Friday, February 27, 2009

Superheroes in Bigtime, New York

Someone has to pay for what happened to Carmen Cole...

Bigtime, New York, is not big enough for both Carmen Cold and the superheroes and ubervillains who stalk its streets. An intrepid reporter, Carmen's dedicated her life to unmasking the spandex-wearers, all because her fiancé turned out to be a superhero, and a cheating one at that- sleeping with none other than his nubile nemesis.

Exposing the true identities of the nation's caped crusaders and their archenemies has catapulted Carmen from her sleepy southern hometown to the front pages of the country's biggest newspaper, The Expose. Hobnobbing with modelizing millionaires and famished fashionistas is all in a day's work for a woman on the trail of the Fearless Five and the Terrible Triad. But when Carmen gets the scoop of her career, her life comes crashing down around her. And even Bigtime's sexiest superhero, Striker, may not be able to save her...

Title: Karma Girl
Author: Jennifer Estep
Series: Bigtime Superheroes, Book 1
Start & Finished: 11/8/08- 11/9/08
Published: 2007
Publisher: Berkley
Pages: 360
Genre: Urban Fantasy

Having "always loved superheroes" but hated the fact that "the women just never seem to realize their boyfriends are superheroes," Jennifer Estep set out to create a series of books set in the fictional town of Bigtime, New York with larger-than-life superheroes and ubervillains as main characters. The first book in this series is called Karma Girl and stars a Lois Lane type of reporter who has become quite adept at uncovering the secret identities of the “spandex-wearers” then goes and falls in love with one of them!

Every kid dreams of having superpowers at one time or another (mine was being able to fly, I always knew how to in my dreams but that knowledge left me whenever I woke up- something to do with spinning really fast is all I remember) so I know this book would appeal to a lot of people. Superheroes however, were always something I knew about only vaguely because although I had heard of Batman, Superman, Spiderman, the X-men, etc. I didn’t really know anything about them. Little by little over time, I became curious and then the great, big summer blockbuster movies based on the heroes started being made. Although I never did become a rabid fan, I also never quite went back to my sheltered existence… I was bit by the superhero bug.

There were a couple of things that irritated me about Karma Girl like how easy it was to guess the secret identities of the superheroes and especially how just about everyone in Ms. Estep’s world had such odd alliterative names (which the author has said she did on purpose as a sort of homage to the comic books that inspired her to write this). In addition, the names played an important part in the reader being laps able to figure out what took the heroine over half the book to do. I would have liked to have been able to put myself more firmly in Carmen’s shoes instead of yelling at her to open her eyes rather than relying on facts while the while the heroine and the Fearless Five blundered around looking for the ubervillains to fall into their laps.

Still, I sincerely loved reading this book with its imaginative characters in this creative world. True, I had figured out all but one twist before part two of the book had even started but the characters and the plot was so cool I couldn’t help but be sucked in. I had never read anything quite like Estep’s story before and I was so glad to learn that there are two more books set in the world of superheroes in Bigtime, New York even if they do feature different heroines (she had originally planned for all of the books to feature Carmen Cole as the main character but an editor suggested that “maybe each book could be about a different superhero” and the author liked that idea even more).

Bigtime Superhero Series
Karma Girl (2007)
Hot Mama (2007)
Jinx (2008)

~Note: I won Karma Girl from Carolyn Jean over on The Trillionth Page. Thank you again!

Links: Author Blog, Karma Wikipedia
Interview: Popin's Lair, Fantasy Debut Author Spotlight, Paranormal Romance Superhero Worship

Slight Spoiler Fan Video:

Picture Explanations
Karma Wheel: Carmen is a great believer in Karma and this is one of the symbols of Karma
Brighton’s Best Scotch: Very expensive bottle of scotch that Malefica seems to enjoy
Frost’s Freeze Gun: Like Batman’s nemesis Mr. Freeze, one of the Terrible Triad is called Mr. Frost and he has a freezoray gun too.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

She Sees Ghosts

Melissa Van Rossum dreamed of having a normal life. Problem? Melissa Van Rossum could see ghosts. She didn't have to visit the local haunted house to encounter these spectral beings - they would find her. In her car, her closet, her shower - everywhere.

Melissa didn’t know why ghosts were haunting her until she discovered she had the ability to actually help these spirits who had lost their way, and guide them to the Other Side. And, sometimes, they'd tell her their stories.

Meet the ghostly woman who was distressed at never knowing her children; find out why hundreds of ghosts haunt a Hollywood sound stage; discover what still fascinated a phantom businesswoman; and feel for the teenager who desperately wanted to come back to life.

These ghosts run the gamut from a creepy clown to a criminal predator to a sweet little girl who stayed behind to comfort her mother.

Melissa Van Rossum has encountered them all, and for the first time, tells their stories. These are spooky tales like no other as a true ghost guide gives insight to the lives of the ghosts she’s known and how she helped them find Their Way Home.

Title: Their Way Home: My Adventures as a Ghost Guide
Author: Melissa Van Rossum
Start & Finished: 11/8/08
Published: 2008
Publisher: MetaPublishing
Pages: 136
Genre: Non-fiction

Psychic Melissa Van Rossum had always seen ghosts but once she embraced her gift instead of suppressing it, she was able to help ghost’s who no longer wanted to stay on the earth plane go home into the Light. In her most recent book Their Way Home, Ms. Rossum talks about how she became a “ghost guide”, why she continues to do it, and what she has learned from her “unpaying clients”.

There are many things that I’m on the fence about when it comes to believing. There isn’t anything I outright refuse to believe in but psychics are way up there on my list of things I’m skeptical about. Not quite sure why I wanted to read Melissa’s adventures as a ghost guide, save to say that ghosts and ghost stories have always fascinated me, despite the fact that I have never actually had a real encounter to my knowledge (other than creepy feelings but those can be explained- in other words, nothing has ever “contacted” me that I‘m aware of). Not quite sure what I was expecting but it certainly wasn’t this! Not that Their Way Home was a bad book, it’s just that I don’t usually read this type of non-fiction but I was still impressed with Ms. Rossum’s story.

She’s helped ghosts move on that she didn’t like, children, and even little babies and while I’m still skeptical about her account of what happens when a person dies, to a small extent it’s kind of what I had already envisioned happening. Well… the idea of ghost’s being everywhere is a little outside my comfort zone, not to mention the fact that they can become stuck here until someone helps them leave (don’t worry, Ms. Rossum includes on how to do that at the end).

The thing I enjoyed most about the book was unsurprisingly, the ghost’s and their stories. There was a clown (which would have scared me to pieces thanks to my watching Stephen King’s IT when I was a kid), ghost brides, teenagers who had committed suicide or died in a car accident, as well as several others but it wasn’t like the actual ghost stories that I love, they were just short little anecdotes. Mainly, they seemed to be just examples of the types of ghosts that she helps or that she has learned from through helping them. Even though I know I would have loved this book if it had been a fictional story, I thought it was an interesting read nonetheless so thank you Breeni Books for sending it to me.

Links: Author Blog
Interview: Socrates Book Reviews Q&A and Blog Talk Radio

Book Trailer:

Authentic Self Interview:

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Morganville Vampires Series Books 2-4

Author: Rachel Caine
Series: Morganville Vampires, Books 2-4
Publisher: NAL Jam Books
Genre: YA- Paranormal
Claire has her share of challenges. Like being a genius in a school that favors beauty over brains; homicidal girls in her dorm, and finding out that her college town is overrun with the living dead. On the up side, she has a new boyfriend with a vampire-hunting dad. But when a local fraternity throws the Dead Girls' Dance, hell is really going to break loose.
Title: The Dead Girls’ Dance
Start & Finished: 11/5/08
Published: 2007
Pages: 238 (paperback)

After the way the first story in Rachel Caine’s Morganville Vampires series ended the way it did, her new readers could hardly wait until book two, The Dead Girl’s Dance was published. Continuing seconds after where it left off, the sequel to Glass Houses starts with a bang and never slows down. Biker gangs, evolving relationships, and getting even deeper into the vampire politics are just some of the things that happen throughout the story and some are deadly…

It had been a couple of weeks since I had read the first Morganville Vampires book but I was immediately sucked back in (no pun intended). Claire, Shane, Michael, Eve, they’re all wonderful down-to-earth, interesting characters but their also funny, kind, and in the case of the boys- a little overprotective. Admittedly, sometimes some of the characters didn’t have a whole lot of depth to them and it was a bit more violent than the first book too. I wouldn’t say that this was my favorite in the series overall but it is essential to the storyline.

I have heard that the books have been optioned to be either a movie or a TV series and I’m genuinely hoping on the latter. That way, I can watch these awesome characters grow and evolve over time instead of just the few hours it takes me to finish one of the books… Like I said, I really like this series so far and I can’t wait to see where Caine takes it next…. Not to mention, what the cliffhanger at the end of this one means for Claire’s future!

There is no way to read these books out of order because for one, it would spoil the entire experience for you and two, it probably wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense. I think that Ms. Caine should consider compiling all of these books into an omnibus after she finishes writing them but until then although they are quite short, I’ll thoroughly enjoy reading each new adventure.

Picture Explanations
White Van:
Monica kidnaps Claire
Fire: The bikers set a fire
Girls: Claire and Eve are invited to the Goth party called The Dead Girl's Dance in one chapter

Claire Danvers's college town may be run by vampires but a truce between the living and the dead made things relatively safe. For a while. Now people are turning up dead, a psycho is stalking her, and an ancient bloodsucker has proposed private mentoring. To what end, Claire will find out. And it's giving night school a whole new meaning.
Title: Midnight Alley
Start & Finished: 11/5/08
Published: 2007
Pages: 245 (paperback)

Urban fantasy author Rachel Caine (Weather Warden series) continues her Morganville Vampire series-the only ones she has written for young adults- with the third book Midnight Alley. Again, the reader is dropped right into the story right after where the previous one left off which was with Claire making a very big decision that would affect the rest of her life. Some of her friends are changing too but because of her decision, she should be able to keep them safe…

Vampires. Almost always deadly but endlessly fascinating for me. Ever since I was younger and found myself hooked on Buffy (where I fell head over heels for Spike), I have loved vampires. I’ve come a long way since Buffy/ Angel and Anne Rice’s Lestat but that’s mainly because vampire fiction has come such a long way too. Many courageous authors have recently expanded the vampire genre even farther by moving it into the young adult fiction where it has been met with both open arms (or necks?) and also unyielding hatred as all the really popular ones soon have parents trying to ban them.

Rachel Caine’s stories aren’t quite popular enough to be censored but this series did manage to stir up enough interest for her original three-book deal to be expanded. The great thing is that even though it’s labeled young adult, a medium sized portion of the readers are actually adults! I can see why, as this series is awesome but as one reviewer put it, "just a few words of advice: when you get to the end, try not to yell at the book out loud."

Picture Explanations
Glass House: The house where the main characters live
Myrnin’s Lab: Claire is apprenticed by the vampire Myrnin in search of something the vampires really need.
The wait is over. Dig into the feast...

In the town of Morganville, vampires and humans live in relative peace. Student Claire Danvers has never been convinced, though - especially with the arrival of Mr. Bishop, an ancient, old-school vampire who cares nothing about harmony. What he wants from the town's living and its dead is unthinkably sinister. It's only at a formal ball, attended by vampires and their human dates, that Claire realizes the elaborately evil trap he's set for Morganville.
Title: Feast of Fools
Start & Finished: 11/7/08
Published: 2008
Pages: 242 (paperback)

The tension felt in the first three novels of the Morganville Vampires series isn’t quite simmering below the surface nor is it yet boiling over in Rachel Caine’s fourth book Feast of Fools. The events that take place in this novel will affect the rest of this series and will feature several new key characters, some good… and some downright evil.

In my opinion, this was the best book from Morganville yet. The readers have gotten to know and love all of the characters so it’s with pleasure and trepidation (it’s a Morganville book so something bad will happen) we watch them go off to try and make nice with the bad guys. This coming-of-age story with tons of supernatural going on has finally started getting more and more dire and the “normal” events like Claire and Shane’s relationship (not to mention Michael and Eve’s) are getting fewer and farther between but that makes that much sweeter.

One of my favorite characters is makes even more appearances than usual throughout Feast of Fools and that is Myrnin the crazy vampire. Claire may be the youngest in the group as always, but she really has grown throughout the books into someone who’s not just book smart anymore. She’s also has more of leader instead of follower role too as she is one of the few people who can get through to the crazy vampire alchemist who is probably the only hope for the vampires’ continued survival. Although these cliffhangers are killing me, I wouldn’t have it any other way and now I can hardly to wait to read the next one!

Picture Explanations
Blood Donations:
All the citizens of Morganville are forced to give blood donations for the town's vampires.
Common Grounds: The coffee shop run by Oliver- one of the few neutral grounds where vampires can't hunt.

Morganville Vampires Series
1. Glass Houses (2006)
2. Dead Girl's Dance (2007)
3. Midnight Alley (2007)
4. Feast of Fools (2008)
5. Lord of Misrule (2009)
6. Carpe Corpus (2009)

Links: Author Wikipedia, Morganville Wikipedia, Author MySpace, Fan Club, Author Livejournal
Interviews: Darque Reviews and Bibliophile Stalker Q& A

Fan Made Video:

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Darkness and Sunshine Meet

There are places in the world where darkness rules, where it's unwise to walk. Sunshine knew that. But there hadn't been any trouble out at the lake for years, and she needed a place to be alone for a while.

Unfortunately, she wasn't alone. She never heard them coming. Of course you don't, when they're vampires.

They took her clothes and sneakers. They dressed her in a long red gown. And they shackled her to the wall of an abandoned mansion- within easy reach of a figure stirring in the moonlight.

She knows that he is a vampire. She knows that she's to be his dinner, and that when he is finished with her, she will be dead. Yet, as dawn breaks, she finds that he has not attempted to harm her. And now it is he who needs her to help him survive the day...

Title: Sunshine
Author: Robin McKinley
Start & Finished: 10/27/08- 11/2/08
Published: 2003
Publisher: Jove (Berkley Publishing)
Pages: 405 (paperback)
Genre: Paranormal

Robin McKinley’s fantasy novels have won many awards such as a Newbery, a Newbery Honor, and many more including the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature in 2004 for her novel Sunshine published the previous year. McKinley is mainly a writer of fairy tale retellings such as Beauty and the Beast (Beauty and Rose Daughter), Sleeping Beauty (Spindle's End), etc. Sunshine was her first and so far, only vampire story.

A girl is kidnapped and chained in a room with a vampire… but he refuses to make her his dinner was all I had to read in order to make me interested in this book. Unfortunately, I never took into consideration the fact that the author would want to present a different take on what is generally the vampires in fiction today. McKinley’s vampires aren’t beautiful (they’re actually somewhat icky) and all but Constantine are evil. Since the entire novel is told only from Sunshine’s viewpoint, you never learn exactly why he is different or hardly anything else about him for that matter.

My real problem however was I couldn’t figure out the setting. Sometimes I thought it could be set in the future or maybe in an alternate world but I never was sure which one and it was never clear as to how their world came to be that way. That doesn’t mean that the author doesn’t stop and explain certain things sometimes (like what blinks are but not why or how they exist), it’s just I was left feeling kind of confused even after I had finished. Like I was getting the cinnamon bun without the icing; yummy, but not as yummy as it could be.

If I gave ratings (which I don’t, I find them a hassle), Sunshine would probably rate somewhere around a 3.5/5 since I really did like it, I just had a few issues with it. Ms. McKinley claims that she doesn’t plan to write any sequels to Sunshine but since there are so many loose ends, I hope she changes her mind one day.

Links: Author Blog, Sunshine (Wikipedia), Author Info (Wikipedia), Fan Art

Picture Explanations
Cinnamon Rolls: Sunshine is the baker at her family’s café
Sunlit woods: Sunshine uses the light to recharge herself and to do magic which is how she escapes the lake house.
Charms: Sunshine’s mother is a great believer in protection charms

Monday, February 23, 2009

College Sucks in Morganville

It’s a small college town filled with quirky characters. But when the sun goes down, the bad comes out. Because in Morganville, there is an evil that lurks in the darkest shadows- one that will spill out into the bright light of day.

Claire Danvers has had enough of her nightmarish dorm situation. The popular girls never let her forget just where she ranks on the school’s social scene: somewhere less than zero. And Claire really doesn’t have the right connections- to the undead who run the town.

When Claire heads off campus, the imposing old house where she finds a room may not be much better. Her new roommates don’t show many signs of life. But they’ll have Claire’s back when the town’s deepest secrets come crawling out, hungry for fresh blood…

Title: Glass Houses
Author: Rachel Caine
Series: Morganville Vampires, Book 1
Start & Finished: 10/16/08- 10/17/08
Published: 2006
Publisher: NAL Jam
Pages: 239 (paperback)
Genre: YA-Paranormal

The vampire genre has been “done to death,” especially since Joss Whedon created Buffy and Angel but Rachel Caine decided that she would tackle the genre only if she “come up with a new attitude and a new take on vampires.” Fortunately she did, so she published the first book in the Morganville Vampire series in 2006 called Glass Houses. All of the books are set in the “planned vampire community” of Morganville where some humans are Protected while the "loners, the sideliners, the dull and average and strange"... "were the cattle."

Out of all paranormal creatures, I’ve always had a fondness for vampires so I wasn’t entirely sure if I would enjoy this series or not despite the great (also lukewarm) reviews I’ve read about it. I needn’t have worried because these are really good books! Yeah, about 98% of the vampire population that runs Morganville are evil but it was Claire, Eve, Shane, and Michael that kept me in the book. Even though logically, I should have went with the more popular Stephanie Meyer vampire series (especially since I own the first two books), I decided that my first venture into YA vampire fiction would be with the well-loved (albeit not as popular) Morganville Vampires series.

What really surprised me was to find that this was the author's first try at writing in the young adult genre. From the way it was written I would have thought she was a professional as her characters all act the way they should for their age, never are they too childish or too adult (although Michael seems to take on the mantle of the "grown-up" more than anyone else in the series as he is “the responsible one“). I was also very surprised to discover that this first book wasn’t a cliché, surprised but pleased. It didn’t take me long to realize that Rachel Caine is truly a great author who could capture my attention and my imagination within seconds.

Every book in this series is less than 300 pages long so they’re very quick reads (it took Caine about two months to write Glass Houses) but they also end in serious cliffhangers. Needless to say you’ll want to have the next couple of books on hand when you finish this one! Each one sees Claire and her new roommates being sucked farther and farther into this vampire world…

Morganville Vampires Series
1. Glass Houses (2006)
2. Dead Girl's Dance (2007)
3. Midnight Alley (2007)
4. Feast of Fools (2008)
5. Lord of Misrule (2009)
6. Carpe Corpus (2009)

Links: Author Wikipedia, Morganville Wikipedia, Author MySpace, Fan Club, Author Livejournal
Interview: Cynsations

Picture Explanations
Eve’s car
Bible- Vampires generally don’t like religious artifacts
Liquid Nitrogen- Claire is very resourceful and she uses her head when she needs to ge somewhere she’s not supposed to be

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Solve a Murder with a Ghost

This spirit is willing-- to catch a killer.

Young widow Penelope Thornton-McClure and her old Aunt Sadie are making ends meet by managing a mystery bookshop- a quaint Rhode Island landmark rumored to be haunted. Pen may not believe in ghosts, but she does believe in good publicity—like nabbing Timothy Brennan for a book signing. But soon after the bestselling thriller writer reveals a secret about the store's link to a 1940's murder, he keels over dead- right in the middle of the store's new Community Events space.

Who gives Mrs. McClure the first clue that it was murder? The bookstore's full-time ghost, a PI who was murdered on the very spot more than fifty years before. Is he a figment of Pen's overactive imagination? Or is the oddly likeable fedora-wearing specter the only hope Pen has to solve the crime? You can bet your everlasting life on it...

Title: The Ghost and Mrs. McClure
Author: Alice Kimberly
Series: Haunted Bookshop Mystery, Book 1
Start & Finished: 10/9/08
Published: 2004
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Pages: 261
Genre: Cozy Mystery

Written by the married couple Marc Cerasini and Alice Alfonsi under the pen name Alice Kimberly, The Ghost and Mrs. McClure is the first book in their Haunted Bookshop mystery series. Obviously inspired by The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by R.A. Dick (later adapted into a movie and a TV series) as well as those old 1940's detective stories, Mr. and Mrs. "Kimberly" have created a new series that just may outshine their previous collaborations such as the Coffeehouse Mysteries written under the name Cleo Coyle.

Penelope Thornton-McClure (Pen for short), is a great character but what will really draw the readers in is Jack Shepard. He’s interesting and I love learning what he can do as a ghost (not to mention Pen’s ability to speak with the dead, even if she’s just now acknowledging the hidden ability). Another thing that I really liked was how plausible the actual crime solving is. Pen can’t very well go to the cops and tell them a ghost told her that so and so did this or that, so with Jack’s help she figures out the clues and solves the crime. Since Jack can’t leave the bookshop, she’s his eyes, ears, and gams (legs) and he teaches her how to be a detective like he was back before he got “lead poisoning” (shot).

Of course, I’ve seen old detective TV shows and even some movies but it wasn’t until very recently that I had read my first authentic hard-boiled detective story with Raymond Chandler’s The Lady in the Lake. While very good, you could still tell that Chandler’s book was written during that time period and The Ghost and Mrs. McClure is not (there are flashback scenes that take place in the 1940s but the rest of the book is set in modern day with Jack as a ghost). The language bothered me at first because it seemed as if the authors were trying a little too hard to use a lot of slang from that particular decade. It is toned down a little throughout the rest of the book and Pen, being a modern woman helps to balance it out too. This was a great book and I will most definitely be reading the rest of the series soon.

Berkley’s Prime Crime produces some of my favorite cozy mysteries because almost all of them (that I have read at least) not only are fun and creative, but also include a little something extra. For some it’s recipes, but there are many other unique things. For this particular series, its little quotes from detective novels by authors such as Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett as well as books about detective novels (sometimes even just quotes about books in general) are at the beginning of each chapter:

Publicity darling, just publicity. Any kind is better than none at all. --
Raymond Chandler, “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot,” Black Mask, December 1933
(Chandler’s debut short story)

Haunted Bookshop Mystery Series:
1. The Ghost and Mrs. McClure (2004)
2. The Ghost and the Dead Deb (2005)
3. The Ghost and the Dead Man's Library (2006)
4. The Ghost and the Femme Fatale (2008)
5. The Ghost and the Haunted Mansion (2009)

Interview: Mist Sand Stars Q&A, The Idea Boutique Guest Post

Picture Explanations
Water Bottle:
Timothy Brennan demands only bottled water during his book signing.
Kitten: Spencer's new kitten named Bookmark
Heels: When Jack takes Penelope into his memories, he also dresses her to fit the time period

Saturday, February 21, 2009

NOT a Fairy Tale

One child a week is fifty-two a year,
Squish them and squiggle them
And make them disappear.


When the young hero of Roald Dahl’s story is orphaned in an automobile accident, he is left in the care of his aged grandmother- a formidable lady who happens to be a retired witchophile, an expert on all witchy matters. Even though she tells him (and us) everything known about how to identify a witch, he accidentally wanders into the annual convocation of the witches of England. The meeting is presided over by none other than The Grand High Witch of the World, the most dangerous of them all. He overhears the horrifying plans she has in store for every child in England, but before he can escape to reveal the witches’ plot, he is captured and turned into a mouse. However, he is no ordinary mouse- and this is no ordinary tale.

True to his reputation as one of the most gifted and popular writers for children in the world, Roald Dahl tells the rollicking story of how a mouse-hero, undaunted by his diminutive stature, and his intrepid grandmother take on The Grand High Witch and her coven.

Title: The Witches
Author: Roald Dahl
Illustrator: Quentin Blake
Start & Finished: 10/7/08- 10/8/08
Published: 1983
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Pages: 202
Genre: Children’s Fiction

Grotesque, sometimes scary, full of dark humour, and yet beloved by children everywhere are the works of British author Roald Dahl (usually accompanied by the illustrations of Quentin Blake), especially his 1983 release The Witches. A frequently banned book (it’s actually on a list of the top banned books in America), Dahl’s story was nonetheless awarded the Whitbread’s Award (now known as the Costa Awards) for Best Children Book. The Witches was even made into a film in 1990 produced by Jim Henson and starring Anjelica Huston- whom Dahl himself had wanted for the role of the Grand High Witch.

No matter when the last time was that you read one of Roald Dahl’s books, it’s still incredibly easy to be swept up in his magical prose. I’m ashamed to admit that I had only read two of his wonderful stories before this book but I had enjoyed them both immensely and even though I was still very young when I first read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The BFG they continue to stick with me today… as I imagine The Witches will.

An amazing book- as the judges of the Whitbread Award were rumored to have described it as “deliciously disgusting,” and most decidedly dark as well. Some of that “darkness” can be contributed to Quinten Blake’s very good and sometimes seriously creepy illustrations too. From time to time, they made me think that the unnamed kid in the book might have drawn them to illustrate his tale. The story just wouldn’t have been the same without Blake’s drawings.

“The banning of any book, you know especially a children's book, is unforgivable,” said Roald Dahl in an interview after he was told that The Witches was being banned in some places. I do see why the book was banned because it would be frightening for some children as there are some scary moments that could even give them nightmares but I still don’t think it should ever have been censored. The “morals” alone in the book make it worth reading: “However nice they may seem, don’t talk to or take anything from strangers,” and the other one is even spelled out right in the story: “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like so long as somebody loves you.”

Links: Book Wikipedia, Author Wikipedia, Roald Dahl Fan Page, Roald Dahl Museum
Interview: 1989 Interview about Banning, BBC Audio Interviews on a Variety of Subjects

Roald Dahl Tells Children About Witches:

Witches Smelling the "Stink-Waves" of a Child
Grandma Tells Boy About Witches
Bruno Jenkins Becomes a Mouse
A Sugar Bowl Bathtub

Friday, February 20, 2009

Pretty is as Pretty Does

Everybody gets to be supermodel gorgeous. What could be wrong with that?

Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can’t wait. Not for her license-- for turning pretty. In Tally’s world, your sixteenth birthday brings an operation that turns you from a repellent ugly into a stunningly attractive pretty and catapults you into a high-tech paradise where your only job is to have a really great time. In just a few weeks Tally will be there.

But Tally’s new friend Shay isn’t sure she wants to be pretty. She’d rather risk life of the outside. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world-- and it isn’t very pretty. The authorities offer Tally the worst choice she can imagine: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all. The choice Tally makes changes her world forever.

Title: Uglies
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Series: Uglies, Book 1
Start & Finished: 10/4/08- 10/6/08
Published: 2005
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pages: 425
Genre: Science Fiction- Futuristic

Scott Westerfeld has been a young adult science fiction author for the past twelve years however with his 2005 release of Uglies; the first in what was to be a trilogy (it has actually continued past the three books), he has truly become one of the best authors in the young adult genre. The author‘s note at the beginning states that: “This novel was shaped by a series of e-mail exchanges between myself [Scott Westerfeld] and Ted Chiang about his story "Liking What You See: A Documentary" (His input on the manuscript was also invaluable).”

As a first book in a series, Uglies is a wonderful introduction to Tally Youngblood’s world. The story does have a Fahrenheit 451 feel to it but like on a bigger scale and with more adventure. Not only is the book entertaining but also it really makes you think and that’s more than wonderful. Especially for a book marketed to young adults and how bad the world has already become. I can see the influence from other stories and movies but what Westerfeld presents really has never been done before to my knowledge.

This was such a wonderful book and that is very high praise coming from me, as I normally tend to avoid science fiction. Westerfeld totally blew me away with his characters and the world he built around them. I was so pleased to hear that the movie rights have been already bought (it’s supposed to be released in 2011) as the story was incredibly vivid and if done properly, I believe it that could be a really huge hit. Now I can’t wait to read the rest of the books in this series to find out what happens. This first book does leave you kind of on a cliffhanger so you do need to read the rest of the series to find out what happens to Tally, Shay, and the rest of the Smokies.

Many books that would usually be released as adult reads are now carrying the genre title of “Young Adult” but many are even better than the books intended for adults so do NOT be put off about the fact that this series is labeled “young adult”. I have read quite a few books in this genre over the past year or so and have discovered that many of the authors didn’t write with a particular age group in mind. There is a bit of teenage romance in Uglies but it works well and it’s not childish or “vulgar” but I still have the feeling that it won’t be too much longer before people start trying to ban these books though.

The Uglies Series:
1. Uglies (2005)
2. Pretties (2005)
3. Specials (2006)
4. Extras (2007)
Bogus to Bubbly: An Insiders Guide to the World of Uglies (2008)

Links: Author Wikipedia, Book Wikipedia, Pulse Blogfest, Uglies Fan Site
Interview: Simon and Schuster

Book Trailer:

Picture Explanations
White Tiger Orchid: Used to be rare but a scientist fiddled with its genes and now its the ultimate weed- like the kudzu of today
Track: The Smokies use the abandoned tracks to make the hoverboards fly
Pig Mask: Tally uses one of these to sneak into a Pretty party to find her friend.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Psychologist to the Vampires

Denver psychologist Kismet Knight, Ph.D, doesn't believe in the paranormal. She especially doesn't believe in vampires. That is, until a new client introduces Kismet to the vampire underworld and a drop dead gorgeous, 800-year-old vampire named Devereux. Kismet isn't buying the vampire story, but can't explain why she has such odd reactions and feelings whenever Devereux is near. Kismet is soon forced to open her mind to other possibilities, however, when she is visited by two angry bloodsuckers who would like nothing better than to challenge Devereux by hurting Kismet.

To make life just a bit more complicated, one of Kismet's clients shows up at her office almost completely drained of blood, and Kismet finds herself immersed in an ongoing murder investigation. Enter handsome FBI profiler Alan Stevens who warns her that vampires are very real. And one is a murderer. A murderer who is after her.

In the midst of it all, Kismet realizes she has feelings for both the vampire and the profiler. But though she cares for each of the men, facing the reality that vampires exist is enough of a challenge... for now.

Title: The Vampire Shrink
Author: Lynda Hilburn
Series: Vampire Psychologist, Book 1
Start & Finished: 9/29/08- 10/1/08
Published: 2007
Publisher: Medallion Press, Inc.
Pages: 392
Genre: Paranormal

"I feel like a newbie, a brand new therapist sitting with my first client, trying not to screw up. Trying to convince the boogieman under the bed that there's no boogieman under the bed,” says the main character Kismet in debut urban fantasy author Lynda Hilburn’s new book The Vampire Shrink, the first book in her Vampire Psychologist series. A therapist herself, Hilburn can really relate to her new protagonist… vampires notwithstanding.

For a new debut book, The Vampire Shrink is surprisingly a good story with very interesting characters and it was even has some funny parts. The main thing about the story that really captured me was the vampire of course! Devereux was gorgeous, charismatic, and very powerful not to mention wise (being over 800 years old, I would expect so!) and ethical too. Kismet meets another man in the course of the book named Alan and he of course provides more conflict… not to mention the fact that there are tons of bad guys too.

As it was a debut book I won’t hold the author at fault but I did notice throughout the story quite a few things that irked me such as how hokey some of the dialogue was and how two plot threads just seem to be dropped: how and why Kismet wakes up in a coffin (I'm assuming it has something to do with one of the bad guys of course, but she wasn't harmed, just stuck in a coffin) and the fortune teller. Maybe the author added it since she herself was one? She claims that Cerridwyn is a combination of herself and other Tarot Card readers that she knows (Hilburn also said that she will appear in future books). I did like her but there really wasn't much of a need for her part in the story either.

My main issue with The Vampire Shrink was how Kismet spends over half of the book denying the existence of vampires. If a guy is reading your mind, talking in your head, can slide his fangs out at will, can entrance you with his eyes, and pop from place to place- then he is probably a vampire. No one can deny an existence of a being for so long! She's being courted by one and hunted by others and yet she still wouldn‘t budge on believing that they’re just delusional for the longest time and it became downright annoying! All that time could have been put to better use in my mind but it was still a good story nonetheless and while I wish more time would have been spent exploring the psychologist to vampires angle, undoubtedly there will be more interesting clients in future books.

Vampire Psychologist Series:
The Vampire Shrink
Dark Harvest

Links: MySpace Page, Paranormality Author Blog
Interview: Patricia’s Vampire Notes, Sisters in Crime, Darque Reviews, Ask Wendy

Book Trailer:

Picture Explanations
Denver: The story takes place here
Celtic Pendant: Worn by the protagonist
Shower: A very interesting scene takes place in the shower after Kismet escapes the coffin in the graveyard

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What Would Make the Perfect Man?

Jaine Bright and three close friends share dinner one night and during casual conversation, create a list of qualifications for Mr Perfect–some logical, some hilariously funny, some racy. Within days, their tongue-in-cheek wish list of attributes for the perfect man has been leaked to the press and the resultant publicity is overwhelming. Coworkers, TV crews and reporters barrage the quartet with comments and criticism.

As if Jaine doesn’t have enough to cope with, she has a new neighbour who she suspects is a criminal. She’s relieved to learn that her neighbour is really an undercover cop, but she’s still wary–because smart, sexy Sam Donovan handles her sharp witticisms with easy humour, and Jaine suspects that he may threaten her heart. What Jaine doesn’t know is that she’s about to need Sam desperately for something other than romance because her circle of friends is in big trouble. Unfortunately, that list of qualifications for Mr Perfect has touched off a madman’s rage. All of their lives are threatened and some of them are going to die, maybe all of them, if Sam can’t stop the unknown killer.

Title: Mr. Perfect
Author: Linda Howard
Start & Finished: 9/23/08-9/28/08
Published: 2000
Publisher: Pocket Books
Pages: 342
Genre: Romantic Suspense-Mystery

A charter member of The Romance Writers of America (RWA) and the winner of their Career Achievement Award in 2005, romantic suspense author Linda Howard has written over 50 novels and many series too. One of her books was even adapted into a TV movie a little over 10 years ago. In an interview, Ms. Howard claims that the idea for Mr. Perfect just came to her in "this conversation [that] just started playing in my head. A group of friends talking about what would make the perfect man. The one-liners were just zinging and I wasn't making up the lines. It was like the characters were talking and I was overhearing them."

Somehow, although she has been writing for nearly 30 years now, I missed out on reading Linda Howard before now. I can only wonder have I been living under a rock all these years?! This book was both wonderfully amusing and clever with a big dose of romance thrown in as well. Almost Janet Evanovich-funny but it still had a thriller edge to it you would find in something by Mary Higgins Clark maybe.

When I was reading the romance sections of the book it was hard to remember that it was the same story when it came to the suspenseful sections. Almost jarring actually but I still really enjoyed the book and will most definitely be reading more of this author in the future. Mr. Perfect made in onto All About Romance Top 100 list in 2004 and again in 2007.

Links: Author Wikipedia
Interview: AAR with Author on Mr. Perfect, etc.

Picture Explanations
Cucumber: Janie's sister comes over brings it to her pretty much as a peace offering.
Viper: Janie's car. Cars are pretty important to the main characters...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Some Respect the Badge, Everyone Respects the Gun

After 30 years as partners in the pressure cooker environment of the NYPD, highly decorated Detectives "Turk", played by Academy Award winner Robert De Niro (Raging Bull) and "Rooster", played by Academy Award winner Al Pacino (Scent of a Woman) should be ready for retirement. But, before they can hang up their badges, they are called in to investigate the murder of a notorious pimp, which appears to have ties to a case they solved years before.

This adrenaline fueled psychological thriller features hip-hop superstar Curtis Jackson (Get Rich or Die Tryin'), Carla Gugino (Sin City), John Leguizamo (Moulin Rouge!), Donnie Wahlberg (Saw II and III) and Brian Dennehy (Death of a Salesman) and was directed by Jon Avnet (Red Corner) and written by Russell Gewirtz (Inside Man).

Title: Righteous Kill
Release: September 12, 2008
Genre: Crime Drama
MPAA Rating: R
Writer: Russell Gewirtz
Director: Jon Avnet
Music By: Ed Shearmur
Produced By: Avi Lerner, Boaz Davidson, Daniel M. Rosenberg, Lati Grobman, & Randall Emmett
Distributed By: Overture Films
Run Time: 103 minutes
Official Site

What do two Academy Award winning actors, a rapper, and the voice of Sid from Ice Age have in common? The 2008 "cop" movie Righteous Kill that involves all of these people and more. Originally written with just Robert De Niro (Turk) in mind as one of the main characters, it was he that suggested his longtime friend Al Pacino to play his partner Rooster in the film.

Like a lot of people, Robert de Niro and Al Pacino are two of my favorite actors (Pacino slightly more) and even though they're getting a lot older now, both still make such good bad guys. That is what makes a movie like Righteous Kill work so very well. The two actors have worked together previously in the 1995 movie Heat but they didn’t have too many scenes together and yet somehow in my mind, they’ve almost always been related. I’ll be the first to admit that it was because of them and not the actual film plot that I decided to actual see it and I was moderately pleased with it… again, mainly thanks to these two iconic actors.

Surprisingly, these two didn’t entirely steal the movie as several actors in minor parts (such as 50 Cent’s cameo role as Marcus “Spider” Smith) did make an impact too. However, would this movie work without De Niro and Pacino? Yes and no. Yes, because the plot is genuinely interesting but it probably wouldn’t have garnered too much attention without the big star names attached to the project. There have been many mixed reviews by the critics since the film’s release but for the most part the response was lukewarm. In my opinion, this was an okay film, not a great one and it was also easily forgettable.

Links:, Wikipedia, Reelzchannel



Sunday, February 15, 2009

An Original Private Eye

L.A. private eye Philip Marlowe is handed a perplexing case in this classic detective novel from the master of the genre, Raymond Chandler. Hired by cosmetic tycoon, Derace Kingsley, to locate his missing wife Crystal, Marlowe learns that the marriage has been dead for years. Kingsley also informs Marlowe that a recent telegram from Crystal indicated that she was crossing to Mexico for a quickie divorce so that she could marry her new love, Chris Lavery. But when Lavery shows up in L.A. claiming to have no knowledge of Crystal’s whereabouts or intentions, Kingsley and Marlowe start backtracking her to her last known location- the Kingsley’s cabin in Little Fawn Lake. From then on, the bodies begin to accumulate. Is Crystal responsible for the killings- or could she be the next victim?

Title: The Lady in the Lake
Author: Raymond Chandler
Series: Philip Marlowe, Book 4
Start & Finished: 9/20/08- 9/22/08
Published: 1943
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Pages: 272
Genre: Mystery- Crime

“Hardboiled” detective novels have been around since the 1930’s but it was Raymond Chandler that truly made the genre what it is today with his character Philip Marlowe. Introduced for the first time by name (the actual character appeared under several names such as Carmady in some original short stories but were later republished with the names changed to Marlowe- “a process that Chandler called ‘cannibalizing‘”) in the novel The Big Sleep, it was considered to be Chandler’s greatest work but his next two novels in the series Farewell, My Lovely and The High Window were also well thought of and all three have been adapted to film- many several times. The next Philip Marlowe book was published four years after the first official one and it was called The Lady in the Lake (it too was adapted to film in 1947 starring Robert Montgomery). The novel was based upon three short stories: Bay City Blues, The Lady In The Lake, and No Crime In The Mountains.

Between Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, the iconic figure of the hardboiled detective was created so it was only proper that the first time I read one of these novels was by one of these authors. Now I do wish I had read the Marlowe series in the order they were written but it wasn’t until I had finished the book that I was even aware that it wasn’t the first story. The Lady in the Lake completely stood on its own and I enjoyed the glimpse back into time that the story presents.

In recent years, these types of detective novels have been making a comeback (albeit with a more fantastical edge, a la Jim Butcher) but they aren’t quite the same as the real thing. While some authors can “speak” the lingo of a 1940’s detective fluently, only the authors and their characters from the era seem to live and breathe through their words even today. Sometimes it was a bit hard to understand as many, many phrases have fallen out of fashion through the years but overall it wasn’t that difficult:

“He stopped in front of mine and unlocked the door and gave me the hard stare they think they have to wear on their pans forever and forever and forever. I’m a cop, brother, I’m tough, watch your step, brother, or we’ll fix you up so you’ll crawl on your hands and knees, brother, snap out of it, brother, let’s get a load of truth, brother, let’s go, and let’s not forget we’re tough guys, we’re cops, and we do what we like with punks like you.”
While I was able to figure out the big picture before a body was ever found, I wasn’t always exactly sure what was going on. However, many readers (including myself occasionally) might find it a bit irritating at how easy the ending was to guess. At times I seriously think you would have to be dense to miss the clues Chandler smacks you over the head with. Maybe this is because it is actually three combined (or “cannibalized“) stories in one or maybe that was just how the author meant it to be. Either way, I still thoroughly enjoyed the story and the adventure of Mr. Marlowe in The Lady in the Lake.

Philip Marlowe Series
The Big Sleep (1939)
Farewell, My Lovely (1940)
The High Window (1942)
The Lady in the Lake (1943)
The Little Sister (1949)
The Simple Art of Murder (1950)
The Long Goodbye (1953)
Playback (1958)
Poodle Springs (1989) (with Robert B Parker)

Links: Author Wikipedia, Book Wikipedia, Character Wikipedia, Detective Fiction Wikipedia, American Heritage article, Penguin Reader Fact Sheet (PDF)
Interview: Ian Fleming and Raymond Chandler (audio)

Uncovering the Mystery of Chandler's Life:

Picture Explanations
Crestline Mountains: The real mystery actually begins in these mountains at Little Fawn Lake.
Police Car: The type of cars the police drove during this time period.
Hat & Folders: The typical gear of the private eye.

Search This Blog