Saturday, November 29, 2008

Review: Salvation in Death by J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts)

This book is the latest in a prolific series revolving around a near-future New York and its top cop, Eve Dallas, who is married to a billionaire tycoon with his fingers in all sorts of pies. I admire the consistently high quality of this series---Roarke is so rich and powerful, and so besotted with Eve, that as they settle into want-for-nothing domestic bliss, it's harder to up the stakes and make things matter. It's a little too easy, given Roarke's connections and access to pretty much whatever he wants, to use him as a crutch, and while this sort of thing has happened more as the series progresses, Roberts does still find ways to mix it up.

In this volume, the dead guy is a con man posing as a priest, and this stirs up all sorts of philosophical issues for the non-religious Eve. She is fascinated by the faith exhibited by numerous characters as the investigation progresses, and is equally fascinated by the ways they use this faith to justify and/or excuse their behaviour. She also finds herself (and her partner) dealing with the emotional ramifications of a murder victim who was not such an innocent himself. Both she and Roarke are more introspective in this adventure than in others, pondering, given their own backgrounds, why some people Overcome and some do not.

This was not the most action-packed and adventure-filled outing, and we barely saw some minor characters that I know readers enjoy (Mavis, for example, is due for a big part soon!) But I find this series to be consistently excellent and was looking forward to reading the latest story. I wouldn't pay hard-cover prices, though. My library routinely offers such books in non-reservable three-day 'fast read' loans, so for me, this was a race between 'happen to spot it at library' and 'e-book goes on sale.' Lucky for those who are profiting from this title, the e-book happened to go on sale first, but it could have just as easily gone the other way!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Review: A Really Bad Hair Day: The Return of Magic Plague by Rob Preece

I became aware of both A Really Bad Hair Day and its author (who runs a website called Books for a Buck) through his posts on Teleread, and I like what he's doing---getting full-length, affordable (usually under $4) novels by new authors out there in DRM-free formats for everyone to enjoy. Most of his website's catalogue is available at Fictonwise, and it was there that I picked up this book by the head honcho himself.

The novel is about a spunky young lawyer named Erin who discovers one morning that snakes are growing out of her hair. That turns out to be the tip of the iceberg in an epidemic of people who seem to be picking up supernatural traits for no apparent reason. As struggles mount between the transformed and non-transformed, she picks up a sexy professor boyfriend who is studying the goings-on, and a case involving a magically-altered type which might make or break her legal career.

This is a fun, light read---nothing too heavy or profound, but a very enjoyable little story. Erin maintains a sense of humour throughout the story, and the characters are well-drawn and interesting. The romance is nicely played---Erin's doubt as to whether the professor is getting off more on scientific curiosity than on her specifically was realistic and very humanizing.

I'm going to stop harping on typos and formatting errors in my reviews, as I have found those in every e-book I've read so far, even those from major publishers. So with that aside, I give my recommendation for this one. Great value, fun story, enjoyable characters and that small hint of quirky spark that I always enjoy in an otherwise genre story. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Review: The Remains of the Dead by Wendy Roberts

This book, attracted my by its subtitle: the first of the 'ghost dusters' mysteries. I am a sucker for puns and clever concepts, and this novel's gimmick is the profession of protagonist Sadie Novack: she's a professional cleaner who specializes in cleaning up after crimes. Also, she sees dead people.

The tale begins with Our Intrepid Heroine and her crusty-but-softie-underneath partner cleaning a house following a murder-suicide which appears cut and dry. However, the dead wife appears to Sadie and implies her husband Did Not Do It, so Sadie starts poking around. From this point onward, it was a fairly straightforward 'poke around for clues, get into trouble, get out of trouble, poke around for more clues' kind of story, and there is nothing wrong with that, I guess. It kept me for the most part interested. It kept me reading. Sadie's backstory was nicely done, and her Big Issue gets just resolved enough to not be a central plot point forever, but it remains a little open-ended to allow for future exploration too. But Wendy Roberts is no Nora Roberts, and at times the book did feel a tiny bit formulaic. And there was a revelation in the epilogue that was just beyond ridiculous.

Still, it's a fairly solid read. She may get me for the sequel if the price is right, but I am expecting a little more next time.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The book is about a boy called Bod, who is orphaned as an infant and left to grow up in a graveyard, where he is raised by his mysterious guardian, Silas, and a revolving series of ghosts. That's pretty much it---the book is decently written, but this is its one flaw, that at times it favours 'developing atmosphere' at the expense of 'developing plot.' The suspense factor of its one major plot point could have been strengthened had Gaiman thought to develop it substantially before the last third of the book! It is to Gaiman's credit that the atmosphere (i.e. the depiction of life in the graveyard) was reasonably interesting. But a little more 'plot' would have not have been amiss.

This small quibble aside, the book was a fun, quick read. I don't know that I would recommend it as its current exorbitant price, but if Gaiman interests you and you catch it at another sale (or a permanently lowered price once the paperback hits the market) than by all means, grab this. It's a decent read.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Misc: My E-Book Starter Kit

A game came up on a message board I frequent, where the following question was posed: let's say that you were some famous celebrity promoting the cause of literacy, and as a prize in a charity fund-raiser, you were asked to donate a library of up to 25 beloved books, hand-picked by you. What would you choose? I thought I would take this into the e-realm and see what sort of starter kit I could come up with for an e-book newcomer if I were putting together for them a little package of great reads. And I am even including links to all the titles on my list (and to freebies, where one exists!) so if anyone wants to take me up on this, they can download at will. My list is a mix of classics, contemporary literature and light sci-fi/mystery usually with a somewhat quirky or fun, but decidedly mainstream leaning. Ready? In no particular order...
  1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (free)
  2. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
  3. Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
  4. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (free)
  5. The Great Santini by Pat Conroy
  6. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
  7. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  8. Wicked by Gregory MaGuire
  9. Three Plums in One by Janet Evanovich
  10. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham (free)
  11. 1984 by George Orwell (free)
  12. Overclocked by Corey Doctorow (free)
  13. Naked in Death by J.D. Robb aka Nora Roberts
  14. City at World's End by Edmond Hamilton (free)
  15. Story of my Life by Helen Keller (free)
  16. Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (free)
  17. Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi (free)
  18. The $30,000 Bequest and Other Stories by Mark Twain (free)
  19. The Golden Treasury edited by Francis Turner Palgrave (free)
  20. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (free)
  21. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  22. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
  23. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery (free)
  24. The Stand by Stephen King
  25. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam by Edward Fitzgerald (free)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Review: 3rd World Products, Book 1 by Ed Howdershelt

3rd World Products, Book 1 is a book by one of those indie-internet authors, and in spite of some somewhat pompous internet message board posts, one of the better ones. A multi-pack of all his books, at substantial discount, is available from the author's website, but if you are like me and you prefer the eReader format, you'll have to wait for a sale at Fictionwise if you want the whole kit.

I'm currently on the second one. The first one impressed me enough to seek out his other titles, even if it has to be one at a time and without the bundle discount. The plot concerns a man (also named Ed, like the author) who is a former 'intelligence agent.' He gets drawn back into his old life when a spaceship shows up.

From this basic premise, Howdershelt spins an entertaining yarn full of space aliens who are sexy, amusing and entrepreneurial. I coveted the Amaran spaceship gadget which has every movie or television show ever made, and while I am not sure I am in the market for a hovercraft, the talking on-board computer (who appears as a major character in at least one of the sequels) would be a handy thing indeed. Spy Ed is pretty unflappable, and his low-key reactions to what he sees keep the at times outlandish subject matter grounded for the reader. This is not 'eternal literature for the ages' but it *is* a light and entertaining read.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Review: Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult

I purchased this novel by Jodi Picoult during a recent 50% off sale at Fictionwise. I enjoyed it immensely. I have read other books by Picoult, and this was definitely on par with her other works in terms of quality and readability.

The story concerns Ellie Hathaway, a high-powered lawyer who escapes to her childhood vacation spot following a devastating trial and some issues on the homefront. While staying with her aunt, she becomes unwittingly involved in a trial involving an Amish girl who may or may not have murdered her newborn baby.

Katie, the Amish girl, is not initially the most sympathetic character, but there are some twists that make her more relateable. The Amish world is nicely drawn and clearly well-researched, and Picoult tries to make this family seem like real people and not just cliches. In some cases, this does not quite succeed---the father, for example, never develops much of a character beyond 'the strict Amish father.' But Picoult gives the family an intriguing backstory, and the theme of lost children (and what that means to various characters) is nicely woven in throughout the book.

Ellie's own issues about love and babies and family also factor into the story. The ex-boyfriend makes few appearances, but is not developed as fully as he could have been. A few flashbacks of their life together would not have been amiss. Of course, as is typical in this type of chick-lit, Ellie does develop a romance during the story, and it's nicely done. Everyone pretty much gets the ending they deserve, and it was certainly a page-turner! I was eager to find out how it ended.

There was a few formatting mistakes in the e-book I purchased from Fictionwise, and this bothered me a little considering that the book goes for pretty much the full retail price. If they are going to charge 'real book' prices, then they need to make sure the e-edition is properly edited. I don't think such mistakes are unique to this title, but I do think it's something Fictionwise needs to perhaps address at some point. Some examples included random hyphenations of some words, and the appearance of the author's name in the text at a few random points. The book was definitely still read-able though! It just rankled some to buy a 'real' book from an established non-amateur author and have such issues cropping up in a presumably well-edited text.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to someone who enjoys this genre or this author. I enjoyed it immensely and found it a satisfying and well-told story.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Review: Dearly Devoted Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

I got this during Fictionwise's recent big sale, after enjoying the first book in this series. I liked this one too, but it didn't quite have the same magic for me as that first one did. Dexter's 'shtick'---referring to himself in the third person using clever alliterative phrases, constantly referencing his lack of humanity etc.---wore a little thin after the first fifty pages, and there were some pacing issues that detracted a little from an otherwise solid work.

The plot revolves around a former army crony of Sergeant Doakes, who went bad, did time, and is now seeking vengeance on those he feels have wronged him. Dexter is delighted to learn of the Doakes connection, because the good sarge never liked him and has been following him around trying to learn what he's up to. So when he senses an opportunity to get some leverage, he gets himself involved in the case.

The intrepid crime-solving team of Dexter, Deborah et al know almost at once who the criminal is, which detracts from the suspense a little. Deborah's budding relationship with the federal agent brought in to nail this guy is less suspenseful than it should be because, as first person narrator, Dexter does not witness most of it, so for the reader, it happens 'off-screen.' And an interesting side plot involving the girlfriend Rita's children sets up an intriguing future plotline, but is not played out to much effect in this outing.

The book is okay, but certainly okay enough to justify its fairly high cost for an e-book. I'd library this one.