24 August 2010

When Blood Calls

By JK Beck
Published by Bantam Books, an imprint of
The Random House Publishing Group
Available 31 August 2010
ARC courtesy of JK Beck

"Truth is often elusive, and some debts are best paid outside the bounds of the law."

Sara Constantine, an attorney with the LA District Attorney's Office, has been offered a new position. It's a little bit different from what she's used to; instead of prosecuting for the DA's office, she'll be prosecuting for PEC - the Preternatural Enforcement Coalition. Generally left to regulate itself, PEC operates not under human law but under a series of laws known as the Covenant.

Sara's first case is to prosecute a vampire for the murder of a judge. Lucius Dragos is known in PEC circles as a vicious killer and they've tried to take him down before, but to no avail. Now Sara must take this information and reconcile it with what she knows of Lucius Dragos - the man she met as Luke only days before and with whom she had shared a bed. And now that Sara and Luke have that bond, can she detach herself from her feelings for him and prosecute the case?

As urban fantasies goes, this novel is - dare I say it - quite realistic. Beck draws her reader into a world of werewolves, goblins, hellhounds, shape-shifters, and vampires
as easily as if she were writing about cotton candy and sunny skies. Beck's paranormal world has a legal system and a code of honour to live by and the book becomes a legal thriller that keeps you in suspense and in the dark as to what will happen next. As part one of the Shadow Keepers series, it certainly hits the mark in making you anticipate the next installment.

While the book is not scary, it's not for the faint-hearted - it's full of graphic violence
and explicit sex. But it works. And it's damn good.

19 August 2010

Undead and Unpopular

By MaryJanice Davidson
Published by The Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
June 2006

Betsy Taylor, queen of the vampires, is annoyed, irritable, pissed. Why? She has decided to give up blood. And without blood a vampire is cranky. To add to her crankiness, a delegation of European vampires has come to town to check out their queen for themselves. They may accept her, they may decide to overthrow her; who knows?

Eric annoys her, Jessica annoys her, Marc annoys her, Tina annoys her, the zombie in the attic annoys her. Plus, her thirty-first birthday is looming and the fact Betsy can't see any party preparations going on around her annoys her, even though she insisted she didn't want a party.

Installment five of the Undead series has Betsy facing up to some moral dilemmas such as should a vampire be punished for killing someone hundreds of years ago and, if so, what exactly should that punishment be?

Whether planning a party, a wedding, or a punishment, Betsy is sure to win you over with her always funny sarcasm and her ever-increasing cast of sidekicks.

17 August 2010

Undead and Unreturnable

By MaryJanice Davidson
Published by The Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
November 2005

Queen of the Vampires, Betsy Taylor, is getting ready for Christmas, much to the dismay of those vampires who live with her. She may be dead but Betsy and best friend, human being Jessica, still like to enjoy the festive season. And, I suppose, Christmas shopping is way more fun when you take your little sister along; that would be your super-religious daughter-of-the-devil little sister, of course.

Installment four of this series has Betsy looking for a serial killer with her newest ghost companion, Cathie; the queen also meets the oldest vampire going who invites her to write a newspaper column about what its like to be vampire queen; and Betsy and Laura get to meet their new sibling. All this, plus a special guest appearance by the devil.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

16 August 2010

Undead and Unappreciated

By Mary Janice Davidson
Published by The Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
July 2005

Elizabeth Taylor (Betsy, to her friends) is the undead queen of the vampires. She has a very sexy on again/off again relationship with her consort, Eric Sinclair. Her friends and family know she is undead and mostly, they are okay with it. She lives in a mansion owned by her best friend Jessica.

That brings us up to speed. Undead and Unappreciated is installment three of the Undead and... series. This time around, Betsy meets her half-sister, Laura, who is quite literally the spawn of the devil and destined to rule the world. Also, the employees of Scratch - the vampire nightclub Betsy inherited when she killed Monique the evil vampire in a previous novel - have decided to go on strike.

I quite like this series because (a) even though there are lots of killings and feedings the stories are not scary (b) Betsy's sarcasm for everything cracks me up (c) the chick-lit/romance aspects of the story are a nice mix with the vampire lifestyle.

If you're looking for vampires that are snarky and sexy (as opposed to sparkly and sulky) this series is for you.

11 August 2010

Girl in a Blue Dress

By Gaynor Arnold
Emblem edition published in Canada in 2010
Emblem is an imprint of McClelland & Stewart Ltd.

"A Novel Inspired by the Life and Marriage of Charles Dickens"
The One and Only, the Great Original, Alfred Gibson is dead. His wife, Dorothea, is not at his funeral; she is not welcome. Alfred's mistress, however, is in attendance, as is most of England, all mourning the death of the great author, actor, and playwright. To his Public, Alfred Gibson is a genius, a benefactor to those who need help, and a family man through and through. To Dorothea, Alfred is a man who can rewrite his life with the stroke of a pen, forcing her to leave her home and family after twenty years of marriage.

Gaynor Arnold's first novel is a heartbreaking story of what may or may not have happened between Charles and Catherine Dickens, transformed into this work of fiction as Alfred and Dorothea Gibson. What started as a true romance shifts into a desperation on Alfred's part to rid his family of Dorothea so he may pursue his life as he wishes.

Told from Dorothea's point of view, we are swept away on her every emotion from her first meeting with Alfred to the night she leaves the family without saying goodbye to her children in person:
"...So I had to creep round the bedrooms after you were all asleep and say good-bye to each of you in the silence of my heart."

Alfred's funeral is the starting point of the novel and Dorothea takes us on a trip through the present and the past to give us a full picture of Alfred the husband and Alfred the public figure. The Public forgives Alfred everything he does because he is a larger-than-life character; Dorothea may not forgive so easily.

This is a sad story, but well told and very hard to put down. To me, saddest of all is this quote from the Author's Note:
"Above all, in Dorothea Gibson I have tried to give voice to the largely voiceless Catherine Dickens, who once requested that her letters from her husband be preserved so that 'the world may know he loved me once'."

06 August 2010

A Royal Pain

By Rhys Bowen
Published by the Penguin Group
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / July 2009

In Book II of the Royal Spyness Mysteries, we find
Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, daughter of the late Duke of Glen Garry and Rannoch, granddaughter of the least attractive of Queen Victoria's daughters, half-sister to Hamish (present Duke of Glen Garry and Rannoch), thirty-fourth in line to the throne, still in London, still holding her own in the workforce, and still spying on the Prince of Wales. That pesky Wallis Simpson is everywhere and the Queen is worried the Prince is spending too much time with Mrs. Simpson and not enough time on his royal duties.

Much to my delight, Georgie and Mrs. Simpson often find themselves in the same social circles and their repartee often leaves me in fits of giggles.

Royal snooping aside, Georgie plays host to a Bavarian princess, finds herself involved with the local communist party, and discovers that bad things come in threes: that would be three deaths in one week.

Bowen writes exceptionally well about British society in the 1930s, from the lowly street beggar to royalty itself, and I find myself feeling as if I'm a character watching from the sidelines instead of merely sitting on my chesterfield reading a novel.

With its good humour, good plot, and blockbuster ending, you won't want to miss installment II of this series.

05 August 2010

The Perfect Man

By Sheila O'Flanagan
First published in paperback in 2010 by Headline Review
An imprint of Headline Publishing Group

Britt McDonagh, hard-nosed divorce lawyer, has written a romance novel entitled "The Perfect Man" and it has hit all the best seller lists. She agrees to talk about her novel and offer some writing tips on board a cruise ship during a two-week Valentine Cruise and takes her single-mom sister, Mia, with her to act as her PA.

Britt has a hard time reconciling her hard-hearted lawyer self with her softer, romantic self, so she writes the novel under the name Brigitte Martin and presents herself to the world as a glamorous woman, which is quite unlike the heartbroken divorced woman she actually is.

Mia's past includes a passionate affair in Guatemala which produced a daughter. The relationship never sustained itself, but four years on Mia still loves Alejo and can't move on.

"The Perfect Man" is, of course, a romance novel; what else could it be when a Valentine Cruise is so conducive to love? As usual O'Flanagan has hit the nail on the head in the romance department.

Also as usual, O'Flanagan delves deep into family relationships. The unfolding story of Britt and Mia - who had never been exceptionally close but were now roomies for the duration of the cruise - show us exactly how siblings can be.

O'Flanagan also takes us inside the life of a best-selling novelist; the doubts of a writer, how to take an idea and make it into a book, and what happens when the writing takes over. Perhaps O'Flanagan was referring to herself when she wrote this paragraph after Britt questions herself on what to do with her book's characters:

"They're not real people, she reminded herself sharply. I can do whatever I like with them. But she knew she couldn't. She knew that they were the only ones who were calling the shots. She just hoped they knew what they were doing."

I knew what I was doing when I purchased this book - Sheila O'Flanagan never, ever disappoints.

02 August 2010

Fly Away Home

By Jennifer Weiner
Published by Atria Books
A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
July 2010

Jennifer Weiner has always written good books; I've read them all. But with last year's "Best Friends Forever" and now her latest novel, "Fly Away Home", Weiner seems to have taken on a new maturity and complexity in her writing. While previous novels seemed to centre around one main character, "Fly Away Home" is about a family, each character given an equal story, each story drawing the reader into the family.

US politicians cheating on their wives makes for a good story in real life and it makes for an excellent story here. What does a fifty-something wife do with this kind of news after she has spent her entire married life devoted to her husband, furthering his political ambitions? What do you do when your duties as a wife outweighed your duties as a mother - your every waking hour being consumed by life as a senator's spouse - and now you've been replaced by a younger version of you?

When Richard Woodruff's family finds out about his "transgression" each member embarks on a life-changing journey of their own. Wife Sylvie retreats to her childhood summer home in Connecticut; married daughter Diana, an ER physician, has to come to grips with her own affair with a med student; and single daughter Lizzie, having just come out of rehab, has to adjust to life without drugs or alcohol.

While each character's story is compelling, the minor players in the book bring out Weiner's comedic side - Gary, mouth-breathing husband of Diana; acerbic-tongued retired judge Selma, Sylvie's mother; and Sylvie's best friend, Ceil, round out the characters and make the book a little less serious.

This book has intrigued me more than any other Weiner has written. It's serious and funny, heart-breaking and loving. It's based on what we hear in the news, but brings us where the news never goes, which is into the heart of a family on the verge of splitting apart. "Fly Away Home" is Weiner's best novel yet.