Monday, March 30, 2009

Moove Over Mystery Heroines!

Yale's stone Gothic buildings tower over the city of New Haven as if they are a part of it. But even though the sidewalks spill into each world simultaneously, there is an invisible line that keeps Yale on one side and the city on the other. When the worlds collide, it could mean murder.

New Haven Herald police reporter Annie Seymour is tough, smart and has a self-deprecating sense of humor. She knows she's too cynical and a workaholic, but she's comfortable with that. She lives in a brownstone in the city's Wooster Square neighborhood, just around the corner from great white clam pizza.

When covering stories for the paper, Annie doesn't let herself get too close to the victims she encounters, so she can keep her objectivity. But when Yale student Melissa Peabody is found dead, Annie's investigation into the girl's secret life brings her closer to home than she expects.

Dick Whitfield, a young reporter, is constantly underfoot, and Annie's boyfriend, Detective Tom Behr, frustrates her with his reluctance to help her get her story. But private investigator Vinny DeLucia is also on the case. They join forces, and Annie realizes it could be the most dangerous story she's ever had to write.

Title: Sacred Cows
Author: Karen E. Olson
Series: Annie Seymour, Book 1
Start & Finished: 1/5/09
Published: 2005
Publisher: Warner Books
Pages: 304 (paperback)
Genre: Mystery- Crime

Ripping story ideas from newspaper headlines is a common practice among authors and the writer Karen E. Olson is no exception. "In Sacred Cows, the dead girl in the first chapter is a Yale student who was an escort by night. In the "real" story, the dead girl was a prostitute. I kept thinking: But what if it were a Yalie? It wouldn't get ignored like this story did," so using this idea, Olson began writing her first book. A retired journalist herself, the author had first hand insight into her heroine Annie Seymour who is a cop reporter in New Haven, Connecticut.

The premise of a college student turned escort in her spare time for money is not really a new concept and I'm not positive if it's based in truth or not but I do know that I have seen something similar in either a Law and Order or a CSI episode. It took me a little while to get into the book even though many bloggers have raved about it but I’m glad I stuck with Sacred Cows (I have to agree with Annie that those painted cows are a little creepy too).

The “mystery” aspect wasn’t really that important to me (or very hard to figure out), I was more concerned about how Annie would handle herself in the situations she kept getting into. Annie Seymour is a self-described curmudgeon but once I was able to warm up to her, I really liked her personality after awhile- she’s a no nonsense type of woman that speaks her mind. For me at least, the success of this debut novel owes the main character because while she may be about my mom’s age she is still easy to relate to (there were times I wished she was a tad bit younger though). I do have to give credit to Ms. Olson for the way the book is written though, it reads almost like a cozy mystery but has the language and (sometimes) feel of a regular crime drama.

Winner of the Sara Ann Freed Memorial Award and runner-up of the Gumshoe Award for Best First novel, Karen E. Olson's reporter has garnered quite a bit of attention and is the star of three more novels. I think Wendy from Musings of a Bookish Kitty said it best: "Annie has moxie. She is cynical, rough around the edges, and tenacious in the pursuit of her story. Do not let that fool you, however, because Annie does have heart. Karen E. Olson has created an edgy and intelligent character that quickly earned my respect and had me pulling for her through the entire story."

Annie Seymour Series
1. Sacred Cows (2005)
2. Secondhand Smoke (2006)
3. Dead of the Day (2007)
4. Shot Girl (2008)

Interview: With Alice Teh

Picture Explanations
Cow in a Tea Cup: After the success of New York's Cow Parade, New Haven has one too.
Frank Sinatra: One of the guys Annie works with and has a thing for in the book looks like Sinatra.
Cow Doctor: Annie has to interview the person who fixes the cows when they need it

Friday, March 27, 2009

In Wonderland Dreams Lie

Weary of her storybook, one "without pictures or conversations," the young and imaginative Alice follows a hasty hare underground-- to come face-to-face with some of the strangest adventures and most fantastic characters in all of literature. The Ugly Duchess, the Mad Hatter, the weeping Mock Turtle, the diabolical Queen of Hearts, the Cheshire Cat-- each more eccentric than the last-- could only have come from that master of sublime nonsense, Lewis Carroll. In penning this brilliant burlesque of children's literature, this farcical satire of rigid Victorian society, this arresting parody of the fears, anxieties, and complexities of growing up, Carroll was one of the few adult writers to enter successfully the children's world of make-believe, where the impossible becomes possible, the unreal, real, and where the heights of adventure are limited only by the depths of imagination.

Title: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass
Author: Lewis Carroll
Illustrator: John Tenniel
Series: Alice, Books 1 & 2
Start & Finished: 1/4/09
Published: 1865 & 1871
Publisher: Macmillan
Pages: 239
Genre: Children Classics

In 1862, a man named Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a friend of his who was also a reverend and three little girls took a boat ride where Dodgson began to tell them a story to keep away boredom. It was a story of a little girl named Alice (one of the girls on the boat ride shared this name) who falls down a rabbit hole into a strange Wonderland. This man of course was later to become better known as Lewis Carroll and his story was one he shared with the world three years later called Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Then six years after it’s amazing success, a sequel called Through the Looking Glass (and What Alice Found There) was published although nowadays they’re often presented together as one.

Poor Alice! "How puzzling [Wonderland] is!" Yet, this nonsense world is amazing and wonderfully fantastic as well. With many classic stories, Walt Disney was my introduction to this brilliant story and even though it is a loose adaptation of Carroll’s work, it is still one of my very favorite Disney films; however, the film just cannot compete with the book. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass is a classic that I have been reading and re-reading almost my entire life and I’m glad to say that I still love it. Each time I have re-read the story, it is a bit like reading it for the very first time. Mainly because of my memory but also because there are deeper meanings (after all the author was a mathematician), word play, and other things hidden in this story's pages too that I understand a bit more the older I get.

Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland is a creative and beloved tale and “his facility at word play, logic, and fantasy has delighted audiences ranging from children to the literary elite, and beyond this his work has become embedded deeply in modern culture, directly influencing many artists.” This book will probably never be forgotten as authors write new books every day (such as Frank Beddor’s Looking Glass Wars trilogy) inspired by it or film adaptations are made again and again (though the most famous of these is still Disney’s animated version).

Whimsical, “literary nonsense”, or however you want to categorize these stories, there is no denying the fact that they hardly seem to age at all. So:

Thus grew the tale of Wonderland
Thus slowly, one by one,
Its quaint events were hammered out -
and now the tale is done,
And home we steer, a merry crew,
Beneath the setting sun.




Alice Series
1. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
2. Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1871)
The Wasp in a Wig (1877)
The Nursery Alice (1889)
Alice's Adventures Under Ground (1965)

First Paragraph: Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, "and what is the use of a book," thought Alice, "without pictures or conversations?"

Links:
Books Wikipedia
Author Wikipedia
Works Based on Wonderland
Complete Book
An Interactive Alice in Wonderland Adventure
Lenny's Wonderland Site


Interview:
Edward Guillino in 1982

Source: Personal collection, paperback

Related Reviews
The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor
Seeing Redd by Frank Beddor
Visitors from Oz by Martin Gardner

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Quirky Bewitching Mystery

Maggie O'Neill loves her job at Enchantments as much as she loves being Indiana's newest witch. But when her family needs her, she's still willing to lend a hand- even if she has to reach beyond the grave.

It's a long, hot summer in Stony Mill, and Maggie is busy watching TV reruns, minding the store, and figuring out her love life. Then she reluctantly volunteers to care for her bedridden, oh-so-perfect sister, Mel. But Mel isn't the only focus of Maggie's attention. There are some strange sprits hanging around the area- and it looks like a job for Maggie and the N.I.G.H.T.S. ghost-hunting team.

Even as she tries to deal with the long dead, Maggie must also cope with the recently deceased. When a friend of Mel's loses her husband to a dreadful fall, the police call it an accidental death. Maggie's not so sure, and sets her second sights on finding a first-degree murderer...

Title: No Rest for the Wiccan
Author: Madelyn Alt
Series: Bewitching Mysteries, Book 4
Start & Finished: 12/29/08- 12/30/08
Published: 2008
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Pages: 304 (paperback)
Genre: Cozy Mystery- Paranormal

Empath and now novice witch Maggie O'Neill has a serious ghost and sister problem in No Rest for the Wiccan, not to mention the murder! The current story Madelyn Alt's Bewitching Mystery series shows no sign of slowing down, and in fact, over the eight months these four books take place, the little town of Stony Mill, Indiana has just gotten a whole lot “livelier.”

Soon after the third book, Hex Marks the Spot came out I discovered Alt’s delightfully magical series and I read them all in one sitting. They were marvelous! The characters were spunky and interesting, and as I noted in my review of the first one, "You just can’t go wrong with witches, ghosts, and antiques in a murder mystery!" The characters have come a long way since The Trouble with Magic, especially the main character Maggie who has really become a believer over the course of the series. Not only in ghosts but in her own abilities as well. Now if only she’d realize that she belongs with Marcus I’d be completely happy.

There were quite a few things that mad me very angry in this story but not at the author. No, she’s such a good writer that at times I felt like I could see the characters and goodness knows if I could have gotten my hands on that bigoted preacher… well, never mind. I knew from the previous books that I wasn’t crazy about the women in Maggie’s family either but even with the severe guilt-trips (which gets her into this particular predicament), I had learned to get along her mother, however her sister is a whole ‘nother ballgame! Like I said, there are a couple of people in this story that truly irked me but that’s because they almost feel like real people and not characters.

When asked to describe her series the author said, “The Bewitching Mysteries are a bit of a cross-genre blending of several of my favorite elements: mystery, the paranormal world, speculative elements, mysticism, witchery in various forms, wit, and romance. Not necessarily in that order.” Ms. Alt says that the idea for this story was truly magical as “all of a sudden, a flurry of images and thoughts hit me, and I felt this intense need to write it all down,” which she did and then forgot about it for months until she had another bit of a “brain dump” which resulted in Maggie, Felicity, their little town, and eventually a truly amazing series.

Bewitching Mystery Series
1. The Trouble with Magic (2006)
2. A Charmed Death (2006)
3. Hex Marks the Spot (2007)
4. No Rest for The Wiccan (2008)
5. Where There's a Witch There's a Way (2009)

Blogs: Myspace, All Things Madly, Witchy Chicks, Amazon.com
Interview: Amberkatze's Book Blog, Prime Crime

Picture Explanations:
Cat: Maggie finally adopts the cat that has been on all of the covers and names her Minnie, "Minx when we wish to be formal."
Ouija Board: Maggie's sister Melanie decides to try to contact the ghost in her house for fun with some friends. Only to find out that it's not "just a game."
Barn Fire: One of the most action-packed scenes...

Monday, March 23, 2009

Bigtime Series Books #2 and #3


In Jennifer Estep’s second and third novels Hot Mama and Jinx, of her Superhero series set in the fictional town of Bigtime, New York, two heroines with superpowers set out to find their perfect men. Fiona Fine is at times a bit conceited but she’s a superhero because it’s “something she's honor-bound to do.,” however "Bella Bulluci, the heroine of Jinx, hates superheroes and ubervillains" for many reasons.

Oh boy. I loved the first book in this series even though the main character Carmen Cole is on a bit of a crusade, I liked the second character Fiona in the second book even though she was a little too egotistical at times, but the third main character is just whiny, annoying snot. I understand how she would be but I'm sorry, controlling, neurotic people aren't that interesting to me- even if they have a superpower (well in her case, a "kind-of superpower" since it‘s the power of Luck). This whole series is full of little things that irk me but I still love it. Superheroes, ubervillains, and romance thrown together in one book and its bound to be good!

Another thing that bothered me was something I noticed in Hot Mama (the second book), the author sent the first main couple on their honeymoon which was understandable and okay as it forced Fiona/ Fiera to step in as leader pretty much but when she does the exact same thing to Bella it gets a little old. Are we supposed to forget that even though she's egotistical, she's a better character (and much more interesting) than Bella? Not likely! Thankfully, she eases up a little on her Bella's neuroticness before too much longer so she becomes likeable. However Bella is still my third favorite Bigtime heroine- her honey Debonair is yummy though. I think he's even more interesting than Fiona's Johnny (Bella's brother- their story is in Hot Mama) but not quite as much as the first hero Striker in Karma Girl is.

Jennifer Estep's writing style slightly reminds me of Erin McCarthy's but as good as these books are even with my nitpicks- I know they can be SO much better! I'd really like her to be a little freer with her characters and have different plot lines each book. The author also intentionally makes the superheroes (and ubervillains) identities very easy guess so the hints might as well be neon-flashing signs. You can usually guess everyone's alter ego just by their names. Well these books don’t claim to be mysteries so I'm not complaining. It's such a good series though! Lighthearted, sweet, and fun- what more could you want?

Bigtime Superhero Series
Karma Girl (2007)
Hot Mama (2007)
Jinx (2008)
Interview: Popin's Lair, Fantasy Debut Author Spotlight, Paranormal Romance Superhero Worship

~Note: This is a one-time only format, don't worry!

Keeper of Pain

He can bear any pain but the thought of losing her...

Reyes is a man possessed. Bound by the demon of pain, he is forbidden to know pleasure. Yet he craves a mortal woman, Danika Ford, more than breath and will do anything to claim her- even defy the gods.

Danika is on the run. For months she's eluded the Lords of the Underworld, immortal warriors who won't rest until she and her family have been destroyed. But her dreams are haunted by Reyes, the warrior whose searing touch she can't forget. Yet a future together could mean death to all they both hold dear...

Title: The Darkest Pleasure
Author: Gena Showalter
Series: Lords of the Underworld, Book 3
Start & Finished: 12/16/08- 12/17/08
Published: July 1, 2008
Publisher: HQN Books
Pages: 384 (paperback)
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series Official Site

Centuries of nothing but pain is what Reyes has had to endure and all that he has to look forward to until the Titans overthrow the Gods and announce that one of his Brothers must destroy a girl and her family. A girl that he almost instantly falls for in the very first book of Gena Showalter’s Lords of the Underworld series however it isn’t until the third book, The Darkest Pleasure that their story is told. The Lords of the Underworld is Showalter's unique series about a group of "immortal warriors who stole and opened Pandora’s box, allowing the evil demons inside to escape. Now, as punishment, they house those demons within themselves."

The “keepers” aka the Lords in this series are fantastic, interesting, and yet very flawed- so are their counterparts to a smaller extent. My favorite heroine so far in the series is Lucian’s’ mate Anya (Goddess of Anarchy) from the second story and just from the brief moments that Danika occupied the first two stories I just didn’t really like her. She’s quite a bit more interesting once she stops running from the Lords (or maybe because she ran and had to learn how to toughen up?) though.

Somehow the author walks a fine line between the romance and the subplots without either taking over. That isn’t anywhere near as easy as it sounds as Darkest Pleasure seems to have quite a bit more going on in it: “demons, gods and goddess, curses, battles, a human woman who can see into heaven and hell, and a search for ancient relics” too! As each book in this series builds on the others it is absolutely imperative that they should be read in order.

Lords of the Underworld
1. The Darkest Fire ebook (2008)
2. The Darkest Night (2008)
3. The Darkest Kiss (2008)
4. The Darkest Pleasure (2008)
5. The Darkest Whisper (2009)

Links: Author Wikipedia, Showalter Blog
Interview: Coffe Time Romance



Picture Explanations
Pencil & Pad: Danika works as a waitress while she's on the run.
Knife: Reyes has to hurt himself (or someone else- so he prefers himself) to keep his demon Pain happy.
Hollywood: The Lords have to rescue Danika from the Hunters here.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Feathered Fiends

Nothing equals The Birds for sheer terror when Alfred Hitchcock unleashes his foul friends in one of his most shocking and memorable masterpieces. As beautiful blond Melanie Daniels ('Tippi' Hedren) rolls into Bodega Bay in pursuit of eligible bachelor Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), she is inexplicably attacked by a seagull. Suddenly thousands of birds are flocking into town, preying on school children and residents in a terrifying series of attacks. Soon Mitch and Melanie are fighting for their lives against a deadly force that can't be explained and can't be stopped in one of Hollywood's most horrific films of nature gone berserk.

Title: The Birds
Release: March 28, 1963
Genre: Thriller
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Based On: The Birds by Daphne Du Maurier
Writer: Evan Hunter
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Music By: Oskar Sala
Produced By: Alfred Hitchcock
Distributed By: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 119 minutes

Alfred Hitchcock may have passed away nearly 30 years ago but his films and TV show, not to mention his impact on suspense/ thriller genre may never be forgotten. After Psycho, probably his most well known film was the adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s short story The Birds. It was his first film for Universal and it was nominated for the special effects Academy Award that year.

This is a film that is firmly a part of our pop culture and is even number seven on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills list but somehow I had never seen it before. As much as I have heard of The Birds, I was expecting a great suspense film but I just wasn’t very impressed. Sure, it was creepy and the cast was great but I really hated that they left why the birds attacked unexplained. Hitchcock said, "If you provide an explanation for the phenomenon then the film becomes science fiction; we're not making science fiction, 'Birds' is a thriller, hence we leave out any explanation,"- and he was right, but that didn’t mean that I enjoyed it.

There is no doubt that this is a creepy film as the idea alone of birds attacking for no reason is scary. However, the movie isn't really about the birds, horrifying as their destruction is (and the special effects are really good for a film nearly 50 years old). It's really about the character's themselves and their interactions with one another but that isn’t what you think of until after the movie is through. Honestly, all I could do was stare at the TV when it ended and say, “That’s it?!” The “open-ended” ending baffled almost everyone at first too but the film still continues to endure.

Jessica Tandy and Tippi Hedren were wonderful in The Birds and although I had some difficulties with the story (I almost believe I would have liked that the original ending more), there is a reason why the movie is still shown in film lectures today. I may not enjoy it and in my unpopular opinion, Hitchcock shouldn't have "cut the first word 'For' and called it simply The Birds" after all but I can't help but appreciate what he accomplished with it.

Links: Imdb.com, Film Wikipedia, Author Wikipedia, TCM.com, Alfred Hitchcock Wikia, FilmSite
Interview: Ed McBain, Hitchcock,

Trailer:


Hitchcock Comments:


Rare Trailer/ Hedren Interview 1984:


Larry King with Hitchcock's Leading Ladies:

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sleuth Nevermore?

Bookshop owner Penelope Thornton-McClure has just received an extremely rare collection of Edgar Allan Poe's complete works. Rumor has it a secret code, trapped within the books' leather-bound pages, leads to buried treasure. Well, it looks like they got the buried part right, because as Pen sells off the valuable volumes, everyone who buys... dies.

Once these books go missing from their owners' cold hands, Pen will need resident ghost and hard-boiled PI Jack Shepard to help crack the case. The police are skeptical that the deaths involved foul play- so it's up to Pen and Jack to unravel these shocking endings...

Title: The Ghost and the Dead Man’s Library
Author: Alice Kimberly
Series: The Haunted Bookshop, Book 3
Start & Finished: 12/12/08- 12/15/08
Published: 2006
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Pages: 272
Genre: Cozy Mystery

The first two books in the Haunted Bookshop series by husband and wife Marc Cerasini and Alice Alfonsi writing team under the pen name Alice Kimberly had Penelope Thornton-McClure and her resident ghost Jack Shepard PI solving the murders of two very unlikable true crime authors. In the third book The Ghost and the Dead Man's Library, find them trying to solve not only murders but clues left by an author has been dead for over a century and a half.

Edgar Allan Poe is famous now for his poems and stories but everyone knows that he died impoverished right? Well it is also been known that he had a “keen interest in the field of cryptography” when he invited people from newspapers and magazines to submit ciphers which he would proceed to solve. He even put them in his story The Gold-Bug which is probably what inspired authors Alice Kimberly to write this story.

With two solved murders under her belt, amateur sleuth Penelope seems to be getting in more trouble than less in The Ghost and the Dead Man’s Library, even if she now has a way for Jack to come with her when she leaves the shop! Fellow Poe lovers will recognize many references to him and his works throughout the story (especially the gorgeous clock) but be advised as Jack says, “There’s more than one fruitcake in this nut house,” so it gets a little difficult to discover just which fruitcake is the most dangerous!

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)

Picture Explanations
Edgar Allan Poe: The whole book is partly about him and his works
Safety Deposit Box Key: An old case of Jack’s which he solved by finding this key (he can pull Penelope into his memories through her dreams)
Ambulance: Two of the repeat characters in the series are rushed to the hospital in this book.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Been an Awful Good Girl

Red hot kisses. Secret Wishes. A gift too scandalous to share…

Get ready for a holiday season you’ll never forget with three New York Times bestselling writers who know what every woman wants for the holidays. You’ll believe in Santa all over again with these seductive stories from:

*JENNIFER CRUSIE*
Mayhem ensues under the mistletoe as a determined shopper grabs the very last hot toy action figure off the shelf, only to find herself plunged into the middle of a real-life spy game- in the arms of a sexy secret agent…

*LORI FOSTER*
Two dedicated coworkers with a lot of secrets (and fantasies!) between them must plan a Christmas party side by side- and discover a love worth celebrating- in this steamy office romance.

*CARLY PHILLIPS*
A "mistletoe moment" begins when a no-nonsense lawyer intent of seducing her boss meets his twin instead - after giving him a scintillating kiss that leaves him begging for more...

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Title: Santa Baby
Start & Finished: 12/10/08- 12/12/08
Published: 2006
Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks
Pages: 298 (total)
Genre: Anthology-Romance

Contemporary romance authors Jennifer Crusie, Lori Foster, and Carly Phillips contribute their delightful novellas to the 2006 Christmas anthology Santa Baby. Two of the three can be found in other anthologies but Crusie’s story Hot Toy is the headliner in this collection and the only one that hasn’t been published before. Foster and Phillips are long time friends and fellow bloggers however; this is their first and so far only time that they have contributed to the same book.

Whenever a holiday rolls around, there is usually an anthology I’ve had sitting on my shelf for awhile and yet by the time that holiday gets here I hardly ever have time to read it! Well that happened for a little over a year before I finally got enough time in December to read Santa Baby, an anthology I had won from Carly Phillips in 2007. Usually when I read any anthology there are bound to be one or two stinkers but this time I hit the jackpot with all three stories Hot Toy, Christmas Bonus, and Naughty Under the Mistletoe being some of the best Christmas romance short stories I’ve ever had the pleasure to read.

Title: Hot Toy
Author: Jennifer Crusie
Pages: 111

Just about everyone has had to do some last minute Christmas shopping at one time or another but few have tried to brave the toy store on Christmas Eve! Unfortunately for Jennifer Crusie’s Trudy Maxwell, her nephew’s father ran off with the nanny and forgot to pick up the Hot Toy of the year for him. Trudy and her sister’s own father almost always forgot too and after years of “it fell off of Santa’s sleigh,” they stopped believing. It’s up to her to keep a little boy’s belief in Santa alive… she just didn’t plan on there being secret agents after the doll!
Jennifer Crusie always writes such deliciously funny, sweet, and even sexy stories whether they’re full length or novella-sized. Her characters in this story are fully developed and despite being a little over 100 pages long, it reads like a complete book. Like all of Crusie’s heroines, Trudy isn’t truly scrumptious though as she did get on my nerves a little but I still liked Hot Toy. As wild as the story gets, it’s never unbelievable… well not too unbelievable anyway.

Title: Christmas Bonus
Author: Lori Foster
Pages: 93

There are quite a few office romances in the romance genre lately and author Lori Foster writes quite a few of them. In Christmas Bonus, a crush that has been brewing between Eric Bragg and Maggie Carmichael (each without the other one knowing) is finally brought out in the open. All thanks to a little mistletoe, a romance novel in-progress, and the Christmas spirit.

Paranormals and urban fantasy are mostly what I read but I discovered romance novels first. I do read more of the former now but I still pick up the occasional romance! This was my first time reading Lori Foster even though I own several of her books and I’m happy to say that I really enjoyed her contribution to the anthology. It’s the shortest of the three stories but still well-written enough that I only have one complaint and that is how little Christmas has to do with the plot. It was written for another holiday anthology in 2000 but I was still left with the feeling that the author threw in a few appropriately Christmassy-type things to make the story fit in.

Title: Naughty Under the Mistletoe
Author: Carly Phillips
Pages: 94

The last contribution to this book of Christmas and romance stories is Carly Phillips’ Naughty Under the Mistletoe. It’s another office-type romance on the surface but so much more in the end. Antonia ‘Toni’ Larson has decided, “if Santa was coming to town, he wasn’t going to find Toni being a good girl this year” as she has decided to seduce her soon-to-be-ex-boss Stephen Corbin. Quite by accident she mistakes his twin Max for him at the Christmas party and sparks fly.

While Jennifer Crusie is good at the funny and suspense romance and Lori Foster is good at simple, yet delightful contemporary romance, Carly Phillips is the best at happily ever after romance. Her characters always manage to be slightly more complex and the story always ends well even if it is a bumpy road getting there. I thought this story was slightly a little too sappy and sweet for me to find believable at times too. Love at first sight is a tricky thing in romances and if I’m not mistaken this is the first time I’ve read a Phillips story that uses it in the plot. While it wasn’t my very favorite, I did enjoy it regardless and not only was it worth recycling from the anthology Naughty or Nice?, it was also a good story to end with too.

Links: Carly Phillips and Lori Foster Blog and Jennifer Crusie Blog

Picture Explanations
Gingerbread House:
Trudy’s sister is drowning her sorrows in gin and decorating one of these too while she constantly calls her to see if she has the toy.
Misletoe: What brings this couple together
Elf Hat: Toni volunteers as Santa’s helper to give out gifts at the Christmas party to the invited children

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Do You Believe in Magic?

Is she a good witch or a bad witch?

With a flip of her raven black hair, a flash of her topaz eyes, and a shake of a stick, rumored witch Melody Seabright has cast a spell on single dad Logan Kilgarven. What else can explain what's happening to him? Logan, a television producer, can't seem to concentrate on a thing since he met his enchanting new neighbor.

Logan hopes she is bad, very bad.

When Logan agrees to help Melody find a job at his TV station, he never expects the culinary-challenged siren to land her own cooking show. Her charisma keeps things bubbling on the set, and behind the scenes, things are starting to steam up between them. Logan knows he can't resist her charms- but is there more to their attraction than the here and now? If only he had a crystal ball to show him...

Title: The Kitchen Witch
Author: Annette Blair
Series: Accidental Witch, Book 1
Start & Finished: 12/8/08
Published: 2004
Publisher: Berkley Sensation
Pages: 295 (paperback)
Genre: Romance-Contemporary

A trip to Salem, Massachusetts sparked the idea of romance and paranormal author Annette Blair’s Accidental Witch series starting with Melody Seabright’s story in The Kitchen Witch. A bit more well-known for her other witch trilogy about triplets and her new Vintage Magic Mysteries, this particular trilogy was her first foray into contemporary paranormals but fortunately not her last. As she says on her homepage, The Kitchen Witch “is a National Bestselling Series with a great deal of laughter and Magic!”

Annette Blair is an author I had never heard of before when I stumbled across this first book in her Accidental Witch series. Thanks to the title and the gorgeous cover art by Masaki Ryo, I knew it was something that I just had to read. The plot has been done before- a lot, but Ms. Blair's characters were very real that the more clich├ęd parts were easily overlooked.

By the end, I found myself wishing that I could see the vintage clothes that Melody wears at times as they sound so pretty! The author is very good at painting a picture in your head of what the clothes look like though. Here is a description of her "off-beat navy suit" from page 24: "The tight-waisted jacket flared provocatively at her hips, that feminine touch offset by wide padded shoulders and mannish lapels ... The slim, straight skirt, slit to her thigh, ended just above her ankles." I also kind of wish that a TV show like The Kitchen Witch (and how cute is her theme song?) existed though as most cooking shows are all about perfection nowadays and Melody was an amateur when it came to cooking!

The Kitchen Witch was a very good story even if I had hoped for more of a paranormal than I received. I wasn't that disappointed when I discovered it was a contemporary romance with very, very slight magical elements though. Each book in this series is supposed to have a more magical heroine in it, just not quite as much as her Triplet Witch Trilogy (not related at all). I hope to read the next two books in the Accidental Witch series even if Melody is only a minor character soon.

Accidental Witch Series:
1. The Kitchen Witch (2004)
2. My Favorite Witch (2006)
3. The Scot, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2006)

Links: Author Blog

Picture Explanations
Salem:
Where the story takes place
Kitchen Set: Melody convinces Logan to talk his boss into her auditioning for a cooking show which she names The Kicthen Witch... even though she can't cook!
Plastic Pumpkin: Melody pretty much adopts Logan’s little son Shane soon after they meet and even takes him trick-or-treating.

Monday, March 16, 2009

No Case Too Cold for This Ghost

Don't haunt the customers...

This was the only rule bookshop owner and widow Penelope Thornton-McClure had given her resident ghost, hard-boiled PI Jack Shepard. But when the hot young author Angel Stark arrives at the store to promote her latest, a true crime novel, Jack can hardly contain himself. After all, this is his specialty!

Angel's book is an unsolved mystery about a debutante found strangled to death. And it's filled with juicy details that point a finger at a number of people in the deb's high society circle. But when the author winds up dead too- in precisely the same way- Pen is fast on the case... which means Jack is too. After all, a ghost detective never rests in peace.

Title: The Ghost and the Dead Deb
Author: Alice Kimberly
Series: Haunted Bookshop, Book 2
Start & Finished: 12/6/08- 12/7/08
Published: 2005
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Pages: 260 (paperback)
Genre: Cozy Mystery

Co-authors Marc Cerasini and Alice Alfonsi of the popular Coffeehouse Mysteries under the name Cleo Coyle teamed up again to start a new series called The Haunted Bookshop Mysteries in 2004. The following year, the married couple published the second book in their new series The Ghost and the Dead Deb.

Even though this series is not as popular as the one written under the name of Cleo Coyle, I have yet to try anything else by these authors. I am impressed that even with two very different "voices" by two authors; it still blends very well. At first, I didn't really like one of the main characters Penelope Thornton-McClure as I found her quite mousy. She has really surprised me by how much she's grown since the first story.

What keeps bringing me back to the series is that I do like all the minor characters and I'm fascinated by Jack and Pen's relationship. What can I say? The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (starring Rex Harrison and Gene Tierney) is one of my favorite movies and the book it was adapted from gave the authors the idea for the series. Well, half of the idea as it just wouldn’t be the same without the Philippe Marlow/ Sam Spade incarnate Jack Shepherd!

Out of every genre I read, I have a favorite sub-genre and mysteries that is the Cozy. Culinary, chick-lit, historical, pets, suspense, contemporary, and especially hobby cozies are all wonderful ways to spend the day and I enjoy cozy mysteries for other reasons besides the mystery value themselves. Nine times out of ten, especially with cozies from Berkley’s Prime Crime line, I end up learning something I didn't know before (or getting a fabulous new recipe). With the bookshop mysteries I get not only "meet" a cool ghost, I also learn a bit of 1940's gumshoe slang. Actually to be honest, I've read a detective novel written in the time period Jack was from so I know that they don't actually lay it on as thick as the author does (which admittedly can be slightly annoying).

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)

Picture Explanations
Yellow Thread:
Murder weapon
Drink Machine: Hugely important clue found under this
Champagne in a Bucket: Jack takes Penelope into his memories again (through her dreams) to discuss a case and they end of drinking together.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Nefertiti: The Perfect One

The sweeping story of a powerful Egyptian family, Nefertiti: A Novel tells the tale of two sisters, the first of whom is destined to rule as one of history’s most fascinating queens.

Beautiful Nefertiti and her sister, Mutnodjmet, have been raised far from the court of their aunt, the Queen of Egypt. But when the Pharaoh of Egypt dies, their father’s power play makes Nefertiti wife to the new and impetuous king. It is hoped she will temper King Amunhotep’s desire to overturn Egypt’s religion, but the ambitious Nefertiti encourages Amunhotep’s outrageous plans instead, winning the adoration of the people while making powerful enemies at court. Younger yet more prudent, Mutnodjmet is her sister’s sole confidant, and only she knows to what lengths Nefertiti will go for a child to replace the son of Amunhotep’s first wife.

As King Amunhotep’s commands become more extravagant, he and Nefertiti ostracize the army, clergy, and Egypt’s most powerful allies. Then, when Mutnodjmet begins a dangerous affair with a general, she sees how tenuous her situation is at her own sister’s court. An epic story that resurrects ancient Egypt in vivid detail.

Title: Nefertiti
Author: Michelle Moran
Series: Nefertiti, Book 1
Start & Finished: 11/29/08- 11/30/08
Published: 2007
Publisher: Crown
Pages: 480
Genre: Historical Fiction

Nefertiti is the vivid and compelling debut novel by Michelle Moran about the ancient Egyptian queen (and has sometimes been debated as being a pharaoh herself) who was married to Amenhotep IV and had six daughters. She wrote this "epic Egyptian tale" after visiting Nefertiti’s famous bust and being captivated by “the graceful curve of Nefertiti’s neck, her arched brows, and the faintest hint of a smile.” She wondered, “Who was this woman, with her self-possessed gaze and stunning features?” So asking herself these questions, she began to research this lady from long ago and in doing so, came up with the outline for this book.

Historical Fiction is one of my favorite genres and yet it isn’t one I read very often as even though most authors do an incredible amount of research (this author included), I still find myself wanting to learn more! I have read stories set partly in Egypt before but this was the very first time I had ever read a historical fiction set here. The tone of the story and the way it is told from the minor sister's (Mutnedjmet) point of view, kind of reminds me of The Other Boleyn Girl but the similarities pretty much end there.

There were many terms in the book that I didn't understand and I also had a hard time pronouncing a few of the names (such as the name Ankhkheperura-Neferneferuaten that Nefertiti changed to during her rein) but I truly enjoyed this story, as it was simply amazing. The author embellishes and changes only what can’t be found in the history books and elsewhere or as to keep from being too confusing to make these characters truly come to life. When she researched the book, she did visit Egypt and read several books about that world, and she even relied on a few of her “contacts in the archaeological world” to recreate the “experience of everyday life and war” that these women had to go through.

There is still a lot of mystery surrounding the real Nefertiti and archaeologists are not even quite sure that they've even discovered her tomb yet. The author did visit one that is supposed to be hers and although it was very expensive, she said it was an experience never to be forgotten. However, Moran really brings this mysterious and iconic lady alive in this story. Often known as "the most beautiful woman in the world" and second only to Cleopatra in terms of celebrity throughout the western world, Nefertiti will not soon be forgotten either and Michelle Moran continues her story with her second novel The Heretic Queen.

Links: Author Wikipedia, Author Blog, Nefertiti Wikipedia, Mutnedjmet Wikipedia, Guest Post (Diary of an Eccentric), Another Guest Post (Literarily)
Interview: Questions I Asked the Author (Books & Border Collies), Loaded Questions, Peeking Between the Pages Q&A



Picture Explanations:
The famous bust
Hieroglyphic of Nefertiti worshiping Aten
One of the only remaining statues of Mutnodjmet, Nefertiti's sister.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

There are Heroes. There are Superheroes. And Then There's...

Academy Award nominee Will Smith (Best Actor, The Pursuit of Happyness, 2006) stars in this action-packed comedy as Hancock, a sarcastic, hard-living and misunderstood superhero who has fallen out of favor with the public.

When Hancock grudgingly agrees to an extreme makeover from idealistic publicist Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman, Juno), his life and reputation rise from the ashes and all seems right again - until he meets a woman (2003 Academy Award winner Charlize Theron, Best Actress, Monster) with similar powers to his and the key to his secret past.


Title: Hancock
Release: July 2, 2008
Genre: Action- Drama/ Comedy
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Writer: Vince Gilligan & Vincent Ngo
Director: Peter Berg
Music By: John Powell
Produced By: Akiva Goldsman, James Lassiter, Michael Mann, & Will Smith
Distributed By: Columbia Pictures
Run Time: 92 minutes
Official Site

A script written by Vincent Ngo titled Tonight, He Comes was passed around Hollywood film studios for a little over 10 years with various people attached. After a few re-writes and once it was pitched to Will Smith and Columbia Pictures, filming finally began on the script that was later to be known as Hancock. It has been said that the “unlikely (or more accurately unlikable) hero” story came from the writer’s love of Superman and he “wanted to do a version of Superman that was more real and challenging.”

This film is a little crude at times but still very good- just like Hancock himself. Will Smith did a really wonderful job in the role even though there were a few parts I didn’t care for but on the whole, I really enjoyed it. I liked it a LOT better than the last Will Smith movie I saw I Am Legend (which frankly was a good movie but those kind of films freak me out a little). The special effects aren’t quite as good as Legend but I enjoyed them regardless. I love Will Smith and I believe he’s one of the best actors today. His drama films are great but I still prefer his action comedies like this one (and Bad Boys, Enemy of the State, etc.) the most. He delivers some of his lines in such a dry way that it makes them hysterically funny.

Superhero films have been taking over the theaters for a couple of years now but none of them are quite like this hero/ anti-hero, he’s more on par with David Rice from Jumper than say Superman or Wolverine (there is a clip soon after the credits start where someone refers to him as this character) but he still has some of their qualities as well. Despite many negative reviews, this film actually did remarkably well at the box office and there have been talks of a sequel. I think it would be a great idea... maybe something along the lines of there being a new being like Hancock. It's been rumored that he's supposed to be Zeus (that is just a theory as Hancock has a thing with eagles, it never says so in the film though) and surely not all of the superheroes have died out!

It has been pointed out that this is almost like two separate films as it starts off "aggressive" but with comedy and ends pretty much as a drama. The genres mesh together quite well though and I'm sure a great deal of the credit for that can go to the crew and the cast as Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman work really well together. Will Smith even did all his own stunts (which included being hoisted around town bouncing off of buildings in a harness)! His character really "breaks the mould" of a traditional superhero as he's very good at breaking things and he has a bit of attitude... just don't call him an a**-hole! The DVD release includes an unrated version (the original version that was rated R) and the theatrical version. I have seen both but I prefer the latter.

Links: Imdb.com, Wikipedia, Reelzchannel
Interview: Scared of Flying (CNN), Hancock Sequel? (IESB.net), Jason Bateman and Charlize Theron Audio Interview (FILMdetail)






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