Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Van Alen Legacy (2009)

The fourth book of the Blue Bloods series by Melissa de la Cruz is exciting and action-packed. Schuyler Van Alen spent most of the book jetting around the world hiding from the Venators because she was accused of killing her grandfather. She tried to sneak into a party (what a party!) to contact the Countess of Paris, a member of the European Coven, to seek shelter but all hell breaks loose (not just an expression). Mimi Force, a Venator on another team, has been sent on a mission to find a missing girl. The third character, Bliss Llewellyn, was battling with a sinister dark force that was taking over her body. All three girls came back to New York to return to their last year of high school.

But she would have to continue her education somehow. What had Lawrence always said? School was more than academics; an education prepared you for the humdrum of real life: working with others, tempering one's personality to
assimilate with the group but without losing your individual identity,
understanding the factors of logic, reasoning, and debate. For a person -
vampire or human - to succeed in the world, unlocking the mysteries of the
universe was insufficient. One would also need to grasp the mysteries of human

The cruel fact that love wasn't always convenient became apparent to all of the characters. Mimi was scheduled to "bond" with her twin, Jack (not too weird since their characters had always bonded in previous lives), but Jack loved Schuyler. Schuyler loved Jack but wanted to remain loyal to her human "Conduit", Oliver, who loved her. Bliss loved Dylan but he was dead and appears to her as a ghost. It's never easy, is it?

I have enjoyed this series since I picked it up after reading the Twilight series. In many ways I prefer this series, especially since Schuyler is so much more proactive than Belle. I loved how de la Cruz snuck in the pitch for high school quoted above. The next book, Misguided Angel, will be out in October.

My rating for this book: ++++

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Edith Wharton Murders (1997)

I had so much fun reading this mystery by Lev Raphael and I am going to keep my eyes open for more of his books.

Nick Hoffman is a professor at SUM (State University of Michigan) and lives with his lover Stefan, a writer who also works at SUM. At a department meeting it is proposed that the university host a conference about Edith Wharton. Nick had published a bibliography about her and is named as the perfect person to organize it. He would love to get tenure and fears that refusing this task would ruin his chances at getting it. One of his reservations about this conference is that Wharton scholars are polarized into two opposing groups; the Edith Wharton Association and the Wharton Collective. As it happens, this should have been the least of his fears.

The writing of this book is intelligent and clever without being condescending and has a delightful sense of humor, possibly due to the fact that the main character is gay.

I wanted to smile when I listened to the paper given by Gustaf Carmichael. He ignored Wharton entirely to discuss an unknown Swiss woman novelist, Greta Inderbitzen, who was Wharton's contemporary and might even have met her in Paris. Around the small room I could sense how baffled and jealous the audience was. Carmichael was doing the ultimate act of academic one-upmanship by chamioning a writer no one had heard of or read.
He could make whatever claims for Inderbitzen's novels (all thirty-eight of them!) he wanted and no one could challenge him. It wasn't any more sophisticated, really, than a little kid sticking his tongue out and mocking his peers with a singsong "Nanny, nanny poo-poo!"
He was such a weasel in his leather pants and Vatican City T-shirt.

I liked Nick and his friends and I appreciated how he struggled with strident homophobes and the competitive life of a university professor. I hope other mystery fans will get as much of a kick out of this book as I did.

My rating for this book: +++ 1/2

Friday, March 19, 2010

Britten and Brulightly (2009)

This graphic novel by Hannah Berry is wonderful. It has a dark, noir quality from constant dark rain and a wonderful voice-over kind of narration you hear in detective movies. Britten is a private detective who prefers to refer to himself as a "researcher". His companion, sidekick, conscience, and friend, Brulightly, is a tea bag. (Take a moment to think about that.)

Britten is hired to investigate a suicide and finds blackmail, intrigue, and incest. This is the book's opening line: "As it did every morning with spiteful inevitability the sun rose."

The story was very convoluted but the serious language and the tea bag had me laughing out loud. This conversation between Britten and Brulightly takes place outside in the rain after being chased up a tree.
Bloody hell!
I know.
Bloody HELL!
I know.
Listen, Fern ... when you jumped
into that ditch ...
I think I ... uh ...
Look I'm sorry: I infused in your

I highly recommend this especially to newcomers to graphic novels.

My rating for this book: ++++

The Forest of Hands and Teeth (2009)

This novel by Carrie Ryan received rave reviews and I am at a loss as to why.

Mary lives in a small village surrounded by a fence which keeps out previous inhabitants who were infected and "turned" into the Unconsecrated, flesh-eating undead (shuffling and moaning). As the story starts, her bereft mother, cannot live without her husband (already turned) and willingly allowed one to bite and infect her. As she dies and turns, she is forced out of the village. Mary grieves but has to carry on and face her own betrothal. Since the village has lost so many of its people, it is of the utmost importance that young people join and procreate. Before her ceremony is completed, the fences give way to the press of Unconsecrated and Mary and a small group of family and friends escape through a fenced tunnel to find other villages and the ocean.

But there are times when I stand at the edge of the Forest of Hands and
Teeth and look out at the wilderness that stretches on forever and wonder
what it would be like if it were all water. I close my eyes and listen to
the wind in the trees and imagine a world of nothing but water closing over
my head.
It would be a world without the Unconsecrated, a world without the
Forest of Hands and Teeth.

Mary is torn between the need to discover what is outside the fence and the need to do what is necessary to help her village. She is also torn between her feelings for Travis and her duty to Harry, his brother, who asks to join with him. While she should be enjoying her last days of freedom, she is in constant danger from what is outside the fence. I would like this story and this character if I could only lose the images from movies like Night of the Living Dead.

Fantasy and adventure readers would enjoy this book.
My rating for this book: +++ 1/2

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Anubis Gates (1983)

Tim Powers has written a complex race back and forth through time in this book. Brendan Doyle agrees to host a party of people back through time to listen to Coleridge give a speech in a pub in 1846 London in an event designed by J. Cochran Darrow who tries to describe the time travel as a river covered with ice.

"Right - picture holes in that ice roof; now if part of your lifetime, some section of the seventy-year-long trailing weed that's you, should happen to be under one of the holes, it's possible to get out of the time stream at that point."
"To where?" Doyle asked guardedly, trying to keep any tone of pity or derision out of his voice. Why, to Oz, he thought, or Heaven, or the Pure Vegetable Kingdom.
"Nowhere," answered Darrow impatiently. "Nowhen. All you can do is enter again through another gap."

Unfortunately, Doyle is snatched before the group returns to the area where they return to their real time and he is stuck without money, clothes, or any means to get back. He tries to locate a gypsy who was somehow involved with the time shifts and ends up encountering beggar kings, a body-shifting mass murderer and a woman disguised as a man. The book is non-stop action through the streets, and sewers of London.

So what the hell happened, gang? Doyle thought. The "hellish retinue" sounds ominous . . . and what do you mean by "the Connexion"? He flipped hopelessly to the back of the books, and his eye was caught by a very short note written clearly on the endpaper.
He read it, and for the first time during all his adventures and mishaps he actually doubted his sanity.
The note read: "IHAY, ENDANBRAY, ANCAY OUYAY IGITDAY?" -- and it was in his own handwriting, though the ink was as faded with age as every other notation in the book.
Suddenly dizzy, he sat down on a stack of books, which exploded to dust under his weight, spilling him backward agains onther pile, which toppled down upon him, burying him in damp, disintegrating parchment and showers of panicked spiders and silverfish.

When I finished this book I felt I had just gotten off a wild roller coaster ride. I almost wished I had tried to chart the characters through the time and body changes to see how it would look.

This book was a bit of a challenge to read but I am very happy I finished it.

My rating for this book +++ 1/2

Friday, March 12, 2010

Childhood's End (1953)

I put this book by Arthur C. Clarke on my list of Best Books Ever.

It is about Earth being visited by an alien race called the Overlords by the humans. Even though the ships hover over major cities, it is fifty years before they are seen and eighty years before it is learned what the Overlords were waiting and watching for. This is not a typical strip-Earth-of-its-resources or enslave-all-Earthlings type of invasion.

He felt no regrets as the work of a lifetime was swept away. He had labored to take man to the stars, and now the stars - the aloof, indifferent stars - had come to him.

This was the moment when history held its breath, and the present sheared asunder from the past as an iceberg splits from its parent cliffs, and goes sailing out to sea in lonely pride. All that the past ages had achieved was as nothing now; only one thought echoed and re-echoed through Mohan's brain:

The human race was no longer alone.

A fun aspect of this book was the inclusion of many scientific advances that were in its future like paternity tests, completely reliable birth control, microwave ovens, and photograph-like cartoons.

While Childhood's End is primarily a science fiction story, I recommend this books to everyone.

My rating for this book: +++++

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Wintergirls (2009)

Laurie Halse Anderson has written another YA masterpiece, this time centering on anorexia and cutting. Lia's friend, Cassie, was found dead in a hotel room. Lia had just returned to her father's house after a second stay in a clinic called New Seasons. Her mother, a heart surgeon, did not feel she could properly supervise her daughter and thought that her remarried ex-husband and his wife could do better.

I reach for the steak knife in the nest of spoons. The black handle is war. As I pull it free, the blade slices the air, dividing the kitchen into slivers. There is Jennifer, packing store-bought cookies in a plastic tub for her daughter's class. There is Dad's empty chair, pretending he has no choice about these early meetings. There is the shadow of my mother, who prefers the phone because face-to-face takes too much time and usually ends in screaming.
Here stands a girl clutching a knife. There is grease on the stove, blood in the air, and angry words piled in the corners. We are trained not to see it, not to see any of it.
...body found in a motel room, alone...
Someone just ripped off my eyelids.

The pain Lia experienced is intense and excrutiating. She felt ugly, fat, and stupid, and the only control she had was her weight. As her story and weight loss progressed, we are allowed intimate details of the triggers which exasperated her disorder, how she controlled her weight, and how she hid her weight loss from her parents. The only person she felt connected with was her stepsister, Emma.

This book is a must for teens and adults who know someone suffering from eating disorders. In addition to the inner turmoil, readers are given a glimpse of the damage the body suffers from anorexia and bulimia.

My rating for this book: +++++