Saturday, July 31, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'Baby Proof'

The Book: Baby Proof

The Author: Emily Giffin

How I Found It: I got turned onto Emily Giffin's books by one of my favorite actresses, and decided to read them all once I realized all the topics she has written about interest me.

The Review: Claudia Parr finds in Ben Davenport what she always thought she wouldn't: a man who understands and agrees with her decision not to have children. Claudia has always known that she does not want to be a mother, and as she approaches her thirties, nearly every man she meets is scared off by her conviction, until Ben. Ben fully supports her decision and has no desire to have children. They marry quickly, and things seem good until two friends of theirs, always happily childfree, suddenly announce they're pregnant, and that it was planned. And suddenly Ben changes his mind--he wants kids after all.

Of all Giffin's premises, all of which seem to involve love and its complications, this one seemed like the most intriguing and thought-provoking: whether or not the decision to have children can be a deal-breaker. Claudia reasons that it is the only decision for a couple which cannot be compromised on--you either have kids or you don't, and there is no middle ground. It was an interesting role reversal to have the man change his mind rather than the woman. And I liked the book until the ending, which I'll discuss--spoilers included; my apologies, but I feel as though it's the only way to give my honest opinion--later.

I did like the execution of the book and the number of other issues Giffin raised. Claudia finds herself very quickly divorced from Ben and living with her friend, Jess, who is a great friend but self-destructive when it comes to her personal life, always falling for the wrong guy. There's also Claudia's two older sisters, both of whom have issues with their marriages--Maura's husband is a philanderer; Daphne cannot get pregnant no matter how much she tries. I liked reading about Claudia's relationships to the other women in her life, and all the crises were well-drawn, although some of their resolutions felt like hand-waving. All the secondary characters were well-developed and realistic, although some situations in particular could have used a few pages more of screentime (a crisis Jess goes through is mentioned for a few pages and then mostly forgotten, in particular).

The relationship between Claudia and Ben didn't comprise as much of the book as I was expecting, but it came off as believable and I think Giffin made the situation realistic and easy to relate to. I was surprised by this, as I didn't personally agree with Claudia's choice--I'd like to have children myself someday--but still found myself on her side when Ben begins pressuring her to consider the idea of having children. Giffin does touch on the origins of Claudia's decision, citing her reasons not to have kids, all of which seemed reasonable. The seeming crux of the issue, Claudia's own flighty mother, is never fully explored, but the reasons Claudia gave were a mix of practical reasons and personal insecurities, and it was nice that there were many layers to her decision. We didn't get much information on why Ben didn't want kids, which might have helped flesh out his character and his decisions a little more.

Now, to discuss the ending. Spoilers, obviously...

I wasn't satisfied with the way Giffin resolved the primary conflict: whether or not Claudia and Ben could patch up their relationship when there was no way to compromise. Claudia's mind is changed when Ethan (of Something Borrowed and more centrally Something Blue) tells her that if Ben was her soulmate, she would have had his baby in order to keep him. This was the beginning of my "What??" reaction. I just hated that logic because it seemed to treat the issue so lightly and made it seem like Ethan was condoning the idea of having children to fix a marriage. He also mentioned that Romeo and Juliet taking poison just to be with each other made them soulmates, which really didn't help his argument.

The fact that Claudia and Ben both reversed their positions in the end (Claudia begins to consider having children; Ben realizes a child isn't as important to him as Claudia) is supposed to be symbolic of the decision in "The Gift of the Magi". The thing was, it just really bothered me. Claudia still isn't sure in the end whether she'll make a good mother, but she considers having a child anyway--just to keep Ben. This really made me uneasy as a reader, because it basically means that Claudia's considering having a child she wouldn't truly love just to keep her husband. It just didn't seem right and I really wasn't comfortable with the way the conflict was resolved. Though we don't know in the end what Claudia and Ben's final decision is, I'm suspecting we're supposed to believe they do go on to have children. I was extremely uncomfortable with this resolution and its implications, and I feel the story would have been better served by having Claudia be steadfast about her resolution.

** End Spoilers. **

Overall, I really enjoyed the book right up until the ending, which made me uncomfortable and dissatisfied with the overall message of the book. It did make me think, though, and I think that's what makes it a good book, regardless of the ending. I'd recommend this one to chick lit fans or people who want a book that's pretty sure to promote discussion.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'Writing Jane Austen'

The Book: Writing Jane Austen: A Novel

The Author: Elizabeth Aston

How I Found It: As an avid Janeite, I keep my eye on Jane-related releases, and this one sounded interesting. Given that Aston writes Austen sequels, I was curious to read her take on the Austen paraliterature industry through the eyes of a fictional character who hasn't read any Austen.

The Review: If ever there were a person unlikely to write like Jane Austen, it would be Georgina Jackson, an American woman living in England. They write the same century, but in completely different places--Austen wrote early eighteenth century, whereas Georgina's sole book, critically acclaimed but nowhere near bestselling, was set in the late eighteenth century. Austen wrote characters with life, sparkle, and romance; Georgina writes about the miseries of industrial life in that era. Georgina has miseries of her own, including an exceedingly unpleasant agent who has just given her the worst possible job for Georgina: completing a newly discovered Jane Austen manuscript.

Georgina is convinced she's the worst person for the job: not only do she and Austen have different styles, she's never read any Austen at all! She's determined to turn down the job, until she's informed that her bank account is overdrawn and her fellowship money from her university is being revoked. Georgina cannot bear the thought of leaving England, which she would have to do without more money, and she finds herself with no choice but to accept the daunting job. Her housemates--her landlord, Henry, a banker turned science student; his 14-year-old sister Maud, a passionate Janeite; and the maid, Anna--are all Austen fans who are more than willing to help. The problem? Georgina's exposure to the industry Austen has caused and its passionate fans has made her even more unwilling to write the novel, and procrastination is quickly becoming her friend.

I was at first wary of this novel, given that I'd tried the first of Aston's six Pride and Prejudice sequels two years ago and gave up a bit of the way in when it didn't enthrall me. I'm quite pleased to report that it far surpassed my expectations and has quickly become one of my favorite Austen-related books.

I just loved Aston's wry commentary on the Austen paraliterature craze and the hoopla surrounding Austen's novels and their adaptations, her sly nods to Jane Austen, and the utter freshness of the story. I have read a number of Austen-related books since I finished the six novels in 2007 and 2008, and nearly every contemporary paraliterature heroine has romantic woes. Not so here! Instead of relating her modern heroine's struggles to Austen romantically, Aston chose to put financial pressure on her heroine, a common situation in Austen and one that's certainly believable today. It was such a relief to read about a witty heroine who honestly has no regard for her romantic life until very late in the book (an ex-boyfriend is mentioned but not dwelled upon). This is opposed to the many paraliterature heroines I've read who simply complain about their boyfriends or exes, all of whom are quite evidently jerks (miraculously not noticed by said heroine until late in the book, without fail). Given that Aston has written Austen sequels herself, she had an interesting insider's perspective that certainly must have contributed to this book.

I give Aston much credit for making Georgina such a convincing character, one who is so far from Aston's love for Austen. Georgina has the attitude of many who have not read, and have no desire to become acquainted with, Jane Austen. She is convinced the novels are about nothing but romance, and cannot fathom why so many people fall all over them. One of the most amusing and revealing segments of the novel occurs in Bath, a place I was lucky enough to visit when I was in England and one that is indeed an Austen tourist mecca. Georgina finds herself assailed by an Austen tour bus that brings with it a cast of diverse Austen fans--a Russian man whose allegiance lies with Jane rather than Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky, two middle-aged American women (the common image of a Janeite; at 19, I'm quite a rarity), and two teenagers who merely moon over the movie adaptations. I liked the way the book touched on the broadness of Austen's appeal and showed the many forms her fans can come in. It also accurately captures the bewilderment a person unacquainted with Austen must surely feel when confronted with the immense amount of merchandising that has come out of the books and their adaptations. Many of Georgina's musings on the industry had me laughing out loud. As a younger Jane fan, I buy into the sequel/mashup craze more easily than most, but even if you don't actually read the sequels, I think you'd be able to get a good laugh out of the sly jokes made at their expense.

I also enjoyed the other characters in the story, mainly Henry and Maud, Georgina's primary allies. They are an example of one of Aston's many slight nods to Austen's work--their fourteen-year age difference and Henry's responsibility for her education is a clear reference to the relationship of Darcy and Georgiana in P&P. Maud was a particular favorite of mine; at 14, she is quirky but a serious lover of Austen, and I was reminded of how my friends have come to treat me as the Austen authority. I was pleased to see acknowledgment of the fact that Jane Austen can attract young fans; I started reading her work at 16 and many are often surprised that I'm a passionate fan this young. Both Henry and Maud are enjoyable characters who make valiant efforts to force Georgina into writing, and Henry sweetly attempts to study the science behind writer's block. The book had many elements in common with an Austen novel--a family in a small house; a gossipy relative (Maud); a maid (Anna); dinners, a ball, and some very dry acquaintances one is glad not to have met in real life. The list of Austen references (to the books and to Austen's own family) is innumerable and I loved the "aha!" moment I got on seeing each one.

There were some minor flaws in the novel; I did find myself wishing Georgina would get on with the actual writing of it sooner or later, though Aston's point did lie in the procrastination (which I am no stranger to myself, as a college student). There was also a very small error, but the context made it seem egregious--in a paragraph about Georgina carefully checking over her punctuation, we get the misspelling of Austen's name as "Austin." Some plots that could have been more fully developed with another fifty pages or so are skimmed over--such as Henry's girlfriend, who is actively lying to him about her whereabouts and such, which Georgina discovers... and then does not relate this to Henry. That baffled me and I was surprised that every character but Henry seemed to know it. I feel as though some pages could have been taken from Georgina's procrastination methods and instead lent to exploring that minor plot hole more fully.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed the novel and would recommend it without hesitation to any Janeite who's tired of the sequel craze or someone like me who enjoys a good laugh about it. It's from a unique perspective and has a great deal of Austen humor. I'd recommend some sort of familiarity with Austen, even just through the movies, before diving in; it will make the experience so much more fun! I will have to try some of Aston's sequels now and will be on the lookout to see if any more contemporaries come from her; if they are anything like this one, I will feel as though I'm in for a treat.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'Good in Bed'

The Book: Good in Bed

The Author: Jennifer Weiner

How I Found It: Reading about the sequel, which sounded really interesting, made me try this one first. I'd also largely dismissed "chick lit" without reading any of it, so I decided to start with the current top ladies of the genre, Emily Giffin and Jennifer Weiner.

The Review: Sitting at her desk one day doing her usual job as an entertainment reporter, Candace "Cannie" Shapiro gets a call from her best friend, Samantha. Samantha wants to know if Cannie's seen the latest issue of a certain magazine. When she asks Cannie to go get one, Cannie does--and learns that her ex-boyfriend has written about their relationship, their sex life, in a national magazine. Worse yet, he's talking about her body--the column is titled "Loving a Larger Woman".

Cannie has always been aware of her weight and how other people see her because of it, and what stings about the article is that her ex-boyfriend, Bruce, understood more about her than she realized. Facing him about it does little more than rekindle her desire to be with him, which Bruce refuses. Bruce's initial magazine article sets off a surprising chain of events that will bring Cannie tears, laughter, unexpected surprises, a chance at fame, and maybe even love.

The book is 375 pages and is pretty stuffed with character development and plot, to the point of becoming, towards the end, a bizarre blend of wish fulfillment and every empowering experience Weiner can think of. Weiner did admit that the novel was written to explore the possibilities if some things in her life had come out differently, and it shows. Cannie does things like befriend a movie star, and that's not the least believable part of the novel, either.

With maybe a hundred pages left in the book, I started getting tired of seeing Weiner's every fantasy played out in front of me. Then the book ricocheted into a fairly depressing and much shorter section before the inevitable happy ending. I felt the book had to be more even and that some aspects should have been cut down--Cannie's empowerment was nice to see, but some of it came at the cost of believability. Weiner also said that she gave Cannie her "3 AM" voice--every witty thing she thinks to say at 3 AM, long after the person she wants to say it to is gone--and that was a definite drawback. Cannie just felt too funny at times, too prepared for all situations with some kind of comeback. No one would be that prepared to snark all the time.

I did have some issues relating to the story, given that I am not a plus-sized woman. In fact, at a few points early in the novel, I felt almost bad for the skinny characters that Weiner was having Cannie and other characters snark on. I understood their motivations, but it did lead to mixed feelings. There's a scene where Cannie and other women are at a weight-loss clinic, hoping to be picked for a clinical trial for a weight-loss drug. They have to take behavior modification classes beforehand. Weiner amusingly has the characters know all the answers to the class since everyone's been on a different diet (Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, etc.) but then they use this to gang up on the skinny nurse teaching the class and try and force her to give them the drugs. I didn't think this was fair and while I know it was meant to be funny, I couldn't really see it as such.

The story itself was a pretty good one, if not very original. One of the reviews cited in the front of my book says something to the effect of "Beach Book Queen of the Day." I think "Queen of the Day" is an accurate description--it's an easy read, pretty forgettable, and the next day you're ready to move on to something new. That being said, it has sparked my interest in Weiner's other, hopefully better and more complex novels. I'm curious to read the sequel and a few other books by Weiner, so while this wasn't her best, I'm hoping to attribute it to the weaknesses of a first novel.

Even if the story had me taking my disbelief back from where I'd suspended it, I liked Cannie and the other characters. Maxi, the movie star, was a good one, and so was the kind doctor, Peter Krushelevansky. Particularly important are Cannie's mother and her life partner, Tonya, as Cannie's mother is a late-in-life lesbian. Cannie and her siblings do not accept Tonya because of her many idiosyncrasies, and that path to acceptance is a marginal part of the book towards the end. That subplot led to some funny moments, one of which is Cannie and her siblings reciting Larkin's "This Be the Verse" ("They f*** you up, your parents do...") while burning a rainbow muff given to them by Tonya.

Overall, while the story needed work and trimming, and the characters sometimes felt a little too funny, Good in Bed was a decent read that raised my curiosity about the author's other works, a sign of at least a good novel. Recommended to fans of chick lit who haven't already read this one, or to someone like me who hasn't read any and wants to start somewhere.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'The Girl Who Played with Fire: The Movie'

It has been quite some time since my last movie review, which was actually the review for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This is a few days late, given that I saw the movie on Friday (and again on Monday, entirely without planning), but I've had a busy week!

Some of my opinions and thoughts about the remake have changed from last time as I have become more informed about who has come forward for the casting process and who hasn't. I'll detail those later on, but for now, my review. (For a plot summary and my review of the book, click here.)

In some ways, this installment was even better than the first, and in others it didn't measure up. Basically, the issues I had with the book were transferred to the movie adaptation, mostly because of the amount of characters, although the subplots were trimmed, which was nice. Overall, while the film itself was better than I had expected, having heard some negative reviews of it compared to the first one, I still found it sub-par to the original.

To start with, the film did improve on some things I found fault with in the original. We see much more of Millennium and its staffers than we did the first time around--Christer and Malin are both given things to do, and while they're not substantial things, we get a glimpse of Christer and Mikael as friends, as well as Malin contributing to the investigation into Lisbeth's past. I was especially pleased by the inclusion of Erika into the story, given that we barely saw her at all in the version of the first film released over here, and that her affair with Mikael was cut out. Here, we see Mikael and Erika having lunch and in bed together, and a few passing references were made to their relationship, including one very funny moment with some of Mikael's sister's in-laws. Some people who only saw the movies might have been confused by the sudden progression of their relationship, but it was good to see it wasn't neglected entirely. What is left out is Erika receiving the job offer at Aftonbladet and her relationship with her husband. It could just as easily be left for the third movie, however, if that subplot isn't cut out over here, and it was trivial enough that I didn't notice its absence until after the movie was over. Lena Endre (Erika) turns in a nice performance in her screentime; her concern for Mikael and the tenderness she shows him feels genuine, and they make a good pair.

Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyquist both turn in performances just as good as their first ones. Nyquist's Blomkvist is suitably hell-bent on proving Lisbeth's innocence, though I did notice that some of his more coarse language was toned down in the subtitles. (The Swedish trailer translates one of his lines to Bublanski as "... I will write an article that will f*** you and your colleagues," whereas the subtitles read "... I will write an article that will make you and the police damn uncomfortable." Different? Yes!) I really enjoy what he brings to the character of Blomkvist: he's not that type of attractive that you notice right away, and he's got the charm that makes women fall for him and the aggression that makes sources give up their information. In the book and in the film, I particularly enjoy the scene where he, casually as could be, confronts Bjorck about his involvement in the sex-trafficking ring by pretending to be doing marketing research. Nyquist carried that off with a great combination of icy information-seeking and comic timing. A friend I got into the books accompanied me, and when we emerged from the theater, she wanted to know if Nyquist spoke English so that he could be cast in the remake!

Rapace, as Lisbeth, is the one who has the film on her shoulders, and it really shows. She gets a lot of physical work to do, and she maintains the sullen, mysterious demeanor she had in the previous film. She is still Lisbeth personified, and after seeing the interview with her that is an extra on the DVD of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I'm as impressed as ever with her acting abilities. She is a normal woman who has somehow managed to get inside Lisbeth's head so well, and it is just as great to see her kicking butt and taking names this time around as it was the first. The film does a better job of blending the separate storylines than the book does; Lisbeth's and Blomkvist's stories are interspersed rather than entirely separate, as they were in the book. Sadly, there isn't as much online communication between them as there was in the book, but their relationship is still preserved well enough and it was almost interesting to see them functioning separately rather than together.

I did like how the movie cut down some of the more unwieldy aspects of the book. Integrating the separate storylines of Mikael and Lisbeth made it easier to follow. The three investigations are reduced to two--we see only the one by the police and the one by Millennium; the one by Milton Security is omitted entirely. The subplot about the investigation by the police being tampered with by Ekstrom and Faste is omitted entirely. Some things could have been done better or expanded upon; I wanted to see more of Dag before his murder, and poor Mia gets shafted, as we see her in barely two scenes before she is killed. Still, for the two hours the movie had to work with, it did very well and I was pleased with the result. I liked the performances by the minor characters, such as the actors who played Miriam Wu, Niedermann, and Zalachenko, and the cameo by Paolo Roberto as himself (just as in the book). I don't think it quite matched the first movie in terms of faithfulness or overall dramatic pull, but given that I felt the same way about the book itself, I can't complain. My parents and many people in the theater felt it was even better than the first movie, so it's a matter of subjectivity.

Now, on the subject of the American remake: I still don't think it should be done, but I'm generally intrigued by the casting rumors. Daniel Craig is considered the current frontrunner for Blomkvist, which I am very happy about; I think he is a better fit than Brad Pitt and has the same qualities as Nyquist. Carey Mulligan is also considered a strong frontrunner for Lisbeth, and out of all the names being bandied about (Kristen Stewart, Natalie Portman, and Scarlett Johansson are other alleged choices), I think she's the most capable actress, though perhaps not tough enough. Though the screenwriter said he hasn't seen the original film (a mistake, in my opinion), the production team claims the violence won't be toned down and that the story will still be set in Sweden. I suppose I will have to wait with the rest of the world to see the finished product.

It also isn't necessary to have seen the first film in order to see this one, as long as you've read the books. The friend I took with me had and loved it just the same, and she's now even more eager to see the first one. In closing, I still strongly recommend the trilogy and the Swedish films (the first of which is now available on DVD). I wouldn't recommend them to anyone younger than 16 or so, given the brutal content, but so far everyone I have recommended them to has loved them. If you get a chance to see the films and you already love the books, see them by all means, before Hollywood comes along!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'Something Blue'

This book is a sequel to Something Borrowed (click for my review), starting just about at that book's end, so spoilers will have to be given as part of the plot summary. I recommend reading the two books in order.

The Book: Something Blue

The Author: Emily Giffin

How I Found It: Same way as the first: Shiri Appleby, an actress I admire, recommended them via her Facebook page.

The Review: Darcy Rhone had it all: a glamorous PR job, a loyal best friend (Rachel), looks, money, and a great fiance, Dex. But despite having it all, she wanted more. She began an affair with one of the groomsmen in her wedding, Marcus, and unexpectedly became pregnant with his child. Dex broke off the wedding, and Darcy believes it is because he can feel her pulling away from him. That is, until she goes to her best friend Rachel's to give her the news about the called-off wedding and her affair... and discovers that Rachel has, in fact, been having an affair of her own. With Dex.

This is where we left things at the end of Something Borrowed. Darcy's infidelity is revealed to Dex, and it is clear that blame is on both sides. Darcy, however, doesn't see it that way, and declares that she never wants to see Dex and Rachel again. She is determined to make things work with Marcus, to reform him from his sloppy ways and make him into another Dex. As the weeks pass, however, Darcy finds herself consumed with thoughts of Rachel and Dex. When Marcus disappoints Darcy's upper-class family, things begin to fall apart: Darcy's mother is horrified by the news that Darcy is pregnant by someone she perceives as not good enough, and Marcus soon dumps Darcy when it becomes clear he doesn't love her and that she still isn't over what Dex and Rachel did. Darcy's personal relationships are crumbling one by one, until Darcy decides it's time for a change. She packs up and travels to London, where her and Rachel's childhood friend Ethan is living and working as a writer.

Ethan at first is less than thrilled at Darcy's presence, as she is needy and distracting. Ethan eventually forces Darcy to realize how shallow she has been and how much she will need to change to become a good mother, and Darcy begins to take it upon herself to do just that. She must look inside herself to determine who she wants to become--and just who she might want to be with.

I was definitely wary of this one at first. I thought Something Borrowed was fantastic, though it could have used a little more tying up at the ending, and I wasn't sure how much I'd like this story. Darcy comes off as unsympathetic and horribly mean at the end of that book, and anyway, I was definitely more of a Rachel and not at all like a Darcy. Why would I want to read about a character that I couldn't relate to and didn't even like?

It is a testament to Giffin's skill as a writer that I was utterly in love with Darcy's story and that I even liked this one better than Something Borrowed, which surprises me immensely. It was great to see the other side of the story and then to see how everything turned out, all from a different perspective. Rachel and Darcy were two entirely distinct voices, and both were very believable.

That being said, Darcy isn't always likable and doesn't become so until maybe two-thirds of the way through (roughly). I found myself rolling my eyes at her antics and her complete disregard for her pregnancy, but I had to keep reading to see if she really would change. Ethan getting her to realize her selfishness was satisfying and made me cheer for Darcy even more as she comes to realize that she wasn't entirely blameless in the mess with Dex, Rachel, and Marcus and that a change is in store for her. My all-time favorite fictional love story involves a man changing for his girlfriend, and even if there's that saying that people never change, I like to believe that in good love stories, they do. That was exactly what happened, and by the end of the book, I really was in love with the new Darcy and had tears in my eyes at a few points.

The book was a definite page-turner, as you want to find out if Darcy really can change, and if she will ever forgive Dex and Rachel. There is also the developing friendship between Darcy and Ethan, and the question of their potential romance. I think this book was more satisfying than its predecessor because we were given the time to see Darcy and Ethan's relationship really develop, as opposed to Borrowed, where Dex and Rachel are in bed by the end of the first chapter and the backstory is given to us pretty much upfront, as their relationship to each other is established right from the start. With Ethan and Darcy, we get to see their friendship improve and then witness Darcy's growing attraction to him. Ethan was developed more from his brief appearances in the first book, and we get some more background on Darcy's side of the story of the school days she shared with him and Rachel. It was fun seeing stories recounted in Borrowed from the opposite point of view. There is also sufficient closure given about how Rachel and Dex's relationship has progressed after Something Borrowed, which I was really glad to see.

Overall, I really, really loved this book. The writing was well-done and believable, the characters were realistic and sympathetic, and Darcy's gradual change was well-written. Giffin's books sounded right up my alley when I first read about them, and at this point I think I'm going to dive headlong into her third book. This book (and its predecessor) are highly recommended by me for someone looking for chick lit with substance or a good beach read.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'Kitty Goes to War'

I will reiterate my warning from my review of the seventh Kitty book: this is eighth in a series, and thus, reviewing is difficult without giving away things from previous installments. Thus, if you're interested in this series, I would advise not reading this review unless you want some things (some minor, some major) spoiled.

The Book: Kitty Goes to War (eighth in the Kitty Norville series)

The Author: Carrie Vaughn

How I Found It: I've been a fan of the Kitty books since the beginning, and of Carrie Vaughn's writing in general. My review of the previous Kitty book, Kitty's House of Horrors, is here; my review of her young adult novel Voices of Dragons is here.

The Review: Kitty is used to supernatural unpleasantness, along with mundane unpleasantness. She's been subpoenaed by the Senate as an authority on supernatural matters. She's had to take down her former pack in order to establish dominance in her hometown of Denver--all the while dealing with her mother's breast cancer. In the previous book, Kitty was a participant in what she was told was a reality show about supernatural creatures living together, until that reality show turned into a snuff film.

This time around, Kitty has to deal with two problems. First, she is sued for libel after suggesting on her show that Speedy Mart, a national chain of convenience stores, might be attracting supernatural happenings. Soon after, Kitty receives a call from Dr. Shumacher, introduced in previous books as the head of the National Health Institute's Center for Paranatural Biology. Three soldiers--Vanderman, Walters, and Tyler--have returned from Afghanistan, with one big problem: they were part of an unofficial unit of werewolves in the Army, and with their alpha killed, they are leaderless and deeply traumatized. Kitty and her husband, Ben, are asked to consult on the matter, to see if anything can be done for these wolves--stronger, more unstable, and a potential threat to the dominance of Kitty and Ben as an alpha pair--to help them adjust to normal life.

There's also the matter of Cormac, Ben's cousin and Kitty's one-time almost-love interest. A bounty hunter of werewolves and other supernatural creatures, he was imprisoned in the third book for killing in order to save Kitty and Ben's lives. Now, two years later, he is on parole and back in the real world. Kitty notices that he is acting strangely, different from the Cormac she knew, but Cormac is frustratingly silent on the subject. Three newly minted and uncontrollable werewolves, a libel suit, and a friend acting odder than usual--could Kitty be in over her head?

I've always enjoyed Vaughn's style of writing and Kitty's character, so this book wasn't a disappointment for me. The usual humor is there, and I definitely got a few giggles out of Kitty's usual snarky nature. I'm also very pleased at Vaughn's decision to have Cormac paroled--he was my favorite character from the first book on, and I was waiting for him to come back and be a big player in the series again. My curiosity has definitely been raised by the plot decisions in this book and while I've sometimes had my own opinions on how I would have handled things had I been behind the wheel, I was very satisfied with the direction things are going for the series if this books is any indication. This book takes a step back from the vampire politics that drove Books 5 and 6 and played a small part in 7, and I was grateful for that, as the politics have sometimes confused me. This book is more like the old-school Kitty of Books 1 through 3.

Vaughn continues to build up alliances for Kitty, adding new characters with helpful resources, and Kitty's pack is built upon just a little bit more; we see more of key pack players such as Shaun and Becky. Detective Hardin is mentioned briefly but nothing more ever comes of it; same with Odysseus Grant. (A wise choice; too many characters might have been confusing to keep track of, so mentioning them in passing worked well.) Dr. Shumacher, a tangential character in previous books, is brought more to the forefront and given some development. I wasn't all too pleased with her characterization here--she came off as the typical one-dimensional scientist at times--but it gave her character another side other than someone Kitty calls with a question on occasion.

I liked the increased focus on lycanthropy and its effect on people who might not have been all that ready for it. I was really intrigued by this plotline as soon as I read the first summary that was released for the book, and I wasn't disappointed. The soldiers' plight is believable and raises ethical questions for Kitty and for the military. One thing I've noticed about the recent books is that there hasn't been much focus on the werewolf aspect--this book and Book 5 only featured one shapeshifting scene apiece. While it is in the background at all times, more focus has been placed on the humanity of Kitty and the other wolves. Vaughn tries to show all sides of the condition by making Kitty's human side one thing and Kitty's Wolf something else entirely. I liked this book's focus on how a werewolf adjusts from one life to another; it was explored briefly in previous books with flashbacks to Kitty's transformation and then in Book 3 with Ben's, so it was nice to see it explored more fully.

My one complaint about this installment of the series was that the two separate plots--Kitty's attempts to rehabilitate the soldier werewolves and the CEO of Speedy Mart suing Kitty for libel--weren't tied together very well. The main focus was the soldier plot, with the Speedy Mart plot popping up occasionally, but mostly staying in the background until the last fifty pages or so. I felt they could have been better tied together somehow, or that the Speedy Mart plot could have been given a little bit more prominence in order to make it seem more unified. In general, though, both plots were interesting and resolved well in the end.

Overall, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this one to Carrie Vaughn fans, though it's not quite a great starting point for those considering picking up the series now. This is still my favorite series of today and it's been consistently wonderful.