Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Murder of a Sleeping Beauty by Denise Swanson

Murder of a Sleeping Beauty is the third book in the Scumble River mysteries by Denise Swanson. School psychologist Skye Denison discovers the body of one of the most popular girls in school, in the school auditorium. Skye’s discovering the body makes her want to help find out what happened to the young woman, but the trauma of the death of a student also gives her a lot of work counseling students and teachers at the schools. In this book, we get a glimpse of what a school psychologist has to do when there is a crisis at the school. This book also gives us a glimpse of beauty pageants, and not really a flattering look at pageants. 
Skye’s ability to investigate the student’s murder isn’t only hampered by the extra workload that trauma counseling has added to her plate. Skye is also on the outs with both the chief of police and Simon, both of whom helped her a lot in the past. Luckily she has the help of her mom, and her godfather Charlie. 
I’ve really been enjoying the Scumble River mysteries so far, and I do plan on reading more of the series, although I have taken a bit of a break from them to avoid burnout.
 I’m going to give Murder of a Sleeping Beauty by Denise Swanson, 2 bookmarks.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Murder of a Sweet Old Lady by Denise Swanson

Murder of a Sweet Old Lady by Denise Swanson is the second book in the Scumble River Mystery series. Our heroine in this series of cozies is Skye Denison, a public school psychologist. The murder in this series again hits close to home for Skye, this time the victim is her elderly grandmother. Skye again has personal stakes in seeing this crime solved, even if the culprit was someone in her own family. 
The police chief and Skye’s boyfriend/coroner Simon are willing to give her some help on this one, seeing as it was her grandmother that was killed. What the police chief isn’t willing to give Skye, her mother can get through her job as police dispatcher. 
Skye would like to take time off from her job at the schools after her grandmother’s death, but ends up still having to go in most days for emergency meetings. We again get a good look at what it’s like to be a psychologist for the public school system, in this fictional small town at least. 
I enjoyed this second book in the Scumble River mysteries as much as the first. Denise Swanson has created a nice cast of characters, and captured the small town feel. I’m going to give Murder of a Sweet Old Lady, 2 bookmarks.

Murder of a Small Town Honey by Denise Swanson

Murder of a Small Town Honey is the first Scumble River Mystery. This is a series of cozies, and this first book is from 2000. The amateur sleuth in this series is a school psychologist named Skye Denison. Skye was very glad to get out of the small town of Scumble River after graduating high school. She spent some time in the Peace Corps and then went to work in New Orleans after graduate school. Her time in New Orleans ended badly, and she came back to her roots with some help from her godfather. 
At the annual Chokeberry Days festival, the celebrity Grand Marshal for the parade is found murdered. Amateur sleuths usually start out snooping because someone close to them, or they themselves are suspected of the murder that the sleuth happened to stumble upon. One of the prime suspects in the murder is Skye’s brother Vince. Added to the usual amateur sleuthing, Skye is also dealing with a bit of an unrequited crush for the police chief, and an attraction to the new coroner/funeral home operator. 
I enjoyed the look at the work of a school psychologist, Denise Swanson worked as a school psychologist for over twenty years. I tend to like the mysteries that give a chance to see other careers, with interesting details, but not too many details. I think Denise Swanson finds a nice balance. I suppose it helps that everyone has gone to school and knows a bit about the clashes between students, parents, and faculty. Even though this book is a decade old, not much has changed with the challenges to public education, so it still feels very timely. 
Skye is a gutsy heroine, and I like the challenges she faces by coming home again. She kind of went out with a bang when she originally left Scumble River, and being a small town, most people still haven’t forgotten her parting comments twelve years later. She is struggling to be independent, in spite of her parent’s wanting to take care of her. 
I enjoyed this book, and went on to read the next two in the series immediately. I’m going to give Murder of a Small Town Honey by Denise Swanson, 2 bookmarks

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tall, Dark and Deadly by Tate Hallaway

Tall, Dark and Dead is the first book in the Garnet Lacey series. Garnet is a witch, who is on the run and now a solitary practitioner. She’s been trying to give up magic, but working in a New Age store that also provides some necessary magic supplies may not be the best way to do that. She also plays hostess to a Goddess, so sometimes she doesn’t feel like herself. Garnet has finally made some friends in Madison, Wisconsin, and then the tall, dark and dead from the title walks into the shop. At first, Garnet isn’t sure exactly what Sebastian is, but she is sure that he’s trouble. 
I really enjoyed this first book in this series by Tate Hallaway, and I think I will read more of them, although I don’t know that I will read them back to back. This series has a little more heat than the cozy mysteries I’ve been reading lately, not that heat is a bad thing. Tall, Dark and Dead definitely falls in the urban fantasy genre. I enjoyed some of the soul searching that Garnet has to do in the course of this story, and it makes me optimistic for the rest of the series, if Garnet continues to grow and improve over time. 
There are some themes in here that are a little heavier, but it’s also easy to just enjoy Tall, Dark and Dead as a fun, relatively light-hearted supernatural romp through Madison, Wisconsin. Having been to Madison only once, I only had a vague map in my head of the layout of the downtown area, but it is always fun for a book to take place in a location you’re familiar with. 
This series in some ways reminds me of Mary Janice Davidson’s Betsy the vampire series, although Garnet is by no means as clueless as Betsy, but it has some of the humor and a well-developed universe. I will definitely be reading more books in this series. I’m going to give Tall, Dark and Dead by Tate Hallaway, 2 bookmarks. As the story hit the climax it was impossible for me to put down. 


Royal Blood by Rhys Bowen

Royal Blood is the fourth book in the Royal Spyness series. Lady Georgiana, Georgie to her friends is thirty-fourth in line to the throne. She is facing spending the winter in her family’s London home with her brother and sister-in-law. Therefore, Georgie is more than relieved to be told she will be representing the royal family at the wedding of a Bavarian prince and a Romanian princess. The queen finds someone to act as Georgie’s chaperone, but it’s up to Georgie to bring her own maid. 
Lady Georgiana manages to find a maid, of sorts, then she’s off to a castle in Transylvania for a royal wedding, as one of the bridesmaids no less. Stories of vampires flow through Georgie’s head and the paranoia of her chaperone’s companion doesn’t help. Rhys Bowen’s play with the vampire genre is a really fun aspect of this fourth book in the series. It is also nice to see Georgie getting to live it up in the manner befitting her station, and not worrying as much about having enough money to eat more than toast and tea. 
The usual characters pop in as well, Georgie’s friend Belinda, who can never pass up a good party, or a handsome man. Georgie’s mother puts in an appearance, and almost manages to sound like a mother once. We see a bit of Georgie’s brother Binky and his wife Fig, not to mention Georgie’s maternal grandfather. Of course, no Royal Spyness book would be complete without Darcy O’Mara. Fans of Garcy, or is it Deorgie? will not be disappointed. We also get a fun new character in the form of Queenie, Georgie’s maid, I hope we will see more of Queenie in future books. 
As a fan of the urban fantasy genre, especially vampire fiction, I thoroughly enjoyed this installment of the Royal Spyness series. The anticipated murder, for me, almost took a backseat to the vampire hijinks. However, the murder mystery itself was still compelling, although this one wasn’t as difficult to figure out as some. I’m going to give Royal Blood by Rhys Bowen, 1 bookmark. I think this is my favorite in the series thus far. 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Royal Flush by Rhys Bowen

Royal Flush by Rhys Bowen is the third book in the Royal Spyness series. This series follows the adventures of Georgie, Lady Georgiana, thirty-fourth in line for the throne of England. Georgie is also broke. She lives in her family’s London home, but cannot afford to hire staff. In fact, Georgie has an agency that does light cleaning in other well-to-do London homes to get them ready for their owner’s return from out of town. 

In this book Georgie gets the idea for another money making scheme, unfortunately her idea ends in scandal and she must return to her family’s castle in Scotland. Georgie arrives to find her sister-in-law trying to single-handedly host a house party. Georgie and her sister-in-law Fig have never gotten along, but Georgie is ready to do her family duty and play the good hostess. 
Lady Georgiana is happy to find that Darcy O’Mara is also in Scotland, staying with friends near her family estate. Of course, this is a mystery series, so there has to be a murder for Georgie to solve. This book also sees Georgie trying to solve a series of accidents that have been befalling heirs to the English throne. 
Ms. Bowen again delivers a mystery with a quick pace, a few red herrings, and a satisfying conclusion. The characters are fun, and so is the look at the life 1930’s English gentry. I again will recommend this book, and the whole series.

 I will give Royal Flush by Rhys Bowen, 2 bookmarks

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Royal Pain by Rhys Bowen

A Royal Pain by Rhys Bowen is the second book in the Lady Georgiana mystery series. Lady Georgiana, Georgie to her friends, is thirty-fourth in line for the throne of England. Unfortunately, she is also broke. To support herself, Georgie has a light housekeeping business that specializes in opening London houses for their owners. It just involves things like removing dust covers from furniture, making up beds and some sweeping and dusting. However, Georgie is the only employee of her agency, and she tries to keep a low profile so word does not get back to her royal relatives that she is having to do that kind of work for a living. 
This book finds Georgie summoned to Buckingham palace and informed by the queen that Georgie is requested to host a visiting German princess. The queen would like to make a match between the princess and her oldest son, who is currently dating an unacceptable married American woman. Georgie as nothing against hosting a princess on principle, but she has no staff and very little food, and no money for either one. Little does Georgie know that her lack of funds will end up being the least of her worries during this royal visit. 
This is a cozy mystery, so of course there will be a murder to solve, and Georgie will also have to avoid an international incident. Her friend Belinda is still bothering Georgie to lose her virginity already, but Darcy O’Hara had been missing of late, and then Georgie spies him with another woman. 
This series is a lot of fun. It has a lot of comedy, the heroine is extremely likable and easy to root for. Darcy is handsome and mysterious. I read the first book in this series as a book club selection in the online book club on Charlaine Harris’ website. I also would recommend this series. Ms. Bowen is very good at throwing in red herrings to confuse the mystery and make solving it ahead of Georgie more of a challenge. 
I give A Royal Pain by Rhys Bowen, 2 bookmarks. It was hard to put down, and I went ahead and read the next 2 books back to back after finishing this one.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dead Girls are Easy by Terri Garey

Dead Girls are Easy is the first Nicky Styx novel by Terri Garey. Nicky has recently had a near death experience. Well, she actually was dead, but apparently it wasn’t her time, so, back to Earth she comes. However, when she returns, she can see dead people. Not only can she see dead people, but they think she should help them. 
This book is kind of like Casey Daniel’s Pepper Martin series. Another similar series is Wendy Roberts’ Ghost Duster’s Mysteries. 
Nicky Styx has a gay male best friend since childhood, who is her business partner in her vintage clothing store. The store is located in a trendy part of Atlanta. It also turns out that the doctor that helped revive her in the hospital has the hots for her and they see each other a few times outside the doctor-patient relationship.
Nicky not only finds herself helping ghosts complete unfinished business, but she ends up learning a lot about voodoo, more than she ever would have wanted to know in fact. NIcky likes to play the bad girl, and likes to stand out, but isn’t sure she wants to be a ghost magnet. 
It felt like there was almost too much pushed into this book. Nicky helps several different ghosts, but the voodoo issue takes up the bulk of the novel. I can see the reason for having Nicky see a few different ghosts, but it made the book feel longer than it was. 
Perhaps because I have read the couple series mentioned above, which are both similar, or perhaps just because the book in general has a lot of urban fantasy cliches, I am not sure I’m a big fan of this series. I will probably give it another chance, there is at least one more book out currently. My current rating for Dead Girls are Easy by Terri Garey is 3 bookmarks

Blameless by Gail Carriger

Blameless is the third book in the Parasol Protectorate series. This series takes place in Victorian England, for the most part, but in this world vampires, werewolves, and ghosts live openly among humans. It has elements of an alternate history, and elements of steampunk. Those elements alone make the book fun, but when you add Carriger’s sense of humor, you get an amazingly enjoyable series. 
Blameless finds Lady Alexia Maccon living back in her Step-father’s home, along with her mother and sisters. However, the scandal surrounding her leaving Woolsey Castle has made her family eager to have her out from under their roof as well. Alexia has found herself pregnant, and everyone knows werewolves, like her husband, cannot father children, so she must have been unfaithful. Alexia, of course, knows that’s not true, and so she must find some proof that Conall was indeed the father of the infant-inconvenience (as Alexia calls it). 
So, Alexia, her personal secretary (and former buter) Floote, and Genevieve Lefoux (milliner, and inventor extraordinaire) agree to accompany Alexia to Italy to learn more about preternaturals and whether anything like her pregnancy has occurred before. Unfortunately, not only is Lady Maccon without the protection of the Woolsey pack, but someone appears to want her dead.
Alexia also comes to believe that Floote is holding out on her and knows much more about her state as a preternatural than he has let on. He especially seems to have knowledge of the Templars, who they are going to seek information from concerning Alexia’s pregnancy. 
Did I mention that Ivy was left in charge of Lefoux’s hat shop in Genevieve’s absence? We also see attacking ladybugs, and different mode of flight than Alexia has used in the past. Ever wondered what would happen if a werewolf could get drunk? Lord Maccon has the answers! 
I love this series, and I can’t wait for more! I give Blameless by Gail Carriger 1 bookmark, I couldn’t put this one down, except when I was laughing too hard to hold the book.

Monday, September 20, 2010

City of Ghosts by Stacia Kane

City of Ghosts is the third book in the Downside series. Chess Putnam is a witch for the Church and investigates reported hauntings. If a ghost is present she sends it to the City, which is where all spirits go after a person dies. If ghosts get out among humans, they invariably try to kill them. Chess is also a junkie, which has gotten her into some dicey situations. Her dealer, Bump has blackmailed her into working for him several times, off the books so to speak. 
This installment finds Chess assigned to work with the Grand Elder’s daughter, because the Lamaru appear to be back in business and operating in Downside. Chess knows Downside the best, and she has earned a pretty good reputation in the Church. 
The first time Chess goes out with Lauren to investigate, they end up in one of Bump’s buildings, and Chess bumps into Terrible for the first time since she saved his life. 
Bump feels like he should be in on what’s going on if the Church is investigating in his part of town. Chess isn’t able to just tell him what’s going on, she has been bound to secrecy by the Church in a way that threatens her life if she breaks the bond. In lieu of just giving Bump a report, she is again forced to do some side investigating with Terrible, in order to keep Bump in the loop. To complicate Chess’s life further, the Lamaru, or some other witches, have been setting up shop in the tunnels on Lex’s side of town. 
Did I mention that something may be going on with the psychopomps? They are the entities the Church uses to escort ghosts to the City. They are what stands between homicidal ghosts and vulnerable humans. The psychopomps seem to be a little less than reliable. Will Chess be able to keep not only herself, but the Church alive? Will Chess be able to get her personal life straight? Will Chess be able to keep her personal life personal while working so closely with a partner from the Church?
I am really enjoying this series. It’s a little darker and grittier than some series. It is kind of like the Kim Harrison series, minus the vampires and werewolves. I would highly recommend this series to fans of the urban fantasy genre. I give City of Ghosts by Stacia Kane 1 bookmark, it’s really hard to put down!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Unholy Magic by Stacia Kane

     Unholy Magic by Stacia Kane is the second book featuring Churchwitch Chess, who works as a debunker (a kind of Ghostbuster). Chess is also a junkie. Normally a book which so heavily features drug use, especially by the main character would not be my cup of tea. Chess, however, is pretty high functioning for a junkie and gives kind of an interesting picture of how such a person can function and avoid getting caught. 
Chess lives in an alternate timeline from ours. The timeline diverged when all of the ghosts rose up and killed a big chunk of the earth’s population. A small fringe religion that had believed in ghosts and magic, and had the ability to stop the ghosts became known as the Church, and all other religions were dissolved. 
Chess, in addition to her job, looking into supposed haunted houses for the Church, ends up having to do some ghost busting on the side for her drug dealer, Bump. In this book, people that work for Bump, including some of his prostitutes have been turning up dead, and a ghost is suspected. So, Chess and Terrible (Bump’s enforcer) are teamed up again to investigate. Chess and Terrible have become friends since the first time they were pushed to work together by Bump. In fact, Chess and Terrible seem to be drawn to each other as more than friends. 
Chess is also still seeing Lex, who works for Bump’s competition. It turns out that there have been bodies turning up on Lex’s side of town also. So, again Chess is forced to work with both sides of a turf war, and keep it all from her real employers at the Church. 
I really like the gritty feel of this series, and it manages to surprise me here and there, in the who-done-it department. Chess manages to be a likeable, sympathetic character, in spite of my lack of empathy with her drug addiction. I would highly recommend this series. I have already moved on to the third book in the series, City of Ghosts. 
I’m going to give Unholy Magic by Stacia Kane 1 bookmark, I had a really hard time putting it down!

Monday, September 13, 2010

True Blood Season 3

I love True Blood. I am also a big fan of the novels by Charlaine Harris. Season 3 corresponds to the book Club Dead, which is one of my favorites in the Sookie Stackhouse series. All through season three, I was amazed that they could keep the basic synopsis the same, and yet the show was so different from the book. 
The basic plot of both the book, and season three of the show turns on Bill getting kidnapped and taken to Mississippi. Sookie sets off to save him, with the help of a werewolf, who was ordered to assist her by Eric Northman. Both the book and the series use this as the audiences big introduction to werewolves, and their relationship to vampires. The book and the TV series follow that basic plot, but that is pretty much where the similarities end. 
Season three introduces a few characters earlier than in the books, but that has been the M.O. of the show since season one. We meet Crystal Norris, Calvin Norris, Claudine, not to mention characters that were invented just for the show. Some of the invented characters include Sam’s biological family, Lafayette’s mother, and her caretaker Jesus, and there were more fleshed out werewolves that work for the king of Mississippi than in the book. 
Some of the things I loved about season three are: 
Pam!  I loved seeing more of Pam, and they keeping very true to her book character.
Jessica. I loved her going to Pam for advice, and trying to cope on her own when Bill goes missing.
Russell and Talbot. They have been the most fun couple on the show so far. 
Alcide. What’s not to like? New eye candy is always good!
Franklin. He was a fun kind of crazy to watch. But, I’m glad he wasn’t stuck on me!
Tara. I really enjoyed her this season, probably the most I have liked her on the TV series so far. Her determination to get away from Franklin was awesome. 
Eric! We saw more of his personality and sense of humor this season. 
Some of the things I didn’t love about season three are:
Eric! I am firmly Team Eric and I hate that they have taken away most of the things he did in the books that make him more appealing to Sookie. 
Club Dead? Instead of the vampire (Russell) owned Josephine’s, Sookie goes to the werewolf bar Lou Pines. 
Sam and his bio family. It was interesting to see Sam’s bio family. It was even more interesting to see the skeletons in Sam’s closet. But, overall, I don’t think the skeletons fit with Sam’s character, and the trouble with his bio family got old. 
Sookie? There have been several times in the TV show that Sookie has done things inconsistent with her character in the books. I think the finale of season three had a lot of those moments. Her laughter when she disposed of Talbot is one example that comes to mind. 
Overall, True Blood is a fun ride, and for the most part I enjoyed this season a lot. There was a lot of dark humor, and we got to see a few moments with Sookie and Eric that bodes well for the future. Although, I am a little upset that we didn’t get the whole, Eric helping Sookie at Russell’s mansion and his line, “I don’t like having feelings.” From Club Dead. 
The revelation about Bill that really put Sookie over the edge in the TV show, went a bit farther than the book’s revelation, but, I suppose since we aren’t privy to Sookie’s innermost thoughts, some things need to be more blatant. 
I think my favorite character of the season is Russell, just the hedonistic joy he takes in his vampire nature is a lot of fun to watch. But, this season we had so many vampires that were just enjoying being a vampire. It was a nice change from all of the vampires in movies and TV now that are so tortured about their existence, including our dear Mr. Compton. Vampires that enjoy being vampires are scarier, but that’s why we like them isn’t it?


The Elegance of the Hedgehog and Anna Karenina

I had picked up a copy of The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery in the airport. It was a book I had been drawn to before, but had never read. This book was definitely a change of pace from the urban fantasy that I had been reading. The book features Renee, who is a concierge in a residential hotel in Paris. She is very intelligent and has refined tastes that she fancies would not be accepted by the residents of the building, and so she hides them. She leaves her TV on to some show that she would never watch but that a concierge would be expected to watch, while she hides in her room and reads or watches classic movies. Another character that this book follows is Paloma, a very intelligent twelve year old girl, who also hides her intelligence. Paloma has decided that life is pointless and so she will commit suicide on her upcoming thirteenth birthday. To be fair, Paloma decides she will conduct a search to see if there is anything worth living for, and she writes journal entries recording her observations. 
This novel is really a snapshot of life. There really is not much in the way of plot, there is a lot of philosophy, and I spent a lot of time looking up references on wikipedia. Renee and the Japanese man who moves into her building strike up a friendship when they discover a mutual love for Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. That is what finally inspired me to read that classic book. 
I thoroughly enjoyed The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and would highly recommend it, I definitely do not want to spoil the end of the book, but it is definitely worth reading to the end. I would give The Elegance of the Hedgehog 2 bookmarks.
After finishing The Elegance of the Hedgehog, I decided to read Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. It was one that I had never read in school, and I only had a rudimentary knowledge of the plot. I have to say, I can see the similarities between these two novels. Both are really a snapshot of life in a certain place, at a certain time. They both explore a lot of philosophy that was prevalent at the time they were written. I will admit that Anna Karenina was a tough read. I read the Barnes and Noble Classics version. I thought they did a good job with the endnotes, and I didn’t have to look much up beyond reading those to follow the conversations. The toughest part about it was the characters and keeping track of who was who, since they were referred to by several different names often in the space of a couple pages, or even a paragraph. So, I would sometimes have to re-read a section to clarify who was in a particular passage. 
The story of the unhappily married Anna Karenina, who gives in to the temptation  and has an affair with a dashing young count. The affair eventually leads to the ruin of her reputation and the loss of her place in polite society. Another story line in the novel involves a man named Levin, who lives in the country but travels to the city to woo young Kitty. The juxtaposition of these two characters, and their romantic relationships drive the novel. The novel Anna Karenina has very detailed descriptions of life in 19th century Russia, both in the city and in the country. The reader also gets a trip to a German health springs and Italy. I could definitely see why this book is such a classic. It is an entertaining read, even though, like The Elegance of the Hedgehog, plot is a little scarce. But, it wasn’t hard to keep reading it until I finished it. 
It is interesting to think about how different things could have turned out for Anna and Count Vronsky, if they lived in a different time, or even if they occupied a different level in society. It is not difficult to feel sympathy for Anna’s plight. She was married while very young to a man twenty years her senior. She greatly loved her son, and I think that leaving her son with a father that didn’t love him as much as she did, was one of the things that Anna most regretted and wished she could change. I was fascinated by the change in Anna from the beginning of the novel to the end. She had been pretending to be happy, and then she found a chance at real happiness, but for Anna, love was not enough to occupy her. She began to drive Vronsky away, and at that point she also alienates the reader somewhat. However, Anna’s ability to see everything clearly at the end of the book redeems her. 
There are a lot of similarities between Anna and Renee from The Elegance of the Hedgehog. They had both been living the lives that were expected of them, trying to find small bits of happiness to make it bearable. Renee had loved her husband, unlike Anna and Karenin. But, both unexpectedly found a chance at happiness, and both had been a mentor of sorts to a younger woman. 
I really enjoyed Anna Karenina, and I am very glad I read it. I would give Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy 2 bookmarks