Monday, September 30, 2013

Review: The View from Castle Rock - Alice Munro

The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro

Billed as a collection of stories, spanning the centuries, connecting storytellers to writers, The View from Castle Rock is, as one reviewer stated, "a delightful fraud." It's a memoir, fleshed out with fiction but based heavily on Alice Munro's family stories, starting with Will O'Phaup, star of rumor and myth and proceeding with his descendents as a character study of all the family members who came across the ocean. Those Laidlaws and O'Phaups who wrote and were written about. The Ettick Valley from whence her Scots ancestors came is described it with the ease of those who did live there, as though all these things are as familiar to her as the bush at the back of her family's farm. Though she has been there, walking the wet midlands while it rained on and off, she maintains that these are all just stories. The emphasis of her Forward is more on the flow of these tales from an original source which is never obscured with her liberties.

I read slowly at first, dubiously seeing the connections of past leading to stories she may have heard at the fireplace. Themes and hand-me-downs began to quietly appear, family lines branched, yet always returned to Huron County, and to point toward Munro's own life. Once I reached my last possible return date for this library book, I began to rip through it, and found the effect not at all negative. Nearing the last half of the book the stories become even more personal, dealing with people that Munro has observed in her own life, briefly, like her grandparents, or more closely, like her own parents. This does not mean she does not illustrate their lives as she did with Will O'Phaup, or the little-known-of William Laidlaw, in fact she may be more willing to illuminate them since she can better see what would or could have been.
But I had meant, didn't he think of himself, of the boy who had trapped along the Blyth Creek, and who went into the store and asked for Signs Snow Paper, didn't he struggle for his own self? I meant, was his life now something only other people had a use for? (p166)
She takes advantage of knowing these people and conjuring bits of fancy to tie to her memories, the details of her childhood impressions filling in the gaps of old memories; reflective commentary solidifies them.
It must have meant something, though, that at this turn of my life I grabbed up a book. Because it was in books that I would find, for the next few years, my lovers. They were men, not boys. They were self-possessed and sardonic, with a ferocious streak in them, reserves of gloom. Not Edgar Linton, not Ashley Wilkes. Not one of them companionable or kind. (p226)
My favorite thing about The View from Castle Rock was being reminded that this was a collection of people who could be traced from generation to generation, and Munro's reception of this legacy; her family's affection for books, for reading, for writing, for storytelling.  It's thrilling to read about readers and writers because it's a bond that we and the author share implicitly, and perhaps connects us in a way books about no other occupation can. With this, the symbols and connections come with almost no effort, occurring to me in a pleasant and gentle manner. I liked finding myself and the things I know easily reflected in several moments across the years, on both sides of the ocean.

pp349. Penguin Canada. 2007.
(Read/Skim/Miss) (Buy/Borrow)

Monday, September 23, 2013

Comments, Overlords, Currently Reading and the Resulting Anxiety

I've recently had a debacle. Comments chronically go unanswered in the Blogspot system because no one subscribes to the feed (and wordpress sends me far too many notifications when I subscribe to their system, so they're not perfect either, but I digress). Google+ comments allowed me to receive notifications, but I was informed that not everyone had been so welcoming of the Google Overlords, and that I was scaring away discussion. I switched the embedded comments back on, and it was back to square one: no one was notified of replies. I'm now using Disqus which other blogs, news sites and (a fair number of) webcomics use. You don't need an account, you can comment using the standard 'name/url/email' format, but you can also link Disqus up with a number of different accounts and get notifications automatically. Please feel free to bemoan my poor reading choices textually! I look forward to your letters.

I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords.
Since we're on the topic of Overlords, my Goodreads feed erupted Friday night when a member of the staff posted 'clarifications' to the Terms of Service, in the Feedback group. It's been a bit of a mess because these proposed changes went into effect immediately. (Please find the announcement here.) I'm ashamed to say it, but when acquisition by Amazon was revealed back in May, I decided to not link my reviews on this blog to Goodreads because I expected some commercialization. After all, on Shelfari (owned by Amazon) there are neat little smiley arrows which link you to a shopping page. While on Goodreads there have been some changes that I suspect were suggested by Amazon representatives, it remained relatively the same. Until Friday when it was announced that reviews which were not about the book, discussing author behavior, and shelves marking authors who misbehaved would be deleted. Basically. I'm disappointed, but not shocked, just surprised.

I was intending to wait for another announcement this morning, but began tallying up the Goodreads maelstrom on my blog since none has come. I'll update when America wakes up, California probably; if something's happened, I'll update.

Emma Sea has written an essay on Goodreads about why this is censorship. It is fantastic, and if you only read one thing after seeing the announcement, make this essay that thing.

Gaining wild popularity is Mike's review of Mein Kampf. He makes a wonderful remark on the third page of comments which Ceridwen, linked below, quotes in her essay. Paul Bryant's review of 253 is of a similar vein.

The entire mess is attributed to that-group-that-shall-not-be named, who took very little time after the announcement to cheer victory. If you have no clue what I'm talking about, please don't Google them, I would like to refer you to Ceridwen on a John Lehrer, and her linked essay, the essay links to many great sources about that group without giving them any traffic.

Nenia Campbell, an indie author, has posted a blog about what authors without-a-revenge-agenda are feeling, if she's a unofficial representative, that is. There, I learned that positive reviews are now also being deleted.

One of my favorite reviewers, Manny, on David Irving. His comments and those of his network are well worth a perusal.

I think if you read, or at the very least, peruse the above, you'll end up in a similar place to me. The insanity is clearly a knee-jerk reaction to badly-researched articles, all in the name of publicity. The truth is that these changes did not actually change the Terms of Service all users agreed to, this is just a reminder and a new implementation of a poorly thought out announcement. As many of those I linked to noted, or mentioned in subsequent comments, these 'clarifications' have only made things fuzzier.

Has Goodreads gone to the minks*, though?

Mink attacking juvenile Gannet (John W Anderson)

I'm not leaving Goodreads like many users are, but that's because I rely on the website for a great deal of literary socialization. It has prompted me to be a bit more interactive on blogs, though; looking forward to introducing myself to you soon!

Which brings me to the informational bit of this blog before I get boring. I have the bad habit of reading more than one book at once, despite, for many many years, only allowing myself a book at a time. Lately I keep cracking books open, deciding to switch when the going gets tough, and am currently reading a free collection of Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle) stories and The Last Unicorn from Peter S. Beagle on my ereader, I brought The Hill of Devi by E.M. Forster from London, picked up The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro as one of the only good books in the English section of my local library and for the past few months have been slaving over The Summer Gang In Love (Summer Gang #5) by Cornelia Funke, I'm approximating the English title.

"As of yet, no master has fallen from the heavens." This is a nonsensical translation of a German Proverb, "Es ist noch kein Meister vom Himmel gefallen.", which you might know as: "No one is born perfect." That's it, right?

Well, since acquiring perfection I've had to swallow some hard bits of advice. Wait, no, I mean, blogging for half a year has made me only more acutely aware of all my lacking qualities. The anxiety of figuring out how to be a decent blogger, not getting swept up in the upheaval of emotions on Goodreads and knowing that I have to return one of my books to the library on Tuesday does nothing good for my nerves. Or maybe that was the 6 cups of English Breakfast.

*I like dogs, so they can't have gone to the dogs. Cats, likewise. I considered sharks as well, but loads of people like them, including, mysteriously, the people who created Sharknado. So I settled for a ferocious, if misunderstood, creature: the mink. (It is of interest to note that Minks come from Scotland. Alice Munro missed the opportunity to talk about that, there certainly was an opening for it. But more on that in my upcoming review.)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Showcase Sunday #7

Showcase Sunday is a feature on Vicki's blog, Books, Biscuits and Tea, which shows off the books which one has acquired in the past week, from any and all sources. Whether purchased online as an ebook or in hardback from a brick and mortar store, received for review or as a gift, it's just another way to make all your blogging acquaintances jelly.

These are leftovers I realized I made an unreleased vlog about, but never mentioned here!

Devdas by Saratchandra Chattopadhyay
Historical Romance.
Unbreak Me by Lexi Ryan
Contemporary/NA Romance.
Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood
Paranormal Romance.*

*Actually, it might not be focused on the Romance, but I know there's some romance in it...

Mercy Thompson Series by Patricia Briggs
 I heard Keertana on Ivy Book Bindings speak fondly of these books, and since she hasn't led me astray yet, I thought I'd pick them up. I'm still looking to fill the void until I can watch Lost Girl again, and I'm not keen on Anita Blake. Maybe someday, since my cousin owns all those books.

I have no flipping clue how to space out my reviews, and am considering reviewing a book I read over a year ago, let's see how that goes, yeah? I have no clue what I'm doing when it comes to blogging.
Yeah, I know, big surprise.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Review: Captain's Surrender - Alex Beecroft

Captain's Surrender by Alex Beecroft.

Joshua Andrews is a Midshipman on the Nimrod, where Captain Walker keeps his crew in a constant state of terror and suspense. The least infraction will land a man in irons, flogged for all the company to see. If Walker knew what Joshua was, he'd be hanged. He avoids the attention, which would grant him deserved promotion, as well the keen eye under which he is sure he'd be discovered. When Peter Kenyon, a lieutenant, arrives to fulfill the lately vacated position, once occupied by the man swinging from a noose upon his arrival, Joshua is immediately captivated and knows this man will be his downfall.

The dangerous journey from Portsmouth to Bermuda, to aid in the fight against pirates and smugglers, becomes increasingly tense as Walker continues to cling to his grasp of power over an increasingly mutinous crew. The only absolution is that when Peter confides in Joshua of his worries over the possible mutiny, Joshua finds he can trust Peter in turn. That, and a pirate ship shows up on the horizon and becomes a good relief for the crew's tension.

Alex Beecroft has written a fantastic story, filled with suspense and tender romance. What I described for you actually only covers about half the story, but I feel if I go to far beyond arrival in Bermuda, I'll be spoiling too much of the story for you. The story does also include some of the terrific problems inherent in romance, the gay sub-genre and historical fiction. Many good reviews have gone into this already, so I'll be going over what really worked and why I'll be reading more from this author. (As soon as my library updates its digital shelves, of course. OverDrive is a wonderful, wonderful thing.)

Joshua is sympathetic, not that Peter isn't either, but we spend slightly more time learning about Joshua's history and his motivations, and as a reader, its easy to connect with him. The action onboard and on the sea is really interesting, most of the nautical terms are used correctly, the only ones I'm not sure about were the ones I didn't know. The twists were interesting, the conflict was a little tired, but brief. I do have to complain about the convenience of some characters appearing when they did. The people Joshua encounters while away from Bermuda, the inexcusable evil of the captain, and the anachronism of the main female character. When I thinking about how lovely everything else was though, I'd read another book similar to this without question.

What about you? Does mustache twirling, convenient plot devices and anachronism rub you the wrong way?

242pp. Samhain. October 2009.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Micro-Reviews: Ménage Romance

I recently read, not terribly intentionally, a short erotic romance with revolved around a Ménage à Trois. Trusting in the not-so-bad results of this experiment, I read on, and got some seriously mixed results. I made gif reviews where I could, but there has to be a certain bad-ness on some level for a book to deserve a gif review. One honestly cannot say how to go on from here.

Wicked Sexy (Wicked³ #1) by R.G. Alexander

The bad that started it all. It was short, it was free, I was curious how this would turn out. It was surprisingly interesting and sexy. We hitch a ride in with a girl who is best-friends with a witch, and has to figure out who is murdering witches of a certain type. In this world all magical-folks have to end up in a triad of two men and one woman. Hijinks with sexy brothers ensue.

Wicked Bad (Wicked³ #2) by R.G. Alexander

This is the sequel, yeah, I know, starring the best friend, who might be the cleverest witch of her age, but no one likes her. It's a little cliché. Throw in some odd dynamics and curiously consensual without-consent sex, and you have one what-the-f romance.

Three for Me by R.G. Alexander

Is this turning into an R.G. Alexander appreciation post? Nope, definately not. The poor lady doesn't have much luck where I am concerned. This book was filled with hot sex, and an interesting plot and a curiously positive portrayal of polyamory. That being said, I was disappointed and wanted a little more from it. I need to start judging books by their covers.

I then read Rule of Three by Kelly Jamieson which was so good it'll get it's own review. Review is here.

Who's Your Daddy? by Lauren Gallagher

I knew going in that Who's Your Daddy? would not be a joke, but funny, would be filled with sex, but also with depth. Coming off of Rule of Three it made sense for me to try a longer Ménage. This was, however, overwritten and entirely too idealistic. Everyone fell in love, there's a baby, there's loads of sex. The conflicts weren't enough for me, even though I was definitely invested in all the characters.

Maybe I should start a tumblr for all this gif nonsense? I don't think I'll read more of this type of fluff though. So, thoughts?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Showcase Sunday #6

Showcase Sunday is a feature on Vicki's blog, Books, Biscuits and Tea, which shows off the books which one has acquired.

I'm forgoing the usual Showcase Sunday post for a topic which is closer to my heart: German Fantasy. I acquired the titles mentioned over the past few months, in my usual fashion.

Some of you reading this may know I'm German bilingual, and that I'm currently writing a fantasy set in Germany and I'm ethnically German: this isn't a random attachment. I grew up on Erich Kästner and German dubs of all The Neverending Story, The Last Unicorn and Star Wars. I probably heard a different fairy tale each night, although 'The Star Money' was my favorite.

'Unlike England', Germany has a deep store of legends and mythology from which, you could argue, most Fantasy stems. The Ring of the Nibelung is a story about a ring, featuring a dragon, ghosts, and immortal beauties, it traces it's earliest mention to an Icelandic saga. The Bible was first translated into German. And the Brothers Grimm have been a source of Fantasy riffs since the 19th century. This is all misleading because for hundreds of years after Rome let go of the British Isles, they shared a language group and many of the same stories. Old English more closely resembles modern German or Icelandic more than it does modern English. The older the fairy tale, the more likely you can find it in British mythos as well as Scandinavian and continental German. I suppose this is not what J.R.R. Tolkein meant when he deemed it necessary to create The Lord of the Rings, since Britain lacked any sort of pantheon of gods who could possibly provide legends any large scope. Going in depth will be for another time.

I started reading by practically inhaling the Libraries' and Scholastic Book Club's collection of Fantasy, and began - what my bewildered friend refers to as - book-hoarding. (Considering her small room is also bursting with an appropriately overwhelming amount of books, she shouldn't be talking.) But, I have to admit some truth to that rumor considering the titles that have 'appeared' on my tiny little shelf in my hermit's flat.

Kai Meyer is very well known outside of Germany for his Dark Reflections series. (Pictured is The Flowing Queen sold as Water Mirror.) Before setting foot in a German bookstore, I'd heard of Kai Meyer because of his collaboration with a fantasy folk group who used his works as themes and lyrics for an entire album.

Cornelia Funke is probably the best known Fantasy author to modern readers. She wrote The Thief Lord, The Inkworld Trilogy, as well as a series about Dragon Riders. She's talented and pretty prolific, working on another series, Mirrormask, and has illustrated a great deal of her own books.

But you may still be familiar with The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. Arguably the best known to international readers. It's been made into three american films, after all, at the same time as establishing a magical reality that all reader's exist in, it also does some impressive work on subverting the fairy tale hero. It's a terrifying story and I look forward to digging into the original book at last.

It would be an oversight to not mention a new German series which is getting a lot of attention among my English speaking GoodReads friends: Kerstin Gier's Gem Trilogy which is sold as the Love Lasts Through the Ages trilogy (that's a very loose translation).

When I scrounged the town's flea market months ago, there was one question I kept asking those selling books: anything by Cornelia Funke? I did acquire one book, the last in the Wild Chicks series, but otherwise was told that no one was selling their copies of the Inkworld trilogy. Those stayed at home on the shelves and were probably going to left to someone in their will. Would I like to buy a bundle of Enid Blyton books for 2 euro instead?

My trouble with German Fantasy begins with my comparatively pale grasp of vocabulary and ends with the nature of the book industry. The vocabulary issue is not very interesting, is solved by practicing. The book industry in Germany is something I can't make heads or tails of. Books in Germany are expensive. The laws are structured so that prices cannot be undercut by corporations like Amazon, who still find a way to do so, albeit slightly, and infrequently. This means that small-town book-stores, used bookstores, and libraries are a very important part of every community. However, buying a nice copy of a book, or even a paperback, is very costly. This makes book-hoarding nigh impossible on a students budget. The other problem is the uneven quality of the books you can read; delightful covers, famous imprints, enticing blurbs mean nothing to me anymore. Often the most promising books I can find are translated from English, Italian or French. I might guess, in an attempt to make money from a book-hungry culture, publishers will print almost anything.

That's very cynical of me, and as my grasp of German improves, I'm sure I'll be able to pick out better books, or even appreciate books more. This isn't a problem I run into in English ever. My ability to find good and inexpensive books in America is practically an art form. I've cashed in on bargain sales from the big sellers so often that my shelves at home are bursting. I'm pretty sure I've passed the one-thousand-mark this past summer. (My next dilemma: how to get my new acquisitions home.) I've sworn off buying new books; for the foreseeable future I will be looking to bookmooch, netgalley, and of  course the local libraries.

How about you, do you find yourself disappointed in the offerings of your favorite genre sometimes? Has quality been submerged by quantity? Am I kidding myself, am I delusional? What are your thoughts on the titles I mentioned? (I know you're dying to ask about Star Wars... ) What books are you excited about having gotten recently? Nothing you want to answer, then share with me your favorite library. I feel like I've seen every interesting library to see online, and yet I still want more. New reviews coming next week, I promise. 'Til then!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Review: Wives and Daughters - Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell.

Wives and Daughters is a classic of romance literature. Written after Jane Austen's novels, around the time of Little Women and the Brontë sisters, it was a social commentary as much as an entertaining serial. While not the everday, if bizarre, characters of a Charles Dickens tale, the characters in Wives and Daughters are not entirely 'common', half of Molly's acquaintance resembling various gentry characters from Downton Abbey, and the other probably being more familiar to readers of Jane Austen. While Pride and Prejudice's inter-class romance was shocking, a match of love, based on friendship and respect, between a country doctor's daughter and a gentleman was still a bit of a leap. It's romantic, of course, but its also deeply satisfying. This is as true for the incomplete story, Gaskell died before finishing it, as it is for any imagined ending. The one published by a contemporary author, as well as the one the 1999 BBC Miniseries created.

The abrupt ending also makes it an easy topic to center ones review around, and from a modern writer's aspect, it could be interesting as an exercise to complete it. After all one would have to be up on those times, and write in the author's style, and hopefully some hints had been left behind with which to continue a faithful continuation. Unlike a certain author of the same century, I don't believe Gaskell was intending to spite the readers who were cheering for the lovebirds since the beginning. A reviewer could also easily segue into reading several different endings, which would all be in about the same vein, and deciding which was her favorite.

I had no idea how the story should end, but I found the BBC adaption, and the ending, to be practically perfect. (As perfect as can be for a Victorian romance.) While I have no problem 'spoiling' a centuries old novel, I will not spoil the miniseries for you. The ending was so satisfying, that I was high on it for days.

Gaskell knows whats going on in all her characters minds, and her characterizations are wonderful, if not always charming. Like Austen, she sees the hypocrisy and trouble with being a good parent, a good person, and a romantic person. In today's highly self-aware and critical world, we won't agree with everything the characters say or do, but it's not entirely clear that Gaskell thinks her 'teasing' heroine or 'berating' father figure are indeed correct. I think she's just replicating things she has seen, and idealized them a bit, made them interesting for us. If a reader declares, probably being correct in doing so, that Cynthia is allowed to flirt with whom she pleases, they forget the context of Cynthia and of the work; it is not appropriate for the times the character, or the author, lived in. That seems to be the biggest feminist problem with this work, and because Gaskell cannot defend herself, we can assume and pressume whatever we please. Is Molly actually interested in Natural History, or is her interest in the men? Is Cynthia at fault for leading men on, when all she claims is a wish to be well liked by her present company?

Where Elizabeth Bennett and her father got along, despite all their failings, there is actually a well-deserved falling out between Molly Gibson and her father in this book. I barely lasted a chapter, but I relished all the same. How Gaskell intended us to read the characters is irrelevant, we as readers bring our own histories to the pages, and I find the characters refreshing. I once got into a somewhat heated conversation with a teacher about reading into the decadence of The Great Gatsby: it unintentionally foreshadows Black Friday, I said, while the argument against me was 'Fitzgerald wrote Great Gatsby before then, he didn't know it would happen!' I did not think that, either, Doctor, but I did wonder if that which rises opportunistically should be dismissed? Should we ignore the sometimes encompassing idiocy of characters like Mr. Bennett and Mr. Gibson, while they in turn bemoan 'hysteria'? No one can say if Gaskell sided with Mr. Gibson or Cynthia in their falling out, but since societal morality at the time of her novel and at the time of publication sided with Mr. Gibson, he is automatically given the right. I say, if the work holds up to it, why not remeasure it's themes? The author isn't the only one in this relationship, after all, and she's dead.

Gutenberg Edition.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Review: PostApoc - Liz Worth

PostApoc by Liz Worth
Review copy provided by NetGalley, on behalf of Now Or Never Publishing 

Ang has long been living as close to death as she can, entranced by the music that seems to be channeling her very thoughts: dedicating her life to dying. When The End finally comes, all acid rain and ravenous dogs, she finds it's not what she expected. As the sole survivor of a suicide pact, she begins to wonder if she is the one who has tipped the universe off balance.

Ang has been broken her whole life, yet somehow the pieces cling together. She lives through this label, "killing time," she says, "until we kill ourselves." She's comes back to Vancouver, not dead, only to see the onset of The End. As the world goes from bizarre to hopeless the irony is painful, it's not far into the novel before Ang begins to question whether she is the reason the apocalypse has happened. Did she survive her suicide only to see the world to it's bitter end? Is this her punishment for not wanting to die enough?

Her life never loses it's mantra of "danger/destruction/detonation", these bands whom she listens to only give a soundtrack, channel the audiences thought, guide them. The anthems only remind her "that living as close to death as possible is the only way to feel alive."

Ang is timeless. A girl of our generation, born however many decades ago, she's a little more than twenty when the world begins to end. She's seeking the oblivion, finds her meaning, and then loses it. When a boy swaying to Shit Kitten's song 'PostApoc' says, "I was made to live in these times," she rolls her eyes. Those lyrics are a frequent thought for her as she reflects and acts. "It's my body and I can die if I want to."

It would be remiss not to mention that Liz Worth is knowledgeable of the punk scene in Toronto. Ang's travails are like bad trips while in the underground music scene or crashing at someone's house, but this is reality and the trips are worse. Her easy flow from dream to hallucination to minimal sobriety makes you question her, but Ang is surprisingly cognizant through the worst. This isn't a trick, Worth isn't out to make you question Ang, since the girl has enough thing she must figure out herself. It's not a train wreck you can't look away from, it's a high descent into the primeval world.

Her relationships are the strings of the story, her life related to strangers, to friends, to ghosts, to herself, always features another participant she was friends or lovers with. These connections, remembering the people who knew you, and now the people you knew who were gone, is all that's left of them. She's all that's left of them, and along the endless days and the sweltering winters, she wants something that keeps her going, to earn her that label of survivor. Because otherwise, she'll die.
This sense of travel, this transcendence of time-space-moments, is what Tooth would say is the result of disrupting the universe. I told him I'm not really supposed to be alive now and he said, "That makes more sense than anything I've ever heard."

I requested this from NetGalley on a whim, it was one of the 'instant-accept' offers they have out all the time, and therefore I was dubious, but liked the cover. It screams of it's intentions. The blurb reminded me of Go Ask Alice from my youth, and upon reading closing it, I was reminded of The Green Witch by Alice Hoffman  which I read when it came out. I wanted to like PostApoc and I ended up loving it. I can't recommend this book to you too much. It's different than the aforementioned young adult books because it's written accurately without spinning out of our grasp. There's a time to write stream of consciousness of dreaming drug addicts and there's a time to write the thoughts of woman in a world going to hell.

Comparisons to those older books written for teenagers just doesn't do PostApoc justice. Someone compared this book to The Naked Lunch, that book which inspired the Beat poets and is still lauded today, but I'm not sure if PostApoc, with its pointedly unanswered questions, isn't better that that. This book is thought-provoking, and has become one of my favorite books. I look forward to revisiting it in the future.

Let me know if you think you will you be reading this book when it comes out. Are there any books you've felt 'woke you up'? Looking forward to your comments on this one, especially if you've read it!

184pp. Now or Never Publishing. 15 Oct 2013.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Review: Rulebreaker - Cathy Pegau

Rulebreaker by Cathy Pegau

Liv Braxton is one of the better criminals in the star system. This is mostly due to the set of rules she's been following since age four. Felon's Rule #1: don't get involved. In her newest and perhaps most daring hit yet, it's also going to be the hardest.

Alias Olivia Baines is pulled into a stunning multi-stage hit by her ex-husband, Tonio, who's still got it going on, she's painfully reminded. Blind-sided by her mother's surprise re-appearance in her life, she'll be helping the bad guys stick-it-to-the-man and make them all filthy rich besides. Until her target, powerful and gorgeous Zia Talbot makes Liv question herself in ways no one, especially no woman, ever has.

Full disclosure, I wanted to know what's going on on the other side of the romance aisle, so I went with one of highest rated lesbian romances that Harlequin's imprint Carina Press had on sale. Need I say that it was one of a handful of options anyway? I have to say, this book surprised me and grew on me. Early review scouring landed this book back on my to-read shelf several times, but a recent lay-over in a train station gave me the opportunity I'd been waiting for and I dove in.

Rulebreaker has a bit of a problem unfortunately, since it sits as one of the few lesbian romance titles in Carina's selection, it isn't nearly as much as a romance as a futuristic coporate-espionage story. There were times where Liv felt more than a little hardboiled, and even the sci-fi aspects didn't come off strong. There are some moments reminiscent of a Star Trek episode and even a few clever jokes, but it ultimately fell flat. It surprised me in what it achieved, and the dearth of sex scenes was not unwelcome, but when one expects one thing and is delivered another, it's a little bit of a problem. Here's to hoping that fewer people pick this one up without knowing what they're in for.

Also, how much do you like the cover? I have to admit, I'm a sucker for a sci-fi and this one looked good. That isn't to say it wasn't, just not what I expected.

252pp. Carina Press. 8th Oct 2011.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Micro-Reviews: Gay Romance

I recently read a bunch of Gay Romance 'quickies' that is to say, none of them took me very long to finish, and since I didn't have much to say on any of them, only that I liked them or didn't, and could sum up their plot with a few well-chosen animated GIFs, I didn't review them here. But now that I have amassed a somewhat bizarre collection, I thought I'd share with you some short thoughts on them.

The Stable Boy by Megan Derr

The Stable Boy is a novella-length 'gift' which Megan Derr distributes for free. Inspired by fairy-tales with a little more grit than the Grimm brothers would have deemed seemly for ladies, this was oddly entertaining. There's a curse, a long-distance engagement, deadly sword-fighting, and con-men involved. Luckily there is hardly any horse jargon.

I rated it 3 stars, liked it, on GoodReads, where you can also read my gif-heavy review.

Marking Time by C. J. Anthony

Another free ebook, which was pleasantly surprising. The romance was slow-burn, always a plus, and even romantic (!?) so I can recommend this one. Did I mention it's free? It's about an openly-gay man who enlists in the military and the agony of being in love with someone whom you can't openly be in love with, due to Don't Ask, Don't Tell. But Anthony manages to tie this into a happy ending.

I rated it 4 stars, really liked it, on GoodReads, where you can read an entertaining and maybe bittersweet plot summary in gif-form.

With Abandon (With or Without #4) by J.L. Langley

I actually paid money for this one. I thought I'd see what all the fuss was about for these were-wolf or shifter romances. It always struck me a bit weird, but then again, I did pick up and start reading a romance about a lady-knight and a dragon once, so... I think this might be a taste thing. I wanted more romance, more story, but this was mostly sex and expensive housing. There's usually conflict at some point in these, and when it showed up, I was not at all invested.

I rated it 1 star, didn't like it, on GoodReads and summed it up with two gifs.

I also just read Captain's Surrender by Alex Beecroft which was everything it was hyped up to be. Look forward to a review of that soon! Review here.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Review: Train Dreams - Denis Johnson

The life of Robert Grainier, as depicted in Train Dreams, is probably not one that would expect to get so much attention. He is begat in unknown circumstances, orphaned or abandoned without any sort of clue as to why, marries and grows old without notoriety or infamy. Dealing with superstition and illusion seems mundane, and when faced with the unusual things that reality offers seems magical. Giving a plot summary would ruin this slim volume for you, so read on to hear my impressions.

Like a painting with an uninteresting central subject, Train Dreams is worthy in it's technique and expression. Robert is the every-man which we may impress ourselves onto, but as his life unfolds - as we stare at the details of the painting - we discover that he is not entirely usual.

When I picked this up in London, I supposed a book which crossed François-René de Chateaubriand with Ansel Adams, if that was possible. It was short, so I chanced it, and laid value in being shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize.

The first few passages were dull, were slightly shocking for no apparent reason, and Robert was completely unremarkable. Too late I realized that book prizes and awards never guarantee a book, and how many wonderful books had I read which weren't lauded? However, I continued on, and late one night, weeks later, back in my own bed, I stayed up into the night to finish it. Something had changed.

Was it Robert who had changed? When one reads a book more slowly, I've found that I notice more and appreciate development more acutely. Having had time to settle on Robert's naïvité and thoroughly middle-road personality. Liked well-enough and never badly spoken of, if he was spoken of at all, Robert is perposefully unremarkable. Yet, I don't think it was him who had changed. Life had changed around him, had he slipped out of its stream, lost his place in it, and in his confusion become an interesting subject?

I can imagine Johnson's purpose was to show us a way of life, and with such a passive main character, remain absent from the more offensive pieces of our past. The ending, where superstition mingles with supernatural and reality, doesn't seem to fit or Johnson didn't lead us into it well.

This novella was a series of vignettes about Robert, basically, and if you're into that, then for god's sake, here's the book for you! Maybe I wasn't the kind of smart to appreciate Johnson's clever prose. Maybe you've some insights to help me understand?

116pp. Granta Books. 2013.
(Read/Skim/Miss) (Buy/Borrow)

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