Sunday, August 31, 2008

Vishously Entertaining

In the shadows of the night in Caldwell, New York, there’s a deadly war raging between vampires and their slayers. And there exists a secret band of brothers like no other—six vampire warriors, defenders of their race. Now, the cold heart of a cunning predator will be warmed against its will…

Ruthless and brilliant, Vishous, son of the Bloodletter, possesses a destructive curse and a frightening ability to see the future. As a pretrans growing up in his father’s war camp, he was tormented and abused. As a member of the Brotherhood, he has no interest in love or emotion, only the battle with the Lessening Society. But when a mortal injury puts him in the care of a human surgeon, Dr. Jane Whitcomb compels him to reveal his inner pain and taste true pleasure for the first time – until a destiny he didn’t choose takes him into a future that cannot include her…
Title: Lover Unbound
Author: J. R. Ward
Series: The Black Dagger Brotherhood, Book 5
Start & Finished: 4/28/08-4/29/08
Published: 2007
Publisher: Signet
Pages: 502
Genre: Paranormal Romance

Not too many new things have been done with the extremely trendy vampire paranormal romance genre recently until one struggling writer decided to sit down and write a book “just for herself”. Her name was Jessica Bird (under which she has published some contemporary romance) but she would soon become known as the best-selling and award-winning author J. R. Ward thanks to her immensely popular Black Dagger Brotherhood series. It has only been three years since she wrote the first book about this group of elite vampire warriors (who fight the evil Lessening Society to protect their race and their loved ones) but already six of the Brother’s stories have been published. The most intelligent and gifted/ cursed Brother is Vishous and his story is told in the fifth book Lover Unbound.

After I had finished the first four stories in this series (that I had read one right after another), I wasn’t able to get around to reading the fifth book for about a month because of the waiting list at the library. In the meantime, I read a lot of mysteries and a few other genres but I never stopped thinking of the Brothers (no, they aren‘t really related, they‘re “brothas from other Mothars“, as they would put it, which is also my only turn-off about the books).

All of the “males of worth” in the books are so interesting and tormented in their own ways (Wrath is the Blind King, Rhage has an inner demon, Zsadist is a former blood slave, Vishous can sometimes see the future and can vaporize things with his hand which he has no control over, etc.) but although I loved each and every one of them, I still have my favorites: Rhage or Hollywood as he is known, Zsadist, and now Vishous. I also really like Rhevenge but he’s not a Brother… at least not yet.

I was a little surprised to learn that Ward had a hard time with Lover Unbound (V is a very reserved person but has opened up a lot thanks to Butch) because the book flows incredibly well. The entire series is told through various perspectives and I usually enjoy all of the little side plots (they are essential to the overall story arc of the Brotherhood’s war with the Lessening Society as well as some of the other character’s development) but this book was the first time that I became annoyed whenever the book moved away from it’s main two characters. I could hardly wait to learn what would happen next to Jane and V! I have to admit that I wasn’t very pleased with the ending and I thought it a little strange (innovative, but still strange), however I couldn’t see any other way for it to have ended.

Series: Dark Lover, Lover Eternal, Lover Awakened, Lover Revealed, Lover Unbound, & Lover Enshrined

Links: Wikipedia (author & Brotherhood), Official Yahoo group, MySpace
Interviews: J.R. Ward (author tries to interview her characters- SPOILERS), Romance B(u)y the Book

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Between Worlds

Harper Blaine was slogging along as a small-time P.I. when a two-bit perp's savage assault left her dead. For two minutes, to be precise.

When Harper comes to in the hospital, she begins to feel a bit ...strange. She sees things that can only be described as weird-shapes emerging from a foggy grey mist, snarling teeth, creatures roaring.

But Harper's not crazy. Her "death" has made her a Greywalker-able to move between our world and the mysterious, cross-over zone where things that go bump in the night exist. And her new gift (or curse) is about to drag her into that world of vampires and ghosts, magic and witches, necromancers and sinister artifacts. Whether she likes it or not.

Title: Greywalker
Author: Kat Richardson
Series: Greywalker, Book 1
Start & Finished: 4/21/08- 4/24/08
Published: 2006
Publisher: Roc/Penguin
Pages: 352
Genre: Urban Paranormal Fantasy/ Horror Mystery

Private investigators who deal with the supernatural like P. N. Elrod and Jim Butcher’s heroes have become very popular over the past several years. With her debut novel Greywalker, Kat Richardson proves that her heroine Harper Blaine can most certainly play with the big boys without being a “man with breasts” (she actually started out as male but to relate more, the author made her female) or a typical cliché.

Smart, funny, and incredibly interesting are the best ways to describe this urban fantasy/ paranormal/ horror mystery. Although it’s the first book in the series and the first thing published by this author you would hardly guess due to how well done the characters and the story is. There were a few parts that confused me and some of the subplots were a little complex but most of the story was straightforward and explained very well.

Ms. Richardson claims that she got her idea for this series from watching the old My Partner the Ghost (aka Randall and Hopkirk, Deceased) TV show as a kid and later on in life playing with the idea. Ghosts and other supernatural creatures need help just like everyone else and whom would they be able to go to? Harper Blaine that’s who! She’s still human but because of her brush with death is becoming more and more aware of their world (the Grey).

Kickass heroines that have great supportive friends have become fairly common in this genre (Jaz Parks, Mercy Thompson, Anita Blake, Merry Gentry, Sookie Stackhouse, etc.) and Harper is hardly any different but the whole premise of the series is so different (despite the expected ghosts, witches, vampires, etc) that it manages to stand out and be unique. So far, only three books in this series have been released: Greywalker, Poltergeist, and Underground but more are being planned and written. I’ll be reading the second one soon!

Links: Author Blog, Wikipedia (author)
Interview: Getting Medieval, Suite 101 (Seriously Persuing Writing), Suite 101 (On the Supernatural), Suite 101 (Walks the Grey Line), Science Fiction and Fantasy (Penguin group)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Fighting Depression During the Depression

Shirley Temple proves that laughter is a powerful cure for despair in this lovable comedy. To uplift American spirits during the Depression, the President appoints a "Secretary of Amusement," whose job is to entertain the country so everyone can forget their troubles! But a group of businessmen getting rich off the misery of others tries to sabotage the new Secretary's efforts. It's up to tiny singer/ dancer Shirley Dugan (Temple) to remind Americans what's important in life. Featuring the famous number, "Baby Take a Bow," this charming musical will make you want to STAND UP AND CHEER!

Title: Stand Up and Cheer
Release: May 4, 1934
Genre: Musical
MPAA Rating: PG
Writer: Lew Brown & Ralph Spence (screenplay), Will Rogers & Philip Klein (story)
Director: Hamilton McFadden
Music By: Lew Brown & Jay Gorney
Produced By: Winfield Sheehan
Distributed By: Fox Film Corp.
Run Time: 80 minutes

Unlike the misleading synopsis above suggests, Stand Up and Cheer stars award-winning actor Warner Baxter as Lawrence Cromwell who is the Secretary of Amusment and Madge Evans as Mary, the lady that eventually becomes his love interest. All the other talent in the film (and there are a lot) like Shirley Temple and James Dunn just have small cameo roles.

Even if it is Shirley Temple’s first official movie role, I thought that this was an odd little film that is surely something only Temple enthusiasts have kept it in circulation today (it was well recieved during it's first release though). The costumes were cheap-looking (except one of course!), the plot line was barely there, and a part with a penguin (who is supposed to Jimmy Durante) is something the animal cruelty people now would have never let air since the poor animal was not only costumed but the actor drops him at one point too. Despite all these negative comments, I did enjoy some parts of the movie like when two of the bad guys (Frank Mitchell and Jack Durant) did this incredible acrobatic routine and the now famous Dunn/ Temple "Baby Take a Bow" number.

Really, little Shirley could have been the saving grace of this picture.... if she had had more than a 5-10 minute scene and then her brief part at the end. Regardless of how much I disliked a lot of the movie, I have to admit it at least had some interesting parts and songs! Plus it helped put Shirley Temple on the map and not many other films can claim that.

Links:, Wikipedia, NY Times Review (1934 Original)

We’re Out of the Red (bad quality):

Remembering Remember Me

When twenty-eight-year-old Lexi Smart wakes up in a London hospital, she’s in for a big surprise. Her teeth are perfect. Her body is toned. Her handbag is Vuitton. Having survived a car accident- in a Mercedes no less- Lexi has lost a big chunk of her memory, three years to be exact, and she’s about to find out just how much things have changed.

Somehow Lexi went from a twenty-five-year-old working girl to a corporate big shot with a sleek new loft, a personal assistant, a carb-free diet, and a set of glamorous new friends. And who is this gorgeous husband- who also happens to be a multi-millionaire? With her mind still stuck three years in reverse, Lexi greets this brave new world determined to be the person she... well, seems to be. That is, until an adorably, disheveled architect drops the biggest bombshell of all.

Suddenly Lexi is scrambling to catch her balance. Her new life, it turns out, comes complete with secrets, schemes, and intrigue. How on earth did all this happen? Will she ever remember? And what will happen when she does?
Title: Remember Me?
Author: Sophie Kinsella
Start & Finished: 4/18/08-4/20/08
Published: 2008
Publisher: Dial Press
Pages: 389
Genre: Women’s Fiction-Contemporary

A mildly successful British author and former journalist named Madeleine Wickham decided one day that she would like to try out a new “voice” and a different kind of writing style. In 2001, she did just that under the pen name Sophie Kinsella. Classified as a “chick-lit” author, Ms. Wickham/ Kinsella’s popular Shopaholic series (there are currently 5) has captivated readers everywhere. In addition to her series, Kinsella also writes almost equally popular stand-alone novels the most recent of which was Remember Me? published earlier this year.

I’ve read my share of amnesia novels and I was expecting Lexi Smart’s story to be just like the others and in some ways it is but it most definitely has Sophie Kinsella’s special touch to it. The one word that sums up the whole book is predictable but it was still an entertaining read. Not as good as her other stand-alones like Can You Keep a Secret? and The Undomestic Goddess but interesting and funny all the same. Although to be truthful, there are some awkward and embarrassing moments that are certainly cringe-worthy!

All that said I actually did like Lexi (a whole lot more than Kinsella’s shopaholic fiend Becky) and her bizarre situation. Poor girl! Can you imagine just losing three whole years of your memories? Meanwhile you’ve had a dramatic makeover and don’t even recognize yourself, not to mention the fact that you’re married to someone you don’t have the faintest clue about. No matter how cliché the book was in parts, you certainly have to give props to the author for pulling this off realistically.

While I can’t say I’m a huge fan of Sophie Kinsella because although I’ve read the first three books in her Shopaholic series (which are being adapted into a movie starring Isla Fisher to be released in February 2009), I got tired of her main heroine after a while. Luckily for me this very talented “chick-lit” author also writes stand-alone novels like this one every few years with all new heroines… who all have new problems to overcome.

Links: Wikipedia (author), Meet the Writers (interview, etc), Excerpt (video)


Author Discusses:

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bewitching Mysteries #1-3

Author: Madelyn Alt
Series: Bewitching Mystery, Books 1-3
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Genre: Cozy Mystery- Paranormal

Double, double, toil and murder...

Bringing a little culture to Stony Mill, Indiana, Enchantments is one of the area’s finest antique stores. But shop clerk Maggie O’Neill and her employer Felicity Dow do more than conjure up curios for the locals—they each possess a talent for spellbinding sleuthing . . .

Bored with her office job, Maggie jumps at the opportunity to work at Enchantments. She was a little weirded out when Felicity described herself as a witch, but if her boss wants to play with broomsticks and cauldrons, where’s the harm? However, Maggie’s first day on the job may turn out to be her last when Police question Felicity in the murder of her estranged sister.

With everyone in town proclaiming Felicity’s guilt faster than the Salem Witch trials, Maggie finds herself wondering if she’ll also be tied to the stake. And lately, she’s been receiving messages on a spiritual frequency guiding her to prove Felicity’s innocence—and to embrace her own "charmed" life.

Title: The Trouble with Magic
Start & Finished: 4/13/08-4/14/08
Published: 2006
Pages: 261

In January 2006, Madelyn Alt made her writing debut with the first book in her Bewitching Mystery cozy series The Trouble With Magic. The books feature an average, small-town-girl heroine named Maggie who according to the author popped into her mind one day out of the blue insisting that her story be told.

Having always been intrigued by the paranormal (especially witches and ghosts!), I was very excited when I discovered the Bewitching Mystery cozies. Maggie is such a down to earth character and I just adored the antique shoppe called Enchantments that she starts working at because Mrs. Alt describes it in such vivid detail.

Since this is the debut book of the series, there is a ton of things going on but the actual mystery part of the story is never too far from the front and center. Clues are sprinkled throughout the book but the ending still a little surprised me. This whole series has a magical, mystical quality to them that reflects the actual magic in the books. You just can’t go wrong with witches, ghosts, antiques in a murder mystery!


Maggie O'Neill was just your average small-town girl, stuck in a dead-end job until she started working at Enchantments, Stony Mill's finest antique shop with a unique mystical secret. Now Maggie is Indiana's newest witch. Learning to cope with her newfound powers is tough enough, but add to that keeping the stock at Enchantments organized, keeping the peace with her somewhat controlling mom, and remembering to tape reruns of her favorite show, Magnum, P.I., and Maggie's got a full plate.

But when a second questionable death occurs a scant two months into her store tenure, she can't turn her thoughts away from all the town gossip about the teenage princess and the mysterious circumstances surrounding the girl's charmed life and death. While the police get caught up in procedure and logic, Maggie uses every trick, charm, and intuition she can summon, with the assistance of her favorite witchy boss Felicity Dow, to get to the heart of this spellbinding murder.

A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. In this case? Get witchy!
Title: A Charmed Death
Start & Finished: 4/15/08-4/16/08
Published: 2006
Pages: 289

Madelyn Alt returns to Stony Mill, Indiana in the second story of her Bewitching Mystery series A Charmed Death. Her budding empath Margaret Mary-Catherine O'Neill; or Maggie as she would rather be known, has gotten herself tangled up in another murder in their small town. Although it’s a very new series by a new author, this book became Barnes and Noble’s second bestselling mystery for a little over two months as well as made it on their overall mass-market bestseller list for two weeks.

The N.I.G.H.T.S. (Northeast Indiana Ghost Hunting & Tracking Society) are a little more prominent in the book and there is a great ghost hunt too, during which you get to know the other hunters a little better. After Felicity (the owner of Enchantments and Maggie’s boss), Genevieve the ex- nun and Annie (the owner of a restaurant that makes incredibly delicious food) are still some of my favorite minor characters but I also just love Marcus’ personality. I hope to see even more of him in future books!

My only complaint about A Charmed Death is that I didn’t really care for all the focus on the high school teenagers, even if the murder victim was one. The teenage angst got to be a little much at times, especially Marcus’ niece Tara with her constant attitude and disrespect. In direct contrast to her, Evie (the youngest member of the N.I.G.H.T.S.) also plays another important role in the book and is even working at the shoppe now too. While I understand why it was necessary for them to have so much “screen time” I much preferred when Maggie was center stage (I do wish Felicity had put in more appearances though).

A believer of paranormal herself, Madelyn Alt is in a way a lot like Maggie, who throughout the first novel and part of this one denies her gifts as an empath and writes off her experiences as coincidence. In Alt’s case, she experienced paranormal events like this too but continued to dismiss them due in part to how she was raised (also like Maggie). The author has admitted that some of herself went into her heroine’s character but she insists that Maggie came to her fully developed and they are more like sisters.

While her boss becomes entranced with a beautiful armoire at the countywide craft bazaar, Maggie can't help noticing the Amish craftsman who made it. Though his clothes may be plain, he himself is more handsome than a man sporting a jawline-only beard has any right to be. And he seems pretty aware that the ladies love But when the hunky craftsman turns up dead with a strange hex symbol near his corpse, Maggie wonders if the craft involved is the witchy kind.
Title: Hex Marks the Spot
Start & Finished: 4/16/08-4/17/08
Published: 2007
Pages: 246

The third and current story by Madelyn Alt that features Maggie O’Neil is Hex Marks the Spot. Set in a small Indiana community of varied cultures and religions, Maggie becomes involved in another murder investigation when a hex symbol is found near a dead Amish man. As with the first two books in these cozy Bewitching Mystery series, Barnes and Noble took a special interest in this book as well and it remained high on their bestselling mystery list for quite a while.

In a recent interview Mrs. Alt claimed that her cross-genre series that covers a little bit of romance, some paranormal, and a whole lot of mystery is influenced by such great authors as Agatha Christie, Daphne du Maurier, Kim Harrison, and Janet Evanovich. I believe that her books do include slight elements from these authors but the Bewitching Mysteries and their main character Maggie have a voice all of their own.

I’m ashamed to admit; but even though I’m familiar with many of the paranormal elements to these mysteries, I had never even heard of Amish hex symbols before so everything in this book was new to me. In fact, I know only a few things about the Amish people themselves but I found all of what was in the book incredibly fascinating.

While these mysteries do have sad and even heart-pounding, edge-of-your-seat moments to them, I just love how down to earth the characters in the book are even when they are doing extraordinary things. This series have become almost comfort reading to me! I can’t wait to read the next book No Rest for the Wiccan that comes out this November!

Blogs: Myspace, All Things Madly, Witchy Chicks,
Interviews: Quiet on the Set (audio), Prime Crime, Barnes and Noble (under Features)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Who, How, & Why?

While en route from Syria to Paris, in the middle of a freezing winter's night, the Orient Express is stopped dead in its tracks by a snowdrift. Passengers awake to find the train still stranded and to discover that a wealthy American has been brutally stabbed to death in his private compartment. Incredibly, that compartment is locked from the inside. With no escape into the wintery landscape, the killer must still be on board! Fortunately, the brilliant Belgian inspector Hercule Poirot is also on board, having booked the last available berth. He launches an immediate and urgent investigation into this vexing crime- for which each of the thirteen other passengers seems to have a motive.

Title: Murder on the Orient Express
Author: Agatha Christie
Series: Hercule Poirot, Book 8
Start & Finished: 4/9/08-4/12/08
Published: 1933
Publisher: Dodd, Mead and Company
Pages: 249
Genre: Mystery, Crime

Murder in the Calais Coach, more commonly known as Murder on the Orient Express, was Dame Agatha Christie’s ninth mystery featuring her detective Hercule Poirot. Inspired partly by the notorious Lindbergh baby kidnapping/ murder and a snowbound Orient Express train this remains one of her most popular mysteries today with two movies (one made for TV) and even a video game.

This was the second book chosen as the group read for the online reading group I own (Books Into Movies) and it was my first Agatha Christie mystery so I wasn’t sure what to expect. At first, I had to make myself read it and was even tempted to put it down at one point but ironically; even though it started off so slow, once it picked up speed it was like a runaway train with a jaw-dropping ending.

I usually hate it when an author throws a ton of suspects at you in a murder mystery but all thirteen of the suspects were interesting and Christie managed to make every one of them have separate personalities. Besides, I wasn’t really sure if I could hold what happened on that train against the person that killed Ratchett. I think Christie said that the “victim” was all but acquitted in court for kidnapping and murder of a child before he skipped town. I never actually stopped to consider his innocence until someone in my group asked what gave the killer the right to dispense his justice? While it’s an interesting question, I didn’t actually care if the killer was caught or not. I just wanted to know how he or she did it and why of course!

It was interesting to see Hercule Poirot unravel the mystery although he himself was an annoying little man. It took me a while to warm up to him but I never really liked his personality. I wasn’t very surprised to learn that by the time Murder on the Orient Express was published, “Christie found Poirot 'insufferable' but because the public loved him, she refused to kill him off, claiming that it was her duty to produce what the public liked, and what the public liked was Poirot” (via Wikipedia- Poirot) and because of that he is the main character in almost 40 different mysteries, more than any of Ms. Christie’s other repeating characters.

Spoiler (highlight if you’ve read the book):
Throughout the story, I considered four different passengers as capable of Ratchett’s (aka Cassetti) brutal murder. At one point, I considered Ms. Hubbard especially since she went on and one about her daughter, I thought maybe her daughter could have been the maid that killed herself but I had all but ruled her out by the conclusion. And while I wasn’t suspicious (I had never read a mystery quite like this one before) I did puzzle over the fact that so many people of varied cultures on the same train in the middle of nowhere are somehow or another connected to the kidnapping and murder case of little Daisy Armstrong. I just assumed that the author went with the “it’s a small world” mentality. Boy was I in for a shock!

Wikipedia: Murder on the Orient Express (book) & Agatha Christie
Sparknotes: Murder on the Orient Express


The Who's Who In The Whodunit!

Elegant, escapist entertainment at its stylishly European best. This Agatha Christie whodunit boasts an incredible international cast of some of the most wonderfully eccentric characters ever created.

Ingrid Bergman won an Oscar for her role as the slightly dim-witted, Bible-quoting Swedish missionary. Albert Finney is the dapper detective, Hercule Poirot, for whom murder-solving is a precise, intellectual exercise. Poirot agrees to interview all aboard the famous train's Calais coach, hoping to find the killer of an American millionaire before the local police arrive. Packed with sparkling dialogue and visually rich in texture, this incomparable thriller received six Academy Award nominations.
Title: Murder on the Orient Express
Release: November 24, 1974
Genre: Mystery
MPAA Rating: PG
Writer: Agatha Christie (novel), Paul Dehn, Anthony Shaffer
Director: Sidney Lumet
Music By: Richard Rodney Bennett
Produced By: John Brabourne & Richard B. Goodwin
Distributed By: Paramount Pictures
Run Time: 128 minutes

Reportedly the only adaptation based on her books that Agatha Christie personally approved of was the 1974 film Murder on the Orient Express. Starring an incredible amount of Hollywood’s top stars like Ingrid Bergman, Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, and many more.

After being wowed by Ms. Christie’s book I had to see what is known as the best adaptation of any of her work and I was hoping that it would be even half as good as the book. I needn’t have worried! Sure, the varied accents were hard to decipher and I liked Hercule Poirot a whole lot less because he reminded me of a vain, pompous frog but there aren’t any slow parts this star stuffed cast of characters! They managed to convey the story so well even if it’s not as subtle as in the book.

I could go on all day about how amazing this cast was, especially Lauren Bacall! Ingrid Bergman may have won the Academy Award that year for Best Supporting Actress (there were five other nominations too: Best Actor, Cinematography, Costume Design, Music, and Writing) for her part as Greta Ohlsson but I thought Mrs. Hubbard was so much better. I hardly even noticed Greta in the book and in the movie.

Not only was Murder on the Orient Express my first Agatha Christie novel but this film is also the first adaptation I have seen of her work. Now I’m only worried that no other adaptation will be able to measure up! We’ll see soon since I’ll be watching the 1965 movie Ten Little Indians before too much longer (also known as And Then There Were None)., Wikipedia,

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