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Left on St. Truth-be-Well
Left on St. Truth-be-Well
Price: 3.18

2.0 out of 5 stars Amy Lane can do better, 24 Aug 2013
Amy Lane's writing can roughly be divided into longer, more serious and more emotionally involved novels, (ex. Dex in Blue or Sidecar), and shorter, lighter novellas, often with a bit of a suspense plot thrown in, (ex. Turkey in the Snow or Knitter in His Natural Habitat (Knitting Series)). (She also writes in genres other than contemporary.) I've found that readers tend to prefer one "group" or the other. Although I prefer her longer works (and think they are often written better), her shorter works are generally ok. Unfortunately, that's not the case with St. Truth-Be-Well.

Left on St. Truth-Be-Well is novella length, and although has a great deal of promise- a strange and interesting setting, a funny character, and an engaging mystery- it doesn't come close to meeting it. The dialogue is smart and funny at times, but rushed, inconsistent, and confusing at others. The mystery is given little attention; although the mystery being secondary is normal for Lane's shorter books, it should be woven throughout the plot, not brought out, or ignored, when convenient. The pacing is inconsistent, both in the plot and in the prose. Overall, the book reads like a first draft of something really promising that needs some strong editing.

Amy Lane is capable of so much more, and if this is your first time reading her work, try one of the other books named above before you give up. They are more than worth it.

Cotton Tenants: Three Families
Cotton Tenants: Three Families
by James Agee
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 14.64

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading by anyone interested in recent American History and issues of economic and social justice., 4 Aug 2013
Worth reading by anyone interested in recent American History and issues of economic and social justice.

Cotton Tenants is the result of an assignment given to James Agee and photographer Walker Evans in 1936 by Fortune magazine to report on "cotton tenants" in the south- people who made their "living" by raising cotton on land owned by the landlord, and living in homes owned by the landlord. The report was never published though the well known book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (Penguin Modern Classics) is a product of the same trip to the south and the notes taken on the trip.

Cotton Tenants describes the daily lives of three families: their "business" arrangement with the landlord, their shelter, their education, their clothing, ... and more. In Adam Haslett's introductory statement entitled "A Poet's Brief", it is said that "much of the details of the families' daily lives is delivered in flat declarative statements", although the statement does go on to say that Cotton Tenants also often reaches "higher poetic register." Much of Cotton Tenants was indeed flat and declarative, but that is not to say it is lacking in interest. To me the value and interest of the Cotton Tenants is in the history it presents, and in the questions it can raise. Agee himself states in his own introduction that what he is writing about is "local specializations of the huge and the ancient"- a particular form of poverty, and any 'student' of the past who wants to understand the present, anyone interested in the economics and power structure in our society today will be interested in this book. Haslett titled his into "A Poet's Brief" because he views Cotton Tenants as "a poets brief for the prosecution of economic and social justice", and in it he says that "you don't have to look hard to see how our own credit system, administered not by small-time land lords but by banks, credit rating companies, and collections agencies has established an impersonal, financial capital variant of the debt trap that Agee described seventy six years ago."

In addition to the text, not to be overlooked are the Walker Evans photographs- only a handful of the many taken on the trip, which are separately published, but those that appear go well with the text.

The physical book itself is a nice size to hold and read - about 5 1/2 inches wide, 7 inches long, light weight but decent quality paper, a decent size print (NOT tiny) and easy to carry round.

Life: Extraordinary Animals, Extreme Behaviour
Life: Extraordinary Animals, Extreme Behaviour
by Martha Holmes
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful companion to the documentary, 24 Feb 2013
Life: Extraordinary Animals, Extreme Behavior is one of only a handful of coffee-table books that I have ever enjoyed. I have found few books that strike the right balance between quality photographs and readability; Life does that beautifully.

As anyone who has seen the BBC documentary Life [Blu-ray][Region Free] can attest, the imagery is stunning, and that holds true in the book. Featuring a mix of shots, from "portraits" to action to landscape, they are all amazing. In addition, the print quality is excellent, unlike some other books I've seen.

The book is divided into chapters along the same lines as the DVD. In my opinion, it is the narrative that sets Life apart from other similar books. Incredibly informative, it balances on that delicate line between too simple and overwhelming. Each chapter begins with smaller photos and a few pages of information, often a summary of the narrative from the film, (the version narrated by David Attenborough, not Oprah). Each of the larger photos in the chapter are then accompanied by a short paragraph explaining the who, what, where, and why. Finally, the index is particularly useful in finding specific photos because the organization is based more on behavior than animal type.

Anyone interested in nature, animals, or photography will enjoy this book.

Seeing Blind
Seeing Blind
by Katie Allen
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Katie Allen has another winner, 10 Feb 2013
This review is from: Seeing Blind (Paperback)
Fans of Katie Allen's Breaking the Silence will also love "Seeing Blind".

Allen takes a fairly common plot- woman with psychic abilities, doubtful man, throw in a little romance and a little danger- and makes it shine. Cassie's abilities have made her life difficult in more ways than one. But she's found a new place to call home, and she's determined to make it stick this time. Ty is the town sheriff, and he's interested, for more than professional reasons, in the relative newcomer. When Cassie's gift gives her a nebulous warning about a violent threat, she can't just sit back and do nothing, but she can't tell Ty what she knows. Cassie and Ty will have to fight to preserve their budding relationship as they try to find the killer in their midst.

Cassie is a sympathetic heroine, and her psycic abilities are impressive without being overly dramatic. Ty is a strong hero, both smart and hot, without being overbearing, or unreasonably powerful. The mystery is a page-turner, yet is realistic within the small town locale. And the romance is both hot and sexy, and sweet and emotionally moving.

Fans of Allen's previous books will enjoy "Seeing Blind", and those who have never read her before should definitely start now!

Double Blind
Double Blind
by Heidi Cullinan
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Character driven romance that hits all of the right marks, 20 Jan 2013
This review is from: Double Blind (Paperback)
Double Blind is the sequel to Heidi Cullinan's Special Delivery. Although Special Delivery is generally much adored, I didn't love it, and in part because of that, and in part because the cover is horrible and the sypnopsis isn't great, it took me another 3 months to pick up Double Blind. And how I wish I had done so earlier. I loved Double Blind, and highly recommend it.

Special Delivery and Double Blind contain some of the same characters, but it is easily possible to follow Double Blind without having read Special Delivery, and in fact, due to the notable differences between the two, I would recommend considering them as two separate books, rather than as a series. Those readers that are looking for a sequel similar in tone, style, and focus are likely to be disappointed.

Both books are incredibly character driven, however Special Delivery, Sam and Mitch's romance, explores character development through the lens of exploration and acceptance of sexuality. Double Blind on the other hand uses poker as a metaphor to explore and develop characters. Although it does include some of the same sexual practices (menange and more, light BDSM, etc.), sexual exploration and acceptance are a relaitvely minor part of the story. (In fact, Double Blind reminded me strongly of Jennifer Crusie's Faking It, in both tone and plot device, with poker taking the place of confidence games.)

Double Blind is the story of Randy Jensen (from Special Delivery) and Ethan Ellison. Sam and Mitch from Special Delivery are secondary characters, and although there is some further development of their characters and relationship, their presence serves primarily to help develop Randy and Ethan's characters and relationship. For me, going along for the ride while the characters explored and developed was a can't-put-it-down read. Randy and Ethan are both far from perfect, abeit in quite different ways. Randy needs to figure out how to grow up, and open himself to love, and Ethan needs to conquer depression and heartbreak as he figures out in the most basic sense who he is. As the story progresses they don't suddenly have all the answers, and there are the highest of highs and the lowest of lows along the way, but it is a pleasure to take the trip with them. And although they still don't have all, or even most, of the answers at the end, their understanding that they've got each other and they can keep figuring it out together makes for a far more satisfying ending.

At first glance Randy seems quite different than he was in Special Delivery. However that is because in that book his character was most notable when he is first introduced to Sam. Once the three settle in together, and Randy accepts Sam, his character seems to change, but at the same time fades into the background, because Special Delivery is not his story. We're given another glimpse of him at the end of Special Delivery when he calls Sam, and his character at that point is much more consistent with what I think Cullinan meant to develop over the course of their weekend together, and what we see here in Double Blind.

In various discussions I have heard some complains about the main plot. I must admit that the main story strains credibility a bit, but I actually found it far more believable than the last three romances I read involving an openly gay cowboy in the middle of OK; a billionaire and a waiter; and a cop and a burglar. Just as/more importantly, I enjoyed it quite a bit, and it served exactly its purpose- moving the plot along and acting as a vehicle for character development.

Double Blind is one of the best books I've read this year, and I highly recommend it.

1/19 Note- While discussing the book with a friend, she commented that at first glance Randy seems to be quite a different character than he was in Special Delivery. Although I think that's true to a certain degree, I think it's primarily because he was mostly out of focus in Special Delivery. In that book his character was most notable when he is first introduced to Sam. Once Randy accepts Sam, and Mitch forgives Randy, Randy's character changes to something far more similar to what he is in Double Blind. But at the same time, he fades into the background because Special Delivery is not his story. We're given another glimpse of him at the end of Special Delivery when he calls Sam, and at that point the changes are even more obvious.

Mark of the Demon (Kara Gillian, Book 1)
Mark of the Demon (Kara Gillian, Book 1)
by Diana Rowland
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: 4.81

4.0 out of 5 stars Unique blend of urban fantasy and mystery, 5 Jan 2013
I picked up this book on a bit of a whim while searching for a new urban fantasy series. Not at all what I expected, and either despite or because of that, it was far better. (Score one for the random paperback table at my local bookstore.)

Kara Gillian is a police officer in a small town in rural Louisiana. One of few women in the department, she was recently promoted to homicide. Her Captain has a 'sink or swim' method of teaching; therefore when the Symbol Man serial killer resurfaces she is assigned the case, despite her inexperience. This nicely coincides with her other role in life as a demon summoner, because Kara can sense the connection between the arcane, (the mysterious and magical connections between humans and demons), and the killer.

The first chapter finds Kara sealing her status as a Master Summoner by successfully summoning a 12th level demon. As is so often the case however, Kara soon discovers that she has just enough knowledge about demons to understand how little she truly knows. Rowland uses Kara's limited but expanding knowledge to slowly and skillfully build the fantasy aspect of this world, while using her own real-world experience as morgue technician to infuse unexpected detail into this one. Although I do still have many questions about the magical world, I am content, albeit impatient, to have them answered in future books.

Kara's struggles in her race to find the killer will draw you in and keep you enthralled. She must deal with small town attitudes, jealous colleagues, and two FBI agents who may or may not know more than they are telling. And then there are the demons, including the demon lord Rhyzkahl, her Aunt Tessa, and the challenges of being a summoner. Kara is far from perfect or all-powerful, and does make mistakes. Because she rarely makes the same mistake twice, and she doesn't generally lack common sense, I found myself groaning as if a friend had done something stupid, rather than frustrated and fed up with the character (as I have become with several in some recently read series). Although you may not always agree with Kara, Rowland achieves that important balance of creating a believable character that you can empathize with, without falling over the edge into too powerful and perfect to like, or too weak and whiney to tolerate. The secondary characters are also quite interesting, and as with the world building, the details are being slowly and carefully revealed.

'Mark of the Demon' is less a true urban fantasy than an urban fantasy/mystery, and the mystery is of excellent quality. The clues along the way are subtle, and there are false trails and dead ends to leave you puzzled. The characters and world building are interesting and original, but the mystery puts this debut heads and shoulders above most urban fantasy today.

Not-So-Humble Pies: An Iconic Dessert, All Dressed Up
Not-So-Humble Pies: An Iconic Dessert, All Dressed Up
by Kelly Jaggers
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 12.28

3.0 out of 5 stars Experienced and flexible bakers only, 27 Dec 2012
No-So-Humble Pies caught my attention with its list of recipes- peach sourcream pie, white chocolate lime pie, and on. Take a look yourself; some sound fantastic, some sound weird, and some sound gross, but they're all distinctive.

Unfortunately, Not-So-Humble Pies is definitely not appropriate for the novice baker- my attempts were frustrating to say the least. It's also not appropriate for those who like detailed instructions- my mother quit in disgust after the fourth instance of poor explanation in one recipe. For example, some fruit measurements are frustratingly vague; the ginger pear tart required 4 bose pears, but doesn't specify a weight.

It is however, a perfect fit for experienced bakers who are looking for interesting recipes that they adjust as they wish- it kept my father happy for hours. If that doesn't describe you, I'd highly recommend buying it for the baker in your life, then sitting back and enjoying the results- thanks Dad, the Peach Sourcream was excellent!

Local Habitation, A (October Daye Novels)
Local Habitation, A (October Daye Novels)
by Seanan McGuire
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars A cross between Agatha Cristie and the Brothers Grimm, 18 Nov 2012
The second book in Seanan McGuire's October Daye series, 'A Local Habitation', meets and raises the high bar that Rosemary and Rue set.

Although McGuire leaves the San Francisco set of 'Rosemary and Rue', her evocative writing does not suffer for the change. She brings what could be a boring corporate campus to life, proving that it is the author, not the setting, that is the star. Her characters are similarly vivid; the protagonist October Daye (Toby), so poignantly damaged in 'Rosemary and Rue', is showing the first signs of healing in 'A Local Habitation'. Quentin, the pureblood scribe from Sylvester's court, becomes Toby's apprentice, and as he gains depth as a character, we also get to see him grow as a person. New characters abound, including January, the Countess of Tamed Lightening, and Sylvester's nice, who Toby has traveled to help, January's puzzling daughter April, and a host of others. Characters also reappear from the previous book, including Tybalt, the King of Cats, Connor, the selkie son-in-law of Sylvester, and Luidaeg, who almost defies description. The mystery begins simply, but as the plot grows, so to do the twists and turns. The plot isn't perfect, and October misses some obvious clues, but as is often the case, that imperfection makes her more human (or fae, as the case may be). The ending is both surprising and moving, an impressive balance for such a new author.

As someone not particularly familiar with the various denizens of fairy tales, I found it helpful to read both 'Rosemary and Rue' and 'A Local Habitation' with my computer nearby, and wikipedia at the ready. Although it was initially a bit interruptive to my reading, I quickly found it quite enjoyable; almost as if short stories and illustrations had been hidden behind certain words in the books.

McGuire has left several small hints within 'A Local Habitation' about potential future storylines, and in managing to do so without interrupting the balance of the current book again demonstrates her writing skills. I can't wait to see what happens next in the world of October Daye.

Private Dicks
Private Dicks
Price: 1.37

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another winner from Katie Allen, 13 Nov 2012
This review is from: Private Dicks (Kindle Edition)
Katie Allen's trademark combination of excellent characterization and humorous writing are on full display in "Private Dicks". Isaac "Rhodie" Rhodes and Nate "Wash" Washington are private, ahem, investigators. When Rhodie comes out to Wash, and soon after a boy seeks their help to find his younger brother, the partners face what may be the biggest challenges ever in both their personal and professional lives.

Allen is one of a limited number of authors who can make me laugh out loud, and she does it again here. The dialogue is smart and witty; it's also appropriate and not overdone. Similarly, the plot is interesting, fast-paced, and well written; no over-sized heroics or outlandish scenarios here. Those looking for serious romantic suspense will be disappointed, but those looking for a well-done, light read will be more than satisfied.

The perfect balance of personality, humor, and romance creates characters relatable in a way that few other authors can achieve. Katie Allen always keeps me coming back for more and "Private Dicks" is one of her best.

Black Jack
Black Jack
by Lora Leigh
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: 6.97

2.0 out of 5 stars Black Jack leaves a lot to be desired, 10 Nov 2012
This review is from: Black Jack (Mass Market Paperback)
As the saying goes, when Lora Leigh is good, she is very, very good. When she isn't... well, it's frustrating to say the least, and unfortunately, all too common in recent years. Books such as 'Wild Card', 'Mercury's War', and 'Coyote's Mate', are all excellent, and are among my favorites. Others however, including 'Bengal's Heart', 'Maverick', and 'Heat Seeker', have left me dissatisfied. The problems that I have those books are ones that I have seen other reviewers repeat; female characters who should be strong and intelligent, instead repeatedly and easily kowtowing to their "alpha" male counterparts; clumsy introduction of series-changing plot devices; and, of course, the repeated use of the phrase "damn you" in every love scene.

Thankfully, none of those problems are present in Black Jack. Travis is strong and protective, but Lilly is fully capable of protecting herself; they function as a team, helping and saving one another. The structure of the Elite Ops organization is introduced fairly smoothly, although more information would have been welcomed. And, with the exception of two short scenes, 'damn you' does not make an appearance.

Unfortunately, the book lacks the deep characterization and plot that Leigh can write when she's at her best. We are given little information about Lilly beyond her title and a shallow look at her relationship with her family while she was growing up. We are told even less about Travis. That his wife is responsible for his death alluded to several times, but never explained, and no other background information is forthcoming.

The plot is similarly murky. The characters seem to do little investigative work beyond several short discussions. When revealed, the motives of the criminal were either quite confusing or amazingly shallow. Greed? Insanity? And just how did the terrorist connection come into play? I'm still not sure. In addition, the issue of whether Lilly's memory has or will return, and the subsequent consequences, is quite important, but it was never conclusively addressed. Like another reviewer, I was left wondering at the end whether I had missed something.

In the end, I feel like I read the first draft of a book that has a lot of possibility, but a long way to go.

**Note- When this book was first released there were various problems with it- Most importantly, the 21 page prologue was left out of the e-book version. Check carefully to make sure your copy is correct. (I also was curious whether it was also missing an epilogue or even chapters within the book that could fill in some holes in the story, but unfortunately it wasn't.)

Also, for those interested, Macmillan Publishing released a free short-story entitled `Nighthawk' that serves as a prequel to Black Jack.

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