March 2008

This is the second book in the Jacqueline Kirby series although the POV character is Thomas Carter who has romantic designs on Jacqueline.

Thomas invites Jacqueline to England and to meeting of a club of Richard III enthusiasts. The club’s leader has apparently managed to get his hands on a letter which exonerates the king from his bad reputation. Sir Richard Weldon, the club’s leader, has gathered the club to his country estate for the weekend to dress-up as Richardian characters and to listen to each other present something about their favorite subject. On Sunday, Sir Richard intends to reveal the letter to the press and to the club members.

All of the members seem to be quite quirky themselves and made even more so when their obsession over Richard III takes them over. However, when one of them is found in the cellar unconscious and wine all over him to simulate a knife wound, Jacqueline starts to suspect that something else is going on. When the vicious practical joker starts to prey on others, too, the Richardians start to see that something is wrong.

This book is a lot of fun! It has lots of strange and quirky characters, and the least of them isn’t Jacqueline herself. I was a bit disappointed that Jacqueline wasn’t the POV character, but Thomas plays quite a good Watson to Jacqueline’s Holmes. The ending is surprising, too.

The book starts with a history lesson about Richard III and it might seem boring. However, it’s necessary if you don’t know much about the subject and intend to fully enjoy the book.

This is probably what is called a court-house thriller although the whole thing doesn’t happen in a court-house. Especially the first half moves fast. It’s quite funny, too.

Steven Solomon and Victoria Lord are lawyers. The wily and experienced Solomon is defending his client who is accused of smuggling exotic animals and by-the-book Lord is just starting her career as a prosecutor. They are both in jail for contempt and the smitten Solomon is trying to flirt with Lord who couldn’t care less. After a while, they are brought back to the judge and Lord’s boss, the State Attorney Pincher, fires her. Lord’s well-planned future collapses. Even her fiancée doesn’t seem to understand.

Shortly, the rich and famous Katrina Barksdale is accused of murdering her far older husband during kinky sex. Because Lord knows her, Solomon thinks that he and Lord can become partners and represent Barksdale together. However, Lord doesn’t want that and refuses. So, Solomon thinks on his feet again and arrives to Barksdale’s place before Lord and claims to Mrs. Barksdale that he is Lord’s partner. Because Lord doesn’t want to seem like a flake, she agrees to work with Solomon just this once. Soon enough they are embroiled up to their ears in the murder case and also another case.

On the surface, Solomon seems to be a slimy, self-serving lawyer who will take any client who can just pay. On the surface Victoria Lord is the wealthy daughter of a fabulous socialite. On the surface she’s engaged to a perfect man; Bruce Bigby who owns a huge avocado farm and is a truly nice guy. None of these assumptions are true.

Solomon, who is the main point-of-view character, is a warm-hearted and caring man whose outward jerkiness is just an act (mostly). He takes on a lot of pro bono-cases and his measure of success is not money but happiness. He also looks after his mentally challenged nephew whom he had to steal from his drug-addled mother, Solomon’s sister, who kept the ten-year-old boy in a dog cage in a shed on his underwear. Unfortunately, Solomon is not Bobby’s legal guardian and now the Child Services are trying to take the boy away to an institution. This is the second legal case in the book.

Lord’s mother is a socialite but she lives from the wealth of her many boyfriends. Lord dresses stylishly but from clothes she has bought from thrift store to hide the fact that she lives from a pay check to pay check. She’s a very rigid and tightly wound person in contrast to the easygoing manners of Solomon. Lord is the second POV character.

Her engagement isn’t as happy as it seems, either. Her fiancée is a vegan and has demanded that she is also. However, Lord likes meat and she eats it secretly. Also, Bigby puts avocado in every meal he prepares or orders. Lord is allergic to avocado and just never got around to telling Bigby because it would hurt his feelings. While these can seem to be minor things, it definitely bothered me that she couldn’t even talk about such minor things with him. Bigby has also decided that after they are married Lord will be his company’s lawyer. She seems less than thrilled with this but is going along with it. All in all, when the inevitable love triangle rears its ugly head Bigby suddenly doesn’t look such a catch after all.

The first half of the book is quite engrossing: lots of witty and funny banter, fast moving plot twists, and the characters are revealed to the reader. There is also a start of a romance sizzle between Solomon and Lord but I was able to ignore most of it. However, the second part of the book concentrated more on the romance triangle and Bobby’s trial and is somewhat slower moving.

But all in all, I enjoyed the book and might look up the second in the series, too.

I’m a fan of the TV-series Monk and I was delighted and then a bit apprehensive when I found out that there where books about him, as well. But I shouldn’t have worried; Goldberg writes for the show and it shows. The book has a similar tone as the show and the characters feel the same, too.

Monk’s house is being fumigated and he’s looking for an alternative place to live meanwhile. After checking out various hotel rooms with Monk, Natalie agrees to have Monk stay at her and her daughter’s house. Monk even says that Natalie’s house is a home and he would much rather stay there than in a hotel.

Soon they realize that Natalie’s daughter Julie is distressed because the local firehouse’s dog has been brutally killed with an ax blow to the head. Monk agrees to investigate. Nobody knows who killed him or why because everyone seemed to have loved the friendly Dalmatian. Well, almost everyone: on the same street lives Gregorio Dumas who has a multiple prize-winning show dog, a female. Sparky, the firehouse mascot, had gotten to Dumas’ yard and had covered her. She’s now expecting mongrel puppies and Dumas claims that her show career is over. But is it enough evidence to say that Dumas killed Sparky?

Monk visits the site where the firefighters where when the dog was killed and finds out casually that the old lady who lived in the burned down house was murdered. A rich and respected real estate developer Lucas Breen has a building project planned for the neighborhood and has offered quite a large sums for the current house owners. The only one who didn’t want to take the money and move was the old lady who was murdered. So, she wasn’t well liked by just about anyone. Monk dives in to investigate this murder, too. Meanwhile, he tries to straighten out Natalie’s house, and sparks fly between Natalie and the handsome firefighter Joe.

The book is written in first person, from the point-of-view of Monk’s assistant Natalie in quite Sherlock Holmesian way. The cast of characters included Captain Stottlemeyer and his partner Randy Disher, as well, and they all feel much the same as in the series. There are quite a few funny little Monk moments in the book, too, starting from the way he inspects the hotel rooms right down to the surprising last pages.

Unfortunately, the plot seems a bit stretched at times. Monk finds out the culprits quickly and then it’s a matter of trying to prove their guilt. On the other hand, that’s Monk for you. If he had taken longer, he wouldn’t have felt the same.

Booking Through Thursday

While acknowledging that we can’t judge books by their covers, how much does the design of a book affect your reading enjoyment? Hardcover vs. softcover? Trade paperback vs. mass market paperback? Font? Illustrations? Etc.?

Ah, covers…. I’ve resigned to the fact that the overwhelming majority of covers has nothing at all to with the actual book. I’d like to say that a book’s cover doesn’t matter to me, but it does. If the cover has (semi)nude women in it, it will take at least twice the amount of recommendations to convince me that I should give the book a chance. Similarly with covers that have “warrior women” with distinctly phallus-like weaponry, no matter if it’s a gun or a sword. I’m also rather baffled by the trend to put semi-nude women to the covers of the urban fantasy books. These are primarily marketed to women, right? Instead of adolescent boys? Or are publishers really that desperate to attract male readers? And just what is the problem with a female readership, anyway? Money is money, no matter what the buyer’s sex is.

On the other hand, a quirky and colorful cover is more likely to attract my eye in a bookstore.

These days I also tend to shy away from books which are over 600 pages long unless they’re non-fiction. I also tend to read more paperbacks than hardcovers but that’s more of money issue than a real preference. In fact, hardcovers tend to have better font so if I had the money I’d probably be tempted to buy more hardcovers. Modifying the font is also one of the advantages of eBooks.

I don’t care for illustrations in books aimed at adults. Children’s books have pictures. Comic books have pictures. Putting pictures in an adult book usually flattens the mood to me.

So, a book’s design is more likely to affect whether or not I’ll read the book in the first place but not so much the reading experience itself.

The third Amelia Peabody book starts with a Foreword that establishes that the books were written by Amelia and published after her death by her heirs.

The book starts with Amelia and her husband Radcliffe living in England. Their son, nicknamed Ramses, lives with Radcliffe’s brother and his wife. However, Amelia and Radcliffe hear that Evelyn is again pregnant and so Ramses is coming home with his parents. The Emersons are planning to excavate in Egypt again and so they take with them Ramses, his big cat Bastet, and their footman John who is supposed to keep an eye on Ramses.

The Emersons try to get a permission to excavate at Dahshoor’s great pyramids. Unfortunately, Emerson is less than diplomatic about it and they end up at a quite a disparaged site of Mazghuna which is very near to Dahshoor where M. de Morgan is excavating.

After they land in Cairo, Amelia is trying to find some papyri for her brother-in-law and ends up suspecting a local merchant for dubious dealings in illegal antiquities. The merchant agrees to reveal more to her. However, when the Emersons go to meet him, he is found dead. Amelia is convinced that she is now on the trail of antiques smugglers but neither the local authorities nor her husband agrees. Therefore, they leave to Mazghuna.

There they meet a group of missionaries who are trying to convert the locals and Emerson reveals his lack, or rather loathing, of organized religion. However, something strange is happening and once again Amelia must try to get to the bottom of it.

Ramses takes quite a lot of space in the book. On the other hand, it’s quite natural since the writer is her mother. But Ramses is also very, very precocious; he lectures about Egyptology, gets into all sorts to trouble, can never keep his clothes clean, and already at the age of five speaks very fluent English and Arabic, and can translate ancient texts.

To me this book felt more humorous than the previous two mostly because the characters are so over-the-top that I just can’t take them seriously. Also, Emerson’s rivalry with Petrie, dislike of M de Morgan, and banter with the missionaries are quite funny. Also, the start of a romance-subplot stayed thankfully small. I’m going to stick with this series a while longer.

Booking Through Thursday

You’ve just reached the end of a book . . . what do you do now? Savor and muse over the book? Dive right into the next one? Go take the dog for a walk, the kids to the park, before even thinking about the next book you’re going to read? What?

(Obviously, there can be more than one answer, here–a book with a cliff-hanger is going to engender different reactions than a serene, stand-alone, but you get the idea!)

Usually I take a short break and do something else: watch tv, play computer games, read comics, go to internet forums. But most of the time I don’t really muse on the book. If I have time, I might just start the next one. Usually, though, it’s past midnight and I go to sleep. I even finish a review a day or two after finishing the book; I usually write the plot summary after I’m about half-way through and adjust it later, if needed.

I don’t usually read series books back-to-back even when they have cliffhanger endings. I usually read at least one other book between series books.

The Graphic Novel Challenge

I’m going to take part in the Graphic Novel Challenge. Although I’m an avid comic reader, most of the comics I read aren’t albums but individual comics. This is, of course, rather stupid because here individual comics cost usually quite a bit more than an album. Then again not all comics are collected in albums and it can be quite hard to predict which ones will be.

Anyway, my list for the albums to read is:
Astro City: Life in the Big City,
Jack of Fables: the (Nearly) Great Escape
Jack of Fables: Jack of Hearts
Annihilation vol 1
Next Wave: Agents of H.A.T. E vol 1
Next Wave: vol 2

Here’s another of my reviews: Vijaya Schartz’s The Garrison: Lockdown.

It’s SF romance and I gave it 4/5.

Once again the third book starts soon after the end of the previous book, Guns of Avalon. Corwin seems to have gotten what he wanted but things are difficult. His brother Caine is dead and Corwin finds the murdered body. He fights with and kills the murderer who is one of the creatures who hunted Random in the first book. Once again Corwin is left without an explanation about the creatures’ master. However, he’s in a difficult position because his brothers are going to assume that he killed Caine. So, Corwin and Random have a talk about it and then Random tells what happened to him right before he met Corwin in the first book.

It turns out that their brother Brand, who had been missing for a while, contacted Random and asked his help. Brand is being held prisoner somewhere. Despite the way the Amberite brothers feel about each other, Random agreed to help and went off to try to free him. Brand was being held in a tower that was surrounded by huge, moving boulders. Random managed to get inside but there were too many guards for him to deal with and he had to flee, riding a flying boulder. The guards turned out to be the same creatures who proceeded to chase Random through Shadow worlds and eventually attack Random, Corwin, and Flora.

Corwin manages to convince Flora to tell the others that the creature who murdered Caine is similar to those who chased Random. The other brothers and sisters aren’t, however, convinced that Corwin isn’t behind Caine’s death and they remain suspicious. They do agree to try to free Brand from his imprisonment.

This book starts rather slowly compared to the previous two. There is a lot of talking around. Even if it’s central to the plot, it’s still bunch of people standing around and talking. But the pace picks up in the latter half of the book However, at the same time a lot of the plots in Amber are finally revealed, at least somewhat.

Zelazny is also redrawing this setting’s rules of magic. I’m a bit ambivalent about it; surely so many and so long-lived people would have noticed if their assumptions about, say, the Trumps aren’t true. But they all seem to take them for granted. Maybe Dworkin knows about them but haven’t said anything. In that case, Corwin is making a big mistake ignoring him.

There are a few cool places, namely the place where Random goes to rescue Brand and Tir-na Nog’th, but still not as much as in the first book.

The next Vlad Taltos book is coming out this summer June or July so I decided to reread the series but this time in the internal chronological order, or as close as can be. According to the foreword in the Book of Taltos, the first one is Taltos.

Taltos has three storylines each told by Vlad in first person. The first one, which appears in italics at the start of every chapter is Vlad casting a witchcraft spell. The second one is Vlad’s story of the way he met Morrolan and Sethra, and his adventures with Morrolan in the Land of the Dead. In the third one Vlad tells about his boyhood, growing up, and generally about his life as an enforcer and assassin until the second storyline starts.

In the second storyline Vlad has just recently started to lead his own small criminal organization. Thing have been going smoothly until one of his underlings decides to steal money and run. The underling runs to the Castle Black the home of Lord Morrolan e’Drien of the House of the Dragon. Vlad is dubious about his welcome there because he’s an Easterner (as humans as called in this world) and Morrolan is a high-born Dragaeran (the elfs of this world). Easterners are at best second class citizens and usually treated with contempt. However, Vlad get an audience and learns that his underling has fled to the Dzur Mountain which is the most notorious place in this world. Few have ever escaped from the clutches of the Dark Lady of the Dzur Mountain, the vampire Sethra Lavode. However, since Morrolan kindly offers to take Vlad there, he can’t really refuse.

Once there, Vlad finds out that Sethra and Morrolan really want to hire him to break in an almost unbreakable home of a wizard and steal one of his staffs. Against his better judgment Vlad agrees. He and Morrolan manage to escape just barely with the staff. The staff contains a soul and the only way to bring the soul back to life is to travel to the Hall of Judgment in the Lands of the Dead and to ask the gods to return it to life. The Land of the Dead are for Dragaerans only so there is a chance that Vlad would be able to return with the newly resurrected Dragaeran. Vlad isn’t too sure about that and demands that the only way he’d do it is if Morrolan goes with him. Against Vlad’s expectations, Morrolan agrees and the two start their journey.

The third storyline describes Vlad’s rough childhood with his father who owned a restaurant. The Dragaeran youths were always beating Vlad and still his father admired Dragaeran culture so much that he denied his own Easterner origins. Vlad had a closer relationship with his grandfather Noish-pa than his father. Noish-pa is also a witch and he taught Vlad his witchcraft and also encouraged him to get a familiar.

Vlad starts to fight against Dragaerans pretty early but I guess that’s just to be expected with the way they treated him. Also, he befriends Kiera the Thief very early and it takes over a decade before he runs into Morrolan and Sethra. This book also shows how he got his Spellbraker.

Brust has a sparse, light, and sarcastic style and he doesn’t really give out descriptions much. It’s probably why I enjoy reading him so much. I’m also delighted that the Dragaeran culture doesn’t treat men and women differently; women are guards and lords just as much as men are. However, this doesn’t mean that the culture is without problems – far from it.

This book might also make a good jumping in point because it really introduces for the first time Vlad’s past. The earlier three books don’t really go into Vlad’s past very much.

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