Sunshine by Robin McKinley

First, I don’t usually take ten days to finish a book – any book – and admittedly, I finished this a couple days ago, but it was our anniversary, and then I was jazzed from workshop so I couldn’t focus. But, it did take me longer than usual to finish Sunshine, and I’m not sure why. Something about the book lulled me into a weird moody place where I just couldn’t zip through the words the way I usually do. I think it was that Robin McKinley did such a great job of setting the scene, and letting us see the characters.

In any case, I picked up Sunshine because I couldn’t resist the notion of a vampire novel with that name, and I generally like vampire novels. This one was wonderfully rich in detail – set in an alternative present in which police forces have supernatural ops forces to guard against the Others – weres, demons, and vampires.

Lest this sound at all like the worlds of Tanya Huff, Laurell K. Hamilton, or the BuffyVerse, let me assure you that McKinley’s supernatural “now” is much grittier, much creepier, and much darker, with the backstory of Voodoo Wars and the knowledge that humanity is losing its war against the Others.

Brightening up the darkness, is Sunshine, a plucky baker and dessert pusher at the local coffee bar. She has a slightly crazy family, a tattooed bike-riding boyfriend, and a great apartment, and then she drives out to the lake cottage her family once owned, and is kidnapped – not fed upon – by vampires, and thrown into a cell with another vampire, Constantine, who is chained in the corner opposite hers.

To tell more would destroy the plot. While it does have predictable elements – Sunshine and Constantine eventually team up and escape and there are inevitable repercussions – the story never seems old or stale, and while it is complete in and of itself, it feels like the beginning of a series.

If anything, I’d have liked to see more of Constantine – he’s very present in the entire novel but doesn’t have much page count – and a little more of Sunshine and Mel.

Also, recipes for the desserts would be cool. But maybe that’s just my inner chocoholic talking.

11 Decades, 22 Books

I saw a challenge on a fellow bookblogger’s sidebar that intrigued me, and so I’m joining. The original challenge is 15 books/15 decades, but I couldn’t pick just one book per decade, so I’m doing 22 books spanning 11 decades.

In selecting my titles, I chose books from only years ending in 00 and 05, listed on Wikipedia’s novels by year search results pages, that I hadn’t read, but had been meaning to, or felt that I should, or just interested me in some way. I used a narrow field of choices because otherwise I’d have been picking novels for days.

This, then, is my list, by year of original publication:
1900 – Sister Carrie, Theodore Dreiser
1905 – The Lighthouse at the Edge of the World, Jules Verne
1910 – Howard’s End, E.M. Forster
1915 – The Thirty-Nine Steps, John Buchan
1920 – The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Agatha Christie
1925 – The Wind, Dorothy Scarborough
1930 – East Wind, West Wind, Pearl S. Buck
1935 – The African Queen, by C.S. Forester
1940 – For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
1945 – The Small Rain, Madeleine L’Engle
1950 – The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury
1955 – A Charmed Life, Mary McCarthy
1960 – The Light in the Piazza, Elizabeth Spencer
1965 – Desolation Angels, Jack Kerouac
1970 – Jonathon Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach
1975 – Crocodile on the Sandbank, Elizabeth Peters
1980 – A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
1985 – The Sand Child, Tahar Ben Jelloun
1990 – The Ghost from the Grand Banks, Arthur C. Clarke
1995 – Northern Lights, Phillip Pullman
2000 – Drowning Ruth, Christina Schwarz
2005 – Comfort Food, Noah Ashenhurst – – Review

I may not read them in order, but reviews will be posted here after each book is finished.

Fool Moon

Fool Moon (The Dresden Files, Book 2) by Jim Butcher

Book Two of Jim Butcher’s fantasy/mystery series The Dresden Files mixing it up with werewolves, of which, we learn from Bob (the spirit in the skull) there are many different kinds. Butcher’s novels are designed so that readers who follow the series in order will pick up the continuing relationships between the characters, but so that they can be read as stand-alone stories as well – which is my wordy way of saying that there was enough introduction included to make sure that new readers knew who everyone was, but not so much that it felt at all repetitive.

With the eponymous television series now in its seventh week on the Sci-Fi channel (here in the States, and on Space, I think, in Canada) comparisons are inevitable, but while the feel of the series is sort of “cozy paranormal” the books retain a much more classic detective novel tone, with strong secondary characters like local crime lord John Marcone offering a surprising amount of depth and personality.

Harry, of course, is our main focus, and in this novel we see just how fragile his friendship with cop Karrin Murphy really is, and get a little bit better knowledge of his on-again off-again romance with Arcane reporter Susan.

The action and exposition nicely balance each other, and over all the story does what Jim Butcher does best: entertains, and leaves us wanting more.

Venus Envy

Venus Envy by Shannon McKelden

Venus may be a goddess on Mt. Olympus, but she’s been sentenced to play fairy godmother to the lovelorn until Zeus decides she’s learned whatever lesson he might intend. Rachel Greer, bank employee and frequen dater of loser men, is Venus’s latest mission – and it’s not an easy one. Rachel’s relationship history has bruised her so badly that even when a hunky firefighter is practically stalking her (in a good way, honest!) she keeps avoiding him.

McKelden’s characters are quirky and funny, and this novel is a feel-good read that reminds us what the best chick-lit is all about.

The Devil’s Teeth

The Devil’s Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America’s Great White Sharks by Susan Casey

The Farallones, an island group just 30 miles west of San Francisco, and nicknamed The Devil’s Teeth because of their jagged profiles and unforgiving terrain, are also surrounded by waters which are the stomping grounds, so to speak, of one of our greatest apex predators: The Great White Shark.

Author Susan Casey managed to convince two biologists in residence to let her visit the island, and shadow their work for a compelling look at these great fish, and the men and women who study them in an environment that leaves them free to remain wild, and largely untainted by humanity.

The book’s only flaw was that it ended too soon, otherwise it was compelling, interesting, and exciting, offering a fresh look at these sharks who are so often Discovery channel fodder.

Love is a Mix Tape

Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time by Rob Sheffield

This book was hanging out on the “new fiction” shelves at my local Barnes and Noble, and when I picked it up, I was hoping it was similar to a recent read I’d picked up at Half Price Books – <i>Liner Notes</i>. It wasn’t. First, it’s not fiction, but the autobiographical tale of the author’s life prior to, and during, his brief marriage to the first love of his life, a woman named Renee. Second, in this book the music isn’t incidental – it’s an integral part of the author’s personality, Renee’s personality, and the fabric of their relationship, cut short by her sudden death.

It is a beautiful book, never once becoming maudlin or depressing. Instead, it is as lyrical and uplifting as many of the tunes mentioned, albeit with a gritty backbeat only reality can provide.

Francesca’s Kitchen

Francesca’s Kitchen by Peter Pezzelli

Francesca Campanile is a classic Italian-American widow. Her youngest child has reached adulthood and doesn’t live at home any more, and her older children have moved to opposite ends of the country and have families of their own. Needing to feel needed, she answers an ad for a single mother looking for a nanny. What she finds is a new family.

The mother, Loretta, works too many hours, and the kids, Penny and Will (one wonders if the other was a fan of <i>Lost in Space</i>, have no structure. Francesca changes that, becoming a mother figure to Loretta and a grandmother-figure to the kids. When Loretta hits it off with Francesca’s unmarried son, the family unit is cemented into one.

What could be a cheesy tale is made real by the validity of the various character’s emotions: Francesca feels old and useless, Loretta feels like a failure as a mother, etc.  That Italian food and home cooking are prevalent themes only makes the book stronger, for the kitchen is the heart of any home. And that’s what this book has plenty of: heart.

Warning: may make you crave baked ziti.

Love Walked In

Love Walked InLove Walked In

I picked up this book at the airport in Dallas on my way to San Jose a few weeks ago, because I realized I’d forgotten to pack a book to read. I ended up not reading on the flight out there at all, but then started it in the hotel later that night. By the time I was home a few days later I was finished. In any case, it was an impulsive choice – the least offensive of the airport fare – and hey, the main character, Cornelia Brown, was the owner of a cafe. I like cafe stories.

As it turns out,  Marisa de los Santos’s novel is really two stories – there’s old-movie loving Cornelia’s search for romantic bliss, and then there’s the parallel tale of precocious young Clare, daughter of Cornelia’s new boyfriend Martin, who is looking for emotional stability and a sense of home.

Naturally both stories merge, but with a twist that makes this more than just chick-lit, and closer to general romance, though not in the Silhouette sense of the word.  It’s a gentle tale with vivid characters. Great for bathtub reading.

Thursday 13 #1

Thirteen Rec ommendations from Bibliotica

13 Children’s Books You Have to Experience

  1. Fletcher and Zenobia Edward Gorey and Victoria Chess combined their talents to come up with a magical tale of adventure and friendship. I bought a copy for $60 at a used bookstore several years ago, to replace the copy I lost in one of many moves. If you ever have a chance to read this – take it.
  2. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad DayAlexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day Judith Viorst’s classic tale of a kid’s awful day. The cadence of the language will make you want to read it out loud. Often.
  3. Where the Wild Things AreWhere the Wild Things Are Is there anything more classic than this bedtime tale of monsters and mayhem? Maurice Sendak is amazing!
  4. In the Night Kitchen (Caldecott Collection)In the Night Kitchen (Caldecott Collection) Another Sendak offering. This is a great trip through a kid’s imagination.
  5. Ghosts I Have BeenGhosts I Have Been Meant for older kids (I think I was eight or nine when I read it, but even ten-year-olds would like it) this book is spooky in the same way that campfire tales are spooky. And Blossom Culp is quite the character.
  6. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. FrankweilerFrom the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler Claudia and James run away from home and hide in the Metropolitan Museum of Art – where they decide to solve the mystery of a statue’s real origins.
  7. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking GlassAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass For adults, I recommend the annotated version, but any version of the original tale will do – so NOT what Disney animated.
  8. Madeline,  Reissue of 1939 editionMadeline, Reissue of 1939 edition So quintessentially French and utterly precocious. Not to be missed.
  9. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Books of Wonder)The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Books of Wonder) If you enjoyed the movie, but haven’t read the book, you’re missing a lot. And then, there are the other 14 books in the series…
  10. The Complete Tales of Winnie-The-PoohThe Complete Tales of Winnie-The-Pooh From the first *bump* to the last “Oh, bother,” this should be required reading. Pooh before he was Disnified.
  11. A Child's Garden of VersesA Child’s Garden of Verses He might be better known for Treasure Island, but Robert Louis Stevenson’s collection of poetry is charming and effervescent. I’m never sure if my favorite is “The Swing” or “My Shadow.”
  12. Where the Sidewalk Ends: Poems and DrawingsWhere the Sidewalk Ends: Poems and Drawings Sometimes creepy, sometimes funny, always worth a second look.
  13. The Chronicles of Narnia (Box Set)The Chronicles of Narnia (Box Set) It may be cheating a bit to include a boxed set, but really, all the Narnia books are wonderful, not just The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

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