Friday, April 09, 2010

REVIEW: The Next Best Thing by Kristan Higgins

The Next Best ThingCOPYRIGHT: 2010
PAGES: 393
SETTING: Contemporary
TYPE: Straight Romance
SENSUALITY: Warm
REASON FOR READING: I enjoyed my first book by Higgins - Just One of the Guys

SUMMARY:
Lucy Lang isn't looking for fireworks.
She's looking for a nice, decent man. Someone who'll mow the lawn, flip chicken on the barbecue, teach their future children to play soccer. But most important: someone who won't inspire the slightest stirring in her heart…or anywhere else. A young widow, Lucy can't risk that kind of loss again. But sharing her life with a cat named Fat Mikey and the Black Widows at the family bakery isn't enough either. So it's goodbye to Ethan, her hot but entirely inappropriate "friend with privileges" and hello to a man she can marry.
Too bad Ethan Mirabelli isn't going anywhere. As far as he's concerned, what she needs might be right under her nose. But can he convince her that the next best thing can really be forever?

THOUGHTS/OPINIONS:
Lucy had only been married 8 months when she lost her husband in a tragic car accident. This happened over 5 years ago and she still has not gotten over it, to put it mildly. In fact, in my opinion the girl could use some serious grief counseling. But as the story begins her sister has just had a baby and that starts her thinking and she has convinced herself she is ready to move on - she wants to meet someone and start her own family. Ethan is her dead husband's brother and has been a rock of support for her for the last 5 years. And with whom she enjoys "friends with benefits". This news was a bit of a shocker to me even though I had read it in the blurb. It's had to imagine women (and men) who actually think this is a good idea.

The story is told in a first person narrative and has the usual disadvantage of never knowing what Ethan is thinking or feeling. Lucy is one messed up person who seems to spend too much time playing the video of her wedding and crying. Normally I would be totally irritated with this type of heroine but I found myself very sympathetic towards her. Lucy works in the family-owned bakery with her mother and two aunts (called the Black Widows) who were also widowed at a fairly young age. These women seem to be content in their widowhood and cannot understand why Lucy wants to marry again. Why take the risk since all the men in the family die young. This is why I was so sympathetic of Lucy - working with these three was not a healthy situation. But there was lots of humor and some touching moments in this book which really balanced out the sadness. I cried along with Lucy and laughed too. But sometimes I wanted to shake her in her treatment of Ethan who was a wonderful guy.

The characterizations of the widows and Lucy's sister were well drawn. The sister is deathly afraid her husband will die young too like her mother, sister and aunt's husbands and has become quite neurotic. Just when I was starting to lose patience with Lucy she makes an amazing discovery about Ethan and my heart just melts. I loved the ending. I couldn't make up my mind on the grade for the longest time. But it's still so memorable after a couple months that I had to rate it pretty high.

GRADE: A-

Friday, April 02, 2010

Blogger Template Design

Blogger has a new feature available to let you design your own template and it's pretty cool. You access it through Blogger in Draft. Just go to this link and to get all the details and some hints. There is even a quick little video that shows you how it works (although it goes by rather quickly). Blogger in Draft is used by Blogger to release beta features that may be buggy but lets users try out new features they are working on. Eventually they incorporate the features into the regular Blogger but all Blogger users have access to Blogger in Draft.

Anyway, I created this cute jelly bean template pretty quickly. The advantage of this template designer is that you don't have to copy all of your gadgets to a text file and then incorporate them into a new template whenever you feel like changing to a new template. Go check it out.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

REVIEW: The Fire King by Marjorie M. Liu

COPYRIGHT: 2009
PAGES: 309
SETTING: Contemporary China and Mongolia
TYPE: Paranormal Romance
SENSUALITY: Warm
SERIES: Dirk & Steele (book 9)

SUMMARY:
Long ago, shape-shifters were plentiful, soaring through the sky as crows, racing across African veldts as cheetahs, raging furious as dragons atop the Himalayas. Like gods, they reigned supreme. But even gods have laws, and those laws, when broken, destroy.

Zoufalstvi. Epatoivo. Asa. Three words in three very different languages, and yet Soria understands. Like all members of Dirk & Steele, she has a gift, and hers is communication: That was why she was chosen to address the stranger. Strong as a lion, quick as a serpent, Karr is his name, and in his day he was king. But he is a son of strife, a creature of tragedy. As fire consumed all he loved, so an icy sleep has been his atonement. Now, against his will, he has awoken. Zoufalstvi. Epatoivo. Asa. In English, the word is despair. But Soria knows the words for love.
THOUGHTS/OPINIONS:
I don't read a lot of paranormals but Marjorie Liu's Dirk & Steele series is one I have been faithfully reading since the first book, Tiger Eye, and I have enjoyed almost every one. They have all been solid action-packed stories with some great characters. But my main complaint for every one of these books is that there is so much action that at times I had a hard time figuring out what the heck is going on and had to reread pages. But I have to say that I had no such problem with The Fire King. TFK is still filled with action but I found it very smooth flowing and readable. The book just sucks you into the story and you can hardly wait to turn each page.

The Dirk & Steele agency is a group of shapeshifters and people with special gifts who banded together to fight an evil organization (The Consortium) which is described in previous books in the series. But thankfully, TFK works just fine as a standalone read, so you don't have to read any of the other books in the series to understand the storyline.

Karr is a 3000 year old chimera who was just dug out of a cave somewhere in China. A chimera is a creature whose parents are both different types of shapeshifters. Chimeras had been hunted to extinction because they were greatly feared. Karr is tied up and held prisoner and no one can understand him because his language is now extinct. Soria has a gift for languages, in fact she can understand any language in the world by using some kind of psychic connection. Soria's past involves a horrific major trauma from a betrayal and she is still somewhat fragile. She has separated herself from all her friends and family but D&S needs her help with Karr to translate his extinct language and discover why he survived for 3000 years. Karr and Soria are two incredible well-formed characters and Liu makes you feel their isolation and loneliness. Soria was especially well done. I really felt her sense of betrayal, pain, and fear. Yet I marveled at how tough she was and appreciated her sharp tongue. I think she is probably one of my favorite heroines of the year.

Another plus was the unusual setting of China and Mongolia. Can't say I have ever read any book with this setting. And the characters from the tribe of nomads (including a foreign exchange student) and shapeshifters that have appeared in previous books in the series were all very well developed. The sexual tension was marvelous and this is where Karr really shines with how he falls for Soria and doesn't see her "flaws". There was only one short (but warm) sex scene which had me wishing for more. But Liu never puts many sex scenes in her books unfortunately.

All in all an enjoyable read. TFK kept my interest from first page to last and I think it's the best one in the series.

GRADE: B+