Saturday, June 30

Book Review: The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes

If you've come to my blog before, then you know: I LOVE books. I love to read, period, and have been known to make do with cereal boxes and soup cans if nothing else is available. But my first love is books. Fiction, nonfiction, mysteries, thrillers, comedy and romance. I'll read them all. I visit the library every 3 weeks like clockwork and take books home by the bag. I don't get them just from libraries, I also buy books. But at the pace I read them, I have to limit my purchases to a handful of favorite authors or I'd never make the mortgage payment every month.

Enter Jennifer Crusie, Eileen Dreyer and Anne Stuart; three fabulous authors each of whose books I snatch up as soon as they come out. These ladies are GOOD. However, to my mind their writing voices are distinct so when I heard they were teaming up to co-author a novel I was a little curious, and yes wary, of how well it would work. I mean, I read a lot but I also have high expectations. The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes lives up to every one of them. I have to stress here that this book is a single novel, not an anthology. This is not three seperate stories, but rather a single story woven together by three best selling authors. And the results are seamless.

Here's the scoop: Three sisters - Dee, Lizzie and Mare - are witches. Dee is a shape shifter, Lizzie can transform objects, and Mare is telekenetic. However the girls have been on the run from their deliciously evil Aunt Xan since they were very young and have never learned quite how to handle their individual powers.

Now Aunt Xan has found them, and she has found the perfect way to lure the women out into the open, with or without the assistance of her hapless minions: True Love. She has located three perfect men for her neices, and all they have to do in return is ... well you'll have to read the book to find out.

Crusie, Dreyer and Stuart have given readers a book that mixes magic and mayhem, supernatural and sexy, humor and havoc. Its a fun ride the whole way around. And you'll never look at cobblestones in quite the same way again.

Wednesday, June 27

The Worst of Times, The Best of Times

My dad passed away on Father's Day. That should freak me out, but oddly enough it doesn't. Next year might be another matter but I'll deal with that then. There have been some very bad spots and I'm sure they will continue to crop up, catching me unawares. I want to say that we lost him too soon, but even if it had come 20 years from now instead, it would still have been too soon. Sometimes the sense of loss is just overwhelming. But I know that all of this is to be expected: it's part of the process I have to go through as I learn to let go. Underneath of all that, though, is an odd sense of peace. He wasn't in pain or distress and didn't leave behind loose ends, things undone, or words unsaid. I know with absolute certainty that he loved his family beyond measure. That he thoroughly enjoyed being a father and husband. He has left us, but without doubt or recriminations and with many wonderful memories. There are much worse ways to go.

My sister flew up from GA right away. Miraculously we actually got along for an entire week. In fact, as a family we were in unusual harmony when it came to the decisions that had to be made. I think Dad would have approved of the way we handled things, always keeping him in mind, how he felt about things and what would capture his spirit best.

Many years ago, Dad had this brown shirt that he wore all the time, every single weekend. It wasn't a very attractive shirt to begin with and didn't improve with age. We kept buying him new shirts, hoping he would take the hint but still that damned shirt would come out. It made my sister especially nuts and she used to give him a hard time about it. He just laughed and told her that he was going to leave it for her in his will. That was years ago and eventually we stopped seeing the shirt. This past week, my sister had asked my mom for something of Dad's that she could have. As Mom rummaged for his watch a memory hit me from out of the blue. "Well," I said, "I'm sure if we look through his drawers we'll be able to find that brown shirt. Dad always wanted you to have it." They both knew instantly what I was referring to and we all laughed. It was a shared memory and a good moment. I think that somewhere Dad was having a good laugh too.

My dad's family has an odd propensity for nicknames. My Aunt Pooks passed away some years ago, but my Aunt Sis is still with us. My grandmother was known to all her friends and neighbors as Birdie her whole life. My cousin Butch got his real name from his father, but I have no idea what Rocket's real name is. I do know how he got the nickname, though. My dad was driving Aunt Sis to the hospital as she was going into labor and they barely made it there in time. Dad said that the baby came out like a rocket, and the name stuck. Last week I had a phone call. "Hi, its Darlene." Darlene? I don't know anyone named Darlene. But there was something in the voice that struck a chord. Then she said, "Podie" and I knew immediately. Later when I saw her in person I told her not to use her real name if she called again because it just confused me. Hmmm, shades of the Bar&Grill in that.

We had a graveside service and it was just about perfect. The weather cooperated, the view was fabulous - mountains as far as the eye could see - and everyone turned out. Even an aunt and uncle of my Dad's. I'm not sure how old the aunt is but I know the uncle is about the same age as my dad. As I explained to my nephew later, my grandmother was the oldest of 21 kids! I have a newspaper clipping somewhere that dates back to WWII and gives details about the family, discussing the different ways they all contributed to the war effort. I have to dig that out and send it to him. By the time Gram's baby brother came along she was already working on a family of her own.

We all gathered again later at another aunt's house. Food and drink were plentiful and we shared some memories and some laughs. My youngest nephew and a cousin's boy went fishing and got good and wet as is only fitting for growing boys. Later on an uncle by marriage took the two of them for a long drive over and around the mountain where they got to see a few elk and even a black bear. My nephew was thrilled and I'm sure he will carry that memory with him for a long time.

My mother doesn't drink much, but she does enjoy her cider ... hard cider that is. Well there was beer aplenty at the house, but no cider. My BIL, bless his heart, is a born and bred flatlander, as they say up in those parts. An urban yuppie if there ever was one. But he bravely set out towards the local redneck bar in search of cider for Mom. I can just imagine the look he must have got from the locals when he asked for it. No, they didn't have any; but they did have Mike's Hard Lemonade which he brought back for Mom.

As the afternoon wore on, two decks of cards were brought out and we gathered around two tables - one in the kitchen and one on the covered deck - for a marathon session of 500 bid. My mother hadn't played since I was a kid, but she and my aunt skunked my cousins no less than four consecutive games. We laughed about the pairing off: girls against boys, aunts against nephews, sisters against brothers. Then we started switching off, the winners of each table playing against each other and new teams forming at the other table. My older nephew eventually got pulled into the game and, never having played before, still pulled off two fairly tricky hands. He and another cousin eventually brought Mom and my aunt down to earth before the evening ended.

It was a very difficult week, but the memories aren't all bad. I think Dad would approve.

Thursday, June 7

Recent Reads

Because I know that most of you enjoy books as much as I do, and also because I can't think of another topic, I thought I would give you a run down on books I have recently enjoyed.

Currently I am reading a new author and I'm a little excited because the book is really pretty good. A new author is cause for excitement, don't you think? The book is A Faint Cold Fear and the author is Karin Slaughter. Yes, she does spell that with an "i." It's a mystery/suspense and I think part of a series. The character is a doctor in a small Georgia town who also doubles as the coroner. The body of a student from the nearby tech college is found by a bridge and it looks as if the kid commited suicide by jumping. But something just doesn't add up for the coroner and chief of police - who just happens to be the coroner's ex-husband. Then the coroner's pregnant sister disappears from the vicinity. So far it's a pretty good page-turner. The characters are fleshed out nicely and the plot is keeping me interested.

The last book I read was Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett. I liked the book a lot, as I do all Pratchett's books, but not as much as I like his City Watch series. This book involves the witch Granny Weatherwax who takes on the job of educating a young girl with powers. However, the girl's powers are not that of a witch, but that of a wizard and "the lore" says that women can't be wizards. Tradition and discrimination are the obvious themes in this book and Pratchett handles the subject in a fairly charming way. But it comes across a bit too strongly as a moral tale.

Much better are his City Watch books. Pratchett uses a lighter hand in these books, letting the characters drive the story. And in spite of their mythic quality (trolls, dwarves and werewolves to name a few) the characters have a familiar feel.

Also recently read was Bill Bryson's Neither Here Nor There. An adult Bryson tramps across Europe, revisiting locales from his backpacking youth. I think this book is shelved in the 'travel' section in bookstores (I got mine from the library) but I can't say I learned much about Europe from it. However Bryson's trademark humor comes through nicely and makes it all worthwhile. It's not up to the standards of his A Walk In The Woods but is a good read just the same.

Just before that I read Carl Hiaasen's Lucky You. I really have no idea how to describe Hiaasen's books. I guess you could call them 'suspense' for the sheer "I have no idea what is going to happen next" quality. In this book there are two winners of the Florida lottery. The heroine wants to use her share to purchase local acreage and keep it from being developed. The hero is a newspaper columnist sent to reluctantly interview her. And the other winner? A pair of racist, militia wannabe's that give rednecks a bad name. They decide that half the winnings aren't nearly enough. When they steal the heroine's lottery ticket, she and the columnist team up to track them down and it's a very wild ride. Where Hiaasen gets the inspiration for some of his characters is anybody's guess. They are so far out there that they might even be cartoonish if they weren't so well handled. I sometimes think of his books as being like driving past a particularly gruesome car accident. Part of me shies away from looking while the other part can't resist peeking.

The new Amanda Quick (AKA Jane Ann Krentz) book, The River Knows was very good. Unlike her other recent books this one did not center on the mysterious Arcane Society and I think I liked it all the better for that. It's a historical romance featuring the strong heroine and urbane heros that she writes so well. There is of course mystery and suspense mixed in but I mostly read her books because they are so much fun.

And lastly (well not my last book, but the last one I'm going to mention here) is Jane Haddam's Glass Houses. It's the most recent in her Gregor Demarkian series, but could easily stand alone if you aren't caught up. Gregor is acting as a consultant to the Chicago police departon on a serial killing dubbed "the plate-glass" murders by the press; but he is distracted by the return of his errant lover Bennis Hanniford. Haddam tends to give a lot of backstory in her books but she does so with skill. In this respect her writing reminds me of Ngaio Marsh. She writes a good mystery and this one is no exception. But really I read her for the characters that populate Gregor's world, the mostly Armenian neighborhood of Cavanaugh Street. As I said, this book stands alone very nicely but it is worth reading them in order (starting with Not a Creature Was Stirring) to watch as Gregor and his relationship with Bennis arc throughout the series.

That's it for now.