Second Grave from the Left ~ Darynda Jones

  • Title: Second Grave from the Left
  • Author: Darynda Jones
  • Series: Charley Davidson #2
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: Audiobook
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Valerie
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  Charley Davidson, Grim Reaper Extraordinaire, is back in this sexy, suspenseful novel of supernatural shenanigans

When Charley is rudely awakened in the middle of the night by her best friend who tells her to get dressed quickly and tosses clothes out of the closet at her, she can’t help but wonder what Cookie’s up to. Leather scrunch boots with a floral miniskirt? Together? Seriously? Cookie explains that a friend of hers named Mimi disappeared five days earlier and that she just got a text from her setting up a meet at a coffee shop downtown. They show up at the coffee shop, but no Mimi. But Charley finds a message on the bathroom wall. Mimi left a clue, a woman’s name. Mimi’s husband explains that his wife had been acting strange since she found out an old friend of hers from high school had been found murdered a couple weeks prior. The same woman Mimi had named in her message.

Meanwhile, Reyes Alexander Farrow (otherwise known as the Son of Satan. Yes. Literally) has left his corporeal body and is haunting Charley. He’s left his body because he’s being tortured by demons who want to lure Charley closer. But Reyes can’t let that happen. Because if the demons get to Charley, they’ll have a portal to heaven. And if they have a portal to heaven…well, let’s just say it wouldn’t be pretty. Can Charley handle hot nights with Reyes and even hotter days tracking down a missing woman? Will Cookie ever get a true fashion sense? And is there enough coffee and chocolate in the world to fuel them as they do?

Here is your signpost for the most hilarious read of the summer: Second Grave On The Left.

Review:  I immediately fell in love with sassy and snarky Charley Davidson in First Grave on the Right. Having just finished book 2 in the series, Second Grave from the left, the love fest continues. The series follows Charley, you average everyday girl, who just happens to be THE Grim REAPER.

This book offers a heaping helping of kick ass urban fantasy and it is served up with a tall glass of humor to wash it down. I found myself laughing out loud so much that my significant other kept asking me just what was so funny.

Darynda Jones did a great job of layering the mysteries throughout the book. The primary plot revolves around Charley helping her best friend, Cookie, find a missing school mate. As she tries to unravel that mystery, she is also in a race against time to try to save Reyes by finding his corporeal body. The result is a book full of twisty, windy plots that will keep you guessing until the end.

In this book, Jones adds some layers of complexity to Charley, especially concerning her family dynamics. I love to see character development, and the family drama subplot was a great avenue for this. We also saw the intensity increase between Charley and Reyes, her interactions with his spirit practically burnt up the pages when she wasn’t frustrated at his attempt to let his body die to protect her.

This is one of those cases where it is ok to judge a book by its cover. I absolutely love the cover theme for this series. In this case, the signature color is black and it features the torso of a female in a stance with attitude, a cleverly displayed rhinestone skull belt buckle (the perfect fashion statement for a sassy grim reaper), and of course, a scythe (what reaper would leave home without it?). I like that the covers show personality, but NOT the features of the model, leaving Charley’s face open to reader interpretation.

These books are smart, sexy, and full of adventure. It is definitely made the list of my favorite series.

My Date from Hell ~ Tellulah Darling

  • Title: My Date from Hell
  • Author: Tellulah Darling
  • Series: Blooming Goddess #2
  • Genre: YA, Urban Fantasy
  • Format: ARC
  • Source: Author
  • Reviewed by: Erica
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  Sophie Bloom’s junior year has been a bit of a train wreck. After the world’s greatest kiss re-awakened Sophie’s true identity as Persephone (Goddess of Spring and Savior of Humanity), she fought her dragon-lady guidance counselor to the death, navigated mean girl Bethany’s bitchy troublemaking, and dealt with the betrayal of her backstabbing ex, Kai (sexy Prince of Darkness). You’d think a girl could catch a break.

Yeah, right.

With Zeus stepping things up, it’s vital that Sophie retrieve Persephone’s memories and discover the location of the ritual to stop Zeus and Hades. So when Aphrodite strikes a deal that can unlock Sophie’s pre-mortal past, what choice does the teen goddess have but to accept?

The mission: stop media mogul Hermes from turning Bethany into a global mega-celebrity. The catch? Aphrodite partners Sophie and Kai to work together … and treat this suicide mission as a date. Which could work out for Sophie’s plan to force Kai to admit his feelings for her–if she doesn’t kill him first.

Add to that the fact that BFF Theo’s love life and other BFF Hannah’s actual life are in Sophie’s hands, and suddenly being a teenager—even a godlike one—seems a bit like … well, hell. Whatever happened to dinner and a movie?

The YA romantic comedy/Greek mythology fireworks continue to fly in My Date From Hell. Love meets comedy with a whole lot of sass in book two of this teen fantasy romance series. Breaking up is easy; dating is deadly.

Review:  Having really enjoyed the first book in this trilogy I was understandably excited to be offered an ARC for its sequel, and I’m glad to say it didn’t disappoint. Be warned though, this review contains spoilers for the first book.

At the end of My Ex from Hell we left Sophie at the mercy of her father Zeus, with whom she is not on the best of terms, to put it mildly. It was a major cliffhanger, and thankfully we go pretty much straight into the action at the start of this book. Zeus wants to know how and where Sophie and Kai had planned to overthrow him and Hades. The trouble is of course that Sophie still doesn’t actually remember everything from her past life as Persephone, including the details of their plot, and the last time she saw Kai he had betrayed and abandoned her and her friends to die.

Sophie manages to escape (of course, or there wouldn’t be much of a book to follow), and returns to her school only to discover that her arch-nemesis Bethany’s popularity has grown to world-encompassing proportions, thanks to her magical popularity tattoo and the help of mega media mogul Jack, who is actually Hermes. Oh, also, Sophie has only one chance left not to be expelled. Which would be bad, since the school is the only place where she’s safe from Zeus and Hades’ minions.

Cue a convoluted plot involving Aphrodite wanting Bethany stopped (because no one should be more popular than Aphrodite) which results in Sophie and her friends hopping all over the world in search of Jack/Hermes.

What I liked: oh, so many things. The bickering and bantering is as snarky as it was in the first book, and the book often had me sniggering. The reunion of Sophie and Kai is very, very sweet and sexy, and it confirmed my notion that Kai really isn’t the dick he appeared to be in the first book. In fact: I really liked Kai in this book, even if his actual behaviour isn’t much different than in book one. The devil is in the details, really.

I like that Theo is gay without being camp, because too many authors make their protagonist’s gay best friend the most ridiculously clichéd camp ‘get outta here, girlfriend!’ kind of person. I liked the various spins on the traditional Greek gods while at the same time keeping important details (like Hephaestos’ manky foot). I loved all the scenes between Sophie and Kai, which were everything they needed to be to illustrate the journey of two people who are attracted to each other yet don’t really want to like each other, but kinda have to.

What I didn’t like: there were a few times when I was confused, and it took a while before I understood what was going on, such as when Kai was hit by Aphrodite’s arrow. Did it have an effect? Didn’t it? I’m sure it took me three chapters to fully understand what had actually happened. There were a few other places where I felt the same – sometimes the plot felt a bit rushed and I would have liked to see a little more explanation about where a character came from and what he was suddenly doing there. It’s not that the explanation is missing altogether, it was just very perfunctory.

That said, the writing is solid and very entertaining, and the book ends with a major plot twist that I didn’t see coming at all, and another cliffhanger that makes me want the next book yesterday. If My Ex from Hell was a just-about 4-star effort then My Date from Hell is a very, very solid 4-star effort, almost a 4.5.

How to be a Woman ~ Caitlin Moran

  • Title: How to be a Woman
  • Author: Caitlin Moran
  • Genre: Humor, Non-fiction
  • Format: ebook
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  Though they have the vote and the Pill and haven’t been burned as witches since 1727, life isn’t exactly a stroll down the catwalk for modern women. They are beset by uncertainties and questions: Why are they supposed to get Brazilians? Why do bras hurt? Why the incessant talk about babies? And do men secretly hate them?

Caitlin Moran interweaves provocative observations on women’s lives with laugh-out-loud funny scenes from her own, from the riot of adolescence to her development as a writer, wife, and mother. With rapier wit, Moran slices right to the truth—whether it’s about the workplace, strip clubs, love, fat, abortion, popular entertainment, or children—to jump-start a new conversation about feminism. With humor, insight, and verve, How To Be a Woman lays bare the reasons female rights and empowerment are essential issues not only for women today but also for society itself.

Review:  Warning: This review is rated R and may contain adult themes and language, however, so does the book.

I have to admit that the publisher’s marketing totally worked on me with this book. They had me at with the “British Bossy Pants” buzz (I do so love Tina Fey). Therefore, going into it, I did not actually know much about Caitlin Moran other than two basic facts: 1. she’s British and 2. she is one cool looking chick! Now that I am finished with the book, I not only feel like I know a great deal about Caitlin (I’m sure she won’t mind if I call her Caitlin), but I am fairly certain that should we ever meet we would be instant BFFs.

How to be a Woman is a not only a humorous retelling of bits of Cailtin’s life, but it is also a commentary on the current status of women in western society and present day feminism. It is was interesting how many times I would find myself laughing over her words, only to realize that there was a rather profound point wrapped up in that clever wit. I have to thank Caitlin for being able to put so many of my thoughts on feminism into words far more eloquent than I could ever achieve and with enough to humor that they just might have a chance of being heard.

Yes, Caitlin, I totally agree, it is NOT too much to ask for a woman to actually enjoy an orgasm in porn. And enough with the shaving! I support the pro “furry muff” platform. You can groom and get good camera shots without creating an obsession with pre-pubescent looking woman parts. They do not match the ridiculously over-priced stiletto shoes and matching handbags that so many women are convinced they need. Meanwhile, you’ll find me bare foot and shaking a tail feather with Caitlin on the dance floor at a wedding whose debt will likely outlast the marriage. Cynical much? Perhaps, but I agree with Caitlin’s optimism about women’s potential for equality and her view that the responsibility now lies with women to make that change.

Beyond her opinions on feminism, Ms. Moran does not hold back when it comes to sharing details about herself throughout the book. I commend Caitlin for her courage to bare herself to the world to illustrate her many well-made points. It was refreshing to see someone with celebrity status to be so unapologetically honest about their life. Sigh, I believe I have developed yet another girl crush.

This book has broad appeal (get it – BROAD appeal?) beyond the card carrying feminist crowd. One could honestly read the book for just the humor and remain happily shallow, overlooking the deeper messages. That is the point of the book isn’t it? When it comes down to it, it is about the freedom to pursue a life that makes one happy. Well done, Caitlin.

Agnes and the Hitman ~ Jennifer Crusie, Bob Mayer

  • Title: Agnes and the Hitman
  • Author: Jennifer Crusie, Bob Mayer
  • Genre: Romance, Humor
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Own
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  Take one food writer named Cranky Agnes, add a hitman named Shane, mix them together with a Southern mob wedding, a missing necklace, two annoyed flamingos, and a dog named Rhett and you’ve got a recipe for a sexy, hilarious novel about the disastrous side of true love…

Agnes Crandall’s life goes awry when a dognapper invades her kitchen one night, seriously hampering her attempts to put on a wedding that she’s staked her entire net worth on.  Then a hero climbs through her bedroom window.  His name is Shane, no last name, just Shane, and he has his own problems:  he’s got a big hit scheduled, a rival trying to take him out, and an ex-mobster uncle asking him to protect some little kid named Agnes.  When he finds out that Agnes isn’t so little, his uncle has forgotten to mention a missing five million bucks he might have lost in Agnes’s house, and his last hit was a miss, Shane’s life isn’t looking so good, either.  Then a bunch of lowlifes come looking for the money, a string of hit men show up for Agnes, and some wedding guests gather with intent to throw more than rice.  Agnes and Shane have their hands full with greed, florists, treachery, flamingos, mayhem, mothers of the bride, and–most dangerous of all–each other.  Agnes and the Hitman is the perfect combination of sugar and spice, sweet and salty–a novel of delicious proportions.

Review:  This is the second book by Crusie and Mayer, and it’s better than their first. In fact, this is one of my favorite books; it’s witty and wise and imbued with absurdities. Like in their previous collaboration, Crusie wrote the female POV, and Mayer wrote the male POV. When their lines intertwine in the plot, sparks fly and mirth explodes, satisfying the reader’s craving for laughter.

The female protagonist Agnes is a sassy, lonesome newspaper columnist with the anger problem. Every time her anger gets the better of her, she whacks the object of her ire by a frying pan. “Why a frying pan?” asked her psychiatrist once, and she answered: “Because that’s what I usually have in my hand.” For Agnes is a food writer and she loves to cook.
This time, when a stranger breaks into her house to steal her dog, she again has a non-stick frying pan in her hand. The ensuing scene, the opening episode of the novel, is one of the most amusing, laugh-out-loud scenes I’ve ever read.

Unlike peaceful but cranky Agnes, the male protagonist Shane is a US government-sanctioned assassin, the hitman from the title. At his uncle’s request, Shane arrives at Agnes’s house to take care of the family business: protecting Agnes. But when he asks his uncle – a former mobster – what he had to protect Agnes from, the uncle becomes slippery. The resulting brew of 25-year-old mob secrets, shady government politics, a wedding in jeopardy, a cookbook in the making, and a couple of desolate flamingos keep the reader glued to the book until the last page.

With so many disparate ingredients, livened up by two superior writers, the novel can’t help but to be a flavorful stew. The romantic overtones and the sexual delights swirling between Shane and Agnes add the air of sophistication not many romantic novels possess.

While Shane deals with murders and mobsters that spring like mushrooms across the swampy landscape of the tale, Agnes cooks and feeds her guests. The more people she has to cook for the happier she is. She also has to throw a wedding, protect her house from a sabotaging widow, break up with her two-faced fiancé, dodge the lineup of thugs who are trying to kill her, and write her next column by the fast-approaching deadline.

And then there is Shane, who (oh, horror!) kills people for a living. But no matter how often she makes a resolution not to sleep with him … again … she can’t resist her heart. After all, he kills to protect her. And he buys her an air conditioner. And he installs black shutters on her dream house. And he enjoys her food. And he keeps her loneliness at bay. A perfect man by any standards.

As for Shane, an outwardly emotionless fighting machine, Agnes brings color and flavor, warmth and softness into the cold milieu of his personal and professional life. Her “pattable” body and her sweet and spicy passions force him to reevaluate a score of his past decisions and come to some rather unexpected new ones.

A book for everyone.

First Grave on the Right ~ Darynda Jones

  • Title: First Grave on the Right
  • Author: Darynda Jones
  • Series: Charley Davidson #1
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: Audiobook
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Valerie
  • Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Description:  A smashing, award-winning debut novel that introduces Charley Davidson: part-time private investigator and full-time Grim Reaper

Charley sees dead people. That’s right, she sees dead people. And it’s her job to convince them to “go into the light.” But when these very dead people have died under less than ideal circumstances (i.e. murder), sometimes they want Charley to bring the bad guys to justice. Complicating matters are the intensely hot dreams she’s been having about an Entity who has been following her all her life…and it turns out he might not be dead after all. In fact, he might be something else entirely.

Review:  This book has been on my to-be-read shelf for quite some time. I am glad that I finally decided to move it to the top of my list. The book was chock full of snarkorific fun. I listened to it the audio book version and I want to give props to Lorelei King for doing a fantastic job with narration.

The main character Charley is smart, sarcastic, independent young woman who makes her living as a detective who has a knack for helping to solve murders and is a regular police consultant. The fact that she is the grim reaper gives her a bit of an advantage. When the dead linger, they often become clients, along with the living. The book gets kicked off when a newly dead lawyer pays Charley an early morning visit to engage her services in solving his murder. Action and mystery ensues.

Charley’s character was really well-written. She is a tough, no nonsense female that does not take herself too seriously. She has vulnerabilities, but does not get bogged down in angst and sentimentality. The author does a great job developing the grim reaper mythology. Ms. Jones clearly planned it out her rules well and consistently stuck to them. The result is a reaper concept that melds well with the portrayal Charley’s character. The other characters in the books are a rich cast of personalities, each having a distinct voices and contribution to the plot.

The plot has no shortage of action. In fact, Charley is kind of a magnet for trouble, finding herself in a plethora of exciting and/or dangerous situations throughout the book. As a result, there is a keen level of suspense throughout the story, as the characters try to unravel the mystery at hand.

This book falls solidly into the urban fantasy genre with a leaning toward action. There is a romantic subplot (which is smoking hot!), yet it does not get in the way of the primary storyline, which is the murder mystery that Charley is working to solve. The book also offers a solid dose of humor, making it a light and quick read.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys light mystery with a heavy dose of snark. Go ahead and judge this book by its cover. The cute skull sandals and nicely manicured hand holding a mini-scythe capture the whimsy of the story itself. The fonts also capture the light-hearted tone of the story and the layout is well-balanced.

I can’t wait for the next book. I hope the remainder of the series fulfills the promise of this first book.

Manhunting ~ Jennifer Crusie

  • Title: Manhunting
  • Author: Jennifer Crusie
  • Genre: Romance
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Own
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  Kate Svenson may be a dynamite businesswoman—but after three failed engagements, she’s decided she’s hopeless at romance. What she needs is a Business Plan to help her find Mr. Right. The Cabins resort is ripe with eligible bachelors, all rich and ambitious—just her type. But they’re dropping like flies, and after fishing Kate’s latest reject out of the swimming pool Jake Templeton is convinced that Kate is nothing but trouble. Especially for him. A man who’s sworn off ambition and a woman hanging from the top of the corporate ladder don’t have much in common. But in that unpredictable territory known as the heart, anything can happen.

I’m a fan of Jennifer Crusie. I’ve already read everything written by her, so this charming little novel, one of the author’s earlier books, is a re-read. Like many Crusie’s novels, this story is a romance, but it doesn’t conform to all the romance tropes. Most bookstores shelve Crusie with regular fiction, and I know why.

The protagonist Kate wants to get married. She is tied of being alone. As a very successful and rich businesswoman, she decides to go after her goal with a business plan: to find a tall, successful, distinguished and rich businessman who would love her. To bring her plan to life, she takes a vacation and drives to a top-notch golf resort.

The resort teems with tall, successful, distinguished and rich businessmen, but none of them engages her heart, until Jake shows up: a tall, unkempt, disreputable groundkeeper, lazy but restful. As the two of them fish on a lake every morning in companionable silence, with their fishing hooks cut off the lines, so the fish would have no incentive to get suicidal, Kate starts to revise her business plan, and the man of her dreams begins resembling Jake, although she knows he is all wrong for her. He is not successful, not distinguished, not rich, and not a businessman. Or is he?

The book was by turns side-splitting funny and insightful, populated by vivid characters and studded with witty dialog, bright descriptions, and absurd situations. It felt as if the author enjoyed writing it as much as I enjoyed reading it. It felt as if we laughed together. My one objection: it was too short. I wanted to prolong the pleasure. The other Crusie’s books beckon.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes.

Before Jake met Kate, his brother berates him for his laziness:

“…get your life moving before you turn into a potted plant and the help starts watering you.” 

After a few days of her association with Jake, Kate revises her plan:

Maybe she should focus her plan better. What she wanted was somebody distinguished and successful who was also caring and honest. Sort of a cross between her father and Jake. She tried to imagine what that cross would look like and couldn’t. It was like trying to cross a shark with a teddy bear. 

An enchanting book.