Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks

You have emergency plans for fires, earthquakes, and various other natural disasters. But have you thought about what you will do when the zombies attack? That’s right, when the living dead are roaming the land, do you know what to do? Have you a plan of action? If not, The Zombie Survival Guide is what you need to read, for it is a “complete protection from the living dead” guide. It isn’t a matter of if but a matter of when, as to the timing of the next rise of the living dead. And when that happens you have to be sure you are ready to survive.

The Zombie Survival Guide reveals everything you need know in order to live to tell the tale of the zombie outbreak. Breaking down the myths and realities of the undead is your first step in survival; from the origins of the zombie, to the physical abilities and behaviors exhibited by one, and finally the different levels of outbreaks. Detection is first key survival.

Once you’ve identified a true outbreak, you must know how to protect yourself by using the appropriate weapons and combat techniques. Now, you must defend yourself, whether it is at your home or another public arena, or on the run in different types of terrain. When defending isn’t enough, or you’re fed up with running, attacking is your only option. The guide will give you general rules and strategies of attack, to hopefully be victorious and not one more of the undead horde. Finally, if the unthinkable happens, you have to learn how to live in the undead world. Endurance and isolation will be the name of the game when the living become nearly extinct.

So read the guide, head to the nearest supply store to begin your stockpile of supplies, and be ever vigilant. You won’t know when the dead will rise, but you will be ready, for you are now a professional zombie hunter!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, A Review by Lindsey

Darkly whimsical perfectly describes the mood set in this book, especially when you are crossing the line between the real world and the shadow world lying beneath the surface.

If you’ve ever been to London, or any major city for that fact, you’ve more than likely traveled in that city’s underground.  But what if there was a world, a very real world, underneath that. The true “Underground.” A world completely unlike the one you know, where the rules of physics and biology don’t necessarily apply.

Richard Mayhew is young man living an ordinary life, with a good job, a “good” girlfriend, and a good heart. It is his good heart that drives him to help a bloody, strange and oddly regal girl named Door. By helping Door, Richard finds himself unknowingly entering the Underground, where their  allies are the marquis de Carabas and Hunter and their enemies are Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar, two of the most ghastly and other-worldly villains in that world.

Soon, Richard’s life as he knows it doesn’t exist anymore.  He walks among the world, completely unseen by those around him. Knowing he must find Door, Richard makes his way literally into Underground, into a world he still doesn’t fully believe exist. Trials and tribulations abound as he accompanies Door on her mission to find who murdered her family, all so he can return to the world he left behind. From the Rat-Speakers to a manor where tragedy occurred, to floating markets and finding the Blackfriars, and from an angelic home to a hellish cavernous maze (to name a few). Friends come and go, heroes are made and broken, and answers are found.

Go along for the journey as you fall through the cracks into a horridly fantastic dark world where you never know what is around the next shadowy corner...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Love in the Afternoon, by Lisa Kleypas. A Review by Angie

My general reaction at the end of a Lisa Kleypas novel is usually a contented sigh of happiness, and this book was no exception.  The only difference in this case was I also needed a fan to cool myself with!  There is one brooding, sexy hero in this book!

Love in the Afternoon is the final book in the Hathaway series, and for me, the most anticipated.  It is the story of Beatrix, the lovable youngest sister whose fondness for injured creatures easily made her my favorite of all the Hathaway brood.  Young Beatrix is now twenty-three, and a beauty in her own right.  She is admired by the gentlemen, but never, ever courted because of her unconventional ways.  When her friend Prudence catches the eye of Captain Christopher Phelan, local golden boy, she reads the letter Pru has received from the gentleman.  Beatrix is adamant her callous friend answers the letter, especially in regards to the dog Captain Phelan is having behavior problems with.  The letter is also full of stories from Crimea and his battles, and how he is handling them.  It's very personal and heartfelt,  but Pru is not interested.  Beatrix is appalled and takes on the task herself.  What commences is a letter writing campaign where both Christopher and Beatrix, under the guise of Prudence, share their deepest feelings about life and war, while falling in love with each other thousands of miles apart.  Beatrix knows it is wrong to continue the correspondence, and ends it abruptly in an attempt to save herself from bitter disappointment.

Christopher is a society darling, handsome and witty, always a favorite with the ladies.  Beatrix does not think much of him, especially after his overheard comment about her and how she would be better off in the stables.  Her prejudice wanes however, when she reads his letters.  Christopher is a brave soldier, but is having problems dealing with the death that surrounds him.  He returns to Stoney Cross to find his brother has died, his mother resents him for being alive, his sister-in-law, Audrey, is not being truthful with him, and the woman he has fallen in love with through letters bears almost no resemblance to the woman he knows as Prudence.  The letters and her image helped him through his darkest hours, and he is disappointed to find her lacking in person.  His chance meeting with Beatrix and a few slips about the letters she should know nothing about make him question just who the lady was he fell in love with.  Christopher knows he should not even consider Beatrix because of her eccentric family, but finds himself unable to turn away.  Her boldness with him, and her lack of propriety, not to mention wearing breeches to train a horse, all should send him running in the other direction, but her sweetness and caring manner draw him in.  Despite his feelings, however, he still cannot trust himself around her, as he is tormented by images of the war that he cannot control.

I can't even begin to describe how wonderful this book is, and how much I enjoyed reading it.  This is by far my favorite of the Hathaway series.  The Hathaway's never disappoint, and with the addition of some minor characters in their world it makes for a delicious novel.  (Some of which I hope get a series of their own.)  The passion between Christopher and Beatrix is undeniable, and their love for each other is practically perfect.  Once again, Kleypas transports us to a place where dreams become reality and the most unlikely of matches finds love.  This is a must read for any fan of romance.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. A Review by Debra

I've resisted opening this book for months even though it called to me from my bookshelf. I could hear it saying, day in and day out, "Everyone is reading me! Come on then, open the cover. I'm really quite good."  I thought I'd pick it up when I had a break from reading my usual fare. After all, suspense is not my favorite genre, and industrial intrigue falls quite a distance behind even that. So with much hesitation, I read the first paragraph, and as usually happens to me when I open a book, I was hooked.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is, on the surface, the story of a journalist, Mikael Blomkqvist, the publisher of the magazine known as Millennium ( hence the term The Millennium Trilogy for Larsson's three book series of which this is the first). Mikael is set up by a corrupt industrialist to take a huge fall, and is tried and convicted of libel. This is the background to the entire story. It explains Blomkqvist's motivation for the rest of the novel  and once you get past this first 125 pages of back story explaining how Blomkqvist wound up with a conviction and a prison term,  you get to a family saga, years in the making. This is the part of the book I enjoyed the most.  The Vangers, an old Norrland industrial family, have enough egocentrics, twisted personalities and downright nasty individuals  to make this book interesting if it were just written about them.  But wait, there's more. When old Henrik Vanger convinces Mikael to take on the family chronicles and search for his niece who has been missing for over 30 years,  he promises in return, that he will hand Mikael enough information to bring his court nemesis to his knees. Mikael takes the bait. During a year long exile to the north of Sweden, and along with Lisbeth Salander (I could write paragraph upon paragraph about this character, but you'll have to read the book), a young and very talented private investigator, for want of a better description,  Mikael uncovers the family skeletons, with almost fatal results.

There are so many secondary characters worth mentioning,  and the book is so full of intrigue, relationship twist and turns, history and an abject lesson in sexual abuse, that if I wrote about it all, there would be no reason to pick it up. And you should pick it up. Mr. Larsson did not live to see the success of his trilogy, which is unfortunate, because I'm sure this book, along with the next two in the trilogy, were only his warm-up to a brilliant career.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Too Wicked to Kiss, by Erica Ridley. A Review by Angie

The allure of a Regency Gothic romance was too delicious to ignore, and so I gave in to Erica Ridley’s debut novel readily.  Full of danger, intrigue and sensuous private liaisons, Too Wicked to Kiss is quite wicked indeed.

After losing her mother, Evangeline flees from her abusive stepfather to the protection of Lady Stanton, a friend of her mother.  The Lady and her daughter Susan are planning a scheme to trap Gavin Lioncroft, known as ‘Lionkiller’, into marriage with Susan.  To assure her continued protection from her stepfather, Evangeline reluctantly agrees to assist in their plans.  The moment they arrive at Blackberry Manor Evangeline knows they are unwelcome by the fierce and intimidating manor of their host.  Despite his obvious desire to see them gone; Evangeline is drawn to him while being slightly frightened at the same time.

Gavin has never refuted the rumors that he killed his parents- it made for a much wanted solitary life.  Having been shunned by his family, his sister showing up on his doorstep with his nieces spikes his curiosity as well as his ire.  A house party is the last thing he wants, and he resents the intrusion on his privacy just for matching his eldest niece with an elderly rich gentleman who can’t stay awake during dinner.  To the others, Gavin is a dangerous killer who would just as soon murder them all as to dine with them, but a noticeable change happens when it becomes evident his sister is being abused by her husband.  The evidence is on her face, and while all believe Gavin struck his own sister in a rage, Rose, Lady Hetherington, sets them straight on the true culprit.  When that person is found dead the next morning, all eyes look to Gavin as the murderer.  Only Evangeline’s gift can prove his innocence, or so they believe.  However, her stepfather has other plans for her.

Gavin and Evangeline are a very passionate pair.  Gavin is the typical brooding, dark, Gothic hero- edgy and dangerous, but with a softer interior.  Evangeline is the quintessential heroine, getting herself into trouble while trying to prove Gavin’s innocence.  Betrayal abounds in this story of death, regret, murder and sizzling kisses between Gavin and Evangeline.  This review really doesn’t do the book justice, so you’ll have to read it for yourself to see just how wicked this gothic romance truly is.

A Kiss at Midnight, by Eloisa James. A Review by Donna

When my daughter was very small, I amassed quite a huge collection of VHS tapes that kept her glued to the television and thus entertained and out of my hair for hours. Some of her favorites included the Disney adaptations of classic fairy tales like Snow White, Peter Pan and of course, Cinderella. As a matter of fact, if I close my eyes now, I can still hear those mice singing as they industriously sewed a ball gown from scratch.

A Kiss at Midnight, Eloisa James' new regency romance, does not have singing mice. Or mice of any sort. But there is a castle and a godmother. And of course, a handsome prince.

Prince Gabriel Albrecht-Frederick William Von Aschenberg of Warl-Marburg-Baalsfeld, to be exact, who is devilishly adorable, as all princes should be. He is also an exile who, along with assorted relatives and an impressive menagerie of exotic animals, has been banished to a remote castle in England. Gabriel, as is expected of a prince, also has a strong sense of duty. In order to maintain his castle and competently support his people, he must marry for money. And soon. How fortunate that his older brother, the Duke, has arranged such a marriage, finding him a wealthy Russian princess to be his bride.

And of course, what would a Cinderella story be without a Cinderella? When Kate Daltry's father died, his new wife, the wicked stepmother, relegated Kate to attic rooms. Treated no better than a servant, Kate struggled for years to make sure her father's estate survived by working closely with his tenants and shielding them from her stepmother's harsh treatment. Now, she must save the vicar's widow from eviction. With little choice, Kate agrees to masquerade as her injured half sister Victoria and accompany eighteen year-old Algie, her future brother-in-law, to Pomeroy Castle. Algie must secure approval of his hasty marriage from Uncle Gabriel, the prince, before Victoria's indiscretion becomes obvious.

Gabriel, in the meantime, has resigned himself to marry the Russian princess sight unseen. That is until he meets "Victoria," his nephew's intended. Mesmerized by her looks, challenged by her bold mouth and intrigued by her reluctance to fall for his charm, Gabriel finds himself enamored with the wig-wearing beauty and it isn't long before he discovers her real identity. Kate, likewise, is irrevocably drawn to the enigmatic prince, but always remembers he is betrothed to another - a real princess with enough money to help Gabriel fulfill his duty to his family, tenants and castle.

The witty, honest dialogue between Kate and Gabriel drives this story and Ms. James' treatment of a progressively dismal situation is both sensitive and sensuous. I felt deeply for both of these characters, but more so for Kate who, with little control of the situation, refuses to fade away because of a badly broken heart. There is also a worthy cast of entertaining minor characters who lend support to both sides. Particularly worth a mention is Gabriel's half brother Wick, whose loyalty to Gabriel and honest assessment of the situation earned him a secure place in my heart (and hopefully in a sequel).

Of course, a romance by definition provides a happy ending. As do most fairy tales. A Kiss at Midnight is no exception, but we must wait for it. I assure you, though, when this story's happily ever after makes an appearance, it will leave you positively cheering. Forget about the singing mice and add this one to your must-read Regency romance list.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Vintage Affair, by Isabel Wolff. A Review by Angie

Every once in a while you find a book that really moves you, and in this case, this book moved me to tears.  A Vintage Affair is the story of Phoebe Swift, an ex-Sotheby’s employee who decides to open a vintage clothing shop called Village Vintage.  Fashion lovers will delight in this name dropping feast of designers and designs from the 1920’s and forward.  The clothes are a large part of the story, but not in the ways you would imagine.

After the death of her best friend, Emma, Phoebe keeps herself busy with her new shop while trying to ignore the guilt that’s eating away at her.  Phoebe is a complex character; one who is very mature and composed, but riddled with conflicting emotions inside.  The story starts off with the evening she met Guy, her ex-fiancĂ©, who at the time was seeing Emma, her now deceased best friend.  Phoebe and Guy hit it off, and while she feels the guilt of falling for a guy Emma likes, Guy assures her he never pursued a romantic relationship with Emma.  Phoebe and Emma grow apart, mostly because of Emma’s inability to handle the relationship her friend has with Guy.  Phoebe, not wanting to ruin the romantic evening Guy had planned for them on Valentine’s Day, promises a very ill Emma she will come and check on her the next morning.  Emma is dead before Phoebe arrives, and she spends the next year blaming Guy for persuading her to put Emma off so they can enjoy their evening, or so she remembers.

As a vintage shop owner, Phoebe finds herself in the company of many interesting people wanting to sell their expensive designer clothing.  She also wonders about the clothes she buys, and what stories they could tell.  Phoebe makes the acquaintance of Mrs. Bell, an eighty year old French woman who is very ill and wanting to sell some of her elegant designer clothes.  Over time and a few visits, Phoebe and Mrs. Bell become confidants; Phoebe relating her guilt at Emma’s death, and Mrs. Bell telling her the story of her childhood in Avignon, France, and her friend Monique, who was taken by the German police to Auschwitz.  Mrs. Bell tells the heartbreaking story of Monique hiding from the Germans in an abandoned barn while she brought food to her as often as she could.  The two share guilt as Mrs. Bell relates her sorrow at not making it out to the barn with her blue coat for Monique before the police find her.  Phoebe has the overwhelming desire to find out what happened to Monique, despite Mrs. Bell's indication she has searched in the past.  A surprising clue finds Phoebe through her shop, and points her in the right direction to find the long lost friend of Mrs. Bell.

During all this Phoebe politely turns down the attentions of Dan, a friendly reporter for the local paper, while in a relationship with Miles, a much older retired solicitor.  The two meet at Christie’s while bidding on a vintage gown, Phoebe for her shop, and Miles for his spoiled daughter. The relationship with Miles is as frustrating as it is sweet, as Phoebe withstands the full force of a sixteen year old daughters’ hostility for her Dad’s much younger girlfriend.  Miles learns too late his darling daughter has serious entitlement issues, and Phoebe finally stands up to him about his blindness when her grandmother’s ring disappears. Dan then becomes a more interesting prospect, one that’s been there all along, she realizes.

I cannot even begin to explain how moved I was by this book.  The emotional rollercoaster Phoebe is subjected to is intense at times, but she handles it with much grace.  There is much, much more to the story than what I’ve written, as well as a large cast of secondary characters and other plot lines that add so much to the book.  In addition to relationship issues, Phoebe must deal with her parent’s separation and her father becoming a daddy again at age sixty-two.  The village is full of interesting characters that are only slightly delved into, but make excellent additions to the story.  Wolff’s writing is perfection; the blending of Phoebe and the other characters creates a truly well-written novel.  A story of love, betrayal, guilt and finally peace, A Vintage Affair is definitely one to pick up.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Wicked Intentions, by Elizabeth Hoyt. A Review by Angie

As a self-proclaimed gothic novel enthusiast, I immediately planned a trip to the bookstore when I learned of Wicked Intentions.  Set in 1737, a wee bit before my comfortable Regency England, Wicked Intentions is the story of Temperance Dews, a widow helping her brother run the Home for Unfortunate Infants and Foundling Children.  Located in St. Giles, where the poorest of the poor of London live, the book opens with Temperance and the maid Nell ushering home a few days old infant through the dark and dangerous streets.  St. Giles is bad enough during the day, at night however, only the desperate, murderous, or stupid venture out after the sun sets.  Throwing caution to the wind, Temperance sets out for the small infant, knowing by morning she will be gone.

In their rush through the dirty streets, they come across a man with long silver hair, standing over what looks to be a dead man.  Remembering Nell's story of the ghost of St. Giles, and his method of murder, they both hurry on to the relative safety of the home.  Seeing the infant to bed, and thinking she is alone for the night, she discovers a man sitting in her small parlour.  A man with long silver hair.

Lord Caire is a man with a purpose, and Temperance Dews is the person he requires to assist him.  Caire propositions Temperance to help him find the murderer of his mistress, while helping her find a patron for the broke home.  Feeling as if she is making a deal with the devil himself, she agrees against her better judgement.  Their search takes them into the darkest corners of St. Giles, where some things are best left unknown and unseen.

What follows is nothing short of gothic novel and romance greatness.  Caire and Temperance are drawn to each other, and while she tries to fight it, he embraces the attraction.  Temperance is hiding a dark secret that causes her extreme guilt, but the temptation of Lord Caire and his questionable bedroom antics lures her like no other.  The unassuming manner of Temperance, and her ability to see him as a man, and not a fortune, appeal to Caire, and he begins to care for her, an emotion long-lost to him.  As their investigation continues to dig deeper, the threat gets closer to them, and they only realize it just before it's too late.

Be warned in advance, this IS a gothic novel, and some parts are very dark, and delve into some questionable subject matter.  This is no light-hearted romp through the ton, but a picture of the poorer side of London.  Hoyt writes each scene with such vivid descriptions that you easily find yourself in St. Giles street, running from the ghost.  Definitely one to pick up if you enjoy the darker side of romance.