Monthly Archives: March 2010

Teaser Tuesday: The Night Gardener

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme,  hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Basically, open the book you’re currently reading and share a couple of sentences from that page on your blog.   Avoid spoilers of course.

Ramone nodded and pointed his chin in the direction of a photo on the prosecutor’s desk. “How’s the family?”

“I suspect they’re good. Maybe I’ll take some time off this year and find out.”

from The Night Gardener by George Pelecanos, p. 95


Filed under Teaser Tuesday

Skinwalker by Faith Hunter

2009. 320 pages. Mass market paperback.

From: The public library – interlibrary loan.

Recommendation from: drey’s library

In a nutshell:

Jane Yellowrock is a Cherokee skinwalker, a human that can change into the form of an animal (usually that of a mountain lion).  In this version of the world, vampires and witches are publicly known supernatural beings.  As far as Jane knows, she is the only one of her kind, and so she protects her supernatural identity from all but her closest friends.  Jane kills rogue vampires for a living.  In Skinwalker, New Orleans’ vampire council hires her to kill a rogue vampire that has been gruesomely murdering humans and vampires alike.


Jane Yellowrock is a great urban fantasy heroine.  Though Jane’s Native American heritage and shapeshifting powers reminded me of Patricia Briggs’ character Mercy Thompson, the two characters have very different back-stories and inhabit different paranormal situations.

My favorite aspect of the book is also one of the hardest aspects to explain.  Not only can Jane shapeshift, but also, sometime in her fuzzy past, she acquired the additional consciousness of a mountain lion.  (How this happened is later recalled by Jane but I don’t want to spoil it.)

Jane names this second consciousness ‘Beast’.  When Jane shifts into the form of the lion, it is Beast’s thought-processes that are dominant.  When Jane is in human form, Jane’s way of thinking is strongest.  Neither is silenced when in the other’s form, and so there is this cool, frequently amusing, banter going on between the two of them.  Sometimes, there is even a battle of the wills.  I loved being inside of Jane’s mind because it was so interesting in there.

While becoming accustomed to this unusual dual-narrator set-up, the reader learns – along with Jane – the intricate politics and rituals of the vampire clans in New Orleans.  As befits a vampire-hunter, Jane is not generally fond of vampires, and is much more comfortable getting chummy with the vampires’ human servants.  However, she does establish some uneasy working relationships with some of the vampires.

The author is a native of Louisiana and this shines through in the familiar tone she takes in the book’s descriptions of New Orleans.  There may have been a few too many scenes of Jane rambling around and discovering the city.  However, since those scenes are responsible for me wanting to go there and eat lots of food, I guess you couldn’t call them entirely unsuccessful.

This definitely seems to be a series worth following and I’ve already placed an inter-library loan request for the sequel, Blood Cross.


Filed under Fantasy, Supernatural & Surreal

Checking in on Challenges

So it’s almost the end of March and a quarter of the year gone.  For (possibly only my own) amusement, I thought I’d see how I’m going on all those challenges I recklessly joined before the year began.

Roll call!

Valparaiso Poetry Review: 0/2

Flashback Reading Challenge (a re-read challenge): 0/6

Thriller and Suspense Challenge: 1/12

Colorful Reading Challenge: 1/7

What’s in a Name 2/6

2nd Reading Challenge 3/12

Memorable Memoir Challenge 2/4

Take a Chance Challenge 0/6

Biodiversity Challenge 1/5

And finally, my personal challenge to read 19 books older than myself:

2/19 (I actually have read a couple of other books older than myself, but for this challenge I am actually trying to read the ones from the original list.  If I’m desperate the other older books will substitute.)

So . . . heh heh heh.  That looks a little sad.  But it’s still March and I’m still optimistic and still interested in all the challenges, so it’s all good.  A lot of the books that I have checked out from the library slot into at least one of those challenges.  I’m working on it.


Filed under Uncategorized

Abbeville by Jack Fuller

2008. 257 pages. Hardcover

From: The public library

For: Spotlight Series

The Spotlight Series is a reading and discussion series focused on small press publishers, their authors and their books.  For this round, the spotlighted press is Unbridled Books.  See other reviews for this series on the Spotlight Series website.

In a nutshell:

After the dot com bubble burst, George Bailey (yes, he is named after the character in It’s a Wonderful Life) is financially ruined.  He returns to visit his small Midwest hometown – Abbeville – and there he considers his grandfather’s life.  His grandfather had suffered great loss due to the 1929 stock market crash.  The book tells the story of his grandfather, Karl Schumpeter, starting from his job as a clerk at his uncle’s logging camp in Wisconsin and spanning through the years and wars and family troubles until his death.


The premise of this book was not my usual choice of story, sounding a little dull to my ears.  However, I decided to take a chance on it, because sometimes judging by the story outline can lead to incorrect conclusions.

Unfortunately, I had to conclude that I’m not the right audience for this book.  I wouldn’t consider it a slog, because the prose is far too straight-forward to allow for anyone to get bogged down in it.  There are some good descriptions of places and times, such as the Chicago trading pits and Abbeville itself, but I just never connected with the story or the characters.

Perhaps because the story was framed in the grandson’s reflections, the details of the grandfather’s life all felt foregone.  I perhaps felt a mild curiosity about the unfolding events, but not an emotional investment.  The grandfather and most of the other characters are basically good people.  There are a couple of hard-hearted folks, including a childhood rival turned lawyer who is set up as the perpetual antagonist of Karl Schumpeter.

There were two characters that I found interesting that I wished had more time in the narrative: a red-headed street-smart secretary named Luella and Karl’s rich and calculating Uncle John.  The two of them look to be main characters at one point, but end up in the periphery instead.

It is a bit of a feel-good novel, with older characters always at the ready with solid advice and understanding for the younger ones.  There is inter-generational bonding over fly-fishing.  A small town comes together over a crisis.  Personally, I would have liked a little more charisma from the characters and a little more daring to the plot, but I wasn’t to get it.  I’ll have to do an end-of-the-year test on this one and see if it’s one of those books that grows in appreciation over time or if it’s of the more forgettable variety.


Filed under Book Review, Historical Fiction

Hunting Ground by Patricia Briggs

2009. 286 pages. Mass market paperback.

From: Public Library

For the challenge: 2nd Reading Challenge

In a nutshell:

Anna is a fairly new werewolf, still recovering from the abuse of her first pack.  Charles is the son and enforcer of the head North American werewolf.  In the first book of this series, the Alpha and Omega series, Charles and Anna became mates.  This series runs parallel to Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series.  In this second book, Charles and Anna head to Seattle.  The North American werewolves are about to go public about their existence and as this has worldwide impact, they will be holding an assembly with a delegation of European werewolves.  A powerful, belligerent French werewolf threatens the success of the whole assembly.  Amid this tension, mercenary vampires attack Anna and others who are with her.


Hunting Ground is definitely a stronger book than the first in the series, Cry Wolf.  The mystery here takes some good twists and turns.  Even when I figured out who some of the ‘bad guys’ were, I didn’t know the motivations or exactly what their part was in the unfolding events.

I really liked the relationship of Charles and Anna in this book.  In the first, they were still getting to know each other.  In Hunting Ground, though they still have stuff to sort out, they operate more as a team. What I most liked is that Charles wasn’t uber-possessive / protective, as sometimes romantic leading characters can be in urban fantasy novels.  He certainly reacts strongly when she is threatened but know when she can protect herself, and even better, when she can save him or others.  She makes friends among the American and European werewolves.

I especially loved the further exploration of Anna’s powers as an Omega wolf.  As Anna explains to another werewolf, “An Omega wolf is an Alpha wolf who is extremely zen.”  It’s fantastic to see her demonstrate her powers to calm and even command the Alpha werewolves in her vicinity.

The Alpha and Omega novels delve more into the global and national politics of the werewolves more than the Mercy Thompson series, and I appreciate the different perspective on Briggs’ world.  The Mercy Thompson series is still my favorite, mainly because of Mercy herself, but with Hunting Ground, I’m officially on board with the Alpha and Omega series.


Filed under Fantasy, Supernatural & Surreal

Teaser Tuesday: Swampwalker’s Journal

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme,  hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Basically, open the book you’re currently reading and share a couple of sentences from that page on your blog.   Avoid spoilers of course.

Although the trees have been dead for some years now, they persevere as structure, architectonic columns, platforms, bridges, and rafts.  By virtue of all the lives within and among these trees, even as they gradually go down into the water, they are yet a living forest.

from Swampwalker’s Journal: A Wetland Year by David M. Carroll, p. 118


Filed under Teaser Tuesday

Book Blogger Hop

Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Crazy for Books, is a cool weekly event that is all about discovering new blogs.  I’m trying not to let my Google Reader get overrun, but I do like checking out other book blogs and seeing if there’s some new blogs with which I may have an affinity.  So if you haven’t heard of it, check it out!


Filed under Uncategorized

Black Mountain Breakdown by Lee Smith

1980.  228 pages. Hardcover.

From: the public library

For the challenge: 2nd Reading Challenge

In a nutshell:

Crystal Spangler lives in a small Appalachian town.  She’s pretty and usually eager to please others and fulfill their expectations, but there are flashes of independence.   The book follows her from her entrance into junior high up through her early thirties.  She enjoys popularity among her peers and with boys, explores charismatic Christianity, and has success in beauty pageants.  Her later life takes her away from Appalachia, but she eventually returns.


I read and loved Lee Smith’s Fair and Tender Ladies, and enjoyed the return to Smith’s Appalachia.  Both books are stuffed with story.  Even very minor characters usually get fascinating backstories or amusing mini-portraits.  Take this brief sketch of another pageant contestant:

Suetta Wheeler, a senior, was Miss Claytor Lake last summer; she’ll be really embarrassed if she doesn’t get this one too.  If she could just wear her bathing suit, Suetta knows she could win.  Her legs are her best feature, she thinks.  But the Junior Women vetoed bathing suits twenty-six to two; bathing suits simply are not in good taste.  Suetta grinds her teeth at Crystal.  Crystal smiles.

Crystal is a bit of an enigma, both to the reader and to other characters.  Rocked early on in the story by a death in her family, Crystal swings from apparent contentment to periods of high emotion, even hysteria.  The book riffles through multiple perspectives, but the predominant viewpoints belong to Crystal and her childhood friend, Agnes, who is as practical as Crystal is flighty.

Lee Smith knows how to tell a good story, and this one kept me entertained throughout with humor, spot-on descriptions, a lively cast of characters, and a looming sense of tragedy.

There was one thing I had mixed feelings about, and it was how Lee Smith kept the reader in the dark regarding an event that happens in Crystal’s teenage years.  She doesn’t reveal the details of this event until the end.  I think anyone could guess what had happened, so the revelation is not necessarily surprising.  But I think that perhaps too much was left unsaid about it, and the scene where Crystal recollects the memory of the event comes out somewhat muddled.  I’m not sure what exactly happens there, and I think knowing more would have made the ending stronger.

I liked Black Mountain Breakdown a lot, because I love Lee Smith’s writing and her sense of place and people and story.  Fair and Tender Ladies is definitely the better book though. Fair and Tender Ladies’ main character, Ivy Rowe, is much more spirited and independent.  She is in fact, one of my favorite literary characters of all time.  Also, Ivy Rowe is not a town-girl like Crystal, but lives up in a holler for much of her childhood and is from a much earlier time period.  Old and rural ways and customs thus play a bigger part and give Fair and Tender Ladies an almost exotic appeal.  In addition, Fair and Tender Ladies is more epic, covering a longer span of years.  Finally, it is an epistolary novel, which done right is a fantastic literary form.

So, take this post as an overall recommendation for the writing of Lee Smith, and a specific recommendation to read Fair and Tender Ladies first, and then if you like that, read Black Mountain Breakdown.  Based on these two books, I think I’ll eventually track down and read everything that she has written.


Filed under Book Review

Library Loot: March 17th

There were two unfinished books returned to the library: Michael Flynn’s The Wreck of the River of Stars and Richelle Mead’s Storm Born.  I loved Flynn’s book Eifelheim, but wasn’t getting into The Wreck of the River of Stars.  I think that it was mainly a mood and timing thing, and I may try it again some other time.  Storm Born started off promising enough with the protagonist casting out a spirit that is inhabiting a guy’s sneaker which was amusing.  But then it quickly went into romance-novel territory, which is not what I was looking for.  I’m not always good at separating urban fantasy from paranormal romance when I’m looking for the former.  I’m not even sure there’s a clear line of demarcation between them.  In any case, Storm Born was like – let’s jump into a hot sex scene! – and I decided that it wasn’t for me.  I like romantic plotlines but I prefer them to be more understated.

Anyway, here are the new books that came home with me after returning the above and the others I had finished:

Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat – I liked Krik? Krak! and want to read a full novel from Danticat.  In this novel, 12-year-old Sophie is sent from Haiti to live with her mother in New York, who she barely knows.

La’s Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith – Hard to believe, but I have not read anything by the prolific McCall Smith.  In this novel set during WWII, a woman leaves London to live in a small town.  She organizes an orchestra to boost morale.  The story sounds charming.

Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich – I’ve seen this author’s titles around but never read her.  Erdrich is Chippewa and this was her debut novel.  I don’t know really what it’s about except that it spans fifty years and is set on a North Dakota reservation.

I haven’t read a thriller recently, so I checked out a couple:

Dead Run by P.J. Tracy – this is the third book of the Monkeewrench series that I really enjoyed last year.

The Night Gardener by George Pelecanos – I live in the D.C. area so I’ve been meaning to get around to this author’s books, which are set here.

*Library Loot is hosted by Eva and Marg.


Filed under Library Loot

Teaser Tuesday: Black Mountain Breakdown

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme,  hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Basically, open the book you’re currently reading and share a couple of sentences from that page on your blog.   Avoid spoilers of course.

“I want to go to Lookout Mountain, Tennessee,” says Agnes’s little sister Pauletta, who has recently changed her name to Babe, dancing in on the plastic runner which goes from the living room through the dining room to protect the beige wall-to-wall carpet.  Babe, at ten, is a showoff and old for her age.  But Crystal likes her.

from Black Mountain Breakdown by Lee Smith, p. 14


Filed under Teaser Tuesday