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.

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