Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher

Book: Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher

Series: Book One of the Codex Alera


Extras: None

Plot (Goodreads):For a thousand years, the people of Alera have united against the aggressive and threatening races that inhabit the world, using their unique bond with the furies - elementals of earth, air, fire, water, and metal. But now, Gaius Sextus, First Lord of Alera, grows old and lacks an heir. Ambitious High Lords plot and maneuver to place their Houses in positions of power, and a war of succession looms on the horizon.

Far from city politics in the Calderon Valley, the boy Tavi struggles with his lack of furycrafting. At fifteen, he has no wind fury to help him fly, no fire fury to light his lamps. Yet as the Alerans' most savage enemy - the Marat - return to the Valley, he will discover that his destiny is much greater than he could ever imagine.
Caught in a storm of deadly wind furies, Tavi saves the life of a runaway slave named Amara. But she is actually a spy for Gaius Sextus, sent to the Valley to gather intelligence on traitors to the Crown, who may be in league with the barbaric Marat horde. And when the Valley erupts in chaos - when rebels war with loyalists and furies clash with furies - Amara will find Tavi's courage and resourcefulness to be a power greater than any fury - one that could turn the tides of war

My four-sentence or less take on the plot: Tavi is a 15-year-old boy who is essentially stunted by his lack of power to control the elements (furies). He stumbles in to a treacherous plot to kill the First Lord (a sort of King, I gather) and, along with his aunt and uncle and a few other assorted characters, must try to avert (or win) a war.


What worked: Jim Butcher is an amazing writer. I could go on for hours about how much I love the Dresden Files. His excellent writing made this book readable for me--his characters were slightly one dimensional (to be expected in the first of a series) but likable and the action was exciting. The book was fast-paced and kept my interest.

What didn't: I don't like high fantasy books. I never have. I hate talking animals, distant worlds, made up languages, and entire chapters filled with description of a far-away world. To be fair, "Furies of Calderon" really didn't include any of those pet peeves, it's almost more of an alternate history (with a few animals that don't exist in this world--well,that and the furies). Still, there are plenty of swords and horses, like any good epic fantasy. The good are good and the evil are certainly evil, with very little crossover. I have never read a high fantasy book I've liked.

So why did I read this book? For the "To-be-read challenge". I realized recently that March was almost finished and I hadn't read a single book on my list. I don't do well with these books, I kept imagining that the strong and savage Marats looked like JarJar Binks, even though they are certainly never described that way. None of my problems with the book are fair, I just really don't like the genre. Back to the Dresden Files for me! I don't even feel I should be scoring this book.

Keep reading?
Sure. So many of my friends have told me that they love this series that I want to have read it too.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sink Trap by Christy Evans

Sink Trap by Christy Evans

Series: A Georgiana Neverall Mystery


Extras: "Top ten tools for most home repairs"

Plot (Goodreads):Former corporate drone Georgiana Neverall loves her new occupation as a plumber's apprentice, but is a bit surprised when she finds the favorite brooch of Martha Tepper, the town's former librarian, clogging a sink. Georgiana has a sinking feeling that Martha may have been retired permanently-and suddenly it's up to a plumber's apprentice to flush out a killer.

My four-sentence or less take on the plot: After Georgie's high-powered computer security job dissolves, she moves back to her hometown to become a plumber (much to her mother's dismay). When Georgie finds a brooch while unclogging a sink, she becomes worried that the brooch's owner might have been subject to foul play so she (of course) goes investigating the mystery by herself. Between dodging her overbearing mother and trying to learn a new job, Georgie has a full plate.


What worked: I thought the plumbing theme was a novel (hehe!) concept. I liked the plumbing tips. Georgie was an interesting character and I thought she reacted well to the challenges of her new profession (like sexism).

What didn't:
It was spectacularly obvious who the crooks were from about the second chapter. Georgie got kind of annoying with her constant suspicion of the same couple of people, for no real reason (ie Greg, her mother's boyfriend). I also am getting a little sick of the "I moved away when I was "important" and ignored all my friends but now I'm back, accepted, and enjoying my small town" trope. Honestly, I wouldn't be a fraction as understanding about my friend totally ignoring me for years and then wanting to be besties again when their life imploded and they moved back.

Keep reading?

Diva Las Vegas by Eileen Davidson

Book: Diva Las Vegas by Eileen Davidson

Series: A Soap Opera Mystery


Extras: None

Plot (Goodreads):Alexis Peterson is delighted when her friend, ex-Playboy Playmate Shana Stern, invites her to Hugh Hefner's infamous Halloween party. But the fun ends when, after a few drinks, Shana is found dead. Alex's investigation leads ger to a soap opera convention in Las Vegas, and bodies continue to pile up on the strip. She must catch this killer who is more vicious than any television critic..

My four-sentence or less take on the plot: Soap opera star Alexis Peterson is surprised when her old friend, ex-playmate Shana Stern, invites her to the Playboy Halloween party. Of course, with this being a cozy, the friend is murdered almost immediately. Alex decides it's up to her to solve the mystery while simultaneously getting more serious with her new love interest.


What worked: I'll admit, I love this series. Alexis is a great character and the insight into the soap opera industry and soap opera conventions is terrific. The side characters are extremely well-rounded and interesting.

What didn't: It's apparently the last in the series! No! That's actually really annoying because the book ends on a solid cliffhanger including Alex's ex-husband.

Keep reading?
Absolutely! I love this series. I hope the rumor that it is over is wrong.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Romance Sunday! Absolutely, Positively by Heather Webber

Book: Absolutely, Positively by Heather Webber

Series: Book 3 in the Lucy Valentine series

Extras? No

Published: 2011

Plot (Goodreads):

“Exposed” by a Boston Herald reporter, Lucy is suddenly the talk of the town. Long back-story short: Even though the rest of her Valentine ancestors were blessed by Cupid with psychic abilities, Lucy’s only special power lies in her ability to find things. This skill has proven quite a blessing for those who come to her matchmaking agency in search of finding their long-lost loves. Now that Lucy’s secret is out, she has more new clients than she knows what to do with. But soon a certain man of mystery steals Lucy’s spotlight…

No, it’s not Sean Donahue, the sexy fireman-turned-private-eye who’s stolen Lucy’s heart. It’s a masked man in a cowboy hat, dubbed “The Lone Ranger,” who’s been throwing handfuls of cash across the Common. Now all of Beantown’s abuzz. Can Lucy unmask the mysterious money man, track down all her clients’ old flames, and turn up the heat on her love life? Absolutely, positively…

My four-sentence or less take on the plot: Lucy Valentine works in her family's matchmaking office even though she doesn't possess the family ability to make matches through seeing auras. Lucy is able to find lost objects, which has led to a business reuniting lost loves. In this book, Lucy and her boyfriend Sean are hired to find a client's teenage love who may be a career criminal while also trying to solve a mystery of a man who disappeared while walking his dog. On top of all the other threads, there is a masked man who is throwing out cash to the general public.

Rating: 9+

What worked: I love this series. The mysteries were interesting, the romances were romantic, and the characters were likable and intriguing. Even the peripheral characters are well-rounded. Give this series a shot, you won't be disappointed.

I'm sort of cheating here because this book is definitely a romance novel mixed with a cozy mystery (the best of both worlds!). In my local bookstore, the first two books in this series are in the mystery section while this book was in the general fiction section, which proves it's a genre-bender. Heather Webber used to write a truly amazing cozy series about a surprise gardening business, so I'm a big-time fan.

What didn't: Everything worked! I love this series.

Keep reading? Absolutely, positively :)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Non-Fiction Ninth--We Bought a Zoo by Benjamin Mee

Book: We Bought a Zoo by Benjamin Mee

Series: Nope! A memoir

Extras? No

Published: 2008

Plot (Goodreads):
The house hunt of author Benjamin Mee and his wife, Katherine, ended with an unusual, even bizarre solution: The pair decided to move into a ramshackle zoo in the English countryside. Mee had a degree in psychology and specializes in animal behavior, but not even he could have imagined the complexities of holding sway over more than 200 exotic animals. Almost immediately, the project of reopening the zoo as a family business ran into financial -- and four-footed -- obstacles. Then a major tragedy broke: Katherine's brain tumor recurred and she died at the age of 40. Through it all, the family persevered, and in July 2007, the zoo reopened under Mee management. A bittersweet story about creatures sharing one another's company.

My four-sentence or less take on the plot: Benjamin Mee and his family decide an extremely run down zoo (so run down that the animals are going to be quickly euthanized if a buyer isn't found). The zoo provides an extreme amount of both enjoyment and difficulty. During this time, Mee runs in to personal tragedy when his beloved wife gets diagnosed with brain cancer. This book deals with a lot of the nitty gritty business details of the buying and opening of a zoo.

Rating: 8

What worked:I really liked the book. The subject was interesting, Benjamin Mee has a great voice, and there was a surprising amount of conflict in the book (Will they get the money to buy the zoo? Will the zoo open on time--or at all? Will Mee's wife recover from her illness?). I liked Mee's family and his employees. Most importantly, I liked Mee himself, which is vital in a memoir.
What didn't: I would have liked more pictures of the farm and family in the picture insert. I also would have liked to hear more about the other animals at the zoo--Mee mostly talks about the big cats. Also, be prepared Mee's wife's brain cancer--it's extremely, extremely sad.

Would I recommend the book to someone who hates non-fiction? I would recommend this book to anyone interested in zoos. It's an interesting and easy read. I'm looking forward to seeing the movie and loaning this book out to the Significant Other and my mom. A lot of other reviewers on Goodreads seem to think that it was told in a very amateur style and was jumbled but I think that's pretty par for the course with first time memoirs, so it didn't bother me.

Have you ever read this book? Were you blown away? Or have you seen the television series? Are you excited about the upcoming movie that stars Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson? They've changed the location to Southern California.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Defending Angels (2008), Angel's Advocate (2009), and Avenging Angels (2010) by Mary Stanton

Books: Defending Angels (2008), Angel's Advocate (2009), and Avenging Angels (2010) by Mary Stanton

Series: A Beaufort and Company Mystery

Extras: None

Plot (Goodreads):
Defending Angels:
With a long list of ethereal clients who need her help, Savannah lawyer Brianna Winston Beaufort's career choice is beginning to haunt her. An already dead businessman needs Bree's help to find his murderer and prove his innocence against the charge of greed, which comes from the mightiest hand of the law, the Celestial Court. And the verdict in this case could put Bree's life on the line-as well as her client's afterlife

Angel's Advocate:
Money's been tight ever since Bree Winston Beaufort inherited Savannah's haunted law firm Beaufort & Company along with its less-than-angelic staff. But she's finally going to tackle a case that pays the bills representing a spoiled girl who stole someone's Girl Scout cookie money. But soon enough she finds that her client's departed millionaire father needs help too. Can she help an unsavory father/daughter duo and make a living off of the living?

Avenging Angels:
Law school hasn't prepared Bree to appeal cases for the dead. After inheriting her great-uncle's haunted law firm, she must now represent ex-banker O'Rourke, who supposedly killed himself after losing a fortune. But with a merry widow and evidence mounting, it's beginning to look like murder. So Bree and her team of angels begin to investigate. But Bree soon discovers that someone would rather see her deceased than debriefed.

My four-sentence or less take on the plot: Much to Briana Winston-Beaufort's surprise, the law firm she inherits from her great-uncle deals with celestial matters (mortals can't even find the building). While trying to balance the pieces of a normal life (her family, her mortal law clients, trying to date) and the haunted law firm, she is forced to solve crimes for her clients.

Rating: B

What worked: Bree is likable, as are all of her employees and friends. She reacts in a realistic way to most of her situations and the mysteries are interesting. I didn't figure any of the whodunits out before the end of the book, which is always a huge plus. The angel aspect is interesting and different.

What didn't: The whole "evil in the graveyard" thing and the haunted painting isn't working for me. I'm confused by it (feel free to explain it to me, readers!). I also don't understand why a lawyer is doing so much private investigation.

Keep reading? Yes but not at full price

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Buttercream Bump Off by Jenn McKinley

Book: Buttercream Bump Off by Jenn McKinley

Series: A Cupcake Bakery Mystery


Extras: Recipes including Kiss Me Cupcakes, Mint Buttercream frosting, Orange Dreamsicle Cupcakes, Vanilla Buttercream Frosting, Cupid's Bliss Cupcakes, White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting, Raspberry Syrup, and Moonlight Madness Cupcakes

Plot (Goodreads):
Melanie Cooper and Angie DeLaura's Fairy Tale Cupcakes bakery is gearing up for Valentine's Day. Unfortunately someone has iced Baxter Malloy on his first date with Mel's mother. Now Mom's a suspect, and Mel and Angie need to find time around frosting to dig into the man's shady past and discover who served him his just desserts.

My four-sentence or less take on the plot: Best friends Mel and Angie (along with their friend Tate) own a cupcake bakery. Mel's mother goes on her first date in years and, in an unlucky twist, her date is killed with her pantyhose on the date. Mel knows her mother didn't do it and must prove she is innocent. And, of course, the relationship turmoil between Angie/Tate/Angie's brother Joe/Mel and a new admirer.

Rating: B-

What worked: I liked seeing Mel's interaction with her mom. The sections with their rival cupcake owner, Olivia Pickett, were always funny.

What didn't: The constant and never-ending movie quotes. I know some people probably love these, I found them amazingly obnoxious. A few, fine. Almost every page? Come on. If I knew someone that talked this way in real life I would serious limit my time with them. The characters were less fleshed out than they were in the first book and I felt they were less likable.

Keep reading? I will give the series another chance to fold (haha!) me back in.

Town in a Blueberry Jam by B.B. Haywood

Book: Town in a Blueberry Jam by B.B. Haywood

Series: A Candy Holliday Murder Mystery

Extras? Recipes including Candy Holliday's Blueberry Whipped Cream, Herr Georg's Bavarian Blueberry Pretzels, Blueberry Lemon Shortbread, and Blueberry Gingerbread

Published: 2010

Plot (Goodreads):

In the seaside village of Cape Willington, Maine, Candy Holliday has an idyllic life tending to the Blueberry Acres farm she runs with her father. But, when an aging playboy and the newly crowned Blueberry Queen are killed, Candy investigates to clear the name of a local handyman. And as she sorts through the town's juicy secrets, things start to get sticky indeed...

My four-sentence or less take on the plot: Candy Holliday is a blueberry farmer with her father in the small town of Cape Willington, Maine. An unprecedented two murders occur back to back, shocking the town, and casting suspicion on one of Candy's friends. Candy decides to investigate the mystery to clear her friend and gets a love interest and a second job along the way.

Rating: 8

What worked: As an intro to a new series, this was a great start. A lot of interesting, bizarre characters were introduced (always a good idea in a cozy), the blueberry theme was interesting and different (I knew nothing about blueberry production), and the backstory was believable. The mystery was solid and there were several twists and turns along the way. Plus the Blueberry Queen pageant is a hilarious trainwreck that anyone who has ever been to a small "Queen" pageant will totally get.

What didn't: It was a solid book, it just had some growing pains. I wasn't attached to any of the characters yet, which is the reason I always think first books in a series are usually weaker than the rest. So many mysteries seem to have that "girl moved to big city, failed, and moves to the country" theme that it's getting a bit old for me.

Keep reading? Yes

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Howl Deadly and Never Say Sty by Linda O. Johnston

Book: Howl Deadly and Never Say Sty by Linda O. Johnston

Series: Book 7 and 8 in the Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter Mysteries

Published: Both in 2009

Plot of "Never Say Sty" (Goodreads):

Already an L.A. attorney and pet-sitter, Kendra’s taken on a third job, masterminding a new reality show called “Animal Auditions.” But things get messier than the show’s pot-bellied pigs when her hot new producer is suspected of murder.

My four-sentence or less take on the plot: Kendra, both a pet-sitter and a lawyer specializing in animal cases, is involved in the new potbellied pigs-based reality show "Animal Auditions". When a judge is killed and a couple of Kendra's friends are implicated, she is pulled back in to detective work. Additionally, a wealthy animal-lover, Dante DeFrancisco, is introduced as both a suspect and a love interest.

Rating: 7

Plot of "Howl Deadly" (Goodreads):

Kendra's weekend getaway with gorgeous millionaire Dante DeFrancisco turns chilling when a mother she-wolf goes missing from Dante's pet sanctuary. Now Kendra must find her-along with a killer hiding right before her eyes.

My four-sentence or less take on the plot: Kendra and Dante are heading out for vacation when they get word that a wolf is missing from Dante's rescue society. Kendra suspects everyone of the crime, including the HotRescue workers, Dante's best friend Brody, and Dante himself. Even though I only read this a couple of weeks ago, I'm having trouble remembering details (not a good sign).

Rating: 6

What worked: I'm a big fan of the Kendra Ballantyne mysteries. I like Kendra. She is a smart go-getter who makes realistic decisions. She gets drawn into mysteries in a realistic way (as realistic as cozy mysteries get) and I like all of her pet-sitting charges, along with all of the recurring characters (and there are a lot of recurring characters--two law firms worth of lawyers, all of her pet sitting and law clients, police officers, etc.). The books are interesting and have a great pace, plus I like the details about the animals.

What didn't: I actually like these two books the least of the series. I think it's partially because I don't like the character of Dante DeFrancisco and I think Kendra dramatically overreacted in ending her last relationship with Shiba Inu-owning private detective Jeff. I know the whole "HotRescue" "HotPets" "HotWildlife" thing was started partially to tie-in to Johnston's other series about a HotRescue worker but I just found it bland. I hope Kendra kicks Dante to the curb and gets back to her roots of pet sitting soon.

Keep reading? Absolutely and hope to try the new series soon.

Question for you: Who do you like better--Dante or Jeff? Any opinion?

Sucker Punch and Goody Goody Gunshots by Sammi Carter

Book: Sucker Punch and Goody Goody Gunshots

Series: A Candy Shop Mystery

Published: Sucker Punch (2009) and (Goodreads) plot:

Divinity Candy Shop owner Abby Shaw is enjoying her sweet life, until her friend is suspected of killing an actor. Now, Abby is determined to clear her name--before her new found happiness is totally fudged.

Goody Goody Gunshots (2008) and (Goodreads) plot:
No visit to Paradise, Colorado, is complete without a stop at Divinity candy shop for a little taste of heaven. For owner Abby Shaw, it's a sweet deal, too. When her aunt Grace passed away, Abby inherited Divinity--and with it the opportunity to leave her career as a corporate lawyer and dump her cheating husband. Now she spends her time serving up delectable treats--and performing the occasional deductive feat...

When Abby Shaw witnesses a stranger being gunned down on the highway, she's convinced she's seen a murder. Problem is, there's no body. But days later, when a body does turn up, wishy-washy witnesses make things sticky. Even elbow-deep in hot syrup, Abby is determined to find out the truth. And it's not as if she can take her sweet time figuring it out--she's busy running Divinity, training a new employee, and helping coach her nephews' basketball team. Not to mention that nosing around for too long could get her killed...

Extras: Candy recipes

My four-sentence or less take on the series: Abby came back to the Colorado small mountain town where she grew up to run her beloved great-aunt's candy shop. While back in town, she stumbles in to mysteries and trouble, as every cozy protagonist seems to do.

Rating: (For the series) B

What worked: Abby is very likable. I like her relationship with her family (troubled and realistic), her friends (hurt that she moved away but coming back to the fold), her employees (she likes some of them more than others, like in real life), her boyfriend (commitment issues!), and her adorable dog. She makes more good choices than bad (calls for backup, doesn't accuse everyone she thinks is guilty right off the bat)/

What didn't: The series started slow for me. I thought the first book in the series, Candy Apple Dead, was a little boring, and I only kept with the series because I had the rest of them. I'm glad I did.

Keep reading? Absolutely, but I don't know if they are still being published.