Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Reviews: The Kate Daniels Series by Ilona Andrews

Ilona Andrews has created a very dark world in her urban fantasy series featuring mercenary Kate Daniels. Kate doesn't like authority or conforming to the rules. Set in Atlanta, Georgia, where magic fluctuates, coming and going, leaving technology nonfunctional in its wake. In Andrews' world, vampires are not the pretty and seductive creatures of other urban fantasy novels. They are empty vessels controlled by necromancers called the Masters of the Dead, and are part of a large corporation/cult called The People. The city is also filled with shapeshifters, led by the nearly invincible Curran.

In Magic Bites (ACE Fantasy, 2007), Kate's guardian has long been trying to get her to accept the protection of the Order of Knights of Merciful Aid, but Kate continuously refuses. When her guardian is discovered murdered alongside a vampire, Kate has little choice but to turn to the Order of Knights of Merciful Aid if she wants to find her guardian's killer. Two rival magical factions in the city are bent are proving the other is responsible and are hoping Kate will get to the bottom of it and quickly.

As a first book in the series, Magic Bites was a strong start. Readers get to know many of the main players, some of whom will make appearances in future books. We learn that Kate has a secret she doesn't want anyone to discover, and while there is a hint of romance, it is kept far in the background.

Magic Burns (ACE Fantasy, 2008) finds Kate in the middle of a fight between gods as a the magic flares come more frequently and threaten to get out of control. At the heart of her investigation is a missing coven of witches, one of whose members is the mother to a young girl named Julie. The city is at stake and Kate is determined to save it.

Magic Burns was just as good as the first book in the series. Kate is used to working alone and yet again she is forced to work with others to resolve the recent catastrophe that threaten Atlanta. Kate can hold her own though, as she proves over and over. She is strong and brave but not invulnerable.

Magic Strikes (ACE Fantasy, 2009) takes Kate undercover in the Midnight Games, an illegal preternatural fighting tournament when one of her friends is injured and on the verge of death. An evil plot is uncovered that threatens the very existence of shapeshifters. Magic Strikes was an intense read. As the series has progress, I have appreciated the development of Kate's character as well as that of Curran. With each book, a little more is revealed about the characters' pasts, but never to the point of being drawn out too long, like it has in some series.

And this holds true for Magic Bleeds (ACE Fantasy, 2010), as the natural progression of the relationships and character development continues. Magic Bleeds takes an even more personal turn when Kate goes up against her own family. The secret she kept guarded for so long, the one about her own heritage, can no longer be kept if she is to save her friends and the man she loves. Magic Bleeds is the best in the series yet.

In some ways, the series is similar to other urban fantasy or paranormal series, including having a strong female lead with a bit of a mouth on her. But what Ilona Andrews has done is create a world like few others. And it's a very interesting one. I was especially impressed with the little nuances that went into the world and characters the author created. There is the familiar as well as the unusual. Add to that the complex story lines, and they make for an intense and entertaining reading experience. Although I don't think I would ever want to live in Kate Daniel's Atlanta, I do enjoy my visits there and look forward to reading more in the series.

Ratings for all four books: * (Very Good)

Ilona Andrews is a husband and wife writing team. For more information about the authors and their books, visit their website.

Source: I bought copies of Magic Bites, Magic Burns & Magic Bleeds with my own hard earned money. The copy of Magic Strikes was provided by the author's publicist for review.

© 2010, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Weekly Geeks: Who Do You Connect With?

Erotic Horizon from E.H. on Books and More was looking back over her old posts and came across one she thought would make a good topic for this week's Weekly Geeks theme. It's been ages since I last participated in Weekly Geeks, and while I keep telling myself I'll jump back in, I've yet to do so. Until now.

Erotic Horizon has this to say:
I visited a new blogger that I am following and the phrase below jumped right up and hit me – literally. I am not sure where the blogger is going with his blog yet, as this is literally his second post.

This is the phrase
“We didn't get any reading done tonight. I told Jack we must read some tomorrow! It connects us somehow. I can't explain it, but it does. It's good to do things together” - Shayne © This and That

I can’t explain why that phrase made such an impact, could it be that reading has become a solitary venture to lose myself in. Do I use it as my own private time – to the exclusion of all else.

Does my own action not invite people in to share my world. When did I forget the joys of sharing the written word with someone other than the people at the end of the keyboard. Can I remember the last time I actually connect with a ‘real person”.
Honestly so much is rattling around in my brain – reading is such a big part and has always been a big part of my life, but other than the kids and eventually they find their own groove when it comes to reading. I don’t read with anyone and I refuse to minimise what I love to suit anyone else. I however miss exactly what that phrase is saying - “It connects us somehow”

Firstly, have you come across a phrase recently that has made just such an impact. And secondly – who do you read with, if you don’t read with anyone –WHY NOT?

Growing up in a house full of readers, it was impossible not to always find someone with a book in hand. Sometimes we would read together, either to each other, side by side on our own, or off in our own separate parts of the house. My husband and I are the same way. We may not always be reading the same books, but we do talk about what we are reading, sharing a particularly funny quote or using each other as sounding boards to solidify our own thoughts about a book. Well, maybe that last part is more a me thing. My reading is such a big part of my life--and sometimes the most exciting part--that it comes naturally for me to want to talk about where I have been and who I have met in books.

I find comfort and joy in talking about books and sharing my reading experiences. I think that is why I belong to online reading groups. I can discuss books on a level I can't with those in my offline life. Only in recent years have I worked in an office with other readers, and now I have that connection as well. And then of course, there is blogging. Blogging opened an entire world to me in terms of book talk. We share our thoughts about the books we read or want to read. While it is a solitary practice in some sense, blogging has also proven to be a link in connecting with others in the book blogging community.

Reading is a solitary activity, sure. When I read a book, I lose myself in the pages, and it is just me and the characters. Reading, for me, is so much more than that, however. Just as reading is something I do on my own, it is something I share with others. I can't not. It's such a big part of my life.

As for a phrase that I came across recently that made an impact:
A book burrows into your life in a very profound way because the experience of reading is not passive. - Erica Jong, O Magazine, 2003

© 2010, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Monday At the Movies: More Summer Movies

Ah, the summer time! It's the time of year when my husband and I step up our movie watching and we've had a busy summer of movies. Some of what we've watched most recently:

Inception (Action, Mystery, Science Fiction - 2010; rated PG-13; directed & written by Christopher Nolan) ~ This is the movie my husband was eager to see after seeing a trailer, whereas I was more reluctant. Right now, it's my favorite movie of the summer season. I should have known better than to second guess Chris Nolan. Inception is about a man, Leonardo DiCarpio, who steals secrets from people's dreams. His most recent target hires him to do just the opposite, to plant an idea in a business competitor's head. It is highly risky and many believe impossible. With a promise to clear Leo's character's name so that he can be reunited with his children, Leo decides to take the deal. He hires Ariadne played by Ellen Page as the architect, and she does a great job in the role.

I loved the complexity of the story, the many layers of the dreams and how it all came together--or unraveled--in the end. The fact that very little CGI (computer generated imagery) was used is especially impressive, given the nature of the movie. I do wish the supporting characters had been more filled out, but with so much going on in an already long (although the time flew by) movie, I don't imagine much more could have been fit in.

Confessions of a Shopaholic (Romantic Comedy - 2009; rated PG; directed by P.J. Hogan; written by Tracey Jackson, Tim Firth, Kayla Alpert, & based on the books by Sophie Kinsella) ~ As annoying as Becky Bloomfield is and as often as I roll my eyes at her failure to learn from her mistakes, I loved the book series by Sophie Kinsella--at least the books I've read in it so far. It's fun. It's light. It's entertaining. I was excited then when I heard a movie was being made based on the first book in the series. But then the reviews from friends started coming in and my interest waned. The movie went to the bottom of my Netflix queue. It's turn finally came, and I watched it. And I really liked it! It had the same lighthearted feel that the books have, and I really liked Becky's character who was played by Isla Fisher.

Becky loves to shop, hence the title, and has amassed a huge debt. To top it off, the magazine she works for has folded and she's suddenly out of a job. Becky takes a job working at a finance magazine, writing about saving money. With the debt collector hot on her heels, Becky gets further tangled in her shopping addiction and lies. She risks love and friendship as a result. The movie differs from the book it is based on considerably, but I'm not such a stickler for accuracy if it works. As far as romantic comedies go, there are definitely better ones out there. For a couple of hours of escape though, Confessions of a Shopaholic works just fine.

X-Files: I Want to Believe (Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller - 2008; rated PG-13; directed by Chris Carter; written by Frank Spotnitz & Chris Carter) ~ My husband introduced me to The X-Files when we were in college and I soon was as hooked as he was. The television series lost some of its shine in the final years, but it continues to be a show that has become somewhat of an icon. The second X-Files movie reminded me of the earlier seasons of the popular TV show. It forwent the alien conspiracies and settled for a more traditional psychological thriller with a slight paranormal bent. Now out of the FBI, Dana Scully is practicing medicine at a Catholic Hospital and resumed her skeptical and more scientific stance to all things paranormal. A wanted man by the FBI, Fox Mulder is the believer, still searching for answers, hoping to find the truth.

Pulled into the search for a missing FBI agent, Mulder and Scully are asked to determine whether the psychic helping the FBI is legitimate or perhaps involved in the crime. His pedigree doesn't exactly lead people to trust him. He's a former priest and pedophile.

I enjoyed stepping into Mulder and Scully's world again. They still share the chemistry that made them such great partners in the original series. The movie was dark and horror-like, just as one might expect from The X-Files. Watching the movie, I felt like I was back in college watching the TV show.

Salt (Action, Suspense/Thriller - 2010; rated PG-13; directed by Phillip Noyce; written by Kurt Wimmer) - I'm a sucker for an action flick--the suspense and adrenalin rush are hard to beat. So, when I first heard about Salt, I knew I had to see it. My husband referred to Salt as a good big-dumb-action movie and I have to agree with him. It was entertaining and I never tire of seeing Angelina Jolie in action. A CIA operative accused of being a Russian spy, Angelina Jolie's character, Evelyn Salt, goes on the run. Steeped in conspiracy theories, with both predictable and unexpected twists, the movie had a nostalgic air about it that made it all the more enjoyable. It was a fun way to spend a summer afternoon.

What movies have you seen lately?

© 2010, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sunday Salon: The Vietnam War (My Reading, Part 3)

Unfortunately the final discussion for the Paco's Story read-a-long came and went without my being able to join in last month. I had intended to, even managed to stick to the planned reading schedule, but then got sidetracked by unavoidable events in my life. In that time, I also finished reading The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. Both novels cover the lives of Alpha unit soldiers who fought during the Vietnam War.

In Larry Heineman's Paco's Story, Paco was the only surviving soldier after a raid that decimated his unit. With both physical and mental scars, Paco re-enters society, going through the motions of life. Readers are offered a glimpse at how a soldier from that war was treated upon his return, both with disdain and occasional pride. We get an inside look at the horrors of war, and Heineman pulls no punches in describing the war in brutal and honest terms.

Paco's Story began strong, one of those books I was sure would be a five star book by the time I finished. However, I was a little put off by the shifting voice of the narrator as the novel went on. It was inconsistent at times, and therefore a bit disjointed. It is still a powerful book, one I am glad I read, and deserves a high rating and much of the praise it has received.

The Things They Carried hit me almost in the opposite way. As I began reading the collection of stories and essays that make up the novel, I had doubts that it would knock my socks off as it had for so many others. The more I read, the more the stories came together, and the more the book came to life for me. By the end, I was, in fact, blown away.

Tim O'Brien's accounts of the Vietnam War in The Things They Carried are fiction, based in fact. It's hard not to think of the book as completely nonfiction when reading it, especially since the author writes in the first person and the narrator shares the author's name.

O'Brien's book is real and raw, sometimes funny, often sad. The collection of stories is about friendship, love, hope and death as much as it is about the war experience itself. Several of the stories stood out for me, in particular the one in which Tim receives his draft letter. Opposed to the war, he considers dodging the draft. How does a person reconcile one's beliefs with one's duty? My own father enlisted in the military and so his going to Vietnam was not a forced issue, not really. What must it have been like for a man who didn't make that choice on his own, who was forced to fight in a war he didn't believe in? "On the Rainy River" struck a chord with me that still lingers in the back of my mind and probably will for a long time to come.

There are also stories about the first kill, about coping with death, how a soldier may do many brave things during a war, but it is what he fails to do or isn't able to do that gnaws away at him. The author captures the many faces of war: the friendships that form, the horrors, the pressure, pain and strengths of the men. And how fitting the title, The Things They Carried! Not only do these men carry heavy loads of physical items, they also bare psychological and emotional burdens.

In fiction, there is truth. Sometimes it is easier to get to the truth through fiction than through nonfiction. We can see into the heart of it much more clearly. Both Paco's Story and The Things They Carried are good examples of portraying the truth in fiction at its finest.

I topped my Vietnam reading spurt off with Jason Aaron's The Other Side, a graphic novel following the stories of two soldiers, one a U.S. Marine and the other from the People's Army of Vietnam. Illustrated by Cameron Stewart, the novel is both beautiful and harsh. For the American, Billy Everette, a farm boy from Alabama, going to Vietnam was not something he especially wanted nor did he believe he'd come home alive. He is haunted by the ghosts of fellow soldiers, scared and unsure of himself. He is fighting a war against communism, to help the Vietnamese people. Vo Binh Dai, also the son of farmers, sees the war more as a spiritual quest; it is his duty to protect his country from the outsiders, the Americans, who are bent on destroying everything the Vietnamese hold dear. Two different views, one war.

I wasn't overly impressed with the author's first volume of Scalped, I confess, but I was really taken with The Other Side. The artwork, above all, is what makes this graphic novel stand out. One of my favorite pages carried panels of the horrors of war while others of a beautiful butterfly. Those drawings said so much more than words could ever express. The Other Side is definitely worth checking out.

Paco's Story by Larry Heinemann (Vintage, 1986) - Rating: * (Very Good)
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien (Broadway, 1990) - Rating:
* (Outstanding)
The Other Side by Jason Aaron & Cameron Stewart (Vertigo, 2007) -
Rating: * (Very Good)

Many thanks to Serena and Anna for hosting the Paco's Story read-a-long as well as the War Through the Generations Vietnam War Challenge. I still have one more book to read for the challenge to reach my personal challenge goal. There are three books in particular I would like to get to before the year is out, but if I read at least two of them, I'll be happy.

I currently am on an urban fantasy kick, having just discovered author Ilona Andrew's Kate Daniels' series. I am devouring the books and hope to post my thoughts on the first four books of the series at some point in the near future. There are quite a few movies I have seen recently that I also want to share with you.

You may have noticed my sporadic attendance here at Musings of a Bookish Kitty in recent months. I rarely talk about my work here, and while I won't go into details, I will say that I have been putting in a lot of overtime. In addition, my boss has stepped in to cover for one of her bosses who is now in a different position and, in the meantime, I am one of two who is acting in her stead, along with continuing with my usual duties. We've been told this will go on for awhile, most likely through the end of the year at the minimum. On the home front, my husband and I have been working on several different home projects in preparation for the eventual sale of our house. At times it seems silly given that our house will be torn down, but the more money we can get out of the city, the better off we'll be when we are ready to buy a new house. We finally got the official letter from the city promising an appraisal soon. It looks like the waiting is almost over. I did say almost, right?

That's a taste of what's going on in my life right now, among other things, anyway. I can hear the critics saying it's all about making time for what you love. While true to an extent, I've had to sacrifice somewhere. And right now, that's my blog. I am still reading. Just yesterday I was caught reading while waiting for a train to go by at an intersection. You have to read when you can, after all.

I appreciate all of you who still stop by and visit--more than you know. I am not commenting on your blogs nearly as much as I'd like, but I do visit when I can. I hope to make the rounds soon to say hello and let you know I'm still alive and kicking.

So, tell me what you all are reading these days? Anything you think I should jump on right away? What has been going on in your life?

Enjoy the rest of your weekend and happy reading!

Source: The Other Side was a gift from my husband, which he purchased. The other two books were both purchased by me.

© 2010, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Review: The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais

I suspect my destiny was written from the very start, my first sensation of life was the smell of machli ka salan, a spicy fish curry, rising through the floorboards to the cot in my parents' room above the restaurant. To this day I can recall the sensation of those cot bars pressed up coldly against my toddler's face, my nose poked out as far as possible and searching the air for that aromatic packet of cardamom, fish heads, and palm oil, which, even at that young age, somehow suggested there were unfathomable riches to be discovered and savored in the free world beyond. [pg 3]

The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais
Scribner, 2010
Fiction; 245 pgs

Those of you who know me well, know I am not fond of the kitchen. I like to eat (although lately, not so much), but my tastes are rather simple. Therefore, I am not sure I would feel at home in a high class French restaurant. So what was it that drew me to a book like The Hundred-Foot Journey, a novel about a young Indian boy who pursues his dream of becoming a famous French chef? It certainly wasn't the elaborate descriptions of food and slaving over a hot stove. I do, however, enjoy an inspiring story about reaching for one's dreams. And I like going behind the scenes in worlds or lives I am not familiar with, including getting a look inside the workings of a restaurant.

The Hundred-Foot Journey is not a deep novel, nor is it one I would label as a light read. Hassan Haji retells his life story, about his beginnings in the family kitchen in India to his eventual training in a haute cuisine French restaurant in Lumiére, just one hundred feet away from his family's own Indian restaurant and then onto strike it on his own in Paris. His family is forced to flee India after a tragic event that destroys everything his family worked. The family's relocation to France is met with some resistance, as is their attempt to establish themselves in the restaurant business there.

There was a distance in the telling of the story, and it made getting to truly know Hassan difficult on some level. However, from what I did learn about him and his life, I liked and admired him. He has a natural talent for cooking and even his chief rival cannot deny it.

Overall, it was an enjoyable book on one hand, but lacking on the other. I really would like to have gotten to know Hassan more. But there was a simplicity to the novel that was quite appealing. I enjoyed reading the behind the scene descriptions of shopping in the market for the freshest foods, the search for the perfect venue, spending time with Hassan's family, and seeing Hassan go from a young boy still trying to find his way to reaching his dreams.

Rating: * (Good)

For more information about the author and his book, visit his website.

Source: Copy of book provided by publicist/publisher.

© 2010, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Monday, August 09, 2010

TLC Tour Spotlight: Daniel Silva's The Rembrandt Affair

I fell in love with the character of Gabriel Allon when I first met him in The Messenger and am ashamed to say that it's taken me four years to visit him again, this time in Daniel Silva's latest book, The Rembrandt Affair. With a little nudge from TLC Book Tours, I finally got the chance, however, and am now kicking myself for waiting so long. And what is it with me and reading series books out of order so often since I started blogging? That's a topic for another time . . .

To add a little spice to the tour, the publisher sent tour participants a list of questions to respond to as part of The Rembrandt Affair Tour. It's a nice change from the usual review, and the questions were quite fun to answer.

If you were to write a blurb in fewer than three sentences for The Rembrandt Affair, what would it be?

What appears as a simple case of art theft and murder quickly evolves into a fast paced thriller that takes the reader back in time to the Holocaust where a bargain is made to save a life, and up through the present day conflicts that pose a threat on a global scale. Israeli spy and art restorer Gabriel Allon comes out of retirement to untangle the web of betrayal, greed, and murder, all centered around one woman, the portrait of a lover.

Gabriel Allon is a talented spy and assassin, but also a master art restorer. If you could have two careers that seem to be complete opposites, what would they be?

Growing up, I lived a lot in my imagination, whether it be through the books I read or the stories I created in my own head. I often found myself having an ordinary job such as being a social worker working with runaway teens or the homeless one moment, and then in the other, being a consultant for the FBI, helping solve some of their biggest crimes. While that still sounds appealing today, I also can see myself being a librarian by day and a singer in a small out of the way club by night. With maybe the occasional crime fighting on the side. I love a good mystery after all.

What three words would you use to describe the character of Gabriel Allon?

Intelligent. Resourceful. Compassionate.

The Rembrandt Affair takes the reader all over the world. Of all the locations mentioned, which would be your ideal vacation spot?

I have always wanted to travel to the United Kingdom, and Gabriel's hideaway in Cornwall sounds perfect. Quiet and by the water . . . Vacation spot? Heck, I wouldn't mind living there.

Art theft plays a major role in the novel. If no crime were involved, what piece of art would you like to have in your home?

I am afraid that art, other than in the form of writing, is not a big area of interest for me. I am quite content with a beautiful landscape painted by a local artist or perhaps a seascape by my mother-in-law. I am fascinated, however, by the idea of art restoration and art history, two subjects The Rembrandt Affair covered quite well.

Zoe Reed is a powerful female character in the novel. Tell us about an influential woman in your life.

I have never met her nor will I ever likely, but her book, One Child, shaped the course of my life in ways I could not fathom at the time I first read it. Torey Hayden is a child psychologist and special education teacher who refused to give up on even the hardest of situations, faced with teaching children who had been severely emotionally damaged. She was not able to help all of the children she worked, with and she certainly made plenty of mistakes along the way. She is only human after all. Her work with 6 year old Sheila in One Child was an inspiration to me on personal and professional levels and continues to be to this day.

Who was your favorite “good guy” in The Rembrandt Affair and why?

It is cliché to name the main character, I know, but I can't resist. Gabriel Allon won me over in the first Daniel Silva book I read, and he continued to do so in The Rembrandt Affair. He is not only remarkably good at his job, but he is also loyal to his friends. He will risk his own life to make sure all of the people on his team make it home alive.

All of the technology discussed in the novel is real. Does any of it surprise you?

Perhaps because I had already heard of much of the technology described in the book before, it came as no surprise. I also know how meticulous Daniel Silva can be about the details he puts into his books. While his books are fictional on many levels, he does strive for a certain amount of accuracy as well.

What celebrity would play Gabriel Allon if The Rembrandt Affair were on the big screen?

My least favorite question to have to answer under any circumstances! I am not good at selecting actors for roles in the books I read. I would really rather picture them as I see them in my own imagination. The first name that comes to mind if pushed is Eric Bana, who also starred in Munich. Perhaps that is a bit of typecasting on my part though. I loved him in Munich, although I think he's a bit taller and not quite the same physical build as I have in mind for Gabriel Allon. Or what about Joe Manganiello? He's a bit young for the role and he would have to wear contacts, but it might work.

Which fellow book-loving, blogging friend do you think would enjoy THE REMBRANDT AFFAIR?

The publisher has been kind enough to offer a free finished copy to a fellow blogger. I immediately thought of Sandy from You've GOTTA Read This! as she enjoys a good mystery, and, like me, has a special interest in reading more about the Holocaust. I hope she will enjoy this one as much as I did!

You can learn more about Daniel Silva, and his books on the author's website. Be sure and check the TLC Book Tours website for other tour stops as well.

Many thanks to the TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to be a part of this book tour. Book for review provided by the publisher.

© 2010, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.