Category featured reviews

2012: #10 – Half-Assed: A Weight-Loss Memoir (Jennette Fulda)

Title: Half-Assed: A Weight-Loss Memoir
Author: Jennette Fulda
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 250 (2012 total – 2,720)
Approx. Word Count: 75,000 (2012 total – 770,504)
Release Date: May 10, 2008
Publisher: Seal Press
Categories: memoir
Source: personal copy
Rating: 5 out of 5

Back of the book:

After undergoing gall bladder surgery at age twenty-three, Jennette Fulda decided it was time to lose some weight. Actually, more like half her weight. At the time, Jennette weighed 372 pounds.

Jennette was not born fat. But, by fifth grade, her response to a school questionnaire asking “what would you change about your appearance” was “I would be thinner.” Sound familiar?

Half-Assed is the captivating and incredibly honest story of Jennette’s journey to get in shape, lose weight, and change her life. From the beginning—dusting off her never-used treadmill and steering clear of the donut shop—to the end with her goal weight in sight, Jennette wows readers with her determined persistence to shed pounds and the ability to maintain her ever-present sense of self.

My thoughts:

I have been following Jennette’s blog for years, which makes it even more ridiculous that this book sat on my shelf for at least two years before I picked it up and read it. I think I started reading her blog (it was pastaqueen.com back then) when she was roughly 3/4 of the way through her journey. I was immediately drawn to her dry wit and sarcasm, a welcome attribute in the world of weight-loss bloggers, which is overwhelmed by nauseatingly positive people.

As someone who has struggled with her weight since puberty, I can’t tell you how many times I nodded my head and dog-eared a page while reading this book. She is often blunt and to the point, and it just makes you say “Yes! It is just like that.”

“And even if I had been the laziest, weakest-willed person on the planet, being fat did not make me a bad person. Fat wasn’t good or bad. It wasn’t a scarlet F of shame written on my elbow. It was just fat. I deserved as much respect as any thin person and I shouldn’t have to live under a cloud of shame.”

But don’t pick up this book and expect a blue-print for success. Jennette isn’t very specific about what she eats (even on her blog), but if you read between the lines you can tell it was South Beach or something quite similar. I think she doesn’t specifically promote it because she’s smart enough to realize that just because that particular plan worked for her, it doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. She does talk about her exercise, and one thing she did a lot of is running. I am envious, because running is the easiest thing to do, but I hate it with the fire of a thousand suns.

I find Jennette’s story to be inspiring, even if it doesn’t have the fairytale happy ending. She doesn’t lose all her weight and then magically fall in love with Prince Charming and move into a house with a white picket fence and have babies. But I believe that reaching this one (giant) goal has given her the confidence to reach other goals in her life, specifically moving out of state and starting her own freelance business. I continue to follow Jennette at her new website, http://www.jennettefulda.com. She has written a second book, which is (unfortunately) about her search for relief from a persistent headache. It’s already on my Kindle and waiting for me.

Available from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | WorldCat

Other reviews:

  • “Fulda’s memoir is light-hearted, funny, and truly inspiring.”Story Circle Book Reviews
  • “Whether or not you have struggled with your weight, Fulda’s writing will give you a picture of a successful weight loss journey.”Malisa Price
  • “Another great thing about the book is that it’s not just a chronicle of weight loss; it’s about Jen’s changing attitudes as well.”Novel News

Past reviews:

2011: Deeper Than The Dead (Tami Hoag)
2010: What to Expect Before You’re Expecting (Heidi Murkoff)
2009: Claus: A Christmas Incarnation: Vol I (C. John Coombes)
2008: Dead Aim (Iris Johansen)
2007: Maisie Dobbs (Jacqueline Winspear)
2006: K is for Killer (Sue Grafton)
2005: Immortal in Death (J.D. Robb)

2012: #9 – The Dead Girls' Dance (Rachel Caine)

Title: The Dead Girls’ Dance
Author: Rachel Caine
Series: Morganville Vampires #02
Format: Kindle
Pages: 256 (2012 total – 2,470)
Approx. Word Count: 64,000 (2012 total – 695,504)
Release Date: April 03, 2007
Publisher: Signet
Categories: young adult, urban fantasy, vampires
Source: personal copy
Rating: 4 out of 5

Back of the book:

Claire has her share of challenges. Like being a genius in a school that favors beauty over brains; homicidal girls in her dorm, and finding out that her college town is overrun with the living dead. On the up side, she has a new boyfriend with a vampire-hunting dad. But when a local fraternity throws the Dead Girls’ Dance, hell is really going to break loose.

My thoughts:

This book picks up exactly where the first left off. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good if you’ve read the first book recently, because it means no waiting! But if it’s been over two years (like with me), it leaves you a bit disoriented until you can get up to speed again. I actually wonder if these first two books were actually just one that the author was forced to split in two.

But, once you do get up to speed again, this is a decent little book. Claire and her roommates really only want one thing — to be left in peace. But Shane’s father has other ideas, and once the  vampires find out his plans, someone has to pay. I like the group of roommates, though Claire does tend to get on my nerves a bit. She makes some really stupid decisions. I do have to give her a little benefit of the doubt. Just because you’re smart doesn’t necessarily mean you have common sense. (I might just know this from experience.)

Overall, I think this is a good series. I’m interested in seeing where it is going. Maybe this time I won’t wait two years to read the next one.

Available from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | WorldCat

Other reviews:

  • “DEAD GIRLS’ DANCE is one of the best books in the series and the shocking ending will leave you panting and begging for the next installment.”Karin’s Book Nook
  • “This review has probably come across as a bit harsh and while I didn’t enjoy The Dead Girls’ Dance as much as Glass Houses I didn’t totally hate the book either so don’t let me put you off reading it if you are so inclined.”Love Vampires
  • “The Dead Girls’ Dance was an interesting book that moves the story and the characters forward.”Fluttering Butterflies

Past reviews:

2011: Charm City (Laura Lippman)
2010: Forbidden Falls (Robyn Carr)
2009: Amelia Peabody’s Egypt (Elizabeth Peters)
2008: The Copenhagen Connection (Elizabeth Peters)
2007: Birthright (Nora Roberts)
2006: Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
2005: E is for Evidence (Sue Grafton)

2012: #8 – Master of Ecstasy (Nina Bangs)

Title: Master Of Ecstasy
Author: Nina Bangs
Series: MacKenzie Vampires #01
Format: Kindle
Pages: 358 (2012 total – 2,214)
Approx. Word Count: 89,500 (2012 total – 631,504)
Release Date: December 29, 2003
Publisher: Dorchester Lovespell
Categories: paranormal romance
Source: personal copy
Rating: 3 out of 5

Back of the book:

WARRIOR, HIGHLANDER, VAMPIRE

Meet the MASTER OF ECSTASY. Darach MacKenzie is everything dark, dangerous, and delicious. His voice is a tempting slide of sin, and he’s the primitive need that lives in every woman, no matter how much she denies it. But even five hundred years of sensual knowledge haven’t prepared him for the woman who awaits him in his clan’s ancestral castle.

HAPPINESS IS HER BUSINESS

In a distant future, Blythe works for Ecstasy Inc. to make people happy. That’s her job, and she does it well. Company policy forbids the use of sensual solutions to cure unhappiness, and Blythe agrees that sex is a short-term fix. When her abilities are called into question, Blythe travels back to the Scottish Highlands of 1785 to prove that she can make anyone happy. She hasn’t counted on a centuries-old vampire for a client.

Darach believes that sexual pleasure is the key to happiness. Blythe thinks that Ecstasy Inc. has all the answers. Neither one considers love as an option. They’re about to discover how wrong they can be.

My thoughts:

Master of Ecstasy is a paranormal romance that lean towards erotica without actually being erotica. It certainly has its share of sex, but I don’t think it has anything more than a lot of other romances I’ve read. What it also has is its fair share of humor, which cuts the sexiness quite a bit. The world-building is very odd, a mixture of 1700s Scotland and the future. I’m not sure that I’ll read any more in the series. It wasn’t bad, it just didn’t really hold my interest much.

Available from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | WorldCat

Other reviews:

  • “When it comes to combining sexy situations and humor, Bangs has it nailed.”RT Book Reviews
  • “This was a great start to the Mackenzie Vampire series.”Book Love

Past reviews:

2011: Crazy Hot (Tara Janzen)
2010: Tongue in Chic (Christina Dodd)
2009: The Stupidest Angel (Christopher Moore)
2008: Loyalty in Death (J.D. Robb)
2007: Tokyo Woes (Bruce Jay Friedman)
2006: The Surgeon (Tess Gerritsen)
2005: One for the Money (Janet Evanovich)

2012: #7 – Cruising Attitude (Heather Poole)

Title: Cruising Attitude
Author: Heather Poole
Format: Kindle
Pages: 272 (2012 total – 1,856)
Approx. Word Count: 68,000 (2012 total – 542,004)
Release Date: March 06, 2012
Publisher: Avon
Categories: memoir
Source: ARC from Publisher
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Back of the book:

Flying the not-so-friendly skies…

In her more than fifteen years as an airline flight attendant, Heather Poole has seen it all. She’s witnessed all manner of bad behavior at 35,000 feet and knows what it takes for a traveler to become the most hated passenger onboard. She’s slept in flight attendant crashpads in “Crew Gardens,” Queens—sharing small bedrooms crammed with bunk beds with a parade of attractive women who come and go at all hours, prompting suspicious neighbors to jump to the very worst conclusions. She’s watched passengers and coworkers alike escorted off the planes by police. She can tell you why it’s a bad idea to fall for a pilot but can be a very good one (in her case) to date a business-class passenger. Heather knows everything about flying in a post-9/11 world—and she knows what goes on behind the scenes, things the passengers would never dream.

Heather’s true stories in Cruising Attitude are surprising, hilarious, sometimes outrageously incredible—the very juiciest of “galley gossip” delightfully intermingled with the eye-opening, unforgettable chronicle of her fascinating life in the sky.

My thoughts:

For someone who “doesn’t read memoirs”, I’ve picked up more than a few this year. This one drew my eye because I enjoy flying, and had absolutely no idea what a flight attendant’s job was like.

After finishing the book, I’m fairly certain that I would never want to be a flight attendant. I never would have imagined a super-strict book camp, or the fact that for a long time, an attendant makes so little money they are lucky if they can afford to rent a room of their own, let alone an entire apartment. And we’re not talking about the 70s or the 80s here — when Poole became a flight attendant in 1995 she made $18,000. That number is even lower now, because attendants took a pay cut following 9/11.

And it was the lifestyle that I found most intriguing about this book. We also get plenty of stories of crazy behavior, by both passengers and crew, but most of them are nothing we haven’t already imagined for ourselves. The real meat is the life of the flight attendant. She does a pretty good job of explaining the system, but I’m still not sure I completely understand it. The concept of being “on reserve” is ridiculously complicated. Being a commuting flight attendant also seems a bit complex.

Overall, I found this to be not only interesting but very entertaining. Poole has a nice easy tone, and she seems like someone who would be fun to hang out with.  The one pick I have about the book is that I think it could have been a little better organized. She goes off on a lot of tangents. Entertaining as they are, I think sometimes the reader can lose the theme of the chapter.

If you like humorous memoirs, this is definitely one to pick up. I know I’ll never look at a flight attendant quite the same way again.

Available from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | WorldCat

Other reviews:

Past reviews:

2011: Vows, Vendettas & a Little Black Dress (Kyra Davis)
2010: Pacific Vortex (Clive Cussler)
2009: Plum Spooky (Janet Evanovich)
2008: Gone (Lisa Gardner)
2007: The Dark Tower (Stephen King)
2006: Whiteout (Ken Follett)
2005: Twisted (Jonathan Kellerman)

2012: #6 – Tempting Danger (Eileen Wilks)

Title: Tempting Danger
Author: Eileen Wilks
Series: The World of the Lupi #01
Format: Kindle
Pages: 320 (2012 total – 1,584)
Word Count: 99,200 (2012 total – 474,004)
Release Date: October 04, 2004
Publisher: Berkley (MM)
Categories: paranormal fantasy, werewolves
Source: personal copy
Rating: 3 out of 5

Back of the book:

Lily Yu is a San Diego police detective investigating a series of grisly murders that appear to be the work of a werewolf. To hunt down the killer, she must infiltrate the clans. Only one man can help her–a were named Rule Turner, a prince of the lupi, whose charismatic presence disturbs Lily. Rule has his own reasons for helping the investigation–reasons he doesn’t want to share with Lily. Logic and honor demand she keep her distance, but the attraction between them is immediate and devastating-and beyond human reason. Now, in a race to fend off evil, Lily finds herself in uncharted territory, tested as never before, and at her back a man who she’s not sure she can trust ….

My thoughts:

This is pretty much your run-of-the-mill paranormal romance. Lily is human, for the most part. She does have some psychic powers. Rule is not only a werewolf, he’s the prince of the local dominant pack. Of course, sparks fly, and angst ensues.

There is one major flaw. I felt that you’re thrown into the story a bit suddenly. The book opens with the murder scene, and there you are in the middle of everything with very little world-building. It took me several chapters to feel like I had a handle on the world and its various creatures and politics. I was so confused I actually checked to make sure this was indeed the first book in the series. This meant it took me that much longer to connect with the characters.

Overall, it wasn’t a bad read, it just could have been better. I’m sure I’ll read more in the series.

Available from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | WorldCat

Other reviews:

  • “In the hands of a less skilled writer, Tempting Danger probably would have been fairly mind numbing.”The Romance Reader
  • “I can’t wait to read the next book in the series”Badass Book Reviews
  • “This is definitely a series with great potential.”A Book Obsession

Past reviews:

2011: The Cypress House (Michael Koryta)
2010: Little Children (Tom Perrotta)
2009: Summer (Edith Wharton)
2008: Dead Witch Walking (Kim Harrison)
2007: Between Friends (Debbie Macomber)
2006: The Rule of Four (Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason)
2005: D is for Deadbeat (Sue Grafton)

2012: #5 – Stitches (David Small)

Title: Stitches
Author: David Small
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 336 (2012 total – 1,600)
Release Date: September 8, 2009
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
Categories: memoir, graphic novel, young adult
Source: personal copy
Rating: 4 out of 5

Back of the book:

Finalist for the 2009 National Book Award and finalist for two 2010 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards: the prize-winning children’s author depicts a childhood from hell in this searing yet redemptive graphic memoir.

One day David Small awoke from a supposedly harmless operation to discover that he had been transformed into a virtual mute. A vocal cord removed, his throat slashed and stitched together like a bloody boot, the fourteen-year-old boy had not been told that he had cancer and was expected to die.

In Stitches, Small, the award-winning children’s illustrator and author, re-creates this terrifying event in a life story that might have been imagined by Kafka. As the images painfully tumble out, one by one, we gain a ringside seat at a gothic family drama where David—a highly anxious yet supremely talented child—all too often became the unwitting object of his parents’ buried frustration and rage.

Believing that they were trying to do their best, David’s parents did just the reverse. Edward Small, a Detroit physician, who vented his own anger by hitting a punching bag, was convinced that he could cure his young son’s respiratory problems with heavy doses of radiation, possibly causing David’s cancer. Elizabeth, David’s mother, tyrannically stingy and excessively scolding, ran the Small household under a cone of silence where emotions, especially her own, were hidden.

Depicting this coming-of-age story with dazzling, kaleidoscopic images that turn nightmare into fairy tale, Small tells us of his journey from sickly child to cancer patient, to the troubled teen whose risky decision to run away from home at sixteen—with nothing more than the dream of becoming an artist—will resonate as the ultimate survival statement.

A silent movie masquerading as a book, Stitches renders a broken world suddenly seamless and beautiful again. Finalist for the 2009 National Book Award (Young Adult); finalist for two 2010 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards (Best Writer/Artist: Nonfiction; Best Reality-Based Work).

My thoughts:

I’ve been meaning to read this for a long time, and finally got around to it a few weeks ago. We were traveling, and it was a good book to read start-to-finish in the car — only took me about an hour. David Small’s story is rather sad. The second child of a pair of emotionally and physically distant parents, he spent much of his childhood entertaining himself and learning how to best maneuver with the least upset to anyone. When he develops a tumor on his neck, it becomes just one more thing to deal with silently. His parents seem barely concerned, leaving it for several years before finally having it removed when David is 14. Even then they don’t tell him what is going on, just that he’s having surgery. He wakes up with a giant scar and no voice with absolutely no preparation. It’s hard to tell which is worse, the physical scar or the mental one.

The pain that David remembers is evident in his artwork. Black and white and stark, he’s able to not only portray reality as he remembers it, through the eyes of a child, but his fantasies as well. The story may come off as a bit one-sided, but it is a memoir, after all, and is told through the point of view of himself as a child. There is an afterword of sorts, where he addresses his mother’s behavior with the wisdom of age and experience. He may even have managed to forgive his parents. I’m not sure I could.

Some may say they did the best they knew how, but sometimes your best just isn’t good enough.

Available from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | WorldCat

Other reviews:

Past reviews:

2011: Bolt (Dick Francis)
2010: Bird by Bird (Anne Lamott)
2009: Five on a Treasure Island (Enid Blyton)
2008: I Heard That Song Before (Mary Higgins Clark)
2007: Up Island (Anne Rivers Siddons)
2006: The Big Love (Sarah Dunn)
2005: The Reptile Room (Lemony Snicket)

2012: #4 – Shakespeare's Champion (Charlaine Harris)

Title: Shakespeare’s Champion
Author: Charlaine Harris
Series: Lily Bard #02
Format: Audio
Audiobook length: 7 hrs 20 min
Release Date: December 05, 2006
Publisher: Prime Crime (MM)
Categories: mystery, dark cozy
Source: personal copy
Rating: 4 out of 5

Back of the book:

When Lily stumbles upon the well-built corpse of a local body builder-his neck broken by a barbell-the town’s underlying racial tension begins to boil over. The white victim was somehow connected to two unsolved murders of black residents of Shakespeare-and a dogged policeman is determined to stop the killing. But it is Lily herself who may have to decide whether to stay and fight for justice, or run away one more time.

My thoughts:

This series is a little different than some of Harris’s other series, because there’s no paranormal element. Lily is a regular girl, at least genetically. Socially, she likes to keep to herself. Her stand-offishness and dedication to staying strong and in shape is understandable, because Lily is the survivor of a brutal attack. But it’s not doing her any favors.

That dedication to her exercise routine (and on-again-off-again relationship with gym owner Marshall) leads to her discovery of a man’s body in the local gym. Lily’s natural curiosity is peaked when it appears that his death isn’t an accident, and she spends the novel trying to figure out not only what happened, but how she can stop it from continuing.

Small-town racial tension is the main theme that runs through this mystery. Lily, who still feels like an outsider despite living in Shakespeare for more than a few years, navigates her way through thanks to her job as a housekeeper — a brilliant way to be an amateur sleuth. Unfortunately, I think she finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time a little too often. Really, it’s a fault of the first person perspective. The only way we have to witness these events is through Lily’s eyes, so she needs to be there.

I did enjoy the introduction of a new love interest for Lily. Her back and forth with the police chief was getting a little tiresome, and Jack seems like a better fit for her anyhow.

Despite its flaws, I do like this series and will continue to follow Lily’s adventures.

Available from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | WorldCat

Other reviews:

Past reviews:

2011: Bite Me (Christopher Moore)
2010: Night Fire (Catherine Coulter)
2009: Kopek the Destroyer (Phil Owens)
2008: The Ice Queen (Alice Hoffman)
2007: Agnes of God (Leonore Fleisher)
2006: Postmortem (Patricia Cornwell)
2005: The Bad Beginning (Lemony Snicket)

2012: #3 – Before She Dies (Mary Burton)

Title: Before She Dies
Author: Mary Burton
Format: Paperback
Pages: 416 (2012 total – 1,264)
Approx. Word Count: 104,000 (2012 total – 374,804)
Release Date: January 31, 2012
Publisher: Zebra – Kensington
Categories: romantic suspense
Source: ARC from publicist
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Back of the book:

He Is Their Judge. . .

In death, they are purified. Holding his victims under water, he washes away their sins as they struggle for their last breath. Then he stakes their bodies to the ground, exposing them for what they really are. Witches, sent to tempt and to corrupt. . .

Jury. . .

No one knows about defense attorney Charlotte Wellington’s murdered sister, or about her childhood spent with the carnival that’s just arrived in town. For Charlotte, what’s past is past. But others don’t agree. And as a madman’s body count rises, she and Detective Daniel Rokov are drawn into a mission that’s become terrifyingly personal. . .

And Executioner

At last, she is within his reach. All his victims deserve their fate, but her guilt is greatest. And with every scream, he will make her see what it means to suffer and repent—before she dies. . .

My thoughts:

Though not technically part of a series, Before She Dies closes off a loosely connected trilogy that started with Burton’s Senseless and Merciless. I think it was on par with those two books. In some ways, it was stronger. The romance is there from the very beginning rather than materializing towards the end, so we get a chance to root for it a bit longer. I would have liked to see a little more wanting from Charlotte’s point of view, but overall I’m not disappointed in how it developed.

I also thought Charlotte’s back story was more interesting than the female protagonists in the previous two books. The carnival makes for an unusual backdrop.

When it comes to the villain, I find that I finished the book feeling somewhat confused about him. (SLIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD) His placement in the periphery of the story was a bit too obvious, because if he’s not the bad guy, what’s his purpose? Maybe I just read too many of these types of books. I also didn’t understand his ultimate motive. I understood the fixation part of it, I just didn’t get why he started in the first place. (END SPOILERS!)

Overall, I did enjoy the read. I think Burton writes both strong female and strong male characters, yet is able to keep the male characters secondary. I will continue to keep Burton on my “to read” list!

Available from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | WorldCat

Other reviews:

Past reviews:

2011: Labor Day (Joyce Maynard)
2010: Lamb (Christopher Moore)
2009: Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade (Diana Gabaldon)
2008: Lord John and the Private Matter (Diana Gabaldon)
2007: No Second Chance (Harlan Coben)
2006: Lost Innocents (Patricia MacDonald)
2005: 3rd Degree (James Patterson)

2012: #2 – Moloka'i (Alan Brennert)

Title: Moloka’i
Author: Alan Brennert
Format: E-book
Pages: 400 (2012 total – 848)
Word Count: 136,404 (2012 total – 270,804)
Release Date: October 04, 2004
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Categories: historical fiction (late 1800s, early 1900s)
Source: purchased
Rating: 5 out of 5

Back of the book:

This richly imagined novel, set in Hawai’i more than a century ago, is an extraordinary epic of a little-known time and place—and a deeply moving testament to the resiliency of the human spirit.

Rachel Kalama, a spirited seven-year-old Hawaiian girl, dreams of visiting far-off lands like her father, a merchant seaman. Then one day a rose-colored mark appears on her skin, and those dreams are stolen from her. Taken from her home and family, Rachel is sent to Kalaupapa, the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka’i. Here her life is supposed to end—but instead she discovers it is only just beginning.

With a vibrant cast of vividly realized characters, Moloka’i is the true-to-life chronicle of a people who embraced life in the face of death. Such is the warmth, humor, and compassion of this novel that “few readers will remain unchanged by Rachel’s story” (mostlyfiction.com).

My thoughts:

When we first meet Rachel, it’s 1891 and she’s a seven-year-old helping her mother make poi. At this point, none of them have an idea of the changes their family will go through. It begins with her uncle being tracked down and taken away because he has the “separating sickness”. It is leprosy, and it is taken very seriously, because Hawaiians are particularly susceptible. When Rachel’s mother discovers a red spot on Rachel’s leg with no feeling, she knows what is going to happen. She tries to hide it, but her efforts are in vain as Rachel is taken away to be evaluated. They’ll never be together again.

I thought this was a fascinating book. Not only do you get a bit of Hawaiian history before Hawaii was part of the U.S., you get to see a really unusual side of it. I had no idea that leprosy was such a problem in Hawaii, nor did I know the lengths the government went through to prevent its spread. They took the sick, young and old alike, and isolated them in an island community stuck in time. Not only are they not allowed physical contact with any of the non-infected (other than the nuns caring for them), their families are often shunned as “unclean” and forced to make difficult decisions. The lepers are assigned a place to live and then expected to make a life for themselves — however long it may be.

The book is wonderfully written, showing us Rachel’s story from multiple points of view. Rachel is relatively lucky. Her form of the disease is the less disfiguring one, so she is able to build some semblance of a normal life. So normal, in fact, that I often wondered how the book would be different if she had the more severe form. Not that she didn’t suffer; in fact, she probably suffered more than most, because she had to lose so many close friends. Brennert shows us a full range of emotion, from anger, to acceptance, to guilt, to hope, to happiness, and despair.

And, in a way, we also get a history of leprosy. During Rachel’s lifetime there are many medical breakthroughs, some more successful than others. We see not only what the treatments are, but how they affected people.

For me, there’s one thing more than anything else that tells me I’ve read a great piece of historical fiction: I go straight to Wikipedia to read about what really happened. Some characters in the book are based on real people, but Rachel is an amalgam. Moloka’i is a real place, and in fact, the parts of the island where the lepers were housed are now a National Historic Park. It is still an active leper colony, and you can visit by arranging for a guided tour. The only way into these parts is on the back of a donkey.

I highly recommend Moloka’i. Can ya tell?

Available from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | WorldCat

Other reviews:

“Rachel Kalama is a protagonist anyone would root for.” - Reading on a Rainy Day
“If you are on the fence of devoting yourself to 400 page story about leprosy, I urge you to pick this book up and read it.” - Bippity Boppity Book
“I would recommend Moloka’i to fans of historical fiction, books with plenty of pathos, and strong female protagonists.” - the quiet voice

Past reviews:

2011: Star Island (Carl Hiaasen)
2010: Shogun (James Clavell)
2009: Skin Tight (Carl Hiaasen)
2008: The Indictment (Barry Reed)
2007: True Colors (Doris Mortman)
2006: Cyclops (Clive Cussler)
2005: Naked in Death (J.D. Robb)

2012: #1 – A Perfect Blood (Kim Harrison)

perfectbloodTitle: A Perfect Blood
Author: Kim Harrison
Series: Rachel Morgan (The Hollows) #10
Format: Paperback (ARC)
Pages: 448 (2012 total – 448)
Approx. Word Count: 134,400 (2012 total – 134,400)
Release Date: February 21, 2012
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Categories: urban fantasy, witches/magic
Source: Publisher (via Amazon Vine)
Rating: 5 out of 5

Back of the book:

New York Times bestselling author Kim Harrison returns to the Hollows with the electrifying follow-up to her acclaimed Pale Demon!

Ritually murdered corpses are appearing across Cincinnati, terrifying amalgams of human and other. Pulled in to help investigate by the I.S. and the FIB, former witch turned day-walking demon Rachel Morgan soon realizes a horrifying truth: a human hate group is trying to create its own demons to destroy all Inderlanders, and to do so, it needs her blood.

She’s faced vampires, witches, werewolves, demons, and more, but humanity itself might be her toughest challenge yet.

My thoughts:

New year, new format! I’m trying this on for a while to see how it feels…

I was super excited to get my hands on this advanced copy. This is my absolute favorite paranormal/urban fantasy series, which is why I have a hard time giving it anything other than full marks.

The book opens with Rachel and everyone else in her life trying to adjust to the new “normal”. Rachel, now an official demon, is finding that even the most mundane tasks are next to impossible when you aren’t considered to be human anymore. Even worse, she has voluntarily cut herself off from the ley lines in order to hide from the demon collective, leading her to rely on only potions and her wits to get by. And, to make things more complicated, her mother has sent a bodyguard to live in her tower, and Trent is acting strangely… familiar. Jenks is also adjusting to live as a widower and unwilling protector of a wingless fairy, and Ivy continues to try to find balance in her life, this time with FIB agent Glenn.

Rachel is unexpectedly recruited by the IS to find out who is killing witches in rather demonic ways. It’s not long before she discovers that the culprits are a human hate group, twisted enough to use the very things they hate in order to reach their ultimate goal — the destruction of all Inderlanders.

If Rachel is going to survive without her ley lines, it’s going to take every last wit and resource she has, even the ones she wishes she didn’t have to use.

This series could very easily have become stale by now, but Harrison has kept it fresh by giving us fully-realized, complex characters that continue to grow and change throughout each book. No one escapes unscathed, and the possibilities are endless.

A Perfect Blood will be released on February 21, 2012.

Available from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books A Million |IndieBound | WorldCat

Other reviews:

“It’s good enough to make me want to re-read the series and is a worthy successor to Pale Demon.” – Book Goggles
“A Perfect Blood is romantically charged and brimming with action” – Fiendishly Bookish
“Perfect Blood is exactly what fans want and love about the Hollows” – Diary of a Book Addict

Past reviews:

2011: Senseless (Mary Burton)
2010: The First Rule (Robert Crais)
2009: Eclipse (Richard North Patterson)
2008: Innocent in Death (J.D. Robb)
2007: Acceptable Risk (Robin Cook)
2006: Conspiracy in Death (J.D. Robb)
2005: The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)

2011: #80 – Fly Away Home (Jennifer Weiner)

flyawayBook #80 was Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner.  The back of the book reads:

Sometimes all you can do is fly away home . . .

When Sylvie Serfer met Richard Woodruff in law school, she had wild curls, wide hips, and lots of opinions. Decades later, Sylvie has remade herself as the ideal politician’s wife—her hair dyed and straightened, her hippie-chick wardrobe replaced by tailored knit suits. At fifty-seven, she ruefully acknowledges that her job is staying twenty pounds thinner than she was in her twenties and tending to her husband, the senator.

Lizzie, the Woodruffs’ younger daughter, is at twenty-four a recovering addict, whose mantra HALT (Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired?) helps her keep her life under control. Still, trouble always seems to find her. Her older sister, Diana, an emergency room physician, has everything Lizzie failed to achieve—a husband, a young son, the perfect home—and yet she’s trapped in a loveless marriage. With temptation waiting in one of the ER’s exam rooms, she finds herself craving more.

After Richard’s extramarital affair makes headlines, the three women are drawn into the painful glare of the national spotlight. Once the press conference is over, each is forced to reconsider her life, who she is and who she is meant to be.

Written with an irresistible blend of heartbreak and hilarity, Fly Away Home is an unforgettable story of a mother and two daughters who after a lifetime of distance finally learn to find refuge in one another.

I’ve been a little reluctant to read more from Weiner, because the first two books I read focused so much on the weight of the protagonist that it was a little bit of a turn-off. Thankfully, Weiner has grown as a writer and moved away from that to focus on more important issues.

Fly Away Home is about what happens to a family when a betrayal is revealed in a very public way. Sylvie, the victimized wife, decides that she needs some time away. She moves to her mother’s vacation home, hoping to figure out who she is now that she’s not being the Senator’s wife. Her oldest daughter, Diana, is a busy doctor with an inattentive husband who finds excitement in the arms of another man, despite seeing what adultery has done to her parents. Her youngest daughter, Lizzie, is a recovering drug addict who is relishing the chance to be the caretaker for a change. I’d tell you more about the men, but they are rather one-dimensional.

I rather enjoyed Sylvie and Lizzie’s parts of the story, but had major issues with Diana, for several reasons. First, she’s basically a bitch. From the beginning to the end, I had a hard time mustering up any sympathy for her. Weiner tries really hard to make her husband, Gary, as distasteful as possible, but the more distasteful she made him, the worse Diana looks. In fact, I felt bad for Gary, because he married a woman who obviously never loved him to begin with and only married him because she figured she might as well get that part of her life over with. Box checked. I also didn’t like the hot and cold relationship she had with her young son, who seemed so much better off with his recovering addict aunt. And finally, the event that forces Lizzie out of Diana’s house made no sense to me. It seemed like an incredibly huge over-reaction. I think we’re supposed to accept it because Diana is lashing out at someone else to assuage her own guilt, but it didn’t work.

I also found the ending to be a bit disappointing. It’s open-ended, and I would have preferred at least a little resolution.

I listened to this on audio and enjoyed Judith Light as narrator.

Other reviews:

Book review: ‘Fly Away Home’ by Jennifer Weiner | write meg!
S. Krishna’s Books: Book Review: Fly Away Home – Jennifer Weiner
Book Review: Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner – Chloe’s Chick Lit Reviews
Dot Scribbles: Book Review: Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner
Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner « Book Addiction

Audiobook length: 13 hrs 19 min | Approximate word count: 108,000 (’11 total: 7,865,825)

2010: Stalking Susan (Julie Kramer)
2009: Spook (Mary Roach)
2008: Fat Tuesday (Sandra Brown)
2007: The Killing Game (Iris Johansen)
2006: Strip Tease (Carl Hiaasen)

2011: #79 – A Dangerous Mourning (Anne Perry)

dangerousmourningBook #79 was A Dangerous Mourning, the second book in Anne Perry’s William Monk series. The back of the book reads:

No breath of scandal has ever touched the aristocratic Moidore family–until Sir Basil’s beautiful widowed daughter is stabbed to death in her own bed, a shocking, incomprehensible tragedy.

Inspector William Monk is ordered to investigate in a manner that will give the least possible pain to the influential family. But Monk, brilliant and ambitious, is handicapped by lingering traces of amnesia and by the craven ineptitude of his supervisor, who would like nothing better than to see Monk fail. With the help of nurse Hester Latterly, a progressive young woman who served with Florence Nightingale in the Crimea, Monk gropes warily through the silence and shadows that obscure the case, knowing that with each step he comes closer to the appalling truth.

William Monk is an unusual character. Because he doesn’t know anything about his own background, the reader has nothing to pull from to understand his motivations. For instance, why does he hate his boss so much? Is it just because he rubs him the wrong way, or is there a history that even Monk doesn’t know, but that he can’t stop himself from reacting to? It’s frustrating and intriguing all at once.

But there’s more to this book than the mystery of Monk. Hester continues to excel at being the female lead, and I find their relationship very interesting. Is it strictly platonic, or are their hints of romantic feelings hiding beneath the ire they tend to display? Hester is obviously in search of a life that is larger than the one society would like to dictate, and Monk appears to be her ticket to that life.

As for the murder mystery, it swims in the stink of class bigotry. I think Perry did a good job illustrating the feelings of both the aristocracy and the servant classes.

The one issue I had with this book had more to do with how I was reading it than anything else. I was reading it on my phone, and it was my “emergency” read, so I only got to it once or twice a week. Because of that, I had a hard time remembering who was who in the Moidore family. Though in my defense, there were a lot of them. This also wasn’t a quick moving plot. There’s really not a lot of action.

Bottom line, if you enjoy a period mystery, it’s hard to go wrong with Anne Perry.

Other reviews:

A Few More Pages: Review: A Dangerous Mourning by Anne Perry
Book Review: A Dangerous Mourning by Anne Perry
Ordinary Reader: "A Dangerous Mourning"

Page count: 368 (’11 total: 21,871) | Approximate word count: 128,163 (’11 total: 7,757,825)

2010: Banker (Dick Francis)
2009: Ms. Taken Identity (Dan Begley)
2008: Dance with the Devil (Sherrilyn Kenyon)
2007: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J.K. Rowling)
2006: The Mermaid Chair (Sue Monk Kidd)

2011: #78 – The Nerdist Way (Chris Hardwick)

nerdist Book #78 was The Nerdist Way: How to Reach the Next Level (In Real Life) by Chris Hardwick. The back of the book reads:

Nerd superstar Chris Hardwick offers his fellow "creative obsessives" crucial information needed to come out on top in the current Nerd uprising.

As a lifelong member of "The Nerd Herd," as he calls it, Chris Hardwick has learned all there is to know about Nerds. Developing a system, blog, and podcasts, Hardwick shares hard-earned wisdom about turning seeming weakness into world-dominating strengths in the hilarious self-help book, The Nerdist Way.

From keeping their heart rate below hummingbird levels to managing the avalanche of sadness that is their in-boxes; from becoming evil geniuses to attracting wealth by turning down work, Hardwick reveals the secrets that can help readers achieve their goals by tapping into their true nerdtastic selves.

Here Nerds will learn how to:

  • Become their own time cop
  • Tell panic attacks to go suck it
  • Use incremental fitness to ward off predators

A Nerd’s brain is a laser-it’s time they learn to point and fire!

I generally don’t read self-help books (evidenced by the fact that I had to create a "self-help" category on the blog for this), but I picked this up because I am a fan of Chris Hardwick. Hardwick, who some may recognize as being one of the hosts of MTV’s Singled Out way back in the 90s, spent much of his 20s partying, drinking, and generally ruining his life. What happened when he hit 30 is best expressed in his own words:

"Then, when I hit thirty, I began to look around at my life: I was consuming a baby elephant’s weight in alcohol EVERY DAY. I lived in a shitty apartment near UCLA … my place was always a mess, I had ruined my credit, and I had no real work prospects. I had become a thing I had always feared–the fat, drunk guy who used to be on television."

Hardwick quit drinking in 2003 and started trying to improve his life. Now he has multiple projects on the go, including a successful (and extremely entertaining) podcast, a new podcast network, and several TV gigs.

The secrets to Hardwick’s success aren’t anything new. Basically, he was able to harness his innate nature (his nerdiness, so to speak) and use it to his advantage. And that’s what this book is about.

His techniques aren’t going to appeal to everyone, but if you enjoy the quantitative over the qualitative, you may find some ideas here. In general, he is advocating identifying your goals and developing a way to track your progress in a visible way. He also talks a lot about how to deal with the generally obsessive "nerdist" brain, something which I could relate to. It’s nice to know that you’re not the only one who thinks the way you do. In the final section, he talks a lot about his diet and fitness, even providing a starter fitness plan that is modeled after what he has done with his trainer.

One thing you can’t forget is that Hardwick is a comedian. The tone of the book is funny and descriptive, even during the more serious parts.

All-in-all, I enjoyed the book, even if I won’t adopt some of the more time-consuming tracking techniques. However, there is one big ding against it. Hardwick spends a fair amount of time on the development of a "character tome" that is the heart of his goal-tracking technique. He sends readers to a web site for sample templates, but that website is not functional. We’re now almost 3 months after the release of the book, and that’s really not acceptable.

Good thing it’s hard to be mad at Hardwick for long.

Other reviews:

Poisoned Rationality: Book Review: The Nerdist Way
The Nerdist Way – Living With a Nerd
Mike’s Best Blog Ever: Book Review: The Nerdist Way

Page count: 304 (’11 total: 21,503) | Approximate word count:  83,600 (’11 total: 7,629,662)

2010: Catering to Nobody (Diane Mott Davidson)
2009: A Man for Amanda (Nora Roberts)
2008: Considering SomeplacElse (B.L. Lindstrom)
2007: Shroud for a Nightingale (P.D. James)
2006: Voyager (Diana Gabaldon)

#77 – Silent Night (Mary Higgins Clark)

silentnight Book #77 was Silent Night by Mary Higgins Clark. The back of the book reads:

When Catherine Dornan’s husband, Tom, is diagnosed with leukemia, she and their two young sons travel with him to New York during the holiday season for a lifesaving operation. On Christmas Eve, hoping to lift the boys’ spirits, Catherine takes them to see Rockefeller Center’s famous Christmas tree; while there, seven-year-old Brian notices a woman taking his mother’s wallet. A St. Christopher medal tucked inside the wallet saved his grandfather’s life in World War II, and Brian believes with all his heart that it will protect his father now. Impulsively, Brian follows the thief into the subway, and the most dangerous adventure of his young life begins. . . .

This was an impulse Christmas read and it was exactly what I wanted: short and sweet. Though truthfully, the only thing Christmas has to do with the story is to act as a setting. It’s not like the bad guy has some big moment of redemption. Regardless, it was a quick little read that hit the spot.

Other reviews:

Silent Night by Mary Higgins Clark
Framed and Booked: 120. Silent Night / All Through the Night by Mary Higgins Clark

Page count: 192 (’11 total: 21,199) | Word count:  34,739 (’11 total: 7,546,062)

2010: The Secret of Ka (Christopher Pike)
2009: Killer Takes All (Erica Spindler)
2008: New Moon (Stephenie Meyer)
2007: Evil Under the Sun (Agatha Christie)
2006: Indigo Slam (Robert Crais)

#76 – Likely to Die (Linda Fairstein)

likelytodie Book #76 was Likely to Die, the second book in Linda Fairstein’s Alexandra Cooper series. The back of the book reads:

A neurosurgeon is sexually assaulted, stabbed and left for dead in her office at the labyrinthine Mid-Manhattan Medical Centre. The police designate her Likely to Die. Alexandra Cooper, head of the district’s sex crimes unit, assembles a task force to investigate but finds herself hindered at every turn. Not only has her office prosecuted some of the vast hospital’s patients and staff before but the building itself compounds the problem. A vast complex encompassing a medical college and the Stuyvesant Psychiatric Centre, the hospital rises over a network of tunnels now occupied by numberless transients who have easy access to the corridors. Strung out with other cases and mired in the investigation personally when even the man she has begun to date, has a connection to the case, Alex must find the killer – before the killer finds her…..

Maybe it was because it’s been almost 5 years since I read a book in this series, but I was not impressed. If this book had been edited to eliminate everything that had nothing to do with the plot, it could have been half its size. Fairstein gets way too long-winded about the intricacies of sexual crimes and the prosecuting of them, including a section about how grand juries work, and at some point you have to trust your audience to either be familiar with the elements of crime fiction or to look up what they don’t understand. There are OODLES of crime books that don’t go into this level of detail.

Beyond that, there just wasn’t anything particularly interesting about the mystery, except maybe the sorry state of New York hospitals. We’re never given a chance to connect and sympathize with the victim, because she was basically portrayed as a bitch at every turn. All in all, it was rather boring. I do enjoy the character of Mike Chapman, and sometimes I’d rather the novel followed him around than Alex. That’s a big fail.

I’m sure I’ll read more in this series because I’ve already read some of the later books and enjoyed them more. Fairstein worked out some of her kinks. But I’m sure glad I’m done with the early books.

Other reviews:

THE MYSTERY READER reviews: Likely to Die by Linda Fairstein
nomadreader: book review: likely to die by linda fairstein (reread)

Page count: 448 (’11 total: 21,007) | Word count:  112,431 (’11 total: 7,511,323)

2010: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (Lisa See)
2009: On Writing (Stephen King)
2008: The Dead Room (Heather Graham)
2007: Body Rides (Richard Laymon)
2006: Dragonfly in Amber (Diana Gabaldon)
2005: We Need To Talk About Kevin (Lionel Shriver)

2011: #75 – The Red Queen (Margaret Drabble)

redqueenBook #75 was The Red Queen by Margaret Drabble. The back of the book reads:

200 years after being plucked from obscurity to marry the Crown Prince of Korea, the Red Queen’s ghost decides to set the record straight about her extraordinary existence – and Dr Babs Halliwell, with her own complicated past, is the perfect envoy. Why does the Red Queen pick Babs to keep her story alive, and what else does she want from her? A terrific novel set in 18th century Korea and the present day, The Red Queen is a rich and atmospheric novel about love, and what it means to be remembered.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll first say that I didn’t actually finish this novel. However, I did invest a lot of time (and a book club meeting) in it, so I’m counting it.

This novel is written in two parts, both narrated by the "ghost" of Queen Heongyeong, an 18th century Korean crown princess. The first part is about the Queen’s life, with a heavy focus on the actions of her husband, Prince Sado, who was mentally ill and came to an unfortunate end. The second part is about Dr. Babs Halliwell, who is attending a conference in Korea and mysteriously receives a copy of the Queen’s memoir that she reads on the plane.

I really enjoyed the first part of the novel. The Queen’s story is based on fact, and it was a turbulent time in Korean history. In a time when there was no way to diagnose, or even treat, mental illness, I found Prince Sado’s progression into madness to be really interesting. The Queen gets a bit repetitive, but the story still pulled me through. And sent me to Wikipedia afterwards, which for me is a sign of good historical fiction. I hardly knew anything about Korean history, and now I know a little bit more.

It was the second half of the book that lost me. Babs Halliwell isn’t in a good place in her life, and also has a mentally ill husband. We are supposed to see her as a modern-day parallel to the Queen, but I just didn’t find her to be a very interesting character. It’s at this point that the books starts to feel really indulgent. I think Drabble fancied herself as the voice of the Queen, and Dr. Halliwell is supposed to be an avatar of her.  Because Drabble loves the Queen’s story, we are expected to love it too.

I think this would have been a much better novel if she had taken the Queen’s story and fleshed it out more completely. Her story was interesting enough to carry a novel all on its own.

Other reviews:

Kristina’s Book Blog » The Red Queen — Margaret Drabble
BookNAround: Sunday Salon: Review: The Red Queen by Margaret Drabble.
The Red Queen by Margaret Drabble | Book Reviews
Lotus Reads: The Red Queen by Margaret Drabble
Ace and Hoser Blook: The Red Queen by Margaret Drabbel

Page count: 348 (’11 total: 20,559) | Approximate word count:  120,044 (’11 total: 7,398,892)

2010: Heat Lightning (John Sandford)
2009: Courting Catherine (Nora Roberts)
2008: A Paragon of Virtue (Christian von Ditfurth)
2007: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid (Bill Bryson)
2006: Cruel and Unusual (Patricia Cornwell)
2005: Under the Banner of Heaven (Jon Krakauer)

2011: #74 – The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (John Boyne)

stripedpajamasBook #74 was The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. The back of the book reads:

Berlin 1942 – when Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance. But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.

This book is meant to be a fable, but I’m not sure it’s entirely successful. It is written in the voice of Bruno, the 9 year old son of a high-ranking Nazi officer, and that’s the part that didn’t work for me. Considering the audience and intentions of the author, I can forgive the historical inaccuracies (which I won’t detail here, because many others have said it better), but I can’t forgive the cute. Boyne gives Bruno a voice, vocabulary, and level of naivety  that is more appropriate for a 6 or 7 year old, and it just doesn’t ring true. And maybe I’ve just read too many Holocaust novels and memoirs, but "cute" nicknames for Hitler and Auschwitz don’t feel right to me. And the ending was so disappointingly expected,  it had no emotional impact on me at all.

It just all seemed really forced to me. I feel like the author had a message he wanted to get out — basically, "if you treat others badly, it will come back on you" — and he decided the best way to get attention would be to wrap it in the horrors of the Holocaust. It’s a marketing ploy, nothing more. And it worked! Can’t fault him for that.

I don’t think the book is entirely without merit. I think it could be useful in a classroom setting as an introduction to the Holocaust for young children. But only as an introduction, since the book is far from the reality of the situation.

There is much better Holocaust literature out there.

Other reviews:

The Wertzone: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
Review: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas « The Literary Omnivore
eclectic / eccentric: Book Review: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
The Boy In The Striped Pajamas by John Boyne « Book Journey
From the PIE list: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Page count: 224 (’11 total: 20,211) | Approximate word count: 44,800 (’11 total: 7,278,848)

2010: Smoke Screen (Sandra Brown)
2009: Fluke (Christopher Moore)
2008: The Face of a Stranger (Anne Perry)
2007: Love and War (John Jakes)
2006: Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
2005: Hornet Flight (Ken Follett)

2011: #73 – Dead Beat (Jim Butcher)

deadbeatBook #73 was Dead Beat, the seventh book in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. The back of the book reads:

Harry Dresden must save Chicago from black magic and necromancy — but first, he must locate the Word of Kemmler. Just as soon as he figures out what that is. It’s all in a day’s work for the city’s only professional wizard … assuming he can live to see the end of the day.

I listened to this WAY back around Halloween, when zombies were timely. Thankfully, there’s really no wrong time to listen to a Harry Dresden book.

When the book opens, Harry has found himself in a bit of a weird place in his life. His newly-discovered half-brother is still sleeping on his couch, one of his hands is essentially non-functional, and Murphy is jetting off to Hawaii with none other than the mercenary Kincaid. Harry is still dealing with that last piece of news when vampire queen Marva pays him a visit and saddles him with a nasty piece of blackmail: if Harry doesn’t find a mysterious book called the Word of Kemmler, Marva will frame Murphy for murder.

It’s hard to define what follows as anything other than a "romp". Harry is chased throughout the city by various unknown wizards and various undead things. With him is the medical examiner Waldo Butters, who is in danger because he has unwittingly learned too much. And they are on the clock, because the big bad is going down on Halloween. Harry once again is at the end of his rope and frankly, this ending is one of the most entertaining in the series.

I like to read about Harry’s personal life as much as his magical one, and I was glad that he had a bit of a love interest other than Murphy in this book (though he continues to feel conflicted about her). It’s too bad that his new lady wasn’t quite what she appeared to be.

I have especially enjoyed this series since I switched over to listening to the audiobooks. If this is a series you have been the slightest bit lukewarm about, I really recommend them.

Other reviews:

Fangs For The Fantasy: Review: Dead Beat by Jim Butcher, Book 7
Dead Beat (The Dresden Files) by Jim Butcher : Book Review
Bitten by Books » Dead Beat by Jim Butcher
What Cheesy Reads: Dead Beat by Jim Butcher

Audiobook length: 15 hrs 14 min | Word count: 144,413 (’11 total: 7,234,048)

2010: Metro Girl (Janet Evanovich)
2009: Naamah’s Kiss (Jacqueline Carey)
2008: Undead and Unwed (MaryJanice Davidson)
2007: Something From the Nightside (Simon R. Green)
2006: The Penultimate Peril (Lemony Snicket)
2005: Cause of Death (Patricia Cornwell)

2011: #72 – The Cut (George Pelecanos)

thecutBook #72 was The Cut, the first book in the Spero Lucas series by George Pelecanos. The back of the book reads:

Spero Lucas has a new line of work. Since he returned home after serving in Iraq, he has been doing special investigations for a defense attorney. He’s good at it, and he has carved out a niche: recovering stolen property, no questions asked. His cut is forty percent.

A high-profile crime boss who has heard of Lucas’s specialty hires him to find out who has been stealing from his operation. It’s the biggest job Lucas has ever been offered, and he quickly gets a sense of what’s going on. But before he can close in on what’s been taken, he tangles with a world of men whose amorality and violence leave him reeling. Is any cut worth your family, your lover, your life?

Spero Lucas is George Pelecanos’s greatest creation, a young man making his place in the world one battle and one mission at a time. The first in a new series of thrillers featuring Spero Lucas, The Cut is the latest confirmation of why George Pelecanos is "perhaps America’s greatest living crime writer." (Stephen King)

I’ve been a fan of Pelecanos ever since I found out he was one of the creators of The Wire (I’m surely not the first person to tell you to watch that show), and I actually liked this book a little more than the last couple of his I’ve read. It’s still set in the Washington D.C. area, which he does such a great job bringing to life, but it’s not so focused on an "issue".  I don’t mind a good issue-focused novel, but sometimes I just want a good crime story. Now don’t get me wrong; this crime story isn’t issue-free. Lucas is an Iraq veteran, and Pelecanos does have a lot to say about veterans and their post-war treatment. But at its heart, this is a story about drugs.

Lucas is a private investigator who specializes in finding things that are lost. He’s also not very particular about which side of the law he’s working on. When the client of a lawyer he normally works for needs some help recovering some "property", Lucas agrees to help. Soon he finds out that the story is much bigger than he could have imagined, and not only is he in danger, but people that have helped him are too.

I liked the character of Lucas. He’s an adopted kid in a mixed-race family, and I liked seeing those dynamics as much as I enjoyed seeing him in the weeds. It’s hard to dislike a man who loves his momma. There’s a strong theme of family relationships throughout the book, whether it’s Lucas and his family, the young man who helps him and his absentee mother, or the father & son crime duo.

I think one of Pelecanos’s strengths is his ability to create complex characters, and Spero Lucas is one I am anxious to read more about.

This book was a review copy.

Other reviews:

The Cut by George Pelecanos – Book Review | Milo’s Rambles
A Walrus Darkly: BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Cut’ by George Pelecanos
Booking Mama: Review: The Cut
Lesa’s Book Critiques: The Cut by George Pelecanos
a lovely shore breeze….: A Review of "The Cut" [58]

Page count: 304 (’11 total: 19,987) | Approximate word count: 91,200 (’11 total: 7,089,635)

2010: Tell Me Lies (Jennifer Crusie)
2009: Finger Lickin’ Fifteen (Janet Evanovich)
2008: The Finishing School (Michele Martinez)
2007: Lean Mean Thirteen (Janet Evanovich)
2006: The Sky is Falling (Sidney Sheldon)
2005: Jacob’s Ladder (Donald McCaig)

2011: #71 – Grave Secret (Charlaine Harris)

gravesecretBook #71 was Grave Secret, the fourth book in the Harper Connelly series by Charlaine Harris. The back of the book reads:

Lightning-struck sleuth Harper Connelly and her stepbrother Tolliver take a break from looking for the dead to visit the two little girls they both think of as family. But as they travel to Texas, memories of their horrible childhood resurface. Family secrets ensnare them both, as Tolliver learns his father is out of jail and Harper finally discovers what happened to her missing sister Cameron so many years before. And what she finds will change her world forever.

This is the final book in in the Harper Connelly series, and it’s more about Harper’s family than any sort of mystery. Not that Harper’s family isn’t already swallowed by the mystery of her sister Cameron’s disappearance. Harper and Tolliver take their budding (unconventional and unpopular) relationship to Texas to visit their little sisters, but an unfortunate incident means that they are going to be stuck there a while. Is someone after Harper? Or is Tolliver the target?

I thought Harris did a good job of wrapping up this series. Questions that have been unanswered for the previous 3 books are finally answered, and in ways that make sense but are also surprising. The only part that seemed a little too convenient was the seemingly unconnected hiring of Harper by some people with a tie to her past. This is one of Harris’s odder series, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I’m glad she wrote (what I think is) the final book and closed it out.

Other reviews:

Books Lists Life: Grave Secret by Charlaine Harris
Book Chick City: Audiobook Sunday: ‘Grave Secret’ by Charlaine Harris
“Grave Secret” by Charlaine Harris « Mike Finn’s Fiction
Grave Secret (Harper Connelly Mysteries, Book 4)
Rex Robot Reviews: Grave Secret by Charlaine Harris

Audiobook length: 9 hrs 55 min | Approximate word count: 72,000 (’11 total: 6,998,435)

2010: The Black Ice (Michael Connelly)
2009: Do Not Deny Me (Jean Thompson)
2008: Hold Tight (Harlan Coben)
2007: Mr. Perfect (Linda Howard)
2006: Just One Look (Harlan Coben)
2005: Secret Prey (John Sandford)

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