Banned Books Week September 25-October 2, 2010

There is less than a month to go until Banned Books Week. Plenty of time to help spread the word about intellectual freedom!

About Banned Books Week (from ala.org)

"Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.  Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States."
Do you want to help spread the word? The American Library Association has a Press Kit with promotion ideas, information, and graphics. 


Review: Burning Up by Susan Andersen

Format: Mass Market
Publisher: HQN
Pub Date: August 31, 2010
FTC: Digital galley received from publisher through Netgalley

The Blurb:

Though it's been years since the infamous Macy O'James stepped foot in Sugarville, Washington, everyone remembers what she supposedly did. The tiny town is still buzzing about her crime and lack of punishment.
Now back to lend her family a hand, Macy vows to hold her head high—especially at her high school reunion. But forget about the hottest man in Sugarville escorting her. Though she and fire chief Gabriel Donovan generate enough sparks to burn down the town, he's a law-abiding, line-toeing straight arrow. So not her type.
But maybe—just maybe—he can change her mind about that.

Burning Up , while not Andersen's best, is a fun novel to curl up with for an afternoon or two. The plot is a bit worn and predictable, but there were some stand-out moments and intriguing characters. [Also, as an FYI, the blurb makes this book sound like it's about a HS reunion. It's not.]

I really love the 'heading back to small town' theme. It's one of my favorites. Probably because I graduated from a small school and still live in a very small town. So getting me to buy into the "high school drama never ends" routine isn't that difficult. Because I've witnessed it.

I enjoyed Macy. Her character is one that could have easily drifted into the annoying zone, but she steered clear of it. Her clothes--costumes, really--are her armor that she uses to insulate herself from the slights and outright verbal attacks delivered by her high school nemeses. She dresses to attract attention and create controversy--which gives people a target to focus their antipathy on and deflects them from probing any deeper into her personality to find something ELSE to criticize. It's a game that helps Macy hold her head up under the constant onslaught of disapproval she finds in her hometown.


Review: All I Ever Wanted by Kristan Higgins

  • Pub. Date: July 2010
  • Publisher: Harlequin
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • ISBN-13: 9780373774586
While I enjoyed the conversational tone of the writing and the general levity found in the book, the characters just ruined this one for me. I couldn't plug in emotionally with either one of these characters. Or any of the secondary characters either.

Overly emotional characters generally bug me. And Callie seemed to border on bimbo-ish at various times throughout the novel. She is a drama queen. Her "emotional diarrhea" is constant. You know those people who are always in a state of crisis? Where everything that happens is "the end of the world as you know it?" Yeah. It's exhausting to interact with those people. And annoying. I don't think first person POV was a great choice here. Because undiluted Callie is grating.

Plus she's kind of emotionally pathetic and weak. Which I can't stand. At all. It's odd to mix that with a professional career woman who lives with her crotchety old grandfather. And her "relationship" with her boss is a bit creepy. Stalker girl creepy. Mark, her boss, is a grade-A ass, but she seems unable to cope in a way that feels normal to me.

Hump Day Classic Movie: Ladyhawke (1985)

Now that summer is waning and the kids are going back to school, it's time to shift our Hump Day movies from summer popcorn to classics. But, as you know, my definition of classic is pretty fluid. Today's movie is now 25 years old! That's at least a little vintage, right?

Ladyhawke is a fantasy film. Kind of a cross between medieval historical and paranormal, this movie has some well known actors: Rutger Hauer, Michelle Pfieffer, Matthew Broderick, and Alfred Molina.
Broderick is a bit of a show stealer here and provides much of the comic relief. Plus he looks SO young. 

The music for the film can be a bit distracting. It was composed by Andrew Powell and produced by Alan Parson and therefore is very Alan Parsons Project-y. Many think it dates the film (it does) but I also think it enhances the very 80s vibe that the film has. A traditional score might have turned this film into limp melodramatic movie.

This is a perfect movie for easing into the school year.


Cover Watch: Jeaniene Frost and Julia Quinn

Two new covers were unveiled today in widely different genres.

First, Jeaniene Frost has posted both the cover AND stepback for her February 2011 (*whine*) Cat and Bones story, This Side of the Grave. It's gorgeous! I love them both, although I'm undecided about Cat's dress.

Then Julia Quinn posted about her upcoming novel (written in 3 parts, along with Eloisa James and Connie Brockway) The Lady Most Likely... which releases December 28. I'm curious about how much I'll be able to tell who wrote what and how the authors' voices will mesh to make one novel instead of an anthology in the traditional sense.

Both are available for preorder through various online sites.

So what do you think? Are you excited about either of these two covers? Do you like them, hate them, or do they earn a big, fat meh? Any thoughts about the Julia Quinn/Brockway/James collaboration?

Edited to correct a typo

Review: The Panther's Lair by Esmerelda Bishop

Format: Ebook
Publisher: Carina
FTC: Book received for review from publisher

Generally, I like shifter romances or erotic short stories. But there is one common thing found in them that I just can't stand: the instant lust and 'you are my soul mate' routine. Maybe it's from OD-ing on Christine Feehan's Carpathian and Jaguar series but that plot device bugs the hell out of me. It's a shortcut to developing a relationship and allow for instant sex scenes. And I find it lazy.

Sydney goes to a club to find someone to have anonymous sex with. While there, she hooks up with the bar club's owner, Raimond. Her plans for no strings sex go awry quickly however when Raimond recognizes her as his mate and refuses to forget about Sydney.

Everything about this story just rubbed me the wrong way. It had some good parts, but the reliance on shortcuts and unappealing characters made this a below average read for me.

My Grade: C-


Review: Exclusively Yours by Shannon Stacey

Format: eBook
Publisher: Carina Press
FTC: Book received for review from the publisher

After hearing the rave reviews of this Carina title, I decided to give it a try. I was not disappointed. This has one of my favorite romantic tropes: the high school sweetheart hookup. Love, love, love it.

Here's the blurb:

When Keri Daniels' editor finds out she has previous carnal knowledge of reclusive bestselling author Joe Kowalski, she gives Keri a choice: get an interview or get a new job.

Joe's never forgotten the first girl to break his heart, so he's intrigued to hear Keri's back in town—and looking for him. Despite his intense need for privacy, he'll grant Keri an interview if it means a chance to finish what they started in high school.

He proposes an outrageous plan—for every day she survives with his family on their annual camping and four-wheeling trip, Keri can ask one question. Keri agrees; she's worked too hard to walk away from her career.

But the chemistry between them is still as potent as the bug spray, Joe's sister is out to avenge his broken heart and Keri hasn't ridden an ATV since she was ten. Who knew a little blackmail, a whole lot of family and some sizzling romantic interludes could make Keri reconsider the old dream of Keri & Joe 2gether 4ever.
I usually don't like books with multiple 'marriages in trouble' which add to the drama of the main relationship. Too often, it comes off as too women's fiction to me instead of romance. I like the focus to be on our primary couple. But Stacey pulls this one off just fine. The entire family is camping together, so it makes sense to have everyone witnessing problems in marriages up close. Plus, the focus only strays occasionally from the primary relationship.

 I was afraid that this book might hit one of my pet peeves: the journalist betrayal, but the author manages to side step that issue, too. Joe is aware at all times that Keri is working on a story. And that she intends to head back home to LA after she's finished. So any hurt feelings from that plan are not the result of betrayal.


Hump Day Summer Movie: The Fifth Element

Although this movie did well in worldwide gross ticket sales, I think it connected better with audiences outside the US. Maybe we take our sci fi too seriously here. Or maybe the international marketing team did a better job. Who knows?

Bottom line: The Fifth Element is filled with awesome. It is a modern day classic. And I think it was largely responsible for launching the sci-fi film career of model Milla Jovovich.

The cast is also filled with well known character actors. Although the entire film is filled with campy sci-fi goodness, there are a few standout performances.

Gary Oldman, of course, makes an incredibly unique villain. And you can see him reveling in what must be a well developed sense of the absurd. The southern accent and weird comb-over meets plastic plate thing on his head ? So funny.

Chris Tucker is a show stealer, too. His role as a futuristic radio personality whose style is man-whore meets cross dressing fop is so over the top it's classic. I dare you to watch this movie and not smile at his ensembles.

And lastly, there's the musical performance of the "Diva." The diva was portrayed by two people: one for the physical part, another for the voice. The song was performed by Albanian Inva Mula (according to Wikipedia) but I am still astonished by how unique the look and sound of that performance is. I can't think of anything even close. The aria is from Lucia di Lammermoor, followed by a song only identified as "The Diva Dance." That song is the one I found so remarkable. A mix of operatic singing and a more modern beat.

This is sci-fi comedy at its best. It doesn't take itself too seriously, doesn't overwhelm with the special effects, and does a pretty decent job at being entertaining.


Review: Twice Tempted by a Rogue by Tessa Dare

Pub Date: June 2010
ISBN: 9780345518873
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Length: 363 pages

The second installment in the Stud Club trilogy by Tessa Dare takes place far from glitz and glamor of London. Twice Tempted by a Rogue opens with Rhys St. Maur (the hulking Lord Ashworth from the previous novel, One Dance with a Duke) journeying home to visit his ancestral estate--now in ruins.

Tessa Dare's writing is so expressive and rich. So many romances, both historical and contemporary, seem to take setting for granted. Tessa Dare doesn't use shortcuts. She uses language to totally immerse the reader in the world and the characters. It's so vivid, sometimes I feel as if I'm watching a movie rather than reading.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,  I will fear no evil... 
He’d been walking through this valley for a long, long time. Trod so far into death’s shadow he’d felt his feet turning to dust in his boots, the breath in his lungs burning acrid as sulfur. A living ghost, that’s what he was. He’d returned from war to a newly inherited barony, and his sole duty now was to haunt the English aristocracy.”
There's no question that Rhys has struggled with a death wish, tied to childhood trauma and abuse. And his journey home to visit the ruins of his ancestral estate is both an attempt to gain some form of closure with his past and an acknowledgment that no matter how much he would like to die, fate has other plans for him.


What the Heck is EDGE coverage for Kindle?

I've been quite vocal about my irritation with Amazon and their Kindle device. Mainly because it runs on the Sprint network. And the Sprint network is practically non-existent in the rural, mountain west.

But, you say, the coverage map shows a much larger coverage area using EDGE wireless.

But what the heck is EDGE?

According to the AT&T guy I spoke with yesterday, EDGE is a wireless network acquired during the purchase of the small wireless carrier back in the late 1990s. And, according to a few sources, I have discovered the answer to the question that has thus far prevented my purchasing a Kindle: Just how fast (or slow) is the EDGE coverage compared to 3G Sprint?

The answer? It's about 1/6th as fast. When it's working at top speed.

Which means that it might take a few minutes to download your book instead of the 60 seconds or less Amazon's advertising focuses on. Books are relatively small files, so that's good news for download speed.

Still better than being chained to your home network via wi-fi. Still better than trying to find a hotspot. Trust me, if you live in an area without 3G, hotspots are rare. And definitely better than having to download to your computer first then transfer to your Kindle.

(Yes, I know, there is a Kindle wi-fi only version, but the ability to buy books on the go --away from the often elusive hotspots-- is a large part of the appeal of the device for me.)

So...am I going to break down and buy a Kindle? I'm still undecided. The idea of spending that much money on a device that is vulnerable to my klutzy, accident prone kids sends shivers down my spine. A ruined mass market will cost me about $8 to replace. A ruined Kindle? *shudder*

But at least I know that the wireless capability of a Kindle IS available for most of my area. Even if it works at a fraction of the speed urban readers experience.


Cookbook Review: Maran Illustrated Bartending

I'm not a big drinker, but when I do drink it's always a cocktail (I can't stand beer or wine). Making them at home used to be intimidating. And cocktail books didn't seem to help, because you had to know the name of the drink you were looking for before you tried to find the recipe.

All of that changed when I bought the Maran Illustrated Bartending book. It's made for cocktail novices and just filled with pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. And organized by drink type AND main alcohol ingredient. Which makes browsing through it to find something you can make with ingredients you have on hand a breeze.

This has all of the classics. Martinis, Cosmos, Cape Cods...even shot recipes. And it has a primer at the beginning to explain different types of alcohols, bar equipment, and methods. Even garnishes.

I bought another copy for my best friend--who frequently hosts parties for her coworkers--and she swears by it now, too.

There's even a non-alcoholic section that has virgin versions of popular drinks.

This is the best beginning cocktail book I've ever seen. And the most useful. I highly recommend it for anyone who would like to start making cocktails at home.


Hump Day Summer Movie: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

Yeah, I know everyone just loved the TV series, Buffy. But me? I never really got into it. Not really sure why. And I think the movie that spawned the series has been seriously underrated for a long, long time.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, released in 1992, starred Kristy Swanson alongside some serious cinematic icons: Rutger Hauer and Donald Sutherland. It also starred Luke Perry and David Arquette. But what makes this film a summer movie pick for me is what I consider the best death scene ever. I mean ever. Paul Reubens (of PeeWee Herman fame) has the most hilarious role in this movie.


Review: Sea of Suspicion by Toni Anderson

Format: ebook
Publisher: Carina Press
FTC Disclaimer: Book received from author for review

The Blurb:

Marine biologist Susie Cooper traded her life in America for a dream job on the rugged Scottish coast. Now all she lacks is the right man to start a family with. After their first meeting, she knows sexy Detective Inspector Nick Archer isn't what she's looking for. He's the type of guy whose idea of commitment is staying the whole night.

Nick has returned to St. Andrews for one reason only—to fulfill his vow to find his wife's killer. Relentless in his twelve-year quest for justice, he has no problem using Susie to get close to his primary suspect: her boss. But the passion between them smolders, and as it ignites, Nick finds himself torn between his past and his present—with Susie.

When one of her boss's students is murdered, Nick's investigation draws Susie into a web of madness and betrayal. They will have to learn to trust each other if they're going to catch a killer...and come out of this alive.

Sea of Suspicion is definitely different from anything else I've read in the romance or romantic suspense genres lately. It has a distinctly British flair--just filled with idioms that scream 'from the UK'.  And while the British slang occasionally threw me out of the narrative, it also helped cement the believability of our hero, Nick Archer, a Detective Inspector working in the area of the Gatty--a world renown research facility in Scotland.

I found the mystery aspects compelling and enjoyed all of the characters. But at times, it seemed as if the story was overwhelmed with marine biology and research details that bordered on info dumping. There's no doubt that the author knows her stuff, and that someone with a Ph.d (our heroine) would think in technical terms while dealing with her job, but the Susie's thoughts seemed a bit too clinical for a romance novel. Almost as if she were composing a journal article or giving a lecture than thinking to herself.

The primary mystery surrounding the deaths of Archer's wife and the most recent death of a research assistant were very well done, compelling and suspenseful. Too often, I figure out who did what halfway through the novel, but this one kept me guessing.

The dialogue between Nick and Susie is snappy and often funny.

"One of these days you're going to admit you're attracted--"
"When hell freezes over."
"Temperature is dropping. The devil's wearing thermals."
Susie's focus on permanence seemed a bit odd to me. I know many women in science professions are forced to postpone having a family until their careers are established, but it seemed weird to have Susie so focused on "a relationship, a future, and a family" at the very beginning of exploring her attraction to Nick.

I really enjoyed how unique and refreshing this book was. I'm a big fan of BBC mysteries, but can't recall watching one set in modern day Scotland. And I know I've never read a suspense novel set there.
I would recommend this book for fans of mysteries or suspense novels with romantic elements. The Scottish setting and British language set this book apart from others of its kind.

My Grade: B-

Sea of Suspicion is available in ebook format only and can be purchased directly through Carina, at BN.com, and other ebook retailers.


Dorchester to be an ePublisher?

Rumors about the financial health of Dorchester have been swirling for over a year now. The RWA (Romance Writers of America) pulled the publisher's status at their convention right before it started amid rumors of late or missing royalty payments to authors. Today, Publisher's Weekly confirmed that Dorchester is no longer going to be a mass market publisher. They are going to be an ebook publisher with Print on Demand (POD) trade paperbacks being available months after a digital release.

You can read that article here.

There are some (including myself) who think this is a last ditch effort to save the company and is unlikely to work. It smacks more than just a little bit of desperation. And there are already several established ebook only publishers with a foothold in the growing market.

Authors who expected to have print copies of their books on bookstore shelves are scrambling to find out what this means for their future. And authors with backlist through Dorchester are scouring their contracts to discover just how meager their ebook royalty rates will be.

Something that hasn't received a lot of attention is this line, buried mid-way through the article:

"Dorchester will continue to do print copies for its book club business."
Dorchester has a direct mail business similar to Harlequin and Kensington. Once a month, readers have a selection of new titles mailed directly to them. Now whether those books will remain mass markets at mass market prices remains to be seen. I'm hoping that they will, because otherwise Dorchester will be unable to keep up with the mass book club cancellations.


Kathy Reichs: Book Watch

Ok, I admit to being a couple of books behind in this series. But I love Tempe Brennan. I love Bones, too, but as those familiar with both the books and the series know, they have nothing in common besides the main character's name and profession.

Spider Bones, the 13th! installment in the Temperance Brennan series, is being released in hardcover in just a few weeks (August 24th).

I'm a big fan of the audiobook versions narrated by Barbara Rosenblat (produced by Recorded books, not the awful ones produced by Simon and Schuster).  Audible only carries the icky S&S versions for the most part, though. And while I love Recorded Books, their audiobooks are (how do I put this politely?) outrageously freaking expensive. The CD version is available for preorder on their site for $92.75.

The Kindle price is currently set at $12.99. Too expensive for me right now.  So I'll likely be picking this book up in hardcover or waiting until I can find a used copy of the audio.

You can preorder the hardcover at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Book Depository or your favorite local indie.


Review: Eternal Kiss of Darkness by Jeaniene Frost

Publisher: Avon/Harper Collins
Pub Date: July 27, 2010
Pages: 361
ISBN: 9780061783166

Color me surprised, but I didn't expect to like this one. Mencheres has always seemed--well--old every time he appeared in the Cat and Bones series. But since we've only seen him described from Cat's point of view, it stands to reason that there might be more to him than meets the eye.

And he is ancient. No doubt about that. Scary, too.

But Frost was able to not only counter my preconceived notions of how he would act and what he would do--she made me love him more than just a little bit.

As with the previous book in the "Night Huntress World," this one is told in the 3rd person--instead of the 1st person narration found in the Cat and Bones stories.

What made this one work a bit better for me than the Spade's book (although I enjoyed that one, too) was the fact that this is not a damsel in distress story. Not really. This book is about Mencheres. His past, present, and future. And about his realization that even after thousands of years, life can still surprise him.

We get a few cameos from other characters, but they remain firmly on the sidelines of the story. And I adored the heroine, Kira. She's just an incredibly solid person who had some bad things happen to her both personally and professionally. But she doesn't whine about it. She learns from it and moves on.  Even her borderline TSTL moves that endangers her life  make moral sense for her. She just doesn't have the information she needs to avoid getting into trouble.

My Grade: A-

You can pick up your copy at Amazon , Bn.com, Borders.com, Book Depository, Books a Million

Hump Day Summer Movie: The Phantom (1996)

[Photo: ©]

Oh how I love cheesy comicbook movies.  Especially when it involves really buff guys prancing around in skintight costumes. And Billy Zane was scorching hot in this movie.

The film also stars Kristy Swanson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Patrick McGoohan and Treat Williams.

Aside from the funny as hell cheesiness this movie embodies, the settings and photography are just gorgeous. But, honestly, I watch it to drool over Billy's abs. *sigh*

I always thought they did a great job with the tongue-in-cheek nods to the early Phantom serials. And Treat Williams's over the top performance is not to be missed.