Thursday, June 30, 2011

Short Bits on Six Titles

Since my last post was so very many days ago (I promise to try to be better), I got through quite a few books. To keep from boring anyone who's bothering to read this, I'll keep my thoughts short, though not necessarily sweet.

'Girl of Fire and Thorns' by Rae Carson is a very interesting YA fantasy novel set in a world that seems to be inspired by Spain and her colonies. There are tantalizing hints that the inhabitants of this world are refugees from Earth, but nothing concrete. Unfortunately, this book punched a whole lot of my buttons when the author KILLED OFF THE MALE LOVE INTEREST. And, also, the protagonist is supposed to be fat in the beginning of the book and always remains curvy, but the model on the cover is thin. I could have loved this book, but those two issues are major sticking points.

'The Lantern' by Deborah Lawrenson is an "homage" to Daphne duMaurier's classic 'Rebecca'. It's not bad and has some astonishingly lovely prose, but there's no real suspense or sense of dread, which are vital to a good Gothic.

'Down the Mysterly River' by Bill Willingham is a Middle Reader fantasy novel about books and characters and creativity. Although its target audience will find a good adventure story, complete with talking animals, unfathomable villains, and magic, adult readers, especially those familiar with Mr. Willingham's other work will find a lot being said on the nature of creativity and the creative process. Plus, the pictures are quite nice.

'Wonderstruck' by Brian Selznick is, quite simply, amazing. Two intertwining narratives, one set in 1927 and told completely in Mr. Selznick's beautiful illustrations, and the other set in 1977 and told in prose, finally come together in a final section that combines both prose and illustration. It's a book worth going back to over and over, because you'll see something new every time.

'The Art of Fielding' by Chad Harbach is a novel I expected to dislike because it's about baseball, which I dislike. However, the characters and the narrative sucked me in right from page one. I never thought I'd stay up past my bedtime to read a "baseball" novel, but I couldn't stop until I knew how it all turned out for everyone.

'Every You Every Me' by David Levithan was a disappointment. I hate to even type those words, because I generally love Mr. Levithan's work, but there you have it. For me, this was a novel where the concept (it's a "photographic novel" wherein the story was inspired by a series of photographs) seemed more important than the content. I didn't actually care for any of the characters (which is not something that has ever before happened with Mr. Levithan's work) and the story, especially the ending, just felt way too stream-of-conciousness and not well-developed.

I'm currently finishing up another piece of "women's fiction" and plan on spending my weekend with a nice stack of mass markets before digging back in to my September galleys.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Hardcovers are for Home

I spent my weekend catching up on hardcovers, since I hate dragging them around on public transportation. All three books were series installments, and two of the three were actually the final volumes of their series.

First up was 'The Demon's Surrender' by Sarah Rees Brennan. It was the third and final volume in her YA Demon's Lexicon trilogy and I thought it was a fine conclusion to the series, though I didn't agree with some of her choices in romantic pairings. This is one of those rare series where, although the ending works and doesn't need anything more to make the story complete, I'd really like to go back and see how this world develops after the events of this final book. And, really, I'd like to see how some of the couples she threw together are weathering their relationships.

'Plague' is the fourth volume in Michael Grant's Gone series of post-apocalyptic YA novels and this story is far from over. In fact, with each volume, the world gets darker and more complicated and I'm pretty well convinced that there's no way this can end well. Too much awful stuff has happened and, unless Mr. Grant writes a complete bullshit ending, these kids are not going to go back to a world of happy fun times. In this volume alone, several of the kids caught a flu that caused them to literally cough up parts of their internal organs and several others were eaten alive by nearly-unkillable giant bugs. How do you make that okay? How do you not end up with a town full of kids in serious need of high-grade pharmeceuticals? It's just not possible, unless you write an ending that disrespects your readers. (If this all ends up being a dream, or the timeline is reset and no one remembers what happened, I am probably not the only one who is going to be righteously angry.)

And, finally, 'Naamah's Blessing' is the third and final volume in Jacqueline Carey's Naamah trilogy, which is, in itself, an extension of the world she created in her Kushiel novels. It was a pretty damned good ending to this particular trilogy, though I could have personally done without the river of killer ants. I like the way that a lot of elements that were introduced in the first novel of the trilogy were paid off here at the end. It's always satisfying to read a series where there was apparently some serious thought given to the ending even from the beginning. I'm always sad to finish one of Ms. Carey's trilogies set in this particular world because they always really do feel like endings. Thankfully, she's always returned to give readers more stories in this setting, and enough seeds were planted here for future stories. Then again, this could be the last we read of this world, which would, in my opinion, be a shame.

I'll most likely be back to reading September galleys for a while now, since the stack is ginormous. But, it was good to take a break and catch up on some series that I love.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


I know it's been a few days and I promised myself when I started this that I would be more regular, but I got distracted by shiny objects. However, since I last posted, I reached a personal goal of reading 500 books in a calendar year, excluding, as I do on this here blog, anything of a primarily graphical nature or anything I didn't finish. I did finish three books, though, in the last handful of days and since the actual point of even keeping this blog is to keep a log of every book I read, I should probably get on with it.

'Wildwood' is a debut Middle Reader by Colin Meloy. Yes, that Colin Meloy. The one from the Decemberists. And it was a decent MR fantasy novel, but I don't think it would be getting nearly the pre-pub push that it is if the author weren't already semi-famous. And, although it's a decent read, there were several things the author did that are personal pet peeves of mine, so they annoyed the hell out of me and influenced my reaction to the book as a whole. Firstly, Mr. Meloy chose to employ both crows and coyotes as villains, or at least villainous hench-creatures. Neither of these species are inherently evil, but, as long as authors continue to use them (along with wolves and snakes and the like) to frighten younger readers, they're going to have a stigma attached that may never go away. I understand having villainous animals, but not all of the specimens need to be evil. Why not keep with the anthropomorphising and have some be bad and some be good, like humans are? And the other thing that Mr. Meloy did that bugs me is the utter fictionalization of a non-fictional locale. In this case, the areas around my neighboorhood and the nearby urban forests. It's one thing to create buildings or streets or even neighboorhoods that don't exist, but to essentially relegate an entire quadrant of the city to the realm of the fictional is a bit of overkill. So, even though I could have really enjoyed this book, my own preferences got in the way. I'm sure these things won't irritate most people, and I'm probably just too persnickety for my own good, but they were big issues for me, so I couldn't let them pass without mention.

'The Magician King' by Lev Grossman is a sequel to 'The Magicians', which was marketed as a kind of Narnia/Harry Potter for grown-ups. Whatever 'The Magicians' was, 'The Magician King' is more so. It's about magic and power and love and loss and sacrifice. It's got all the best bits of children's fantasy--magical creatures and fantastic quests and even a bit of naive innocence--but it's suffused, too, with very adult emotions and circumstances. So, if you want to escape into a magical world, like you did when you were a kid, but you want a bit more drinking and swearing and sex, these are the books for you.

'A Long, Long Sleep' is a debut novel by Oregon author Anna Sheehan. It's a S-F story that takes as its inspiration the moment when Sleeping Beauty is awakened by a kiss. It's got the action and romance that one expects from YA S-F, but it also has some very well-done stuff about family dynamics and corporate power and even genetic modification. I picked it up expecting a straightforward futuristic love story, but got a lot more than I bargained for. I appreciate a book that makes me think about things, but doesn't beat me over the head with the author's opinions. It would have been very easy for this book to become preachy, so I give a lot of credit to Ms. Sheehan for never letting it do so.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Mini Romance Binge

Okay, so the first book in this list isn't a romance, but it does have some love and some sex, so it's not totally out of place.

'The Tempering of Men' is the (unexpected) sequel to Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear's 'A Companion to Wolves', which I loved when I read it a few years back. It helps that I'm completely fangirly-smitten over both of these authors individually. Combining their rather spectacular storytelling skills on anything makes that work not just a must-read, but a put-everything-else-aside-and-read-it-now. Thankfully, 'Men' lived up to the promise of 'Wolves' or I would've probably been pissed that I had put other books on hold so that I could get to this one. The only disappointment I had with 'Men' is that it is very obviously only the start of a story arc. There is (I hope, anyway) a sequel somewhere down the road that will pick up and finish the story started here. (If not, I may get all petulant and decide to never, ever read another book by either author ever again.) I love the world that Monette and Bear have created, with its roots in Norse myth and history and I'm glad that they've decided to explore it further. I only wish that 'Men' had had more of an ending, or that the third book was just around the corner.

'Blood of the Wicked' by Karina Cooper is the first book in a new post-Apocalyptic paranormal romance series. It's set in New Seattle and has something to do with witches and a sorta religious organization that's hunting them and...I don't know. The world-building on this was not really very strong. There was an earthquake and Seattle fell into a chasm and was rebuilt as some towering something that looks like a great chrome and glass wedding cake. But, I have no idea where the witches came from or the guys who are hunting them. There's no real explanation for why the witches are viewed as evil and in need of extermination. There's not even a strong enough religious element for me to draw comparisons to the hysteria surrounding the Salem witch trials. The action was okay, as was the love story, but without a strong, logical world in which to set them, the book as a whole just didn't quite work.

'Just One Season in London' by Leigh Michaels is an historical romance set during--you guessed it--one Season in London. It revolves around the three members of a family that has fallen into financial disarray so that at least one member of the family must marry money to save the family from poverty. There are three love stories intertwined in this book--those of the mother, daughter, and son--and the way they weave in and out of one another is very well done. Dividing one book between three stories led me to expect that at least one story would be short-changed, but I didn't feel that any of them were. I found I actually liked the changing perspective because it meant that I never had a chance to get bored with any of the couples.

'The Bride Wore Scarlet' by Liz Carlyle had an amazing title, that, as far as I can tell, had nothing to do with the contents of the book. It's a paranormal historical in the vein of Amanda Quick. And, unlike the Karina Cooper, the world-building here was solid. I understood the secret society at the center of the plot and how it related to other, similar societies around the world and I understood the mission the hero and heroine were on and why they were on it. I liked the hero and heroine, and I liked them together. I liked that the heroine had all kinds of skills, but never felt Mary Sue-ish. I didn't realize until I was well into the story that it was the second in a trilogy. I think I'll track down the first, and keep an eye out for the third.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Not Much to Say

'Dark Souls' by Paula Morris is an okay YA about a girl who can see ghosts visiting York with her family. It's not a bad read, but there's nothing about it to either praise or condemn, either. Okay. Maybe one thing. I wish it had been spookier. The heroine reads both 'Northanger Abbey' and 'The Mysteries of Udolpho' over the course of the book, and, yet, there was none of that creepy Gothic tension. No questioning what is happening or who's the good guy and who's the bad guy.

'Another Piece of My Heart' by Jane Green is a novel I received in a very early manuscript form, so I don't feel comfortable saying anything about it. I mean, I haven't even told the person who gave it to me what I think, and that has to come first. I'll only say that I liked it much more than I expected to.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I Wanna Be Somewhere Sunny

I just finished Don Winslow's 'The Gentlemen's Hour' and it really brought home to me how miserable our late-onset spring really is. I mean, the man's writing about a Southern California full of cartels and sleazy developers and torturers-for-hire and all I can think is that at least the damned sun is shining.

I'm not a surfer. Never have been. Haven't ever even really known any. Couldn't tell you diddly about the sport except what's glaringly obvious--it's athletic people balancing on boards in the ocean. However, I love Don Winslow's mysteries set in the surfing community in and around San Diego. Even a complete outsider like me can understand the surfing mindset and culture a little, the way Winslow writes about it. Plus, the guy knows how to plot a decent mystery. I think it's highly unfortunate that probably his best-known book is 'Savages', which isn't about this culture at all. That's not to say that 'Savages' is a bad book, by any means. It's just missing that ineffable something that makes his "surf" books such must-reads for me. 'The Gentlemen's Hour' is the second Winslow title to feature PI Boone Daniels and the members of the Dawn Patrol (the first was 'The Dawn Patrol', natch) and I really, really hope he has plans to give these characters a longer series. Unlike a lot of characters in crime fiction, these are the kinds of folks I, at least, wouldn't mind hanging out with in real life, so spending several hundred more pages with them would be no kind of hardship. It doesn't hurt, either, that, where these guys are, the sun seems always to be shining, even while the shit rains down.

And, right now, I could do with a little more sunshine.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cyborgs Pirates and Vamps

Oh, my!

Nothing angst-y, drama-y this time around.

'Jennifer Government' by Max Barry is one of those novels that I pretty much fell in love with as soon as I started reading. Which is unfortunate for Mr. Barry because it means that it's the novel against which I will always judge anything else he commits to paper. 'Machine Man' is his newest book and, while I enjoyed the bejeezus out of it, it didn't inspire 'Jennifer Government' levels of glee. Barry's a good satirist and is adept at taking a semi-plausible near-future premise and stretching it out to a truly absurd level. This time, it's a lab geek who, after an unfortunate accident, seizes on the idea of making himself a better man through prosthetics. Of course, the company he works for wants nothing more than to use his ideas for their own financial gain and things go ridiculously off the rails. It's a thoroughly enjoyable read and was a great transition from the High Drama of the last couple of books on my list.

Tawna Fenske is an Oregon author whose debut(?) romance, 'Making Waves', is one of those over-the-top frothy concoctions that is best paired with a fruity cocktail with an umbrella in it. It's got contemporary pirates (though not the scary realistic sort) and a tropical setting and porn-tastic descriptions of food. There's a stowaway, a diamond heist, and a laugh-out-loud stretch of dialogue where our hero and heroine overhear a couple having "tacky sex". If you've got a couple of hours to kill while lounging in a poolside chaise and being served the aforementioned fruity cocktails, this is the book to have stashed in your tote.

And, okay, now it gets a little more serious, but in a paranormal kinda way.

'Bloodlines' by Richelle Mead is a spin-off from (continuation of?) her YA Vampire Academy series. Two characters who have played important supporting roles in the original series of books, Adrian Ishakov and Sydney Sage, take center stage here. If you haven't read the original novels, this probably isn't a good place to start. Although Mead does a fine job of giving the plot points from those earlier books that influence the events here, there is a lot of character background and inter-personal stuff that would make little sense to a new reader. But, for anyone who's read the Vampire Academy books, it's great to see familiar characters in new ways and in new combinations. There are a lot of seeds planted in this "first" book for what may unfold as the series continues and they're very intriguing. My only regret is that I read this in one sitting and didn't stretch it out longer. Who knows how long it'll be before I get another new Richelle Mead novel? I should've tried to make this one last.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Death and the Inquisition

I am so completely in the mood for something cheerful after the last two books I read.

Amy Ackley's 'Sign Language' is a really, really, really good YA that had me getting all misty-eyed. It covers a period of about three years in Abby's life; a period during which Abby's father is diagnosed with, suffers from, and eventually dies of cancer. It is not a sunny, on-the-beach kind of book. At the start of the book, Abby is twelve, going on thirteen. She's fifteen at the end. So, during a time when most girls already have it rough just dealing with hormonal changes and the shift to the brutal world of high school, Abby's family is falling apart around her. By the book's close, Abby has gotten to a place of hope, if not happiness, but the journey there is not easy on her or the reader.

'Josefina's Sin' by Claudia H. Long is a book that I picked up because it is set in New Spain during the period of the Inquisition and features the poetess Sor Juana as a central character. It's a decent piece of historical fiction, set in a time and place not normally seen in fiction. It was, of course, as these things so often are, full of courtly intrigues and backstabbing bitches and adultery and guilt and just basketsfull of High Drama and there wasn't much unique about its country-miss-goes-to-court plot. Nor were the characters anything revelatory, and most were little more than stereotypes, with the occasional step over the line into caricature. However, the nuns--Sor Juana and her sisters--were interesting and the villains were so villainous that I kept reading just so I could get to the part where they got their comeuppance.

Now it's definitely time for something less drama-y.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

It's Gonna Be Long-ish

Four books to report on since I last posted. I'll try to be as succinct as possible.

'Skary Childrin and the Carousel of Sorrow' by Katy Towell was a creepy/charming middle reader novel that reminded me of a cross between Lemony Snicket and Ray Bradbury's 'Something Wicked This Way Comes'. Our heroes are three girls--one who may be a werewolf, one who is freakishly strong, and one who talks to ghosts (but only of animals because people-ghosts scare her)--and one boy who is clever with inventions. The setting is a town where, several years previously, a large storm opened up a gateway through which all manner of creature came. The town is all but closed to outsiders until a new librarian and a candy man show up. Of course, when people start disappearing, it is up to our group of outcasts to get to the bottom of the weird goings-on. The book is charmingly odd without ever being too scary and Ms. Towell's illustrations, especially of the children, are a nice addition. (I think Beatrice, the one who talks to ghosts, is quite spookily lovely and should star in her own series of picture books.)

'Germline' by T.C. McCarthy is very much not my usual cup of tea. However, it's being published by Orbit, and I've come to the conclusion (yet to be proven wrong, in my experience) that there is pretty much nothing that Orbit publishes, no matter how far out of my comfort zone, that I won't get completely sucked into. 'Germiline' is sorta S-F, but it would be more accurate to call it a near-future military novel. It really is about combat troops and the physical and emotional toll that extended exposure to brutal warfare takes. There's enough (mostly) plausible future tech for it to fit under the Orbit umbrella, but it's still, at heart, a war novel.

'Ingenue' is the second novel in Jillian Larkin's Flappers series of novels. It's like Gossip Girl or The Luxe, so if you don't like that sort of thing, you most certainly won't like this. There are gangsters and speakeasies and jazz and high society and flappers and pretty much every box on some 1920's cliche checklist has been ticked. It's pure guilty pleasure reading and I enjoyed the hell out of every minute of it.

And, finally there's Gordon Reece's 'Mice', which is a pretty standard revenge fantasy novel. Not the worst example of the genre, but not the best either. You know from the get-go that a timid mother and daughter moving to an isolated cottage is not going to be the idyllic existence they believe it will be. I only wish the action had gotten started sooner and I hadn't had to wade through nearly a third of a book detailing how impossible it was for these two women to ever stand up for themselves. I really kinda hated them and, though I don't ever condone bullying, I started sympathizing with the bullies. Their complete lack of even half a backbone between the two of them made the turnabout, when it finally came, less believable for me.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Killers and Plumbers and Elves

Though Killer Elven Plumbers would have made a much more interesting book...maybe.

David Levien's '13 Million Dollar Pop' was a damned good thriller. Unfortunately, I'm getting pretty jaded and find more and more of what I read to be implausible and full of plot devices that are so out there that they take me out of the book. This is not the fault of the author, who is writing in a genre that is, by and large, full of implausible, if not impossible, plots. It's what makes them so very entertaining. And, truthfully, it wasn't the underlying plot--which dealt with politics and real estate speculation and a "racino"--that was the problem. It's the string of dead bodies that seem to pile up behind the protagonists of these novels that I have a problem with. In a spy novel, one can believe that some government agency or another will come by and clean up any mess that was left behind. But, when your protagonist is a civilian, the trail of carnage just seems like a prison sentence waiting to happen. I was able to finish Mr. Levien's book before I started questioning things, though, which is nice. I don't mind questioning events in retrospect; it means I was fully invested while the plot unfolded.

'Ravenwood' by Andrew Peters is a debut middle grade novel that I wanted to like much more than I did. The main character is a fourteen-year-old plumber who literally works in shit all day. He lives in a city (state? nation?) that exists in the trees and whose citizens never touch ground. Our hero, Ark, overhears a plot to overthrow the king and is the only one who can save his treetop home. The title implies there will be ravens. And things went along pretty well for a while. I could even forgive all of the "clever" flora-related wordplay. But, it wasn't too long before I realized that this was one of those "message" novels and was all about technology vs. nature (Spoiler alert: Nature wins). The characters were interesting and the final battle involved a poop cannon, which will definitely appeal to young boys (though it may also give them ideas), but the preachy love-the-trees-ness was just too much for this reader to take. Why does it have to be a choice between nature and technology? Can't there be a balance? If one were to judge by novels like this, then the answer is a firm and resounding "no".

'The Lady of the Storm' is the second novel in Kathryne Kennedy's Elven Lords series. It is a traditional historical romance, but set in an 18th-Century England that is under the rule of Elves. England has been divided into seven Realms, each home to Elves with an affinity for one of seven magics. Humans are little more than slaves, and half-breeds, especially those with any power, are despised and, in some cases, hunted down and killed. It's quite a lovely novel, with a well-developed relationship between the hero and heroine and a plot full of intrigue and adventure (and magic). But if you're looking for historical accuracy, or, you know, a lack of Elves, this is not the novel for you.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Mermaids Are the New Vampires

Last night, I read my second YA mermaid book in less than a month. Apparently, this is the hot new trend in YA  paranormal fiction. The good news is that most authors seem to be using different mermaid myths to create their worlds. The bad news is that they just haven't been all that compelling.

Last night, it was 'Siren's Storm' by Lisa Papademetriou. There was a lot I liked about this book. I liked the hero and heroine and really admired the way their relationship was portrayed. They were friends, but the heroine wanted more, which the reader didn't really find out until the very end. There was a lot of use of the story of Odysseus and sailors' lore that really helped to explain how different mermaid tales could have all stemmed from a misunderstanding of the truth. But, the problem was that there was too much going on for a book that was less than 300 pages long. There were strained parent-child relationships, mysterious deaths, a seemingly crazy teenager, a mysterious newcomer, past tragedies, a sea captain's journal...and, well, the whole was not greater than the sum of its parts. Nothing ever really got resolved and the reader was left with a lot of questions at the end. If you want to throw every idea you have into one book, that's fine, but you need to make sure you have the page count to make sure every element is given its due. There was a lot of promise here and a lot of admirable bits, but the whole just didn't quite come together as well as it might.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Kids Book Authors Writing for Adults

It seems to happen a lot the other way around: successful adult authors decide to break in to the kids market. For some, it's successful (Rick Riordan, James Patterson, Carl Hiaasen), for others, less so. But, an author moving from a successful career as a writer for younger readers to writing books for an adult audience seems to happen less frequently. And, okay, one of the two authors in this post was writing for adults and kids pretty much simultaneously, but is far better known for her YA series than for her (underappreciated, IMHO) adult novels.

Eoin Colfer sorta kinda broke into the adult market when he penned 'And Another Thing' the final(?) volume in Douglas Adams's "Hitchhiker's" trilogy. For his first completely original foray into books for grown people, he's gone off in a completely different direction and penned a comic crime novel set in New Jersey. He's titled it 'Plugged', which is one of those titles with multiple meanings that somehow avoids being overly clever and crossing the line into groan-inducing. This is definitely not kid-appropriate fare, being filled with the sex, violence, and salty language that is necessary to make a book like this work. It's less than three hundred pages long and I praise both Mr. Colfer and his editor for not feeling the need to pad it out a bit and make it longer. The plot was ridiculous, as these things usually are, but this is the kind of entertaining read that is at its best when the reader doesn't think too much about it, but just goes along for the ride.

I first discovered Richelle Mead through her Georgina Kincaid novels, but she is best known for her "Vampire Academy" series for young adults. I think the first Georgina novel was published before the first VA novel, but not by very much. VA ended with its sixth book earlier this year, but a spin-off series featuring some of the same characters will be debuting this fall. The sixth and final Georgina novel comes out in September, and, even though I'm only in the middle of reading for August, when the galley arrived in the mail yesterday, I knew I had to read it immediately. My plan was to read half and then go to bed. Instead, I stayed up until after midnight because I just had to know how things worked out. It's always sad when a favorite series comes to a close, but I feel quite pleased with where Ms. Mead left Georgina and Seth and their friends and family. That said, I would love to see more books set among these characters, especially the angel Carter, who had me getting all misty-eyed several times while I was reading. I do wish this book had been longer, though, as there were certain plot points that I thought were a little rushed or not resolved as fully as I would have liked. They were secondary plot points, though, and more detail wasn't necessary to the resolution of the central story.

Now, time to get back on track with finishing up my August galleys. And maybe time for another YA.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Carrie Vaughn & N.D. Wilson

Title subject to change if I come up with something a bit more clever.

I only recently read my first Kitty Norville book and it was, like, number eight in the series or something. I decided I'd give it a go because I thought Carrie Vaughn's 'Discord's Apple' was one of the best books I read last year and I also really enjoyed 'After the Golden Age'. Plus, the upcoming Kitty book is titled 'Kitty's Big Trouble' and I gotta respect anyone who references John Carpenter when coming up with a title. So, when I found myself in the mood for something entertaining and a bit lighter than my last two reads, I decided to dig in to  'Kitty's Greatest Hits', which is a collection of Vaughn's short fiction that will be published in August. Some of the stories I'd already read in various anthologies, but, unlike some short pieces, I found they held up to a second reading pretty well. Although the title would lead you to believe that these are all Kitty Norville stories, they aren't. They are, however, all set in what appears to be Kitty's world, though some are set in the historical past of that world. The last story in the collection is actually a novella that talks about Cormac's time in prison, which will be more meaningful for followers of the series than for casual readers, but the story itself stands fairly well on its own. This collection is probably a must-read for fans of the series, but would also serve quite nicely as an introduction to the world Vaughn has created for her heroine.

As soon as I'd finished the Vaughn stories, I picked up N.D. Wilson's 'Dragon's Tooth', which is the start of a new series for the author. I had loved Wilson's "100 Cupboards" trilogy and felt a little wary of this new venture. I had hopes that it would be good, but it's hard to know if a new premise and set of characters will be as interesting. Well, any fears I had were quickly laid to rest. I had only planned to read half of this book before I went to bed, but stayed up later than I planned so that I could finish the whole thing. And, at nearly 500 pages, that was no mean feat. Okay, yeah, they're 500 Middle Reader pages, but still... This book has it all: magic, supernatural creatures, a hidden world, sharks, dirigibles, a supremely creepy villain, spiders, and oh-so-much more. Though the protagonist of this volume is ostensibly Cyrus Smith, he's surrounded by a couple of awesome female characters, so this series should appeal to both boys and girls. I have to say this series is starting out even stronger than "100 Cupboards" did. I only hope it can maintain the momentum.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Spies and Nazis!

Dammit! Blogger ate my post! Now I have to start all over again.

Sadly, the above-mentioned spies and Nazis are not in the same book.

I finished up Matthew Dunn's 'Spycatcher' last night and it remained a page-turner right up to the end. There was a "twist" that, for anyone who reads many thrillers, wasn't much of a "twist" at all. But, I have to give Mr. Dunn credit for being able to hold my interest for more than 400 pages. Quite an accomplishment for a debut author, especially one who used to work for MI6. I was afraid the narrative would get bogged down in tradecraft or paperwork in an attempt at keeping the novel as realistic as possible. Thankfully, that never happened. (Though there were a couple of spots where the narrative got interrupted by our protagonist's need to describe in loving detail his complete designer wardrobe. Seriously, unless the type of shoes he has on his feet are vital to the plot, I do not need to know.) This is one of the only recent thrillers I've read that, while being perfectly complete unto itself, I am hoping spawns a series, or at least a sequel.

'Death Sentence' is the third book in Alexander Gordon Smith's "Escape from Furnace" series. This is one of those series that seems to get more outrageous with each book, and I mean that in a good way. In the first volume, our hero, Alex, is sent to Furnace Penitentary, which is a privately-run, underground (literally) prison for teen boys. He and a couple of his mates stage a daring escape, only to be recaptured in the second book. The prison is guarded by huge musclemen in black suits and creepy guys in gas masks. In book two, you get some of the story of the Black Suits and the Wheezers (the gas mask dudes), but this third volume gives a lot more background (which, yes, involves Nazis) and everything just gets creepier. This is the kind of series, like James Dashner's "Maze Runner" books, that makes me wish I had a nephew who was around eleven or twelve so I could share it with him. Alas and alack, my nephew is just a baby and my niece is too much of a girl.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

An Average of "Average"

Two days, three books, and none of them invoking a strong response either positive or negative.

'A Catered Affair' by Sue Margolis was the bit of British chick lit I mentioned at the end of my last post. Not a bad way to spend a few hours, but not the best example of the genre, either. It was charming enough, but lacking in some things that I've come to look for in this type of book: an extended stay in the country, an eccentric animal (or herd of animals), and the heroine running about in public naked (or nearly so). Although this novel did feature possibly the best chick lit family member ever--the lesbian, stand-up comedian sister in a committed inter-racial relationship. I was super grateful that the seemingly obligatory gay sidekick was the heroine's sister and wasn't played for laughs. So, bonus points to Ms. Margolis for that.

'Wicked in Your Arms' by Sophie Jordan was a fairly standard historical romance. And, I was with it right up until near the end when, out of the blue, there was a kidnapping and a threat against the heroine's life. I would very much like to take this moment to assure every writer of historical romance that it is not necessary for there to always be some dark intrigue to keep the book interesting. It is perfectly acceptable for your hero and heroine to admit their feelings for one another without someone's life being in danger. Really. I promise. There are usually plenty of obstacles in the way of their happiness without throwing in the spurned ex-lover or the crazy cousin who's next in line to inherit or the shady character who's keeping a secret to someone's past or what have you. Unless you establish the intrigue as the reason the hero and heroine were thrown together in the first place, adding that extra bit of plot just makes it feel like you didn't know how to move the relationship forward and maybe the hero and heroine weren't meant to be together at all.

And, finally, 'Rip Tide' by Kat Falls, which is a sequel to 'Dark Life', which was one of my favorite YA debuts of last year. Unfortunately, I wasn't as jazzed about this second book. It was entertaining enough and, were I its target audience, I probably would have liked it better than the first book. However, as an adult, I was much more interested in the new political structure that was just beginning to take form at the end of 'Dark Life'. This second book, while touching on that and having a plot that was heavily influenced by the politics of Ms. Falls's created world, was almost completely action-driven. And that's perfect for the adolescent boys who are Ms. Falls's target demographic. This is clearly a case of there being nothing wrong with the book, but with my being the wrong reader, or at least approaching the book with the wrong attitude.

I'm currently in the middle of a debut spy thriller that I had a very hard time putting down so that I could go to bed. I hope it finishes as strong as it's started.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

You Know, For Kids

I said yesterday that I was on a bit of a Kids book kick. It wasn't a very long kick, but both books I finished last night were written for younger readers.

'Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes' by Jonathan Auxier is a middle grade fantasy novel that draws from classic fairy tales and Dickens alike. There's a blind orphan boy whose eyes were plucked out by ravens. He's taken in by a rather unsavory character and becomes a master thief. He meets a magician and travels to unknown lands to save a kingdom. There's a knight who was cursed by a hag and now inhabits a body that is part man, part horse, and part kitten. (Unfortunately, the kitten's greatest contribution to this melange was its diminutive size.) There aren't any great plot surprises here for anyone who is familiar with fairy tales, but the writing is full of humor and the author has provided his own illustrations to the chapter heads. Plus, it's one of those increasingly rare novels for young people that isn't blatant sequel bait. The story is complete in and of itself, though Mr. Auxier left the door open to return to Peter's world for more adventures.

'The Implosion of Aggie Winchester' by Lara Zielin was pretty much the complete opposite of 'Peter Nimble'. Written for older readers and completely lacking in anything magical, it's the story of a high school junior whose life, as the title implies, implodes. Aggie's ex-boyfriend claims he wants to get back together, but his actions seem to send a different message. Her best friend has serious troubles that she won't admit are troubles at all and may be replacing Aggie with a new best friend. Aggie's mom has major health issues. And things just get worse from there. Of course, this being teen fiction, everything pretty much works out okay in the end, but getting there is far from easy, and Aggie, in trying to "help", only succeeds in making everything worse. Though the characters and situations sometimes strained credibility, the feelings of being a high school outcast were spot-on.

Tonight, I'm curling up with a nice bit of British chick lit. I think I need something a bit less angsty than reliving high school.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

D.B. Cooper Lives!

Or, okay, probably not. But, his legend sure does. 40 years after his successful (?) jump from a plane with $200,000 in cash, he still hasn't been found and none of the multitudinous possibilities have been defnitively named as the culprit. Geoffrey Grey, like so many who have gone before him, got sucked into the hunt for the elusive skyjacker. Thankfully, he was kind enough to record his descent into obsession in his forthcoming book, 'Skyjacker: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper'. It's a relatively short book, coming in at just under 300 pages, not including the author's notes, and it reads quickly. Though Grey never manages to determine once and for all who D.B. Cooper really was, his research provides more than enough entertainment. In fact, I think a final, conclusive revealing of the man behind the D.B. Cooper alias would have been a bit of a let-down. It's more fun to imagine Grey still out there unearthing clues and pestering witnesses and jumping to conclusions.

And, for something completely different, I also just finished Mary Pearson's 'The Fox Inheritance'. It's a sequel of sorts to 'The Adoration of Jenna Fox', which was published back in 2008. I'm not going to say much about 'The Fox Inheritance' because it's wise to read 'Adoration' first, and anything I say about 'Inheritance' is bound to contain spoilers for that first book. I'll just say that I loved 'Adoration' when I originally read it, and this sequel--while very, very different--is a worthy companion to that most excellent novel. Pearson has taken the world she created and built upon it in such a way that it seems plausible and identifiable. The ending of 'Inheritance' makes it fairly obvious that Pearson plans to tell more stories set in this world. I just hope she doesn't take another three years.

I'm on a bit of a Kids book kick right now. You've been warned.