Sweet Trouble

Rants, raves, book reviews and one girl's thoughts on life, the universe and everything.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

"Full" of It: Janet Evanovich and Charlotte Hughes

Sometimes I crave truly gourmet fair, other times I'm forced to admit a fondness for things like cotton candy, or funnel cakes at the fair. The same is true with the kind of books I read.

Recently I was on a road trip by myself and needed entertainment. One stop at Cracker Barrel and I was supplied with both dinner, an empty bladder, a toy for my son and a book on CD I could return at any other Cracker Barrel in the country. Their selection varied greatly. They had classics which might appeal to a whole family, and various selections from the NY Times best sellers lists. Not in the mood for anything heavy, I finally settled on Janet Evanovich and Charlotte Hughes's collaboration Full Bloom.

I'd read Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books up till around number nine. At that point I began to find them annoying and redundant. There was no growth, and the main character was a little too wishy-washy about the men in her life. I quit reading the author's all together at that point. You can imagine my surprise when I found Full Bloom to be utterly delightful.

Make no mistake, this book is not a literary meal at Ruth's Chris, or even Olive Garden. The "Full" series are definitely sweet cotton candy, hot and freshly swirled right in front of you onto a giant paper cone. The very decadence of the snack makes it a guilty pleasure. From the beginning I knew who was winding up with whom, and when the murder mystery cropped up I guessed that part too and yet I enjoyed every step of the ride. So much so, that when pressed to find something to read later in the week I picked up the newest confectionery offering by the two writers: Full Scoop.

Turns out all of the "Full" novels are set in the same charmingly eccentric Southern town. Supporting characters from Scoop and Bloom clearly have their own stories in print, and while they serve a purpose in new books as well it also gives the gals a chance to up date readers on the happily ever afters of earlier characters. I haven't discovered any really need to read them in any order. Each one has a unique charm of it's own, and if you've a few hours to waste away and are tired of gas prices, middle eastern politics or your own nine to five schedule then you should head "Full Speed" to get one of these sweet tales.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Circle of Quilters by Jennifer Chiaverini

The Elm Creek Quilt novels by Jennifer Chiaverini aren't suspenseful, mysterious or otherwordly. Her books don't describe trendy people with too much money and unbelievable jobs. What Chiaverini does bring to the table are lovely stories about almost-real people, the kind of women I can identify with and would like to call friend.

Her latest installment in the Elm Creek series, Circle of Quilters reads like a series of short stories with a common theme. In each chapter an applicant is shown applying for a job at the Elm Creek Quilt Camp and in each chapter the reader finds themselves rooting for a new person to get the position. Fortunately Ms. Chiaverini manages to produce a satisfying end for each of her new creations as well as giving her readers glimpses of beloved characters from other novels. The best part, for people to new to the series, is that this book doesn't require one to have read the previous novels. You can enjoy it as a stand alone book, or use it as jumping on point. Whichever you choose, you won't be sorry to have spent time with the characters you find within.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Poison Study by Maria Snyder

After a drought of good fantasy novels I've been lucky enough to come across two truly exquisite books in the same week. The first was Naomi Novik's His Majesty's Dragon, about which I've already spoken of here. It was one of a slew of books I purchased to occupy my time as I held vigil in the ICU of a hospital last week during my grandfather's last days. Among the other purchases were a Janet Evanovich novel, a Meg Cabot book and Maria Snyder's Poison Study.

Poison Study was a book that I'd had my eye on for awhile, but had not had an opportunity to get around to. I almost didn't buy the one copy at the book store I was visiting near the hospital but the nice folks at Borders kept asking me if I was finding everything. I confessed to being dismayed that the one book I really wanted had a torn cover. They promptly gave me a coupon for said book and I happily bought it at a 30% discount. Unfortunately, things progressed in such a way that I never got around to reading it last week.

Today I idly cracked it open as I ate my lunch. Within minutes I was hooked. I read through lunch, and had trouble putting it down for a post-work out shower. My son arrived home from a play date with his grandparents and as soon as he fell asleep I scooped the book up and settled in. I devoured the novel over the course of my son's nap, finishing it just as he began to wake.

This is, perhaps, too much personal information. I just want to illustrate what a very good story Ms. Snyder has created! In it's basic premise, Poison Study might be likened to the popular tale La Femme Nikita. However the world of Ixia is a refreshingly new fantasy realm. In the aftermath of a near bloodless coupe a country comes to terms with changing from a monarchy to a military government. Most citizens agree that the new government is superior; Graft and corruption have been removed from their infrastructure and clearly defined laws inform all of the exact punishment for every crime. Their are no deviations.

For all of the good it has brought the country, Yelena, our heroine, illustrates the unfairness of such a system. She is condemned to die for committing murder, with no thought to extenuating circumstances. Offered a last minute choice of becoming the realm's Commander's food taster she must choose between a quick death now and a potentially painful, drawn out one some place down the road. Yelena, as she states, is no fool and thus the story begins. I can not say much more, for fear of spoiling some of the wonderful twists and turns crafted so gracefully by this first time novelist. However, I can say that Snyder's next book is slated for publication this fall, and I will look forward to it gleefully. You will too.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

The deck of the French ship was slippery with blood, heaving in the choppy sea...Thus begins Naomi Novik's riveting debut novel. I was grabbed from that first sentence and engulfed into a rousing Napoleonic era adventure. Though some reviews are calling His Majesty's Dragon a blend of the naval epics of Patrick O'Brian and Anne McCaffrey's Pern novels, I found this first installment in the Temeraire series to be utterly unique. But then, I have never read O'Brian. I will say that I outgrew McCaffrey's dragons some ten years ago. They greatly intrigued me when I first discovered 'adult' science fiction at the tender age of twelve or so, but Pern has not managed to keep it's hold on me. Novik's Will Laurence grabs hold of the reader and never lets go. Nor do I want him to.

A certified bookaholic I had begun to despair of late that all of the good stories had been told, everything coming out for the genre seemed to be the continuation of an old series, or the rehashing of an old idea. I was wrong. This is one of the best books I have had the pleasure of reading in a long time. The pacing is exquisite, the battles carefully researched then tweaked according to the circumstances and the men and women are fully rounded characters. The best part is that the second and third installments are already slated for release! Instead of waiting for a year or more, the second book, entitled Throne of Jade, will be out on April 25th. Black Powder War, the third, arrives May 30th. Sadly, Novik's books aren't a trilogy. Sherwood Smith, an author I admire, has been lucky enough to read them and review them on her own blog. Of a fourth novel Smith writes: Each book ended with enough resolution to be satisfying, but with enough open questions to leave me yearning hard for more. Now. Please.

I agree. More. Now. Please.

***also be sure to check out the super cute Temeraire web game courtesy of Harper Collins Publishers

Friday, April 07, 2006

Avalon High by Meg Cabot

There's a great big, batten down the hatches kind of storm headed my way. I should probably be putting buckets over my tulips or some such, but instead it has put me in mind of the big, batten down the hatches storm in this delightful novel...

Avalon High is a new-ish novel by Meg Cabot. I saw "new-ish" because Princess Diaries 7 just hit the stands, replacing this one as "her new novel." This offering is more like the author's Mediator and Lightning Strikes series than the confectionery pleasures of the Diaries; that is to say it has a slight paranormal feel, while still being rooted firmly in modern America. Which is ironic, since, as the name suggests, it deals with the Arthur legend.

Avalon High opens as Elaine "Ellie" Harrison begins her Junior year in a new school. Her mother's constant quoting of Tennyson's Lady_of_Shalott drives her nuts, and she drags her dad jogging for his health. Ellie has a very likeable voice, and I only wish I had been as witty as a teenager. Things proceed at a very rapid pace as Ellie begins to meet people at her new school; there are parties, track tryouts, sailing adventures, ornery teachers, cheerleaders crying and a big, batten down the hatches type storm. I will say no more at risk of spoiling the plot.

I highly recommend this novel. I enjoyed it so much that I was very disappointed to come to the end. I wish it were longer, and there aren't many books that I say that about.