Monday, May 30, 2011

Review of Jacquelyn Frank's Hunting Julian

Tomorrow two of my all-time favorite authors are publishing new books, and I can’t wait. I even made a trip to the nearest Barnes and Noble this weekend on the off chance that the books would already be there, shelled before the release date. Hey, it’s happened before! Unfortunately, this particular Barnes and Noble actually puts out new releases on the release date (how DARE they!!!), so I had to settle for books by other authors. Some were good, but some were a bit painful, namely, Jacquelyn Frank’s Hunting Julian. I checked this novel out from the library, because I liked Ms. Frank’s Nightwalker series. Hunting Julian is the first of a different series, the Gatherers, and the library had this and the second novel in the series on the shelves so I decided I’d give them a try. I should pause here to point out that when I purchase a book, I usually read over Amazon reviews or blogs before making a purchase, but I don’t do that at the library. It’s expanded my reading to include new authors, but I’ve yet to see a book at the library that I wish I’d purchased. Hunting Julian was no exception.
There’s a common fantasy trope in paranormal romance, that of the “one true mate,” and it tends to get on my last nerve. I’ve always preferred novels with characters whose relationships develop over the course of the text or series, rather than the instant, “Hey, nature/fate/destiny has chosen you for me. We’re meant to be so let’s go have sex!” That’s just not my preference, although some authors have played with this successfully. Kresley Cole has a version of this in her Immortals After Dark series. Her vampires can be “blooded” (their hearts resume beating and they grow stronger) and the Lycans search years for their mates. However, Ms. Cole’s characters then find themselves wooing their brides or mates, and some of them get into hilarious trouble with their significant others when the males (and it’s almost always the males) make assumptions about how the females should act now that their mates have appeared. Nalini Singh has a similar phenomenon in her Psy-Changeling series, with the changelings (shifters) finding their mates. Again, her series works, because these mates have to work together and develop relationships. In both authors’ novels, a significant part of the conflict results from these matings and the characters having to adjust to one another.
One of the reasons I had so many problems with Jacquelyn Frank’s Gatherer series is that the hero, Julian, expects the heroine, Asia, to accept their mating almost without question. She is his kindra and the two of them are kind (mates) and that’s that. The novel begins with Asia, a bounty hunter, stalking Julian because he has caused the disappearance of thirteen young women, among them Asia’s sister Kenya. Asia allows Julian to take her to his apartment so she can discover what happened to her sister. When Julian realizes his cover is blown, he uses his mental powers to induce an orgasm in Asia (just wait, it gets better!) which generates enough sexual energy for him to take the two of them through a portal to his home world, Beneath. It turns out that Beneath is actually another plane of existence where the beings live off of energy. Guess what kind of activity generates the most energy? Yup, doing the horizontal tango!!! Unfortunately, Beneath is running VERY short of women because of a virus that killed nearly all of them. Julian is a gatherer, and he travels between the planes to collect energy to aid his people.
Here’s where it all started to get a bit hinky for me. He also collects human women who are very sensual and brings them to his plane to serve as Chosen. Basically, they get to have sex with anyone they want! Actually, they pretty much HAVE to have sex, because it’s what keeps people alive. Women who commit any sort of crime or who, imagine this, don’t want to be chosen, have to serve as Nightfly, a pretty word for prostitute or mistress. Asia is horrified by this new world she finds herself in but is still "inexplicably" attracted to Julian, who explains to her that in the normal course of his work, he would introduce his world to her through her dreams and then give her the choice of returning with him or not. Unfortunately for her, she realized he was an alien and he had to take action to prevent the humans from learning of his world. He also realized that she was his kindra, his chosen mate, and naturally he couldn’t leave her behind.
Frank has created an original world; unfortunately it ticks me off, because the women have no choices in this novel. Be a Chosen or a Nightfly – it’s for the good of everyone! Whaaa??!?! And Asia is forced to be Julian’s kindra or become a Nightfly. She can’t return to the human world because she has seen Beneath and could alert humans to the existence of another plane. Julian apologizes for taking away her choices but claims there was no other way and besides, as kind the two of them generate enough energy from having sex to keep everyone healthy. In fact, there's a scene of children and the elderly in a hospital, starving from lack of energy. Asia and Julian then have amazing, mind-blowing sex, and we get to see all the children frolicking happily again. Yay for sex! Little Johnny feeling sick? Give your neighbors some wine and a Marvin Gaye CD and Bob's your uncle! Seems a bit awkward, don’t you think? And negative energy and emotions cause the world to shake. What happens when it’s that time of the month and Asia doesn’t feel like having sex – does everyone “starve” for a week? And what if Asia gets PMS? YIKES!!! We learn pretty early that she’s a bad- a$$ bounty hunter, so maybe everyone should just hide when she gets cranky. Lord help us if this were the case on our “plane of existence”. I can only imagine the house exploding when I realized the DH spilled coffee grounds on the kitchen counter.
Julian acknowledges early on that he used his mental abilities on Asia to induce an orgasm so he could create the portal to Beneath. The last time I checked, forcing someone to engage in sexual activity without their consent is a violation. Given this and the overwhelming lack of choices for the female characters, this novel just made me mad. Asia calls Julian on all this behavior, but then turns around and accepts him almost immediately. After all, they’re kindra!!! It’s meant to be! And having sex is fun and feeds energy to everyone else, so why would the rest of it matter?
With much misgiving, I went ahead and read the second novel of the series since the library had it and I was driving the DH crazy with my whining about having to wait until the 31st for the new releases. I’m sorry to say the second novel’s more of the same. It had me questioning my memory of Frank’s Nightwalker novels, because I remember liking them, so I went back and reread two of them. Those novels also feature “mates”, but the world building is very different. Women are active agents and have choices, and, like Cole and Singh’s characters, the mated pairs have to work out the problems in their relationships. Granted, Asia and Julian do have to work out their problems, but that process was too short and unbelievable for me. I was a bit reluctant to give Hunting Julian such a negative review, because I do like Ms. Frank’s writing in other novels but I really didn’t like it, even though the feeding off sexual energy bit made for some laughable conversation with the DH later. I’m still willing to try some of Frank’s novels, but if you haven’t read her work before, I suggest that you stick to the Nightwalkers series.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Co-Authors and Other Courageous Types

The other day I went looking for Julia Quinn’s Just Like Heaven, only to realize that it’s not out until next week. Duh. So when I saw that the library had The Lady Most Likely on the shelves, I was thrilled, mostly because I wanted to read this book when it came out but wasn’t sure if it was worth the money. In case you’re not aware, The Lady Most Likely is co-written by Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Connie Brockway. While neither Julia Quinn nor Eloisa James’ books are auto-buys for me, I enjoy their historical romances a lot so I was intrigued to see how this book would turn out, particularly since I’ve wondered for a long time how anyone could possibly write a book with another person without killing them. Apparently the three authors of this book are all still living (or at least posting on Facebook) and have even started writing another book together. Kudos to them, because I couldn’t do it, that’s for sure. And some of my favorite authors actually co-author and are MARRIED!! STILL! After publishing several books together! I have no idea how this could possibly work, because the DH and I would have some serious difficulties getting the blood stains out of the carpet were we foolish enough to attempt such a thing. But I saw The Lady Most Likely at the library only a few days after reading on Facebook that the three authors are starting another book together, so it seemed like the perfect time to read it. While at the library, I also saw Dogs and Goddesses, by Jennifer Crusie, Anne Stuart, and Lani Diane Rich, and thought I could do a blogpost on books by more than one author. So here it is!
Before reading the two novels, my opinion was that any novel written “by committee” would necessarily suffer. Both novels were enjoyable and I do recommend them, but I stick to my opinion. I’ve read novels by several of the authors, and while neither of these two novels really suffers horribly from being written by 3 people, they aren’t as good as the books written singly. I find this interesting, because one of my favorite all-time authors is Ilona Andrews, a husband and wife team who publish the Kate Daniels and the Edge series. (The fifth Kate Daniels book, Magic Slays, is coming out on May 31st and I am soooooo excited! Can’t wait!) Their novels are outstanding, and each book is written by both. I suspect that the difference in quality between Andrews’ work and the two novels I read this week stems from the writing process used by the authors. The writing team of Ilona Andrews always publishes together, whereas these ladies do not. They usually work alone and decided to work together on these two novels this one time. While I had difficulty telling the difference between writing styles in both novels, possibly because I’m not familiar with all of the authors involved, the overall product was not as good as that of Andrews’ work, which is why I checked them out of the library instead of purchasing the books.
Dogs and Goddesses by Jennifer Crusie, Anne Stuart, and Lani Diane Rich
It should be pretty clear why I chose this novel to read and review. I’m a big fan of Crusie’s writing and anything with dogs will usually draw me in. This novel is a contemporary romance and had a paranormal aspect to it. It appears that each author focused on an individual character, since the point of view would switch from one to the other with clear breaks between changes. The novel begins when Abby arrives in Summerville, Ohio. Abby’s grandmother has recently died, and Abby has come to Ohio to look over her grandmother’s estate. She brings her dog, Bowser, and while looking over her grandmother’s bakery, sees a flyer for dog obedience classes, which Bowser doesn’t need, but which strike her as a good way to meet people in town.
It turns out that the other two protagonists, Daisy and Shar, also have dogs, and the three of them meet at the dog obedience class. At the class, they meet an odd woman named Kammani, who turns out to be a goddess. After drinking a tonic, the three women can suddenly hear their dogs speaking to them and the women learn that they are demi-goddesses, whose families served Kammani in the past. The women also meet their love interests, who vary in degrees of likeability and character development, mostly failing to be interesting. When the women realize that Kammani is trying to regain her powers, they look for ways to send her back whence she came.
Despite my comments about the male characters, the novel was enjoyable and a lot of fun. The female characters were interesting and likeable, even if the premise of the story was a bit odd. Unfortunately, I think the book suffered from having 3 principal characters, because the secondary ones were underdeveloped. While the authors did a good job of switching point of view without disconcerting or abrupt changes in voice, the limits of space (one novel, three protagonists) made it difficult to flesh out the secondary characters and thus the romance. This also was the major failing in the second novel I’m reviewing.
The Lady Most Likely by Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Connie Brockway
This was a cute, lighthearted historical romance. Unfortunately, it was also short. I would have liked to see more development of the characters and storyline, and I feel like one of the three couples in the novel suffered because of how short the text is. The premise of the novel is that Hugh Dunne, the Earl of Briarly, has decided to marry and asks his sister to create a list of eligible brides so the search will be easier for him. She decides to host a house party and invites several young ladies for him to meet. She also has to invite other eligible bachelors so the dinner table will be even and to encourage match-making mamas to bring their daughters. Miss Gwendolyn Passmore is the lauded beauty of the season, and thus the forerunner for the Earl’s affections. Miss Katherine Peyton and Lady Georgina Sorrell are the other two female women on the list. The male characters include the war hero Captain Neill Oakes and the new Earl of Charters.  
Unlike Dogs and Goddesses, it was much clearer that different authors had written parts of the novel. However, there weren’t awkward jumps from couple to couple. In fact, the plot flowed smoothly, with us learning about each couple in turn. I would say that despite the different structures of the two novels, both did a fairly good job of maintaining interest in the plot and having smooth transitions for the reader. The reason it’s easier to spot that the novel was written in parts and then cobbled together has more to do with authorial decisions about how to develop the romance than anything else. Gwendolyn Passmore, the season’s beauty, is shy, and her relationship with the new Earl of Charters develops too quickly to be believable, especially if the reader buys that she is so very shy. Their romance happens so fast that the Earl declares his love and proposes to her in less than 36 hours. The other two couples, Captain Neill Oakes and Katherine Peyton and Hugh Dunne and Lady Georgina Sorrell, have past histories which are not explored in depth but allow the reader to find their romances more believable.
There are two anthologies featuring Julia Quinn’s Lady Whistledown character from her Bridgerton series that feature a similar theme to this novel but I believe are a bit more successful. The anthologies have four novellas that revolve around similar events, such as a Valentine’s Day ball, and are connected by short snippets written by Lady Whistledown before each chapter, but each novella stands on its own. The characters were more developed than the ones in the novel, and the romances given more time to develop.
I think it’s fair to say that these two novels are not quite as good as the other books published individually by the authors because of the writing process and novels’ structures. Unless the novel is considerably longer than either of these two, there simply isn’t room to develop three separate romances adequately. One protagonist with one or even several possible love interests is much more successful. The authors’ approach to writing these books seems to be one of developing  the ideas and sketching out the plot together, writing parts separately, then putting the parts together and editing the novel as a whole. Clearly this is a different process from authors such as Ilona Andrews, in whose novels it is difficult to pick out sections written by individuals.
Hopefully my comments about these novels won’t dissuade you from reading the books; I truly enjoyed them! They were fun reads for summer, and I’ll definitely be checking out the next book Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Connie Brockway publish together. (The other three don’t appear to have plans to publish together again soon.) I do plan on getting the next one from the library, however. $7.99 just seems like a lot of money when the authors’ individual novels are longer, more developed, and cost the same.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Totally Creeped Out – Thanks a Lot, Melissa Marr!

Okay, I made a trip to the store this afternoon intent on purchasing a historical and a contemporary romance to review for the blog. Unfortunately, neither was available, which I find more than a little shocking, since they’re both new releases from big name authors and big publishers. However, I did see Melissa Marr’s new book, Graveminder, which I’d seen reviewed on a few blogs, so I bought the book. Now I won’t be able to sleep tonight, because it’s super creepy. Argh! So dumb!!! All joking aside, this book wasn’t quite the leap from my usual reading, since I like reading about the paranormal and romance, and this novel had both. It was hard to put down and I certainly recommend it, but do NOT read it right before bed. Did I mention it’s creepy?
So here are the goods on the book. The action takes place in a small, idyllic town named Claysville, and this town takes excellent care of its dead. Graves are well tended and there’s a woman in the town who is the designated “Graveminder.” At the beginning of the novel, that Graveminder is Maylene Barrow, Rebekkah Barrow’s grandmother. When Maylene is mysteriously murdered, Rebekkah must return to Claysville for her funeral and discover the truth behind both Maylene’s death and her life. Byron Montgomery is the town’s current undertaker, and he and Rebekkah have had an on-again, off-again relationship for years. Neither Rebekkah nor Byron understands why her grandmother’s murder is not being investigated. It turns out that the living and the dead have an uneasy and longstanding bargain in Claysville, and the Graveminder and her Undertaker play important roles in keeping the town’s dead from rising from the grave and feeding on its citizens. Byron and Rebekkah have little time to discover the truth about the city’s contract with the mysterious Mr. D, and the parts they will play in this bargain, but they have to learn quickly to protect the living by keeping the dead in their graves.
This book is hard to put down! The world Melissa Marr created is fascinating and I really enjoy the pacing of the novel. We learn the truth behind what’s happened to Maylene and the other dead in the town slowly as Byron and Rebekkah learn it. It’s not until the very end that we learn who is behind the killings in town, and I certainly admit that I didn’t see it coming. Also, the complicated relationships between past Graveminders and Undertakers and their children are heartbreaking and nuanced. The one failing (and in my mind it’s a doozy) is the character of Rebekkah. She seems to accept her new role as Graveminder fairly easily, but her relationship with Byron is problematic. I find her indecisiveness towards Byron to be downright cruel. He was her step-sister Ella’s boyfriend in high school when Ella killed herself. Rebekkah and Byron had been attracted to one another before Ella’s suicide, and afterwards whenever they acted on their mutual attraction, Rebekkah was unable to deal with the guilt. I can understand that to a point, but it drags on for too long, and Byron is far too willing to accept whatever Rebekkah wants to give him for my liking.
As I said earlier, the book is fabulously creepy, and the lines between the dead and the living are blurry to say the least. I will be reading this book over and over again, just not at night! I hope this is the beginning of a new series, because even though Ms. Marr answers most questions that Rebekkah and Byron have, she leaves just enough open-ended for future novels.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Here There Be Dragons

Recently I’ve read several fun new releases featuring dragon shifters, so I thought I’d do a quick review of some dragon themed books. I have to admit that years ago it never would have occurred to me to read books about werewolves, much less dragons, but I’ve really enjoyed them. These authors have created intriguing fictional worlds and it makes for some great escapism. Check them out!
Thea Harrison’s Dragon Bound
I found this novel to be really clever. The author has used several familiar tropes (shape-shifters, mates, the fae) in creating her fictional world, but she puts a spin on these to create new and captivating characters. These characters are really appealing, which for me absolutely sells this book, and I can’t wait until September when the second novel of the series is released. The heroine of Dragon Bound, Pia Giovanni, is blackmailed by an ex-boyfriend into stealing from the most powerful dragon in the world, Dragos Cuelebre. He’s a Wyr, a shape-shifter, and Pia is half-wyr. Pia and Dragos meet because she steals a penny from his horde. In one of the many humorous moments, Dragos reads the note she left apologizing for the theft: “I’m sorry I had to take your penny. Here’s another to replace it.” Dragos hunts her down and discovers her to be as intriguing as her note. Over the course of the novel the two fall in love, and the sparks between them fly. The novel is action packed and sexy, plus full of surprises. Late in the novel we learn exactly what Pia’s other “half” is, and the wonder that the other characters experience at the revelation is almost equal to that of the reader. This jaded reader was certainly surprised, and that is unusual these days. I highly recommend this one!
Keri Arthur’s Mercy Burns
This is the second novel in Keri Arthur’s Myth and Magic Series, and the first novel of hers that I’ve read. The protagonist, Mercy, is half human and half dragon, and she’s helping a friend discover what happened to her sister. Unfortunately, Mercy and her friend are attacked and the friend does not survive. Mercy persists in looking for the truth behind the murders and discovers a conspiracy that could change the dragon world forever.
This wasn’t a bad novel; it just didn’t grab my interest the way the others did. Mercy’s character has experienced considerable abuse at the hands of the dragons because she’s “draman” (half human, half dragon), and she talks a lot about that abuse. Unfortunately I felt that the world of the dragons was a little underdeveloped. I would have liked to have seen one of the dragon communities that Mercy talks about, not just see her interact with other dragons in the human world.  She is aided in her search for answers by a dragon called “Muerte”, and we learn a little about his role in the dragon world, but I just wasn’t drawn into their relationship the way I was with the other books. I might check out the sequel at the library, but I’m not sure I’d purchase it. In fact, I didn’t even realize this was part of a series until the very end, and after reading reviews of the first novel, I’ll definitely be skipping it.
Allyson James’ Firewalker
Allyson James has two series about dragon shape-shifters; this one is the second in her Stormwalker series. Ms. James also writes historical romances under the name Jennifer Ashley, which are a lot of fun, so if dragons aren’t your thing but velvet and lace are, check her out! I read Stormwalker some time last year, but I didn’t realize that the sequel was out until I saw it at the library this weekend. This is actually better than the first book, and I enjoyed the first one considerably. Janet Begay, the heroine, is a stormwalker. She can channel the power of storms, but (spoiler alert) in the first novel we learn that her mother was literally from hell and Janet has inherited her mother’s powers. Janet’s boyfriend, Mick, is a dragon shapeshifter, and he was ordered to kill Janet to prevent her mother from ever escaping hell, but clearly decided not to comply with his orders, since we have a sequel. In this second novel, Mick is facing the consequences of his decision and Janet is fighting the growing power within her.
I really like how Ms. James uses Native American mythology and dragon lore in this novel. The character of Coyote is, as he should be, quite the trickster, and the dragons are really snooty. Janet and her magic mirror supply this urban fantasy (can it be urban fantasy if it’s in the desert?) with its required snark, and are just a lot of fun to read. Janet grows as a character in this novel, learning about her powers but also figuring out that she does in fact possess the strength to control them. I’m looking forward to future installments of this series, and I’m not sure I could have said that after the first book in the series.
G.A. Aiken’s Last Dragon Standing
As much as I loved Thea Harrison’s Dragon Bound and continue to re-read it, G.A. Aiken’s Last Dragon Standing is far and away one of my favorite shapeshifter books. G. A. Aiken is actually the pseudonym used by Shelly Laurenston when writing her Dragon Kin series, and I love to read her books because they are so very, very funny. This particular novel features the beautiful and spoiled dragon princess Keita, and how the author can take a stunningly beautiful spoiled brat and make her so very appealing is proof of the author’s skill. Keita is unabashedly self-centered, but as the hero Ragnar learns, Keita’s narcissistic tendencies are exaggerated for effect. In fact, she uses her over the top personality and good looks to spy for her country and protect the throne, despite Keita’s complicated relationship with her mother, the dragon queen. Ragnar is a Lightning dragon from the north, while Keita is a Fire dragon from the south, but somehow they manage to get together despite Ragnar’s superiority complex and Keita’s fear of commitment. This novel is the fourth novel in Aiken’s Dragon Kin series, and several of the characters from previous novels make appearances. You don’t have to have read the others to follow along, but you’ll definitely enjoy this more if you’ve read the others first. The relationships between the dragon family members make this series a hoot, and I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

My Kindle Has Created a Monster

I’m a little ashamed to admit that I haven’t set foot in a public library in over a decade, mostly because my library time has been spent at college libraries. I worked at my alma mater‘s library for four years while a student, and I love academic libraries, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been to a public one. However, in an effort to save my pocketbook and try new authors risk-free, I recently got a library card at my public library.  Why I waited so long, I’ll never know. I live in a small town of only about 20,000 people with no bookstore in town, but we do have the main branch of the county library. It’s a nice building, and from what I can see, constantly busy. There are lots of programs for kids and adults, and the staff is particularly helpful. But their collection of fiction seems a bit…. spotty.
The library seems to have only parts of series, and not always the first book in the series. I was forewarned by friends, so it hasn’t been much of a surprise, but it has created some dilemmas. I stopped by yesterday to pick up the first books in Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville series. The library has books 1 – 3 and book 7. Does this strike you as odd? It does me. Lest you think that I mean they only had those books on the shelves, allow me to reassure you that as a former library employee, I know better than to make such assumptions! I checked the catalog and asked a librarian. They do indeed have only books 1 – 3 and 7 of the Kitty Norville series. And this is not limited to Carrie Vaughn’s books.  Last weekend I checked out Karen Marie Moning’s Faefever series, and the library had books 1-2 and 4-5. Why not book 3? They have all the others in the series, plus one of her Highlander books.  
I would very much like to ask how they make purchasing decisions, because I suspect this would clear up a lot of the mystery. From what I’ve seen online, most libraries make purchasing decisions based on patrons’ likes, bestseller lists, and library journal recommendations. Given that our town and county are so small and nationwide libraries are facing budget cuts, I’m curious how the librarians go about making what must be difficult decisions about purchases. I’d love to interview one of the librarians, so maybe I can work that out one of these days. Yesterday the library was hopping, so I didn’t want to take up the librarians’ time when there were so many patrons needing assistance.
Visiting the library has been lots of fun, mostly because I get to leave with as many books as I want for free. Yay, free books! It has also reminded me how much I love my Kindle. It is just so much easier to read my Kindle one handed while in bed, cooking, walking the dog, grading papers, etc. Plus I don’t have to get dressed in something other than sweats or pajamas and put on a minimum of make-up in case I see someone I know. And you KNOW I would see someone I know if I were wearing my sweats to the library. They would then have to rescind my Southern Belle (SB) membership card. The horrors! (This could also happen if I didn’t match my accessories or wear lipstick.) My Kindle makes maintaining the illusion of Southern Belle-ness a lot easier, let me tell you! Fortunately, Amazon recently announced that later this year they’ll be allowing library lending on the Kindle, so I’m very excited about that. Hopefully my local library will participate, but since they don’t lend ebooks at the moment, I’m not sure what will happen. And I’m sure that would add one more headache to purchasing decisions, since most normal/sane/non-accessory matching patrons don’t have ereaders.
But since their collection of series is incomplete for some authors, I’ve run into a dilemma. First, with Moning’s books (and you can bet the DH had some snarky comments about pronouncing her last name), I had to decide if I should wait to read books 4 and 5 after somehow getting a copy of book 3 elsewhere. I really didn’t want to buy book 3. I liked the series, but didn’t love it, so spending money was out of the question. Since I’m one of THOSE readers who skip to the end, of course I decided to go ahead and read books 4 and 5, and I don’t feel like I missed anything vital. But I really like Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville series and want to continue reading it. I looked at the summaries for the other books in the series on Amazon, and I don’t want to skip ahead to book 7. Apparently I would miss a LOT by doing so (this seems more than a bit obvious, right?). Again, do I buy the books for my Kindle? They’re $6.99 each! Or I could order them in paperback off Amazon and get the 4-for-3 special like I did for Larissa Ione’s books, but then I’d only have books 4, 5, 6, and 8 and have spent 24-ish dollars, plus have to wait several days. Waiting? Noooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!! And you can forget about waiting with no whining, which would not constitute reason for rescinding SB membership. Go figure.
A while ago a friend recommended, which seems like it could be a possible solution, but that’s assuming that the books I want are available and the person who posted them will actually mail them to me. I certainly have several books that I purchased on a whim that I could pass on. Usually I pass paperbacks that I enjoy but don’t want to keep on to my mother-in-law, but she’s not a fan of paranormals, so now I’m stuck with several Lora Leigh stinkers. I’m already a member of, and they have a bookswap program as well, but it costs between $3.50 and $4.75 a book because they add a small fee to the postage costs. doesn’t do that; they charge nothing, but you can purchase postage and print it out at home if you wish. I have to think that media mail prices for a paperback would be less than $3.50, right? I’ve also considered purchasing books used from Amazon, but they tack $3.99 on for shipping. At that price, I should just buy the book new and get free shipping. But then there’s the waiting… ARGH!!!
Clearly, my book reading addiction has become a serious problem. I’d say I can stop whenever I want, but that’s so obviously a lie it’s not even funny. The Kindle has created a book devouring monster. Clearly, I need to get tons-o-followers for my blog, so the publishers will send me oodles of books for free to review. Then I wouldn’t have this problem. I could graciously pass those books on to the library when I’d finished, adding to their collection and the enjoyment of future book addicts. So if you’re reading this and you’re not a follower, become a follower. Consider it a service to the community – it sure beats having an intervention.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Fun Time-Wasting Links about Reading

It’s official – the grades are turned in and summer has started! Woo-hoo! So I spent time this morning and afternoon surfing the internet and reading blogs. Here are some links and snarky comments to help you achieve optimal time wastefulness.
Apparently there was a World E-Reading Conference in London this week. I’m pretty bummed that I missed it, to be honest! This article sums up a few highlights, most notably that the HarperCollins International CEO claims that their ebooks sales are steadily increasing. I have to wonder if this will have an effect on their decision to allow only 26 checkouts for ebooks owned by libraries. A friend recently told me that she believes that HarperCollins made the decision believing that other publishers would soon follow. That hasn’t happened, thank goodness, and I have to wonder if Amazon’s decision to allow lending Kindle books sometime later this year will have any effect on that decision as well.
Here’s a link to the article “Novel rejected? There’s an e-book gold rush!on the Washington Post webpage that I’ve now seen cited on at least two different blogs. It talks about author Nyree Belleville and how she started publishing her books electronically after being dropped by her publisher. What I really like about the article is that you get to see how much time Ms. Belleville has to spend to publish her books. Also, it’s worth noting that she was published first by a publishing house, then published her work electronically.
Authors Barbara O’Neal and Jennifer Crusie had a long chat that’s posted on Ms. Crusie’s webpage about ebooks and publishing in general. It’s so long that it actually spans three days, but it’s fascinating to see their different approaches to e-publishing. Here again, you see exactly how much work it is to publish your writing independently. Ms. O’Neal describes how much her family has done for her to enable her to continue writing while publishing on her own. Both authors remain with big name publishing companies, and it looks like they’d like to continue to do so.
I’ve recently read a couple of reviews of the Barnes and Noble Nook Color software update that allows you to use the Nook as a tablet rather than just an e-reader. Most of these reviews aren’t that complimentary (here’s the review from, and I’ve always wondered why you would purchase an e-reader that is backlit, since that’s one of the reasons I love my Kindle so much. But I just saw this article on about Kindle and tablet talks. Yikes! This article from the Huffington Post makes it sound like some people think that e-readers will go the way of the Flip camera. I have to admit, if my cell phone weren’t the cheap, free phone that takes really awful pictures, I probably would consider moving from my digital camera to using my cell phone, especially since I love to pack light on trips. Just compare these two photos of my beagle, one from my cheap-o phone and the other from my digital camera that's several years old:
Photo from cell phone

Photo from digital camera

Clearly, I will not be switching to my cell phone for photos anytime soon. But will the same hold true for my Kindle? Will I continue to use two different devices when one could do both? At this point, I think I will remain with my Kindle. I HATE reading on the computer, and that is what a tablet is! It’s hard on the eyes to read on backlit screens. And if a tablet were considerably cheaper than an iPad, would I purchase it? I don’t know. I use my laptop pretty much only at home or at work, and I’m not sure how much more I would use a tablet versus, say, a smart phone. I like having an actual keyboard for writing and work, and a tablet would be too unwieldy to carry in my purse. So we’ll have to see how this ends up playing out.
 Finally, as I postpone my afternoon workout by writing this blog, I leave you with this link from Dirty Sexy Books about exercising and how sitting for long periods is bad for you. I’ve seen articles recently about how sedentary lifestyles can limit the benefit you receive from working out, even if you exercise regularly. Something to think about!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Fred the Funky Chicken Meets Magical Kitties

A few months ago I reviewed several books featuring dogs by Jennifer Crusie, and my friend Cathie asked if I had any recommendations about books with cats. There are apparently TONS of books with cats as characters. I’m clearly behind the curve, because the only books I’ve read about cats usually star ones that turn into hunky 6 feet tall guys. Rawr! But while in Target this weekend, I saw that there was an entire shelf devoted to cat mysteries in the book section, so I picked one up. I am so glad I did, because Sofie Kelly’s Curiosity Thrilled the Cat is hilarious!
This novel is more of a mystery than a romance, although there are hints at a possible romance in the future for the heroine, Kathleen Paulson. Kathleen is a librarian who has recently moved to Mayville, Minnesota, to help renovate the town’s Carnegie funded library for its centenary in 2012. She’s been adopted by two feral kittens, Owen and Hercules, who are gifted with some disconcerting abilities. For one thing, Kathleen thinks the cats listen to and understand her when she talks to them, but she also recognizes that might have more to do with her than any magical powers her cats have. Just when she convinces herself that Owen and Hercules are normal cats, she sees Hercules disappear and walk through a door. Their feline magic powers come in handy when the obnoxious guest conductor in town for the summer festival is murdered and Kathleen becomes a suspect. To make matters worse, the contractor working on the library renovations is dragging his feet, and several suspicious accidents occur. Kathleen has a lot on her hands, and her trusty cats step up to help her solve the mysteries.
There were so many things to like about this novel! The book is narrated in first person, which is extremely effective. Kathleen has a strong and very funny voice, and her relationships with the secondary characters are as interesting and warm as the ones she has with Owen and Hercules. I knew after reading the first line that this book was going to be a hoot, and anyone with pets or small children can relate immediately:
The body was smack in the middle of my freshly scrubbed kitchen floor. Fred the Funky Chicken, minus his head.
Fred is a catnip toy that Kathleen’s neighbor Rebecca keeps buying for Owen in an attempt to make friends with him. Since he and his brother Hercules were feral as kittens, they don’t relate well to anyone other than Kathleen, and Rebecca’s efforts to win over the cats are in vain. Owen shows no signs of interest in her but is swiftly becoming a “chicken-decapitating catnip junkie”. Ms. Kelly’s descriptions of Owen blissed out on catnip, surrounded by furry toy chicken parts made me laugh out loud.
Hercules is no less an intriguing character, despite his disinterest in catnip. Apparently he and Kathleen have an unfortunate taste for Barry Manilow music, which sends Owen howling from the room. I certainly sympathize with Owen on this one.
The town’s residents make for an interesting cast of characters, and the older women of the town have embraced Kathleen as one of their own. Part of what makes this novel so enjoyable is the relationships between these women. At one point Kathleen’s friend Maggie becomes convinced that the library contractor is deliberately targeting Kathleen with accidents at the library. Maggie's determined to follow him and find out exactly what he’s doing. In an attempt to be inconspicuous, Maggie borrows an old, beat-up pick-up truck so they can follow him incognito, but the truck won’t start. When she spots the town vet, Roma, pulling into the parking lot in her SUV, she and Kathleen jump into the SUV and tell Roma to follow him. Much hilarity ensues:
Maggie touched her shoulder. “He’s turning,” she said.
“I see him,” Roma said. “It looks like Will has one of those trucks with a turn signal.”
In the end, the key to solving the various mysteries in Mayville has everything to do with relationships past and present, human and feline. There is a hint at the end of the novel that Ms. Kelly is planning on a romantic relationship for Kathleen in the future, and I can’t wait to see the sequel. This novel was so much fun that I highly recommend it.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Review of Robert Masello’s The Medusa Amulet

In a bit of a departure from my usual reading habits, today I’m reviewing Robert Masello’s The Medusa Amulet. Before this post, all of the books I’ve reviewed were books that I purchased myself, but I was sent an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of this novel by the publisher through the First Reads program, which was exciting. Free books – woo hoo! You can sign up for book giveaways on the Goodreads webpage, but so far The Medusa Amulet is the only book I’ve been sent. The FTC (and ethics!) requires that I tell you up front when I’ve been given something for free in the expectation of a review, so consider yourself informed. Unless I tell you otherwise, though, you can assume that I’ve bought or borrowed a book I’m reviewing.

I enjoyed this book, even though thrillers aren't my preferred genre, which, as you know, is romance. My preferences in reading could have prejudiced my reading of the novel somewhat, so keep that in mind. The premise behind this thriller/paranormal is that a Renaissance artist, Benvenuto Cellini, traveled to the underworld and used objects he found to create an amulet with a mirror on the back. This mirror supposedly has mythical properties, and there is some doubt over whether or not the Medusa Amulet even exists. The novel jumps between the historical Cellini’s story and that of present day historian David Franco. Franco works for the Newberry Library in Chicago and is tasked with recovering the Medusa Amulet by a wealthy benefactor, Kathryn Van Owen. David’s sister, Sarah, has terminal cancer, and the mysterious Mrs. Van Owen promises him that if he recovers the Medusa Amulet, his sister can be cured.  David then begins his race against time, unsure if he even believes in the restorative powers of the mythical Medusa Amulet.

While the beginning was a bit slow, the pace of the novel quickly picked up. I found the historical and international settings of Florence, Rome, and Paris truly fascinating, and I appreciated the author's descriptions of archival research since I, too, am an academic. However, I enjoyed the historical couple of Benvenuto Cellini and his lover Caterina much more than the current day protagonists of David Franco and his love interest Olivia Levi. I liked David's race against time to find the Medusa Amulet in the hope that it will save his sister from terminal cancer, but I found his character to be otherwise uninteresting and, quite frankly, unrealistic. He has his PhD and a plummy position at the Newberry Library at 31? BWAHAHAHA!!! Yeah, right! And Olivia is quirky. And SMART! She can do archival research! Other than that, we know very little about her, and the romance between her and David is lacking in sparks. Then the Nazis made an appearance. So the plot was a bit far-fetched and the romance lacking for my taste.

I found myself looking forward to the historical/flashback sections more than the contemporary ones, which is a bit odd, since David Franco is supposedly the hero. The ending, however, was fast paced and action-packed. I think if you enjoyed Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, you'll probably enjoy this as well. I'm not sure if I'll read any of Masello's other novels, but as I stated previously, I suspect that's more because of my personal preferences in reading, rather than the content of the novel.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Vampires Need Tons-o-Sunblock and So Do I

In an attempt to postpone grading lots of Spanish final exams and end of the semester projects, I’ve spent (or misspent) the last several days reading some fun books. Two of these were vampire novels. Both were well written, but one made me want to throw the book across the room. Fortunately for my Kindle, I resisted that urge, but nothing makes me madder than cliffhangers at the end of a book, especially when the next installment of the series isn’t being released for months! From what I hear, Diana Gabaldon is particularly bad about this, and that remains the principal reason I have yet to start her Outlander series. I can’t STAND cliffhangers, particularly when so many authors are able to complete the arc of a story within one novel while generating interest for future books. Seriously, if you want to generate interest in the future book, include a teaser chapter, but don’t cheat your readers out of an ending just so you can string them along for months! 

    The novel that managed to really tick me off is Chloe Neill’s Hard Bitten, the fourth book in her Chicagoland Vampires series. I’ve really enjoyed Ms. Neill’s novels featuring Merit, the English Lit graduate student who was viciously turned into a vampire, and Ethan Sullivan, the studly vampire master of Cadogan House in Chicago. I like the series because we get to see Merit develop as a vampire and a character. She has taken on the role of Sentinel, or protector of the house, and in Hard Bitten she gains confidence in her skills. Her contentious relationship with Ethan also matures and starts to show promise.

    While you can pick up Hard Bitten without having read the earlier novels in the series and still follow along without too much difficulty, I recommend that you start the series from the beginning, because you will enjoy this novel all the more. Unfortunately, having read the series from the beginning, I had a lot invested in these characters, and the cliffhanger and stunning plot development made me so mad I was in a funk all day. Ms. Neill has stated on her webpage that the readers need to trust her, and that all will be explained in the fifth novel to be released in November, Drink Deep. Argh! 

    I did read another vampire novel this weekend that came out late last year, Dianne Sylvan’s Queen of Shadows. This is the first of a series for Ms. Sylvan, and it did NOT have a cliffhanger. In fact, I found the ending to be very satisfying! The heroine, Miranda Grey, is a talented musician in Austin, Texas, and, while under attack, is rescued by the city’s vampire leader, David Solomon. I should warn you that Miranda is sexually assaulted at the beginning of the novel. I’m uncomfortable with novels that use sexual assault as a form of character development, because some authors seem to gloss over the truly devastating effects of such an assault. Ms. Sylvan does a good job of showing how Miranda goes through the recovery process; I’m just not convinced that such a violent episode was really necessary to develop the character, since she was already suffering emotionally before the incident. I will admit to skimming over the scene. 

    I liked that this was not a Pygmalion-type scenario between the hero and heroine. David teaches Miranda to control her psychic empathic abilities so that she can live comfortably, but it's obvious that she possesses her own strength, one that isn't limited to being his "emotional" compass, which is a trope you see a lot in romance (and makes me roll my eyes). Even though there is a clear power imbalance at the beginning of the novel, this is clearly resolved by the end, and Miranda’s efforts to take charge of her own life will leave you cheering for her. 

    I’m hoping that the sun will soon make an appearance here in the Midwest, as I’m eager to use that sunblock I mention in the title of this post. Until then, I’m going to have to settle for being as pasty white as a vampire, without all the cool supernatural benefits. Bummer!