Sweet Trouble

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

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips

Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips

The Greek Gods of myth are alive and well and living in London as the world's most dysfunctional family in one extraordinary, dilapidated house. Their powers are waning after millions of years and it looks like death is upon them until a bizarre set of circumstances sends a modern day mortal hero on a quest to the underworld to save them all. Sounds intriguing, doesn't it?

It gets better: Aphrodite works as a sex phone provider, Artemis is a professional dog walker and Apollo (with a little help from Cupid's arrow) falls in love with a cleaning lady. The cleaning lady loves a desk jockey reminiscent of the 40 Year Old Virgen and their idea of a hot date is a game of Scrabble on an iPhone...

Sadly, as cute as the premise of the book is, the final product just wasn't as appealing to read as it should have been. Is it meant to be a humor novel? If so it wasn't funny enough. Is it a romance? There isn't quite enough heart. All in all the novel felt like a promising screenplay: good enough to receive a green light but seriously in need of tweaking and fleshing out.

For a first novel this is still a great debut and I will be curious to see future offerings by this writer. Like her debut book, Phillips shows promise.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Seasoning of a Chef by Doug Psaltis

The Seasoning of a Chef by Doug Psaltis (with Michael Psaltis) is subtitled "My Journey from Diner to Ducasse and Beyond." I picked it up at a hotel while on vacation as part of a Read It and Return It program which also supports literacy and book buying charities. I had no idea who Alain Ducasse was but I liked the style of first chapter and kept reading.

The first half of this book is grand, the reader cannot help but root for the spunky preteen working for his grizzled diner owning grandpa. The hard working young man, just out of high school and looking for his place in life is just as endearing. It took me so long to learn what I wanted to do with my life that seeing someone else figure that out and set goals, then achieve them made for a wonderful story.

The second half of the memoir made me more melancholy. It was not because of anything happening in the book, which remained well written and engaging. In fact, it was because it was so descriptive that I began to want to see some of these places the young chef slaved away in. I wanted to eat at them and experience them! As I'm unlikely to ever go to Monaco and dine at a Ducasse restaurant it was a sort of bittersweet longing.

I was so fascinated by this new world of international cuisine that I began to wiki and google some of the restaurants and chef's mentioned within. I managed to broaden my horizons about the world of high class food, but I also discovered that it is a rather insular world. Entire online communities exist made up of chefs and food reviewers. I noticed that there is a mixed reaction to this book in those places. I don't know enough about any of their complaints to say one way or another if they are accurate. As a reader unfamiliar with their world I CAN say that I did not feel it portrayed any person or restaurant negatively. Seasoning of a Chef was a fascinating and enjoying read for me. Because of the book I am MUCH more likely to eat at the type of restaurant mentioned. The naysayers should be thankful that Chef Psaltis and his brother are as handy with words as with food and bring new custom to all of their restaurants! Perhaps someday, on just such a trip, I'll get to try a duck confit. (Genre: Memoir)

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Bloodhound Gang; or "books I am looking forward to that come out soon"

My favorite authors have been busy; there are a whole slew of books I am looking forward to coming out this year. I suppose that's true every year, but occaisionally it seems like there is a dry spell. I had a dry spell in February and March. Two months, how sad! I didn't realize how spoiled I was by the prolific abilities of many of my favorite writers until I started talking to a George Martin fan...

Bloodhound by Tamora Pierce. Coming April 14: Tomorrow! I haven't met a book by Tammy Pierce that I did not like. This particular one I had the pleasure of hearing the author read an excerpt from last September. It was wonderful, and I wouldn't have traded the experience for the world but the wait became excruciating after that point!


Wedding Season by Katie Fforde, April 21
Vision in White by Nora Roberts, April 28
Being Nikki by Meg Cabot, May 5
Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Cary, May 29
The Fixer Upper by Mary Kay Andrews, June 23
Skin Trade by Laurell K Hamilton, June 2
Black Hills by Nora Roberts, June 7
Naamah's Kiss by Jacqueline Carey, June 24
Treason's Shore by Sherwood Smith, August 4
An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon, September 22

I am sure there are more, but that's still a delightful start!

How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier and other books

How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier

I've been following Justine Larbalestier's blog since reading her Magic or Madness books. The author splits her time between the States and Australia and has many wickedly funny observations on life. She also has lots of good advice for writers and shares what it is really like to be part of the publishing business. Long before I got to read this book I saw it referred to on the blog as a work in progress. Justine called the "Great Australian Feminist Monkey-Knife-Fighting Elvis Cricket Mangosteen novel." If that doesn't clue you in that this is one YA book that defies categorization I don't know what would.

HtDYF is set in a city that's not American or Australian and seems to part of an alternate reality that combines the best of both into a new sort of place. Larbalestier has hit a home run of a novel that should appeal to fans of sports, Meg Cabot, fantasy and school novels like the A-List or Gossip Girls. It's got something for everyone, and manages to be poignant, humorous and real while still focusing on "parking fairies" and the luge. Quite an accomplishment, really, and fun to read. I reccomend it highly. (Genre YA)

Other books read in February 2009:

Glitter Baby by Susan Elizabeth Phillips This title was one of SEP's early novels and has been out of print for ages. She recently went over it with a fine tooth comb, adding and tweaking and or in her words she" spent four months freshening up the original manuscript—developing the characters a bit more, adding a few new scenes—and I'm delighted with the outcome." I was delighted with the outcome, too, but I'm a sucker for her novels. They combine humor, glamor and slightly over the top scenarios with characters that have real world problems, emotions and a healthy amount of growth. This one was no exception. (Genre: Contemporary Romantic Comedy)

Beauty by Robin McKinley
Originally published in 1978, my copy hails from an '85 reissue and features the Boris cover. I have no idea how many times I've read this book since I first discovered it while in middle school. It's an old friend, a comfort read and unlike some I discovered at that time (Merceces Lackey pops to mind) the story remains as magically charming on the gazillionth read as it did on the first. (Genre: sometimes considered YA, other times Fantasy.)

First Lady by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
My enjoyment of her two new books (one read in Jan) made this fun little piece a must to re-read after I discovered it in a box of books that had been in storage in my in-laws basement. The premise is that the widow of an American President needs space after being an icon for so long and goes to great lengths to get it. It's marvelously fun, but feels just a tad dated in a post-Obama world. (Genre: Contemporary Romantic Comedy)

Cat-Tales Books 3 and 4 by Chris Dee
I mentioned these last month as being an unusual additon to my reading list. They are online fanfiction but still quite superior adventures. I reccomend them highly. Chris's Selina Kyle is all woman and all cat, full of contradictions, characterized by periods of playfullness and solemninty. The Rogue's gallery in the elseworld created here like a dysfunctional sitcome with a maniacal bent, and yet poignant too, in a strange way.

Promises in Death by J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts)The latest case to call NYPD Lt. Eve Dallas out onto the streets hits closer to home than most. The murder victim is a fellow police officer, and new significant other of a long recurring character in the series. Like a kicked ant hill, the cops go into hyperdrive to achive justice and closure for one of their own. The grief is heavy in this book because of the closeness of the death, instead of just solving the who-done it, there is sorrow and frustration and more all close to the surface. Even with that, though, the author still deftly inserts developments for all of the supporting cast, a wedding shower and certain elements of humor and daily life. I maintain that these books are some of Roberts best work as she gets to play with and develop recurring characters and explore a married relationship instead of just setting up the one two punch of falling in love that happen in her more mundane romance novels.

Monday, April 06, 2009

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and other books

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

The Hunger Games is one of those dystopian futures novels like Scott Westerfeld's Uglies novels, A Brave New World or even Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale. Collins' book is riveting from the get go. Every year two teenagers (one male, one female) from each of twelve districts are chosen via lottery to participate in the Hunger Games. The games take place in a wilderness arena and requires the 24 young contestants to fight to the death. The action is televised and everyone in the home districts are forced to watch. This brutal custom is one of the ways that the ruling class prevent an uprising from the working classes.

Katniss Everdeen is the sixteen year old girl who volunteers to represent her district in the games in order to spare her younger sister, who was the one chosen via lottery. Katniss is an intriguing young women, with a great voice. She isn't perfect at all, and that is perhaps part of her charm. The Hunger Games is a wonderful book. I first heard buzz about it last Labor Day from librarians who were on panel at Dragon*Con. These ladies know their stuff; I was not disappointed. YA Sci/Fi, reccomended highly.

Other books I read in January:

The New Year's Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini - though I usually enjoy the quilter's series of novels this one seemed like a string of anecdotes cut out of previous books and loosely strung together like a flashback episode of a long running sitcom to create a pocket sized novella to market for the holidays. Skip this one and read one of the more substantial novels like the Winding Ways Quilt.

Trickster's Choice and Trickster's Queen by Tamora Pierce - I think this was my third or fourth reread of these books. Originally they were a disappointment to me. I so loved Kel, the hero of the previous quartet that I had a hard time getting to like the very different protaganist of the Trickster books. Ali is actually probably one of the more realistic heroines of Pierce's novels, seemingly lazy and unmotivated in the begining and slowly finding her place and her passions in life by the end of the story. It has grown on me more with every reading until it is, almost surprisingly, now a favorite. Highly reccomended YA Fantasy.

Cat-Tales book one and two by Chris Dee- I don't usually include fan-fic on this sort of list. Chris Dee's work is a world apart from the usual fare one finds. This is a DC Comics based alternative universe story where Catwoman and Batman fall in love, but there is so much more to it than that. The character grow and change and evolve in a way that is never allowed in the comic book medium. It's a change I was thirsting for as a fan, and an adult with an adult's perspecitve on life and not a kids love of thrills and sameness. I could happily never read another comic as long as this talented author is putting out the stories I love with the characters I've grown up with. Five stars for comic books fans who don't mind strong women who say it like it is.

Salvation in Death by J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts) - another entry in the futuristic case files of NYPD Homicide Detective Eve Dallas. This book covers two murder investigations, one of a priest in a Catholic Church in Spanish Harlem and one of a televangalist in town for a revival. I enjoyed watching the prickly detective run up against the devout priest she learns to admire. I hope that he becomes part of the greater supporting cast in this excellent series. Recommended series: strong on the murder mystery with slight sci-fi overtones and healthy doses of humor and married romance.

What I Did For Love by Susan Elizabeth Phillips - tired of Brangelina and Jennifer? I think this author was too. Her tale of America's sweetheart dealing with a wandering ex- husband and his new paragon of a wife while trying to keep her own cool and get the press off of her back seems familiar. Like all of SEP's novels, this enchanting tale combines humor and crazy sit-com situtations with a certain undeniable pathos and a surprising deepness of character for her cast. I'm almost glad the author isn't more prolific because I always find myself reading through the night to finish these books when I get them. I got a slight head start on this one, at least, and made it to bed by midnight... Romance/Humor recommended strongly.