy nervous. No, this time it's not the werewolves, it's the vampires; specifically it's Mercy's vampire friend Stefan, who needs Mercy to go on a visit to see a new vamp in town, the catch being that Mercy must go incognito as her walker self, a coyote. Mercy agrees (because really it's a payback) and during the visit, encounters evil so violent that she is shaken and physically harmed in the process. From there, things go downhill; Stefan turns up missing, along with three local werewolf pack members who had agreed to help Stefan find the demon vampire currently terrorizing the town. It comes down to Mercy to track the missing wolves and Stefan and take care of the truly evil vampire conjured in order to take over the local vampire seethe. 

Mercy's one tough cookie, and she's no less hardheaded in this installment. Her interactions with the local fae put her in danger, along with her determined attempts to find the demon vampire Littleton in order to rescue her friends from his decidedly demented plans. Mercy's ability to interact with ghosts also plays a role in this action packed novel, and even though she's not physically as strong as the wolves and vampires, she uses cunning and her religious senses to help her defeat evil. Her willingness to sacrifice herself for her friends is one of her best traits. But she's also got a dark side, and the ending of the novel leaves one with the sense that in Mercy's world, there is no gray area. Right or wrong, Mercy makes up her mind and forges ahead. 

This novel has a lot going for it, including an entirely scary scene where a demon bangs repeatedly on the side of her trailer throughout one very long night. Briggs has a way of pulling you directly into the story so that you have to know what happens next. The fact that Mercy's love life is complicated adds tension to the plot but never does she let it get in the way of getting the job done. Mercy's one smart chick and she's loyal but ruthless when necessary. This one's not for the squeamish. I admit it; I'm hooked!


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Lover Avenged...and I Am Hooked

The seventh book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood, Lover Avenged, is the first to focus on a love affair outside the Brotherhood itself, though the character of Rehvenge has been central to almost all the other books. Rehvenge, of course, is the half symphath owner of ZeroSum, the club where the Brothers hang out, and also a major drug dealer in the town of Caldwell. He certainly wasn't looking for love when he visited Havers, the vampire doctor, for an extension of his prescription for dopamine, the drug that keeps his symphath side under control, but when he meets the nurse Ehlena, sparks fly and Rehvenge is unable to restrain himself. Ehlena, whose family circumstances have left her with money troubles, isn't looking for anything either, but Rehvenge sweeps her off her feet. This being the BDB, however, things can't go easily; Rehvenge lives in fear that Ehlena will discover all his dirty little secrets and Ehlena simply worries--about mostly everything.

Lover Avenged is filled with all the characters we know well and have grown to love, including all the members of the Black Dagger Brotherhood and their various mates, plus the younger set of John Matthew, Qhuinn, and Blay. Added into the mix is the tough girl Xhex, whose story with John ramps up considerably in this edition. Her loyalties are never in question but I had to question her treatment of John (which I'm sure will play out splendidly in a future book). Also making an appearance are Trez, iAm, and Payne, minor characters with more time in this book. Best of all is the reappearance of Tohr; his story is far from over as he works to avenge the loss of his beloved Wellsie; the best part is that Lassiter the fallen angel seems to be part and parcel of Tohr's rehabilitation.

I loved this episode in the series! From Rehvenge (whom I admit to having a soft spot for) and his difficult decisions to the dark and mysterious Xhex, I felt like I was knee deep in the action. The multiple story arcs work very well for me; just when I became immersed in Wrath's and Beth's story, I was jerked along into the horrors of Lash's world and then onward into the downward spiral that is John Matthew. I loved Ehlena's spirit and her ability to see the good in others, and Tohr's fight to survive made my heart ache. And the humor! V had me laughing on more than one occasion, especially while dealing with Lassiter. While I'm not a fan of the symphaths and their odd ways, I am pleased with how the story of Rehvenge's half symphath side is resolved, and there are enough loose ends left that I know I'll be eagerly waiting on the eighth book.

Naturally there will always be things in any series that could be improved upon, and the minor problems with this one include the fact that the cast has grown so large that not everyone can be front and center. Sometimes a few characters (read: the princess) are so over the top that they make me wince. But all in all, this is a great entry in the Black Dagger Brotherhood, and it's left me wanting more, faults and everything. Can't wait to see whose story turns up next--John Matthew's? Tohr's? Lassiter's? The possibilities are endless.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

Mercy Thompson isn't your run of the mill female protagonist; not only does she own and run her own car repair shop, she is what is known as a "walker"--she can shift shape into the form of a coyote at will. In her small town in the Pacific Northwest, she's one of a kind among witches, vampires, and werewolves. Comfortable in her own skin, Mercy's content with the way her life is until a young man shows up unexpectedly at her shop, looking for work, and Mercy, her animal instincts kicking in, recognizes him for a new werewolf in need of guidance. Unfortunately, the young man's not around long enough for her to make much difference in his life and when he turns up dead on her doorstep, a chain of events has been kicked off that will pull Mercy back into the world of werewolves that she thought she'd left behind years before.

With lots of plot twists and paranormal characters, Patricia Briggs's Moon Called is a terrific introduction into the series that finds a world of fey and other underground creatures existing just outside human knowledge. Mercy's ability to walk the line between the different creatures is her best asset, and her hard headedness holds her in good stead as she tracks down the killers of her new friend. Added into the mix is an old boyfriend to whom she must turn for help, and the local leader of the werewolf pack who seems to have some feelings for Mercy.

Ms. Briggs has an accessible, easy writing style that captured me very early in the book. Having previously set aside two different books that weren't engaging me, this one was a welcome surprise as I found myself intrigued by Mercy the tough girl from the first page. The story itself is interesting, piled high with pack politics and odd vampires with ulterior motives. I admit it; I'm hooked and I'll be looking for the next in the series as soon as possible.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Broken Hero by Anne Whitfield

Set in England during the final year of World War II, Anne Whitfield's Broken Hero is the deeply emotional story of Audrey Pearson and Jake Harding, two wounded souls trying to make the best of life as the war rages around them. Audrey's family has allowed their country estate to become a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers in the aftermath of her brother's death in the war, and Jake is the current doctor sent to take care of the men. Audrey has also lost her mother recently, and though she still has her wilder younger sister Lucy, her father is not in good health. Jake comes to the estate still trying to deal with the loss of his wife and baby a few years earlier, and determined to never allow himself to fall in love again. Naturally the two instantly have sparks, but what can be done with Jake's insistence on a lonely life and the future so uncertain for all?

From the first pages I was drawn into England during World War II; Ms. Whitfield does an exemplary job of describing the country and the people. The dialogue is relaxed and believable, and it is easy to see both Audrey and Jake longing for each other, yet unable to give freely of themselves. I loved that there were no easy answers for this couple; the tension created between them is palpable and gut wrenching. The secondary characters, such as the fun-loving Lucy and the dependable nurse Valerie, add greatly to the story by fleshing out the existence of the occupants at the house. I found myself smiling with Audrey's attempts to flirt with Jake, and my heart hurt when even more loss occurred for this strong heroine.

Broken Hero is the sort of story I love to treat myself to on a regular basis because I know I will remember the characters for a very long time to come. I had no difficulty hearing their voices in my head; I was practically out of breath myself when the bombs were falling all around and I was choked up as their stories came to light. My only rather nit-picky slightly anal complaint was the need for some editing--the English teacher in me wanted to add commas and check spelling a few times. But don't let that deter you from experiencing a truly magnificent tale! Whitfield has delivered a well-rounded story that will have a place in my heart always.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Review of Gertruda's Oath

Every time I read a book about a person who survived the Holocaust, I am amazed at the bravery of those involved in the survival of the hidden Jews. I wonder if I would've been so courageous, risking my own life to save those oppressed; I wonder at why sometimes rather ordinary people do extraordinary things without blinking. All of these thoughts occurred to me once more when I sat down to read Gertruda's Oath, the story of a Catholic nanny who not only saved her Jewish charge, she fulfilled his dying mother's wish that the boy be raised in Palestine.
Gertruda's Oath is the story of Gertruda Babilinska, a Polish Catholic who is hired by the Stolowitzky family to take care of their only son, Michael, right before the Germans invade Poland. The Stolowitzkys are very wealthy, and Gertruda comes to love young Michael as if he were her own. When the Germans come into Poland, however, Michael's father is in Paris on business and is unable to return to his family or bring them to him. Desperate, Gertruda, Michael, and Lydia, the mother, flee their home for the relative security of Vilna, but their chauffeur underhandedly takes all of their belongings and money, so the trio is forced into a small apartment with basically nothing. Lydia becomes sick and passes away, but before she does, she charges Gertruda with the life of her son, and Gertruda promises to be as a mother to Michael. As Gertruda fights to hide Michael's Jewish background, she must make life-changing sacrifices and rely on Fate to keep them both alive throughout the War.
Gertruda's Oath is also the tale of Karl Rink, an SS man married to a Jewish woman, who must make the gut-wrenching decision to send his only child to Palestine as he realizes what loyalty to the Nazi regime is going to cost him. Karl's story links to Michael's, and Oren moves back and forth between the two. Interspersed are also the stories of the local Jewish doctor and Michael's father, Jacob, who initially survives the German occupation of Paris with the help of a waitress named Anna. The story is also bookended with the grown Michael searching for his father's very large fortune known to have been left in a Swiss bank, making me want to turn the pages quickly to find out if restitution is ever made.
This is a well-written story, and the author obviously worked closely with Michael Stolowitzky in telling it. I learned about the illegal immigration to Palestine of many Jews after the war ended, something I had not known wasn't allowed by the British. There were times, however, while reading that I felt the author's style of writing was more suited to a younger audience than to an adult's; it felt a bit choppy occasionally and some of the dialogue seemed stilted. But this is not a child's tale, really; there is violence, loss, and deep emotion that might not be suitable for a younger audience. And this book does indeed deserve a wide audience, and Gertruda's love and sacrifices deserve to be told and celebrated. Definitely a riveting tale that gives true meaning to the triumph of the human spirit in the face of great evil.