Monday, May 31, 2010

Review: The Red Leather Diary

The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming a Life Through the Pages of a Lost Journal by Lily Koppel
3 stars

Reasons for reading: sounded really interesting; Colourful Reading Challenge

Description: "For more than half a century, the red leather diary languished inside a steamer trunk. Rescued from a Dumpster on Manhattan's Upper West Side, it found its way to Lily Koppel, a young writer, who opened its tarnished brass lock and journeyed into an enthralling past. The diary painted a breathtaking portrait of a bygone New York—of glamorous nights at El Morocco and elegant teas at Schrafft's during the 1920s and '30s—and of the headstrong, endearing teenager who filled its pages with her hopes, heartaches, and vivid recollections. Intrigued, Koppel followed her only clue, a frontispiece inscription, to its now ninety-year-old owner, Florence Wolfson, and was enchanted as Florence, reunited with her diary, rediscovered a lost younger self burning with artistic fervor."

First line: "Once upon a time the diary had a tiny key."

Favourite part: It actually comes near the beginning, when Lily finds the trunks in the Dumpster. There's a wonderful description of the hotel and ocean liner labels:

Each label was a miniature painting, a dreamy portal into a faraway destination. Elephants paraded past exotic geishas twirling parasols. Pink palms swayed, hypnotizing passengers aboard the Orient and Round the World Dollar Steamship Line. Flappers frolicked. . . An orange ship sailed through a fuschia pagoda. Two women sat under an umbrella in Cannes. Giraffes kicked off the Around Africa Cruise. . .
I'd love to have a collage like that on my wall!
Other thoughts: I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the book. Most of the book is Lily recreating the events described in the diary (which actually only had room for a few lines per day) in almost novel format. She's obviously done lots of interviews and research, but I almost would have just preferred the diary.
And Florence was quite the young woman! I didn't quite know what to think of her. She was constantly having love affairs with girls/women and a few boys/men, from age 14. "In those days it was fashionable for girls to have relationships. Like Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West." explains 90 year-old Florence. But gosh, it seemed like rather a lot of sex for someone so young during what we think of as a "purer" time (I think we're wrong!). And she comes off as a bit of a poor little rich girl, even though her parents were well-off but not very wealthy. She wanted to be a writer, an artist, a musician. . . in her later teens she held literary/philosophical salons in her parents' apartment. I found myself thinking it must've been nice to have so much time on one's hands and so little to worry about. But the ways she was able to fill that time, from age 14, in New York City is amazing - teas, operas, plays, museums, horseback riding in Central Park. . . We'll never see that again.
I think I might have been happier with a book just about New York during this period, which I find fascinating. But Koppel clearly loves the city and its history, and that comes through well. Apparently it inspired her to write some articles about New York during the time and find places that still existed (like the last typewriter salesman), which I wouldn't mind reading. And Florence is certainly an exciting tour guide for the period!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Review: Death Masks

Death Masks by Jim Butcher (Dresden Files, book 5)
4.25 stars

Reasons for reading: I'm addicted to the series; 2-word title for Four Month Challenge

Description: "Harry Dresden, Chicago's only practicing professional wizard, should be happy that business is pretty good for a change. But he also knows that whenever things are going good, the only way left for them to go is bad. Way bad.

Recent examples: A duel with the lethal champion of the Red Court, who must kill Harry to end the war between vampires and wizards...Hit men using Harry for target practice...The missing Shroud of Turin - and the possible involvement of Chicago's most feared mob boss... A handless and headless corpse the Chicago police need identified...Not to mention the return of Harry's ex-girlfriend Susan, who's still struggling with her semi-vampiric nature-and who seems to have a new man in her life.

Some days, it just doesn't pay to get out of bed. No matter how much you're charging."

My thoughts: This one gets slightly less in the stars department than others in the series because I couldn't quite buy the Shroud of Turin aspect and there was a bit too much murkiness around who wanted it and why. But overall, still excellent. The opening scene of Harry being on a Jerry Springer-like show was spot-on and a hoot. I was happy to see Susan again, even if their love affair appears to be doomed, alas. The return of Michael was also welcome, along with 2 other Knights of the Cross. Harry is just a really well-done character and that hasn't wavered throughout the 5 books I've read. I get series fatigue easily but I can tell it won't be setting in for the Dresden Files.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

It's Tuesday, Where Are You?

Click the globe to tell Raidergirl where you are!

I'm in the amazing New York City in the 20's and 30's, as seen through the eyes of a rather extraordinary teenage girl - Florence Wolfson. (The Red Leather Diary by Lily Koppel)

And in Cedar Cove, Washington with a bunch of a people with a bunch of problems that I bet will end happily or at least be okay in the end. (16 Lighthouse Road by Debbie Macomber)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Review: Shoot to Thrill

Shoot to Thrill: a Monkeewrench novel by P.J. Tracy
4.5 stars

Reasons for reading: I have been waiting YEARS for this book to come out!!! (plus, 2 authors for the Four Month Challenge, but mostly the first one)

Description: "The Monkeewrench crew returns in a remarkable, heart-stopping new thriller. It begins with a floater. When Minneapolis homicide cops Gino Rolseth and Leo Magozzi are called to a derelict stretch of the Mississippi River, they see the bride, facedown, dead in the water. And when the Monkeewrench crew-computer geeks who made a fortune on games, now assisting the cops with special anticrime soft-ware-are invited by the FBI to investigate a series of murder videos posted to the Web, it's not long before the group dis- covers the frightening link between the unlucky bride and the latest, most horrific use of the Internet yet. Using their skills to scour the Net to prevent more killings, the team must race against the clock . . . before it's too late. "

First line: "From top to bottom and everywhere in between, Minnesota was a bleak and frigid place in January, whether you were shivering on a blizzard-swept prairie or paralyzed under a foot of snow smack in the middle of Minneapolis."

My thoughts:
I'm so glad this book finally came out! It's one of the best of the series, a few of the previous ones have wandered too far away from Minneapolis and the Monkeewrench gang for my taste (still good, though). The horrific use of the Internet is that people are posting actual murders online. And, as with the serial killer acting out a shooter video game in the first book, it rang totally and chillingly true. I could absolutely see it happening.

All of the great characters are back and as well-drawn as ever. The Monkeewrench team - Fat Annie, the voluptuous fashion plate, huge, opera-loving Harley Davidson, insanely tall and geeky Roadrunner and well-armed and silent Grace MacBride. Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth, the MPD detectives are still a great wise-cracking, crime-fighting team. And I enjoyed the addition of almost-retired FBI agent John Smith - his quiet, old-fashioned personality with a sense of humour underneath that the cops and hackers manage to discover and bring out.

I love how this mother-daughter team writes about Minneapolis - they instantly evoke the city perfectly. For example:
"The Mississippi moved like a lady through this part of downtown, taking in the city sights, lapping at the feet of the new Guthrie on one side and the aged bricks of the old flour mills on the other. Until this morning, it had always been Gino's favorite part of Minneapolis."

I also love the other Minnesota-isms sprinkled throughout, such as the state's playfully (well, sometimes, at least) negative feelings towards neighbouring Wisconsin. And of course, all kinds of discussions about the weather.

There are the usual false leads, Monkeewrench genius, and a harrowing, down-to-the wire finale. The only thing that disappointed me was the epilogue, but maybe it'll lead to something good, if different.

The verdict: Read this series!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Review: School's Out - Forever

School's Out - Forever by James Patterson (Maximum Ride, book 2)
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: I enjoyed the thrilling first book in the series; Young Adult Challenge

Description: "The heart-stopping quest of six winged kids--led by fourteen-year-old Max--to find their parents and investigate the mind-blowing mystery of their ultimate destiny continues when they're taken under the wing of an FBI agent and attempt, for the first time, to live "normal" lives. But going to school and making friends doesn't stop them from being relentlessly hunted by sinister spies, who lead Max to face her most frightening match yet: a new and better version of herself."

First line: "Sweeping, swooping, soaring, air-current thrill rides - there's nothing better."

My thoughts: Another good thriller! Some of it is a bit predictable, but there were still lots of surprises and action. I have to say, I found Total the talking dog to be totally annoying, but I'm probably in the minority on that one. All of the bird-kids are interesting characters and Max and Fang are particularly well-drawn. Patterson throws in a lot of sarcastic humour with the action and the flock's love for one another is still really endearing and helps to drive the story - they care about each other so fiercely that they protect each other and want to find out where they came from and why all of this is happening to them. It's sweet to see Max get jealous over the female FBI agent taking over her mothering role, even though she's only 14. This book opens up even more questions about how Max is going to save the world and whether the kids will ever find their parents, making me want to get on to book 3.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Review: Scarlett Fever

Scarlett Fever by Maureen Johnson

3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: I really liked Suite Scarlett; 10 in 10 Chick Lit Challenge

Description: "Ever since Mrs. Amberson, the former-aspiring-actress-turned-theatrical-agent, entered Scarlett Martin’s life, nothing has been the same. Scarlett is now Mrs. Amberson’s assistant, running around town for her star client Chelsea--a Broadway star Scarlett’s age with a knack for making her feel insignificant. Scarlett’s also trying to juggle sophomore year classes, a lab partner who is being just a little too nice, and getting over the boy who broke her heart."

My thoughts: Another winner from Maureen Johnson. She's just so cool. In my usual way, I didn't like the sequel quite as much as the first book - I find 15 year-old Scarlett's "relationship" with college-aged Eric to be creepy and not quite right, so I didn't like that she was still pining over him and Mrs. Amberson is still crazy and completely oblivious to the fact everyone else has a life outside of her. Although she does sometimes rise above that and show that she is very smart and capable of helping people. There's just a lot of crap in between those times.

But Scarlett's actor/prat-fall expert brother Spencer is still awesome. His subplot of getting a villain part on a Law and Order-alike where he plays a porn king who relates the industry to different types of donuts is worth the price of admission alone. Creepy cancer surviving sister Marlene's subplot of why she's suddenly being unnaturally and weirdly nice is entertaining (but still creepy) and we see a bit more of the sad, scared child Marlene actually is (while still being a total brat). Lola's decision to get back with wealthy Chip causes a lot of problems. While I get a bit tired of serene and insanely beautiful Lola, I thought Johnson's portrayal of how even pretty girls get mean girl treatment was insightful. I still love the fading Art Deco Hopewell Hotel and I hope eventually we'll see it get the restoration it deserves, probably via Mrs. Amberson as the Martin parents still seem pretty incompetent. I get that they don't have money to run the hotel due to Marlene's illness. but they don't even seem to be able to master basics like "don't serve the guests raw/burned food" - you don't need money for that.

The lab partner who gets "too friendly" is a bad description - Max is the bitter brother of Broadway starlet Chelsea and his mission in life is to make Scarlett miserable because a) he's miserable and b) Mrs. A wants her to spy on him at school for his controlling, insane mother. Max is an interesting addition to Scarlett's life - on the surface a total jerk, but underneath he has both issues to deal with and a desire to be liked.

I'll be looking forward to the next book, but I hope Scarlett has stopped pining for too-old and too-jerky Eric by then.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Review: Pretty in Ink

Pretty In Ink: a Tattoo Shop Mystery by Karen E. Olson
3.25 stars

Reasons for reading: I enjoyed the first book during my Christmas vacation; 3 word title for Four Month Challenge

Description: "Brett Kavanaugh is a tattoo artist and owner of Vegas's hottest tattoo shop, The Painted Lady. And in her spare time, she does some sleuthing. After Brett and company ink Sin City's newest drag queens, they're invited to opening night at the strip's glamorous Nylon and Tattoos show-which ends in disaster when a stranger with a Queen of Hearts tattoo fatally injures Britney Brassieres with a champagne cork. And when another drag queen is found poisoned, it looks like someone's targeting Vegas's fabulous femmes... "

First line: "If your name is Britney Brassieres, being taken down by a tsunami of champagne might seem only fitting."

My thoughts: This was a pretty fun second installment to this series. I continue to like how much Las Vegas detail Olson puts into it - I could totally relate to the uber-expensive gelato at the Venetian, for example! The drag queen stuff was fun and I enjoyed Brett's growing friendship with her former nemesis and rival tattooist, Jeff Coleman (and his vintage gold Pontiac!).

But the mystery part...meh. There was too much going on - the drag scene, deadly ricin, vague mentions of a militia group, a tattooist intern who may or may not be working for the feds, a nasty actor-turned-politician, a ruby and diamond brooch, a bunch of guys with queen of hearts tattoos, a pissed-off detective who hates Brett and her brother because her brother was married to the detective's current wife... And Brett just kept on getting herself into trouble. At some point, a normal human being would have stopped showing up with Charlotte the intern called and led her into a trap.

I do want to read the next book, though. There was a teaser at the end of this one and Brett ends up with a dead body in her trunk after Jeff Coleman's mother goes to a drive-through wedding chapel. That sounds entertaining!