Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Husband List

The Husband ListThe Husband List by Janet Evanovich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Caroline Maxwell's life as a human pincushion is as confining and uncomfortable as her corsets. The life of an heiress in 1894 New York City looks glamorous from the outside, but Caroline longs for adventure and secretly harbors a crush on her brother's best friend, Jack Culhane. Jack is rich enough, but her parents (particularly her mother) consider his money to be "too new," so her list of prospective suitors has been narrowed to one name: Lord Bremerton. Unfortunately, the new heir to a dukedom has a few unsavory secrets that put her happiness--and her safety--in jeopardy.

This book was so much better than I expected! I anticipated a light, fun read and was delighted to discover well-developed characters and a much more exciting plot than usual. For some reason, the historical setting was also a surprise. Apparently I put the book on hold out of habit (I always put Evanovich's books on hold as they come in), and by the time it was my turn to check it out, I'd forgotten what it was about. I love happy surprises!

My only quibble:  when the authors use the term "waiter" to describe the footmen who serve the food at mealtimes.  There was no such thing as a "waiter" in upper class homes!  Such an anachronism stood out like a sore thumb.  Oy.

For readers' advisors: story and character doorways, also setting. Some heavy petting but no sex, and I can't recall any bad language either, although there may be a salty word or two somewhere.

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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Conferences rock!

The past couple of days, I have been lucky enough to attend the 2013 OLA/WLA Library Conference in Vancouver, WA.  The weather has been gorgeous, and the sessions I attended were excellent.  But the highlights for me were the two breakfasts and the dinner I attended.  I was able to sit pretty close to the front, so I could both see and hear well.

Thursday morning's keynote speaker was the famous Librarian in Black, Sarah Houghton.  Hooray!  If you've not read her blog, you can check it out here.  She was funny and full of useful, practical advice about how to maintain and improve library service with little to no money (i.e. in the era of dwindling budgets).

Thursday's dinner featured guest speaker Gene Ambaum from the fabulous library-world comic strip Unshelved.  Hilarious as always!  His talk focused on ways to deal with the more...er...challenging of our library patrons.  You know--the ones for whom we create code names or at least nicknames.  We all love working in libraries, but there are days when you just want to hide out in a back room.  Or say the things he puts in the comic strips which would get you fired in real life.

And finally, Friday's CAYAS-sponsored breakfast featured the children's picture book author George Shannon.  Another local Pacific NW author and librarian!  He cracked me up as well, and I loved that he talked about the connections we make as librarians with the people we introduce to books, information, and ideas.  Plus, he read from his book White is for Blueberry and when we had a little time left over, he shared his brand new book, Turkey Tot, for which he'd just received the galleys.

Shades of Milk and Honey

Shades of Milk and Honey (Glamourist Histories, #1)Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

2.5 stars, really.

Plain-looking Jane Ellsworth has resigned herself to being a spinster. Well, almost resigned. She plans to help her beautiful younger sister marry well so that she might live in her sister's household someday after their father dies. Melody is eighteen and has let her beauty carry her through life, never working to cultivate lady-like accomplishments such as those in which her elder sister excels. Friction begins to creep in to their relationship when both women develop crushes on the same man, and their mutual jealousy creates a painful barrier between the sisters. When Jane attracts the attention of not one but two eligible gentlemen in the neighborhood, Melody seeks solace in the arms of a man who is neither available nor honorable. Jane must use all her skills to keep the situation from exploding into a full-blown disaster.

I received a copy of this book from a good friend, and I was really excited to read it. There are a number of very positive reviews. I think, though, that it would have been better had I not been under the impression the author was "Austenesque." Yes, the setting is roughly like that of Jane Austen's novels, magic notwithstanding, but the comparison of the two authors isn't all that apt. Kowal has none of Austen's biting wit nor social satire. The characters felt like she'd taken Austen's originals, put them in a blender, and came out with an odd mish-mash of personalities and flaws. I kept getting flashes of scenes or situations, and then was confused or reminded to reign in my imagination when what actually happened was different.

Melody really was just a pretty face hiding an immature, selfish temperament. Captain Livingston is Wickham, Frank Churchill, and Willoughby all rolled into one--how did no one predict his bad behavior? The neighbor's 16-year-old sister whom Jane befriends (and whose name escapes me at the moment, as I left the book at home) starts out sweet and reminiscent of Georgiana Darcy but then turns into an irrational shrew by the end. Likewise, the girl's older brother begins as a mixture of Mr. Darcy, Col. Fitzwilliam, and Mr. Knightley and then devolves into impetuous behavior that feels inconsistent with his character. I'm all for character development...but this didn't come across as creating depth.

Since I read for character as well as story, it didn't help matters that I found the budding relationships to be...thin? Weak? I wanted there to be more of a foundation for Jane to fall in love--with either of her suitors, both of whom seemed interested in (or hostile towards!) her merely for her skills at "glamour" (i.e. magical illusions).

I am still debating whether to read the next two books in this series. There is potential for a lovely historical fantasy series, if only Kowal can break free of Austen's shadow and just focus on doing her own thing.

For readers' advisors: setting and character doorways. It's a pretty slow-moving story until the very end. No sex, and I can't recall any real swearing.

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Death and the Girl Next Door

Death and the Girl Next Door (Darklight, #1)Death and the Girl Next Door by Darynda Jones
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Lorelei has had flashes of visions all her life. Some come true; others make no sense. None of that has ever bothered her two best friends, Brooklyn and Glitch. However, when the school's loner, Cameron, starts stalking Lorelei, and a new boy comes to town who has all the girls drooling, their lives are going to get much more complicated, for one of Lorelei's visions is about the new boy being tortured and another is about herself covered in blood and puking by the side of a road. All is not as it seems, and the trio suddenly find themselves part of an otherworldly battle.

I had really high hopes for this new series because I LOVE Darynda Jones' First Grave on the Right/Charley Davidson series. Unfortunately, I got the feeling that this book was rushed to print way before it was ready. The pacing felt off, there were about two dozen too many variations on the word "smirk" used, and the characters never quite gelled for me.

The heat and intensity of Charley & Reyes' relationship did not translate well to a story about teenagers--even supernatural ones. All the descriptions of Jared as "supernova hot" had me rolling my eyes and/or gagging. Not that I didn't believe Jones intended for him to be gorgeous, just that it was too full of teen angst & hormones. There wasn't enough maturity in the characters to believe anyone had fallen in anything but lust.

Similarly, the pacing seemed...wrong. It took forever for anything to happen or be explained (or discovered/uncovered). It took a bizarrely long time for anyone to figure out why Cameron hated Jared, and then even when Cameron is F I N A L L Y confronted with the truth...nothing changes. The feud continues. That was ultra-annoying. And what was up with the poltergeist scene? Shouldn't there have been some sort of follow-up scene with the two girls? The whole book ended up coming off like a really really long, scattered prologue for the rest of the series. I may still read book two to see if it improves, but it's moved WAY down my priority list. *sigh*

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary. Character is probably supposed to be secondary, if only I could get past my annoyance with them. There is no actual sex, just a couple of kisses and a lot of supposedly steamy descriptions of Jared's hotness. It would probably make a decent book to read with a group because there could be so much to discuss, given its flaws.

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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Mistress of the Art of Death

Mistress of the Art of Death (Mistress of the Art of Death, #1)Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 1171, Simon Menahem of Naples, Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar, and Adelia's servant Mansur are summoned from their homes in sunny Salerno to the chilly clime of Cambridge, England, to uncover the monster who has brutally murdered four small children, all of whose deaths have been blamed on the town's Jewish population. King Henry II is displeased to have lost so much revenue since the Jews have been sequestered in the sheriff's castle for protection for the past year, and he has asked his cousin to send experts. Simon is the King of Sicily's chief investigator, and Adelia is Salerno's top "doctor of death" (the medieval equivalent of a forensic pathologist). The two friends must fight prejudice and suspicion to solve the crimes before the killer takes any more lives, including their own.

Why is it often so much more difficult to review a really good book? I've been working on this review on and off for nearly a week, and all I can think of is, "It's really good. If you like historical mysteries with well-written characters, you'll love this book. Don't let the odd Greek-chorus-like opening and closing put you off. Those parts don't last very long, thankfully." I don't know what else to say that doesn't give anything away.

For readers' advisors: character, story, and setting doorways. Lots of historically based swearing. Not a cozy mystery because of the suspense and the horrific damage done to the children. Some nudity and one mild (and improbable, given the injuries sustained just prior) sex scene.

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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Dream Eyes

Dream Eyes (Dark Legacy, #2)Dream Eyes by Jayne Ann Krentz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Two years ago, Gwen Frazier was nearly the third member of a research study murdered by a serial killer using a paranormal weapon. She defended herself and sent him screaming off a cliff and over the falls to his death, but now it seems someone else has picked up where he left off. She enlists the aid of Judson Coppersmith to help her find who murdered her friend and mentor. Tracking down the culprit uncovers a long history of murder-for-hire, and Gwen is back on the hit list.

Krentz's books are always quick, easy reads. The characters are nearly the same from book to book, and the romance is highly predictable, but it's a decent escapist read. I actually thought the minor character of Gwen's "brother" Nick was the most interesting and unique person in this story.

Thankfully, Krentz has slightly toned down her over-use of her favorite words and their synonyms (hot, heat, para-senses, jacked, etc.) in this volume of the Dark Legacy/Dreamlight/Arcane Society series, although she repeats "wack-job" a time too many.

The book is set in the fictional town of Wilby, Oregon, somewhere along the north coast, so far as I can tell, given the driving time mentioned from Seattle & Portland. I love that it's set in my home state! But setting isn't a big appeal doorway because it's not really very unique to Oregon. It could be set pretty much anywhere with hills, trees, and water.

For readers' advisors: story doorway. There are a couple of formulaic sex scenes that I kind of skimmed because they are pretty much the same as in all the books in this multi-branched series, with the hero & heroine's auras fusing in a blaze of perfectly tuned paranormal heat.

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Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Murder at Rosamund's Gate

A Murder at Rosamund's GateA Murder at Rosamund's Gate by Susanna Calkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In 1665, Lucy Campion is a chambermaid in the household of a London magistrate. He is an honorable man, and the family is kind to their staff, even allowing them to join the family at evening meals when there are no guests and encouraging Lucy's participation in the after-supper discussion of texts the magistrate reads out loud. This routine is disrupted, however, when a series of young, pregnant serving girls is found murdered and the crimes hit too close to home. Lucy is determined to find justice and exonerate the innocent, lest the dead keep haunting her dreams. Her quest is interrupted by plague and complicated by social hierarchy as she risks her own life and virtue to uncover the killer.

There were enough twists and red herrings in the story to keep me from guessing the killer--always a plus. My one quibble is that Adam, the magistrate's grown son, is a bit uneven in characterization, especially related to his actions and treatment of Lucy. Yes, he is drawn toward her, and yes, he feels honor-bound to leave her alone, but his behavior is a pendulum that swings a little too far for plausibility, in my opinion. Still, I have high hopes that their relationship will be better developed over time in subsequent novels.

I received a free advance reading copy (ARC) of this book from Bookbrowse.com, and I'm excited to discover a new mystery author to follow, for this is the first in a new series by debut author Susanna Calkins. I really appreciated the Historical Note at the end of the book, detailing how the author worked to make the novel historically accurate aside from some minor tweaks to things like the duties of magistrates and constables, as well as updates to the spelling and phrasing.

For readers' advisors: character and setting doorways, primarily, with story secondary. There was no sex and only very mild historical swearing, to the best of my recollection.

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