Saturday, February 11, 2012

Skunk Cat Book Reviews closing

I've been considering this for months, and finally decided today to close Skunk Cat Book Reviews. I've enjoyed reviewing books, but it has become more of a chore than a pleasure lately. We've lost one reviewer (Jackie, my mother, who died last month) and the other two aren't blogging the way they used to. I find myself blogging less frequently these days too.

So rather than draw it out any longer, here's a clean stop. I'll definitely keep the blog open for those who want to read old reviews. Thanks to those of you who've supported us over the last two and a half years!

Keep reading!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison

I've been hearing about this book for years and finally picked up a copy. And it's just as good as I'd been told. There's a long series, of which this is the first.

It's told through diary entries by fourteen-year-old Georgia Nicholson, and it's very, very funny. Georgia goes to a girls' school where they have to wear berets as part of their uniform, she has a huge cat named Angus who keeps trying to eat the neighbors' poodle, and she's crazy about a boy whose name she will eventually find out.

The story consists of small events, nothing earth-shaking, but they add up to a hilarious, surprisingly realistic account of a few months of Georgia's life. Her attitude is mostly what makes the book so funny. She's horrible in a relentlessly self-absorbed, can't-be-bothered way, but she never comes across (too much) as a jerk. That's a neat trick for the author to pull. It's a fast read, too; in fact, I read most of the book in the bath while I was getting over a cough, and I laughed so hard I coughed myself into a headache. But it was worth it.

B&N link

Monday, January 30, 2012

A Rum Affair by Karl Sabbagh

Who would have guessed that the world of academic botany was such a seething cauldron of intrigue?

Karl Sabbagh, his interest sparked by an unusual line in an obituary for the noted botanist John Heslop Harrison, starts a quiet investigation of the man in order to assuage his own curiosity. What he finds shocks him: an unpublished report of an investigation into Heslop Harrison's findings, complete with allegations of fraud. In other words, some of the rare plants Heslop Harrison discovered on the Scottish island of Rum showed evidence of having been planted for the sole purpose of being "discovered."

The book is a careful, quiet account of Sabbagh's research into the allegations. He looks at the main players in detail, Heslop Harrison himself and his accuser, amateur botanist John Raven, and at the atmosphere of the time, early to mid 20th century Britain. It's not a bombastic book at all; rather, it's filled with a low-key wit.

While it's readable and interesting, it's not exactly riveting. It would have been easy to put the book down and never pick it back up. I'm glad I didn't, though.

B&N link

Sunday, January 29, 2012

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

It took me a while to get around to this one because the Tiffany Aching books have never been my favorite Discworld series. But I was really surprised with this one. Maybe because Tiffany's older in this one (sixteen, I think, or almost sixteen), the book has a darker, more sophisticated tone.

Tiffany Aching is the witch of the Chalk, the only witch in the area. The people are still getting used to having a witch, and Tiffany's still coming to terms with the workload and the lack of help. When the old baron dies, Tiffany volunteers to go to Ankh-Morpork to notify his son, who's gone to the city with his fiancee and her mother. But people in the big city are strangely hostile toward witches, and Tiffany keeps seeing a monstrous vision of a man without eyes--a man who hates witches and seems to be following her.

The plot isn't particularly unusual if you've read a lot of Discworld books. It's well-done, though: entertaining, funny, touching, interesting, and funny (I put funny twice because no one's more consistently funny than Pratchett). The wee free men are of course part of the story, although without as central a part as in the earlier books. And while Pratchett often has his other major characters do cameos in other characters' books, there was a lot of that in this one, including one character I was very surprised to see (no, not Death. He's in all of them).

I think this is the last Tiffany Aching book, from what I've heard. I liked this one so much that I hope I'm wrong. I'd like to see what Pratchett does next with the character.

B&N link

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Gemini Bites by Patrick Ryan

Kyle Renneker used to be best buddies with his twin sister, Judy, until their parents separated for a year and took one of the twins each. When the family got back together again, Kyle wanted to be friends with his sister again, but she no longer seemed to like him. Now, at sixteen, the two are constantly at each others' throats. It doesn't help that they have five other siblings, all vying for their parents' attention. When Kyle announces to the family that he's gay, he's annoyed when his sister promptly announces that she's a born-again Christian.

In reality, Judy doesn't give two hoots about religion. She's just interested in getting to know a cute football player who runs a Bible study--and it doesn't hurt that she can needle Kyle with her new-found religion. But then their parents take in high school student Garret Johnson so he can finish the school year after his parents move, and both Kyle and Judy crank up the competition. Garret is a mysterious loner who says he's a vampire. And both twins are interested in him.

I think this is what you might call the highest of all high concept novels. It's a lot of fun, too. The story is told from both twins' points of view in alternating chapters. Kyle is a nice guy, and Judy is not very nice at all--but she's an oddly sympathetic character. And Garret is fascinating.

The book is sometimes funny, sometimes sad. It's not terribly deep, but it's a sweet, fast read. The Renneker parents are a little too good to be true, though, and the last chapter wraps everything up so neatly I found it kind of unrealistic. But I really like that Kyle is so okay about being gay, and in fact is better-adjusted than his sister. The way the twins use Garret to further their own agendas is clever and funny; the way Garret uses the twins in turn is even cleverer.

B&N link

Friday, January 27, 2012

Cryptozoology, ed by Chad Arment

This is a collection of essays about cryptozoological animals: animals that are unknown, or presumed extinct although the occasional unverified sighting still occurs, or known only to locals and not to scientists, etc. I love well-researched books about cryptozoology, and since Karl Shuker hasn't published anything new recently, I was pleased to find this book.

The subtitle is "The Investigation of Lesser-Known Mystery Animals," which particularly appealed to me. Who wants to rehash bigfoot over and over when you can learn about bioluminescent spiders and possible new habitats of coelacanths? (Blogger's spellcheck is freaking out at this post.)

The essays tend mostly to the scientific and are well-researched and with citations and foot/end notes, although a few that are more informal in tone. It's all readable, though, and all fascinating. The last chapter is an interesting mishmash of reprinted articles from old newspapers that need to be verified by researchers. As the editor points out, journalists from the late 19th/early 20th century sometimes made up stories of strange animal sightings to fill space. He gives tips on how to spot phony articles.

I enjoyed the book very much. If you're at all interested in cryptozoology (and why aren't you? It's fascinating!), this is a great addition to the more readily available bigfoot and Loch Ness Monster books out there.

B&N link

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Beyond the Grave by Mara Purnhagen

This is the last book in this series, which consists of three actual books and two novellas that take place between the books' events. I didn't read the second novella, since I found the first one weak.

I have read the other two books, though. I really liked the first one, Past Midnight, and was disappointed with the second, One Hundred Candles. Beyond the Grave has been out for a while, but I didn't buy a copy until recently because I had lost interest in the series.

The problems that I saw in the second book are still present in this one, unfortunately. Charlotte is still passive and doesn't make connections between events/people that are glaringly obvious to the reader. There's not as much of the goofy new age crystal beliefs, but there's a character who's not-a-guardian-angel-but-really-he-sort-of-is, although I think he's actually called a protector. The plot is all about Charlotte being pursued by a demonic entity (not-a-demon-but-really-he-sort-of-is).

I got really tired of Charlotte waffling back and forth about her boyfriend Noah. Noah lies to her, has stopped attending school and bathing, and admits to chronic insomnia and severe bouts of sleepwalking. He has a non-healing bruise on his neck from where the demon from the last book touched him. Yet Charlotte only worries about him intermittently, and when they're together, she convinces herself that everything's okay. This is one girl who is all ready for her first dysfunctional adult relationship.

Part of the plot concerns Charlotte's mother, who is in a coma after the events of the previous book. Charlotte's grief and uncertainty about her mother, and her relationship with her father, is more compelling than anything else in the book, eclipsing the rest of the plot and frankly making all the woo-woo ghosty stuff seem frivolous. There's also a subplot of two characters getting married, which got way too much page-time.

I like Purnhagen's writing, though. I'll be interested to see what she does next. I hope it doesn't include crystals.

B&N link