Friday, September 29, 2006

The House with a Clock in Its Walls

Author: John Bellairs
Published: 1973 (First printing), August 3, 2004 (Puffin)
Category: Fantasy/YA

When I first started reading this book, I thought it reminded me of James Howe's Bunnicula series. It has that same feeling. Maybe it has to do with the time period those books were written in.

Poor little Lewis Barnavelt has been newly orphaned due his parents dying in a car crash, so he's going to live with his uncle. Even though Lewis has never met this uncle before, he quickly takes a liking to his friendly uncle, who happens to be a magician, and lives in an old mansion. Little does he know that the mansion was previously owned by an evil wizard and there's a secret ticking sounding within the house's walls. What is the source of that mysterious ticking, and why is it ticking?

Along with Mrs. Zimmerman, their neighbor who also happens to be a witch, the three of them solve the mystery of the ticking and save the world.

I love the writing and the descriptions of this book! Even though it wasn't a "scary" book, I'd get a creepy feeling when I was reading. It's not like a monster was going to attack Lewis - it was just a bunch of ticking! Bellairs also had such vivid descriptions, and it sounds really cheesy to say that I felt like I was in that old house, but I did!

However, if you want a really scary young adult book, you should check out The House on Hackman's Hill by Joan Lowery Nixon, first published in 1986 and most recently in 2001 by Scholastic. I first read it in elementary school and read it again last year, and I still get scared.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Goddess of Spring

Author: P.C. Cast
Published: August 3, 2004 (Berkley)
Category: Romance

Hmm, another book involving Greek gods and goddesses? Rest assured, this book was much better.

The Greek goddess Demeter has some problems. Souls are calling to her from death, in need of a goddess' touch in the Underworld. She also has a daughter who needs to grow up a little, and a human invoking her blessing for a bit of a financial problem. This mortal, Carolina, owns a lovely bakery, but due to some careless work done by her sleazy accountant, she owes the IRS a lot of money. Demeter offers a trade to Carolina: Persephone, Goddess of Spring, will exchange places with Carolina and breathe new life to Carolina's business while the mortal (in the goddess' body) will go to the Underworld and use her life experience to help those souls crying out for the mothering nature of a goddess.

Unbeknownst to any of the ladies, the ruler of the Underworld, Hades, was one of those souls in need of comfort. He always felt that the other immortals were frivolous and distanced himself from them. When Persephone/Carolina appeared for her six-month stay in the Underworld, Hades became a nervous god, often retreating to his cold shell, which puzzled Carolina.

Of course, they work past that when they get to know each other. Hades shows Carolina the unexpected beauty of his realm and Carolina shocks him with her maturity and weird affinity for animals (she turns his dread steeds into babies and tames Cereberus into a three-headed puppy). Unfortunately, when Hades discovers the goddess-mortal swap deception, he turns against Carolina, whose heart breaks because she thinks Hades doesn't want her if she's not a beautiful, youthful goddess. After all, she is a forty-three year-old mortal.

I won't spoil it by revealing the details, but there is a lovely happy ending!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Venus Envy

Author: Shannon McHelden
Published: January 2007
Category: Chick Lit

I got an ARC for this book a month ago and figured I'd give it a shot. I enjoy snarky books, and one of the blurbs on the front cover says that it's snarky.

Alas, it was not snarky enough for me.

Rachel Greer has had it with men. It seems as though every guy she dates has some serious problem with him. Because of this string of bad relationships, Rachel has issues with starting a new relationship and fills her calendar with volunteer work. I can agree with her method of avoidance. After I broke up with one of my ex-boyfriends, I studied my days away and made dean's list. However, Rachel took this rational avoidance strategy too far, to the point where she avoided her friends and family.

Enter her fairy godmother, Venus (a.k.a. Aphrodite of Mount Olympus), who was banished by Zeus to live amongst mortals and do fairy godmotherly things. The problem is, Venus doesn't like helping these women out. She's going through the motions so she can go back to Mount Olympus. So at first, Venus is all about herself, but we slowly find that she's more human than she would like to admit. She's homesick and begins to actually care about Rachel. She also makes a horrible mistake in judgment for purely selfish reasons (how much more human can you get than that?).

In the end, I was mildly entertained by this book. I didn't think it was very funny or the best chick lit I've ever read. We find that a goddess isn't any better than a mortal and I had no pity for her at all.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Darcy & Elizabeth: Days and Nights at Pemberley

Author: Linda Berdoll
Published: May 2006 (Sourcebooks)
Category: Historical Romance

Darcy & Elizabeth is Berdoll's sequel to her Pride and Prejudice sequel, Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife. I didn't like D&E as much as I liked Berdoll's first book. While the first book had a very strong storyline, the second seemed more like a journal of the goings-on in the Darcys' life. This pseudo-storyline, paired with Berdoll's style of backtracking in time, but from the viewpoint of a different character, makes the book less fluid than its predecessor.

D&E picks up approximately where Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife left off. I say approximately because of the way the changing viewpoint sometimes changes the point in the storyline. Elizabeth has just given birth to twins, a boy and a girl, thus fulfilling her duty as Darcy's wife by providing him an heir. Nothing really happens with Lizzy and Darcy in terms of their relationship growing. Their only relationship obstacle is when they can start doing it again after Lizzy's confinement.

Georgiana gets married to Colonel Fitzwilliam, and I'm not really sure about this. I guess back in those times, it was acceptable to marry your first cousin. After all, Darcy was "betrothed" to Lady Anne, his first cousin, and Mr. Collins tried to marry Lizzy (but I don't think he was a first cousin). It just grosses me out.

Wickham returns from the dead to do what he does best: scheme and cheat his way to some undeserved money. I dont' really like how Wickham wound up at the end of this book. I don't really see the point of Darcy meeting him to pay off the demands, especially with Bingley's money when Bingley was in dire financial straits. The end of the book got a little confusing and it was not as entertaining as the first.

There were other characters, such as the corrupt steward/butler and Lady Catherine, who didn't get the comeuppance they truly deserved. I love a good book with poetic justice. For a good example of that, read Anne Bishop's Black Jewels Trilogy, specifically Queen of the Darkness.

I think someone who wants to read a sequel to Pride and Prejudice should stick with Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife and pass on Darcy & Elizabeth.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Undomestic Goddess

Author: Sophie Kinsella
Published: July 19, 2005 (Dial Press)
Category: Chick Lit
Quote of Choice: The great thing about legal training is it really teaches you to lie.

Despite my deep hatred for Kinsella's Shopaholic series, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I actually think her stand-alone novels are far better than the series that made her so popular in the chick lit circles.

I really didn't like Shopaholic because of the main character, Becky. She had no common sense and never learned from her mistakes. Therefore, each book was a repetition of the previous one. She'd constantly buy all kinds of crap and try to hide it, and then get into a lot of debt, and by some windfall, get out of the mess. There was very little substance to the books and I felt like it was a constant prattling of high end brand names.

All right, this isn't about Becky and her shopping problems. This is about Samantha Sweeting, top associate at one of the most prestigious law firms in London. She works 14 hours a day and is chained to her job 24 hours a day by cell phone and Blackberry. For example, when she went to a spa for a relaxation treatment (a birthday gift that was about to expire from almost a year of non-usage), she hid her Blackberry in her paper panties.

On the day Samantha is to be made the youngest partner in the history of her firm, she discovers a horrible mistake. She neglected to register a loan for 50 million quid and panicked, realizing that her career would never recover from the mistake and went into shock. Samantha left the firm and got on a random train, winding up somewhere in the English countryside. She walked up to a house and into an interview for a housekeeper's position... and gets hired.

She lied in the interview about being a Cordon Bleu trained chef and working for her friend (the one who gave her the spa gift certificate and always said Samantha worked too hard), Lady Edgersley. Of course, since Samantha never had the time to learn how to turn on an oven, make a sandwich, or use a vacuum, she wasn't doing so well when she first started her job.

I almost stopped reading the book when Samantha decided to order gourmet sandwiches to cover her lack of cooking skills, then £800 replacing the wardrobe that she turned pink in the wash, and £3 per shirt for ironing by some village girl. However, Samantha learned how to cook and clean, thanks to Nathaniel, the cute, yet intelligent and sensitive, gardener. He made himself memorable to me when he saw Samantha's burned chickpeas coming out of the oven.

"Are those rabbit droppings?"

Nathaniel introduced Samantha to his mother, who spent weekends teaching her how to cook and clean. During these weekends, Samantha's jittery, twitchy soul began to heal. As a lawyer, she had been living her life in six-minute increments. Every minute was to be packed with activity, lest it be wasted. However, after venting her frustration over waiting for bread dough to rise (she questioned the point of waiting for the rise because it wasn't worth her time), Nathaniel's mom put the warm finished loaf in Sam's hands, saying that she created that bread. That small accomplishment meant more to Sam than the seven years she had poured into the law firm of Carter Spink. This law firm wiped Sam from every business deal Sam had led, giving the credit to other people rather than soil their website with the embarrassment of Samantha. It was like she never existed to them. In her time as a housekeeper, Samantha became a human, rather than the husk she had been for a decade.

Of course, Samantha never made that mistake. She discovers a financial scam and clears her name. However, when Carter Spink offers her full equity partnership, apparently unheard of, she rejects it in favor of being a housekeeper. Then the story leaks out with huge headlines saying things like, "Promising lawyer would rather clean loos than work for Carter Spink," making CS look quite the fool. From what I hear, these kinds of prestigious law firms say that they don't treat their associates like resources to be milked to the last drop. Samantha's choice shot Carter Spink's humane associate treatment motto into the ground.

So in the end, Samantha has to choose between an even more generous offer to become a partner, or have a life where she can be happy and fulfilled. It is true that I enjoyed this book so much because of the whole, "I'd rather do something else than be a lawyer" thing. After all, I did choose to leave law school and take up publishing instead, despite the very low salary. You have to do what makes you happy, and I knew that I wouldn't be happy as a lawyer.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Noble Intentions

Author: Katie MacAlister
Published: February 2002 (Leisure Books)
Category: Regency Romance

This is the first of MacAlister's historical romances. I guess it was okay for the first one. I felt like it had a lot of potential that was never realized. For Noble Intentions, we have the "emotionally damaged hero rescued by plucky, ahead-of-her-time heroine" plot device.

The hero is Noble Britton (unfortunate name), a.k.a. "The Black Earl," so called because he was involved in quite a scandal several years ago. He was accused with murdering his wife, but that isn't a proven fact. Just the doings of the gossip mill.

The heroine is Gillian, visiting her cousin Charlotte, who is looking for a husband. Gillian doesn't mind being around since she's practically a spinster. She also has something she refers to as an "unfortunate habit," which encompasses speaking her inner monologue (like Austin Powers, as a side effect of the unfreezing process), setting curtains on fire, and touching wet paint in the most unfortunate of colors (blue).

Despite her unfortunate habit, Noble makes an offer for Gillian after just a couple days and they get married within a week. Their relationship is a little weird. They're extremely passionate in bed, but outside of it, Noble becomes distant, guarding his heart against her. Gillian, not one to back down from a challenge, keeps on trying to break down Noble's walls, no matter what destruction occurs along the way.

I felt like too much was going on at the same time. It probably could've been balanced better. There were a lot of characters, between Noble's friends, Gillian's relatives, Noble's servants (three of which are identical triplets, all going by their last name), and Noble's mute bastard son. There's a plot working against Noble and Gillian, most likely by the person responsible for Noble's first wife's murder. Oh, and there's a ghost too.

I got a little tired of Noble's indecision. He loves Gillian, then he doesn't. Then he doesn't trust her. Then he loves her again. Now he's going to yell at her, and then love her, etc. Of course, everything works out in the end, despite the unbelievability of their relationship.