Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Review: Shakespeare's Landlord

Shakespeare's Landlord by Charlaine Harris
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: Recommended by Raidergirl; Triple 8 Challenge Mystery list; April book for Every Month is a Holiday Challenge (April 23, Shakespeare's birthday)

First line: "I gathered myself, my bare feet gripping the wooden floor, my thigh muscles braced for the attack."

Summary (from Booklist): Charlaine Harris "introduces Lily Bard, resident of Shakespeare, Arkansas, a woman fiercely protective of her privacy, determined to succeed as a one-woman cleaning agency, and just as fiercely determined to excel in karate. When the unpopular and very nosy owner of the apartment building next door is murdered and the body dumped in the local park, Lily reports the body to the police--anonymously. The local police chief, however, is nobody's fool and quickly discovers Lily's involvement and her own past, which makes her a possible suspect. Given the situation and, since she cleans for many of the other possible suspects, some opportunities, Lily decides that the only way to clear her name is to find the real killer."

My thoughts: Charlaine Harris seems like a very prolific writer - I've had people recommend her for both vampire lit and Southern lit. I think I'll definitely be checking out more of her work, because I enjoyed this book. To me it wasn't so much about the mystery (I didn't really care who had killed Pardon, the landlord), it was about Lily and her relationships with her clients and the other townspeople of Shakespeare. Harris sucks you in immediately, wondering why Lily walks alone at night, why she takes martial arts, and what caused her terrible scars. Lily is smart and sardonic and I enjoyed her progression from being utterly guarded and alone to starting to trust and like other people. We learn about the town and its people (many of whom are suspects) through Lily's housecleaning jobs - ditzy blonde Deedra, whose rent-paying step-daddy wouldn't like to know she's sleeping with a black man; "reformed" drunk and church janitor Norvel, who has a violent streak; hunky martial arts instructor Marshall and his estranged wife Thea, who has a dark side the townspeople have never seen and police chief Claude Friedrich, who's in charge of finding the killer and finds himself intrigued by Lily.

A dark, suspenseful book with an ass-kicking heroine!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Weekly Geeks #1

The challenge, to find and visit 5 new-t0-me blogs from the challenge participants.

The 3 R's - Florinda has some fun quizzes up. Apparently we should both live in the suburbs and we're both confident women...sometimes.

Reader Rabbit - These sisters love YA books, just like me - yay!

SomeReads - Somer is a librarian like me and she recently brought home 45 FREE BOOKS from the Texas Library Association conference. I'm so envious!

A Girl Walks Into a Bookstore - Katherine loves two books that I love - Confessions of a Shopaholic and The Thirteenth Tale. I love her blog's title, too!

Park Avenue Princess - has lots of pink on her blog, which I'm in favour of, as well as lots of cute icons and a fun, unique book-rating system.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Weekly Geeks

Dewey has so many fab ideas for connecting folks in the book blogosphere!

Click here for full details, but basically it's a weekly blogging challenge, with themes. I love themes! And challenges! (And I love that this is a blogging challenge rather than a reading one because if I join one more reading challenge, my eyeballs may fall out. Yeah, I know, that means I'll probably join another one next week.)

The best part, by writing this post I can enter to win this chocolate monkey! For heaven's sake, people, she's offering a chocolate monkey, how much more fun and cooler could Dewey be? Rush over there right now and join!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Themed Reading Challenge Wrap-Up

Many thanks to Wendy for hosting the challenge! I think this was the challenge that spurred me on to join others this year, especially the Triple 8, as it's all about themed lists.

The challenge was to read at least four books about a single theme. My theme was vampire fiction.

The Books
Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore
Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz
Real Vampires Have Curves by Gerry Bartlett
Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith

1. What things did you enjoy the most about this challenge?
I really liked that you could pick your own theme and that it could be anything under the sun. It was quite funny going through my TBR list - I'd never have predicted that I'd have enough vampire books to make up a whole theme! But apparently all those Buffy and Angel DVDs have been at work in the book-choosing part of my brain. I also liked that it was flexible - though I decided to just read 4 books, I liked that you could have read more.

2. Favourite book?
Bloodsucking Fiends - it was so hilarious and bizarre.

3. Least favourite book?
Real Vampires Have Curves - it had too much repetition and was too Harlequin-ish for me.

4. Would you do this one again if it were offered next year?

5. Anything you'd change about the challenge?
No, I think everything was great!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Review: Enchanted, Inc.

Enchanted, Inc. by Shanna Swendson

3 stars

Reasons for reading: sounded fun, New York list for the Triple Eight Challenge

First line: "I'd always heard that New York City was weird, but I had no idea just how weird until I got here."

Book description: Katie Chandler, a small-town Texas gal finds that in New York "everywhere she goes, she sees something worth gawking at and Katie is afraid she’s a little too normal to make a splash in the big city. Working for an ogre of a boss doesn’t help. Then, seemingly out of the blue, Katie gets a job offer from Magic, Spells, and Illusions, Inc., a company that tricks of the trade to the magic community. For MSI, Katie’s ordinariness is an asset. Lacking any bit of magic, she can easily spot a fake spell, catch hidden clauses in competitor’s contracts, and detect magically disguised intruders. Suddenly, average Katie is very special indeed. She quickly learns that office politics are even more complicated when your new boss is a real ogre, and you have a crush on the sexy, shy, ultra powerful head of the R&D department, who is so busy fighting an evil competitor threatening to sell black magic on the street that he seems barely to notice Katie. Now it’s up to Katie to pull off the impossible: save the world and–hopefully–live happily ever after."

My thoughts: This was a fun, cute book. The magical elements are super - gargoyles that move from building to building, a below-average-looking man who has all the ladies drooling thanks to an illusion and love spells, and, my favourite part, actual frog-kissing in Central Park. Apparently there are still some princes left out there, you just have to catch them. Although they may also be the result of magical frat-boy pranks. I think this would make a great movie - the imposing MSI Castle in the middle of Manhattan, the fairies fluttering around on the subway - I think it would give Enchanted a run for its money (minus the bursting into song). Katie, with her small-town common sense and business smarts is a heroine to root for. I don't know if I'll read the rest of the series, but for a quick chick lit read with more than a touch of magic, this was a good pick.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Review: Late Nights on Air

Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay
2.5 stars

Reasons for reading: Book club, Canadian author for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge

Book description: "Harry Boyd, a hard-bitten refugee from failure in Toronto television, has returned to a small radio station in the Canadian North. There, in Yellowknife, in the summer of 1975, he falls in love with a voice on air, though the real woman, Dido Paris, is both a surprise and even more than he imagined. Dido and Harry are part of the cast of eccentric, utterly loveable characters, all transplants from elsewhere, who form an unlikely group at the station... One summer, on a canoe trip four of them make into the Arctic wilderness (following in the steps of the legendary Englishman John Hornby, who, along with his small party, starved to death in the barrens in 1927), they find the balance of love shifting, much as the balance of power in the North is being changed by the proposed Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline, which threatens to displace Native people from their land."

First line: "Harry was in his little house on the edge of Back Bay when at half past twelve her voice came over the radio for the first time."

My thoughts: While not as utterly dreary as a great deal of Canadian fiction, this one didn't do a lot for me. I didn't hate it, but overall it felt pretty blah. I really agree with Nicholas Maes' review in Books in Canada:

"Another weakness is that the novel lacks a sense of urgency and forward momentum. Very often, somewhat inexplicably, we are warned in advance that some character's decision will lead to misfortune down the road, or that situation A will cause (dramatic) situation B. Perhaps Hay felt such milestones were necessary because events on their own wouldn't sweep the audience along... Even the romance in the novel is resolved without much emotional fanfare... Eleanor loses Ralph the very day he has proposed to her, and the loss is more capricious than necessary or devastating. Harry has seemingly slipped away from Gwen, but then tumbles into her lap eight years later. This turn of events seems such a matter of happenstance that the reader, while wishing the couple well, doesn't really care one way or another."

That was my feeling through most of the novel, not really caring. It seemed like the novel was made up of too many uninteresting things strung together with a few interesting ones. The Mackenzie Pipeline Inquiry stuff was dull and I never want to read about frozen lakes or herds of caribou ever again.

The foreshadowing mentioned in the review really bugged me - it was so incredibly blatant that it was annoying. And really, after all that buildup, the tragedy is sad but not particularly earth-shattering. I tired of the constant references to John Hornby's doomed expedition (more heavy-handed foreshadowing) and couldn't quite get past the sheer stupidity of novices attempting that journey through the Arctic. I was actually expecting all of them to die.

The characters' relationships struck me as odd quite often. People falling in love rather suddenly, people being attracted to horrid people - it's hard to imagine why every man (and the occasional woman) she met would fall in love with an utter bitch like Dido. She and the loathsome Eddy were made for each other. While I liked both Gwen and Harry, their relationship - with a 20-year age gap and a failed marriage each - did seem "happenstance," almost as though they ended up together because they were the only two left to get out of Yellowknife relatively unscathed.

The radio station parts were well done, especially when Gwen was learning the ropes (I liked how she was enchanted by the tiny little sound-effect door). I'd now like to know more about Yellowknife and I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the almost endless daylight in the summer Hay does have some really well-crafted passages. To me, the radio station and Barrens trip combined would have been enough for a good story, if they had been allowed to gain more momentum and not get bogged down by extra threads.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

But I am not stuffed with fluff

This is pretty darn accurate, I've always related to Piglet. And I'm in agreement about the Very Small Animal problem! :)

Your Score: Piglet

You scored 12 Ego, 20 Anxiety, and 10 Agency!

"It's a little Anxious," he said to himself, "to be a
Very Small Animal Entirely Surrounded by Water. Christopher
Robin and Pooh could escape by Climbing Trees, and Kanga could
escape by Jumping, and Rabbit could escape by Burrowing, and
Owl could escape by Flying, and Eeyore could escape by -- by
Making a Loud Noise Until Rescued, and here am I, surrounded by
water and I can't do anything."

You scored as Piglet!

ABOUT PIGLET: Piglet is a Very Small Animal, who used to live in his own house, a nice big tree. However, after Owl's house was blown over by a storm, he "found" Piglet's house, and Piglet didn't want to tell him that the home was already lived in. So he went to live with Pooh.

WHAT THIS SAYS ABOUT YOU: You are a rather nervous person, and you tend to worry about The Worst happening. You don't really feel capable of dealing with the things that life could throw at you, and so you tend to fret about it. You are one of those people who seems to think that worrying actually accomplishes something... and your friends can't help but love you for it. Your humble manner and self-deprecating ways make your friends feel good about themselves. They want to help and protect you.

Your loving friends are always trying to encourage you to be more independent, and they are right. You need to develop a bit of self confidence and stand on your own two feet.

Link: The Deep and Meaningful Winnie-The-Pooh Character Test written by wolfcaroling on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test
View My Profile(wolfcaroling)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Review: Tantalize

Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith
3 stars

Reasons for reading: the cover and the title; vampire theme for Triple 8 and Themed Challenges

Book description: "Quincie Morris has never felt more alone. Her parents are dead, and her hybrid-werewolf first love is threatening to embark on a rite of passage that will separate them forever. Then, as she and her uncle are about to unveil their hot vampire-themed restaurant, a brutal murder leaves them scrambling for a chef. Can Quincie transform their new hire into a culinary Dark Lord before opening night? Can he wow the crowd in his fake fangs, cheap cape, and red contact lenses — or is there more to this earnest face than meets the eye? As human and preternatural forces clash, a deadly love triangle forms, and the line between predator and prey begins to blur."

My thoughts: I don't quite know how I feel about this one. I liked the vampire restaurant aspect, but a lot of the book felt a bit odd to me. It's set in what appears to be present-day Austin, TX but vampires and "were-people" seem to be facts of daily life, though they're certainly not popular. And apparently there are all kinds of were-creatures, including were-armadillos, which I thought was an utter hoot.

Throughout the book, I wanted to scream at Quincie, "He's a vampire!!!" (It' s not a spoiler, it's completely obvious.) Overall, though, she's a pretty cool character, with her dedication to the family restaurant, her red cowboy boots and her dependence on her datebook, which she's named Frank. And there are a few suprises along the way and the take on vampirism (it seems to be transmitted like a virus) is interesting. But, like the sweetbreads and other alarming things the chef serves up, it went down fine but left me feeling a bit off. But I'd say if you like YA vampire lit, give it a go, it's a fairly quick read and definitely has something to offer.

IMDB Keyword Meme

I'm sorry, I can't recall whose blog I saw this on, but it sounded like fun! Update: I've added a final extra keyword for anyone else who wants a kick at the can, then I'll let this one die. :)

1. Go to and look up a bunch of your favorite movies.
2. Post three or four official IMDB "Plot Keywords" for each.
3. You guys guess the movies (no looking them up!)

1. Speech impediment, Hung upside down, Tied to chair, Character name in title, Comedy
- guessed by Shandon - A Fish Called Wanda

2. Fake rabbit ears, Snow, Opposites attract, British, Romantic Comedy
- guessed by Julie - Bridget Jones' Diary

3. School play, Language barrier, Rock star, Prime Minister, Romantic Comedy
- guessed by Raidergirl - Love Actually

4. Hangover, Bryn Mawr College, Boat, Ex-husband, Reporter, Romantic Comedy
- guessed by Crazee4books - Philadelphia Story

5. Firing squad, Marbles, Horse race, Linguist, Musical
guessed by Crazee4books - My Fairy Lady

6. Shirtless male bondage, Funny accent, Chocolate, Fencing, Fairy tale, Comedy - semi-guessed by RaiderGirl - The Princess Bride

7. Punch to face, Menage a trois, F word, Spoiler in title, Friends, Romantic Comedy - guessed by Crazee4books - Four Weddings and a Funeral

8. Blood spatter, Zulu, Buxom, Organ donation, Cult comedy, Black comedy - pretty tricky - Monty Python's The Meaning of Life

9. Drinking contest, Poetic justice, Studio logo segues into film, Boulder, Action./adventure - guessed by Shandon - Raiders of the Lost Ark

10. Hair net, Nameless character, Cantonese, Basement, Rock music, Comedy - Wayne's World

11. I am the Walrus, Hypochondriac, Hockey jersey
- guessed by Laura - Ferris Bueller's Day Off

12. Female warrior, Gatling gun, Loyalty, Ex-soldier, Brother sister relationship, Space opera - pretty tricky - Serenity

13. Lawn ornament, Surveillance camera, Bare butt, Thatcherism, Unemployment, Comedy - guessed by Anonymous - The Full Monty

14. Sleeping car, Earring, Tommy gun, Yacht, Romantic Comedy
- guessed by Shandon - Some Like it Hot

Monday, April 7, 2008

Review: Deep Dish

Deep Dish by Mary Kay Andrews
4 stars

Reasons for reading: I've enjoyed her other books; I love Southern lit; part of my Southern Triple 8 Challenge list

Book description: After years of hard work, Gina Foxton is the host of her own local Georgia public television show called Fresh Start, and she's dating the show's producer. But when her show gets cancelled, Gina sets her mind to getting a gig on national television. And it just so happens that the Cooking Channel is looking for its next big star. Trouble is, the execs also have their eyes on Mr. "Kill It and Grill It" Tate Moody, the star of a hunting, fishing, and cooking show named Vittles. Tate is the ultimate man's man, with a dog named Moonpie and a penchant for flannel shirts. All Gina has on her side are a free-spirited, college-dropout sister and a mother who calls every single day. Little does Gina know, though, that she and Tate are soon to embark on the cook-off of their lives, spiced up by a little ingredient called love.

My thoughts: Great fun and, like Agnes and the Hitman, it made me hungry! I even copied one of the recipes at the end.

This was another fun romance full of Southern flavour and charm from Mary Kay Andrews. Tate's a dreamboat and Lisa, Gina's sister is a wild child who turns out to be quite a powerhouse of an assistant. Special mention must go to the Foxton girls' mother, who always says her full name when leaving a message on Gina's voicemail when she's relaying some "helpful" advice or a report of how Gina's latest TV appearance has gone down at the beauty parlour in their small hometown.

Tate and Gina end up having their cook-off on a reality TV show set on an almost deserted island, where they have to use only basic staples and what they can find or kill themselves in the wilderness. The outcome of both their relationship and the cook-off is never in doubt, but it's an enjoyable, funny journey to get there.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Review: Agnes and the Hitman

Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: I really like Jennifer Crusie; I enjoyed their previous book,
Don't Look Down; First Name title for the What's in a Name? Challenge

First line: "One fine August evening in South Carolina, Agnes Crandall stirred raspberries and sugar in her heavy nonstick frying pan and defended her fiance to the only many she'd ever loved."

Summary (from AudioFile): "Cranky Agnes, a columnist and author of the cookbook MOB FOOD, purchases the house of her dreams. She must have the wedding of her goddaughter there or lose the house to its former owner, a mobster widow. When Agnes whacks an intruder with a skillet and he falls through her kitchen wall into a secret room, she starts a chain of comic adventures. Filled with quirky characters, including a love interest who's a hit man, this offering is replete with sassy dialogue, mouth-watering meals, and zany twists. Agnes's imaginary conversations with her therapist are priceless."

My thoughts: Another fun one from this unlikely pair. Their style of tough guy + romance takes a bit of getting used to, but it's worth it. It lost half a star because keeping track of all of the Mob connections and how everyone's related was a bit more confusing than it needed to be, I thought. But Shane and Agnes are great characters and the book's a lot of fun - how could it not be with lonely flamingos, a secret basement, and a mob wedding?

This book made me hungry! Agnes is happiest when she's feeding people and I desperately wanted some of her sour cream/pecan pancakes. I liked that Agnes is a real woman, she admits she's cranky, she's not a size zero (Shane describes her as lush and "pattable," which was cute) and she's obsessed with making To Do lists. I can relate, although I'm happy that mine aren't quite as hard to achieve as hers:
"Throw Maria's wedding. Return stolen flamingos. . . Get Lisa Livia's money back. Kill somebody named Casey Dean. . . . Sink Brenda's boat. Write my goddamn column. Belive in Shane when he tells me what I'm dying to hear."

If two books are enough to draw conclusions from, I'd say Crusie and Mayer's niche is stories about tough, lonely women and men with violent jobs who are total sweethearts underneath. In Don't Look Down, I just loved it when JT bought Wonder Woman Barbie for Lucy's niece. In this book Shane buys Agnes the things she needs to get ready for the wedding, including the ingredients for the cake. The tub of fondant gets blood on it because he had to pick it up after dragging one of the guys trying to kill Agnes into his car (after beating him unconscious), but it's the thought that counts and it wiped off easily enough.

A fun romp with plenty of sex and violence - what more could you want?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Review: One of those hideous books where the mother dies

One of those hideous books where the mother dies by Sonya Sones
4 stars

Reasons for reading: I enjoyed her What My Mother Doesn't Know a few years ago, Numbers Challenge, Triple 8 Challenge

Summary (from Booklist): "After the death of her mother, high-schooler Ruby is sent from Boston to L.A. to live with the father she has never met: "He's such a scumbag / that he divorced my mother / before I was even born." The "scumbag" is Whip Logan, a famous movie actor, but Ruby is too angry to be impressed; at the airport she wonders whether to "ask him for his autograph, / or kick him in the balls." Sones' latest free-verse novel follows Ruby through her first few months in her new home, a mansion where her every desire is granted--except what she longs for most: her best friend, her boyfriend, and of course, her mother."

My thoughts: I'm usually not a verse-novel gal, but Sones is a really good writer. The poems make it really seem like you're right in Ruby's head, feeling such deep grief and anger, and they definitely resonate the way poetry should. But there's humour, as well, such as Airplane Lunch:





I liked that Ruby loves to read and that she doesn't want her life to be like one of those hideous books: "I love to read,/ but I can't stand books like that./And I flat out refuse/to have one of those lives/that I wouldn't even want/to read about." I hate those hideous books, too!

This one loses a star only because the truth about Ruby's dad and some of the other events (I won't spoil it) are predictable. But even that doesn't detract much from the greatness of the book, which is a well done cross between a (non-hideous) teen angst book and a fish-out-of-water story.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Orbis Terrarum Challenge

Dang, I've gotten myself into another one. But I was just saying to myself the other day that I mostly read female American and British authors and I should really break out of that. And then I found this one from a link at A Novel Challenge!

So, the challenge is to read 9 books by 9 authors, each from a different country (country of birth rather than current residence/setting of the book). Since I have so many challenges on, a few of the books are going to have to be overlapping and still American/British, but at least I'll get a few new countries/authors in.

Here's the list so far (it's subject to change):

1. Fashionably Late by Nadine Dajani (Lebanon)
2. Indie Girl by Kavita Daswani (Hong Kong)
3. Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay (Canada)
4. Nights of Rain and Stars by Maeve Binchy (Ireland)
5. On Beauty by Zadie Smith (England)
6. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (Iran)
7. Theft: a love story by Peter Carey (Australia)
8. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka (Germany)
9. Silk by Alessandro Baricco (Italy)