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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Call Me Irresistable

Call Me Irresistable (#44) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips is a bit of romantic fluff.  And yes, I'll admit that her books are one of my guilty pleasures.  In this book, Ms. Phillips reintroduces us to a number of characters we've met before in her previous books, but the focus here is on Meg Koranda, the rich dilletante child of a Hollywood superstar couple, and Ted Beaudine, son of a world-class golf pro and a famous journalist (think of a drop-dead gorgeous Barbara Walters type).  Meg shows up at her best friend Lucy's wedding to Ted in the tiny Texas town where he is the golden boy mayor and self-made man.  She sees that Lucy isn't as happy as she should be and suggests that Lucy might want to think again before taking the walk down the aisle.  Lucy takes her at her word and sends Meg instead down the aisle to fetch the groom.  In the confusion Lucy does a vanishing act, but her mother (and who is going to say "No" to an ex-President of the US?) insists that Meg stay in town for a few days to be there for Lucy in case she decides to return.  Everyone in Wynette blames Meg for ruining the wedding making for an uncomfortable stay. Meg's parents have just cut off all financial support to her in order for her to stand on her own two feet, but she finds she can't even pay her hotel bill.  Enter the sheriff and the mayor as she tries to slip out of town herself.  Busted!

You know how the book is going to end, but the circumstances are so much against Meg, you don't see how it could possibly happen.  But it does, and Meg discovers a lot about her own strengths and passions and finds her life's work while she's at it.  Ted, in the meantime, is shaken when he realizes that letting his intellect rule everything might not be the most satisfying way to live.

Enjoyed the book, but hated the cover art.  The kiss-blowing lips in the cover photo don't reflect anything about the characters or plot of this book.  If I didn't automatically reserve anything with Susan Elizabeth Phillips' name on it, I wouldn't even have picked this book up from the display.  I realize that most of these covers are just commercial assignments, but it sure would be nice if the cover gave some clue to the contents.  Just my opinion...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fiber & Brimstone

Laura Childs' scrapbooking mystery series is set in New Orleans, the Big Easy.  Although many of these books have a Mardi Gras tie-in, the eighth offering in this series, Fiber & Brimstone (#43), has a Halloween theme instead.  Voo-doo and vampires are bread-and-butter for the New Orleans tourist industry and business is brisk at both Carmela Bertrand's scrapbooking shop and her best friend Ava's voo-doo store.  Carmela has been commissioned by the Art Institute to construct a giant-headed puppet for the annual Monsters and Mayhem parade.  After a hard evening's work on the puppet Carmela and Ava stumble across the body of a prominent venture capitalist.  Carmela's homicide detective boyfriend, Edgar Babcock, tries to discourage them from poking into the murder investigation.  But how can they resist when people keep feeding them tidbits of relevant information?  The victim has been running a Ponzi scheme so there are any number of disgruntled investors on the suspect list, not to mention a separated spouse and a current girlfriend. 

Before long, Carmela and Ava find another body at the Ballet Dracula (I remember attending the premiere of this ballet's performance in Boston a number of years ago.  It's every bit as exciting as described in this book!) post performance cast party.  Are the murders connected?  Soon Carmela and Ava find themselves being stalked in the bayou.  Are they the next victims?  Or will Ava's new suitor turn out to be Mr. Right?Since everyone's in costume for the hectic Halloween social whirl, who's to know who's really behind that mask?  You'll just have to read Fiber & Brimstone to find out.

One of the things I've always enjoyed about this series is the colorful setting in the French Quarter of New Orleans, and the detailed and delicious descriptions of the food and drink.  Having just visited New Orleans myself, it was fun to picture many of the locales used in the story.  Trust me, Laura Childs does not exaggerate the quality of the food available here.  And she's also not kidding about the amount of powdered sugar topping the beignets at the Cafe du Monde!  It really does make a foodie salivate...  But Ms. Childs does offer a remedy for that!  One of the extra fun things about all of Ms. Childs' mystery series is that she includes recipes for many of the dishes mentioned in that book at the back.  I can't wait to try the Shrimp Bake from Fiber & Brimstone.  If you're a scrapbooking fan, she gives plenty of ideas in the story and a group of tips in the appendix as well.  Rollez les bons temps!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Emperor's Tomb: A Novel

Steve Berry's latest thriller The Emperor's Tomb (#42) takes retired Justice Department operative Cotton Malone to Belgium to rescue his sometime lover Cassiopeia Vitt after he receives an internet video feed of her being tortured.  Who has her, and why are they trying to lure Cotton?  The Chinese are involved and the emperor of the title is Qin Shi, the first emperor of China, dead for more than 2,200 years.  An artifact from his tomb has precipitated the entire series of events involving Malone, Vitt and her Russian friend Sokolov. 

In this novel, everyone wants the artifact because of the potential political and economic implications.  There are double agents, Russians, Americans, Chinese, exiles, defectors, and yes, even eunuchs, each with their own agendas.  No one is who he or she seems.  Kidnappings, tortures, close calls and fires abound.  As his boss says, no World Heritage site is safe when Cotton Malone is around.  In this case, it's the Emperor's Tomb near Xi'an, China, that is in peril.   You'll know it as the site of the thousands of terra cotta warriors unearthed in the 70s.  The burial site is huge, but the Chinese government has never allowed the actual grave itself to be excavated. 

An interesting read, especially with China and the Middle East so much in the news these days.  If Berry's premise were true, it would certainly put a different spin on world markets and events.  Something to think about, and isn't that what the best books do; provoke thought?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Shadow Patriots

I found it difficult to get into Lucia St. Clair Robson's novel about the American Revolution Shadow Patriots (#41).  Frankly, I found it rather vulgar.  I stuck with it, though, because it was this month's Literary Circle book and not only was Lucia Robson speaking at a luncheon I was attending, but she had also agreed to meet with the members of the Literary Circle afterwards for a private discussion.  The pressure was on, even though I took a detour through the last two books I posted on before I finished this one.  It did pick up about halfway through and I wound up learning a few interesting facts about the Revolution.

If you ever have a chance to attend one of Ms. Robson's talks, I would highly recommend it.  She's a very entertaining speaker and was a real pleasure to talk to during our Literary Circle meeting.  I wish I had known before I heard her that all of her novels (there are ten of them, and she won the Golden Spur award for Western writing for her first book.) are based on real people and events.  She sprinkles her pages with odd facts, quotes and anecdotes she has found in her researches.  I might have read the book differently if I had known that all the essentials were factual. 

The book deals with espionage during the Revolutionary War on both sides and the role of the Quakers during the war.  Since they were pacifists, Quakers were frequently regarded as hostiles by both the British and the Americans.  How this played out for several specific Quakers is at the heart of this book, and something I had never really thought about before.  Several members of our group did not see the final plot twist coming.  Knowing it was real makes the ending even more poignant.  

My advice?  Stick to the "100 Page Rule" for reading this book.  If you make it through the first hundred pages, you'll probably be intrigued enough to continue on with it.  (Which is ironic, since when I mentioned this at Literary Circle, Ms. Robson told me that for her, it's the "50 Page Rule"!)  You may be interested enough in what you learn to keep on digging.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Maybe This Time

What could be better than reading two of my favorite authors back-to-back?  Janet Evanovich followed by Jennifer Crusie's latest Maybe This Time (#40) make for a great doubleheader.  Crusie could have worked her usual magic in a true love gone wrong theme with her usual quirky characters and snappy dialogue, but she's embellished this one with a creepy English castle complete with a history of tragic deaths transported to southern Ohio.  It's inhabited by an uncaring housekeeper who doesn't cook or clean, and two orphaned relatives.  The kids on first glance aren't so adorable; they've already scared away three nannies sent to take care of them. 

Andy Miller has been divorced from her attorney husband for ten years.  She's ready to remarry but wants to return her uncashed alimony checks to her ex-husband North so she can start her new life with a clean slate.  North sees a solution to his problem of what to do about the kids if he can just persuade her to stay with them for a month before he moves them to his home in Columbus.  Of course, once they see each other again, the sparks fly and it's evident it isn't really over between them, but Andy agrees to go despite her misgivings.  She's a teacher and she can get the kids up to par to enter public school.  But people keep arriving at the house: a TV reporter with a career to rebuild, an ex-brother in-law, her mother, her ex-mother-in-law, her fiance, her ex.  You get the picture.  It's not as isolated there as Andy might like.  Oh, and did I mention the ghosts?  They won't let the children leave, and they'll stop at nothing to keep Carter and Alice in the castle.  Seances and possesion - the stuff of any good Gothic novel - keep the action moving.

I was really glad that I couldn't renew this book, since that gave me the excuse to move it up my reading list.  It's a romance, so you know how it's going to end, but the pleasure is on the pot-holed and spooky road that takes you there.  Can't wait for her next entry.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sizzling Sixteen

Stephanie Plum is at it again in Sizzling Sixteen (#39) by Janet Evanovich.  This time it's her cousing Vinny, owner of the bail bonds office where she works as a bounty hunter, who has been kidnapped and held for ransom for outstanding gambling debts by the nefarious Bobby Sunflower (!).  And that's the dilemna; is it worth it to Stephanie and her two co-workers Connie and Lula to rescue the employer that no one really likes?  Of course they wind up doing the right thing with the requisite close calls for all those involved.

I particularly liked the cattle stampede and Mr. Jingles in this one.  You'll just have to read the book to find out how she worked those two animal capers into urban Trenton in this one.  As always, a fast and amusing read.  Somehow I always finish her Stephanie Plum novels craving donuts and extra crispy fried chicken...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Dark Star Safari

It took me forever to plod through Dark Star Safari (#38) by Paul Theroux.  I can't remember the last time it took me more than a week to finish a book.  Of course, I was on a safari of my own to New Orleans, so that didn't help.  I've never read any of Mr. Theroux's work before.  Kingdom By the Sea has been sitting on my shelf for years, but somehow, I've never gotten around to it.  I'm not sure I ever will now.  In Dark Star Safari he travels through Africa from Cairo to Capetown overland, sticking to ground transportation and only traveling by air once when a border was closed and it was the only way to continue on. 

I had always thought I would like to visit Africa; to see the pyramids, visit a game camp perhaps in Kenya, see the Botswana that Alexander McCall Smith brings so vividly to life, and admire Table Mountain in Capetown.  Reading this book has cured me of any romantic longings for that.  Paul Theroux's intention was to return to the scenes of his Peace Corp and teaching experiences in Uganda and Malawi while seeing the rest of the continent.  The changes he encountered were so profound and devastating that he states he may never return.  All the work he and his colleagues had done had been so utterly destroyed; the pleasant shady college campus with the best library in Africa he remembered had been totally denuded of trees, books and any kind of spirit among the students to help themselves.  As he makes the point over and over again throughout the book, why should they?  The aid workers and "agents of virtue" are there to do it all for them.  The local economies depend on foreign aid money, so why bother to make anything themselves, or grow food, or keep things in repair?  Begging and theivery work just as well.

His anecdotes about the people he met and the situations he found himself in kept me reading to see what happened next, but I didn't like the author much by the end of the book.  He manages to be simultaneously irritating, condescending, righteous, deliberately annoying to those he meets if he disapproves of them (an awful lot of people fell into this category!) and hail-fellow-well-met to others, including along the way a Prime Minister and two Nobel Prize winners.  While he scorns those who visit the game camps, he has a very enjoyable time for himself in a luxury game reserve.  He delights in buying and wearing second hand clothes (donated by US charities!) to make himself less conspicuous, traveling by crowded buses and vans packed with people and animals.  He visits a squatters' settlement outside Capetown to see what life is like, but has a 5 star lunch at a hilltop winery overlooking that same squatters' village.  He thorougly enjoys his ride on the legendary Blue Train in South Africa, and his luxury cruise on the Nile, but heaps many paragraphs of scorn on the tourists who do so.  He apparently thinks you can have it both ways.

I can't say that Mr. Theroux is someone I'd care to spend any more time with; just chalk up this safari as an interesting experience.