26 January, 2012

In Which I Am Working A Stick

Really, this is still a book blog. I swear. 

C'mon Kids!

The thing is, it's taking me a bit longer to get past the medical than I expected. The forced confinement has sent me limping off in search of less cerebral excitement. The sort you can only have at the fair. Where things must be both fried and shoved on sticks to be considered worthy of consumption. (Not unlike a lot of books I read.) I've got a fair bit of February fiction coming up and a backlog of January nonfiction. Just as soon as I figure out why they repainted the funhouse. Does anyone over the age of six use these things? It's troubling....

16 January, 2012

Review: Josie Loves J. Valentine

This Is How We Do Christmas by meoskop
This Is How We Do Christmas, a photo by meoskop on Flickr.
You may have noticed a lack of content in the last few weeks. A certain unseen person in our household gave himself a Blu Ray dvd writer for the holiday and has been updating all of our home movies. Since it takes about 24 hours to process each disc and he is a bit of a home movie fanatic - well, let's just say my access to the home network has been limited. I finally get to show you my favorite holiday gift. (No, not the guy. That's my brother. I got him for the holidays before the bicentennial. He is so out of warranty it's ridiculous.)

The guy is wearing (and quite well, I must say) the Monster Vest in black from the Josie Stevens Josie Loves J. Valentine collection. I love everything Josie designs, but I can't pull all of it off. (Ok, at various times in my life I could, but I'm a realist who lives in the now.)

Bro Always Wears Things BetterI love her design sense so much it's probably a good thing there isn't a local retailer for me. I think I would try it all on, and once tried... likely buyed. (Um, should that be bought? Doesn't sound so snappy.) I adore this vest. It's crazy warm, it has teeth (teeth are underused in fashion) it's fun, it's faux fur and it's made in America. The inside is lined, the detailing is there, it's adorable. It's also a fascinating litmus test. Wearing it gets you the most fantastic reactions. My friends adore it, think it suits me perfectly, and love it. My acquaintances either ask if I'm kidding or (loved this one) say they didn't even notice I was wearing something new. Strangers are evenly split down the middle. I could save so much time screening new social contacts. Love my vest? I'll probably love you! Just to be fair, I'm going to include a photo of myself so you can see that once again, it's my brother that rocks the style in the family while I drag it along behind him. (It's not my best photo, but my cousin snapped it and so I have it ready to go.) I totally need more from this line. It could get addictive pretty easily. If I'd had this back in the day, I'm pretty sure I'd have worn it with a bikini and stiletto boots.

04 January, 2012

Review: The Lure of Song and Magic by Patricia Rice

I like Patricia Rice. I rarely like paranormals. Do you see the problem?

Not having read the Magic series that this book is a contemporary offshoot from, I may have missed most of the point of The Lure of Song and Magic. I decided to give this one a shot as part of my pledge to read more contemporaries and not be such a paranormal snob. Oz (Or whatever his name is - everyone in this book has half a dozen names they never use) is a weird combination - wait. Full stop. This is going to be a spoiler filled review so let me do a quick synopsis for those on the fence.

Oz is a Hollywood producer seeking his lost son. Pippa is a burnt out child starlet he believes has a lead on the boy's whereabouts. By infiltrating her life, Oz discovers there is more at work in his son's repeat kidnapping than he imagined. Drawing Pippa back into the world is the only way for him to discover the truth. This is a light paranormal with an extra sensory focus that has an excellent sense of person and place but requires the reader to buy into the underlying conceit for true appreciation. It's a decent read if you like paranormal but could be stronger with a grounding in the established myth.

Right then, back to me. Where were we? Oh yea, so Oz has apparently no emotional connection with anyone except when he totally has an emotional connection with them. His wife died less than a year ago, his child was kidnapped twice, and he's pretty much fully functional. On the other hand, he's completely empathetic to (and tolerant of) Pippa's off the scale freak outs. He calls her by one of her names and she turns into a hysterical keening mess - so he carries her to her pool and throws her in. (I suppose because she doesn't have a horse trough.) The tossing in the pool and Pippa's fruit based meat free diet become major points in the book. I knew more about her dietary choices than her life by the time the book was done. (While I am at it - enough already with the Very Special Vegans in romance. Yes, Pippa I do want that nasty greasy diner breakfast. No, I don't want your whole wheat waffle with compote. Why does Oz have to announce in such a long suffering manner that he was forced to find you a veggie burger? Do other romance leads announce "She eats the flesh of the animal! I had to procure at great difficulty a portion of carcass!" No. No they do not. Authors, please take note. Your character can be Vegan without being an Example To Us All.) Later we find out Oz is an empath. He is so tuned into the emotions of others that he completely failed to notice his wife was afraid of him and the nanny was barking. Let's move on to Pippa. (Try not to look her in the face. Pippa dresses like a Godspell reject and does so without terrifying children. I'm not sure how, my kids would give her a very wide berth.)

Pippa is a child star who fell apart following the death of her drug abusing spouse. Married in her teens, widowed in her teens, she has retreated to a private enclave where she works with children and authors books for nominal royalties. She is almost as crazy as the nanny. Pippa was taken from her family at a young age and abandoned. After discovering her voice (hereafter called Voice) could control the humans around her, she sonically murdered her husband in her rage. (Pippa also blames herself for his cheating, his drug abuse and his self destructive violent ways. Pippa is convinced she is god and an emasculating one at that.) Oz assures her that her extreme nuttiness doesn't matter to him because he got a text message from a complete stranger called The Librarian revealing Pippa is the clue to finding his son. Pippa is fairly uninterested in Oz's son but would like to find her family, so a deal is struck. (Also a TV pilot developed. Oz's need for that show is suspect at best, but the plot uses it for the finale so there ya go.)

Oz, Pippa, and a side character are compelled to follow The Librarian's every instruction without knowing who or what this potential internet wacko is. It's like he's Charlie and they're the Angels. When it is discovered that The Librarian has been pulling all the strings in their lives (including the catalyst for both kidnappings and both recoveries) there is almost no reaction. I might have bought into this better if there was a decent explanation for The Librarian in this book. This reveal has obviously been saved for later books or is a hold over from earlier books. Either way, without the mythology behind it, the entire house of cards about Pippa's heritage and the evil forces trying to control paranormals falls down in a huff of WTFery. It's a long way to go for almost nothing. In a way, it's like Patricia Rice's other recent contemporary, Evil Genius. Estranged family of odd abilities, kick ass but dorky and oddly dressed female lead, family secrets, etc. But Evil Genius offered more in explanation than The Lure Of Song and Magic does, with a much smaller helping of These People Are All Crazy Cakes served beside it.

In the end I neither liked nor loathed The Lure of Song and Magic. I wanted it to be a better book, maybe with an understanding of the paranormal world it's set in I would have felt it was one. I still like Patricia Rice. I still rarely like paranormals. I'm not sure if I'm in for a second book or not. I may go back and read the volume of the previous series that's been haunting my TBR shelf for quite a while before I decide.

03 January, 2012

Review: Trouble At The Wedding by Laura Lee Guhrke

I have not been a big fan of this series. In fact, I completely forgot this was a series. (Trouble At The Wedding requires no exposure to the other Abandoned At The Altar books.) Guhrke working with Edwardian characters is brilliant. If you consider how distanced Heyer was from the Regency versus how distant we are from the Edwardians, it makes perfect sense. I can see my great grandparents in these characters, I can relate the things I know of them and their lives to the lives being led by these people. It allows for a familiarity that Regency books don't. While Guhrke is still working with many of the same fairy tale elements that historical romance is based on, this push forward makes them feel fresh. Additionally, there is so much social change and new technology available. (He can admire her car!)

This time around we have the title hunting steel magnolia Annabel versus Christian the (say it with me) Duke. Let's just go ahead and call him Duke, since every man in Romanceland is now a Duke. Anyway, it is very difficult for me to read an American character, especially a southern American character, without getting annoyed. (I imagine it's how the UK feels about every single romance we put out.) Guhrke has dodged that bullet. Her Annabel might drawl but she doesn't dither, she fights without being feisty and she is never going to be called spunky. This is an American without a chip on her shoulder. She wants to fit into British Society and she wants it bad. (Here we pause for a wrong note. Twice her family mentions that they are 'poor white trash'. It's unfortunate that the white is added. While it's a common phrase we are dealing with turn of the century Southern characters, which brings all the post slavery and nascent Jim Crow baggage along. Since this book, like most of Romanceland is All About The White People, tossing the descriptor in threw me out of the story. I have family of that era on both sides of the money tree and that phrase is not in their letters, diaries, or late life conversations. It is a phrase I associate with racists, and my Edwardian to Clinton Era cousin would have as well.)

Right, back to our tale. The Duke is broker than broke and he is offered a fair amount of cash to get Annabel to break it off with her intended fiance. (Where did her uncle get money? Never exactly answered.) Said fiance is (luckily for our Duke!) an uncaring creepster who just wants to be a billionaire so freaking bad. Our Duke isn't interested in marrying for money. He went down that road once before and his Princess Di didn't fare so well. Trapped on a luxury liner with the wedding party, he tries to wake Annabel up to the reality of life under Rumsford. Instead, he reminds her of her weakness for bad boys. Here the book might be the strongest. Annabel and Duke under the pressures of their conflicting desires are far more interesting than your average seafaring couple. It's not so much that the tale weakens when they hit land, but if all had been resolved on the boat I might have loved this one even more.

Annabel and England take to each other fairly easily. England has gotten used to American heiresses since Mr. Duke's time and Annabel is highly motivated. Soon she's realizing she might not have to marry to achieve her goals, she might have just needed the change of venue. Of course, that can't last or Mr. Duke wouldn't get the chance to realize he needs her. So it doesn't, and he does and there it is. I felt the ending was a bit rushed and I really didn't like the theming at the end at all but it was a sin I could forgive. I'd say the first 2/3 of the book was a great read and the last 1/3 had some high notes but dipped a bit lower. Avon has (at least for now) come to their senses on the whole Agency Pricing thing (ok, not completely, but they've stopped charging more than the paperback's going rate) so you can get the eBook for a reasonable $4.99 USD at the moment. On all fronts I'd say things are looking up for the Abandoned At The Altar series.

01 January, 2012

Review: The Autobiography by Elisabeth Sladen

This is a far better book than it needed to be. Isn't that the hallmark of Elisabeth Sladen's career? Without her careful attention, would Sarah Jane Smith have been the icon she became? Of course, Sladen was far more than just Sarah Jane Smith. She was a wife, a mother, a theater actress and a woman with a serious work ethic. In that order.

Sladen preserves her private life in what is largely a career memoir, but when she does dip into her personal situation it is to illustrate a career moment. Given a choice between her family or herself, Sladen chooses her family. It answers the question of why she wasn't a larger star in her post Doctor Who years and it also answers how she and her husband were able to manage a two actor marriage. Elisabeth Sladen, for all her career regrets, lived a life that placed the personal above the professional. I respect her even more for putting her humanity above her ambition.

The Autobiography is so clearly in Sladen's voice that the fan in me felt the loss all over again when I closed the book. Even when telling of her frustrations and personal conflicts Sladen looked for a brighter side of things. The joke is always on her, the buck always stops at her desk. She is not one to ignore professional conflict, neither is she one to belittle the person with whom she conflicted. Sladen follows every bitter memory with a tasty one. The result is the reader feeling as though they have spent an afternoon with her, hearing her actor tales firsthand. Sladen reveals that she, like many of us, thought Eccleston ended his Doctor Who run too soon. Perhaps he was the wiser man, as one who has watched several leave the role Sladen knew that the drop from star to mortal is stunning. The show is the star and the actors merely participants.

I don't know how a reader who is not a fan of Doctor Who would respond to this book. Although Sladen discusses her early days and her post Who days it is largely a story of her days as Sarah Jane Smith. Sladen understands where her core fans reside and she meets them there. From her frustration with the BBC's failure to properly monetize in America to her appreciation for Whovian loyalty, Sladen knows the audience for this book. When she began, she had no idea she was ill. I wonder if she would have changed it? Would the sharp feelings be further muted? Perhaps it is for the best that Sladen set the manuscript in a drawer, forgotten, and let her family decide to bring it to market. As the book ends and the afterword begins, Elisabeth Sladen (like Sarah Jane Smith) is looking forward to her next adventure. Neither of them will be forgotten.