December 13, 2012

Books of the Week:

  • Cold Days, Jim Butcher
  • Cursed, Benedict Jacka
  • Taken, Alma Katsu
  • Trapped, Kevin Hearne
  • The Fame Thief, Timothy Hallinan

I’m not going to do extensive reviews of three writers I’ve reviewed many times before. You know I love ‘em, and you know I’d read the weakest books in their series because I love the strongest ones so much. Jim Butcher’s Cold Days is the latest in the Harry Dresden series, and actually it’s one of the strongest to date. Harry’s character is more complex, his challenges more shaded, than ever. Kevin Hearne’s Atticus O’Sullivan series is like urban fantasy candy; in this box, the sexy last Druid, his dog, and his beautiful apprentice Granuaile encounter more trouble just when Atticus is ready to formally accept Granuaile as a Druid. In Cursed, Benedict Jacka’s diviner, Alex Verus, becomes aware of someone (or something) who is prolonging his (its?) life by draining magical creatures. Not everyone is anxious that Alex get to the bottom of this atrocity. This is rapidly becoming a series I can hardly wait for . . . and I HIGHLY recommend it. If you like Jim Butcher and Mike Carey, Benedict Jacka should be on your shelves.

 

I read Alma Katsu’s Taken in ebook form on a recent trip. I wasn’t sure if I’d like it, but I was really grabbed by the narrative voice, and I was fascinated by the story she’s telling. There are two time lines in the book: the present, with a small-town doctor who treats a patient – who has possibly killed her male companion – in a Maine emergency room, and the past, when the patient, Lanore, tells him her story. What a story Lanore has to tell! Lanore’s lived long enough to rethink her life many times, and the result is a frank and confessional tone. Her mistakes and unkind acts are always with her after a life that has gone on for over two hundred years. I was taken enough with Taken to order the next book in the series.

 

I’ve written about Timothy Hallinan before here, but I had to specially mention The Fame Thief, which is a remarkable book. Everything of Hallinan’s is good, but this Junior Bender book (the third in the series, as I found) is really remarkable. Not only is there an excellent mystery (who killed the former near-star Dolores La Marr?) but there is a lot to say about Hollywood, about its characters, about people in general. This is an outstanding novel. I received an advance copy; this book will not be available until 2013. Put it on your calendar.

 

Blog

I’ve been very spotty lately with this column, and I apologize. I always strive to be regular, but around the holidays my schedule gets as complicated as anyone else’s.
This week was especially complicated. Not only did I have houseguests part of the time, but I got an offer to be on a reality TV show, “Halloween Wars.” I’d seen “Cupcake Wars,” but not this variation on the theme, and I was pretty interested in seeing how reality shows are filmed.

After a lot of shuffling and tight scheduling, I was able to fly out to be on the show. I was the guest celebrity judge. The regular judges, Shinmin Li and new judge Brian (I’m blanking on his last name), were on the ball and had lots to say. Shinmin owns a bakery in San Francisco, and Brian is a special effects expert.

 

All the contestants were hard workers. On each team, one is a pumpkin carver, one a cake expert, and one a sugar expert. Between them, they create and color the scene they’ve been asked to show the judges. To my mind, the most difficult part of the challenge is that the three experts had not worked together until they were matched up for the show.

 

The dioramas, or artworks, or special effects pieces – whatever you want to call them – are assembled from carved pumpkins, baked elements, and sugar, which is formed into trees or fish or skulls or just about anything. It’s pretty amazing. The sugar work actually seems dangerous. Since so much freshly carved pumpkin and so many food elements are involved in the creations, and the ovens and other appliances are on, the studio is kept cold. Very, very, cold. I can’t tell you how lucky I was that I’d brought a sweater.

 

I am happy to report that the teams actually do create their own works. That part of “reality” is actually real. What a relief! Though the only reality show I watch consistently is “Project Runway,” I would have been heart-broken to discover otherwise. And the judges really do form their own opinions and voice them, though in the interest of keeping the winner and loser a secret until the Big Reveal, we might keep some of those opinions to ourselves for a while.

 

All in all, this was a long day full of moments of genuine entertainment. I arrived for hair and makeup at 5:30 a.m. and left at 8 p.m. I was glad to return to my hotel room, despite the fact that I enjoyed meeting lots of hard-working people and watching a process I seldom get to see.

 

This episode (the next to last one in the 2013 Halloween Wars) will be airing next October, and I’ll try to remember to post the date so you all can share in the fun.

 

Have a wonderful holiday. Keep safe and enjoy all the pleasures of the season, and I’ll see you in 2013.

 

Charlaine Harris