Again, thank you to Miriam from Hachette for sending me this book!

This is the second book in the ‘Kitty’ series following the adventures of Kitty Norville, late night DJ and sometime werewolf. The story here follows on the heels of Kitty and the Midnight Hour where the DJ dealt with pack rivalry and mayhem while trying to host her ever more popular radio show.

In Kitty Goes to Washington, Kitty leaves her home base and travels across country visiting various studios and broadcasting her shows from them. We are treated to the reappearance of some of the characters from the first book and one of them, her lawyer, tells Kitty (while on her way to the next studio) that a senate committee has been convened to look into the recent phenomena of other worldly beings – namely vampires and werewolves and what role if any, the government should take in regard to them. Kitty has been invited to Washington to testify as an expert witness. As she makes her way to there in her trusty hatchback, Kitty wrestles with the issues about why the government is involved, what their true agenda is and whether on not that will be a good thing.

Once in Washington, Kitty meets Arlette, a centuries-old vampire. Not sure if she can trust Arlette or her minions, Kitty treads carefully under Arlette’s watchful eye. It’s not long though, before she meets up with others of her species, including a very handsome were-jaguar. Thrown into the mix is a dark ‘fairy’, a reporter with questionable ethics, an amiable psychic and Leo, a smirking but sophisticated vampire. Add Cormac and Kitty’s lawyer, Ben and you have another fun, fast read.

I seem to be running through these books as I know now that I can count on surefire, comedic, light read that won’t leave me feeling slightly depressed like some of the ‘heavier’ books I’ve been reading lately. I’m looking forward to starting the next in the series, Kitty Takes a Holiday.

Review: KITTY AND THE MIDNIGHT HOUR by Carrie Vaughn

Thanks to Miriam at Hachette for sending me this book to review!

This is the first book in the ‘Kitty’ series by Carrie Vaughn. The books I’ve read lately are a little topic-heavy so I was really anxious to start on something lighter and this fit the bill. I’ve not read a lot in the fantasy/paranormal genre but what I have read, I’ve enjoyed.

Kitty is a late night radio talk host and a werewolf. But she’s a good werewolf and does not randomly attack people – but focuses more on wildlife in the woods nearby her pack leader’s home and then only once per month during the full moon. This is the reason that working the night shift at the station suits her so well – she has a nightlife that beats all.

One evening, bored of the usual music, she starts taking calls about whether people believe in creatures such as vampires and werewolves. Suddenly her show is a hit, Kitty is a sensation and she’s got her hands full dealing with callers who have every conceivable question about the nature of the undead, not to mention people who are capable of transforming themselves into large furry animals with very sharp teeth. I know I would have a few questions.

Along with the sudden fame comes a whole host of other issues, however, and Kitty has to deal with an angry pack leader, a rogue werewolf, an secretive government agent as well as her own need to stretch her, uhm, claws, so that she can feel more comfortable in her own skin/fur.

The story is a very fast-paced, easy read. It’s got loads of action, a bit of gory violence and a touch of sex – so not for the younger set – but it wasn’t too over the top. It even had a few sad moments that I wish hadn’t happened, but I suppose you can’t have everything be peachy-keen. I also like that the author added a playlist of the songs she listened to as while writing the book and can see how Creedence Clearwater Revival’s song, ‘Bad Moon Rising’ would fit right in with Kitty and the Midnight Hour!

All in all I really enjoyed this first in the series book and I’m looking forward to reading the next one, Kitty Goes to Washington.

Review: THE TEN YEAR NAP by Meg Wolitzer

Thanks to Caitlin at FSB Associates for sending me this book!

Amy Buckner, a stay-at-home mother in New York, finds herself at loose ends when she realizes that her 10 year old son doesn’t need her so much anymore and her best friend moves away. She continues to go through the motions, meeting friends for breakfast most mornings at a local café but Amy knows something is missing and she doesn’t know how to find it or how to start looking. Into this growing void falls Penny Ramsey, who she gets to know while both are assigned to ‘safety walk’ around their childrens’ school. Amy discovers that Penny’s life is much more interesting than her own; she’s a museum director and her husband is a wealthy businessman. They have no financial problems and on the surface everything seems great. Amy begins a friendship with Penny that seems to fill the empty holes in her own life.

This novel explores the issues surrounding women at different stages in their lives. Questions arise about decisions to stay at home while one’s children are young and then not so young, friendship, marriage and family and careers. It delves into loyalty and betrayal, shallowness and profundity. The choices aren’t easy to make and mostly not perfect, but are often the best possible solution for the given stage of life.

I found this book to be thought provoking and relevant, as most of us at some time in our lives must decide about one or another of the issues that the various characters deal with. Should we stay at home while the children are young or entrust them to a daycare or babysitter? Can we afford to stay at home? And if we do go for that option, once the children are in school, then what?

The author addresses some of these issues not only in the book but also in an article entitled “Mothers of Contention and the Money Wars”. In this article Meg Wolitzer says:

“Women who work full-time or part-time and those who stay home with their kids (as well as those who now spend their days answering help wanted ads on craigslist) may not experience Helen Reddy solidarity. It may be way too soon to speak about the mommy wars in the past tense, for no one has solved the problem of ambivalence about staying home versus working, or the lack of good, cheap daycare; and no one has found a way for some women not to feel they're damned if they do, and damned if they don't. Maybe not even the full-scale meltdown of the economy can keep these particular, familiar wars from raging. But it can try.”

And on the topic of friendships this novel raises many more interesting questions, for example, what does it mean to have a best friend? What are the ground rules? What lines can you and should you not cross?

The Ten Year Nap emphasizes that there is no right or wrong answers, and whatever lifestyle is right for you and your family is probably the best choice to make, but each person can only be responsible for her own choices. This point of view is a refreshing departure from being sold the ‘right way to do things’ at every turn.

Review: SEA OF POPPIES by Amitav Ghosh

Thanks to Minibookexpo for the opportunity to read and review this book!

Set in India just before the opium war with China, Sea of Poppies centers on the lives of various characters and the challenges which in one way or another lead them to be shipmates on the Ibis, a large vessel which is about to set sail for distant lands. The Ibis was once a slave-ship, but was revamped to transport indentured servants and opium.

We meet and get to know Deeti a woman whose husband suffers from the affects of the drug they depend on for their livelihood, Kalua, a simple man with simple needs, Neel Rattan Halder, a spoiled, wealthy land owner with complicated needs, Paulette, a brave young adventuress, and many more. Though there are a lot characters, it’s not difficult to keep track of them because their lives are explored in detail.

As the circumstances of each character slowly start to intersect with one another, the reader becomes aware of the impending departure of the big ship and the reason each person has for being aboard. Life on the Ibis is dangerous and complicated but a rhythm develops where everyone knows their role and duties and so is able to get by – unless the rules are broken. What happens then is a ‘sit on the edge of your seat’ type action.

Occasionally the dialogue is difficult to understand, as it’s a mixture of British and Indian dialects. For example, on page 44:

“In the old days the Rascally bobachee-connah was the best in the city. No fear of pishpash and cobbily-mash at the Rascally table.”

There is a glossary at the back of the book; however, it is not exhaustive. And even then, if I had stopped to look up every word I didn’t understand it would have interrupted the flow of the story. On the other hand, the language gave the story a very authentic feel and it wasn’t so pervasive that I didn’t understand what was going on.

This novel has many layers and is rich in detail. Considering that Sea of Poppies is the first volume in a trilogy, the ending was wrapped up quite well. It didn’t leave too many open questions about the events that culminated on board the Ibis, but it did leave threads to be picked up in the second book. And there lies my only real unanswered question with this novel…when will the second book be published?

Mailbox Monday

This is what appeared in my mailbox last week (which is pretty good in my books - no pun intended ;)

Palace Circle by Rebecca Dean
The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry
Mutiny on the Bounty by John Boyne (which is a win from the LTER programme.

Check out Marcia at The Printed Page. She hosts this fun weekly meme.

Review: WINTER IN MADRID by C.J. Sansom

Thank you to Julie at FSB Associates for the opportunity to read and review this great book!

I love it when I unexpectedly come across a book in which the author tells a story around events that actually happened and people who really existed. It makes me want to learn more about the events and how they shaped the lives of the people affected. This is one of those books.

During Spain’s civil war Bernie Piper, a communist from Britain, joined the International Brigades and was sent to fight against the fascists. The last he was heard from was at the battle of Jarama in 1937. Bernie’s parents and his girlfriend, Barbara Clare, ask an old public school friend to help search for him. They come up empty.

Several years later the old friend, Harry Brett, is wounded at Dunkirk and suffers post traumatic stress disorder. Recovering at home in England, he is contacted by the British Secret Service. They are interested in Harry because he can speak several languages and therefore can be put to use - ostensibly as a translator. In reality however, Harry is instructed to spy on another old school friend, Sandy Forsyth, who is busily scheming to take financial advantage of the political situation during World War Two.

Harry is surprised to discover that Barbara is still in Spain and has paired up with Sandy. As the story evolves the reader discovers that all three characters, Harry, Sandy and Barbara are concealing secrets from each other that when revealed, will irretrievably alter the course of their lives.

This book is written in a tone that evokes the era in which it takes place like none other that I’ve read in a long time. Written in period detail and expertly researched, it was easy to picture the cold streets of Madrid, the poverty and desperation of the people, the hopes and fears. I could feel the terror of the children as they were unceremoniously rounded up and delivered to church orphanages for ‘processing’ after their parents, who were deemed enemies of the state, disappeared forever. In fact the author dedicates the book:
“to the memory of the thousands of children of Republican parents who disappeared into the orphanages of Franco’s Spain”.

The politics in Spain during its civil war and the role it played during the Second World War is complicated to say the least. There is a short historical note at the end of the book explaining the political atmosphere during the years the story takes place. This was helpful in giving insight into some of the real people depicted in the book.

Having read Guernica by Dave Boling not long ago, my interest in what happened in Spain during these difficult years was piqued. As a result, I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read C.J. Sansom’s Winter in Madrid and I highly recommend it.

If you would like to read other reviews of Winter in Madrid, click on the following links:

My Friend Amy

Euro Crime

A Reader's Respite

Mailbox Monday

This is what appeared in my mailbox last week:

The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro
Unpolished Gem by Alice Pung
The Ten Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer
The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker (which I won from a contest on Avis's blog)

Check out Marcia at The Printed Page. She hosts this fun weekly meme.

Guest review by Pierre: THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN by Simon Winchester

This is my husband's review of this book.

The book begins with a fascinating scenario to hook the reader and then takes 80 pages of mediocre prose to inform the reader that it’s quite untrue. Well, not all untrue, but almost everything that is charming and startling in chapter one is gradually revealed to be apocryphal. One is tempted to excuse this journalistic deceit, however, because without it the story is unremittingly sad.

Mr. Winchester is not a bad writer, despite his breathless treatment of the subject and his forays into graveyards to look for headstones to compensate for the dearth of primary research sources. There is much padding. His treatment of peripheral subjects is dismal, and rather than entertaining vignettes we are served instead with incongruous whiplashes of clinical facts with no color, character or context. Mr. Winchester the journalist presumes to summarize the history of psychiatry, ostensibly to provide context but really to darken those awful white spaces on the page.

Finally, one cannot help noticing that Mr. Winchester’s wide-eyed and innocent treatment of his subject is a disingenuous slight of hand that serves to distract the reader from his sensationalistic methods. It is difficult to forgive his gratuitous introduction of salacious but completely unfounded gossip that is almost certainly untrue but serves to add a further layer of disgrace to the pathetic Dr. Minor.

As stated, this review was written by my husband, Pierre. He will also be doing another guest review of 'The Strain' in the near future. If this keeps up, he'll have to get his own blog!

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