Wednesday, June 27, 2007

'Lean Mean Thirteen' by Janet Evanovich

ISBN: 0312349491
Format: Hardcover, 320pp
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Price: $27.95

There was a time when I would rush to my local bookseller and pick up the latest in the Stephanie Plum series the day it came out. I would not get anything done until I had read it cover to cover . I haven’t rushed out the same day since Hard Eight. I hate to admit but I don’t even go out the next day. I’ve gotten to the point with this series that I don’t wait for the paperback but it is not the priority it once was.

There are a lot of reasons to love Stephanie Plum. Unfortunately it seems that lately there are some reasons to not like her as much. When this series first started it was gritty, funny too, but it had an edge that for me has dulled over time. I guess this should be expected or maybe, and I can admit this, it might just be me.

The books have gotten shorter, more choppy, as the series has progressed. If you have read any of Ms. Evanovich’s earlier work, titles that are being re-released such as Back to the Bedroom, you can see some similarities. It feels as if less time is going into a Plum book. The writing is not as tight, nor does it flow quite as well. I still enjoy it, don’t get me wrong, but Stephanie isn’t who she used to be and no amount of car explosions, dead bodies, and big sloppy dogs can change that.

The love triangle is another story. There are plenty for and against the continuation of the back and forth between Ranger and Morelli. But I’m tired of the limbo. There is no definition and it has lost it’s appeal for me. She has slept with both men, the sexual tension that was once white hot is a dull red no matter what is done to try to pump up the action.

Lean Mean Thirteen is mediocre. Stephanie is still doing her bond enforcement thing, Morelli is doing his cop thing, Lula is Lula , and Ranger is… well just Ranger. The characters feel as if they are in a holding pattern. Scenes that should have been funny fell flat and the mystery with Stephanie’s ex-husband Dickie, while good, just seemed to be missing something.

When Dickie goes missing Stephanie falls under suspicion for his possible murder. Wanting to clear her name, she starts to look into what her ex had been up to and uncovers a money-laundering scheme. Unfortunately for her she gets caught sticking her nose in where it doesn’t belong, and becomes a target for a crazy flamethrower wielding psycho.

There were hints that possible change is around the corner but I have to wonder why we didn’t see more change here? Stephanie is keeping Ranger at arms' length but there is no action with Morelli. She is also thinking about the fact that maybe a home like her mothers wouldn’t be too bad but admits to herself that she thinks it’s a dream she could never realize.

There were some good things about this book. Exploding road-kill, Dickie Orr gets his nose broken, and Stephanie staples a man's private parts. I didn’t laugh out loud, but it was pretty funny. I enjoyed Lean Mean Thirteen while I read it. But once I was done I was not satisfied with the ending. Not as funny as previous books have been but with a decent mystery; I would just recommend to wait for the paperback to come out.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

'Diary of Indignities' by Patrick Hughes

ISBN: 1595821031
Format: Paperback, 256pp
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

While I read Diary of Indignities I marked passages I thought were funny and wanted to share. When I finished reading I realized that I couldn’t share it all because I would have to copy more than half the book down. Okay, the whole book. I laughed, I was shocked and often disgusted, but overall highly entertained.

Diary of Indignities started out as a blog by the name of Bad News Hughes written with brutal honesty by none other than Patrick Hughes. He used the blog to chronicle the daily indignities of his life and now he sits “naked on a throne of human skulls, drinking warm blood while surveying my blog empire of pain” with a book to show for all his trouble. I think he puts it rather well.

So what kind of indignities will you come across? Every single horrible, unimaginable thing your brain could dream up to torment you at three in the morning; those things you do while drunk and claim to not remember or are lucky enough not to. There are a lot of those stories in here. The crazy relatives, and trust me he has yours beat, stories that we all share with friends… and yes, with the stranger sitting next to you on the bus. Patrick Hughes bares his dirty soul to the world and I for one am glad to know I’m not alone in some of the stupid things I’ve done.

I am a huge fan of my local Friends of the Library book sale so I was thrilled to learn that Mr. Hughes was as well. In "Francis Ford Coppola is a Dick," a chapter that has very little to do with Francis Ford Coppola, he touches on the madness that is one of these book sales. The pushing, shoving, and being caught by your mom and her elderly friends with a copy of Penthouse Forum in the adult section of the sale. Good times.

There are also several chapters in which Mr. Hughes doles out advice for the kids. In many cases the advice is something you are sure the author learned the hard way. There are such classics as, “Don’t use one of those little Handi-Vac things to empty an ashtray. Because the inrush of air could potentially reignite the fading embers. And, uh, a big jet flame might shoot out of the thing, surprising you and making you scream like a ten-year-old girl. And you might knock over your beer.”

Or “For that matter, be aware that bowling-alley employees may have a limited tolerance for other non-pajama-related behaviors, such as getting all loaded and pretending to be Godzilla and stomping on the windmill over there in the indoor miniature golf course.”

There is a reason it says "Adult" on the back of the book, and of course it also designates "Humor" and "Memoir" as well. Swear words, references to sex toys, Jell-o shots, use of said sex toys, more swear words, and drug use make this a book you might not want to leave around your kids or your elderly parents. But if you dare to crack its spine, Diary of Indignities will have you laughing out loud and maybe cringing a little.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

'Woman on the Other Shore' by Mitsuyo Kakuta

ISBN: 4770030436
Format: Hardcover, 272pp
Publisher: Kodansha International

Woman on the Other Shore won the Naoki Prize in 2005, Japan’s most prestigious literary award for popular fiction. Mitsuyo Kakuta is the author of over a dozen books and the recipient of several literary awards including the Noma Literary Prize for New Writers and the Fujin Koron Literary Prize. Born in Yokohama in 1967 she began her writing career while still a student at Wasedo University. Besides her works of fiction she writes essays about rock music, manga, and contributes to popular magazines.

Woman on the Other Shore, translated from the Japanese by Wayne P. Lammers, was also specially selected for the Japanese Literature Publishing Project or the JLPP. Launched in 2002, the JLPP is part of the Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan efforts to promote the translation and publication of Japanese contemporary fiction. At the moment they are targeting four foreign languages, including English, French, German, and Russian.

In Woman on the Other Shore we are introduced to Sayoko, who is a 35 year-old housewife with a three-year-old daughter. Her husband is disinterested, a vague figure in the background for most of the story and her grumpy mother-in-law always has a sharp word for Sayoko concerning her child rearing or cooking. Sayoko is stuck in this mold and keeps asking herself ‘When am I ever going to stop being the same old me?’

When Sayoko finally decides to make a change, she faces the disapproval of her husband and mother-in-law, not to mention her daughter’s unhappiness. But Sayoko forges ahead and finds herself a job with a small travel/house cleaning company run by Aoi, an intrepid business woman.

Aoi is 35 as well but without the family and reasonability that Sayoko has in her life. At first it seems that these two very different women have nothing in common. As the story slowly unfolds and Aoi’s past is revealed, however, piece by piece you realize how similar these two really are. Both have unhappy memories of school, but Aoi’s past is especially painful and even as adults they are still vulnerable and insecure.

While the story moves forward with the friendship of Sayoko and Aoi, it also looks back at the teenage friendship that shaped Aoi. Bullied in school Aoi transfers schools and towns in the hope of finding some relief. In her new school she meets Nanako, a girl who floats between the ridged cliques, and soon befriends Aoi.

These two story lines are brought together in the final chapter of the novel. Who Sayoko is has changed; she is stronger and more her own person than she was before. We understand Aoi better, who she is behind the mask she holds up to the world. Their friendship is cemented with simple gestures as both women come to fully understand and accept each other.

What boundaries do you have in your life? When do you dare to cross them? In Woman on the Other Shore these two characters, two very real women, cross a boundary to discover they are not alone; there might be rivers dividing us but there are bridges linking us as well. This is a poignant and beautifully written novel, a novel that is timeless in many ways, a classic in our modern world.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

'The Perfectly True Tales of a Perfect Size 12' by Robin Gold

ISBN: 0452288126
Format: Paperback, 272pp
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)

The Perfectly True Tales of a Perfect Size 12 tells of the adventures of Delilah White, a producer for a television show called Domestic Bliss. She loves her job, has great friends, and is happy with her size 12 figure. Delilah seems to have everything going for her, even if she doesn’t have a boyfriend at the moment. Delilah knows that there is more to life than a size 2 waist and a hunky guy hanging on your every word.

When Delilah’s boss, Agnes, decides to move on, Delilah comes up for the big promotion. But so does her work friend Margo, and that is where it gets complicated. Margo is determined that she will get the top position and plans to ruin Delilah’s chances to get there. While what was once a friendship turns into a rivalry, the battle field moves from the office to a 4th of July bash in the mountains.

Delilah and Margo both accept Sofia’s invitation to spend the 4th in style at her parents' mountain home. Sofia’s family is well-off and they have a party planned to end all parties with all of her family in attendance, including her handsome cousin Jack. Sofia nudges Jack and Delilah in the general direction of each other and they instantly hit it off. But Margo is not going to let Delilah have a nice, relaxing weekend.

Margo is everything that Delilah is not, including being a complete and total psycho. But even though Delilah might be too nice to extend her claws her friend Sofia is not. Sofia catches Margo out in several of her lies to get to the top and the final confrontation is wonderfully hilarious. I laughed out loud as I turned pages and wished more than anything that I didn’t work in an office full of men so I could share the fun.

Delilah White is wonderful; she is one of the most realistic characters I have come across in the many ‘chick lit’ novels I have read. She is human with human strengths and weaknesses and when someone calls her fat you really feel it. And Jack? Well Jack is fantastic. Robin Gold has written a dream relationship with these two characters, the flutter of first love even with the flaws.

There is a good balance here, wonderful humor and a few heart-clenching moments, and everything is tied up nicely. The slap-stick comedy was light and often hilarious. I smiled, I laughed, I had a wonderful time reading this book. What are you doing this summer? You should be reading The Perfectly True Tales of a Perfect Size 12.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

'Faeries of Dreamdark - Blackbringer' by Laini Taylor

ISBN: 0399246304
Format: Hardcover, 368pp
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Price: $17.99

I have to first tell you how much I love this book. Richly detailed and with characters that are simply fascinating, I was enthralled from the first page on. It has been a long time since I have found a fantasy that I love everything about. Laini Taylor's Blackbringer is one of the few.

Never Nigh is the greatest city of the Faeries, buried deep in Dreamdark and surrounded by a network of ancient protective spells that keep evil out. But the Golden Age of the Faeries is long gone. Those ancient spells still hold but the faeries inside have forgotten the magic that wove them and waiting in the dark is an evil that they have forgot as well.

Long ago the devils were captured and trapped into bottles. Humans came along and the faeries retreated into their protected places, spending more time dancing instead of practicing their spells. The devils were forgotten, until the humans began to open the bottles.

Magpie Windwitch travels the wide world with a flock of crows hunting devils - a big job for what the Crows call such a small ‘sprout.’ But Magpie enjoys it and not only that she is good at what she does. More than a little bit of a tomboy, Magpie has grown up with the crows, collecting magic before it fades and is forgotten, recording the details in a book to share with her parents, who are out collecting spells themselves.

Then Magpie finds a bottle that is unlike all the others she has come across. Something different has been let back into the world - something that leaves nothing behind except hunger and darkness. From the catacombs under Rome to the magic of Dreamdark, Magpie follows this evil knowing she is the only one who can stop it.

Wonderful images are brought to mind as we are introduced to cheroot smoking crows, a rat-like imp longing to fly, a beautiful faerie city glittering in the morning light, and the whirling tattoos that cover a faerie’s pointed face. The crows, I have to admit, were my favorite.

Geared towards a younger audience (ages 9-12), Blackbringer is worthy of the adult mind as well. There is a hint of romance but nothing more than a few looks and light flirtation, and a few of the devils are pretty nasty but nothing too over the top. This is great adventure fantasy no matter what age you are.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

'The Sleeping Beauty Proposal' by Sarah Strohmeyer

ISBN: 0525950184
Format: Hardcover, 320pp
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Price: $24.95

Genie Michaels at 36 has pretty much everything she wants from life. She has a job - okay so it isn’t a dream job, but at least she’s employed and she has an apartment that she shares with her overly large diabetic cat. She even has the man of her dreams, Hugh, a dashing hunky British novelist who has just hit the big time.

When Hugh proposes on national television everyone assumes that the lucky lady is Genie, even Genie. But horror soon grips Genie’s heart as she watches Hugh talking on his cell phone to someone else - some other woman.

What are you supposed to do when the man you have been in a relationship for the past four years pops the question to someone else but everyone thinks it was really you? Well, according to Genie’s best friend Patty, you fake the engagement. So Genie does just that.

When her brother Todd tells her about a must-have house about to hit the market Genie can’t resist taking a look. Still haunted by the memories of a house she could have shared with Hugh she decides to take a step forward into a new life.

Genie’s life has always been on hold - until now. Suddenly she is doing all those things she wished she had done before. Moving out of her cramped apartment, getting a better job, and wearing a diamond ring - well, at least a fake one.

Soon the gifts are coming in, expensive china and fish platters, and the guilt is starting to weigh her down. And the house she wanted to buy? Todd’s friend Nick buys it right out from under her. But Nick is not just a carpenter working for her contractor brother, oh no, he is also incredibly handsome and interested in the engaged Genie.

There are a lot of great characters in The Sleeping Beauty Proposal, the kind you wished you had for friends. Genie’s brother Todd, her best friend Patty - plus her parents are fantastic, not to mention hunky Nick. Sarah Strohmeyer's dialogue is sharp and funny; and there are a few unexpected twists in the story to keep you turning pages, but for the most part the driving force is Genie and her blossoming life (including romance with Nick).

In the end it all turns out well, as you would expect it to, with loads of laughs along the way. The Sleeping Beauty Proposal is a quick fun read, the kind of book you will want to share with your friends as you compare ex-boyfriends to Genie’s horrible Hugh.

Monday, June 11, 2007

'The School for Husbands' by Wendy Holden

ISBN: 0452285887
Format: Paperback, 320pp
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Price: $14.00

What if you could send your spouse to a school for husbands? He could learn to groom himself properly, help take care of the children, and help with chores around the house. All those things, that for the most part, you nag him about already.

Well in The School for Husbands Wendy Holden has imagined just such a place. With humor and a sharp eye we are introduced to Sophie and Mark. While their marriage is not perfect they are relatively happy and in love. With the birth of their son Arthur this happy family picture seems to be complete.

While Mark loses himself in work Sophie starts to feel neglected. It does not help that Mark’s work colleague, Persephone, seems to be out to get him even if he is clueless about the whole situation. So with the help of her overly involved mother Sophie packs up Arthur and leaves.

What Sophie does not know is that her mother has paired up with an old fling to make sure that she follows through with a divorce. Simon seems to have it all, a successful lawyer rolling in millions, but he is less than a nice guy. Greedy, selfish, and down right detestable Simon and Sophie’s mother Shirley scheme together.

Meanwhile Mark has enrolled in the School for Husbands hoping to save his marriage. While Mark works his way through classes Sophie and Simon get closer with some help from Shirley. But Mark is not going to give up his wife and child without a fight.

One of the things I enjoy most about reading something written by Wendy Holden is the light feeling of it. At the end of a hard day this is the kind of escape I enjoy most; you know that whatever craziness happens there is going to be a great happy ending.

Just plain fun and frothy, The School for Husbands, is the perfect book for summer. While there are not any surprises to be found you will enjoy the drama and the humor that fills each page.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

'Blood Evidence' by Mel Odom

ISBN: 1414303076
ISBN-13: 9781414303079
Format: Paperback, 448pp
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Price: $13.99

Blood Evidence is the second book in the Military NCIS novels. I have to admit that from time to time I have tuned into the TV show and while the mystery is a draw, the characters are what really make the show for me. The same can be said for Mel Odom’s series.

Commander Will Coburn and his NCIS team are called to investigate the kidnapping of a Marine Captain’s daughter. When a simple kidnapping turns into a gang fight we get a chance to see the situation from each character's perspective, as well as what drives each of them.

When the body of a Marine is found while Commander Coburn and his team are tracking down the gang members, it only complicates matters. The body turns out to be a Marine who has been missing for 17 years. While processing the body the NCIS unit finds a link to the murder of a Naval Officer’s daughter that took place around the time the Marine went missing.

While the NCIS agents are trying to solve the links between the cold cases, weapons smuggling, and a potential serial killer, their personal lives are changing. Commander Coburn is struggling to balance his personal and professional life; Nita the medical examiner is struggling with her marriage and the responsibilities that kind of commitment entails; Estrella still coming to terms with the suicide of her husband; Maggie has her past and present family issues; and Remy and Shel provide some great action while dealing with their own demons.

Will Coburn’s character, a Navy Commander whose marriage has ended in divorce, really stands out in the novel. He struggles to keep a relationship going with his son and daughter. Will thinks back on his career, the time he spent deployed, and wonders if things had been different could his marriage have survived, not to mention the relationship with his children?

Being a Navy brat myself, I know how hard it can be and it really touched me.

In the end Blood Evidence is not just about the crime but the people involved in all the aspects of it. Their personal struggles bring drama and depth to the action and adventure that propels the book forward.

I also have to mention the way the book is presented: it comes across as being carefully thought out, with "NCIS Crime Scene" tape crossing across the new chapter pages and time and place headings at the start of each new scene. Over all this is a great book, well written, and more than enjoyable.