Friday, July 30, 2010

Dresden Files

As part of the Four Month Challenge, I'm supposed to read a book in a series and the one after it. Well, even without the challenge, I've read 3 in a row of the Dresden Files series and I'm in the middle of the next one. That puts me on #10 of 12.

So, this is my post for the Challenge, but also it's a plea to read these books. They are awesome. You will love them. Harry Dresden is a wizard in present-day Chicago who actually advertises in the Yellow Pages. He helps the police with "special" crimes that can't be explained by regular means. He's funny, sardonic, brave, chivalrous, stubborn and generally just someone I'd like to know. One of the highlights of the series so far? I mentioned it a few weeks ago - he brings a friggin' T-rex back to (supernatural) life!!! He has a wonderfully huge dog called Mouse who is descended from ancient Chinese Foo Dogs and an enormous 30-pound cat named Mister. One of his best friends is a Holy Knight and one is a tiny, kick-ass blonde female cop.

So, read them!!!
All the info you need is here:

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Review: Very LeFreak

Very LeFreak by Rachel Cohn

3.25 stars

Reasons for reading: I like Rachel Cohn's books; Young Adult Challenge

Description: "Very LeFreak has a problem: she’s a crazed technology addict. Very can’t get enough of her iPhone, laptop, IMs, text messages, whatever. If there’s any chance the incoming message, call, text, or photo might be from her supersecret online crush, she’s going to answer, no matter what. Nothing is too important: sleep, friends in mid-conversation, class, a meeting with the dean about academic probation. Soon enough, though, this obsession costs Very everything and everyone. Can she learn to block out the noise so she can finally hear her heart?"

First line: "It wasn't the fact that Starbucks did not - would not - serve Guinness with a raw egg followed by an espresso chaser that was ruining Very's hangover."

My thoughts: I have mixed feeling about this book and its heroine. It seems to fall into more of a college-age reading level than teen and I'd hestitate to give it to younger readers. While there's not really a lot of explicit sex, it's talked about a lot in a way that's nothing for older readers but seems like TMI for younger ones. And for me, sometimes! While she doesn't have a lot of actual sex, Very seems to toy with a lot of people, both male and female.

The book is divided into 2 sections - Very's life at college as a super-partier but schoolwork-slacker with her roommate and two male friends, one of whom she sleeps with and breaks his heart. Very herself I found both loveable and hateable. And really, she's a really messed-up young woman (her single mother died of an overdose when she was a young teen, Very blames herself) who basically hits rock bottom and knows she has to do better. She's charming and energetic, but really over-the-top and while she seems to really care about people, she's not very good at actually respecting their feelings or boundaries or sometimes realizing people exist beyond just being of use to her. Her insistence on calling her roommate Lavinia when her name is actually Jennifer is an indication of this (although it's meant as a term of endearment, she also refuses to use the girl's proper name). The second half of the book comes when Very's addiction to technology (her iPhone, iPod, and laptop are pretty much attached to her at all times, even when she's sleeping) hits rock bottom. That her addiction is to machines rather than drugs or alcohol was an interesting twist - it made the rehab section of the book a bit more interesting than if it was for the usual vices. And the director of the rehab facility, Dr. Joy, provided some funny moments with her absolute ban on technology and use of the "patients" as basically slave labour.

I really came to feel Very's pain and was cheering for her by the end. The book ends on a sweet, hopeful note that I was glad to see. I would definitely recommend this to college-age chicks, but for a YA novel it was just a bit too odd and sexed-up for me to be a super fan.

Review: Stalking Susan

Stalking Susan by Julie Kramer
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: Minneapolis setting for our annual trip there; Author I've never read for Four Month Challenge

Description: "Riley Spartz is recovering from a heartbreaking, headline-making catastrophe of her own when a Minneapolis police source drops two homicide files in her lap.Both cold cases involve women named Susan strangled on the same day, one year apart. Riley sees a pattern between those murders and others pulled from old death records. As the deadly anniversary approaches, she stages a bold on-air stunt to draw the killer out and uncover a motive that will leave readers breathless."

First line: "So the deal is this - any cop who tickets me for a moving violation gets an 'attaboy' from the chief and a day off duty, off the books."

My thoughts: You can really tell that Kramer has worked as a news producer, all of the backstage jargon is here and I'd be willing to bet that Riley's annoying boss Noreen, who doesn't really understand that actual news reporting is difference from ratings-gathering, is based on one or more people Kramer has worked with. Noreen's exasperating obtuseness and meanness (cushioned a bit, but not much, by her love of animals) provides quite a bit of comic relief.

I'm always a sucker for a book set in Minneapolis and Kramer clearly knows her way around the Twin Cities as well as a newsroom. I liked that Riley's friend and informant, former police detective Garnett is now head of security for the Mall of America (we had just been there the day before I started reading this!). It's actually quite amusing, given that now there's a reality show based entirely on the mall cops of the MOA. Garnett is a steadfast, reliable friend to Riley with a love of old movies and, perhaps, a love for Riley. Riley is too wrapped up in grief and her investigative reporting to notice, however. Riley describes herself as a bitch, but I didn't find her to be one. A bit hard-nosed, maybe, but not unlikeable and committed to finding the truth.

The mystery of the Susans was interesting, it was really hard to tell how they were connected. Once the whodunnit came out it seemed like it should have been obvious but it really hadn't been. Riley's willingness to endanger herself to get to the truth was both brave and foolhardy, but the way she did it was quite clever.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and will probably read the next in the series.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

It's Tuesday, Where are You?

Click the globe to tell Raidergirl where you are!

I'm in Chicago once again with wizard Harry Dresden, fighting off the corpses of zombie Native American warriors with the reanimated bones of Sue, the largest and most complete T-rex specimen ever found, which he liberated from the Field Museum of Natural History. (Dead Beat by Jim Butcher)

Review: What I saw and How I Lied

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: heard good things about it, winner of the National Book Award for Young Readers for the Book Award Challenge

Description: "When Evie's father returned home from World War II, the family fell back into its normal life pretty quickly. But Joe Spooner brought more back with him than just good war stories. When movie-star handsome Peter Coleridge, a young ex-GI who served in Joe's company in postwar Austria, shows up, Evie is suddenly caught in a complicated web of lies that she only slowly recognizes. She finds herself falling for Peter, ignoring the family secrets that surround him… until he mysteriously drowns. Now Evie must find out what happened…and how far she'll go to protect her family."

First line: The match snapped, then sizzled, and I woke up fast."

My thoughts: I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this book. I think the characterization was almost too good - I really found Evie an annoying teenage girl during the first part, especially when she "fell in love" with Peter (although I guess puppy love does feel very real, I probably shouldn't be such an old person and belittle it). But once she grew up - unfortunately it happens tragically fast, she shouldn't have had to take on so much so soon - she becomes quite fearsomely impressive. Evie becomes strong and the adults - her gorgeous mother who adores her and has always done what she had to do to take care of her and her stepfather Joe, who may not be quite the perfect husband, father and soldier that he seemed - become weak and can't help themselves.

The post-WW II setting was well-researched and I really felt immersed in it. It was also interesting to set it in Florida, it's not a place I associate with that time in history at all, not sure why. And a further historical dimension was added by including the racism against Jews encountered by acquaintances of the Spooners, which is made even more upsetting given what had just happened in Europe.

Overall, I can see why this won the National Book Award. The historical setting was very well done and once it gets rolling, you want to find out what's going to happen to Evie's family.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Review: Hearts at Stake

Hearts at Stake by Alyxandra Harvey

3.25 stars

Reasons for reading: 10 in 10 Chick Lit Challenge

Description: "On Solange’s sixteenth birthday, she is going to wake up dead. As if that’s not bad enough, she also has to outwit her seven overprotective older brothers, avoid the politics involved with being the only daughter born to an ancient vampire dynasty, and elude Kieran Black—agent of an anti-vampire league who is searching for his father’s killer and is intent on staking Solange and her entire family.

Luckily she has her own secret weapon—her human best friend Lucy—who is willing to defend Solange’s right to a normal life, whether she’s being smothered by her well-intentioned brothers or abducted by a power-hungry queen. Two unlikely alliances are formed in a race to save Solange’s eternal life—Lucy and Solange’s brother Nicholas, and Solange and Kieran Black—in a dual romance that is guaranteed to jump start any romance-lover’s heart.

First lines: "Normally I wouldn't be caught dead at a field party. If you'll pardon the pun."

My thoughts: Another entry in the teen vampire romance genre. And not a bad one, although not stellar. I liked smart, brave Lucy and her fierce dedication to her best friend and about-to-be-vampire Solange. I liked the loving but rather scary all-son-but-one Drake family, especially that they took Lucy in as one of their own because she cares about Solange. The human-vampire romances were predictable but happily not all goopy - both Solange and Lucy spar with their love interests almost as much as they smooch with them. There was also a lot of action for sucha short book - chases and plots and twists and fights. But there was a lot of lore that I found a bit confusing. For example, vampires are made but occasionally one can be born? And almost all of the bad groups of vampires (and there are at least 4) started with the same letter, which didn't help.

The verdict: I'm pleased to see a cool book written by a Canadian author, yay! And while I don't know if I'll be reading on in the series, for vampire fans it's a good read with action and romance and, in particular, really strong friendships and family relationships as well.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Review: Shem Creek

Shem Creek by Dorothea Benton Frank
4 stars

Reasons for reading: I enjoy her books; I love South Carolina; Body of Water title for What's in a Name? Challenge

First line: "Can I just tell you why I am so deliriously happy to drive all through the night from New Jersey to South Carolina?"

My thoughts: I sometimes feel like I'm going to end up in Charleston, South Carolina. I've only been there once, but I loved it so much. And I still love reading about it and Dorothea Benton Frank makes it a pleasure. She clearly loves it, too. You can feel the heat, see the creek, and she puts in all kinds of Charleston-specific details. For example, they pick up food from Bessinger's Barbeque, which we wanted to try but their parking lot was blocked by a classic car show, so we had to go to Fiery Ron's Home Team BBQ, in a converted gas station. I love how reading Frank's Lowcountry books remind me of little details like that.

I liked that this book was told largely from Linda's point of view, but then had interjections from other characters like Gracie and Brad. It didn't have the "who is this?"-ness of alternating chapter books, but it gave an extra twist to the story.

Now, the book was fairly predictable - you knew there would be a love connection between Linda and Brad from the moment she applied to work at the restaurant. And you know that everything will work out okay, even when there are a few near (and more than near) disasters. But outspoken, fiercely maternal Linda is a great character, as is Brad, who was burned by an awful marriage and wants to slow down and enjoy life. The teenage kids each have their own personalities, led by bratty-but-improving firecracker Gracie. It was great to see Linda build a new life for herself and her girls after freeing herself from a dreary job and a jerky ex-husband is freezing New Jersey. The scenes in the restaurant are well-done, I'd like to visit it, especially for the sunset deck! And sassy sous chef Louise's constant bickering with chef Duane and his new-fangled ideas is amusing. Overall it's an entertaining read with very likeable characters and a very nice (if slightly unconventional) romance.

I definitely can't wait to read more Lowcountry Tales!