31 December, 2011

Review: A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant

Dude, I totally hated this book. I know everyone and their mother loved it. I struggled to finish it for a month and only brought it home as an end of 2011 resolution, complete with live tweets. Grant and I, we're just going to quietly settle the bill and agree not to share a Taxi. To explain why is going to require spoilers. Lots and lots of them. Don't read this review unless you have already finished A Lady Awakened or have sworn off reading books. Maybe both. I am thinking of you here.

Grant can write, her talent isn't in question. I can see Grant writing a book I would rave over as people are raving over this one. The problem is after finishing A Lady Awakened I don't think I'd pick up a second title. I hate books where I spend a lot of time wondering why. Why doesn't Martha want to live with her family? Why is Martha willing to have sex with a stranger for a month when she clearly despises it? Why is Theo ready to have sex every possible moment? Why does he return to sleep with a women so disinterested that her contempt causes him impotence? There are so many WTF moments in A Lady Awakened and the answers shift about like sand. Martha doesn't want to live at home because she just doesn't want to. Then she doesn't because she earned her home in her 11 months of marriage. Then she doesn't because the heir is a creepy rapist and her school will close. Then she totally wants to give the house up because the creepy rapist has sons. Creepy rapist is going to sign an agreement (oh, well then!) that will give his wife and kids rights to the house and he (after an intervention by the neighbors explaining that they don't like him) will abandon that family. In what year?? How is that binding on him, rational of him, or even slightly likely? Plus, Martha is claiming her child is the rightful heir, obviously (if she is willing to give up the property) it is not - so why wouldn't he seize on that tidbit? It is a bucket of WTF. Things happen because they have to happen for the story to happen not because the people (as brilliantly drawn as they are) would be likely to do these things.

Take Theo. Some chick he doesn't know approaches him and offers a small fortune for sex (which he never claims) so he says hey, why not? I will give him that. I will even give him being willing to cheat a neighboring landowner simply on the say so of a widow. When Theo shows up, it's as close to rape as consensual sex can be. She not only dislikes sex she ruminates to herself on how disgusting the male body is when compared to a female one. (Gaydar! Our heroine is either asexual or lesbian. Oh wait, all this falls away later when we discover she does like the male figure and secretly self pleasures thinking about it. WTF?) Ok, so long story short, Martha had a year of bad sex and her answer to that is to deny herself any physical responses so she can maintain power and control in her life. Because of course the rational choice of a woman embarking on a month of sex is to make it as unpleasant for herself as possible. Anyway, she says awesome things to Theo like "Are you done yet?" and he discovers a new world in impotence. But hey, his word is his bond, so back in the saddle he comes. WTF? He's attractive, 26 and not exactly destitute. There have to be options that don't involve fraud and pseudo rape!  (I asked others their view of Theo's actions. The response was "Is it science fiction? Because that's not happening in this world.")

Through unsatisfying sex they discover social crusades, invent collective farming and fall in love. (No, they pretty much do.) Martha resolves to make him a better man through the careful nudging of female approval, as though this poor simple minded man needs only her warm regard to change. In her defense, apparently she is right. Suddenly Theo is roofing homes and building economic safety nets. Also, he vomits when someone implies he'd rape a disabled teen - seems a bit extreme, but maybe he has a sensitive stomach. The disabled teen has a perpetually pregnant mother. On one occasion Theo slips and calls Martha by her first name in front of the woman. Martha is distressed and shocked so naturally she turns to the woman and says hey, I heard my brother in law raped you. (Martha, WTF?) For most of the book this woman is portrayed as stressed beyond her ability to cope, her children neglected by her fatigue and her home in utter disarray. Suddenly we discover she has a loyal and caring husband, a childhood sweetheart who lets her take the lead in life and who puts her cares above his own. So why are his kids neglected? Why is his wife overburdened? She grew up in the community so why does she lack support? If it is because of a rape 16 years ago why does that same community suddenly rally for the aforementioned intervention with the brother in law? See all the Why we've got going on?

Martha, who considered offering this woman cash for her unborn child, never puts anything together. A woman who keeps a mentally disabled child arising from rape is going to sell you her son so he can be lord of the manor? How do you think that's going to happen? How is her husband going to be down with that? Martha's rationale is that obviously the woman has too many children to handle already and will be glad to lighten her load. Martha goes from unsympathetic to evil in one musing. Class issues, she has them. Luckily Martha changes her mind because Theo finally teaches her to like sex! All it takes is him asking her to tie him up and they're off to the races. Is this a new convention? From I-can't-stand-you-touching-me to let-me-blow-you-baby all with one carefully placed stocking? Now we have the inevitable failure to communicate as estate-free Martha finds Theo has fled from her lack of love. Because telling him you've decided to marry him would have made too much sense. Obviously Martha's control issues have overridden her planning personality. Faced with no estate and a return to her family, Martha is saved by Theo's determined return.

I gotta wish him luck. God only knows what Martha's going to come up with next. That chick has crazy eyes.

28 December, 2011

Review: Shatner Rules by William Shatner and Chris Regan

What do you say about William Shatner that hasn't already been said? Revered or reviled, Lionized or devoured, he is an American institution (all while being Canadian). At a certain point I wondered what Shatner would say about himself. (Disclosure; I've read books by Nichelle Nichols, Jimmy Doohan and George Takei.) I approached Shatner Rules wondering if Shatner is a deeply misunderstood man or a raging egomanic with an improper understanding of his talents.

The answer is yes.

 He's sort of a less destructive Charlie Sheen. When he yells winning, you get the idea that it requires others to be losing. After going after (almost) all of his former costars for various reasons (they were not the stars, they are fame whores, etc etc) he then claims all their hard feelings are born from their own imaginations. He's apologized for any imagined slights (as opposed, I imagine to the ones in the book) and moved on. Why do they still feel so angry? If I loved the guy and he talked about me the way he does his ex costars I'd have to rethink it.

There's a lot of that who-could-possibly-know faux innocence to Shatner. He invites Henry Rollins to the same event as Rush Limbaugh and expects everyone to make nice. (Why would there be a problem there?)  Rollins handles it with incredible grace, but the fact that Shatner never gave it a thought shows a lot about his personality. Discussing the absolute brilliant cover of Common People he did with Joe Jackson, Shatner takes several swipes at Joe. While ending with an acknowledgement of Jackson's utter genius, he leads with a ton of negativity in front of the praise. I imagine this is just how Shatner operates. It's not the most effective way to make friends.

So. Does Shatner think he is a brilliantly underrated performer who does not deserve the mocking he's graciously borne over the years? Absolutely. He is not entirely wrong. Shatner has a serious work ethic that demands the best he can offer from himself and others. Shatner has created multiple memorable characters in a career where people are lucky to produce one. He delivers what he is hired for, no matter what that might be. Shatner is a pro. His musical attempts are often better then he has been credited for. They are not, however, even close to his own assessment of them. The contradiction of William Shatner is that both sides are right. He is a charismatic and professional talent. He is also far from innocent of the various charges lain at his feet. In the end, Shatner Rules is an illuminating look at both sides of the man, the side he prefers to see and the side he unwittingly reveals. I am absolutely a fan.

23 December, 2011

Review: Don't Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley

Love this cover. I think I was almost 2/3 of the way done before I really looked at the little cupcake decoration. It's clean, it's eye catching, it relates to the contents. I have no complaints at all on this one. The book is great too.

While I expected to dislike Don't Kill The Birthday Girl I loved it so much I should marry it. I live in in area where fake food allergies are common and yet I am all too familiar with real food allergies. If I throw a party I know at least two children will arrive with special instructions and an EpiPen but six more will have mothers standing by to explain their allergies as the so called allergic children graze openly on forbidden foods. Sandra Beasley finds this as infuriating as I do. Describing food dislikes or sensitivities as allergies endangers the truly allergic. Sandra Beasley is one of those so endangered.

Almost completely free of self pity, Beasley intersperses important information about the recognition and rise of true food allergies with anecdotal tales of life as a fragile child. With the impatience of anyone restricted, she longs to be normal. Sandra would rather eat what you're eating than draw attention to a myriad number of ingredients that can kill her. She doesn't feel a little queasy or get a headache after encountering an allergen - she goes to the hospital. Addressing the facts of food allergies calmly (that peanut allergy is not an airborne danger but touching someone with a hand that touched peanuts could be serious) Beasley offers insight into the current wave of food fear. Often amusing, at times frustrating, her goal to lead as normal a life as possible makes a great memoir.

21 December, 2011

Contemporary Challenge Review: Georgia Bockoven VS Sandra Hyatt

I used to read category romance extensively. Over the years I found myself reading less and less category, then less and less contemporary until finally I was almost exclusively in the historical niche. I've given myself the pointless challenge of rediscovering category books and contemporary romance. Harlequin had a major sale recently and I took the opportunity to buy a number of books from Twitter hashtag suggestions. I found that I read a category romance in about an hour, perhaps 90 minutes. That's got to kill the authors. I know they spend a lot more time on these books than I do, but there it is. Since they're quick reads for me, let's look at them in pairs.  First up -  If I'd Never Known Your Love by Georgia Bockoven versus Lessons In Seduction by Sandra Hyatt. (Spoiler's Ahoy)

I gather that the premise of the Everlasting Love line is that you've got one shot at couplehood. I used to read the (formerly Silhouette) Desire line voraciously, so I was more familiar with that framework. The Bockoven book left me curiously flat. I understand this is a three hankie classic read, but it didn't hit me emotionally. I admired how it was done without connecting to the characters. The lead is a woman who married her childhood love only to lose him. The book focuses almost exclusively on her. She is either fighting to get her husband back, remembering her youth with her husband (a bad boy gone good) or trying to move on with her life. This is an oddly idyllic setting for a pretty dark tale. The husband, a former foster child, falls into the lap of her farm family. After soaking up their good values and warm hearts, he builds a life with the heroine. He is oddly (and almost unrealistically) capable at relationships. The warm family is the type that can drop everything to support her when things go south, and her financial situation is extremely solid. This is a woman who can expect to be caught if she falls down. Even as she moves on with her life the safety net is extensive and intact. It undermined the well paced story of her struggle to find her missing man. All of her desperation is focused on the fact of his loss, little is spent on the day to day effects. In a sense, she saves him at the expense of all else. As a young woman, she wants to save him from his past. As an adult, she wants to save him from his fate. Children, careers, all else is secondary to her need to support him. When a new man enters her life there isn't anything left of her to give. He's certainly her type - he needs to be saved as well. I found this more of a character piece than what I consider a romance, although it was absolutely a genre book. I was frequently frustrated by the heroine even as I empathized with her. The topic is certainly fresh and authentic - hostage taking as a business is too common in many failed nations.

Hyatt's book was the complete opposite. While still a complete fairy tale, this story of a working class girl and an overburdened prince felt more real than the truer-to-life Bockoven book. Hyatt's limo driver is moonlighting from her higher profile day job as a way to keep her father's employment secure. Her hot and cold boss is a workaholic young heir to the throne trying to fit finding a wife into his already overbooked schedule. While this is also a tale with a shared childhood, it is not a reunited lovers story. The couple's attraction is as adults, their development is more moderate. She isn't seeking so much to save the prince as to remind him how to have fun. He has given away so many pieces of himself to responsibility that he has forgotten who he is.  Her swinging between irritation with the man and awe of his status reads smoothly. Despite the less realistic premise I connected more with the leads of the Hyatt book than the Bockoven. In both cases, I was reminded what a quick read a category romance is. these books can be fit between other demands, read in a lunch break or two. Neither demanded my full attention, there was a small cast of characters and a very focused plot to resolve. The lack of complexity  was part of the appeal to me in the past - I actually did read these on retail lunch breaks. I'm not sure if I will rediscover my love of the short form contemporary romance, but I have absolutely renewed my appreciation for their complexity. Simple is hard.

15 December, 2011

Review: The Duke Is Mine by Eloisa James

Oh, Eloisa.

Well. I like the cover.

That sounds brutal, doesn't it? I really liked the book too. In fact I loved the book, I adored the book, I was raving about the book, except when I wasn't. There is a definite pea in this novel, and I was princess enough to find it irritating. Let's make a list of the wonderful things about The Duke Is Mine.

* Olivia has body image issues that are not papered over by a makeover, a weight loss or a new corset.

* Duke the First is the best special needs hero since Pamela Morsi wrote Simple Jess.

* Duke the Second reminded me of a number of engineers I know. His inability to process or recognize emotions easily was spot on perfect.

* The sibling dynamic between Olivia and her sister was real, touching and true.

* This book should have been epic. People should read it.

Now the sadness. Some of the character names are nonsensical. One, maybe. Two or three and you've lost me. A Justin Bieber tribute. A family of Bumtrinkets. Olivia loves limericks and scatalogical humor. A dog is named for the the heroine of Winning The Wallflower. How do I take the main characters seriously if we're going to move in and out of farce? Any of these elements are fine, but bundle them together and it's a different book. The balance of whimsy and weight slipped around too often. Toward the very end of the book I was ready to forgive all. At a strong emotional point the book took a sudden turn for single act theater. Olivia is placed in mortal danger by a slapstick troupe. Why? So we could work in the Princess and Pea plot with a side car of emotional realization.

If coming to understand what you feel for someone required having a near mortal event most hospitals would offer weddings. They don't. The entire I didn't realize how much I loved him / her until they were bleeding to death in front of me thing is played out. I'm tired of reading a book while mentally ticking off how many pages we have until one of them is abducted, shot, suffocated, drowned, diseased - oh the list goes on. It's like there is a how-to-unite-your-couple-guide somewhere detailing the exact degree of peril needed to trigger emotional response. Adding to the frustration is knowing the emotional catharsis could have been provided by the events already underway. The Duke Is Mine felt like channel surfing between Masterpiece Theater, Comedy Central, and Lifetime Docudramas. Someone needed to grab the remote and make a decision.

14 December, 2011

Review: The Best Of Archie Comics by Various

I'm going to suggest this one as a stocking stuffer. If you're American, you're already very familiar with Archie and his eternal triangle of Betty and Veronica. If you're not, consider Archie our TinTin. (Yes, yours is better, I know.) Generations of American kids have grown up reading Archie and he has reflected a fairly conservative view of American culture back at them. From Josie and the Pussycats to Sabrina the Witch, Archie has introduced a number of long lived franchises. (Right down to the novelty single.)

Coming in at $10 USD this paperback is a great introduction for a tween reader or a trip down memory lane for an older one. While the curation of the volume is excellent, everyone who reads it will feel something was left out. (I'm a Jughead fan, myself.) From showing the limitations of the early gags (how many times can Archie give Veronica poison ivy?) to the weird soapy feel of it's current titles (Our abusive boyfriend Moose in anger management?) this paperback offers something for almost anyone on a gift list. Too often these retrospectives come as highly expensive hardcovers with their own slipcased and number collectibility conceit. The Best of Archie Comics is a thick pulp paperback perfect for folding in half under your bed. (Maybe I'd be rich if I'd carefully preserved all the Pep Comics I acquired in my youth. Instead I read them to shreds. I think Archie would want it that way.)

13 December, 2011

Review: Winning The Wallflower by Eloisa James

Lately I have enjoyed James' novellas more than her longer format books. Winning the Wallflower continues this trend. At the current selling rate of 99 cents, this short might be underpriced. It's a great value. Some readers may wish for a longer story as the file included long excerpts from other books. I'm a strong believer that the value of a story isn't in how long you take to tell it but how engaged the reader is in the telling. I was completely invested in Cyrus and Lucy.

Lucy is a wallflower through choice and circumstance. As a tall heroine when the fashion is for the petite, she has some self esteem issues. Adding to that, she lacks wealth. While her parents would prefer to marry her to someone of higher status, her father accepts the offer that comes his way. With her eyes on her shoes, Cyrus Ravensthorpe seems like more than Lucy could have hoped for. Attractive, charming, and slightly scandalous (not in his person, but in his parents) Cyrus is using his money and charm to ease their way back into society. A well placed bride is a necessary step, with Lucy being the most attractively bred. An unexpected windfall makes Lucy's mother rethink the betrothal. Lucy isn't so sure. Once she raises her eyes from the floor, Lucy realizes that while Cyrus answered most of her hopes, he didn't fulfill any of her dreams. As her confidence increases others look at her differently, especially Cyrus. Freed from the clever conceits of the upcoming release The Duke Is Mine, James writes to her strengths. Keeping her plot tightly centered on two people looking at each other with new eyes she delivers an excellent romantic tale. Absolutely worth the time, brief as it may be.

12 December, 2011

Review: Tina's Mouth by Keshni Kashyap and Mari Araki

There is absolutely nothing wrong with giving a pre-order as a gift. I think (if the release date is close enough to the holiday) that it extends things. It creates a little epilogue to the season. Tina's Mouth is being released (or re-released?) on January 3rd, so that's great timing. Or terrible timing if everyone is in their post holiday belt tightening phase. Either way, I almost passed up an advance copy of this book because of the marketing. (I'm glad I reconsidered.) Remember a few weeks ago when I was joking that any graphic novel written by a non-caucasion gets compared to Persepolis? Yes. That joke isn't funny anymore. As a bonus, the main character here is American, so they also throw American Born Chinese out as a reference. I totally missed a career in marketing.

If You Like Indian Food, You Will Love Tina's Mouth! Or perhaps Look Out Bollywood! Tina Is In Town! Maybe even Like Maus, But Without The Genocide! It's so hard to choose. How do you market a graphic novel without highlighting that it is by a non-caucasian and that other non-caucasions have written successful books too?  I mean, you could focus on the story but that's just crazy. Who wants to read a coming of age story about a young teen girl caught between societal expectations and her own emerging sense of self?


Everyone does?

Maybe marketing wasn't for me after all. Good thing I took this high paying blog job. Moving on - Tina's Mouth is the tale of a young teen who is assigned the task of keeping an existential journal. I was a young teen once, and I was really into existential texts. I think there is a certain kind of girl who runs from Glamour into the waiting arms of Camus and Sartre. Both ask What Kind of Girl Are You? but only one includes a handy picture guide to self hatred. Setting aside the conceit that Tina is writing to a dead philosopher, this is a classic tale. Tina has lost her best friend, she isn't sure she fits in, everyone seems really into boys and who is she going to be, anyway? Examining the rise (and fall) of her high achieving siblings, Tina takes steps toward her own self definition by becoming engaged in school activities. This leads her to new people and new experiences.

While depictions of drug use, booze and (off camera) teen sex might freak a few parents out, let's be real about what our kids are exposed to. (I can tell you right now which tweens of my acquaintance will be flying like kites very soon.) Tina suffers some self induced and externally induced humiliations without turning them onto herself. It is not her fault her first kiss has been co-opted into a school sanctioned assault. Tina stands up for herself and her personal boundaries. Tina takes very identifiable teen experiences and uses them as the building blocks for her eventual self discovery. It's easy to tell kids to be true to themselves, it's harder to show them how to figure out who they are. Tina is a great role model and a great read for tween to twenties.

10 December, 2011

Review: Unraveled by Courtney Milan

You know, I could try and review Courtney Milan's Unraveled. Who would I be kidding? We all know I have been teetering on the edge of full on fawning for this author. I have now fallen completely over the edge. Is it a perfect book? Probably not. Is it an exceptionally excellent book featuring the epic romantic hero Smite? Yes. Yes it is. It's also $3.99 and what you should be reading instead of a review about it.

I swear I will get back to real reviewing tomorrow. Honestly. In the meantime, please appreciate my charter membership in the fan club. (Smite is mine, bitches. Mine.)

09 December, 2011

Spending Your Money: Yanni Cheese by Karoun

Brazilian Beach Cheese by meoskop
Brazilian Beach Cheese, a photo by meoskop on Flickr.

Technically, this is neither Brazilian Beach cheese nor Karoun's Yanni brand Grilling Cheese. The photo was taken at Lollapalooza so it is actually Brunkow Cheese out of Wisconsin. Brunkow isn't available near me but grilling cheese changed my life. Seriously. If you are thinking about giving someone a holiday basket with odd culinary delights, please get them some grilling cheese. It's easy to find the sheep's milk based Halloumi, but I find that too salty. The cow milk based Yanni (and Brunkow, if you're lucky) is amazing. This cheese cooks like a meat. Put your grill on medium, soak the cold cheese for a few minutes in your choice of spices (I like olive oil, red peppers and garlic) grill for a few minutes, die and go to Heaven. (It's ok, Heaven can totally wait. They will just kick you back when you finish chewing.) Be sure and tell your lucky recipient how to prepare it, because this would be a waste if sliced and put on crackers. Thank me later, I have to go grill some and get back to my book.

08 December, 2011

Here A Duke, There A Duke, Everywhere A Duke, Duke...

Snow White's First Clue by meoskop
Snow White's First Clue, a photo by meoskop on Flickr.
I am on Duke Overload. I closed the final page on Eloisa James Winning The Wallflower and thought if I see one more Duke, even Mr. Nukem, I would scream. I realize that the Duke has become the go to guy for Romanceland, he is the Greek Billionaire Tycoon of UK set novels. (Look what's happened to the Greek economy. We are experiencing an epic ducal bubble.) Why is The Duke currently so prevalent? Is it an ultimate power grab? I don't understand it. Why would our heroine want to be a Duchess? Wouldn't she know some seriously unhappy women already holding that title? A wise heroine only needs to consider the Devonshire family tree to know that a satisfying life is not a Duke away. Now our heroines are choosing between multiple Dukes.

It rather makes my head hurt.

The Duke is a creature of entitlement and power. He has wide ranging responsibility and has been raised in an isolated chamber. His world view is one of insular concerns and privileged assumptions. Even when our Duke is carefully grown outside the petri dish of his breeding and catapulted to the higher realm, his concerns are not our concerns. When I read about someone's patrician features or evidence of nobility hidden beneath the dirt of their lowered circumstances I wonder what our problem is.

Do you not know any rich people?

I know a great number of them. For every absolutely wonderful person there are a thousand more. Maybe two thousand. Conversations among the socially concerned and wealthy in America are enough to make you stick a fork in your brain. The deep divide between worthy people and unworthy people is a thin veneer on the ingrained class and racial biases of many of the elite classes. When all you have is knowing you are better than someone else, you say stupid things (like Newt Gingrich's epic assumption that poor children have no work ethic). When you tell me your hero is a Duke I see Newt, I see Trump. When her refined breeding cannot be denied, I see Paris Hilton or Ivanka. (Actually, Ivanka looks she'd be fun to spend an evening with. That said, I don't see her leading a rally against the anti-semetic clubs of the Palm Beaches.) Romanceland is full of compassionate conservatives. I just don't buy it because I know them. Everything changes when it goes from the abstract to the concrete, from giving the Haitian maid a bonus to your son marrying her.

Romance used to examine class with a little less awe. Maybe it still does and I've had a bad run. I do know I have read books this year with the heroine picking coins out of mud (still with her delicate bones speaking to her better beginnings) and starving brothers and desperate times. It just seems the noise of eugenics and class is getting louder. There's a passage in an upcoming book where the hero muses he can't be understood. No one of his current class can comprehend where he came from and no one of his former class could comfortably walk in his current one. Why then are we so eager to embrace the highest most exclusionary class of all? I don't think birth equates worth or wealth opportunity. Too much wealth is toxic. Too little is toxic.

Give me a Magistrate over a Duke.

07 December, 2011

Promotion: Agony / Ecstasy edited by Jane Litte

This is largely a comment free blog. Most people who have something to say do so via Twitter or email. I'm completely fine with that. Low comment ratio equals low spam attraction and an absolute dearth of trolls. (Not that I am in any way troll-phobic. While none of my best friends are trolls, there are members of my family who identify as troll-curious.) On the one hand, I enjoy the low profile way to express longer opinions. On the other hand, I don't hold giveaways.  It's a quandry. Especially with the release of Jane Litte's Agony / Ecstasy collection.

I enjoy Dear Author and I know Jane worked hard on this anthology. I'd buy it and review it, but I don't care for erotica (as we know) and I really don't care for BSDM. I'd hold a giveaway for it, but the same applies. So what to do? I do know this blog gets read, I see the traffic and I know what brings you by to see what I'm thinking about. I could pose a clever question like "Is this a book for you? Tell me why!" The problem is that you would and then I'd know. I really don't want to know. If I was interested in your erotic preferences I'd be sleeping with you. (No easy solution, I know.) If I solicited a guest review, I'd have to read it. The obvious answer is just to walk away from the entire thing.

Where is the ecstasy in that? The agony may be clear, but the ecstasy is lacking. Here is my solution. I will give an electronic copy of Agony / Ecstasy to someone who is not you. Or someone who is you. Either way. You're going to have to comment and I am going to have to read comments. (There's no way for us to get around that.) I'm going to run the contest for one week. I will pick one random winner and one winner who made me laugh. If you're the same person (or there is only one comment) you can choose the second winner. Random enough? I think so. Well then. If you're interested in the hybrid of me having comments (agony) and you getting free stuff (ecstasy) tell me why this book should be sent to the person you'd like it sent to. Clever promotion idea? Sad sob story? Entertain me and Jane Litte's collection will entertain you. (Or not. It's kind of what puts the Dom in random.)

06 December, 2011

Review: The Wild Marquis by Miranda Neville

Sometimes I like a publishing house and I can't recall if I like a particular author in that house so I will just buy their books anyway. Sometimes I like a particular blogger so I will try an author she seems crazy about. Miranda Neville as a perfect blend of both. I would have automatically purchased several of her books if Agency Pricing hadn't kicked in and made me seriously reconsider how I was spending my book dollars. (My Avon purchases are down about 80%, just to name one publisher.) After some consideration I decided this was the Miranda Neville book most likely to appeal to me. (Although I bought this at full agency, Avon is currently running a sale. The book may be as low as $2.99, check your vendors.)

I'm not a Miranda Neville fan. That's okay. It's good to know things about yourself and post Agency Pricing it's good to know I don't have four or five of her books TBR'd on my shelf. I can see why people are raving about her so I'll break down what did and didn't work for me. In The Wild Marquis she brings together two damaged people from (seemingly) different classes. The Marquis has been couch surfing since his deranged father threw him out. With his father dead, he has (for some sort of martyr reason) continued his estrangement from his sister and equally deranged mother. Oh, and everyone else in his family. On the other side, Juliana is trying to make a go of her book business after the murder of her husband. Juliana collects books for rarity, not content. Their world's collide when Cain decides he has to restore a lost book to the family library. (Just go with it.) Soon they are immersed in the world of auctions and antiquities and accidentally solving her husband's murder.

Juliana is a weird hybrid. Raised mostly in seclusion (In fact, both of them spend way too much time giving noble motives to their absolutely horrible families. It's a subtext of the story that neither can see their own family flaws, just the others.) then marrying into the middle class, Juliana has somehow adopted the upper classes morals but the middle classes inferiority complex. I wasn't sure exactly who she was. Juliana reminded me of this girl I knew when I was a teen who would try to seduce men by fondling the stick shift of her car and licking her lips while giggling. (Pretty much all you have to do to seduce a willing guy is say "Hey, let's have sex now.") Unlike that girl, Juliana isn't sure if she wants to follow through. She wants to have casual sex with Cain, but not be his mistress. She wants to be free from promises, but have his fidelity. Juliana is all about the mixed message. She also deliberately sets out to sabotage a client for Cain's benefit, while holding her professional integrity tightly. I didn't get her at all.

Cain, on the other hand, has had some horrible accusations made against him by his father the nutjob. Since everyone believes he's morally bankrupt, he moves into a brothel and makes his life work the care and feeding of old hookers. (A decent way to spend your life.) He also has a weird grey area where he has a long term mistress with sons - she dies and the sons are raised by her friend (who becomes his housekeeper) until they are old enough to work, and thereafter they become his employees. It wasn't a greying of class areas so much as a complete confusion of them. Suddenly, through Juliana, Cain discovers that he really likes collecting books. I don't understand why. Both of them have come to book collecting in a harmful manner, both have the right to have negative associations with book collecting. Yet both of them decide the book is the thing.

I don't have any problem with the plot, resolution, or pacing of the story. All of my concerns with The Wild Marquis involve characterization. I spent too much time asking why characters were doing (or not doing) things and too little just going along for the ride. As an example, in one scene Juliana falls over trying to insert a birth control sponge. Why? Who did she ask about birth control? If it was her husband, why isn't she proficient in it's use? If it was after her husband, how did she come by the information? Did she read it in a book? She's already established that she is pretty ignorant of the erotic market. There were too many moments in The Wild Marquis like this. I'm not a reader who deals well with "because they did" unless the story is yanking me along too fast to examine it.

What did work for me was the skill of setting. Neville is great with place and time, she sets up original components in an old frame. Her plots are obviously considered, her characters are fairly diverse. If you don't roll your eyes at a heroine stroking a book jacket and cooing about how soft and slick it is, her sex scenes are in line with modern books. I feel like Miranda Neville could write a book to really grab me but I didn't walk away from The Wild Marquis wanting to know more about anyone in it.

04 December, 2011

Review: Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House by Meghan Daum

I've had this one kicking around for awhile. I share the same disease as Meghan Daum, that of house envy. (There is nothing wrong with my home.) Since I was a child I've looked at other houses and thought "If I lived there I would be happier." It's led me to move across the country, across town, down the street. At this moment I can tell you three places I'd rather live and the prices on each, but I won't be moving again. (It's a property tax thing, I can't afford to move even if I downsized.) I understood what Daum's book would be about just from the title. So why didn't I finish it in a timely manner?

Life would be perfect if this was a slightly different book. While I totally identified with both her wanderlust and her desire to invent herself into a person she isn't, there wasn't much past that point to hold me. I read the first third quickly, then set the book down for months. Something brought it to mind and I sought it out again only to stop before finishing it. Today, while going through some notes, I realized I'd never completed the book and found it, bookmark intact. I had stopped six pages from the end. That's not a great sign. While I enjoyed the time I spent with Meghan, we weren't meant to be together.

It's interesting, there was a lot of buzz for the hardcover release (which had what I think was a terrible cover) and not as much for the greatly (visually) improved paperback. The Kindle version uses the hardcover image. In classic Agency fashion, the going rate (if not list price) for the paperback is lower than the Kindle version. (Way to kill those impulse buys, guys!) So perhaps my preference in cover design is completely off the market. Granted, the paperback cover is a little Mod, a little Retro, but the original cover was very Christian Inspiration to me, which the the book could not be further from. I wonder how the book feels? Does it cover shop and think it's sales would be everything if it only had a gatefold?

02 December, 2011

Review: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

This book was sold by it's cover. I had no idea who Mindy Kaling was. I don't watch her show. (I'd heard conversation about Matt & Ben but assumed it was a Tony & Tina's Wedding type thing.) This is a book selling cover. Love the tones, love the pose, love the title, love the composition. (Great design, cover dude. Take a victory jog.)

I found I loved this book. Mindy Kaling is walking a comedy tightrope here - self deprecating without being self pitying, self aggrandizing without coming across as overbold. She's trying too hard in all the right ways. There's a bit of the charmed life to Mindy, but she knows it. There's a lot of the serious work ethic to Mindy and she knows that too, even as she downplays it. A slacker doesn't finish and produce a two woman play much less a serious college degree.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is part memoir, part humor, part celebrity vanity project but it is completely enjoyable. This is up there with David Niven's Hollywood books. She's not burning any bridges or settling any scores, she's just telling you a few amusing stories over drinks in a stylish lounge. Kaling's stories are so compelling that one drove me to Google. After reading about a People photo shoot (in a land where a size 8 is anything but very slender) I had to see the photo that resulted. If I liked the book with no investment in her career, then this would be a home run gift for fans of The Office: American Edition.  (I seem to be reading quite a few Crown Archtype books lately. Nice job, marketing and acquisition. Get your sneakers out too.)