Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Book Review!

Double Dexter (Dexter, #6)Double Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh, dear heaven. Dexter, you really *aren't* human, are you?

Our favorite vigilante serial killer is back, and this time, he's got a shadow. I'm not talking about a Peter Pan philosophical device; I'm talking about a stalker. The book opens with Dexter at play; he abducts and lets his knives and inner darkness work over a really foul human being. As usual, Jeff Lindsay is at his lyrical-prose best in this passage. He seems so comfortable in the nocturnal menace, in the Savage Garden of Dexter's homicidal dream that I sometimes wonder what the man does when he isn't writing these delicious and poisonous things. At any rate, we get to enjoy these delightfully awful things through Dexter's mind, because Jeff uses a brilliant literary device: we're plunged into a sort of second-person present tense scenario, a trick that immediately immerses you in the action.

And then, we're caught.

Dexter's playdate had been observed, and the person who saw everything immediately develops an unhealthy fascination with both Dexter and his world.

I have to start out by explaining why I've only given this four stars. I'm not going to spoil anything, but those of you who know and love Dexter know that he knows his way around the internet. So then, why would Lindsay rely so much on the plot device that someone can threaten and intimidate Dexter through a secret e-mail address? This is Forensics 101: it is almost impossible to have a completely secret e-mail address. Everything can be traced forensically. Even if there was a way to do it, Lindsay should have at least *briefly* explained it. Instead, he plowed ahead with this flimsy premise. It seemed a bit disappointing.

But there was far more to enjoy in this outing than not. Instead of the weird cannibalistic fetish of the last one, we are treated to a Doubting Dexter, a monster who has ALMOST been domesticated. His missteps are due to his connubial distractions. He has allowed himself to become a bit clumsy and slow, fattened up on his wife's good food and the charms of his little family. He's still -- *ahem* -- "sharp" when it comes to his prey, but his reflexes are gunked up when it comes to someone else being the predator. That made for a great foundation for the plot, and had him questioning himself and his commitment to his dark nature. I like it when that happens. A lot.

I'm also going to say that Jeff Lindsay is a fantastic audiobook narrator. I think that authors should self-narrate their audiobooks as often as possible, anyway. :)

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Book Review!

Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs (Jane Jameson, #1)Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs by Molly Harper

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jane Jameson is not cool enough to be turned into a vampire, and that, above everything else, is what drew me into this book. I mean, think about it: Most literary female vampires seemed to be born to be vampires. They're tall, ravishing, regal, menacing, and too cool for school. They seem torn from the S&M column of Cosmopolitan, they're so unreal. What chance would any real mortal woman--with her neuroses, innate insecurity, and native smells--have?

Enter Jane Jameson. She is not a Cosmo model. Sure, she's tall, but she's also romantically cursed, plain, saddled with a typically troubled and overbearing Southern family, and--gasp!--a librarian. This is not a typical vampire genesis.

Furthermore, the day she died sounds like the script for a movie that might star that Zooey Deschanel or a slightly younger Sandra Bullock: She's fired from her librarian gig. Her severance package is a gift certificate to the local bar-and-eatery. She proceeds to blow through her severance, getting drunk, embarrassing herself, and befriending a tall, dark, and mysterious stranger. She heads home. Her car punks out on her. She stumbles into a ditch -- and is mistaken for a deer and shot by the town drunk (and sometime hunter).

I have to again point out that this is not how vampires happen. Usually there's a lot of angst, sure, but there's always a candlelit crypt, somber dialog about life eternal, and then, the bite. When she rises, Jane doesn't even remember the bite, at first. She only knows she's in a stranger's house, and she's clinging to the ceiling, startled at being anywhere but home.

Oh, and another departure from the norm? I've never before read a new-vampire story that was so damned funny. Jane doesn't take herself seriously. How can she? She was born into a family that's so damaged it deserves a sitcom. Yes, she's undead, but she still has to put up with her too-perfect sister and her wheedling mother and being unemployed. The only noticeable departure from her regular life is that she can't eat solid foods, she has to undergo rigorous preparations to survive in sunlight, she has to eliminate silver from her jewelry collection, and she has super-strength and remarkable healing powers. Those powers, by the way, are going to help her when she realizes she's inadvertently made a very crazy enemy.

I know, there are a lot of parallels between Jane Jameson's world and that of the famous vampire-bait waitress, Sookie Stackhouse. They're both Southern. They both have attracted the attentions of tall, dark, and handsome antebellum vampires. They both have elderly female relatives who have bequeathed them houses full of tradition. They both collect around them a ragtag collection of misfits as friends, including werewolves. The state of the world as they know it includes "outed" vampires drinking faux blood. And they both have become unlikely romantic leads, the antitheses of vampire chic.

Having said that, though, I have to say this: Molly Harper does it better than Charlaine Harris. Period. Why? Because Jane Jameson is us as we want to be: just as strange and awkward, but funny, and still able to get the total hottie by just being ourselves. Oh, and yes, she agreed to become a vampire. Because, honestly, which among you would turn down the offer? Sookie is dumb for holding out. Points to Jane for not being so damn dumb.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I'm a hypocrite. Buy me a fruity drink.

Not so long ago I made the mistake of waxing rhapsodic about change, and why it's important, and what it supposedly accomplishes.  I mean, I seriously seemed to be saying that changing was a good thing, that it shook you out of your complacency and challenged you to live in the moment and take nothing for granted.  I even derided people for not supporting those who initiated the change in their lives, coddling instead those who had change thrust on them -- and not in a good, alms-type way.

Well, here I go initiating change, and I really, really hate myself right now.

My life is not something anyone would aspire to.  It's not super-exciting; I'm not a part-time skydive instructor or belly dancer or celebrity impersonator.  I don't channel spirits.  I don't even have the thrill of watching pro wrestling on any consistent basis.  (Hell, I'm not even cool enough to say that I've wanted to watch it consistently.)  I'm just a writer who decided to get an administrative job in order to pay the bills and occasionally indulge in my gadget habit.

Oh my word, it's a pizza cutter that looks like a circular saw.  Do you take Visa?

Well, yesterday I found out that my administrative job doesn't want me anymore.  By the end of the month I'm going to be out on my tuckus, another member of the unemployed.

Seriously, it's not me.  They've been laying people off in droves around here.  I'd say about a full fifth of the place is empty.  I've kinda seen this coming, and I've been, unfortunately, almost smug about the fact that I have a Plan B.

The thing is this: I was going to leave this job anyway.  Tim and I have been planning for years that we would relocate to somewhere with a far friendlier climate.  We had even decided on the time of year that we would go.

But, hypocrite that I am, instead of aggressively planning for the date by cancelling the cable and calling a moving company and just getting the freak up there already, I fell into an endless string of days dominated by the notion that "I'll get around to it."


Because I love my life.  It's comfortable.  My home is not a showplace, but it's beautiful to me.  I have had a good paying job doing work that I enjoyed.  I had a routine, and I could hang my hat on that routine and grow old into that routine.

Did you hear that?

Grow. Old.

I was ready to trade in all my dreams and fancies for the comforts around me, a soft little nest into which a geriatric mouse curls itself up to die.

When I moved to Austin, I was 18 years old.  I didn't give two shits about the fact that my life was changing irrevocably.  I was a kid, and kids don't stop their lives over the thought that they'll miss their childhood bedroom, and they'd never again wake up in the middle of the night to realize they could hear their parents snoring softly in the room across the hall, or that all of the music they loved would be replaced in a matter of five years by music that makes them want to either cry or punch a keyboardist in the face.  Kids live their lives; they move into their future with heads held high and barely a backwards glance.

I'm not a kid anymore.  I've grown up and gotten married.  I've learned the tenuous nature (by misadventure) of a credit rating, and how it can affect your life in ways you could have never expected.  I've learned how close we all really stand to the edge of the world as we know it, and how easy it would be to fall off into a different world, full of sadness and regrets and poverty and despair.  I'm a scared adult, and leaving the soft, cushiony nest of my home and my life is . . .


That's it, folks.  I'm terrified.  I know I'll find another job.  As my husband says, it's my superpower.  I know I'll love living in that part of the country.  But I will go home every day for the next two weeks and gaze around at the home Tim and I bought together, filled with symbols of our toil and shared taste, think of the memories we made there -- and yeah, I'll probably cry.

So when you see me, could you do me a favor?  Buy me a fruity drink.  Then tell me the following, with no paraphrasing or omissions:


Much obliged.  Really.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Book Review!

The Art of Seducing a Naked Werewolf (Naked Werewolf, #2)The Art of Seducing a Naked Werewolf by Molly Harper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Y'know, after the debacle that was Twilight, and after burning through all the Sookie Stackhouse books on a rabid month-long bender, I swore to myself that I would never again fall prey to the supernatural romance/mystery genre. (Okay, there was that one lapse where I went back to Charlaine Harris for some of her Harper Connelly stuff, true . . .but that was it. And it was, for the most part, disappointing.) So you may be asking yourselves: MJ, what happened?

Molly Harper happened.

Never before have I read someone who treats the supernatural with such silly affection. I mean, I was baptized by Anne Rice and Stephen King, for godsakes. You don't get much more somber treatment than that. Then we went romping back into the scene with the angst-ridden Cullen clan, then we have Charlaine Harris and her sexy redneck vampire-bait waitress. That was close . . .so close. But Molly Harper is the promised land.

Okay, about this specific book: We're back in Grundy, Alaska, but instead of hearing everything through the thoughts and mind of the very human Mo Graham, we're living through the eyes of her new sister-in-law, Maggie Graham. Maggie is the Alpha female of her pack, but for the most part, her pack is unsettled -- because by nature, there should be an Alpha male. Maggie's brother has turned down the job he was born to, so she assumed the responsibility -- but until she marries another wolf, there won't be peace, or, for that matter, any conceivable end to the questions about her (lack of a) love life.

Enter the very human, very cute, and -- did I mention, not-wolf? -- single academic nerd, Nick Thatcher. He's put two and two together in a way no other human in the area seems willing or able to do, and he's sniffing around for werewolves. Can Maggie resist his nerdy charms? And if she can't, how does she protect him, her pack, and herself from a new threat that smells like dryer sheets?

I loved it. Did I mention that Molly Harper is funny? I mean, laugh out loud funny. She loves supernatural creatures, but she doesn't necessarily put them on pedestals. She makes their problems sound believable, and that's what makes it so easy to believe that they exist. After all, I'd be willing to blame all the buffet spots in the country on werewolves. It doesn't help my willingness to believe this that enormous human patrons waddle in and out regularly, but surely some of the skinny customers --

Oh well. Never mind.

Why only four stars? I guess it's because this book was a little less compelling, because the voice was that of a werewolf, not a human. She'd never been fully human, so I lost that scrap of connection that I'd built with Mo (and that I'm now building with Jane Jameson, newly-undead).

Even so, funny. Wonderfully, side-splittingly, beverage-spewingly funny. Thank you, Molly.

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Book Review!

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh my goodness. Erin Morgenstern, where have you been all my life?

The Night Circus, folks, is a flight of fantasy on the back of a steampunk raven. I feel like everything I could say about it would be a spoiler, but I will say this: everything that happens within the circus had my heart shrieking "YES! I want to go! I want a ticket! I'm a reveur!" Every tent was brilliantly imagined, and it is every child's fantasy of what a circus SHOULD be: magical, with no harsh edges or artifice. It naturally was magic, because two magicians maintained the illusory quality of it.

Great. I think I just spoiled a bit of it.

At any rate, read this book. I can't say it often enough: READ. THIS. BOOK.

Why only 4 stars, you ask? Well . . .the ending. And I won't go into details about that, but it seemed rushed. Maybe it was just that I didn't want to climb down off the back of that steampunk raven yet. I'm even dressed in black and white today in tribute.

So, let's review: Steampunk, magic, a circus, romance . . .what else could you POSSIBLY ask for?

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