Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Three Joyous January Reads

I've just finished reading three books that I enjoyed and would recommend to others without hesitation.
They are "Bloodfever" by Karen Marie Moning, "The Whistling Season" by Ivan Doig and "Dave Barry Does Japan" by the infamous Dave Barry, syndicated newspaper humor columnist.
These three books may seem so dissimilar as to be totally incompatable, but believe it or not, I found an easy flow going from one to the other, possibly because of the wit and humor increasingly displayed in each tome.

Bloodfever is apparently the second book in Moning's series, "Darkfever" being the first. Yet I had no trouble coming up to speed with MacKayla "Mac" Lane, the main character of this paranormal romance (there were no indications on the binding that this book was a member of that genre, but the contents certainly put it in that category). Lane is a sidhe-seer, a young woman able to see the Fae (another name for groups of fairies), both seelie (nice) and unseelie (not nice) and kill them with various ancient weapons, including a spear that she carries wherever she goes. Mac came to Ireland to find the her sisters murderer, and discovered during the first installment of the tale that she and her sister were adopted by their southern family, and that both were sidhe-seers by birth. At this juncture in the story, Mac has teamed up with a mysterious hottie bookstore owner Jericho Barrons, a slayer of bad fae himself, who appears to be more than human, but not a fae. My best guess is that he is a vampire, but we're not told what he is or why he seems wealthy, dangerous and secretive. Mac is also being pursued by V'lane, a "death-by-sex" fae whose sole goal in life seems to be raping mortal women and turning them into sex slaves. He's fascinated by Mac because she wants nothing to do with his sex glamor and illusions. Yet he manages to get her to agree to an hours meeting by saving her from some sinister shadow creatures, and in the process, he ends up keeping her in an illusion of spending time with her dead sister for a month. Mac is like a geiger counter for a book of shadows called the Sinsar Dubh, which makes her ill enough that she passes out when it is close by. Barrons, her employer, is using her to find the book before it falls into the hands of the unseelie fae or their minions. Meanwhile, an evil nutball named Malluce, who Mac thought she'd killed, is back for revenge, as is the Lord Master, who seems to be a nearly omnipotent dark fae, except for the courtesy he extends to Barrons. There is one very hot clinch scene with Barrons and Mac, but they don't actually get to consumate anything, due to the unexpected arrival of the Lord Master. Still the tension between the two characters is palpable and fascinating, making the reader feel the tug of desire in every scene with the sultry Barrons (and really, what is not to love about a handsome man who sells books? Brainy men are just hotter than dolts). The dialog is witty, the characters fully realized and the plot whips along at a stinging pace that leaves the reader turning pages in a rush to keep up. Having been to Ireland myself, I found it quite enjoyable to recognize specific places in the book, like the Temple Bar district with its plethora of pubs and music. I would certainly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys paranormal romances with a kick.
The next book I completed was The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig. I'd tried to read "This House of Sky" previously and found that I got bogged down in his endless descriptions of wind, land and sky in Montana. There was little or no action in that book, which was non-fiction, I believe. The Whistling Season, which is fiction, is a model of grand old-fashioned storytelling, along the lines of Mark Twain, William Faulkner and John Steinbeck. The tale follows the adventures of the Milliron family, who moved from Wisconsin to Montana with the promise of free arable land for homestead farming. Once there, the mother dies, leaving behind a self-educated father and three children, Paul, Damon and Toby. The clan sees an ad in the newspaper that reads "Can't Cook But Doesn't Bite" for a woman from Minnesota seeking a housekeeping position, and, though they could really use a cook, the Milliron family decides to send for the housekeeper. They end up having to front three months wages to Rose Llewellyn, who comes to Montana with her "brother" Morris "Morrie" Morgan, who ends up as the teacher in the towns one room schoolhouse. The story is told from the perspective of Paul, who is something of a genius, and eventually gets to learn Latin from Morrie after school. We hear the story in long flashbacks, as Paul is now the superintendant of schools and has been charged with closing down all the one-room rural schoolhouses in the state of Montana as a cost-cutting measure. There are all manner of interesting tales Paul tells of their time with Rose and Morrie, and how he eventually susses out the dark secret that sends Morrie away to Australia. The story takes place in the 10 years after the turn of the century, and readers gain a great deal of insight to farming life at that period of time, and yet many of the lessons learned and behaviors noted among children haven't changed in the next 100 years at all. The prose is sterling, breathtakingly beautiful in spots and briskly plotted to allow for a fine flow that keeps the reader wanting to know the outcome of each characters decisions. I felt as if I knew the people in this book, and I grew to care for Paul and his family, from his stalwart father down to the much-beloved family dog. I'd recommend this book as a classic to anyone who loves reading about the historical west and homesteaders of that era.
The final book I just finished was the hilarious "Dave Barry Does Japan." I've read a couple of his other books, which I enjoyed, but this one had special significance for me, because my husband is a huge Japanophile who reads, speaks and writes Japanese. Hubby is also a huge Godzilla fan, and loves all the Japanese monster (or Kaiju) films. Dave doesn't spend too much time on Godzilla, but he does take in all the cultural oddities and sights of Japan, and makes much fun of all the unusual food and funny English translations that abound in Japan. If you have ever had a visitor from the land of the Rising Sun, then you know that Barry's take on the ultra-polite Japanese people is spot-on. And, being a large American, I could empathize and understand his feeling like a bungling water buffalo in a country full of small, graceful, quiet people. I could also understand Barry's hesitation to eat the raw tentacles and fish heads offered in Japanese cuisine, which can certainly get a bit icky, though I think he should have at least given regular sushi a try. I've discovered that Japanese cuisine is mostly dairy and egg free, and therefor perfect for me, because of my Crohns. But Barry and his family spend a lot of time trying to find KFC and pizza, American junk food, instead of being adventurous enough to give the native cuisine a chance. Still, Barrys descriptions of Japanese baths, cultural sights, wierd stores and such are priceless, and will leave the reader breathless with laughter. I'd recommend this book to anyone who needs a lift on a gloomy winter day. Its goofy and silly and well worth the short hours it will take to read it through.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Down Home Zombie Blues by Linnea Sinclair

I devoured my Christmas copy of The Down Home Zombie Blues by Linnea Sinclair in 24 hours, and was yearning for more soon after.
I've enjoyed all of Sinclairs former SF/Romance hybrids, though I've had a few tiny quibbles with a couple of them. But Sinclair is that rare author whose storytelling abilities are honed to a razor sharpness, so her books are always entertaining, enlightening and satisfying.
This particular novel was even more fun than the last book, because I've lived in St Petersburg, Florida the town used as a template for the mythical Bahaia Vista, Florida, the setting of the novel. I've also visited Tarpon Springs and its hearty Greek community, so I was interested in Sinclairs take on the former sponge-diving community and its ethnic foods, customs and denizens.
Sinclair didn't disappoint, thankfully, and I was riveted to the snappy plot, bright dialogue and well-rounded characters.
The story is mainly a fish out of water romance, with an alien commander, Jorie, who lands on earth to wipe out the dreadful zombies, horrible creatures created to do a specific job on her world, when they went rogue and started to kill. Jorie meets up with Theo, a local cop, who learns of the zombies and the damage they can cause the hard way--by nearly getting his head blown off. Theo and Jorie fall in love, of course, but do so slowly and with a number of challenges along the way, not the least of which is the aliens prejudice against "nils" or earthlings who don't have their same level of technological or space-faring expertise.
It was great fun to recognize various St Pete landmarks, and to read about a police chief named Brantley, after a member of Sinclairs email listserve group (fair disclosure, I also hang out at Sinclairs Intergalactic Bar and Grille).
On the other hand, I also read through Laurel Hamiltons Obsidian Butterfly and was thoroughly disgusted that I'd wasted the time and energy reading it. I'm not a fan of horror fiction, and Hamiltons Merry Gentry series left me cold because it was mainly clothing descriptions interspersed with graphic descriptions of sex in all its forms. Not being a fan of fashion or porn, I decided not to read any more of Hamiltons books. Then my friend Renee gave me a couple of copies of Hamiltons "Anita Blake, vampire hunter" series and I decided to give Hamilton another chance, hoping that this series would provide some actual romance, interesting plots or great characters. Anita Blake, it turns out, is a woman with very little conscience who is very good at killing and terrible at nearly everything else. In this novel, she encounters an Aztec vampire masquerading as a goddess and is on the trail of a serial killer who removes the skins of his victims and keeps them alive with magic. Ewww. There was a great deal of horror and gorey description in Obsidian Butterfly and NO romance, which really hacked me off. Blake hooks up with another assasin and his "backup" minions, all of whom are sociopaths or psychopaths, and I got the feeling that Hamilton expected the reader to somehow think that Blake was "better" than these men, who are her peers in the business of killing others. Turns out I really didn't like any of them, and found their lack of ethics, compassion and morality repugnant. Even Edward, the head assassin, was souless and nasty, right up until the end, when it appears he is willing to give his life to save two children. Blake somehow makes her peace with his actions and ruthlessness, and believes he will somehow become a good family man, given the opportunity to marry a widow and help raise her children. I didn't feel that Edward would ever be anything but a souless killing machine, and that to put him in a household and have him enact a persona for the rest of his life was courting disaster. I don't think even love can change someone with a black heart and corrupted mind.
At any rate, I didn't like Blake or her sophistry and her lifestyle. I guess I am going to have to pass on the rest of this series, too. If you're a fan of horror with plenty of blood and gore, this series is for you. If, however, you'd prefer some great science fiction with a nice levening of romance and fun, then you should pick up a copy of Linnea Sinclairs latest. It will keep you up until the wee hours, I guarentee.