30 December, 2010

Review: The Lady Most Likely... by Julia Quinn, Eloisa James and Connie Brockway

If there is one romance cliche I am utterly, heartily, completely sick of it is the homosexual ex-husband. (I'm going to be honest and admit that I am reviewing this book without finishing it. I may or may not finish it tonight. Really, it bothers me that much.) If you consider the above statement a spoiler, please stop reading now. You've been spoiled. Otherwise, read on.

The basic set up of The Lady Most Likely is that Hugh has spent so much time in his stables that he's failed to find a wife. After a near death experience, he asks his sister for assistance. This leads to a house party, which leads to romance. There is a bit too much story to deal with in The Lady Most Likely. Each of the couples have enough backstory to fill a book of their own, leaving the reader reluctant to move on to the next. (As a connected series, I think this would have been a stronger read.) I'd still recommend it - better too much investment in the characters than too little. Then the cliche kicks in. One of the ladies loves fashion. She loves fashion so much that when it came time to marry she sought out a man who loves fashion. A soft, faded, delicate sort of man with a small endowment and a vicious wit. The sort of man who likes to sit in corners and speak critically of those about him, but in the kindest of ways, and who ultimately eroded his wife's self image while doing so. The sort of man who dies young with his sobbing valet by his side.

Is this 2010? Nearly 2011? Can we end this particular homophobic trope? Even when the gay character is not a villain, it still screams "How Gay Folks Are, God Love 'Em".  I went from enjoying the book to tolerating it. By the time the valet's tear stained face is revealed I moved from tolerating the book to wanting to get away from it. Yes, I recognize that I am a small subset of the reading population but a love of fashion does not a homosexual make. A mean temperament does not a homosexual make. A slight build and a small (to borrow the author's words) "pump handle" does not a homosexual make. Roll all of those together, however, and you can make a tired homosexual side character cliche appear. (Hugh, obsessed with horses and unconcerned with women, makes a much more natural homosexual character than the deceased husband.)

Do homosexual men who fit this mold exist? Absolutely. While I have no idea what Christian Siriano looks like naked, I could picture him as the ex in question. The problem is that for so long ONLY this homosexual man has existed in romance. He is the Uncle Tom of the homosexual regency character. He is the racist cliche. To use him is to invite all the baggage of his past uses, to use him without other homosexual characters to counter him is to embrace that baggage. As a reader, encountering this minstrel show alongside the ever popular "It's so big, it won't fit!" sequence, I lose all interest in staying for more.

It is a shame, that this character tainted the read for me in a way I was unable to overcome by the book's end. The overall voice of the book is well done, the events are tied together nicely, the concept is strong. I would suggest The Lady Most Likely to anyone who finds the homosexual issue less aggravating than I do.

27 December, 2010

Review: Storming The Castle by Eloisa James

You need to read this short. You really do. In fact, this short was the first thing I read on my brand spanking new iPad and I left the iPad alone long enough to come tell you about it. Ok, maybe I waited a day (or two) but still! The point remains! I am not currently hiding in a corner with my shiny new iPad. (Did I mention it was a Very Apple Christmas? And that I got an iPad? Have we covered that? Yes?)

I enjoyed A Kiss At Midnight but didn't expect very much from Storming The Castle. I anticipated a quick look at all the characters from the prior book in their new settled lives, a cute sequence or two - you know, what you usually get in a short. Sort of an after-dinner-mint of a book. Not the selection-from-the-pastry-chef's-sampling-tray event that Storming The Castle delivers. Take this bit -

"... it wasn't until Miss Philippa Damson gave her virginity to her betrothed, the future Sir Rodney Durfey, Baronet, that she realized exactly what she wanted from life: 

Never to be near Rodney again."

Tell me you don't want to read that story. (You're lying.) The absolute best part about Storming The Castle isn't Philippa realizing she'd rather not do that again, it's the complete lack of villains. There is not a single letter hiding, mustache twirling, abusive, cheating, nefarious scoundrel about. Not a single one. Not even Rodney. Poor, dear, clueless Rodney. His life has just gone to hell and he hasn't the first clue. (There's nothing like the morning after to make a girl reevaluate.)

Look, you can do a lot worse for $2. I'm completely ready for another selection. Storming The Castle gets almost as much love from me as my currently unnamed iPad. (I may just acknowledge it as my overlord and leave it at that.)

21 December, 2010

Enid And Her E-Reading

While I have been woefully behind with my own media consumption, Enid has taken the plunge. She's left her Sony behind and purchased an iPad. You can see that it's a little big for her to comfortably handle. (She seems to have picked up some absolutely dreadful habits since we last saw her!)

My own foray into iPad reading will have to wait until Santa (or the FedEx man) shows up. I do thank Apple for the $100 price drop on refurbished units. It's enablers like that which keep the economy going.  The search goes on for the perfect relationship. I admit that most recently I've been carrying on quite shamelessly with Kleenex Ultra Soft. It's sort of a December tradition - we go everywhere together for the holidays.

09 December, 2010

Review: A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh

A Matter of Class suffers from some truly cracktastic e-book pricing. The paperback just released for $6.99 USD but good luck finding an e-book remotely close to that price. I've seen it as high as $15.99. Making things even worse, this is a novella. While I certainly recommend A Matter of Class and would rank it among Balogh's best, I don't suggest purchasing it at full price, much less cracktastic pricing.

Mary Balogh is one of my favorite authors. If books were female stereotypes she'd be the quiet, conservatively clad woman in the corner. Not the one that whips her glasses off, pops her buttons and dances on the table. The one that passes a quiet hour with someone over a cup of strong tea and never raises her voice. She might have a silent tear roll down her cheek, if the topic turns tragic. While others have wandered off bored, you end the hour calmer and somehow rested. In A Matter of Class Balogh forgoes the silent tear. This isn't an angst laden read. It's a bit traditional, a bit of a class study, a sliver of a tale with a few light twists.

Taking the traditional threads of class difference, social ruin and forced marriage Balogh weaves a short tale as satisfying as a full length book. Anna, expected to marry the required older friend of her father's, has ruined herself with a servant. Needing a husband, and needing one quickly, her family procures a groom from a wealthy coal miner looking to buy his gambler son some respectability. Anna and Reggie move to make the best of it while facing the obvious disappointment their parents feel at the ruin of their beloved children's lives. Balogh is a careful with her words, she is one of the very rare authors I re-read to see what I missed while I was watching the plot. Take the common event of people in awkward situations discussing the weather. Reggie and Anna's parents meet to cement the previously unthinkable course of their children's lives. What else is there for them to discuss but the weather? The uncontrollable, unknowable weather.

"Which was a good thing since everyone wanted different weather for different reasons and might end up fighting wars over it if they were able to control it. As if there were not enough things already to fight wars over."


03 December, 2010

Review: The Francesca Cahill Novels by Brenda Joyce

I am ridiculously excited about the return of Francesca Cahill. HQN is rereleasing the last two books in the series for readers who missed it the first time (and there are far too many of you) so they can get excited as well. I used to say that the Cahill series was for people who think they don't like Brenda Joyce. Until the Cahill series began I was a reluctant fan of Brenda Joyce. I read her books but I didn't respect myself afterward. (In fact, some of the most scathing reviews I've ever written are of Brenda Joyce books.) Then came Francesca.

Oh Francesca, how do I love you? Let me count the ways.  In love with a married man? In love with his brother? Befriending lesbians? (One of whom was your fiance's lover!) Taking street waifs under your wing? Hoping your socialite brother will stop his wandering ways to settle down with that nice Irish laundress? Standing over dead bodies while fighting for women's rights? Wondering how to hide street urchins from your mother while sneaking off to college? Wandering through the wreckage of your sister's marriage? Francesca, what don't you have going on? Although you use 'sleuthing' more frequently than anyone can tolerate and have a bit of the Mary Sue about you, I always regret closing the book and leaving you behind. It's not the murders that matter, it's your wonderfully convoluted life. You make Sookie Stackhouse look like an underachiever. When you left us I had to break up with Brenda Joyce. She made a triumphant return to the past while I longed for your future.

But now you're coming back, Francesca!! Will you (wisely) marry Calder despite his decadent orgies? Does he want you for yourself or because his brother Rick can't have you - tied as Rick is to the beautiful yet tragically crippled Leigh Ann? Or is there yet another brother in the wings? Perhaps a man we haven't yet met is waiting to step out of the shadows and capture your heart. Someone will be murdered. You'll throw yourself into danger as you always do. Stopping in at a dinner party to pacify your mother, knocking your brother's opium out a window, you'll arrive at the crime scene with a sweep of your skirts and a sniff of disdain. After all who better than you, society's darling, to handle the cases the corrupt New York police cannot?

Let's just start casting the films already. Are you Anne Hathaway or Taylor Swift? Is your arch self assurance born of innate skill or naive overconfidence? I think you've already grown a fair amount from that young ingenue who looked into Rick Bragg's eyes and mistook his shallow disdain for romantic depth. I can't wait to see where you go, and I can't wait to complain about how you get there.

02 December, 2010

Missed Review: Taken by Desire by Lavinia Kent

Don't buy this e-book.

That's the short version. I'd like to apologize to Lavinia Kent, because my advice to avoid this title has nothing at all to do with her. In fact, I'd selected her as one of my Agency titles to buy this month. Often I buy no Agency priced titles, but it's the holidays so I decided to treat myself. I used to buy Avon's (and a few other imprints) complete monthly run. It was automatic. Now I pick and choose. I scour reviews. I look at smaller publishing houses first. I consider what I have in non fiction, I watch obscure dvds.

The ebook version of Taken by Desire is priced $2 above the paper version. Not $2 above what the paper version can routinely be had for - $2 above the suggested retail price of the book. Effectively, this makes the title (in USD) over twice as expensive in a DRM restricted version than it is in a paper version. Or, you can steal it for free. I wish that you would not. I wish that you would simply join me in not reading this title, in finding another publisher to purchase from.

I am beginning to feel like the Agency authors are in an abusive relationship. I know they want me to buy their books. I want to buy their books. The editors want me to buy their books. But someone higher up than all of us has a different plan. When that someone holds you close at night and whispers that it's not him who drove us away, that he's only protecting you from the pirates, that we just didn't try hard enough? Don't believe him. What we had was real, but I won't be treated this way. You shouldn't be either. We're better than that.

Edited to add - It is my understanding that the price of this e-book has now been lowered to match the MSRP (if not the prevailing cost) of the paper book. Make your choices as you will!

20 November, 2010

Review: Sons of the Revolution by Shana Galen

Shana Galen is one of those authors that I tend to forget about. When I look at her publication list, I realize I've read all of her books.  Although I can't recall a single detail, it's an overall positive impression. That's the case with the Sons of the Revolution series as well. On your left, a young orphan working as a governess is forced into life as a spy, where she discovers she is destined to be a Duchess. On your right, a young orphan is forced into life as a governess where... ok, that's not exactly fair. But that's the thing about a Shana Galen book. It's easy to fault them on the details.

The strongest section of both books is the prologue. When Julien and Armand are escaping the siege of their home the events are immediate, cinematic and relatable. Those sections of the book are up there with Joanna Bourne's work. In both cases, she has set up an excellent canvas. The eldest and his young mother escape the mob, leaving her husband and younger sons behind to face certain death. Awesome! (Ok, maybe not awesome, exactly... but c'mon! One kid wakes up to flickering lights on the ceiling. It's like riding Pirates of the Caribbean at Disney, but with actual terror!) Afterward, established in London and rich again, Julien's mom seems kind of sad. All the time. Those are the emotional stakes of the subsequent action. Sure, Julien keeps slipping in and out of France looking for his brothers. But the emotional repercussions of their experiences are not deep and traumatic. This is not angsty romance. Armand, who spent a decade in a solitary confinement, goes from mute and feral to resentful sibling fairly quickly.  At one point Armand challenges Julien "You treat me like I am an idiot!" Dude. You've been refusing to speak, wear shoes, or handle utensils. You wanted he should give you a medal, maybe? Julien responds that Armand has no idea what it cost Julien to keep searching for him. I guess Armand thought Julien found his way to France and infiltrated a prison on a lark, because Armand is all hmm, good point.

Of course, as easy as strolling in and out of the prison is, perhaps Armand can be forgiven his error. By the time it's his turn, he heads off to his former cell (guess he forgot his toothbrush) with less thought than I use to walk up to the corner for milk. (Here's another easy swipe - a spy in England knows where Armand is being held, but everyone in the prison has no idea who he is and all the people looking for him on the outside have no idea where he is, and the criminal element in France has no idea where he is... how does the spy guy figure it out? If Armand is mute, who told his jailers the name Armand?)  I could easily break these books down by missed opportunities, but it would miss the point. I enjoyed them. Do I think Shana Galen could really write something astonishing? I don't know. She has some great characters, she has some great situations, but the execution of them is enjoyably rote. The genre equivalent of the popcorn movie. You can see everything coming long before it hits, the clues to future events are clubs with kleig lights attached. It's the getting there that's the fun. You can settle down, have a read, and enjoy it. You don't need the collectors dvd afterward, it's just Tuesday night and something to do.

I will probably read everything Shana Galen ever writes. I expect to forget who she is at least three more times in my life, but I will still have that good impression. She's a fun evening, but not the girl I want to marry.

16 November, 2010

Review: Trial By Desire by Courtney Milan

You know when that band who put out that really great album that made them your favorite band ever put out their second album and you were so excited until it wasn't the first album which made you so sad but then time passed and you realized you liked the new album too?


Trial By Desire is like that.

No wait! It's not! Actually, there are two copies of Trial By Desire being reviewed. Some reviewers got an ARC of the unfinished book. While it was interesting to look at the editing process, it does Courtney Milan no favors to have a rough draft used to review the polished gem. Family drama. Super awesome courtroom sequence. Happy ending! Buy it. Read it. Love Courtney Milan if you're new to this author. Wait - why are you new to Courtney Milan? Do you hate reading? What's going on here?

Oh right. back to the book. Ned finished Proof By Seduction on the edge of a forced marriage with Kate. Kate is completely awesome. She marries Ned, has Ned do that whole "It's not you, it's me, I'll be finding myself" thing and moves on with her life. Being male, he thinks he's done her a favor. What he's really done is make her life a great deal more complex than it needed to be. While she waits for Ned to grow up, Kate works to secretly free abused women from their situations. Ned returns and slowly (again, he's male) discovers that Kate really doesn't trust him anymore. Why should she? He didn't make their marriage (or her) a priority in the past.

Ned's effort to regain Kate's trust plays out beautifully. There are no Big Misunderstandings, no Failure To Express The Heart, none of the standard shortcuts to a relationship on the edge of ending. Ned and Kate's communication issues are ones of assumption and fear. "If I show you who I really am, will you leave me?" I fell for Ned and Kate completely. If you missed this title, go back and take a look at it. Courtney Milan is one of my favorite authors.

15 November, 2010

But You Know This Already...

My views on Agency Pricing and Piracy are that I am against both. Everyone has had the discussion, everyone knows the talking points. It's all out there. But in the real world, things happen without discussion. In the real world, water follows the path of least resistance. Pull the plug on the tub, all the water runs out.

This evening I decided to buy a hardcover release from a certain Big Name Author. I had a credit I wanted to use from a Big Name Bookstore and figured putting the two together with a Small Amount Of Cash worked out for both of us. The publisher doesn't allow any credit to be used on the ebook version. I could order the paper version (and pay shipping, or order more to cover shipping) but I don't read paper anymore. I can go on the waiting list for the library (which I did) but what if I wasn't me? What if I just wanted to read the book? I googled the name. I found five places to download it 'for free' by which I mean 'stealing'. So I did. I wanted to know what the person who pirates books sees, if they are actually final drafts, page scans, stolen galleys, whatever.

They see the book. And it's not from a DRM stripper. I doubt it's from a reviewer, either. This book wasn't offered to review in digital and the earmarks on the file aren't the same as I've seen on digital review copies.  Because I don't pirate, I deleted the file after looking at the first five pages to see what it contained. (You might not believe me, but I know the author. She knows where I stand on piracy going back at least a decade. She'd believe me.)

So I'm staying on the library's e-book wait list. I'm not giving the publisher any money. I'm not paying the Big Name Author (even though I really like her). I'm not reading the pirate copy. I'm not posting a review for those of you considering it for holiday gift giving. We all wait. And while we wait I am absolutely certain that others faced with the joint hurdles of DRM and Agency finger extension just went ahead and read the book.

When you drain the pool, no one can go swimming. I've got my floaties on. I hope they get this thing fixed before winter hits.

14 November, 2010

And Now, A Brief Word From Our Sponsor....

Oh wait, this is a not for profit blog.

Ok, then a brief word from me. Hopefully there will be a new review up soon for your enjoyment, but in the meantime here's why there was no new post last week.

I took a weekender to New York.

I realized (too late) that the three reviews I'd just written were all for January releases.

Halfway through a short film about Enid getting an iPad I realized I was getting new tires first. I don't think Enid at the auto repair shop holds the same charm. Could be wrong.

So! I will endeavor to dip into my book bag again shortly and read something a bit more current. In the interim I remind you that this is A Slacker's Guide To Her Book Bag.

Here's a picture of a kitten, I hear that's what the kids do these days.

Leave me alone, I'm reading.

26 October, 2010

Review: Good Girls Don't Get Fat by Robyn Silverman

Are you a girl?
Are you the parent, grandparent, friend, teacher or caregiver of a girl?
Do you know any girls?

Go ahead and buy Good Girls Don't Get Fat. (You might even couple it with another fairly recent release, The Hundred Year Diet by Susan Yager.) Reading Dr. Silverman's guide on helping children avoid eating disorders is like a window into your own damaging programming. In America, we do equate size with value. In a human, the lowest possible volume has the highest value. It's good to be hungry, it's good to be unhealthy if you can show the right silhouette. Good Girls Don't Get Fat points out how this message is turned into self hatred by young women every day. Nothing tastes as good as chasing the approval of others is supposed to feel.

Dr. Silverman points out things the average person might not consider. If a father praises a stepmother with a different figure than the mother, a child sharing that body type hears that she is unattractive. In her mind, her mother's appearance and her own are tied together. Her stepmother's physical type replaces her mother's as an ideal to strive for. If a mother talks about her own weight concerns, the child adopts those as her own as well. An unthinking comment about outgrown clothing can be twisted into a message that the child needs to lose weight. Even the natural weight gains of puberty, the puppy fat years, are made undesirable by the increase in images of undersized tween starlets.

Dr. Silverman's book is easy to use, practical and so very important to understanding how our attempts to foster a positive body image can occasionally be the cause of the child forming a negative one. Really, the only thing Dr. Silverman does not cover is how to model healthy body image if a parent is morbidly obese. Not every parent reading will be able to model body acceptance or healthy weight control.

Reading Good Girls Don't Get Fat reminded me of The Hundred Year Diet in that both deal with artificial media images causing real health concerns. For the former, it's beauty images. For the latter it's scare tactics. Every diet under the sun has it's roots in an earlier diet that didn't really work for that generation either. Long before America actually had a weight crisis, it believed it had one and manufactured chemical food substitutes to answer a weight concerned market. Without fad dieting, there is no diet cola. While Good Girls Don't Get Fat has only a minor flaw, The Hundred Year Diet is a less perfect read. It's information is also compact and usefully categorized, but it fails to feel as vital. Taken together they're the perfect tools helping your tween understand how the diet industry teaches her to hate her body.

25 October, 2010

Review: Dirty Sexy Politics by Meghan McCain

Meghan McCain made me fall a bit in love with her during Dirty Sexy Politics. She's so engaging I understood why I had been oddly attracted to her father in his initial run for the Presidency. (I say oddly because if there is one thing I am not, it is a Republican.) And here is where the tough love kicks in.

The girl thinks she's a conservative. I completely understand. How can you be John McCain's adoring daughter and NOT think you belong to his party? She goes on a bit about how much she believes in living your life free of government interference, then she talks about how the most important issue facing her generation is civil rights for the LBGT community. (Meghan, I am so with you on that.) McCain prides herself on always being willing to face reality, but here she falls down. You can't eradicate civil inequity without using the tools of government. It's sort of charming how she thinks Reagan and Goldwater would be on her side. McCain thinks the party has changed and moved to the extreme right. She talks about how the GOP longs for the days when we all ignored AIDS and... Meghan? We didn't all ignore it. Some of us faced it, we identified it, we fought for recognition of it while people died around us. You know who fought us the hardest? Yea.

Anyway, she also believes that her pro-life views make her a Republican. She points out that it's pretty easy not to get pregnant, so teaching contraception is vital. While I agree with her on the teaching, I disagree with her on her strong pro life views. Rape happens. Incest happens. Carrying a non-viable but much wanted baby happens. It's not as simple as it seems when it's not unfolding in your own life. There's the thing about Meghan. She's so young. Achingly young, for all her college degree and her life experiences. One day, she will look at these inconsistencies and she will realize the reason the party kept pushing her aside is that she doesn't belong in the party. In America, we only have two viable choices. Neither side is perfect, but Meghan is definitely Team Democrat, and when she's ready to come out of the closet we will embrace her. Because she's got all of her father's best qualities. She's clear in her opinion, common in her touch, and fearless in her honesty. It's a pleasure to spend a few hours with her and realize that no matter how annoying your parents are at least they don't spring the Palins on you at important family events.

13 October, 2010

Review: Pleasures Of A Notorious Gentleman by Lorraine Heath

It's almost unfair that a book like Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman comes out in December. We're all busy with various holidays, our "Best Reads of 2010" lists are locked into place, there just isn't any room in the month to start squealing with the excitement of a really good read. I'm going to suggest that you clear some time in your calendar in advance. Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman shouldn't be put off to 2011.

This is the second book of what will be at least a trilogy dealing with three half-brothers. (I say at least because their mother could carry a book on her own, if romance embraced a forty-something woman torn between a younger man and a past love.) While reading October's Passions of a Wicked Earl will certainly add emotional impact to Pleasures, it's not required to follow the story. Stephen is the middle brother, the one that charms effortlessly and uses that as the currency of his life. Sent into the military during the Crimean War, Stephen is reinvented as a man of integrity and inspiration. Unfortunately for him,  Stephen has no recollection of his life since the close of Passions. He has (in a sense) laid down as a beautiful but useless man and arisen as a broken and confused one.

Mercy meets Stephen after Passions but before his final injury. As one of Florence Nightingale's nurses, she was a witness to the best of his character under the worst of times. Stephen, of course, remained Stephen. He may have been a better version of himself, but he was still a licentious one. When Mercy returns home, she returns home with Stephen's child. Believing him killed in battle, she brings her son to his father's family. She is completely unprepared for the man she finds there. He is neither the Stephen of Passions nor the Stephen of her experience. War changes a man, then peace changes him again.

Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman deals with so many things and so well.  Is your identity what you recall, or what people expect from you? Are you who you were or who you want to be? Does the factual truth matter or the emotional truth? What makes a parent? While Mercy and Stephen struggle with these issues, Mercy is refreshingly uninterested in less than her son deserves from a father. Nor is she interested in settling for less than she deserves in a husband, low as her prior expectations were. She has seen what Stephen is capable of, even if he has not, and she expects him to conduct himself appropriately.

My only problem with Pleasures is the cover. (It seems wrong not to have anything to complain about since complaining is one of my favorite things.) I was completely distracted by Mercy's breasts. Has she been airbrushed? It seems to me that given the amount of flesh exposed some gradual color change should be occurring, especially on the left. I'm not sure why Mercy chose to dress in such a tonal match to her bedding, either. It's confused Stephen - look how his hand is under the blanket to raise her head. Who knows how long that poor man has been searching for something more than the sheet? Sartorial issues aside, buy this book. Lorraine Heath is proving herself to be one of romance's best authors and this is one of her best books. Call it a holiday gift to yourself.

06 October, 2010

Review: Medusa's Folly by Alison Paige

It has been suggested to me that I am a snob. Several books have been presented to me as Worthy Reads that I have rejected because I think they're probably dreadful reads. Unwilling to pay for the Alison Paige book suggested to me, I paid for a short story instead. Erotic elements have been a much larger part of romance over the last decade or so as they get redefined as making the read 'hot' or increasing the emotional connection between the characters.

(It is interesting to me, if I can take a side road for a moment, how the politics of sex and romance change over the years. In the 80's we had the sweet books, the rape books, and the interracial books. Now we have the inspirational books, the hot reads, and the erotic books. Interracial relationships are pretty much gone, even the horrible depictions from the plantation novels.)

You know the classic definition of pornography, right? I know it when I see it? I am not sure why it is unacceptable to call something porn. If romance cannot be labeled 'porn for women' (and I agree, it should not be) then what should porn for women be called if not, well, porn for women? Erotica is a different animal - it is something that rises above it's primary goal of sexual titillation to successfully portray deeper dynamics of human relationships. While I don't care for Megan Hart, I do think she clears that bar. Anne Desclos clears that bar with both her work The Story of O and it's repudiation, Return to Roissy.  (There is some controversy over the author of the second work. I find it brilliant in it's splintering of the fairy tale O has sold herself in the first.) Mr. Benson clears the bar for John Preston. Alison Paige takes the bar in the gut.

I don't know why that has to be a pejorative judgement. As porn, individual taste is individual taste. I am certain there are people who are perfectly content to read about greek goddesses leaving snail trails of 'cream' on acid rain bathed gargoyles without needing it to say anything more than that. Porn is where the money is. As a story, judged as more than a temporary shelter for a sexual offering, Medusa's Folly completely failed me. The initial explanation, that Medusa is so hungry for gratification that she must cling with desperation to whatever she can find makes no sense to me. If she has (as she suggests) been sexually involved with men she then met the gaze of (turning them to stone) mid act, one would think she has quite a collection of stone partners. With about five minutes consideration, she could easily create a way to have sex with human men without meeting their gaze. Her desperate hunger for human contact falls flat.

We will grant that she has run about checking to see if any of the gargoyles are up for it. So now we have Medusa, created to seek the destruction of all men because of her anger at her long ago rapist, and this stone dude who suddenly comes to life because.... that's not important. He was created by another goddess for failing to grant her sexual favors when he was obviously a man-whore and totally up for it with everyone else. Pissed her off. (Nobody seeks his consent, isn't that rape?) Turns out she's Medusa's mother. (Figures.) With one meeting of the eyes, Medusa and Uphir have fallen in love. Because they do, whatever, it's an eternal and devoted love. Mom doesn't understand. So she makes a deal. If they revoke their god status, they can be together. Of course they do. Because otherwise neither of them can ever have human sex again.

(Another side note - yesterday Amazon was selling this title. Today it disappeared from title search results, but was still on the author's search results. This evening it is no longer for sale to US customers. Is Amazon feeling some Kindle article heat? I don't know. Amazon has been good to me, we're cool.)

Anyway, I'll take a pass on the more expensive book. I know what I like and I'm just not interested in porn. Erotica I'll consider, but I prefer books about human relationships in their emotional and psychological complexity. Maybe one day we will understand why, as women, we can't just have porn. Maybe we'd spend less time defending conventional romance if we stopped trying to make the umbrella big enough to encompass every possible description. Maybe not. People do love to hate books where woman are respected or valued. Almost as much as they love to award ones where they are abused and thrown aside with the trash.

22 September, 2010

Review: Dick and Jane and Vampires by Laura Marchesani and Tommy Hunt

Has it really come to this?

Has it?

It seems that it has.

When I saw this at my local pusher of all things printed, I thought perhaps I'd gotten punchy after hours of birthday shopping for a tween. No, it was really there. Dick. And Jane. And Vampires.

Make it stop.

To give the credit where it is due, this is a brilliant adaptation. I've taught multiple children to read with  Dick and Jane. (Although I myself was reared with Mark and Laura. Either they were less expensive or the early steps Dick and Jane made into integration so disturbed my parents that Mark and Laura were pressed into action.) This is a seamless addition to the series. Tommy Hunt has the iconic illustration style spot on. His vampire is slightly off what a true period vampire would be, but close enough that he fits in. Considering he's a vampire. Laura Marchesani hasn't taken Dick and Jane too far from an early reader's comfort zone, making this one of the rare Children's Book For Adults that still serves as a child's primer. Oh! Oh! A Bat! isn't far from See the boat! See the red boat!. If you're the sort of parent inclined to do so, you could teach your child to read with this book. Should you? Well, there are any number of things people will do with their children that I'd rather they didn't, but in a world with Sweet Farts or Walter the Farting Dog; Banned From the Beach I think that Dick and Jane and Vampires is acceptable fare.

Not that you were asking me. We both know you already bought this for the Vampire obsessed young parent in your social circle. I know you're not laughing with them. I'm not either. It's ok. If you really want to score points you'll team it with a vintage edition of Fun With John and Jean. (Those were the special versions of Dick and Jane made for the Catholic schools. Jean spends some quality time contemplating the Virgin Mother instead of the toy boats.) Dick and Jane don't want to judge you, they just want to play.

20 September, 2010

Sony PRS-650: The First Date

There's a well deserved cliche about trading in your beloved for the younger model. I do have a roving eye. Something about the extra equipment a Kindle packs makes me think "What If" although I know my preferences run to Sony. Sitting on the shelf in all it's graphite glory, the Kindle 3 seems to say "How do you know if you haven't tried?" It's true, Sony isn't meeting all my needs, but I love how it looks in red and the things it can do to an epub! I always put the Kindle down.

My beloved Sony PRS-505 cover snapped. (I bought that cover in  London, I could go on for pages about it, but I won't.) So, as one does, I thought "Should I replace the cover or the reader?"  After all, a few hundred bucks or opening the box I put the old cover in - same thing.  Mostly. Sort of. (Hey, I'm not a debt counselor, don't bring your bourgeois guilt to me!) I slid on my flip flops, grabbed a new handbag to counter my Sunday Scrubbing Clothes and took myself off to the Sony Style store.

They had no idea what I was talking about. There's some PS3 launch going on. (I played that sex toy meets Harry Potter looking thing at Lollapalooza and Darling, I was not impressed. I have to say Darling. I went shopping in Palm Beach. Sunglasses on the head, air kisses, skeletons walking around when it's not even Halloween, it's just what we do.) But there they were, tucked into a little corner. And there I was, flush with cash from a brief stop at my savings (hah!) account and ready for a new love. We did a little speed dating, the PRS-650 and me. Sure, I flirted with Pocket, but size matters. (Didn't we learn that with iPad?) The PRS-650 felt lighter, the screen was brighter, I knew I'd made the right choice. I could kick the PRS-505 to a cousin, I could put it on ebay, it would be fine. Someone would love it. PRS-650 had me laughing at it's jokes and thinking about taking it back to my place. Then it happened.

You know how you're with someone at a party and everything is going great, the place seems a little too bright and the conversation a little too loud but the person you're with seems so incredibly clever that it's worth it? Then, out of nowhere, they say something like "I can tell you're not one of those women." Or maybe it's "Like our President - that moron!" Suddenly you notice their nose hair needs trimming, your feet hurt, you didn't get enough sleep last night and oh my goodness - is that food in their teeth? Eeeww. (You don't? Um, ok, you know that guy in the mosh pit who cheers while forgetting he has a beer in his hand so it ends up getting dumped all over your head? Yes. Like that.)

PRS-650's touch response stopped working. I could tap, I could select, but the swipe to turn a page froze. I reset, I re-requested, I begged it to come back from it's selective unresponsiveness. Nothing. Look, there are enough emotionally distant, needy and unresponsive people in my life. I don't need to take anything from my reader. Thinking it was me, I tried to turn a page on the Pocket again. It responded eagerly (a little too eagerly if you ask me) but PRS-650 still refused to budge. Open menu? Sure. Select item? No problem. Turn the page? It was holding a grudge.

I went back home to PRS-505. We haven't talked about it. I sort of want to ask if PRS-505 has ever considered getting rejuvenated. You know, a brighter screen might be just the thing. We could forget about the lack of PDF scaling or note taking if we had some additional clarity! (I can't see it happening. PRS-505 has abandonware issues.) I'm not sure what we're going to do long term. I'm glad I got to see what PRS-650 was like before things went too far. I'm sure it's going to make someone happy, but I suppose it's not going to be me. Maybe it was just a bad first impression. I'm not sure what I'd say if PRS-650 called me. (Did I leave my number?)

16 September, 2010

Review: Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas

If you told me this book was published in the 1980's, I'd believe you. That's not a negative sentence, it is just an indicator of how strongly Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor reminded me of an early Nora Roberts or even maybe a Billie Green. It was refreshing to read a story where the characters' relationship was rooted in things like conversation. I've gotten so used to the obligatory chicka-bow-wow of most contemporary romance that I'd forgotten how to read without it. It's like turning the literary dial from HBO After Hours to the Hallmark Channel.

It's hard to tell I loved the book, isn't it?  Let me take a moment for the marketing. Look at that cover! It's beautiful. It's the perfect cover for a holiday gift book. It says 'A Novel' so you know it isn't a romance. I mean, it is, but if you call it A Novel then people who aren't into reading romance will adore it, because hey, they like novels. It's got that "Nicholas Sparks (note, he does not write romance, he writes... did you guess it?... novels where couples fall in love!) meets Skipping Christmas" ready for gift giving appeal. Everything about the marketing for Christmas Eve At Friday Harbor gently whispers bestseller and I salute the production team. Toss a couple pensive profiles to the right of the main boat and you've got the Lifetime movie poster.

The book itself is a perfect comfort read. You've got the holiday tragedy as the book opens with Mark claiming his orphaned niece, Holly. There's the requisite ugly dog, the dinner disaster, the small town where everyone knows Mark's name, the estranged brothers trying to make a go of it collectively for the child, the well intentioned but obviously too self involved girlfriend and the girl next door type recently arrived in town to open a toy shop and forget the losses of her own not so distant past. Mark recognizes that Maggie is the sort of girl he'd put in the friend category, Maggie notices that Mark is the complete opposite of her type but still very attractive, and it's on. You know the shelf life of the current girlfriend is limited no matter what Mark says.

There are fantastic elements here. Mark's strained relationship with his siblings, his sincerity as he bonds with Holly, Maggie's baby steps out into dating again, it all feels real. You understand exactly why they make a great couple and exactly why they hesitate to become one. My problems with Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor are small. The most significant is Holly. I find it hard to believe that a child who has suffered such a great loss would ask Santa for a new mother in just a few months. The timeline doesn't work for me. A year, two years, even eighteen months - but her very first Christmas without her mother and she's ready to replace her? I don't see it. But if you give the plot that suspension of disbelief then everything else flows naturally. The second quibble is that the book is short. On consideration, I'm not sure if that's a fair complaint. If Kleypas sexed it up to current romance standards, the book would be conventional length and I would have read the same number of pages. I think it may be that less is more. Buy this one for Grandma but sneak a read for yourself first.

15 September, 2010

Review: Yuk (Bing Bunny) by Ted Dewan

I'm not planning on making a habit of reviewing children's books necessarily, but I'm a little bit in love with Bing. There is every chance that at least one of my children will smuggle Bing into her college suitcase (or her military duffle, or her angrily packed trash bag or....). Most of the Bing books are out of print. They may come back to life as an iPad app, but my experience is that truly great things for children have trouble finding homes.

This title encapsulates everything I love about Bing. He's hopelessly in love with Flop, who seems to exist somewhere between a parental figure and a stuffed animal. Flop is both the voice of reason and a source of anxiety for Bing. It would be a little dysfunctional if not for Flop's total acceptance of Bing.

When Bing fails to meet Flop's needs, rise to his expectations, or perform in socially prescribed ways they sigh and embrace the differences. "It's just not a Bing Thing." It's the perfect relationship in a way. Take the events of the epic Yuk. Flop is totally into tomatoes. He's so into them he just can't understand why anyone would ever find them distasteful. Bing likes things that emulate the admirable qualities of this perfect food, why won't he deign to try this one? Flop is at a loss. Things escalate, Bing does things he regrets, Flop gets angry, it all spirals out of control before anyone can intervene. Then a deep breath is taken and acceptance is found. Bing and Flop don't have to like the same things. Bing isn't here to be a mini-Flop. Bing is Bing, and his things are his things.

I've read this book to many children, even eerily silent classes of children. I've never had a child fail to respond to Yuk's message of individuality and love. Some parents, however, are disappointed that Bing isn't forced to love tomatoes. After all, Flop has his best interests in mind. Bing should at least give them a shot. (I feel for their children.)

13 September, 2010

Review: The Duke's Captive by Adele Ashworth

Yesterday I was thinking that what one will allow in a character changes with age. When I was younger if I had encountered a book like The Duke's Captive I might have loved it. Certainly I forgave contemporary heros who hung around truck stops looking for delicate amnesiacs to take home and clothe. I managed to tolerate submissive secretaries and 'love scenes' that lacked consent. (Let's not even talk about the Plantation Novel genre.)  Even a deadbeat dad was fine if he showed the appropriate remorse.

Alas, I am so much older now. I wanted to like The Duke's Captive so very much. Adele Ashworth is a wonderful writer. Certainly, she loves her Dukes (Duke of Scandal, Duke of Sin, The Duke's Indiscretion...) but who in Romanceland doesn't? Sadly there are two problems here. The first is that the book relies far too much on knowledge of Ashworth's 2008 release A Notorious Proposition. The second is our heroine, Viola. (I've changed my mind, three problems.) The third is the central theme of the book - what is rape? What is consent? If you believe that consent is the word yes, no matter the context in which it is issued, stop here. If you have any familiarity at all with Stockholm Syndrome read on!

Ian once spent 5 weeks locked in a dungeon where he almost died of neglect. The reader who hasn't read A Notorious Proposition will have absolutely no idea why, even after a late in the book rumination on how he came to be captured. (It's his own fault, of course. He was practically asking for it. No, I did mean to put it that way. That's the rape defense - he was ASKING for it.) Having survived his ordeal, Ian is plagued by memory troubles and a desire for revenge. I mean justice. No, I mean revenge. (Oh, who knows. Since he ends up with Viola the man is obviously unfit to make his own choices in life.) Fast forward and skip over all the plot points. Ok, so Viola's sisters had kidnapped Ian, he's really mad, he's going to make Viola pay as one of his captors through this TOTALLY elaborate plot because he wants to have sex with his rapist and - what? No, you have that right. Ian believes (and I concur) that Viola raped him. But he wants to have sex with her anyway. I know! But he does. Right, so Viola is a widow and she's been living with her four year old son (Wait, how long ago was Ian freed? Secret baby in Victorianland, y'all!) and making a living as an artist of dirty pictures when Ian shows up and she practically faints.

We're getting bogged down with too much plot. Fast forward again. Ian kidnaps her and holds her hostage in a tiny cabin where she isn't at all concerned about her son but instead is pissed that Ian doesn't understand that he'd be dead if it wasn't for her and he wanted sex so much that the only Christian thing to do was give it him because it was true love. (Really, am I the only one thinking of a certain crazy teacher and her too young lover right now?) But then she realizes if he doesn't get to have sex with her again he will never be whole so she says "whatever, bang me", and he does. Because they are so hot for each other. It must be love if they want to have sex! It isn't Stockholm Syndrome at all! Even though the whole time she's been thinking "Dude, I will totally ruin you with your secrets" and she exposes him to intense public humiliation in the end he realizes that it was not her fault that her family abducted, drugged, starved, beat, and attempted to kill him. She was a victim too. She did her best. She keeps his secrets. (What?) Oh, I forgot, he was also chained to a wall the whole time.

And you know, I think I had Stockholm Syndrome too because I was sort of starting to see his point. Yes, large parts of their interpersonal dynamic made me hunger for a shower and some quality therapy, but overall she did assist in freeing him. She did offer him what care she could because - wait. Viola wasn't in fear of her life? She was just in fear of being homeless? She kept an earl (he gets a social upgrade between books) captive because her mom might get mad? Ok, maybe she just doesn't want to articulate that... what? She is bitching that her sister doesn't want to talk to her anymore? The one jailed and transported for trying to kill Ian? Viola is saving money in a special account to give her sister if she ever forgives Viola for freeing Ian?

Wow. Viola's martyr act just got a whole lot less tolerable. Ian's sister makes a cameo to give Ian proof of Viola's love instead of the hair pulling, bitch slapping, drop kicking the reader is longing for and all is well for these two little lovebirds. Of course, she's a rapist with some scary situational ethics and he's suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome, but why quibble? She raped him, he raped her, it doesn't really matter if you liked it. Plus, she had a child. Everyone knows that having the child of the man you sexed up while he was dying, chained, and drugged silly means you care. Ok. I'm getting a little misty just remembering. I'd better leave it at that.

03 September, 2010

Review: It's A Book by Lane Smith

Normally I show the front covers but in this case, I think the back cover is more appropriate.

You can't review a book like this. It's a small picture book so within a sentence or two I will have typed more text than the pages contain. Generally you would say what age it's good for, if it's clever or dull, how well juice spills wipe off the pages. Target market stuff.

But It's A Book is not really just a children's book. It's an anti e-book statement by a very popular children's author known for being sly. It's more of a cultural event than a children's book. After all, few children grabbing this in their sticky little palms will be unaware what a book is.

As a cultural statement it reminds me of the dude that wants you off his lawn. These kids today and their know nothing ways, their crazy Model-T Fords and their greaser hair. They'll never amount to anything. (Wow, did I just compare e-readers to the Greatest Generation? That's the problem with cultural screeds. They lend themselves to hyperbole.)

This IS a book. And it's an entertaining book if you hate e-reading. It's an entertaining book if you like watching children pretend to be scandalized. The annoying little ignoramus is full of the manic eager to please chatter of a certain kind of child. The besieged monkey is spot on with his fatigued contempt in his role as the elder child free relative. They are as Odd Couple as an Odd Couple ever was. (Lane Smith says he modeled the monkey a bit on Buster Keaton. I'm more of a Harold Lloyd kind of girl myself.)

It's A Book is most entertaining as a gift for the pearl clutchers you know. You see, that lovely little guy up there? He's a jackass. He's not a mule, a donkey, a small misshapen pony - he's a jackass. In a book. Children might read this book. Children might see the word jackass. They might see it used in ways with multiple meanings. JACKASS. (See? You can't stop.) There are people who are worried about this. I think it's the same people I see with their 3 year old in the R rated movie while my kids are safely at home reading It's A Book, but I might be judging.

I totally want to scan this, turn it into an iPad app and THEN give it to my e-reader hating family member. Hm. I wonder if I'm a mule.

31 August, 2010

Review: The Sevenfold Spell by Tia Nevitt

I am a complete sucker for fairy tales. (What is a romance novel but a tale of a disguised princess and her happily ever after?) Previously I would have said that there are two sides to every fairy tale, the Princess and the Witch. What I forget, of course, are all the people who line the lanes to cheer the happy couple on. Not every face in the crowd is a joyful one. Tanith Lee used to do some lovely off center fairy tales. So did Robin McKinley. Being able to take a familiar story and breathe new life into it without undermining the original is a rare talent. Tia Nevitt appears to have it in abundance.

The Sevenfold Spell opens shortly after the birth of Princess Aurora, the soon to be sleeping beauty. In their grief, the King and Queen have ordered all spinning wheels destroyed. But spinners still need to feed their families. People still require thread. The village economy is in a shambles because of the actions of those leading it. (Timely, no?) Talia is a girl of no great beauty  who has a comfortable life planned. Through her own labor she has learned to spin, saved a dowry, and befriended an equally common man.  But it is Aurora who must be protected, not Talia.

The spinners don't happily turn over their wheels. There is no subsidized job retraining program for the newly unemployed. With no beauty, no livelihood and no income, Talia finds life a lot less comfortable. Like many a woman before her, Talia has defined her own worth through the cruel comments of others.  So if Talia cannot have what she wants, she will want what she can get.  If no one will protect her, she will protect herself. Purity and perfection are for princesses, pragmatism and persistence are traits that serve peasants well. This is a fun novella with some unexpected depth. Definitely worth the money and further proof that Carina Press was a great idea.

26 August, 2010

Review: Passions of a Wicked Earl by Lorraine Heath

Since Lorraine Heath left westerns behind I've become a tremendous fan of hers. This double publishing event (Passions of a Wicked Earl is followed the next month by Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman) looked like the best thing to happen to October since Halloween. Then I got scared. The basic set up for Passions is that Morgan finds Claire in the arms of Morgan's brother (Stephen from Pleasures) and while threesomes may be popular in romance fiction right now, it's not what Morgan had in mind for his wedding night. Morgan, understandably upset, banishes Claire to the proverbial country estate, never to be thought of again while he sets about sleeping with any woman who is not Claire. Here's where the fear comes in. The advance ad copy reads "she... has returned to London with one goal in mind: the seduction of her notorious husband."

Really? That's her entire goal? I know from checking out the Amazon forums that I'm not the only reader who came to a full stop at that set up. There's a high ewwww factor in tearing a man who has been ignoring you from another woman's bed and begging Mr. Patriarch to condescend. Lorraine Heath has been delivering original reads packed full of emotional punch and deep character motivations. "He sleeps with everyone, everyone but her!" isn't what I want. Cracking the cover, I find the hero in bed with another woman. Great. It's not a treat, it's a trick. Like Morgan, I jumped to conclusions. Unlike Morgan, I stuck around for more than five minutes to find out what was really going on. Turns out Claire's goal is a wee bit more complicated than the cover let on. (I shouldn't judge books by their covers. Look at this cover - I'd assume Morgan runs about naked all day. Plus, there seems to be an extra leg in there. Either Claire has a hidden friend or it's a really long way to her knee.) Claire's arrival turns everything upside down. What we have here is a complex story of two young kids who caused themselves a decade of pain by failing to communicate. (Sound familiar? That's just me? Really? Um, ok.)

With a brief nod to the characters of her last series to let you know you're in the same world, Heath sets up a man who has trouble expressing his emotions and therefore failed to court the woman he wants. Morgan expects her to fulfill his needs without giving her any indication that her own are important to him. (Ok, that has to ring some bells. Anyone?) Refreshingly, Claire is willing to call him out on what he's done wrong without using it as an excuse for her own poor judgement. Morgan and Claire are at the end of their marriage, with Morgan considering Claire's replacement. (Is it too late for them to repair the hurt of the past and learn to live in the future?) Passions of a Wicked Earl is a fantastic tale of a marriage on the brink of ending. Lorraine Heath folds in a brilliant subplot with a smaller triangle between Morgan's mother, a painter several years her junior, and a lover lost to her forever.

(I did have a problem with the late appearance of a murderous figure. Did a memo go out that near death experiences bring the romance? Because I neither got that memo nor want it. Like Claire and Morgan, I can forgive. This is a super tasty book that more than makes up for a few pieces of licorice and a toothbrush in the candy bag.)

Passions of a Wicked Earl is a must buy for October. It's not just a great read in it's own right, it sets up  Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman which is one of my top five books for 2010. It's that good. Whether you look at Passions as a prequel, as a great read on it's own, or as a challenge to the rest of the field to step up their romance game, Lorraine Heath is delivering a major treat.

22 August, 2010

Review: The Sergeant's Lady by Susanna Fraser

Let's be honest. I bring some preconceived notions to The Sergeant's Lady. This is my first Carina Press book. My past experience with straight-to-digital publishing has been bleak. My opinion of Angela James is fairly high. I had serious issues with Susanna Fraser's website (I won't link it, if she's changed it that won't make sense, if she hasn't I'm doing her no favors) but I have complete sympathy for her excitement in her new career being stomped on by both the website and one Miles Hood Swarthout. (He thinks he's famous enough that his readers will buy her book by mistake. I could go on about the umbrage over originality from an author who apparently makes his living adapting his father's prior works but I... won't. Just in case you were confused, this one isn't a western.) Finally, while I adore Regencyland war tales I also grow impatient with books that gloss over social differences. (I feel rather sorry for The Sergeant's Lady. It's probably wondering why I cracked it's cover at all.)

All of that baggage out of the way, I quite liked The Sergeant's Lady. Since Signet killed off it's monthly regency imprint (let me pause to pour a bit of ratafia on the ground) there hasn't been a great source of short form regency novels. While authors like Carla Kelly have found new homes at Harlequin Historicals, it's still a niche market. Add the less popular war setting, and you're almost sunk for publication. There's a pretty big gap between "Across a crowded ballroom, amidst the silks and satins, two beautiful people of unmeasured wealth began a dance of desire!" and "While the stench of amputated flesh rose about them, two tired and filthy souls clung together against the certainty of death!" (Wait, I'm doing it again, aren't I?) ANYway - this book has a serious body count, which you'd expect from a novel that wraps it's war up at Badajoz. It's also a light and delicate romance that combines familiar elements (doesn't everyone have a first husband who uses 'whore' as a pet name?) with unfamiliar realities (children following the drum) into an engaging tale. The social difference between Anna and Will isn't brushed aside nor miraculously solved.  While I think the actual resolution of that difference might have had a bit more resistance than it finds here, it's a plausible enough solution free of implausible interventions. Anna is often a bit too intrepid but Will provides a good counterpoint as a man unsure of his place in her world but unable to easily leave it. Rather like Will, after reading The Sergeant's Lady I wanted to search the storage bay for my favorite half remembered Signet war regencies.

While it wasn't a perfect read for me, Susanna Fraser overcame a mountain of baggage to deliver an entertaining book that made me open to trying her next one. At the same time, Carina Press proved themselves to be a 'real' publisher worth my cash money. I've got to give some credit to their art department as well - ebook covers that don't look like ten minute photoshop afterthoughts? I'm all for that.

20 August, 2010

Review: All I Ever Wanted by Kristan Higgins

Here are a few things I absolutely hate in my romance heroines. 

1. Overly Cute Heroine Names 
2. Former Prom Queen
3. Weight Concerns, Non Medical
4. Wacky / Quirky Families. 
5. Unrealistic Emotional Expectations 
6. Marshmallow Backbones
7. Quirky Catchphrases
8. Plethora of Adorable Old & Cranky People
9. Fur Children
10. Spunk

Callie (Calliope) has all ten of those covered, and then some. So why is All I Ever Wanted one of my best books of the year? Because Kristan Higgins is apparently that awesome. Without this having been chosen as a book for the SBTB Sizzling Summer Book Club I never would have purchased it. This would have been my absolute loss. 

Callie has allowed two events to shape her life. Between her parent's divorce and her obsession with her former teen crush / ex boyfriend / boss Mark, Callie lives most of her life in her head. Every scrap she's thrown is torn apart for meaning until she's constructed a new room for her fairy castle in the air. Right there, I should want to slap her. But Callie is self aware enough to berate herself for having doormat tendencies. This is not only a great source of the book's humor, but stops the reader from having to berate Callie themselves. Her desire to see the good in anyone leads to her own repeated downfall as she ignores what's in front of her face. At home, with her widowed grandfather Noah, Callie drops the perfect princess act and allows her true self to emerge. Freed from the frantic love-me-please tap dance she performs across town (in red shoes if you believe the cover art) Callie is a more sympathetic soul. 

This is Pamela Morsi at her best good. This is Nora Roberts good. This is a great contemporary. While I wish there wasn't a career 180 performed at the end of the book, overall everything rings true and several cliches are turned on their heads. Callie gets a happy ending she can build on, Ian gets some resolution of his own issues, and Mark finds out where his heart belongs. Along the way, everything I dislike in a romantic heroine is rendered likeable.

(Don't think this means I'll be eating green eggs & ham, because I'm holding firm on that.)

15 August, 2010

Review: Insatiable by Meg Cabot

Insatiable is a perfectly inoffensive read that can't decide exactly what it wants to be. Is it a spoof? Is it homage? Is it book one of a vampire series? There are a lot of great concepts here but some mixed executions. By the end of the book aspects of it that seemed fun and original wear out their welcome. Thankfully, and I hope you won't consider this a spoiler, there isn't a single werewolf to be found. (Because really, if werewolves and vampires keep hanging out sharing chicks, people are going to talk.) For just over the first half of the book I was absolutely in love with it. Then a spoof character takes a sudden turn toward the path of serious male romantic lead and the book begins to fall apart. 

Initially, Meena appeared to be on my side. She loves handbags, she is completely annoyed with women in vampire lore falling for guys who are obviously abusive and she appreciates a good daytime drama. Meena and I were really getting along. Ok, so she can tell people when they're going to die, but that's just a twist on Sookie Stackhouse and this is a spoof story, right? Suddenly, Meena is perfectly ok with having a much, much, much older lover who talks her into things she had previously refused to consent to. She finds a man who has to fight the impulse to kill her charming, and discovers some of her best friends (well ok more like neighbors) are vampires. The love triangle kicks off, vampire nightclubs appear and vampire showdowns start rolling. Just when you think things can't go farther over the top (or become more conventional) they do. And to reveal how would be a serious spoiler. But it's a bit much, even for a book that leaves absolutely no vampire icon untouched. 

From Love at First Bite to Dead Until Dark: A Sookie Stackhouse Novel, and of course Dracula itself, Insatiable tips it's hat to all of them. Using Stoker's character names to set up the multi-generational star crossed soul mate concept, Meg Cabot takes what started as a promising spoof and ends up with the first chapter of more of the same. It doesn't help that one side of her triangle starts the book as comic relief nor that when Meena's brother begs her not to become one of those women who excuse their abuser you know Meena is already on that path. There is nothing wrong with Insatiable from the stand point of an easy chick lit vampire read, but it disappoints a reader looking for a send up of the vampire craze. (And I don't buy the triangle.)

10 August, 2010

Review: The Sugar King of Havana by John Paul Rathbone

After reading The Sugar King of Havana I felt empathy for Cuban exiles. That might seem a simple thing to feel, since these are a people who have lost their way of life and (the older generation) largely live in a shadow culture. My relationship with the concept of the exile community is a bit different. It's sort of like being angry at Holocaust survivors - no one is going to sympathize with you because your loss is nothing compared to theirs. There used to be a smaller, sleepier version of Miami. I liked that Miami.

Miami has always been a haven for whatever wave washed up on it's shores. Cuban exiles, Haitian refugees, New York snowbirds, Yankee victors, escaped slaves, mafia retirees, Spanish conquistadors - they all arrive and try to make it 'just like home.' The more recently assimilated invaders send them into the swamps hoping the gators are hungry. (Even the gators have to contend with new neighbors - anacondas have infiltrated the swamp.) Florida changes and changes again. Still, for me, the concept of Cuba is a knee jerk one of infighting and unreasonable expectations. Cuba was a paradise, nothing bad every happened there, Castro is evil and everyone hates him, nothing good ever happened from Revolution, everyone will go back when he dies and the streets will run with liquid gold. To hear some exiles tell it, probably five people live on the entire island and all of them focus their energy on evading the secret police. 

John Paul Rathbone has actually been to Cuba. This is a fantastic thought. People go to Cuba? Cuba is forbidden! It's the no man's land! To even venture near to Cuba's shores is to invite imprisonment or death! Except, it turns out, the Cuban exiles of Miami  represent a very small percentage of Cubans internationally. Most Cubans stayed in Cuba. Many initially supported Castro's revolution because something had to change, and even if they didn't know exactly what would happen it would certainly be better than what they had. Until it wasn't. I imagine if Castro died and the exile community returned home they would be greeted (again) the same way they were greeted here, as strangers with a strange culture bringing things the inhabitants aren't sure they want. 

Using Julio Lobo as the face of Cuba's upper classes Rathbone illustrates why their way of life was destined, by the history of their people, to end. Like many in Cuba, Lobo supported Castro and believed strongly in patriotism over self interest. Lobo was set on the road to exile when idealism and reality collided. The Sugar King of Havana is not only well researched and enjoyable to read, it explains so many things previously inexplicable about the relationship between Cuba and Miami. In doing so it doesn't quite justify a world with The Miami Sound Machine, but it certainly explains the religious fervor of Elian's custody fight. 

Now if someone could do something about hipsters wearing Che shirts, we'd be in good shape.

05 August, 2010

Review: Bespelling Jane Austen by Mary Balogh, Colleen Gleason, Susan Krinard & Janet Mullany

I suppose, if Jane Austen had to choose between Will Shakespeare's posthumous life or her own, she'd be happy enough with zombies and vampires and sea serpents (oh my).  Shakespeare has to constantly contend with people doubting his authorship, sexuality and existence. Austen has largely enjoyed life on a pedestal as the mother of all things Regency. Much like Mary Balogh. So my reaction to Mary Balogh writing a paranormal was akin to an undiscovered Austen  revealing a sparkly vampire of it's very own. The problem is that while I adore Mary Balogh, I'm not a fan of current paranormal romance. I began Bespelling Jane Austen with some concern.

As it happens, Balogh didn't see herself writing a vampire story either. Her Almost Persuaded deals with reincarnation. It's an interesting experiment that steers clear of paranormal pitfalls other established Regencyland writers have fallen victim to. Instead of changing her style working with reincarnation allows Balogh to progress her characters past their initial discovery phase into a developed relationship. It is a love at first glance tale a bit more physical than Balogh usually tells. My quibbles are minor and rooted more in my opinion of reincarnation itself than the story as told. If certain aspects were developed further, Almost Persuaded could have become a full length novel. It is the second best story in the anthology. 

The best, perhaps most fittingly given it's creator was the most motivated, is Susan Krinard's Blood and Prejudice. Krinard is comfortable with paranormal romance and presents it without hitting any of my aversions. Embracing vampires, she creates a world where skeptical Liz Bennett is surrounded by vampires without a guide to telling the good from the evil. It is perhaps the closest to what we think of when we think of an Austen tale, and it is the most realized world in the anthology. Trying to save her father's company, her sister's heart, and her own equilibrium, Liz Bennett is a heroine worthy of a Mr. Darcy. For these two stories alone I'd read Bespelling Jane Austen.

Colleen Gleason's charming Northanger Castle would have been a fitting close for a shorter anthology. Her overly imaginative heroine sees vampires behind every door, gothic plots at every party, and holds a Nancy Drew disdain for her own safety. Her personal Ned emerges as a man who can use her vampire detection skills. The weight of what seems to be a mythology carried over from other books drags the story down for me. If I were an established fan of Gleason's books I would probably have adored Northanger Castle but without that grounding I simply liked it. 

All good times must come to an end. Unfortunately the book ends as well in Little to Hex Her by Janet Mullany. I am generally a fan of Mullany so it pains me to say that (for me) this tale is a complete miss. If you enjoy paranormal romance then Little to Hex Her will probably be the highlight of the book.  It encapsulated everything I dislike about paranormal romance. Our heroine is a witch babysitting her sister's business in the midst of vampires, warlocks, elves, werewolves, ogres and who knows what else. She has to navigate the social world of Washington D.C. while dealing with a college boyfriend, a saboteur, and a party hook up that left her a bit used. From the 'time of the month' werewolf jokes to the racial profiling (all elves are glamourous, all vampires are cutthroat, you can't trust a.... you get the idea) my buttons were firmly pressed. Without truly resolving the various threads of the plot, the story lurches to it's predestined conclusion leaving the non paranormal reader a bit worse for wear. Which makes this a collection with something for everyone. 

31 July, 2010

Review: Desires of a Perfect Lady by Victoria Alexander

An unintended effect of Agency Five pricing is that I tend to think about the cost of a book while I am reading it.

Ah, Victoria Alexander. I want to say it's not me, but I don't think it's you either. The whole fiasco with the reissue of Believe being priced twice MMP retail in e-book form means we've been on a break. I missed you while we were apart. I looked forward to our reunion. (Ok, I did wait until I had some Sony gift cards at 25% off so that our time together wouldn't cost me the full eight dollars. I'm sorry. You know how I am. It's hard for me to put myself out there like that.) Look at this cover. This is a cover that says we missed each other. It's time to forget all those silly things of the past and move forward.

Just like Sterling and Olivia.

Granted, they were on a decade long break that involved a nasty dead husband, a second choice wife and a host of water under a very large bridge. We were just, like, busy. Somehow so much of Desires of a Perfect Lady felt perfunctory. (Has it been long enough that we can include some spoilers? I think it has. And if it hasn't, well let this serve as the warning. Avast! Spoilers Ahoy! I know. There weren't any pirates. I felt like saying Avast!) Everyone surrounding Olivia and Sterling is so darn well adjusted. Squeaky scrub cheeked clean even. Where are all their issues? Even when Olivia reveals she's scarred from her experiences it is barely a hitch in anyone's stride. It's the reader who is supposed to roll her eyes at yet another scarred back, not the characters. The only event that promotes any emotional heat is Sterling admitting he sometimes gets behind in opening his mail. Two murder attempts barely register. A young man infatuated enough to propose marriage gets his hopes dashed and his response is to aid his rival. A father's deep dark secret is revealed to a gasp from reader and hero alike. (I'm not sure what Sterling's issue was. Mine was irritation.)

Olivia is embraced by Sterling's mother, by his siblings, by her attorney. She is, in fact, perfect. So perfect that even she scolds a character for acting like another notch on some literary checklist. The Seductive Venetian. (Hm, I think I've read that book!) As luck would have it, Olivia herself has a checklist. Sleeping with Sterling is on it. After all she's been through offstage, Olivia deserves some generic loving, and she gets it. (I flipped ahead. Each time. Hanging out with those two in the bedroom wasn't on my list.) After following Olivia as she solved three impossible tasks before and after breakfast I was primarily interested in who had tried to kill her. One of us should be. Certainly no one in the book was. Really, if my abusive husband was murdered and then twice more (in two countries) someone came after me I might be a bit less eager to establish an independent household and forget all about it. But hey, I'm not perfect - Olivia is. Says so right in the title.

That's the problem with series. They do love their cliffhangers. I have to tune in next time, and maybe all will be revealed. Or not. The important thing is that Olivia and Sterling get their second chance, Sterling's mom gets to shake her moneymaker, and the wedding plans from the prior book roll on. I haven't RSVP'd for the event yet. At five bucks, I'd definitely attend. For six, I'd still show up. Eight bucks? I think I feel a sore throat coming on. I'm going to lie down and see if it passes.

30 July, 2010

Review: Notes From The Night by Taylor Plimpton

Amazon asked me if I wanted to review this book through their Vine program.

Well, they didn't exactly ask me. 

Ok, it was more like they lined a bunch of books up against the wall and let me take a look at them to see if anyone caught my fancy. I know, it makes us both feel cheap. (In fact, it makes them feel free since I receive an advance read copy in exchange for a review.) The blurbs were fantastic - read this one and tell me what you think!

Right? After I got over McInerney being bookended by Salinger and Kerouac, I gave Notes From The Night (A Life After Dark) a closer look. Then something shiny caught my attention and I forgot all about it. I'm like that. Amazon asked me again. Was I sure I didn't want any of these fine fellows they had for my consideration? I took another look. It had one lonely review, and that review assured me the book was a waste of time, profanity laden filth, and worse than a romance novel. 

Profanity laden romantic filth? I'll take three! 

I should sue. Not only did Taylor Plimpton fail to waste my time, at no point was I deceived into thinking I was reading a romance novel. Human relationships in all their complexity were absolutely present, but no one had a secret baby. Nor is he a Greek Shipping Magnate or a Billionaire Boss. He's not even minor English nobility! As far as the cursing goes - I have to honest with you here. I use more profanity placing my lunch order than Plimpton used in the entire book. Instead of what I was promised, there was a beautiful ode to the New York Club Scene and the people who populate it. Plimpton goes out much too late much too often with his friend Zoo, where they stand amidst the beautiful people and wait.  Check out this blurb.

It's so good I forgave the use of wife material as a descriptive phrase. I like it. You should too. 

29 July, 2010

Why Enid Went Electric....

I went digital.

I never thought I'd do it. It wasn't something I thought could happen to me. But there I was, just me and a Sony PRS-505. I looked at it's shiny red case and we ran off together. I would have left a note for MMP (that's what I called him - Mass Market Paperback just seemed so formal) but what would I write it on? How could I be sure that I wasn't writing on paper from the same tree as MMP? That would be like tattooing your goodbye note on your boyfriend's sister. Maybe it was cowardly, but I just slipped him into the local library's book return and went on my way. Surely he'd find someone else. Maybe they'd even put him into circulation.

Like any new relationship, I had ignored the warning signs. 505 had tried to explain his limitations. He had baggage. There was this thing he had going with Adobe, and due to DRM we couldn't just leave her behind. It was going to have to be a Modern Relationship. I sobbed that MMP had never done me like that. MMP let me run the relationship. I told him where to go and he just did it. Sometimes (and I hate to admit this) he'd let my whole family have a turn.

505 reminded me that he could do things MMP never dreamed of doing. His content went much deeper than MMP's and a little bit of Adobe in my life wasn't too high a price, was it? I decided he was right. No relationship is perfect. If I'd understood then that I was starting the long road toward stripping, would I still have done it? I'm not sure. It's too late now. Agency Five came along and 505 told me to do what I had to do if I wanted to stay with him. It's the compromises you make along the way that change you. I'm not sure I can ever trust 505 the way I did when he wooed me away from MMP. But I can't go back.

I've seen too much.

iPad says he can satisfy me he way 505 does. He's too flashy for my taste. Let's be honest - size does matter. I don't think iPad will fit in my purse. Kindle, now there's a guy who knows how to woo me. I tell him I like a slender companion? He takes off some weight. I tell him I won't go below a  6 inch screen? That's his smallest size. I don't know if 505 realizes that when we're together sometimes I'm thinking about Kindle. I try to hide it. After all, I've filled 505 to the brim and forced him to wear an SD card just to keep up with me. He's doing all he can.

505 and I made this little video in the giddy stages. He said he'd never show anyone, or use it against me - but how can I trust that? He'd probably claim Adobe did it. I'm not sure I can trust either one of them since Agency came into our lives. Kindle's all tied up with Agency too, but he doesn't seem happy about it. I'm going to think about it tomorrow. I just wish MMP would stop calling me. I know he's cheaper. I know he hangs out with Hardcover all the time. But we're so over. Why can't he accept that?