Saturday, December 30, 2006

#78 Cirque Du Freak #4: Vampire Mountain by Darren Shan

My Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Another good quick read in the Darren Shan stories. Yes, the plot is somewhat simple in comparison to some of the other recent books I've read, but that's what makes this a young adult book, and a quick read too. But they're no less enjoyable for it.

In this installment, Darren and Mr. Crepsley make their way to Vampire Mountain, accompanied by two of the Little People at Mr. Tiny's insistence, for a meeting of the Vampire Council, an event which takes place only once every 12 years. The journey is long and hard, and along the way, they run into a few dangers, including a mad bear who's recently snacked on an even madder Vampaneze.

After the bear kills one of the Little People, the other, whom Darren previously referred to as Lefty but is really named Harkat, reveals that he can actually speak, and tells the others that Mr. Tiny has accorded him the task of delivering a very important message to the Vampire Princes: The night of the Vampaneze Lord is at hand.... (The Vampaneze are a race of Vampires who broke off from the Council hundreds of years ago, and don't follow any of the Vampire's rules of conduct, in particular, they have no qualms about the killing of humans.) Since Mr. Tiny is known for his predictions coming true, this message is of much interest to all the Vampires.

The book ends with Darren being presented to the Vampire Council and Mr. Crepsley being questioned about his decision to blood a Darren at such a young age, something that is hardly ever done. The Council decides that rather than punish Mr. Crepsley, they are going to put Darren to the ultimate test: The Trials of Initiation... To be continued in book 5, Trials of Death.

I'm also looking forward to find out what happens with the Vampaneze....

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Friday, December 29, 2006

#77 Loverboy by Michele Jaffe

My Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Wow, loved it! Definitely adding this one to my favorite books of 2006. Were it not already promised to cestmoi from an earlier mystery swap, this'd definitely be the book I'd choose to use in our Best of 2006 swap coming up in January.

This is a standalone novel, not part of a series, in which FBI agent Imogen Page is trying to catch the serial killer known as the Hide-and-Seek Killer, who later revels his real identity as 'Loverboy'. His latest victim, though not yet dead, is famous nuclear physicist, Rosalind Carnow, who was taken from Las Vegas. Rosalind is Loverboy's 6th victim, and Imogen has 2 weeks to put together the pieces of the puzzle and find Rosalind before Loverboy takes her life.

I really enjoyed the author's writing and remembered how much I'd liked her other book Bad Girl too. She continually threw a lot of red herrings into the story to throw you off the trail, or to try to lead you in a certain direction. But like many mysteries, the various clues can be interpreted in various ways. I had a hard time putting this one down, leading to many long nights with very little sleep. Now that I'm finished, maybe I'll finally manage to get more than 5 hours sleep per night!

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

#76 A Bone To Pick: An Aurora Teagarden Mystery by Charlaine Harris

My Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

I didn't like this second book in the series as much as Real Murders, if only because there wasn't as much murder going on. :p

In this installment, Roe inherits the estate of her friend Jane Engle, a seventy year old "sweet old lady" who was formerly in the Real Murders club with her. Roe's got no idea why Jane would leave the house to her, but Jane's lawyer, Bubba Sewell, tells her that Jane has only a single brother left still living, who's pretty old himself, and she left him her car, her cat, and a few thousand dollars. But Roe is inheriting Jane's house, along with all it's contents and $550,000! Which is apparently a pretty good windfall down South! (Up here it'd barely buy a nice house. LOL)

Anyhow, it's the skull that Roe discovers inside Jane's house that's got her curious... just whose skull is it? And do the recent mysterious break-ins in the neighborhood—where nothing was taken, just houses ransacked—have anything to do with it? This mystery gets wrapped up at the end, but I won't give any spoilers here to ruin it.

We also learn a little more about Roe's personal life, and her longing to find a good man and get married. She's no longer with either of the two men she dated in Real Murders. The police detective Arthur has married his partner Lynn. And Robin Crusoe left the townhouse to go live in the city, and then went off to Europe for a little while, stepping back as Roe had gotten more serious (or so she thought) with Arthur. It's a little uncomfortable for Roe when she finds out that Arthur and Lynn have just bought the house across the street from the one she inherited from Jane, and to top it off, Lynn's already pregnant. (Can we say shotgun wedding! LOL) So Roe's now dating the town's Episcopal minister, Aubrey Scott, who performed her mother's recent wedding to John Queensland.

I think if Ms. Harris didn't make the rest of the story fairly entertaining, it would've flopped because the wondering of this skull is the only mystery part to this story... Roe does a little sleuthing, but since she doesn't mention the skull to anyone else, it's not a subject for dinner-time conversation or anything among her friends, acquaintances, and new neighbors, at least not until the rest of the skeleton is discovered. *grin*

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

#75 The Fixer by Jon F. Merz

My Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

I really liked this book, and I'm quite surprised this series never garnered more interest. Probably bad promotion on the part of the publishers or something. The first two books in the series, The Fixer (this one) and The Invoker, both only published in 2002, are already out of print. I managed to procure this copy through my library's participation in the Merrimack Valley Consortium system, and it was only at one library of the 35 in the system.

It was only when Michele (caseyw) added a copy of The Invoker to the Paranormal Virtual Bookbox on BookRelay that I was first alerted to this author, and then a few of us got to discussing the Lawson Vampire Novels. She mentioned how she still hasn't been able to find a copy of this first book in the series, and the prices for the first two books on eBay are outrageous since they're out of print. I guess I was just lucky to find this one at the Lowell library via the Consortium website, but they don't have books 2, 3, or 4 unfortunately. So Mr. Merz, if you come across this review on the web, know that there are quite a few of us out here that'd like to see these first books in the series back in print, so push your publisher for us, will ya? ;-) I really think these books could make a bigger splash now, particularly since paranormals have become so hot, but also because, like Jim Butcher's Dresden series, these are more action-oriented than so many of the paranormal romances available now which are just like romance authors trying to throw in a vampire to make it a paranormal and it truly reminds me why I *don't* like romances!!

The author, Jon Merz, lives in Boston, somewhat near me, and is active on his Lawson Vampire MySpace account. He's written a sort of short story about Lawson that he published in his blog out there, but I've been leery to read it in case it would give away stuff I haven't yet read in books 2-4. As I was reading this book, I liked coming across the many Boston landmarks and I recognized most of the locations and nightclubs, particularly Manray, the Goth club in Cambridge, which was a favorite of mine. (Many good memories of that place, which shut down sometime last year.)

So anyway, back to the book itself...
Lawson is a Fixer, a Vampire whose job it is to help maintain the delicate balance between Vampire and Human. In his duties, he's often called upon by the Vampire Council to bring down one of his own, often a rogue vampire who has become a threat to the race, either by blatant human killings, or threatening to expose the race in other bad or illegal ways. In the world drawn by Mr. Merz, vampires live among us, just as they do in most fantasy and paranormal novels, and most of them live a normal life, passing for human. He debunks some of the myths, saying that although vampires aren't particularly fond of the sun, they don't have to avoid it, and they won't go up in flames by being exposed to it. Though the fact remains that most vamps are more comfortable in the darkness and at night. Also, like in other novels, these vamps are able to get by without killing and often with the assistance of bottled blood to help sustain them.

Lawson is now charged with the destroying his arch-nemesis, Cosgrove, who has been a thorn in his side his entire life. And yes, these Vampires grew up as Vampires, in a Vampire community, to Vampire parents, etc. So both Lawson and Cosgrove were Vamps when they were younger and actually grew up together, though they were enemies back then too.

The writing style is quick and snappy—no long drawn-out descriptions here—and it all adds to action-oriented feeling of the book. I had a tough time putting it down! I loved Lawson's character; though a vampire, the author adds just enough human characteristics and feeling to him to endear him to the reader. And it left me anxiously looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of The Invoker. Thanks to my BR pals for introducing me to this author in the first place!

Monday, December 18, 2006

#74 Moon's Web by C. T. Adams & Cathy Clamp

My Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

This book was a little slower to start than the first one so at first I thought it might not be as good, but it only took about 20 pages in before the action picked up and then rolled full-stream to the end.

Tony and Sue are now living in Chicago, under new identities following the events of Hunter's Moon, the first book in the Sazi series. Tony learns of a few new skills he possesses, specifically hindsight, gifts of the seer, and now he's having flashbacks every time he touches someone. While learning to use his new gifts, he's also been assigned the task of helping to locate a Sazi that's abducting and murdering some of the Sazi women. Which means his Sue could be the next victim!

I enjoyed the action, and as usual, any romance in the story didn't overshadow the action, but served only to endear the characters to the reader.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

#73 Real Murders: An Aurora Teagarden Mystery by Charlaine Harris

My Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

This was a very satisfying start to this cozy mystery series. It originally came out in the early 90s, and surprisingly many of the earlier titles are already out of print. Hopefully, with Ms. Harris becoming more popular, some of these older titles will be re-released. I actually had to pay over $10 apiece for mass market paperback copies of books 4 and 5, and I've seen them go for a lot more.

Aurora "Roe" Teagarden is a librarian in a Lawrenceton, Georgia, a small town outside a big city. (I assume Atlanta, but Harris doesn't specify precisely.) Once a month, a few crime buffs from town get together to discuss some of the most famous murderers of the past. They call their group Real Murders and on the night Roe is scheduled to discuss the Wallace case—which took place back in 1931 England—one of the members of Real Murders, Mamie Wright, is found murdered in exactly the same way Julia Wallace was so many years ago! And that's not the end of it either... apparently, there's a murderer on the loose, whose game is to pattern his crimes after some of the very murders they've been discussing. So obviously, they all figure it's got to be someone in their little group!

Harris does character development quite nicely and as you're introduced to all the characters, you can clearly see them in your mind, and often think of someone you know who fits a similar description. Who is behind all the murders happening in the small town is a surprise right up until the very end. And in typical cozy fashion, the members of the community most affected by all this are just as important as the police—one of whom is actually a member of Real Murders anyway—in solving the case.

I look forward to reading the rest of the Aurora Teagarden Mysteries!

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

#72 Staying Dead by Laura Anne Gilman

My Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

I really liked the premise of this book, but I wasn't too crazy about the author's writing style, she kinda had a lot of run-on sentences so I found myself rereading some things. And at another point, when she started off a chapter with one of Wren's dream sequences, which went on for like 3 pages, you didn't know the whole time whose dream it was. So I flipped to the end of the dream sequence to find out... I mean, if it's a character who hasn't been introduced yet, or someone we're not supposed to know, I can see that strategy, but for the main character, it was just unnecessary and kind of a pain in the ass because I like to be able to envision the story in my head while I'm reading.

However, since this was Gilman's first novel, I'm expecting better things in this regard in later books. As a matter of fact, I recall reading a short story from her as part of the Powers of Detection anthology and the writing didn't bug me then, so my point stands.

I liked the characters, Wren and Sergi, and imagined P.B. as a little Gizmo... you know from that Gremlins movie. :D And I'm looking forward to reading more about them in Curse the Dark.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

#71 Winter Moon by Mercedes Lackey, Tanith Lee, C.E. Murphy

My Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

"Moontide" by Mercedes Lackey
This is my first Lackey story even though I've got her Diana Tregarde mysteries waiting here on Mt. TBR that I haven't read yet. In this novella, Lackey takes us to the land of her Five Hundred Kingdoms and tells the story of a sea keep's daughter who's been sent off to fostering for most of her young adult life. While there, she was trained as an assassin and one of the "Gray Ladies". Her skills come in handy when she returns home to find her father entertaining a pirate from a rival land, to whom he wants to use Moira as a bargaining chip. But Moira's got other plans...

"The Heart of the Moon" by Tanith Lee
I really enjoyed this story. It portrays a tough heroine, a warrior, who is sent off to by the priestesses of Amnos to the magickal island of Moon Isle, where she must work through some of the things from her past. While on her "journey", she meets a strange man whom she feels an instant attraction to. But can she trust him, or is he just another man like Thestus, who would only betray her? And what else will she learn about herself in the process?

"Banshee Cries" by C. E. Murphy
"Banshee Cries" is set in the same place as Murphy's The Walker Papers series and takes place between Urban Shaman (book 1) and Thunderbird Falls (book 2).

This was the best of the bunch. I read the first book of the Walker Papers, Urban Shaman, back at the end of 2005, so I'd forgotten much about the characters. Fortunately, this story provides a lot of reminders that jump started my memory. Also, whereas the Urban Shaman kind of dwindled action-wise after awhile as Joanne struggled with her new powers, there wasn't much time for dilly-dallying in this short story format. Joanne still wishes she didn't possess her Shamanic skills, but she's beginning to get a handle on them nonetheless. This story gives us a lot more information about Joanne's mother, who passed away in the last book, and it's with the help of her dead mom that she's able to defeat the Banshee, the Harbinger of Death, that has returned to try to complete something it couldn't 30 years ago!

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Monday, December 04, 2006

#70 Desire After Dark by Amanda Ashley

My Rating: 5 out of 10 stars

I had trouble getting into this initially and thought I might not be able to finish it as I don't like too much romance in my books. It was really kind of sappy and I get sick of hearing about how gorgeous Antonio was, and how blue his eyes were, and how black his hair was, and so on... But I plodded on, wanting to make it at least halfway through as I haven't yet read anything else by this author, and sometime after the 100th page or so, it got a little more interesting. At this point, the vampire Falco, who was killing various redheads in the town of Pear Blossom Creek, revealed himself to Vicki, which added an element of danger. Sure, there was still a lot of sappy romance, but it was lessened somewhat by the rest of the action finally starting to happen.

So as Falco stalks Vicki, intending her to be his next victim, Antonio has sworn his life to protect her. At first, she doesn't know he's a vampire, but once she finally finds out, partially through the Vampire Hunter Duncan who's sweeped into town, and partially through Antonio's own admission and actions, she's not sure how she feels about the idea. But the fact that his kisses have stirred something in her that she's never felt before keeps her from running in the other direction. Besides, he seems to be the only one who can protect her from Draco.

Overall, a fairly decent read, and once the action started happening, it was harder to put down. The strong romance aspect makes it not my usual cup of tea though, so I'm not sure whether or not I'll seek out additional books by this author since I've got so much other reading on my plate.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

#69 Eve: The Sorority by Tamara Thorne

My Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

This was a fairly quick read, but it could also be because I didn't want to put it down! As expected, there were some things left unresolved so you're left really looking forward to the next book in the trilogy.

The book opens with a frightful scene that takes place at a cheerleading camp on Applehead Lake when Eve is 8 years old. Eve and two other girls, Merrilyn and Samantha, "borrow" a boat while the rest of the camp is on a field trip and row out to Applehead Island to do a little "investigating" with regards to Holly Gayle, who supposedly haunts the lake. What they discover isn't a simple apparition, but something that haunts Eve for the rest of her days.

When Eve attends Greenbriar University eight years later, and pledges the Gamma Eta Pi sorority, she never expected to run into Merrilyn and Samantha again. But the sorority has a secret of their own, and some of the sisters may just know a thing or two about Holly Gayle and the mysterious Greenbriar Ghost!

A few Amazon reviewers didn't care for this book for one reason or another, but a constant theme I saw was because you don't feel a sense of empathy towards Eve. I must agree that the author doesn't portray her in such a way that makes you feel any strong emotion towards her, but I believe this was done for a purpose, which becomes clear as the book draws to a close. It would've been a lot harder to take what happens to Eve at the end, possibly leaving the reader quite angry, were the reader more sympathetic towards Eve's character.

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