Thursday, July 31, 2008

Acheron is Here!!

The latest entry in the Dark Hunter series has arrived in the library and is currently posed suggestively on a book cart in Cataloging. I couldn’t resist sneaking a peek. The glossy hardcover weighs in at just over seven hundred pages and features Acheron’s symbol on the front and a really nice photo of author Sherrilyn Kenyon on the back. I admit that the author photo really should have nothing to do with whether or not I read a book, but I have found that a humorless author photo often graces a humorless book, and that’s something I just can’t stand. I am pleased to report that the Dark Hunter novels are known to contain a fair amount of quirky humor along with the paranormal romantic suspense elements, and Ms. Kenyon is obviously to thank for maintaining that balance.
The national release date for the book is August 4; put your name on the reserve list now if want to get your hands on this one anytime before Christmas. For those of you who have not met any of Dark Hunters before and don’t want to jump right into the story of the oldest and most elusive of them, fear not. I am ordering copies of the previous titles that are not currently in the system. Meanwhile, take a look at the website and get to know the characters; Ash himself will be among you soon enough…

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Teen Angst, With Vampires

by Stephenie Meyer

"Softly he brushed my cheek, then held my face between his marble hands. 'Be very still,' he whispered, as if I wasn't already frozen. Slowly, never moving his eyes from mine, he leaned toward me. Then abruptly, but very gently, he rested his cold cheek against the hollow at the base of my throat."

The Premise: We start with one of the more common YA book premises: the new kid in school. 17-year old Bella has moved to the tiny town of Forks in the rain-drenched Olympic Peninsula of Oregon. During her first day at her new school she notices a group of exquisitely beautiful students sitting together at a table in the corner of the cafeteria. They don't seem to be eating and they certainly don't socialize with the rest of the junior class. Sure enough, Bella is assigned handsome Edward, one of the five sublime siblings, as her lab partner in science class, but she immediately notices the dark looks he gives her and he skips class for an entire week after they meet. As the weeks go by, Bella and Edward do get to know each other better and she learns the secret of the siblings. They are vampires. They were once human but were rescued on their deathbeds by Carlisle, a vampire who has overcome his blood lust and seeks to live and work among humans without feeding on them. As Edward and Bella's love grows, the pair are faced with a variety of obstacles but none compare to the dire threat of a visiting clan of vampires who have scented Bella and have no qualms about feeding on humans! The hunt is on, with Bella as the prey and Edward and his family fighting to protect her.

What I (could have) liked (if it were written better): I like the idea of Bella and Edward as star-crossed lovers. Just being near Bella drives Edward to distraction. He expends a great deal of energy controlling his blood lust. Almost half the book goes by before the two can even bear to kiss, so strong is Edward's vampire instinct. He has abstained from human blood and killing for years, but Bella's scent is maddeningly attractive to him. As a vampire, Edward also has superhuman strength. This means that he has to stay aware of every movement he makes around Bella - a fragile human - because he could reach over to caress her cheek and accidentally knock her across the room. Bella doesn't care. So great is her passion for Edward that she gladly risks her life in order to stay with him and further their romance. There is a great deal of erotic tension but intimate scenes are not graphic simply because Edward and Bella can not consummate their love due to the aforementioned, um, incompatibilities between vampire and human.

What I didn't like: The story is serviceable despite the hackneyed plot and several plot holes, but the repetitiveness in the writing really got on my nerves. Halfway through the book I thought, "If I hear one more thing about Edward's smoldering eyes or marble god-like musculature I am going to scream!" I checked with a few of my acquaintances and they too mentioned the repetitiveness of description.

I hope that the later novels in the series flesh out the characters. Edward seems impossibly remote and his giggling/chuckling/smirking add nothing to his character. Bella starts out promisingly, but her characterization all but disappears as soon as she hooks up with Edward. All the other characters are flat and uninteresting.

That brings me to one of my major qualms about this novel: Bella. Her characterization is inconsistent and terribly weak. Is she the remarkably mature, independent, quirky teen we meet in the opening chapter? That certainly doesn't last long as she is immediately overcome by her attraction to "angelic" Edward. She then decides that she would rather die than be without him. She is "unconditionally, irrevocably in love" so any sense we had of her individuality is gone. She becomes pawn in a game between two vampire clans.

By the end of the book I was left with the feeling that Bella was nothing more than a mirror for Edward and his supernatural beauty. Honestly, I kept hoping for a plot twist that would reveal Bella to be under some kind of vampire thrall which caused her to think the same things over and over again. Alas, I was disappointed.

Overall: I expected more from this super-hyped novel (and the series as a whole). I am trying to understand why this series is so popular with teens and young adults but it is something that is alien to me. The characters are so shallow (although Meyer is trying to portray them as achingly beautiful) that they hold little appeal for me.

This is first and foremost a romance - at least in my opinion. In Edward, the reader has an extraordinarily handsome and gifted alpha male, and in Bella, the reader has a girl-next-door with access to Edward's rarefied world.

I will not read the rest of the series. I simply did not get enough out of the characters, the plot or the themes, and I think the writing is atrocious. I truly dislike what happens to Bella's characterization. I can practically hear her thinking, "I love him so much that I don't care that he could kill me at any moment in so many different ways." This does not appeal to me on any level, no matter how popular or how racy the book. I have had better luck with other YA authors, such as Holly Black and Charles de Lint, who include romance in their fantasy novels and are much better adept at imbuing their characters with ambiguity.

Reviewed by Anne

Monday, July 28, 2008

Quick Looks: First You Run

First You Run
By Roxanne St. Claire

The Premise: Adrien Fletcher, one of the elite group of bodyguards employed by the very selective, very expensive agency known as the Bullet Catchers, is using some of his well earned time off to help an old friend and fellow investigator track down a baby girl given up for adoption thirty years ago. The problem is that it was a black market adoption, and the only clue to her identity is a tiny tattoo somewhere on her body. Since Fletch, as his friends call him, is truly gifted at getting women to take off their clothes, he’s the perfect man for the job. The twist? The mother who gave up her child all those years ago is dying of leukemia – in prison – and needs a bone marrow transplant to survive. Since Fletch’s buddy Jack is convinced that the woman was framed for a murder she didn’t commit, he takes on the case for free. But time is running out, and there may be a killer on the loose who wants the past to stay buried. Enter Dr. Miranda Lang, gifted anthropologist and newly published author, who is as lovely as she is brilliant and who has no idea she was actually adopted. But she’s on Fletch and Jack’s short list of potential women who could be the missing baby, so Fletch has the unhappy task of trying to find the tattoo and potentially throwing Miranda’s whole world out of whack. But wait – there’s another complicating factor: Miranda’s book debunks a popular end-of-the-world myth, and it looks like a bunch of fanatics are trying to kill her. Or is it really all a part of the same plot that put her birth mother in jail? Fletch has to think fast and both he and Miranda have to make some tough decisions, not the least of which is whether or not to give in to their growing attraction for each other.

What I liked: I liked both Fletch and Miranda quite a bit. Their relationship developed nicely and they had good chemistry. Also, the Maya history and mythology was interesting and well integrated into the story; the quasi-religious fanaticism of the Armageddon Movement and their motivation was believable. The pace was good and the secondary characters were very vivid, even those that only appeared briefly.

What I didn’t like: I felt that Fletch agonized a bit too much and Miranda was a little too stubborn about facing the reality of what was going on, but this didn’t slow the pace of the story. Since I’ve never been known for my patience this could just be me.

Overall: A fun, sexy romantic suspense story. I would recommend this for anyone who enjoys Cherry Adair’s T-FLAC agents or Jayne Anne Krentz and the Arcane Society. In fact, I came to work this morning and immediately ordered the rest of the Bullet Catcher series for the romance collection!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Ghosts and Secrets and Romance, Oh My!!

The Haunting of Josie
by Kay Hooper

Sometimes I'm looking for a short read, something I can finish in a night. I just don't have the time to waste by grabbing the nearest Harlequin only to find it's badly written or too cheesy for words. I still want something with a plot I can sink my teeth into. That's why I was so pleased to find this little gem by an author I already know and love.

Like many popular authors, Kay Hooper has started to reissue many of her older romance series titles in order to keep up with the voracious appetite of her readers. The Haunting of Josie is one of those. It is, in fact, the last book she wrote for the LoveSwept line before she started writing her more meaty suspense titles.

Josie Douglas is an elementary school teacher who has taken a sabbatical to write The Great American novel -- on the surface anyway. Actually, she has some secrets and another agenda entirely. Marc Westbrook is a high powered prosecutor who is convalescing after a serious car accident at the cottage of the estate where Josie rents a house. The two, of course, hit it off right away albeit with some resistance on Josie's end. Marc quickly sees through her flimsy cover and uncovers the real story of her past and the infamous father whose innocence she is trying to prove.

Meanwhile, a mystery surfaces regarding the death of one of Marc's more famous ancestors. Luke Westbrook, a famous mystery writer of the 1940's, had supposedly committed suicide in the very house Josie is staying in. However, between the antics of a gypsy cat who showed up the day she moved in and the sightings of the ghost of Luke Westbrook who seems to be trying to tell her something, Josie and Marc come to the conclusion that foul play was involved. It takes both of them working together to solve the mystery and learn the lesson that comes with it.

My take:
I enjoyed it. This little romance has it all - light paranormal, mystery, hot romance. It wasn't too dated as some of the older romances can be. I was a little confused by the gun that was made so much of in the beginning of the story since nothing ever came of it and the plot line it suggested went absolutely nowhere. It is a minor quibble though and I recommend the book for those looking for a short beach read with a little meat to it.

Reviewed by Michele

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Quick Look: The Ex-Debutante

The Ex-Debutante
By Linda Francis Lee

The Premise: Carlisle Wainwright Cushing, of the old money Willow Creek, Texas Wainwrights, ran away to Boston right after law school, where she has established herself as a Grade A divorce lawyer. Carlisle likes living where nobody knows her family or the story of her less than graceful debut, and she has not only a great job but an equally great fiance (even if he is a Yankee.) Everything’s just peachy until Carlisle’s mother summons her home to help deal with her latest divorce. Thinking she’ll be in town for about a week, Carlisle arrives in Willow Creek to find that not only is her mother expecting her to handle the divorce from beginning to end, the lawyer for her soon-to-be-ex stepfather is none other than Jack Blair, Carlisle’s old flame and the man she left without a word when she went to Boston. Jack, a sexy bad boy who made good, now has a formidable professional reputation of his own, and a beautiful fiance as well. Our intrepid heroine barely has time to register the incredible chemistry she still feels with Jack when her family drops another bombshell: the 100th Annual Willow Creek Symphony Debutante Ball, an event always run by a Wainwright, is in danger of becoming a complete debacle, and Carlisle is expected to step in and save the day.

What I liked: Carlisle is a great, likeable character with problems everyone can relate to. You don’t have to have been a debutante to have experienced the mortification that comes with a public faux pas, and the difficulties that come with family relationships are pretty universal. Jack has a lot of appeal as a hero, and the relationship between the two is painful and funny, and entirely believable given their history. Carlisle’s relationship with her family forms another important element of the story, and brings a lot of depth to all the characters. The storylines are well balanced and interconnect seamlessly; nothing feels forced.

What I didn’t like: I found Phillip, Carlisle’s intended, a little two dimensional. Though his existence looms large in the storyline, he really only has a walk-on part in the book. Jack’s fiance is much more vivid; as a result I got to know her a little, couldn’t stand her, and would have liked to see the big break up scene up close, rather than just hearing about it. I don’t think that would necessarily have made the book better; it probably just means that I’m not very nice....

Overall: Really enjoyable, both funny and touching. This is the first book I’ve read by Lee, but I will definitely read more.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Quick Recommendations: DVDs

When it is as hot and humid as it has been the last few days, I sometimes feel that it's too much effort just to turn a page. That's when I like to relax with a few DVDs, preferably something light and funny. Here are a few romantic comedies you might have missed the first time around.

Say Anything
The movie that made of generation of young women fall in love with John Cusack, and made an anthem out of “In Your Eyes.” This is a charming, quirky story of first love and all its attendant drama, complete with overbearing parents, high school cliques, and the magic of a first kiss. Still funny and touching after all these years.

Must Love Dogs
If you loved John Cusack in “Say Anything” back in the 80’s, you’ll love him even more as Jake, a hopeless romantic who spends his evenings watching “Doctor Zhivago.” When an internet dating sight matches him up with Sarah (Diane Lane) a divorced pre school teacher, wacky romantic adventures begin. This is a funny, lighthearted look at mid-life dating in the internet age, with a good supporting cast.

Two Weeks Notice
Idealism meets corporate greed and self indulgence when Lucy (Sandra Bullock) goes to work for George (Hugh Grant). This lighthearted romantic comedy features solid performances by Bullock as a neurotic but brilliant attorney working for the fabulously wealthy and self absorbed Grant. This one is fun!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Luxe by Anna Godbersen -- crossover romance for Young Adults and Adults

Full disclosure: I am not a romance reader. I don't know why, I just don't read romances. When Macaire handed me this 433-page Young Adult romance and asked me to review it, I felt quite daunted. However, after the first few pages I was hooked. Completely hooked! The Luxe is the first in what is expected to be a series of Young Adult romances in the vein of the Gossip Girls but set at the end of the Gilded Age. I have not read the Gossip Girls, so I don't know if the comparison is correct, but this is certainly full of gossip and scandalous behavior and rich society girls!

Teaser: The novel opens with the funeral of Elizabeth Holland, the perfect high society girl in 1899 Manhattan. Tragically, her funeral is held on the same day she was to marry the most eligible bad-boy bachelor of high society, Henry Schoonmaker. Elizabeth’s coffin, by the way, is empty – her body is never recovered from the East River. Was her death simply a tragic accident due to a spooked horse? Was it suicide in the face of a loveless marriage? Was it murder? The novel explores the last few weeks of Elizabeth's life, complete with sumptuous dresses and parties, vicious gossip, romantic intrigue, and family dilemmas.

My take: I spent the whole book wanting to find out what happened to Elizabeth Holland. The author sets up several plausible scenarios. The short chapters are like potato chips ("just one more... just one more..."). I also admit to being drawn in by the descriptions of the dresses worn by the young ladies of New York society at the turn of the century. It's not that I'm a girly girl - I'm not - it's just that the descriptions of the rich fabrics and elegant stitching are very appealing.

Elizabeth Holland, her sister Diana, and the scheming Penelope Hayes are interesting characters. The facets of their personalities and the falsities they have to live in high society are by turns fascinating and frustrating, as I'm sure the author intends. So many of the male characters are equally frustrating - from the self-centered rich blowhards to the ne'er do well cads to the nice guys who won't speak their truth about their attractions and feelings. I have to say, I wish the author had fleshed out the character of Will a little bit.

I think some other interesting questions are raised. For example, it's easy to see how scheming Penelope is, but let me ask this: is Elizabeth just as scheming as Penelope because she works so hard cultivating the appearance of the Good Girl from an old moneyed family? Her motives (family loyalty, taking care of her mother and sister) may be different from Penelope's motives, but the end result is the same: deceit. All the planning and plotting of the older generations in maintaining appearances and match-making is just as scheming as Penelope just not as obvious. The constrictions of society and of money are both explored here, set amidst the opulence of New York City at the end of the Gilded Age. It is an engaging mystery and an appealing study of manners

The publisher also has a website for the series which includes a map of old Manhattan and a carriage ride marking the sites mentioned in the book:

For fans of this book, a sequel called Rumors: A Luxe Novel has just been released.

Reviewed by Anne

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Quick Recommendations

Head Over Heels
by Susan Andersen

Veronica Davis is forced to come home to work at the family bar when her sister is murdered and her brother-in-law is accused of the crime. Though she really just wants to care for her niece, get the bar ready to sell, and figure out what happened to her sister, she hasn’t factored in Cooper Blackstock, a sexy new bar manager with an agenda – and secrets – of his own. Likeable cast of characters, good chemistry, and a little mystery make this a fun book.

Tangled Up in You
by Rachel Gibson

Maddie Dupree returns to her childhood hometown to try to solve a mystery surrounding a family tragedy. She comes up against Mick Hennessy, the latest in a long line of irresistible Hennessy men, who would rather let the past remain forgotten. The two fight an attraction to each other while fighting about Maddie’s research; can they find both closure and happily ever after? Great small town setting and an interesting history for the characters.

Squeeze Play
by Kate Angell

Professional baseball player Risk Kincaid has been his old friend Jacy’s rebound lover since the day in high school that he found her crying in the bleachers and ended up as her prom date. Now he wants her all to himself forever, but Jacy has never thought of him that way. Or has she? This is a spicy romantic comedy with baseball – a quick fun read.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

More Fun with T-FLAC!

I’ve been a fan of Cherry Adair’s T-FLAC series since Michele recommended the Edge trilogy as an intro to paranormals. I quickly read those and then turned to the rest of the series, which are all straight romantic suspense. Adair’s website has always been one of my favorites – very interactive and “007’ish” and just lots of fun in general. The only complaint I ever had was that it was a little dark – good for effect but sometimes hard to read. So – I was really delighted to see the new, improved website that serves as HQ for all things T-FLAC. It’s easy to read, easy to navigate, and still has all the fun features that I love. Check out the “Intel photos” for the latest release, “Rescue Me,” and then check out the book – which has recently arrived at the library!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Creature Feature, Indeed

While I was posting Michele’s review of Hotter After Midnight the other day, I decided to look around author Cynthia Eden’s website. I don’t read as many paranormals as Michele does, and I haven’t read any of Eden’s, so I wanted to see what else she had published and learn a little more about her paranormal world. Lo and behold – she has an interactive quiz posted to help her readers figure out what kind of paranormal creatures they are!! What fun! So I took the quiz and found out that I am actually a shape shifter! Who knew? I thought I was just another mild-mannered (ahem) librarian. If you too would like to get in touch with your inner paranormal creature, take the quiz. It’s Friday afternoon – did you really want to spend it with your nose to the grindstone?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Quick Recommendations

One of the things we do regularly here at the library is write up brief recommendations of books we’ve read or movies we have watched and post them on cards throughout the library. This gives us the chance to “talk” about the books we’ve read and gives patrons a little more to go on than the blurb on the back of the book or DVD. Since I go through many titles than ever get reviewed in the blog, I thought I would put together a few groups of recommendations. We own most of these in paperback – perfect for a day at the beach!

In Too Deep by Cherry Adair
Tally Cruise receives an unexpected summons to Paradise Island from her long estranged father, and shortly after her arrival an explosion lands her in the arms of Michael Wright. Michael, a former Navy SEAL, has an agenda of his own where Tally’s father is concerned, and is willing to use her to further it. Action and romance heat up fast in this entertaining addition to the T-FLAC series.

The Master of Blacktower by Barbara Michaels
A classic gothic romance: an attractive, na├»ve, strong willed young woman left suddenly destitute, a dark, brooding man who offers sanctuary, a desolate mansion in the Scottish Highlands, and a mystery that hints at murder. This book has it all, complete with a dark and stormy night! A little melodramatic, but if you loved Victoria Holt and Phyllis A. Whitney, you’ll like this.

White Lies by Jayne Ann Krentz
The first of the contemporary Arcane Society novels features Clare Lancaster and Jake Salter, whose strong paranormal abilities make them both “exotics” in the view of the Society. The two are thrown together when an unsolved murder in which Clare is a suspect intersects with Jake’s investigation of a plot to mass produce potentially lethal mind altering drugs. Likeable duo with great chemistry, and a good mystery make this one a fun, fast read.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Hot, Hot, Hotter

Hotter After Midnight
By Cynthia Eden

"The vampire on her couch had a serious blood phobia."

So begins Hotter After Midnight by Cynthia Eden. What a line. What a concept - a "Monster Doctor". Dr. Emily Drake is a psychologist who treats the non-human creatures categorically referred to as "Other". While fully human herself, Emily is a powerful psychic with the dubious gift of being able to identify Others by sight. And the Other are everywhere - vampires, demons, charmers, witches, shape shifters. She has learned to use this ability to her advantage and built up a very successful practice by counseling the monsters that most people don't realize actually exist.

After a particularly brutal murder, a police captain (who just happens to be Other) pulls her in as a forensic profiler on suspicion that the murderer was a shape shifter. Homicide Detective Colin Gyth, a shifter himself, is assigned to work with her. The attraction between Emily and Gyth is immediate and volatile which forces Emily to overcome a few prejudices of her own about shifters. They must learn to trust each other in order to catch what appears to be a serial killer with exceptionally strong paranormal powers, a killer who has Emily sighted as his next victim.

My take:
This book pulled me in right from the start. The characters were well drawn and the concept intriguing. I liked that it pulled in suspense and mystery as well as romance and some pretty hot sex scenes. A hot author that I'll be on the lookout for more from.

Reviewed by Michele

Thursday, July 3, 2008

American Gothic (Sort of)

Before there was “romantic suspense” fiction, there was “gothic fiction” or “gothic romance.” The American Heritage Dictionary offers this definition: “Of or relating to a style of fiction that emphasizes the grotesque, mysterious, and desolate.” Think remote estates with resident ghosts, recalcitrant caretakers, and mysterious deaths or disappearances –usually involving the former lady of the manor. And of course a handsome, brooding man with secrets. Hero? Or Villain? Some of the most well known examples of this subgenre are Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. This category has been so popular for so long that even Jane Austen spoofed it in her classic Northanger Abbey. However, not all gothic romances were written in previous centuries, nor are they all set in England. American literature has its own gothic romance tradition spanning several centuries. The library’s summer paperback collection has a few good examples.

Historical literature fans will enjoy Dragonwyck by Anya Seton, set here in the Hudson Valley in the mid-nineteenth century. Dragonwyck is the home of Nicholas Van Ryn, who invites his distant cousin Miranda Wells to join his household. Miranda discovers that the magnificent gothic towers and beautiful gardens of Dragonwyck hold some terrible secrets as she gets drawn further into life at the estate.

More contemporary versions of the gothic can be found in the work of Barbara Michaels. Though she is better known for her mysteries written under her other pen name, Elizabeth Peters, the books she published in the 1960’s and 1970’s follow the gothic tradition, but contain the kind of subversive humor and strong-willed heroine that has become the norm in current romantic suspense. Witch, House of Many Shadows, and Prince of Darkness contain all the lurking menace of tales set earlier times while updating the heroines and capitalizing on the burgeoning interest in the occult that occurred in a time when peace, love, and macrame were all the rage. Though these books are clearly rooted in a particular time and place, the stories and settings are still enjoyable and are an excellent diversion on a summer weekend – or a dark and stormy night....

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend: Part II

Chasing Harry Winston
by Lauren Weisberger

The Premise: Three young women, friends since college, all reach turning points in their lives. Emmy, whose goal in life has always been marriage and a family, is dumped by her boyfriend right when she is expecting a ring. Adriana, beautiful daughter of a Brazilian model, has always played the field, but with her thirtieth birthday approaching, her mother’s warnings about not getting any younger make her consider settling down. Leigh has the perfect job and the perfect boyfriend and the perfect apartment, but she’s also having panic attacks and is fighting an addiction to Nicorette gum. (Hey, it beats smoking, right?) Emmy and Adriana vow to make some changes, with Emmy deciding to devote the next year to passionate flings and Adriana aiming for a long term relationship.
As for Leigh, she won’t acknowledge that she needs to make any changes until she is assigned to edit the work a well known novelist, and sparks begin to fly between the two.
The three girls find that the road to true love and the perfect diamond engagement ring doesn’t run according to plan.

What I liked: I truly liked all these characters, even in their most narcissistic or self-pitying moods. They do some brainless things in terms of their love lives, but they are the same brainless things every woman I know has done at one point or another. The book is well paced and tells a great story of friendship and self discovery with a little romance and lot of humor.

What I didn’t like: Can’t complain about anything. This was a lot of fun.

Overall: More chick lit than romance, but very entertaining. Perfect summer reading.