Death by Darjeeling by Laura Childs

Death by Darjeeling (A Tea Shop Mystery)From the author's website: "Ordinarily, Charleston's Indigo Tea Shop is an oasis of calm.  But when tea shop owner, Theodosia Browning, caters the annual Lamplighter Tour of historic homes, one of the patrons turns up dead.  Never mind that it's Hughes Barron, a slightly scurrilous real estate developer.  Theodosia's reputation is suddenly on the line.  Aided by her friends and fellow tea shop entrepreneurs, Theo sets about to unravel the mystery of the deadly Darjeeling and encounters a number of likely suspects.  Tanner Joseph, the fiery environmentalist, held a grudge against the developer for his misuse of land.  Timothy Neville, the octogenarian major domo for the Heritage Society, opposed Hughes Barron's election to the board.  And Barron's unsavory partner might very well profit from a cleverly written buy-sell agreement!"

I say this now without any irony, I love the fact that mystery series are so popular that you can get one about almost any interest or hobby you have.  You want a mystery series about scrapbooking?  No problem!  How about one about knitting?  There must be three or four such series!  Gardening, wedding planning, coffee drinking, or birdwatching?   Yes, yes, yes, and yes.  Vampires?  Sure!  Witches?  More than one such series.  The only problem is weeding out the bad series.  
After recently deciding that I loved Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and Sarah Caudwell too much to stop at just them, I've been looking over some of these series to see if any of them could be enjoyable.  Unfortunately, I don't think the Tea Shop Mysteries from Laura Childs will be it.  While the book was inoffensive and decently written, it didn't thrill me or even make me want to read more than the first chapter which is not a great sign in a book.  I didn't have trouble powering through it to get it done with, but neither did I think it was a particularly memorable book other than about two seconds after introducing the killer, I thought to myself, "That person is the killer."  If I, a person who can almost never guess mystery answers, is able to do that based on nothing other than a character description, it's a little too obvious.

Additionally, I felt a few too many sub plots were not wrapped up properly.  There was no denouement that wrapped up those characters or plots which were left hanging.  I suppose this is because Childs had planned a series, but I really hate when that type of thing occurs because there is no guarantee that I'd like to continue to read the next book in the series.

Lastly, a great deal of enjoyment of the book comes from whether you like the main character of Theodosia, who is clearly an old soul.  I did not.  I found her to be boring mostly, with uninteresting interactions with most people around her.  The only people I liked to see her interact with was her romantic interest and the detective Tidwell.  Perhaps I found the other characters boring as well, but those two had enough strength to their personalities that they made Theodosia interesting as well.

So, why isn't the rating on this book even lower, you ask?  Because it is competently written and because someone who is more interested in tea might like the descriptions of the tea house.  In fact, those were the parts I was particularly interested in.  Perhaps it is time for me to go buy a book about tea and tea houses.

Verdict:  4.  I say on my rating page that a 5 book is one that makes me say, "Well, that was a book.  It sure was."  And that is exactly how I feel about this book, but I disliked it just a little bit more than that!
Thoughts:  I can't help but think with so many books in this series it must get vastly better.  I'm going to give one or two more books in the series a try.  I have book twelve or thirteen sitting on my shelves due to a kind neighbor, so I might give that a try to see if I like Childs's writing style or plotting better.


Betsy-Tacy and Tib by Maud Hart Lovelace

Betsy-Tacy and Tib (Betsy-Tacy Books)From Amazon"Betsy and Tacy are best friends. Then Tib moves into the neighborhood and the three of them start to play together. The grown-ups think they will quarrel, but they don't. Sometimes they quarrel with Betsy's and Tacy's bossy big sisters, but they never quarrel among themselves.

They are not as good as they might be. They cook up awful messes in the kitchen, throw mud on each other and pretend to be beggars, and cut off each other's hair. But Betsy, Tacy, and Tib always manage to have a good time."

 After reading the first book,  I decided to immediately get the second book from the library.  While I'm happy that I've continued to read, I wasn't as into Betsy-Tacy and Tib.  I think with the addition of Tib, I realized something -- I didn't really enjoy Tacy as much as I adored Betsy and Tib!  Betsy's imaginative nature and Tib's pragmatic nature are extremes that play off well against each other and make them fun to read.  Tacy's defining trait of shyness isn't as enjoyable to read though I did identify with it!

But, to jump back, Betsy-Tacy and Tib takes place about three years after Betsy-Tacy and the change in age does a bit to refresh the story.  Now, the girls realize that growth is constantly coming at them, and they even see their first glimpses of mortality (which would have been more real to a child back then) in Tacy's prolonged illness.  While they react to these ideas childishly and humorously, it's still a change from the previous book in which growing up meant being as old as their sisters who were then eight.

As I said, part of the thrill of the story was off for me when I realized I was getting irate with Tacy's actions or when I found the section on the flying woman not to fit into the story, but at other times, such as when the group decided to cook everything pudding, I felt happy I had picked up the second book so quickly.

I will definitely be continuing on with this series!

Verdict:  6.  Not as charming as the first book, but I still enjoyed it. 

Thoughts:  How about that scene in which Betsy doesn't understand why Tib can't grow up to be an architect but must be a housewife?  Maud Hart Lovelace pointing out the injustice of it all back in the Forties from the viewpoint of a girl growing up in the Nineteen Hundreds! 

Betsy-Tacy Books 
  1. Betsy-Tacy
  2. Betsy-Tacy and Tib


That's What He Said: Song of Susannah by Stephen King

First things first.  I'm introducing yet another new feature on my blog -- "That's What He Said".  I know, a silly title, but it's a play off of a silly joke between my husband and me.  In this little series, I'll give you my husband's reviews on books.  We have some overlapping tastes (mainly in nonfiction, sci-fi, and fantasy), but he likes a good horror, military novel, and thriller as well.  I plan on getting a small video memo of what he says and translating it into a shortened version of my usual review, verdict, and thoughts.  I hope you like this new feature!

Important to note is that my husband and I rate things very differently, so until he gets a guideline on how my rating of 10 works, I won't be including these reviews in my rating counts.

Song of Susannah (The Dark Tower, Book 6)From the author's site"Susannah, now pregnant, has yet another taking control of her.  The demon-mother, Mia, uses Susannah and Black Thirteen to transport to New York City of 1999.  Jake, Oy, and Pere Callahan must rescue Susannah while Eddie and Roland transport to the Maine of 1977.  A vacant lot in New York is the prize that must be saved and ties these together."

Excerpt at USA Today.

It's hard for me to write this review, because I'm going off voice notes and my husband is asleep.  In fact, this one will be mostly a series of thoughts on the novel.
To sum up, this story focuses on the group that has been separated into three subgroups, each with their own story line.  My husband picked the Eddie/Roland story as the one he discussed the most, but that might have been because I prodded him about King's use of himself as a character.

In the Dark Tower Series, Steven King is a character in his own book because Roland and his crew realize they are characters written by Steven King.  He's written the first book and it's sitting in his garage when Roland comes in.  My husband applauded King for the skill in using himself in the books convincingly, which we both agreed was a good conceit for this long series and for King's love of meta and shared universes (see Flagg).

My husband stated that  especially like it for a latter King book, though it is not as good as Carrie, Cujo, or Salem's Lot.  He also mentioned that though the pacing of the book definitely gives it the feeling of being a good penultimate book, curiously, very little actually happens in the book.

Verdict:  7.  An above-average score for this last book which is one of the more coherent, less scattered of the latter books of this series, which were written and published very quickly.

Thoughts:  Probably best not to start here, but if you've made it this far through the series, why not keep going with this decent continuation?


Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace

Betsy-Tacy (Betsy-Tacy Books)From Amazon: "There are lots of children on Hill Street, but no little girls Betsy's age. So when a new family moves into the house across the street, Betsy hopes they will have a little girl she can play with. Sure enough, they do—a little girl named Tacy. And from the moment they meet at Betsy's fifth birthday party, Betsy and Tacy becoms such good friends that everyone starts to think of them as one person—Betsy-Tacy.

Betsy and Tacy have lots of fun together. They make a playhouse from a piano box, have a sand store, and dress up and go calling. And one day, they come home to a wonderful surprise—a new friend named Tib."

I  love classic children's stories, especially those about young girls, such as Heidi, Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, and Little Women.  I'm always pleasantly surprised when I find a new series (as I recently did with Little House In The Big Woods) but these discoveries get rarer and rarer over time.  One day while cruising the Classics section, I came across an intriguing book titled Betsy Was a Junior and I excitedly almost picked it up before noting it was part of a series.  When I got home, I did some research and discovered the Betsy Tacy series, which starts with a children's book about two five year old girls!

I was thrilled.  The series seemed to have a following and it was based on a friendship.  After getting it from the library, I read it in minutes and then went to add Betsy-Tacy and Tib which is the next book to my library queue.

This is one of those rare, sweet stories that is aimed at children but pleasant to read as an adult.  The topics it touches on such as friendship, growing up, death, imagination, and going to school could be enjoyed by a very young girl AND a slightly older woman.  A friend mentioned that she planned to read these with her baby girl when she was old enough and I envied her.  This is exactly the type of book I'd love to share with a daughter.

It's full of the every day lives of a couple of girls from the turn of the century and it easily shows that imagination is timeless.  Betsy's ability to tell a story that creates a way to play for her and Tacy is fun and their little serious conversations on topics such as the death of a loved one are both heartwarming and amusing.

Verdict:  8.  I'm pleasantly surprised at how well it stood up for my reading.

Thoughts:  I have already started to continue with the series, but I'm quite excited for the later books in which Betsy is slightly more grown up and the story is less childish.

Betsy-Tacy Books 
  1. Betsy-Tacy
  2. Betsy-Tacy and Tib


Books My Son Loves: Zen Shorts by Jon J Muth

Zen Shorts (Collector's Edition) (Zen)After reading a quiet but favorable review of this series, I decided to give it a go with my son.  Now, two months later, he is obsessed and I'm terrified because I have no renewals left on this book and its sequel (which I'll probably discuss in the future). 

This children's book is both gorgeous and intelligent.  It teaches zen lessons with a deft hand, applying a child's thought process to them.  The teacher is a large panda bear named Stillwater who has moved into a house next to three young children.  He is large, but gentle and sweet.  The story around the lessons is my favorite part as the children do things like take tea with Stillwater, fly paper airplanes with him, or go swimming with him.

One of my favorite sections is one in which Michael, the eldest, and Stillwater fly paper airplanes.  It's simply some of the most beautiful children's text I've ever read.  My son, on the other hand, is a large fan of the illustration on the page which shows Michael and Stillwater in a tree throwing two paper airplanes.

Being only two, my son cannot appreciate the sentiment behind many of the pages, but I'm happy to introduce them at a young age as he can grow to understand them.  In the meantime, he's simply happy to be reading a story about a panda bear playing with children.

Stillwater Books 
  1. Zen Shorts
  2. Zen Ties


Blood Engines by T. A. Pratt

Blood Engines (Marla Mason, Book 1)From Amazon:

"Meet Marla Mason–smart, saucy, slightly wicked witch of the East Coast.…

Sorcerer Marla Mason, small-time guardian of the city of Felport, has a big problem. A rival is preparing a powerful spell that could end Marla’s life–and, even worse, wreck her city. Marla’s only chance of survival is to boost her powers with the Cornerstone, a magical artifact hidden somewhere in San Francisco. But when she arrives there, Marla finds that the quest isn’t going to be quite as cut-and-dried as she expected…and that some of the people she needs to talk to are dead. It seems that San Francisco’s top sorcerers are having troubles of their own–a mysterious assailant has the city’s magical community in a panic, and the local talent is being (gruesomely) picked off one by one.

With her partner-in-crime, Rondeau, Marla is soon racing against time through San Francisco’s alien streets, dodging poisonous frogs, murderous hummingbirds, cannibals, and a nasty vibe from the local witchery, who suspect that Marla herself may be behind the recent murders. And if Marla doesn’t figure out who is killing the city’s finest in time, she’ll be in danger of becoming a magical statistic herself.…"

Excerpt at Author's website.

Let's just get this out of the way, Marla is one bitchy but boss heroine.   The whole book is filled with a ton of witches and wizards who are scary, strange, and unique.  I've certainly never come across a witch who gathers her magic by using a train going in an endless loop.  (Loved that.)  More than most books called urban fantasy, this felt both urban and strange and weird, but in a good way.  Even magical archetypes that appear in other series come across a little better in this book (the witch who can see multiple timelines, the prophet/oracle, and the evil Chinese mage).  Now, to damn with faint praise, saying all this about how I loved aspects of this book, I simply liked this book.

Let's get the bad out of the way so I can clear my review's palette with the good stuff.  It was certainly memorable, but while certain scenes and characters are simply stand-out, other scenes or characters left me uninterested and unmotivated to continue reading the series.  I felt like the characters I was most interested in wouldn't even be in the second book, which left me with a "why bother" feeling.  Also, Marla is almost needlessly bitchy.  She is the kind of bitchy that left me unable to sympathize and I say this as a person who is needlessly bitchy all the damned time.  She seems to be bitchy almost to the point of stupidity.  While this can be interesting, it also makes her seem dumb at times which is hard to find engaging.

Felport, the city which matters the most to Marla, is not in this book at all.  We're left with San Francisco, which makes me reluctant to move back to Felport in the second book.  It seems an odd choice to start the series away from this city.

Now that this is out of the way, let's talk about what I like.  The snake god, the possible witch (extra hugs and kisses to this minor character), the bevy of San Fran leading wizards, the completely strange but interesting magic of the villain, Bradley.  If the second book had followed Bradley instead of Marla, I'd have been there in a heartbeat.  There is a lot of world-building and characterization to love. 

The reason I'm tempted to pick up more books from Tim Pratt is that I'm sure he must be a very imaginative man with a great ability to paint both beautiful and hideous worlds and people with words.  If his other books have stronger stories, I think they have the potential to be some of my favorites.

Verdict: 6.  I read it about a month ago and I still remember all the plot details and I still feel good about a lot of it, but not enough to make me want to rush to get the second book in the series.  Both of those things say something and they balance out to a six.  It's like the opposite of 'the whole is greater than the sum of its parts'.  Here the sum of its parts is much higher than the whole of story of this book.

Thoughts:  I guessed early into the novel that this was written by a male as opposed to the large string of urban fantasy written by females.  The feel was just different.  In one way, I kind of liked that (less silly romance) but in another way (still lots of silly sex) it was kind of annoying.  Doesn't anyone do urban fantasy stuff without excessive romance or sex?

Also, Tim Pratt has both his own website and a website devoted to stories of Marla which includes an excerpt from Blood Engines..  Apparently the fifth book is reader funded.  Was he unable to publish it or did he decide to self-publish it?


Scored By The Boss by Maureen Child

Scorned By The Boss (Harlequin Desire)From the author's website: no copy.

From Goodreads: "Shipping tycoon Jefferson Lyon wasn't a man who took no for an answer—from anybody. So when his "faithful" secretary finally had enough of his difficult, demanding ways and quit, he followed her to the tropical resort where she was vacationing. There'd be no relaxing for Jefferson…he was playing at seduction in order to get Caitlyn back to work.

But his ex-assistant was turning out to be more determined, and more desirable, than the arrogant millionaire had ever realized."

Why do I do this to myself?  I go to a library sale, see a pile of Silhouette or Harlequins.  I think to myself, "I shouldn't."  Then I remember the five or six good series romances I've read and look, just in case.  Invariably, I end up with a series romance that takes me an hour to read and a day to dislike enough to get it out of my system.

Jefferson's plan to get his secretary to come back to work for him?  Let me spell it out for you.  He's going to seduce her, then act so horribly that she'll dump him, and then she'll feel bad about dumping him and take her job back.  Supposedly this guy is a genius, and, yet, this is the dumbest plan on Earth. Let's look at its possible points of failure:  (1)  His attempts to seduce will fail, (2) She will not dump him when he treats her badly, (3) she'll feel good about dumping him, and (4) she'll feel bad, but not that bad.

Honestly, I'll give him number one since she's been looking lustfully at him.  But, two?  I've known any number of women to put up with any random amount of shit from guys they love or like and to still keep dating them.  This includes petty theft, cheating, and emotional abuse.  What was he planning to do to make the dumping work?  And then there is me.  I've dumped people.  Here's how sad I am about it.  :D  That's right.  I'm not.  I wasn't at the time.  When I dump people it is to make my life better.  Why should I feel shitty about it?  Why should Caitlyn?

I honestly didn't mind Caitlyn.  She was a little too good and efficient, but I've read many a series romance and that barely phases me.  I did like her realization about why she got engaged to the man she was engaged with prior to the start of the novel.  It made sense and it made me think she could be intelligent and resist Jefferson's attempts at seductions.

I never actually felt like Jefferson fell in love with Caitlyn though.  I felt he was upset that she didn't fall at his feet with joy right away and I'd snicker every time he noticed lovingly she wasn't a gold digger, but really? That was all it took?

I think I would have to give Maureen Child another read to see if it was the book that was the problem or if she's simply an author that is incompatible with me.

Verdict:  3.  I am literally throwing this book out which is a rarity for me.  But I don't need to keep books I've bought cheap and which bring me little joy.

Thoughts:  My husband looked at the back copy of this book and said, "What an asshole."  I explained to him that is true, but it's a Silhouette Desire book.  The males are almost always assholes.  You just got to hope that this will be the one of the books where the heroine truly shoves him down into the mud and makes him realize that and grovel for forgiveness.

Also, rather oddly, the majority of the novel took place in a tropical getaway location that was clearly super thought out, but rather generically described.  I guess I just never felt like any part of this novel really came together for me.  Yet, to keep Caitlyn's friends in the novel, she kept making phone calls to them.


Unearthly by Cynthia Hand

UnearthlyFrom the author's website: "Clara Gardner has recently learned that she's part angel. Having angel blood run through her veins not only makes her smarter, stronger, and faster than humans (a word, she realizes, that no longer applies to her), but it means she has a purpose, something she was put on this earth to do. Figuring out what that is, though, isn't easy. 

Her visions of a raging forest fire and an alluring stranger lead her to a new school in a new town. When she meets Christian, who turns out to be the boy of her dreams (literally), everything seems to fall into place—and out of place at the same time. Because there's another guy, Tucker, who appeals to Clara's less angelic side. 

As Clara tries to find her way in a world she no longer understands, she encounters unseen dangers and choices she never thought she'd have to make—between honesty and deceit, love and duty, good and evil. When the fire from her vision finally ignites, will Clara be ready to face her destiny? 

Unearthly is a moving tale of love and fate, and the struggle between following the rules and following your heart."

How's this for an admission?  I went into this novel expecting the worst.  I have had no luck with the big name young adult angel novels, and this one had gotten so little press and reviews on my favorite blogs that I just assumed it was kind of not great.  And to prove my point of "Go into something with low expectations and you're sure to be pleasantly surprised", I loved this novel.  In fact, I immediately did a search on Amazon and Goodreads to see if I was going crazy and I found I wasn't alone.  The ratings for this novel were almost all good.

The story starts with a vision from Clara which leads her family to move in an attempt to make the vision come true since Clara's mother (an angelblood herself) declares that this is Clara's purpose in life.  To fulfill this vision.  Clara does not doubt her mother, so move they do.  There Clara meets several others who will either help or hinder her in her purpose and she learns more about what it means to have a purpose and to have the blood of an angel.

Clara's story is an intriguing one which explores the concepts of duty versus love, destiny versus choices, and friendship versus family.  The real winning conflict, to me, is destiny versus choices.  This is an especially fitting conflict to be explored in a novel of angels and devils since God created angels without free will.  How much do I love the author for explaining that in this novel and addressing how an angel would fall without God's express permission and orders?

I honestly never knew if Clara was making the right decisions, but it wasn't because I felt she was being dumb or vapid.  Like Clara, we are given certain input and data, and based on that, we have to guess -- is Clara making the right decision?  Does it matter if her soul gets slightly tarnished if we feel she's morally right?  Or are her decisions ones which will have longer consequences than we can guess at?

I'm very excited for the next novel now.  I want to know more about Clara's family members especially.  Why is her mother so secretive and what is the deal with her brother?  And, again, I'm so happy that I want to continue to read not based on the romance but based on the strength of the plot.

Verdict: 8.  I was surprised by how much I liked this novel, and I'll happily get the next book in the series.  It's not the best book I've ever read, but it's a quick and entertaining read.

Thoughts: Seriously, why is it so hard to find good novels about angels?  Hush, Hush was hysterically bad.  Fallen had so many problems and its sequel was worse.  I haven't heard good reviews for any other big name angel books.  Good on you, Cynthia Hand!

Also, contrary to what it might seem from the copy, Tucker is no supernatural creature.  He's human.  His sister is human.  There are humans in this story and they don't suck and they aren't unimportant side characters, which is a nice change from just about every paranormal novel I've ever read.  Sure, there aren't many, but it matters.