Friday, August 14, 2009

Review: Sacred Cows

Sacred Cows by Karen E. Olson

3 stars

Reasons for reading: A Herding Cats II selection, recommended by Literary Feline

Summary: "After a late night on the town, New Haven police reporter Annie Seymour is yanked from her bed by an early morning phone call from her editor. Soon she's shivering on a wet, dark city street, staring down at the once beautiful, now broken body of a Yale University coed. Paid to observe and get just the facts before writing up her stories for the New Haven Herald, Annie finds herself drawn to the story of an Ivy League sophomore whose secret moonlighting led to her violent murder. But after Annie links the girl's death to a network of vice and fraud buried deep in the city's shadows, the cynical reporter is shocked to discover her own mother is involved. With help from a sexy private investigator, Annie investigates but stumbles upon one obstacle after another. Her cop lover stonewalls her, her editor pulls her off the assignment to cover a surreal parade of fiberglass cows grazing throughout the city, and an overeager cub reporter nips at her heels to get the scoop for himself. Caught in the center of a treacherous scheme, Annie must take the biggest gamble of her career - outwit a dangerous con man to uncover the truth that could win her that elusive Pulitzer ... or a mention in the next day's obituary."

First line: "My hand closed over the cold steel in that second between hearing the phone ring and before my eyes opened."

My thoughts: I couldn't resist this one once I read that it included a parade of fibreglass cows. My husband and I were in Edinburgh for their cow fest a few years ago and we still fondly remember the Braveheart Cow. But Annie doesn't enjoy the cows like we did, and a lot of the book's humour comes from that. Here are some examples of how Annie feels about the cows:

"It worried me, those naked cows, just placidly standing there while those artists did what they would to them."

And, I believe this one is repeated fairly often throughout the book, "F***k the cows."

Literary Feline says that Annie is a character after her own heart and looking back after finishing the book, I see her a bit more fondly. But she's very curmudgeonly indeed, which can be a bit off-putting. Vinny the private eye alternated between sexy and annoying. The whodunnit wasn't a total shocker, but it wasn't too bad. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for a mystery, so it didn't grab me as much as it could have.

The verdict: Not a bad mystery, especially if you like antisocial heroines. And the cow jokes make it different and fun.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Review: The Good Fairies of New York

The Good Fairies of New York by Martin Millar
4.25 stars

Reasons for reading: I like fairies, it sounded fun, recommended by Nymeth for the Herding Cats Challenge II

Summary: "When a pair of fugitive Scottish thistle fairies end up transplanted to Manhattan by mistake, both the Big Apple and the Little People have a lot of adjusting to do. Heather and Morag just want to start the first radical fairy punk rock band, but first they’ll have make a match between two highly unlikely sweethearts, start a street brawl between rival gangs of Italian, Chinese, and African fairies, help the ghost of a dead rocker track down his lost guitar, reclaim a rare triple-bloomed Welsh poppy from a bag lady with delusions of grandeur, disrupt a local community performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and somehow manage to stay sober enough to save all of New York from an invasion of evil Cornish fairies.If they can stop feuding with each other, that is."

First line: "Dinnie, an overweight enemy of humanity, was the worst violinist in New York, but was practicing gamely when two cute little fairies stumbled through his fourth-floor window and vomited on the carpet."

My thoughts: This book was hilarious, bizarre, and quite touching. From the moment they make their vomitous entrance, punk-rock loving fugitive fairies Morag and Heather are irritating yet irresistable. I really liked that there were fairies from all over the world living in New York (although, oddly, no Irish or Scottish ones). There are so many threads to this story - including but not limited to: the bag lady who thinks she's an ancient warrior, the travels of the Welsh poppy around New York, the fairy rebellion back in Britain, the fact that Morag and Heather break every sacred fairy treasure they come in contact with, a musician's ghost searching for a lost guitar - and they're all woven together incredibly well. Kerry, a lovely young artist who suffers from Crohn's disease and Dinnie, the aforementioned enemy of humanity, are each befriended by a Scottish fairy and their lives will never be the same.

The verdict: A weird but wonderful story.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Review: The Fixer Upper

The Fixer Upper by Mary Kay Andrews

4 stars

Reasons for reading: I really like Andrews' books; final book for the Southern Challenge 2009

Summary: "After her boss in a high-powered Washington public relations firm is caught in a political scandal, fledgling lobbyist Dempsey Jo Killebrew is left almost broke, unemployed, and homeless. Out of options, she reluctantly accepts her father's offer to help refurbish Birdsong, the old family place he recently inher­ited in Guthrie, Georgia.

But, oh, is Dempsey in for a surprise when she arrives in Guthrie. "Bird Droppings" would more aptly describe the moldering Pepto Bismol-pink dump with duct-taped windows and a driveway full of junk. There's also a murderously grumpy old lady, one of Dempsey's distant relations, who has claimed squatter's rights and isn't moving out. Ever.

All Dempsey can do is roll up her sleeves and get to work. And before long, what started as a job of necessity somehow becomes a labor of love and, ultimately, a journey that takes her to a place she never expected -back home again."

First line: "At the end of the very worst day of my life up until that point, my roommates and I sat in a back booth at the Filibuster, a crappy bar on a crappy street on the outskirts of Georgetown, as the endless footage of my public demise played itself out again and again on the television set mounted on the wall directly in front of us."

My thoughts: Another winner from Andrews! At first Dempsey seems like a smart but slightly shallow and definitely naive young lobbyist on the rise, with the typical parent issues (distant father, mother who wants to change her). But when she takes of the incredibly daunting challenge of Birdsong, she becomes fiercely determined and lets life in Guthrie get under her skin.

Ella Kate, the elderly squatter, is at first a thoroughly unlikeable object of pity, but the longer we know her, brief flashes of humanity and even humour peek through her hard facade.

I didn't find Tee Berryhill, son of Dempsey's lawyer and her love interest, quite as sexy as the manly chef from Andrews' Deep Dish, but he was smart and kind and funny. The other secondary characters, including Tee's intelligent, dignified, kind father and a randy, much-married real estate agent who insists on painting over Birdsong's awful pink, help flesh out the story.

Dempsey really comes into her own, not only by conquering the house, but by standing up to her sleazy ex-boss and helping the FBI nab him. It's no surprise that she does, but the scene in which she accomplishes it is one of the best in the book, so I won't spoil it!

This was a good one for the Southern challenge - tiny Guthrie and its inhabitants, as well as Birdsong, are almost characters in themselves. Small-town life, the importance of home, mistrust of outsiders, quirky local characters, family secrets as well as both family loyalty and feuds, crumbling remnants of wealthy glory days...all things I associate with Southern lit.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Celebrating Melanie Watt

I'm celebrating Melanie Watt's August 20, 1975 birthday for Celebrate the Author this month. That makes this fellow Canadian just a year younger than me. I'm so envious of her... :-)

I saw Watt speak at a conference last year and she's cute as a button, just like her picture book characters!

I put off reading the latest Scaredy Squirrel book so that I could celebrate in August. :)

I love Scaredy - I have a lot of him in me, although not as much as when I was younger. I really6 could've used these books when I was a kid!

In this book, we discover that Scaredy basically never sleeps, since he's afraid of all the things that could
attack him at night. That goes a long way to explaining his nervous disposition! I heart Melanie Watt's cute, cartoony illustrations.As a person who has trouble sleeping, I liked the double-page spread on the side effects of sleeplessness - the "energy loss" Scaredy looks a lot like me, including the barely-open eyes. And she manages to make Scaredy's imagined version of fairies and unicorns look both adorable and malevolent. Watt's Scaredy books as well as her two about Chester the cat are great for little kids, big kids, and adults - enough older humour as well as lots of adorable pictures and zaniness.

So, happy birthday to a lovely Canadian children's book author and I hope she gives us lots more laughs!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Review: Casino Royale

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
3 stars

Reasons for reading: Adventure novel for the Genre Challenge; have always meant to read a Bond book

Summary: "In the first of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels, 007 declares war on Le Chiffre, French communist and paymaster of the Soviet murder organization SMERSH. The battle begins in a fifty-million-franc game of baccarat, gains momentum during Bond's fiery love affair with a sensuous lady spy, and reaches a chilling climax with fiendish torture at the hands of a master sadist. For incredible suspense, unexpected thrills, and extraordinary danger, nothing can beat James Bond in his inaugural adventure."

First line: "The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning."

My thoughts: Wow, I now know more about baccarat than I ever thought I would, and yet I still don't really understand it. I also know why more about Cold War-era espionage, and am not entirely sure I understand all of that, either.

I have to say, I liked the Daniel Craig movie version much better! There were isolated scenes of action (a bomb, an attempted shooting) but apart from the kidnapping and (almost) ball-breaking torture, I didn't find there was a whole lot of sustained, suspenseful action.

It was interesting to read the James Bond origin story and see what a cold-hearted bastard he is, until he falls in love with Vesper Lynd. And then becomes a cold-hearted bastard again. But I don't know if I'll read any more of them.