Format: Hardcover, 384pp
Susie Heller, producer of cookbooks and cooking shows including The French Laundry Cookbook, says in the introduction that when she began working on The Essence of Chocolate she wasn’t so sure it was the dream job that most people would think it would be. She worried that all the chocolate around her home would mean weight gain until she met Robert Steinberg and John Scharffenberger, "two very lean men," and she wondered what their secret could be. She soon learned that it wasn't about quantity but quality:
'Working with great chocolate has changed how I bake and eat chocolate. There is such a satisfying feeling when you taste a true artisanal chocolate. The question then became, how do we translate this experience into the recipes chosen for this book? We began by choosing recipes that focused on the flavor of the chocolate. This book doesn‘t call for a lot of fancy embellishments or difficult methods; it's about the ‘essence' of chocolate.'
Susie Heller states it beautifully. It’s all about the essence of the chocolate.
Susie Heller also says that when baking you need to trust your instincts. Use the baking times in the book as a guideline; don’t just follow it blindly because there are so many variables, which include altitude, humidity, type of chocolate, flour, butter, and the temperature of your oven. I liked that they didn’t believe that the recipes were set in stone.
Before you can dig into the decadent, delicious, deliriously delightful recipes they equip you with some of the basic techniques and tools that you will need to create them. Also Robert Steinberg talks about his journey to chocolate in "Before We Made Chocolate: From Medicine to Chocolate" and in John Scharffenberger's "From Winemaking to Chocolate" you learn how the partnership of America’s premier chocolate makers came about.
The recipes in the book are separated into Intensely Chocolate, Essentially Chocolate and A Hint of Chocolate and, depending on your mood, you can pick the perfect fit.
In chapter two, "Intensely Chocolate," the second recipe is the one off the cover, Chocolate Almond Cake. I have to say that this is the best chocolate cake I have ever eaten. I bought some really nice expensive chocolate — believe me, you don’t want to use the cheap stuff here — and attempted it in my tiny apartment kitchen. It got a little messy but the end result was beautiful as well as scrumptious.
Chapter four, "Essentially Chocolate," is filled with such wonders as Cocoa Chiffon Cake, Chocolate Pecan Tart, Black and White Crème Brulee, as well as Chocolate and Peanut Butter Panini. This last one is as easy as making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and, if you ask me, has definitely replaced the old standby.
Chapter six, "A Hint of Chocolate," has such delicate flavors as Banana Carmel Cake, Cacoa Nib Macaroons, and Mint-Basil Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream. Never again will you buy ice cream from the grocery store once you make this one. It is well worth the time and effort, not the mention the wait, before you can dip your spoon into this frozen heaven.
There are also recipes that use chocolate in more savory ways, such as the BBQ sauce and the Tortilla Soup recipes. There is no end in sight when using a good quality chocolate with the right recipes to guide you.
Full of legends, lore, and facts about the plant, as well as the delicious product, The Essence of Chocolate is perfect for a beginner or a pro working with chocolate.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover, 320pp
When you open Jamie’s Italy you are greeted by a picture of Jamie Oliver standing in front of an open door way with a messenger bag slung over his shoulder, a book in his hand, and a look of happiness on his face. A picture is worth 1,000 words and this picture is the perfect introduction to a fantastic cookbook.
But not just any old cookbook. Jamie’s Italy is full of his personal stories from his travels as he collected these delicious recipes. 'In writing this book, I didn’t just want to give you a collection of Italian recipes,' Oliver says. 'I wanted to share some great experiences with you at the same time. So I wrote it while I traveled around the county, working and eating and meeting people off the beaten track.'
So we go with Jamie as he travels all over Italy. With brilliant photographs by David Loftus and Chris Terry, the food along Jamie’s travels is brought to life and the candid photos of Jamie talking with locals are truly wonderful. You get glimpses of things you might never have the chance to see, of lives that you might never lead.
One of the things I enjoyed, besides the great recipes, was the honesty in which Jamie spoke of Italy. In his section titled ‘Street Food & Pizza’ he says that about 50 percent of street food that he came across was not the best stuff. As the author relates:
'One old chap in an alleyway in the Palermo was surrounded by about ten people all eating and talking. He had a big cauldron in his stall, with a double-lined tablecloth tied on top like a steamed pudding at Xmas. There was nothing similar about the contents, though… this chain smoking, dirty-looking bloke would put his hand into the cauldron though a small hole in the cover and draw out a handful of greasy gizzards, spleen, and lung which he would slap onto a break roll, or just serve on a bit of paper.'
Well that’s one thing I won’t try when I go to Italy. But the pizza is another story. Jamie’s recipes for pizza are mouth-watering. Although I don’t have a brick oven like he recommends I did try his pizza with potatoes, mozzarella, rosemary, thyme, and tomatoes and his best garlic bread. Jamie also includes a recipe for a fried pizza which I haven’t tried yet but will soon.
But my favorite recipes was the one for Caponata, which he describes as an ’incredible Sicilian eggplant stew’ When I saw the picture for it I knew I just had to try it. It was simple and tasted wonderful. I’m not sure if it was anything like how it is done in Sicily but it wasn’t bad for Oklahoma.
Jamie’s Italy is full of recipes that you will want to try and that you will grow to love. Jamie stresses the use of local as well as seasonal produce as the keys to an authentic dish. He also includes some great basic recipes for making pasta and cooked vegetables. Jamie’s Italy is a wonderful place to be, I hope one day to travel off the beaten path and eat all those wonderful things from the source.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 256pp
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Claire Danvers is a 16-year-old college freshman in the small town of Morganville, Texas. She hates being stuck at a tiny party college when she could have gone to MIT, Yale, or Caltech. Claire is only in Morganville because it’s close to home; having led a very sheltered life her parents didn’t want her going to college far from home. Too bad they didn’t take a closer look at Morganville before Claire arrived.
Claire is having a hard time at school, not with her classes but with some of the other girls. The leading beauty Monica has made it her personal mission to ruin Claire’s existence. When Monica pushes Claire down a flight of stairs with a promise that Claire will get what’s coming to her, she realizes that the dorms on campus are not a safe place for her to stay.
Claire immediately begins looking for a new place, and in the want ads she finds an advert for a place called The Glass House. It is shared by three roommates who seem to be very close. At first that intimidates Claire but she’s so desperate that she overcomes her shyness and goes out to the house to see if the room that is offered is still available.
Only two of the three roommates are around when Claire arrives: Eve, a very stylish Goth who works in the local coffee shop, and Shane who’s just plain good-looking. Both are over 18 and do not want someone underage living in the house. But when they see the bruises that Claire has from her run-in with Monica they can’t turn her away. Later Claire meets Michael, the mysterious owner of the house who is only around during the night.
Claire learns from the trio that Monica is not an enemy to have and that Morganville is not a place you want to walk around in after dark. Eve explains that most of the town is under the protection of different vampires, the people that are protected wear bracelets with a certain symbol on them.
It’s only a matter of time before the vampires of Morganville notice Claire. Unfortunately being Monica’s enemy has already brought her under their scrutiny. But Claire isn’t alone, and with the help of Eve, Shane, and Michael she can face what is coming.
This is a quick read, full of suspense and even a touch of romance, a page-turning introduction to the Morganville Vampire series. The second book, Dead Girl’s Dance will be released in April of 2007 and I can’t wait to pick up the continuation of Claire’s story. Especially since this one leaves you with a cliffhanger ending.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover, 448pp
Flora Segunda Nemain Fyrdraaca ov Fyrdraaca is last on the family list, and the second Flora. She has a huge name to fill but Flora has spirit - and if anyone could live up to such a heavy name she can.
In a strange, sometimes confusing, mix of slang and old-fashioned language, Flora Segunda is an original adventure about a Girl with Spirit. On the verge of turning 14, the legal adult age in Califa, Flora is getting ready for her Catorcena, the event that celebrates her move into adulthood.
There is to be a huge party which Flora is not looking forward to. There is a family tradition that each member of the Fyrdraaca family joins the Califa military and goes to the Barracks. Flora does not want to go to the Barracks; instead she wants to be a Ranger like her hero, the famous Coyote Queen. Nini Mo along with her sidekick Boy Hansgen were the greatest Rangers in the country’s history and more than anything Flora would like to be one of them.
Flora lives in the ancestral home of the Fyrdraaca’s, Crackpot Hall, which has 11,000 rooms that shift and change at random. The elevator is unreliable and Flora has been warned against using it but she is running late for school and has forgotten her library book in her room. Flora takes the chance and ends up in a part of Crackpot Hall that she has never been before.
she comes across the great library of Crackpot Hall and its banished butler Valefor. Flora’s Mamma banished Valefor long ago and now there is no one to clean but Flora. When Valefor offers to help Flora if she gives him just a little bit of her Will she agrees.
Valefor explains to Flora that because he has been banished he is beginning to fade into Elsewhere. But Valefor says that Flora can stop him from disappearing if she finds his fetish and restores him. But before Flora can save him she finds out the Dainty Pirate who is famous up and down the coast has been captured. The Dainty Pirate is Udo’s hero, her glass-gazing best friend. Together they decide that they must save him.
Flora and Udo have adventure after adventure. With such chapters as 'Discernment Sigil. Smoke. Searching A Tea Caddy." and "Sewers. Clowns. Cherry Cherry Slurps. Sad Songs." -- in which the author pays homage to Marie LaCoste’s poem "Somebody’s Darling" -- this is a hard book to put down.
Wednesday, December 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover, 400pp
Publisher: Doherty, Tom Associates, LLC
Hunters of the Dark Sea is set the Pacific ocean in 1813, when the ocean is crawling with pirates and privateers. Whaling ships also cross the wide blue expanses hunting the beasts not only for the blubber that is needed for oil lamps but also for the bone that is used for buttons and ladies' hoop skirts. Sometimes the whaling ships and the pirates paths' cross, with dangerous consequences.
Ethan Swain is the first mate on the whaling ship Reliant. A good man with a good heart he keeps the crew's best interests in mind. He is what holds the crew together. The ship is captained by Captain Folger, who has a close eye on the profit margin and cares little about the men under him and even less about Ethan. We learn early on that Ethan is a man with a dark past and that the Captain is always looking for a way to undermine him.
On the Brown-Eyed Sue, in another part of the Pacific Ocean, Professor Bullock and his daughter Katharine are searching for something that the natives of Easter Island call "Death-in-the-Water." The natives claim that it has the mask of a whale, but is not actually a whale. The Professor finds a man washed up on the shore and views first-hand the horrible damage that Death-in-the-Water deals to its prey; right before the Professor’s eyes the man that he tries to save liquefies from the venom that the monster has injected him with.
When an unknown ship pulls into harbor close to the Brown-Eyed Sue, most of her crew welcome the chance to meet the new people, even though they are aware of the danger. Only pirates, privateers, and scientist frequent these waters but the crew welcomes the chance to trade supplies and upgrade their stores.
The Sunfisher is captained by the seemingly well-mannered Captain McAfee, who quickly shows his true colors. Brown-Eyed Sue escapes in the fog only to have the Sunfisher coming up fast behind her.
All three ships are hunting and being hunted. The Reliant and her crew are hunting whales, the Brown-Eyed Sue is hunting the monster, and the Sunfisher is on the look out for a quick way to make a profit. Each ship has deadly encounters with the monster that is hunting them through the ocean.
When Captain Folger of the Reliant lets greed get the better of him, he places his entire crew, as well as his ship, at the mercy of the monster. Ethan battles to save the men as well as the ship, fighting the weather and the monster, determined to make it through alive.
Hunters of the Dark Sea is vividly written and the images drawn by Mel Odom are clear and precise. I was glued to the book as Reliant tossed on an angry sea, the wind and lightning lashing around the sails. Horror gripped my stomach as the monster claims victim after victim and Ethan narrowly escapes. It was a great adventure filled with action and suspense; this a book that once you pick it up you just can't put it down until you have finished.
Friday, December 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover, 240pp
Publisher: Greenwood Publishing Group, Incorporated
Edition Description: 1ST
Many Americans remember that famous 1945 V-J Day photograph in Life magazine of the sailor in blues kissing the nurse as she’s cradled in the crook of his arm. It’s always been a favorite of mine. The emotional moment moves from the photograph in waves, and for years it was my view of World War II: that one beautiful moment after the carnage of war.
Thanks for the Memories goes beyond what you might have learned from textbooks or what your grandparents might have shared around the dinner table. The Greatest Generation is disappearing, and their stories are dying with them. Jane Mersky Leder has now collected some stories you might not know about, along with those you might have heard somewhere along the way.
When the United States was plunged into World War II, the men stood up to be counted and enlisted - many of them only hours after the news was broadcast nationwide. When the men went to war so did the women, to the factories as well as the military in programs like WAVES and WAAC.
Subjects not covered in standard textbooks include prostitution near Army camps, venereal disease, and the man hours it cost the war effort; or the stories of lesbians and gays who enlisted and fought for our country. Ms Leder goes on to discuss female roles during the war and how this change laid the foundation for Women's Liberation in the 1960s.
Then there are the stories of young service wives who accompanied their husbands from base to base. They usually experienced wretched living conditions, and many couples were not allowed to live together. The men had to stay on the base while women were forced to find a place to live in nearby towns. Once the soldiers were shipped overseas, the long separations chipped away at their hasty marriages although for others, when they were reunited, it was as though no time had elapsed at all.
Thanks for the Memories is replete with captivating bits of history, wonderful personal stories, and a peek into a generation slipping away fast. It’s never dull as Ms Leder moves you swiftly through history, confidently and engagingly.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover, 336pp
Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books
The best part of a Terry Pratchett novel is the humor. Before you pick one up you have to prepare yourself to burst with laughter. You will laugh out loud in public places (if you read at work, on a plane, train, or automobile) and people will look at you like you have lobsters crawling out of your ears. And the best part? You won‘t be able to help yourself - it‘s Terry Pratchett.
In May 2003 The Wee Free Men hit the shelves of bookstores everywhere and the world came to know Tiffany Aching, another character in the long list of the fantastic Discworld cast. Tiffany is a young witch from the rolling Chalk Hills, where her family owns sheep. Everyone knew that chalk didn’t make a good witch - you need good firm rock for that, but Tiffany proved them all wrong. On June 1, 2004 A Hat Full of Sky brought us Tiffany’s second adventure in which she proves that she could hold her own against the things that go bump in the night, as well as grumpy old witches.
Wintersmith is the third, and hopefully not the last, of Tiffany Aching’s adventures. Tiffany is on the verge of becoming a teenager, as well as in the middle of learning to be a Witch. Not learning magic, no, because she has that in her already, but learning to control and choose things for herself. Learning not only to make the decision but to stand by it as well.
When the Morris Men gather to dance the Black Morris Dance all the witches go to watch. Through the quiet night they stand to bear witness to the dancers bringing in the winter. Tiffany has never been there before and even though she is told to be quiet and be still, she isn‘t. Her feet start to tap and suddenly she leaps into the middle of the dance.
By stepping into the dance Tiffany has come between Winter and Summer, and she has caught Winter’s eye. Winter follows Tiffany home, spinning roses made of ice and returning a lost keepsake but Tiffany knows that under all the sweet puppy love there is only Winter.
For those of you that have read The Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky the Feegle’s are back again providing comic relief as well as large acts of small heroism. The tiny blue tattooed men aren’t going to leave Tiffany alone now that she’s 13. They know she still needs looked after even if she doesn’t and if that means reading her diary, well then so be it.
In the end Tiffany finds that there is power in a simple kiss and in the choices that you make. Again she proves herself to be a Witch to be reckoned with, someone with power and of power. Not to mention there are chickens, but I’ll let you find out about those for yourself.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover, 384pp
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Club George is the heartwarming story of George, the extraordinary Red-winged Blackbird who ignites the author’s interest in all things bird. New York's Central Park might be the last place you would expect to see a variety of wildlife but soon you learn differently. The park is a migration stop for many species of birds, and through the book you get to experience the variety for yourself. Not to mention George.
'The mention of Red-winged Blackbirds struck a chord with her. She turned and said, "You’re ‘George’ aren’t you?” I corrected her saying, “I’m Bob, but I’m a fan of George if that’s what you mean." She explained she did not mean to say that my name was George, but that she knew me to be one of George’s admirers.'
With that, you follow Bob Levy’s transformation from your average Joe into an experienced birdwatcher. You get to peek over his shoulder as he feeds George for the first time, while he comes to know the Downy Woodpeckers Morton and Mary, and meets Canada Geese, Mallards, American Robins, Common Grackles, Northern Cardinals, Nighthawks, Black-crowned Night Herons, and many others.
Throughout the book there are wonderful black and white photographs of the subjects that are written about with such wonder and enthusiasm. It was wonderful to be able to put a face to a name with George, as well as a few other individuals Mr. Levy befriended along the way.
My favorite story about George was when he stole the yellow cake. Mr. Levy had gone out to his usual spot to watch George and found it crowded with other visitors. Not all were there to see George; in fact most were oblivious to the bird perched on his favorite spot. A man with a small baby in a papoose was there. In the man’s hand was a piece of plastic-wrapped yellow pound cake that he waved back and fourth.
George was trained on it, little eyes focused on his goal. The man, still oblivious to George, unwrapped the cake and George seized the moment. He flew in, landing on the cake, digging his beak and claws into the object and flew away again with a large chunk of it. That is a bird with gumption.
Club George: The Diary of a Central Park Bird-Watcher is much more than just a diary about one man or about one bird for that matter. It is full of information for the beginner bird watcher, helpful tips and hints sandwiched between wonderfully funny moments of a life enriched by birds. Mr. Levy has done his research completely and knows exactly what direction to point you in if he lacks an answer. He has such a passion for the avian world that by just picking up this book, it will rub off on you as well. Become a member of Club George; it’s an experience not to be missed.
Friday, November 24, 2006
Format: Paperback, 320pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
I am a believer in reading everything you can get your hands on - everything from Literature to bargain rack crap. In between all that I come across some teen fiction once in awhile. One of my favorite authors in the genre is Holly Black. Valiant is her second novel. Her first was Tithe, and both are now fast favorites.
Valerie Russell runs away from home to New York after she finds her mother making out with her boyfriend. Heartbroken and lost, she wanders the city until she is found by three teenagers living on the street - Dave, Luis, and Lolli. Lolli takes Val under her wing, taking her to their underground squat, inviting her to stay with them even though Luis warns against it.
But Val’s new friends survive better than most on the streets and in a more unusual way. New York is full of exiled faeries from the Seelie and Unseelie courts, light and dark of the faerie kingdoms. Ravus is a troll who mixes a drug to keep the iron from killing the faeries living in exile. All over the city faeries are dying and many believe it is because of Ravus. Luis acts as a courier for him with occasional help from Dave but the faeries are becoming suspicious of the humans.
Lolli shows Val that the amber sand does more than just protect the faeries. Lolli and the others call it Nevermore and it gives humans the ability to use glamour as the faeries do. The drug has rules: never take it more than once a day, and never more than just a pinch, but Lolli has very little self-control.
Val and Lolli decide to find the troll that Luis deals with. They travel through the labyrinth of subway tunnels until Lolli points to an opening in the wall; through this they find Ravus’ home. Lolli immediately starts to shove things into her bag as Val looks around the room. Her eyes are drawn to a beautiful sword made of glass. Ravus comes home to find them among his things. Val runs but as soon as she realizes that Lolli has be left behind she returns to fight for her friend.
Val strikes a bargain with Ravus: in return for Lolli she will serve Ravus a week for each item that was shoved into Lolli’s backpack. Val is charged to deliver the Nevermore to the faeries that are waiting for it. When Val finds a dead mermaid, Ravus is blamed and attacked by some of the exiled faeries. Val stands up for him, proving herself to be more than just a human - she a valiant human. Ravus looks at her and really sees her for the first time. It‘s a great moment in the book.
Being that faeries are involved — and we all know faeries are tricky — this isn’t the end. The path that leads them all to the end is full of diversions and traps. Val and Ravus must negotiate each to reach the end successfully, as well as whole. Valiant is a book you don’t want to miss. I waited until it came out in paperback to buy it but now that I’ve read it I’ll have to pick up a hardback copy as well. It is more than worth the price.
Monday, November 20, 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 352pp
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
The third book in the Circle Trilogy is by far the best. Finally everything the six have worked for is coming to be. Hoyt, Glenna, Larkin, Blair, Moira, and Cain have raised and trained an army in the legendary land of Geall and are ready for the battle against Lilith and the dark.
In Morrigon’s Cross Hoyt and Glenna fell in love and married, in Dance of the Gods Larkin and Blair admitted that they loved each other and became engaged. Through both of those books I kept wondering when it was going to be Cain’s turn.
Finally in Valley of Silence does Cain do something about the love for Moira that has been eating away at him from the first. Finally there is passion, fire, and yes — this being a vampire romance — a few bite marks as well.
Lilith has been testing the Circle’s strength, feeling out their weaknesses and trying to plant the seed of doubt in their hearts. She has captured and turned away friends and family, sending them back to the Circle to destroy in an attempt to sway them from their path. The Circle shoulders the burden and with the help of each other they move forward, pushing Lilith into retreat.
Cain struggles with his love for Moira, since he is a vampire and she a human. He knows that they have no future together, that he cannot give her the things she desires. Cain can’t help but be with her while he has the chance, knowing that when they finally part it will be like all light has left his world. Moira would do anything to have Cain stay with her in Geall, but she knows that their time is short.
Finally the battle is fought. Vampires crawl from the earth as darkness falls, a dark sorcerer fights the light, and the Circle battles to keep all worlds safe from the darkness that Lilith thirsts for. The battle is bloody and exacts a cost, but the Circle lives to see the run rise.
I read a review that said the book was predictable. Ok, so maybe a little. It’s a romance novel and there are only so many places one can be taken. You know when you pick up the book that it has a happy ending. So what? Keep reading and find out how you get there. The end does have bit of twist which is fantastic, by the way.
The Circle Trilogy is a great series, one I will read again and again. It‘s a comfort thing, a bath time read or a beach book; the kind of thing that is never a bad choice.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 352pp
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
In the second installment of the Circle Trilogy, our heroes have crossed worlds and times through the ring of stones known as the Dance of the Gods, to Geall. They have trained and prepared as best they could for the ultimate battle between good and evil. Already having fought skirmishes with Lilith and her army of undead, in Geall they hope to raise an army of their own.
In Morrigan’s Cross Hoyt the sorcerer and Glenna the witch fell in love, working through their differences and fears. In Dance of the Gods demon hunter Blair and shape-shifter Larkin over come their obstacles to find a way to be and stay together.
The circle of six are still trying to come to terms with the evil that is Lilith. Even Cian the vampire and Blair the hunter, are touched by Lilith’s brutality. But together the six, the circle, must believe and trust that they are enough to beat back the dark that threatens to consume all worlds, not just their own. As they get closer and closer to the appointed date they face tests that could not only break them, but kill them.
The circle, once in Geall, must earn the trust of the people. The world has not been exposed to vampires and so many do not believe. Moira, the future queen of Geall as well as the scholar of the circle, asks Cian, Larkin, and Blair to capture two so that she can show the people. Only once the people believe, once they know, can the circle raise the army they need.
The action in this one has an edge to it that the first book lacked. Time is running out as Larkin and Blair fight the love and need that fills them both. There is a sense of urgency about everything. The characters are more developed and solid to me than in the first book and the evil more present and real.
Dance of the Gods is fantastic. I will keep this book on my shelf and read it again and again. I do recommend though that you read the books in order, as they were written. You would lose a lot if you just picked up the second without reading the first.
Friday, November 17, 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 352pp
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Morrigan’s Cross was released August 29, 2006 and is the first book in The Circle Trilogy. Book two, Dance of the Gods, and book three, The Valley of Silence, are already out as well. One of the reasons I finally decided to pick this book up, besides the vampires, was the fact that I wasn’t going to have to wait to get the whole story. The books all came out within weeks of each other — the last one was released at the end of October.
In this first book we meet six people. A sorcerer, a witch, a shape-shifter, a scholar, a warrior, and one who was lost. The sorcerer, Hoyt, is charged by the goddess Morrigan to travel to the future to bring these people together. They will form an army that must defeat evil in the form of Lilith. She is the ultimate vampire, working to destroy humanity and all the good and light in the world.
Hoyt travels through time, arriving in modern day New York to find two of the circle. The one who was lost is Hoyt’s brother Cain, who had been turned into a vampire by Lilith hundreds of years ago. The witch, Glenna, seeks him out after having a nasty run in with a vampire on the subway. The shape-shifter Larkin and scholar Moira come from another world, Geall the land of legends. The warrior Blair shows up almost at the end of the book but proves she deserves to be the one that completes their circle.
This first book is about the characters learning to put their pain behind them and become a team, a unit of good against the evil. There are a few close shaves while they are still at odds with each other but once they learn to work together they can finally work to defeat the enemy.
A thrilling start to a great series, Morrigan’s Cross is the kind of book you hate to put down but love to pick back up. The characters are great and you get involved at once with their personal stories, waiting with breath held as their lives finally start to intertwine. The action is evenly paced; you don’t feel overwhelmed by a bunch of blood-sucking and towards the end you get a look at things from Lilith’s point of view, which is pretty interesting.
I’ve never read a Nora Roberts or J.D. Robb (her pseudonym) novel before, so I can’t compare it to any of her others. But I enjoyed this one and have already picked up Dance of the Gods. Plus, how can you go wrong with a vampire book?
Friday, November 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover, 672pp
Publisher: Norton, W.W. & Company,Inc.
The Meaning of Night: A Confession by Michael Cox was published by McClelland & Steward in September of 2006. This book was started over 15 years ago by Michael Cox and when you pick it up, feel the weight of it in your hands, and begin to read, you know that you are about to be consumed completely by a story that has lived inside this man for 15 years.
With the opening lines of this novel you are swallowed by an intricate compelling story.
'After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn’s for an oyster supper. It had been surprisingly - almost laughably - easy. I had followed him for some distance, after observing him in Threadneedle-street I cannot say why I decided it should be him, and not one of the others on whom my searching eye had alighted that evening.'
Immediately you wonder why. Why has this character, whose own name we are unsure of until later in the book, killed a man whose name he does not know? What we do learn is that this man, Edward Glyver, has been wronged in some terrible way. Edward’s whole life has been altered by one man, Phoebus Rainsford Daunt, from being swindled out of his birthright to having his school career damaged beyond repair. Only Edward can see Daunt for what he really is, a charming, petty, self-absorbed thief.
Each part of Edward’s story is told by him to different people in his life. From Bella, the long-time lover he could never truly love, to his best friend from his school days, Le Grice. Little by little you come to know him and his complicated past. He is careful not to reveal too much to each person, but we as the reader see all, just as he intends us to.
Edward is an obsessive character, driven by this theft of his birthright. He is obsessive about books, a dedicated bibliophile and scholar. Edward tells you himself that he does things you will not like, from his occasional opium use to solicitation. He is only human, doing very human things.
Ten years after his mother's death, Edward finally starts to go through her papers. She was a successful novelist and there are stacks of things for him to sort, and while sifting through the drifts, he find her diaries, small, compact black books that reveal to him his true identity. He is not Edward Glyver but Edward Charles Duport.
For the first time he realizes that he belongs to one of the oldest and most powerful families in all of England. Edward decides to reclaim his rights, his standing in the world. He begins his restoration which brings him closer and closer to Phoebus Rainsford Daunt.
Beautifully written, this is a classic in the making. This novel has it all - a dark character you have to follow to the end. It covers the full spectrum of human emotion.
Tuesday, November 7, 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 384pp
Publisher: Vanguard Press
Creepers are the people who explore abandoned houses, hotels, subway tunnels, factories, and old department stores. It is highly illegal and there are a lot of fines and penalties out there for those people that get caught, not to mention the danger that an abandoned building poses; have the floors rotted away, will there be homeless people hiding in the corners, and what wild animals have found a way in out of the weather?
At some point in time, mostly in the teenage years, I’m sure a lot of you have wandered into an old building, maybe in the middle of the night with a flashlight and a friend. I must have spent countless hours exploring an abandoned hotel in the city I live in. I could never make myself look in all the closed hotel rooms. I would clutch a shaking flashlight and hurry to the roof, twelve floors up, and then hurry back down. In one of the rooms I did explore I found a copy of a 1960s Playboy in the nightstand next to a copy of the Bible.
Creepers is a book about the people who have the guts to take a look at it all. Open every door, take a look in the basement, and even thoughtful enough to bring a camera to take some pictures. But the abandoned buildings aren’t always truly abandoned and evil never truly leaves a place it has left its mark on.
Frank Balenger is a reporter doing a story on urban explorers for his newspaper. He is invited to join a group of five preparing to explore The Paragon Hotel on the Jersey Shore. The Paragon has a sad history, being built and owned by a man who feared people and the world. It is scheduled to be demolished in a week’s time.
Through tunnels infested with deformed rats and a cat with three hind legs, the group breaks through a metal door and into the hotel. What they find inside is the hotel as it looked in the Victorian era. Lush furnishings and marble that have been slowly rotting all these years. Carefully exploring rooms, they find evidence of the hotel’s brutal and horribly evil past. What they aren’t expecting is that the evil is still alive and waiting just around the corner.
Parts of this book almost made me jump out of my skin. The tension skyrockets and you just can't put down the book until you find out what happens next. Before you know it's 4 o'clock in the morning on a work day.
Monday, November 6, 2006
Format: Paperback, 277pp
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
I am a Jane Austen fan. Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorites. There have been a lot of Lizzys and Darcys out there. Several writers have picked up the classic love story of these two beloved characters: Linda Berdoll the author of Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife: Pride and Prejudice Continues and Darcy & Elizabeth: Nights and Days at Pemberley and Elizabeth Aston, author of Mr. Darcy’s Daughters, The Exploits & Adventures of Miss Alethea Darcy, The True Darcy Spirit, and due out in March of 2007, The Second Mrs. Darcy. There are many others and each interpretation is different.
I always pick up any new story involving my favorite characters. I know deep down that most of the time I’ll be disappointed, but I like to give each one a chance. I buy the book, make myself some tea, and curl up to read. I did the same with Darcy’s Story, but unlike some novels I have come across, this one did not disappoint.
One of the reasons I think that Pride and Prejudice is loved so much is Lizzy. After reading the novel, each of us wants to be her; she is such a strong character. Then you get involved in the love story, one that has remained a favorite for the last two centuries.
Darcy's Story lacks the depth of the original, only skimming the surface of the classic love story. But we do see much more of Fitzwilliam Darcy’s relationship with his sister and his friendship with Bingley. We get to see what Darcy was up to while he was away from Lizzy and Netherfield in London as well. The best part, though, was getting to see the biggest moments out of the book from his point of view.
This book doesn’t give us anything new; it just covers the ground we have walked before, hand in hand with Jane Austen. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth picking up. Think of it as a companion book to the classic, something to pick up when you might not have the time to read Pride and Prejudice, or would just like to see it all from Darcy’s point of view.
Monday, October 23, 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 376pp
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
This is the second Barnaby novel in the series, the first being Metro Girl. I picked Motor Mouth up because the first one was so great. The story is told by Alex Barnaby, nicknamed Barney. She is a mechanic who likes pink and indulges in the occasional manicure. Not your run of the mill girl, she still has all those feminine qualities that men can appreciate.
In Metro Girl Barney hooked up with Hooker, the superstar NASCAR driver. In the beginning of Motor Mouth they have split because Barney found Hooker in bed with a salesclerk. There were pictures on the net so it isn't like he can say it wasn't him. Barney is still on the race team and spotting for Hooker. Somehow they have managed to still be friends, which I find a little hard to believe, but it does make for some nice sexual tension throughout the book as Hooker tries to win Barney back.
A Janet Evanovich novel would not be complete without a dead body. When you go back and read everything else of hers you find a common thread such as dead bodies, large drooling dogs, and little old ladies with very large handguns. Two out of three ain’t bad when you have a huge Saint Bernard named Beans and several dead bodies. I guess those make up for the old lady with a gun.
The action kicks off right away with the possibility of cheating in a race and a gigantic car crash. It only moves on from there with a plastic-wrapped body, dog-napping, and the possibility of illegal race technology.
Barney bumbles around at one point trying to rescue Hooker, which is just a shade too close to the first book for it to feel original. I have to admit that this book feels like it was hurried through and held together by the humor.
The conversations are sharp and quick, everything you expect to find in a Janet Evanovich novel. The humor is a little morbid at times, but often of the laugh-out loud variety, too. I have to admit that this isn't the best but it isn't the worst. I would just recommend waiting for paperback.
Friday, October 20, 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 352pp
The third book in the Rogue Angel series comes out November 7, 2006 and I am telling you right now that you need to preorder a copy. I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy and it is by far the best installment of Annja and her adventures. It’s my favorite of the three to date.
It picks up with Annja being called in to Atlanta to help excavate the remains of slaves in an abandoned building dating from the Civil War. When she gets down to Atlanta she finds that there is more to the story than she expected. On the site she finds a carved piece of tiger's eye called The Spider Stone, a gift from the Spider God Anansi to the Hausa people of Africa. The stone was a promise that the Hausa people, as long as they carried this stone, would always have a home.
While Annja is trying to decipher the language carved on the stone, the archaeological party is attacked by gun-toting bad guys. By now, this being the third book and all, we know that Annja isn’t going to let herself be pushed around. The fight scene is great and at the end Annja tackles a man into a moving car. The imagery was just fantastic. I’m not a very violent person but it just feels so good when the bad guys get what’s coming to them.
Annja finds out that the men who attacked her at the dig site have ties to a warlord in Africa who is after the stone. She deciphers the writing and discovers that the stone is carved with a map leading to buried treasure and the records of the Hausa people. Homeland Security gets involved and offers to pay her way to Africa to look for this buried treasure hoping that she will draw out Tafari, the horrible war lord, who has ties to Al Qaeda.
Once in Africa the chase, which never slackens, picks up. Clues all start to point in one direction and Annja and Tafari are headed for a head-on collision. Annja has learned that sometimes it is kill or be killed, but she struggles with it. She is growing and learning that the sword she has been claimed by isn’t going to give her an easy path.
Annja is a very human character; she’s the person you would like to think you would be if you had to step up to the plate and fight absolute evil with a broad sword. All in all, it is great entertainment mixed with some interesting facts that you might not come across everyday. The author has really done his research about the period of time involving slave trade as well as some of the ancient African cultures. It was nice to have some facts tied into all the fantastic adventure.
Monday, October 16, 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 352pp
I finished reading Solomon’s Jar this morning and I have to admit I am slightly disappointed. The basic story was good. It contained lots of action and even a romantic interest, unlike the first in this series, but it relied too heavily on the action to keep it together.
Some parts of the story weren’t explained very well. From the beginning the villains were lacking in backbone. You didn’t see enough of them to really feel like they were a threat and when they did show up they were just one-dimensional, not fully realized at all.
The book picks up with Annja in the Amazon basin running for her life from mercenaries. She has found an ancient book of medicine that everyone wants. This part of the story has nothing to do with the rest of the story. For the first 26 pages you bite your nails as she is chased through the jungle by bad guys, never really knowing who sent them and why. But she prevails, kicking butt and living to fight another day.
With no transition she is in New York, home finally, coming back from the grocery store. This was the biggest problem I had with this book; there were no transitions between her destinations. The author went from New York, Amsterdam, Rio, and England with nothing to let you know that Annja is flying on an airplane eating bad food. I found myself wondering if Amsterdam was a street in New York.
In Amsterdam Annja is looking for Solomon’s Jar. She’s not sure what she is going to do with it but knowing she must find it. Instead she finds a dead shopkeeper. She is caught going through the caller ID by Aidan Pascoe, another archeologist who is after the jar. They in turn get interrupted by the Russian mafia. They escape together, Annja saving Aidan’s life only to have him tell her to leave him alone.
In England Annja is almost killed by a cult called The White Tree. It’s a brief encounter and Annja hacks her way out of it with her sword. The White Tree leader is one of the villains of the story, but you only see him twice in the book, at the beginning and the end.
Another big jump and Annja is in Jerusalem getting chased by an angry mob of half-crazed men for no reason. She is saved when a door opens in a wall and a little old lady pokes her head out and tells her to come inside. The woman helps Annja, giving out good advice like a kind of mystic guide. Later in the story that same old woman shows up, only she isn’t as old that time.
Annja leaves the old woman and runs into Aidan getting beat up on the street. She kills all of the attackers and Aidan is sick for a moment. Having saved his life again, they have coffee and talk. They part ways once again with Aidan telling her to push off.
Eventually Annja and Aidan side together, but only after he saves her life. By the end of the book though, she saved his life at least four times. They run around together trying to find the jar before three other groups do. The problem is that you never really get the sense of that. The fact that other people are looking for this jar just isn’t explained very well. At the end they all end up together in a smelting factory in the Amazon and it’s almost a surprise. You wonder why all these people are here with guns.
Overall it was fair. It was hard to get into because of all the inconsistencies. I expected much more after reading Destiny, but it doesn’t stop me from reading the next one.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 352pp
Publisher: Worldwide Library
This book is the first of the Rogue Angel series and I have to say I can’t think of a better way to kick off a series. Full of butt-kicking, sword-wielding action as well as a great mystery, the story keeps you involved and turning pages.
Annja Creed is an archaeologist working part time for a TV show about chasing down history’s monsters. She is the serious, intelligent, college graduate of the show while the other girl who works there just tends to lose her top quite a bit. This makes for some very funny dialogue throughout the book.
While working in a small town in France tracking the legendary monster Le Bete, Annja is attacked by two black leather-clad men. She finds out that they are the goons of a crime boss who believes that she has become too close to the mystery of Le Bete. She sends one to the hospital; the other escapes to his boss.
Up in the mountains the next day Annja meets an old man who calls himself Roux. There is something strange about him, even though she can’t quite put her finger on it. Suddenly the earth begins to shake and buckle, throwing Annja to her knees. Roux helps her to her feet, directing her to his car down the mountain, but before she gets very far the earth opens up before her feet. Annja falls into the hole, the darkness swallowing her completely.
In the enveloping cave Annja discovers a small charm, the size of a coin, with signs etched onto both sides. The crime boss has sent more goons after her, determined to find out exactly what she knows about Le Bete that he doesn’t. They find her in the cave and Annja gets cornered. Roux comes to the rescue and they escape.
Not everything is what it appears to be as Annja quickly learns; Roux double crosses her and black-robed monks show up armed with guns. The monks as well as the crime lord want the charm that Roux has stolen from Annja. But before she gets abducted at gunpoint a tall, dark, and handsome man dressed all in black shows up to save her. “Annja Creed I’ve come to help you!” he yells as he shoots down a monk who is about to shoot her.
Garin saves her and takes her to Roux, who turns out to be a very old friend, to recover her charm. Once at Roux’s home Annja discovers that her charm is part of something much bigger and that it is her destiny to bring all the pieces together.
This was a fun and fast read. I wished that I could have called into work so that I could have finished it faster, it really was that hard to put down. Next on my list is Rogue Angel: Solomon’s Jar, the second book in the series and I hope it will be just as good
Sunday, October 8, 2006
Format: Hardcover, 206pp
“This is a story about family and, as there is a ghost involved you might call it a ghost story. But every family is a ghost story. The dead sit at our tables long after they have gone.” (For One More Day)
Chick Benetto is a man who tried to kill himself. This is the story about his attempted suicide and the one day it gave him with his deceased mother. Through the book we see bits of his childhood; Chick’s absentee father, nurse mother, and Roberta, his sister. We see his parents fighting over dinner, his father claiming that it just isn’t right. The father turns to him and asks him what he thinks of the food. Chick sides with his father because his father always says, “You can be a momma’s boy or a daddy’s boy, but you can’t be both.”
When Chick’s mother dies of a massive heart attack his life crumbles. He feels as if suddenly he is alone, no one backing him, no one on his side. The family he has built, a wife and daughter, quickly falls apart with his drinking.
He leaves them, just like once upon a time his father left him, turning his life over to alcohol. One day he receives a letter from his daughter with pictures of her wedding. He suddenly realizes that he has been exactly what he never wanted to be. He gives up then and decides to kill himself. All he wants is to have someone on his side again; he wishes that he still had his mother, the one person who always believed in him.
Chick drives out to his home town, full of alcohol and memories of his past. We see through the mind's eye the house he grew up in, the school he went to, and the unhappy or happy memories attached to each. On the off ramp to his small town Chick causes a car accident, but he walks away from it. Walking the rest of the way to his home he passes the familiar, aching and hurting he climbs the water tower he once climbed as a teenager and throws himself off of it. At the bottom he opens his eyes and a little way in the distance he sees his long-dead mother, standing in a lavender dress waiting for him.
This book is only 197 pages long. From start to finish you are wrapped up in this family story: the small hardships, the not so small hardships, and the give and take that goes on in all families. It is heartbreakingly beautiful and in the end uplifting. You come away with a desire to pay closer attention to the world around you and what you have. Not to mention the desire to go and hug your mom, just in case.
Tuesday, October 3, 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 320pp
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
I picked up I See You by Holly Lisle because it came highly recommended by a friend. I don’t venture into the romance section of a bookstore too often, but this book was well worth the woman sniggering at me in the aisle. It has lots of action, suspense, and two very hot sex scenes. Not to mention the really nice human details that just make you smile while you read.
Dia is an EMT in Florida and she loves her job. Four years previously her husband, Mac who was also an EMT, died in an ambulance wreck caused by a car stopping suddenly to avoid hitting a child on a bike. She was the first on the scene, she couldn’t save her husband or her co-workers, but she could save the man in the car. She worked the scene like a professional. Years later, Dia still works with the same crews and wouldn’t ever think of leaving; they have become her family.
Brig is a detective who is working car accident scenes that aren’t exactly what they appear to be. He sees Dia for the first time on a huge wreck and notices her immediately. She is strong, confidant, and in control; he’s drawn to her even though after a bad marriage ending in divorce, he’s sworn off woman.
Brig goes to Dia’s station to explain bombs are causing the car accidents that have been happing. He asks if they have seen anything and passes business cards around. When he gets to Dia he makes sure to include his personal numbers as well as the professional. She just smiles and brushes it off, still not dating since the premature death of her husband.
That night when Dia gets home, she finds flowers on her doorstep with a note saying, “Thank you for saving my life.” No name signed, nothing. The next night a letter shoved under her door says, “I love what you did for me” freaks her out just a little and she calls Detective Brig.
Things heat up and speed up from there. We find out Dia is being stocked by a crazy psychopath who is obsessed with keeping a balance between light and dark. The psychopath is convinced Dia has upset the balance. Throw in some really scary nightmares, a ghost leaving notes on fogged up mirrors, and some alligators and you have a great afternoon read.
Friday, September 29, 2006
Format: Paperback, 320pp
Publisher: Viking Penguin
Maisie Dobbs is the first in a series of private detective novels that take place after the First World War. This book takes place in 1929, with flashbacks to 1914 and the First World War. Maisie Dobbs is taken in by Lady Rowan, becoming a maid in her great house, setting the coal in the grates and polishing the mahogany until one day she is found by the mistress of the house reading in the library. She is a hungry learner and when Lady Rowan realizes it she finds her a tutor.
Maisie is at university when the war breaks. The people are hoping it will be over by Christmas, trying to ignore the horror of it all. Pricilla, Maisie’s school friend, joins the nurses who are going to be the ambulance drivers in France. She's leaving school early because she can’t sit at home when all three of her brothers are over there. She says, ‘Me too, me too.’
After a friend from working at Lady Rowan’s is killed when a munitions plant explodes, Maisie also signs up but then she falls in love with Dr. Simon Lynch. They have a few bright moments in the sun, glorious because you know they are so precious. He proposes and she asks him to ask her again when the war is over. Maisie just has this feeling that things might not go as planned. He says to her, ’I love you, Maisie, and I want you to be my wife. I promise that as soon as this war is over, I will walk across miles of trenches to find you, and I will stand there in my muddy clothes until you say ‘Yes!’.
Years later, after the war, Maisie has opened a private detective agency. She has a gift for reading people. She thus has to face the things from her past she has buried. The Great War and what the war left her with; she has to come to terms with what has happened to Simon and her love for him.
I enjoyed this book. It was well written and worth the read. It was a little choppy, the flow broken, but still well done, well researched, and I have to tell you I think I cried once every two chapters. It was very sad - the views of the war, the broken men with the broken families.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 371pp
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
I have a writing teacher who tells me that the difference between a man's romance novel and a woman's is that in the end of the woman's the girl gets the boy and they all live happily ever after; in the man's, the woman dies. Yes, that's right, the woman goes toward the light leaving the man with nothing but the memory of her love to keep him warm at night. But on the bright side he doesn't get the nagging, closet-hogging, three-hour-bath-taking woman who will try to change him from the rugged man he is into a man who actually does dishes or brushes his teeth. So it's a trade.
The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy is a Man's book (with the capital M). It was really well written. Fantastic writing. You really got a feel for the era and how people felt about it all, he did a wonderful job on the slang. I enjoyed that part of it a lot. I learned a lot of derogative sexual terms for African-Americans as well as Mexican-Americans. I didn't know some of those words before.
When you pick up this book you have to keep in mind that this is a fictionalized version of events that happed out in California in the 1940s. The real Elizabeth Short was never in a pornographic film, was not a prostitute, and was just a young naive girl looking for love.
“I never knew her in life. She exists for me through others, in evidence of the ways her death drove them.” Bucky Bleichert narrates the story of his life before and after the murder case of Elizabeth Short, also known as The Black Dahlia because of her penchant for tight little black dresses. While on a case, Bleichert and his partner Blanchard find the body of a woman. She is completely severed in half, her legs spread wide, and her mouth split from ear to ear. The murderer has completely drained her body of blood and has washed and styled her hair.
Bucky becomes obsessed with The Black Dahlia and eventually he falls in love with her. Everyone wants what they can't have, right? He sleeps with a girl who looks like her, even imaging her to be Elizabeth Short. Even when Bucky finally does find a form of happiness in the end, he promises Elizabeth his love.
The Black Dahlia is haunting, incomplete, because you never truly know what happened or who the murderer is. It is peopled with very real monsters in people skin; rapists, pedophiles, druggies, prostitutes, and killers, all the horror of humanity paraded in front of the ever constant Elizabeth Short.