Thursday, January 27, 2011

Vampire Cat Burglar: What's Not to Love

By Cherie Priest

In the midst of the vampire fiction tidal wave Bloodshot is a breath of fresh air. Centering on Raylene Pendle, a world-renowned thief who happens to be a vampire, Bloodshot manages to make a rather tired genre fresh. This is a fast paced novel where the heroine, although undead, is decidedly human. Whip smart, agile, and cocky Raylene is not some super human creature stalking the night for prey. She’s a thief who is drawn into the job of her life when a blind vampire sends her on a mission to track down his missing medical records from a government facility. What follows is filled with adventure, tongue-in-cheek comedy, drama, and just plain fun.

This was one of those books you pick up and don’t put down, not because it is deep and thought-provoking, but because you are just having too much pleasure reading and don’t want to stop. Raylene is a one of a kind heroine, flawed, funny, and brave and the motley cast of characters she picks up on the way are just as unique and endearing. Fans of Charlaine Harris who are looking for a little more intelligence and a lot less brooding look no further; you will become a convert to this new series and a fan of Priest. As we speak I’m picking up her some of her backlist titles and can’t wait to dive in and after reading Bloodshot, I have a feeling you will be too.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The End of Fever?

I have been patiently awaiting the book Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning since I finished her last book Dreamfever in August of 09. It’s difficult to wait for a sequel and even twice as hard when you know that the next book is last in the series. This difficulty was expanded for me significantly because I finished Dreamfever in Dublin, the series’ location—it just made me want to read Shadowfever that much more. Shadowfever came out Tuesday, January 18th; I finished it on the 19th.

What do you say when a series you love has come to an end? How do you critique the culmination, when what lead up to it was so good? I find myself asking these questions in the dark of night, knowing that I should have some mention of this beloved series within this blog, but not quite sure how to sum up my thoughts. I’ve sat on it for several days, and hope that I will be able to successfully convey my thoughts, both praise and the occasional criticism, in a manner benefiting such a unique and thoroughly enjoyable series.

I do not wish to give any of the plot away, I hate it when people do that with series conclusions, but I will say that I was happy with where the characters end up, enjoyed their journey, and am a grateful reader now that I know Moning is working on another series within this world. I love how the characters, primarily protagonist MacKayla Lane, evolve throughout the five books. The changes in Mac from a spoiled, flighty, pink-loving bit of fluff (or Mac 1.0 as she calls herself), into a strong, damaged woman, willing to risk it all to solve her sister’s murder and essentially save the world is wonderfully done. Mac and those around her are fully fleshed, three-dimensional characters, ones you want to know, or in some cases, ones you hope to never meet. Moning brilliantly nails the emotional journey of these characters; and she does so in a manner the reader feels genuinely understands the large shifts in character that take between Darkfever and Shadowfever. One cannot help, but love her unique world, characters, and story.

That being said, it is clear that I loved the series, but I didn’t necessarily love Shadowfever. Don’t get me wrong, the characters and plot were fantastic, but Moning utilized some stylistic choices that were distracting, sometimes confusing, and extremely existential. As one reader pointed out to me, it seemed as though there was a completely different author between this and the first book. The style was so dramatically different, extraordinarily philosophical--to the point where, for the first time when reading Moning, I found myself skimming passages. Also, Moning employed a confusing dialogue style where many one-line conversations would take place between several characters at once, causing confusion as to who was speaking, what was being said, etc., something that works well when used sparingly or when used in live productions, but is just plain distracting when used as prolifically in print, as it is in Shadowfever. These style choices have not been present in Moning’s other works, and actually works against the flow of the plot, as opposed to accentuating the storyline, which is what I’m sure she is trying to do. Look, this is a paranormal series, not Nietzsche, don’t try to be what you are not, it doesn’t create fans, it just makes you seem pedantic. I want a great story, not one that puts on airs. That was my brief rant. I hated saying it, but it needed to be said.

So, Fever series? Read it. Shadowfever? Read it. Despite the excess philosophical ramblings the story is so good it would be a shame to miss it, especially as the series itself is phenomenal.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

"I dreamt last night of the three weird sisters..."

The Weird Sisters
By Eleanor Brown

Told in the collective ‘ala the original “weird sisters” of Macbeth fame, The Weird Sisters is a wonderful new novel which follows the three Andreas sisters, young women brought up by their Shakespearean Professor father to speak in verse and find life’s answers between the pages of a book. When their mother’s breast cancer draws them all home the three sisters are inexplicably forced to deal with each other’s disappointments and face their own personal failures and fears.

“See, we love each other. We just don't happen to like each other very much.”

What I loved about this book is the wonderful contradiction between the feelings of the sisters, who live by the concept of loving each other because they must, but are unable to find joy within the bitterness that they feel toward each other, and the fact that these three women who are so separate are telling their story as one being. I is never used in this novel, it is always we, or our, or us. This is a group of women, who although they strive to be separate from each other (to the point of alienation), cannot stop being a group, they are literally not whole unless together. This contradiction between plot and the narrative is inventive and compelling, a rather original use of storytelling by the author.

Also, Brown’s depiction of the strange and often bitter relationship between sisters is so smoothly and heart-wrenchingly drawn that I found myself nodding along recognizing if not actual events, but themes from my own life as a sister and my observations of sisters over the years. She does not hold back in creating a picture of the brutality of words and actions that only a sister can use to cut apart her sibling, and also the comfort and insight that only a sister can bring to a painful situation. No one can quite hurt you or comfort you like a sister and Brown captures that feeling intelligently and emotionally.

The Weird Sisters is deceptive in that at first glance it appears light, almost chick-lit, but after close reading is far more insightful than one would ever think. This is a touching and creative novel sure to bring laughter, tears, happiness, and at times, anger to even the most casual of readers.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Edgar Nominees!

The Edgar Nominees are up at My vote is for Tana French's Faithful Place; a brilliant psycholgical mystery with great depth and wonderful use of language.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Susan Elizabeth Phillips: Simply Irresistible

Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Susan Elizabeth Phillips has been writing for three decades, she’s won several awards including the Romance Writers of America's Lifetime Achievement Award, but a lot of you reading this blog have probably not read her or even heard of her. Let me tell you about how much you are missing.

I first came across Philips’ writing a little over a decade ago, I was a teenager who primarily read old Hollywood biographies or film histories, but wasn’t above stealing some of her mother’s romance novels. It was on one of those romance-pillaging forays that I found a book called Honey Moon. I flipped it over and giddily realized it had everything I loved to read about, namely romance and movies. At first I was a little skeptical of the story, I thought it too close to the movie Inside Daisy Clover--a movie I thought to be extraordinarily weird and a bit unlikable, despite the stellar cast of Natalie Wood, Robert Redford, and Christopher Plummer-- but as I got going, the epic quality of the storyline and the fully rounded characters absolutely drew me in. I thoroughly loved the novel and never did forget the storyline, but after I was finished I put it back on my mother’s bookshelf and moved on to the next book (I’m fairly certain it was Lauren Bacall’s autobiography By Myself) and didn’t think about it again.

My next foray into the world of Susan Elizabeth Phillips didn’t come until I was in college. I really needed to read something that was not written by Aristotle or Brecht, and since I now had to read the film histories I had so loved as required classroom reading, they weren’t quite as appealing. Luckily, my grandmother allowed me to check-out books from her vast home library (she was a bookbuyer) to bring with me to school, and in one of those borrowed bags of paperbacks was a book my grandma was sure I would love, Glitter Baby by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Once again I found myself falling in thrall with the great storyline and all too human characters living in the not so human world of Hollywood (I can say this because at this point I too was living in the fabled LALA land and working in the same industry). How I loved that book, I even read it again before I had to bring it back to grandma for my next bag of books. Needless to say, when I found Breathing Room, SEP’s newest hardcover within that next bag I was overjoyed. So began my love affair with the works of Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

Over the last decade I have read everything (still in print) by Ms. Phillips and have yet to be disappointed. I walk away from each book with a trace of tears and large smile. The truly remarkable thing about these books is that when you finish one, there is (at least for me) an almost overwhelming urge to read another. Outside of my first encounter with Honey Moon (which I have now reread several times), I have been unable to read just one of her books. I seem to go through SEP reading cycles each time she has a new release. Suffice it to say that my copies of her books, while in excellent condition (I’m a tidy reader) are all very well broken-in.

Call Me Irresistible, Phillips’ latest (out 1/18/11), while not her best, is sure to have fans clamoring. Why? Because the protagonists are the offspring of characters from two earlier books (Glitter Baby & Fancy Pants), but she also briefly touches on characters from First Lady, Lady Be Good, and What I Did for Love. Incorporating past characters is something that Phillips does very well. She always manages to either throw in a mention or actually place a past character into her latest book. She understands that readers yearn for “the rest of the story” the after “the happily ever-after”, and she smoothly inserts the information into each new story. When you read these novels the characters are laid bare for you, their faults, strengths, and emotions become important and when the story is done you honestly want to know what comes next. The ability to invest readers in your characters is a true talent; something that Ms. Phillips has in spades. Also sure to capture fans is Phillips trade-mark mix of humor, heart-felt moments, and romance; all of which are put together by a masterful storyteller—definitely the best writer of romantic comedy that I’ve come across.

All these elements are present within Call Me Irresistible, and while I might not loved ever part of it, I did enjoy the story. I also need to mention that right after I finished Call Me Irresistible I absolutely had to pick up and reread another SEP book (What I Did for Love) because she always leaves you yearning for more. If that’s not the mark of a master storyteller, I don’t know what is.

*As a side note. I’m not usually one to surf author websites, nor mention them within this blog, however Susan Elizabeth Phillips has a very well run (and wonderfully personal) site and I highly recommend you check it out.

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Poison Tree

Fans of Tana French rejoice! No, she doesn’t have a new novel out yet, but debut author Erin Kelly will most assuredly captivate fans of French’s fluid prose and suspenseful plots. The Poison Tree is a winding road of intrigue and psychological drama. Kelly’s prose unfolds in brilliantly, smoothly interweaving past and present as the narrator, Karen tells of her mystifying, obsessive relationship with the Capel siblings and the murder which took place one hot, drug-filled summer.

This book was mesmerizing in that the reader is never quite sure who in this shady cast of characters was murdered. The story journeys through the events of that summer, occasionally flicking into the a present 10 years on where Karen is raising a daughter and Rex Capel has been released from prison, where he had spent ten years for manslaughter. This is a first person narrative filled with secrets and lies where the narrator successfully manipulates the reader with red herrings and partial truths.

A thoroughly enjoyable psychological suspense, well-written, with a twist of an ending sure to jolt readers from any sense of complacency, The Poison Tree is a must read for any lover of the genre.

Just to shamelessly promote Warwick’s in La Jolla, California; Erin Kelly will be appearing there on Wednesday, January 19th at 7:30pm. It’s free to attend, there will be refreshments, and the book will be on sale for 20% off. This is a great opportunity to meet a promising new author and of course visit a top-notch independent bookstore.

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